[Red:] Today, we share the experience of UK-based ex multi-level marketer, Esme. With the end of her maternity leave on the horizon, she found herself averse to the idea of returning to her job. So, she took the plunge with multi-level marketing. In her own words, she’ll tell you how that worked out for her. Over to you, Esme.
[Esme:] Thanks Red. It all started back in autumn last year. My maternity leave was ending, and I did not want to go back to my “normal” job.
I stumbled across a recruitment post on Facebook to join Usborne Books & More (UBAM). At this point I’d never really heard of Usborne, and had seen some of their books floating about, not realising what they were.
Anyways, after what the people in the biz like to call ‘ping-ponging’ with my new potential upline, and doing some brief research online, I decided to take the plunge and join!
With a start up fee of only £38.00 for over £150.00 worth of books and business materials I thought it was an amazing opportunity not only for me, but my two children!
The commission was good at 24% on every book you sell and 20% for any school orders. Plus I’d get a free book allowance when my orders went over £100.00.
So after filling out my details, I sat and awaited my box of goodies.
Straight after signing up I was added to all the team chats and Facebook groups and my upline’s upline group, and their upline’s upline group. I was overwhelmed with information, business models, getting started videos and links. It was endless.
But I learnt what I could, and flicked through and watched different bits seeing how Usborne had changed the lives of so many people. I felt good in my choice.
A few days later, my box of books arrived, and I unpacked them live on my Facebook profile (as suggested to me by my upline, and a total ‘out of comfort zone’ thing for me to do).
It piqued some interest, and I had a few people asking questions — but no orders.
“Never mind, it’s early days. Make a Page and a VIP group, and get people excited!” my upline said, full of enthusiasm as usual.
So up my Page went and my group, everyone added to them, ready to show off my books, and I did I posted every day as advised, “post something positive , post this to get engagement, copy and paste this then tweak the words…”
“Christmas is soon,” my upline told me. “We do Christmas book Advents (individually wrapped books for each night of December; think of chocolate calendars but with books!). You could really promote these and smash your targets for Team Leader status!”
I digress slightly here but it’s important to fill you in on the ‘Quick Start’ programme and how you progress:
When you join you have a 12 week period called your Quick Start period.
In these 12 weeks you can achieve bonuses by hitting certain targets:
- Three £100 orders in your first three weeks bags you a kit boost (£50 worth of books free — which isn’t as many as you think, once you see the RRP).
- Three more £100 orders in the next three weeks = (6 x £100 orders in your first six weeks) which means you get your kit price refunded to you.
- Recruit two people = get your own free business website for 6 months (this has now changed due to the kit price going up and the website being included in the kit; I .do not know what it has been changed to).
- Team Leader promotion bonus = promote to a Team Leader in your first 12 weeks (have four active recruits and achieve £1,500 in sales between you) and you get a lovely £200 bonus and an all expenses paid (excluding your fuel/travel costs) one night stay at their Leadