Please don’t be a multi-level marketer

If you’ve ever tried to make money from home or online, I guarantee you’ve run across pyramid schemes. Some high profile companies who run pyramid schemes include Mary Kay, Advocare, LuLaRoe, Avon and Amway. And there are countless other small-time operations out there, too. You’ll never hear these companies use the term “pyramid scheme” though. The legally-appropriate term for these companies are “multi level marketing” (MLM) companies. And you won’t find that term on their websites or social networks, either.

MLMs? Pyramid schemes? What’s the difference?

If we’re all being honest, MLMs are pyramid schemes in disguise. Typically structured like a pyramid (shocker!), MLMs are organized in a way where the people at the top of the organization receive an income stream from people beneath them. Think of Mary Kay. You join as a distributor, are strongly encouraged to get other distributors to join beneath you, and you earn commission off of them and everyone else they recruit (your “down line” distributors).2a1243e227869d61721b36fe2bf152d0--triangles.jpg

Funny enough, pyramid schemes are illegal in the US and dozens of other countries, but companies big and small find loopholes around the laws. MLMs, on the other hand, can be legally legitimate, but I argue there’s no such thing as a legitimate MLM. The Federal Trade Commission differentiates MLMs from pyramid schemes if the MLM “has a real product to sell” and most of a member’s money is made off of sales to the public versus money made through recruiting new people into the group. It’s an extremely fine line between the two.

How to spot MLMs and pyramid schemes

My wife gets Facebook messages every now and then from a distant friend or stranger trying to pitch their amazing “not multi-level-marketing” opportunity, but every time those people eventually wind up saying the same thing. “Just join my introductory meeting to learn more” or “pay the one-time startup fee” or “I have an unbelievable opportunity for you” are a few examples.

Typical signs of MLMs and pyramid schemes include:

  1. High-pressure sales tactics
  2. Lack of company transparency
  3. Deceptive advertising practices
  4. It’s a low-quality product or service
  5. Outrageous product claims
  6. Pressure to stock up on inventory or “buy-in”
  7. Joining fees, monthly dues, or other on-going expenses
  8. Poor business reviews and ratings
  9. Lots of results when you type “company name” + “scam” into Google

These are just a few things to watch out for. The easiest way to avoid MLMs and pyramid schemes is to trust your gut instinct. As the saying goes, if it looks like a scam and smells like a scam, it’s probably a scam.

Please, please don’t fall for it!

Whatever you do, PLEASE DON’T GET INTO MULTI-LEVEL MARKETING. You’ll waste your money. You’ll lose friends and strain relationships with your family. Need a stat for proof? According to a report published by Pyramid Scheme Alert, over 99% of participants who try MLMs LOSE MONEY! In the same report, which looked at data across 11 different MLMs, about 60-90% of all participants eventually quit.

Sadly, courts often rule in favor of MLMs like Mary Kay and Avon when their distributors try to sue over lost money or lifetime savings. And just like in many industries, if you pour enough money into politics and fighting legislation, you can control the success or failure of your industry. The MLMs of the world still have a stronghold and aren’t going anywhere. Worst of all, an estimated $10 BILLION per year is lost by US consumers due to MLMs (and internationally that figure is much higher).

My main philosophy is this: If your product or service is so great, why should you spend all your time trying to get other people to join your team? Why not just sell me your product? If Mary Kay or Avon or Advocare is so amazing, why can’t I buy the product at its lowest price on their company websites? Unfortunately there are tons of people out there who live and breathe the MLM life. If you’re one of those people, you’re never going to convince me it’s a worthwhile business opportunity. I just hope you can sleep well at night knowing what you’re up to and how you make a living.

As a final thought, if you need a deeper dive on the shady, seedy world of multi-level marketing, watch John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight episode on MLMs. Its highly informative (and funny, too).

Six real ways to make money online

How many dozens of articles have you read about ways to make money online? A lot, I’m guessing. And they all let you down, because they’re all filled with dumb ideas like “Take surveys” and “Get cash back” and “Download these apps” and ON AND ON. It’s all dreadfully bad advice. Because the truth is, if you want to really make some money online, you’ve got to do the hard work that comes with it.

All that said, here are six real no-BS ways to make money online. They’re not for everyone, but there’s got to be at least one idea in this list that you can see yourself doing. And if you put in the time and effort, and continue to improve your craft, you can make some serious income.

1. Start a YouTube channel

YouTube is the new golden child of making money online. So many people, from Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg (PewDiePie) to Casey Neistat to Marques Brownless (MKBHD) to Lewis Hilsenteger (Unbox Therapy) and hundreds of others have made a living off of posting regular content to YouTube. They each have a few million subscribers (or more than 50 million in Pewdiepie’s case), which translates to massive views on everything they upload. What each of these YouTubers do well is that they post consistently, their content is top quality, and they have very unique personalities and lifestyles that appeal to lots and lots of people. At their core, they’re all extremely entertaining, which brings fans coming back to watch every single video. And these YouTubers can bring in insane amounts of income from YouTube itself (via video monetization), or through paid sponsors. YouTube can be a tough nut to crack, but if you’re determined and you are a good storyteller, you could certainly be the next YouTuber to get a gold play button sent to your door.

2. Build a blog

This one might be the easiest of them all to start, but requires an insane amount of effort to turn into a revenue-generating opportunity. Generally, blogs become financially beneficial once you have a large following of readers. Niche blogs do well by narrowing in on one topic or area and create a consistent following, and news-style or generic blogs can do well by attracting consistently high volumes of random traffic. I used to run a blog where I published all of my college papers and writing assignments, and also the news articles I created for my college newspaper, and that site received about 80,000 views per month during its peak. I eventually stopped posting new content on it, and the existing content became dated and irrelevant, so that idea never took off into something larger, but there’s certainly opportunity there. But keep in mind, even with an audience of some 80,000 per month, the income from basic ad revenue only amounts to $100-200 per month. To really create sustainable income from a blog, you need to bring in massive traffic, or at least offer some products for sale, or smartly integrate affiliate links into your blog without them becoming obtrusive, as a few examples.

3. Create a podcast

Are you seeing a trend, yet? Starting YouTube channel, blog and podcast are all about creating a community and following. If you don’t like the way you look or talk, you can start by blogging. If you don’t like being on camera, but you like your voice, maybe podcasting is for you. If you don’t mind being on-camera, then turn to YouTube. But what’s nice about podcasting is that you get to be expressive and creative, but you only have to focus on the audio side, not the writing side or the video side. Most of us can talk at length about something we’re interested in, and thanks to technology, it’s easy to even podcast with someone across the globe or have guests on the podcast via telephone or Skype call. Podcasts, like a blog, won’t make you rich overnight. In fact, none of these money-making ideas promise to do that. But if you’re passionate about what you’re talking about, your content has value, and your listeners are engaged, you’ll start to grow an audience. Once that audience is large enough, you’ll be able to pick up paid sponsors to feature on your podcast, in return for some cash. Grow your audience large enough, and you can make a great side income from podcasting, just as you can with blogging or creating a YouTube channel. In fact, if you’ve got what it takes, why not do all three?

4. Run your own services business

This is where I make most of my money online. Professionally, I’m a marketer, so I understand email marketing, social media marketing, web design, graphic design, copy writing and everything that goes into marketing a business. While I have a full time job, on the side I’m helping a few small businesses with their marketing. It’s my favorite thing I do to earn money. What types of services could you sell that you can do from a computer? Are you good at graphic design? If so, help companies with their brand, logo design, marketing brochure creation, designing menus and signage, and so on. Are you a photographer? Great tutor? Web developer? Audio engineer or producer? Coder? Social media guru? There are all kinds of things you can create online, and sell to a worldwide audience.

5. Sell stuff online

This one’s similar to the last, but more about selling goods out of your home versus selling a service or digital product. Are you good at making something? Can you build something by hand? If so, sell it on Etsy, or on your own website. Have junk to get rid of, or things around the house you wouldn’t miss if they were gone? Post them to Facebook or Craigslist, sell them quickly and easily, and avoid having to pay any service fees to facilitate the transaction (Etsy and Ebay both charge fees).

6. Create a drop-ship business

The drop-ship world is interesting, and one area of making money online that I’ve never fully gotten into. It’s extremely time consuming in the beginning stages, but once set up, drop-shipping can be a lucrative revenue stream. One of my friends and I considered starting a men’s grooming and accessory brand, but we got distracted and never followed through. We had everything nearly ready to go, though. We contacted a wholesaler of beard supplies (bear oil, beard balm, razors, combs, etc.) and inquired about drop-shipping. They were fully on-board, shared us a price list, and we planned to sell the products for double what we paid for them. Best of all, the customer pays for the shipping, and the goods are sent directly from the wholesaler to the customer without any involvement from us. Our logo and packaging even goes on the products, so the customer has no idea that someone else is completely handling fulfillment. As you can see, as long as you have a great brand identity, market your products well, and have solid relationships with wholesalers, there’s lots of money to be made in drop-shipping.

And that’s it! Sorry this list isn’t exhaustive, but each one is a genuine way you can start making money online. No gimmicks and no BS. Just give one a shot and stick to it!

The dark side of personal finance

There’s a dark side of personal finance that’s killing our society. And it’s everywhere, from Snapchat, Facebook and LinkedIn to anywhere we consume content online. Worst of all, the offenders are often high-profile personal finance blogs like The Penny Hoarder, Clark.com and Save the Student.

What am I talking about? Plain old bad advice. Horrible advice, for that matter. And there’s a reason this bad advice is being spread – it’s lucrative for publishers in the personal finance world. Think affiliate links, sponsored posts, and hard sells. It seems as though everyone’s out to just make money, rather than help people. And in the personal finance world, and that’s a huge problem.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve noticed a ton of shady and suspicious ads popping up in Snapchat. These are ads that have been clearly approved by Snapchat, and the ads are selling get rich quick schemes, extreme fat loss schemes, and social media marketing schemes – to name a few. In Snapchat’s case, it’s clear that the company values the ad revenue versus curating and allowing only high-quality legitimate ads to appear on their platform. And that’s too bad.

One of the ads I kept seeing on Snapchat linked out to an article on The Penny Hoarder. I’ve heard of this site for years, but never quite realized how awful it is. For a full-fledged rant on The Penny Hoarder, read this article. In short, it seems as though every other word in The Penny Hoarder’s articles are affiliate links. I don’t mind an affiliate link thrown in on occasion, but when every article is laced with them and it’s obvious the author couldn’t care less about teaching you (and instead shoves bogus products and offers down your throat) it starts to really annoy me.

If you do a Google search for ‘make money’ or any similar phrase, you’ll immediately see what I’m talking about. The advice is all the same… Take online surveys. Search the web and let a company track your history. Trade stocks. Review websites. Use cash back apps. None of these are worthwhile, and none of these will give Average Joe anything more than a couple bucks in exchange for lots of time or personal information.

There are good personal finance blogs and websites out there. I run across tons of small blogs that are doing things right. But for the most part, once a blog gains a significant following, the owner sacrifices quality and integrity in exchange for an income (or a lump sum, if they get bought out).

Long story short, don’t get sidetracked by get rich quick schemes, don’t waste your time on money making strategies you don’t understand, and understand what it looks like to be “conned” online. I want to read personal finance articles that really have my best interests at heart, and I imagine you want the same thing.

Debt Update: $24,346.37

It’s been less than a month since my last debt update and here I am, with nearly $10,000 trimmed off the total balance since then! The Sonata is now sold and gone, and along with it the entire auto loan balance. It’s a great feeling. And it only makes me want to work harder now to get the rest paid off. All that’s left is a small credit card balance and the rest is a student loan, all from one loan servicer.

I checked my credit report yesterday and was happy to see that my auto loan was updated with a zero balance and marked closed. Nice!

On another positive note, when my last payday rolled around, I took $750 and threw it all at the one student loan that wasn’t with the same loan servicer as the rest of my loans, and paid it off in full. That’s two loan accounts closed on my credit report in one month!

My next goal is to get my credit card down to $0 and never use it again. I can manage to put down at least $500 on it every two weeks, so I’ll have the balance paid off towards the end of January. The light at the tunnel is getting brighter and brighter.

An easy do-it-yourself method for managing bills

How do you keep track of your bills and recurring expenses? Do you use Mint.com, your bank’s bill payment system or some sort of financial software? Maybe you just keep track on paper. For me, every solution I’ve tried is too much to keep up with. Something always ends up not working the way I expect it to, or things don’t sync up right, or not all of my bills or accounts can work with a certain app, and so on. That’s why I use a good old-fashioned solution: a spreadsheet.Continue reading “An easy do-it-yourself method for managing bills”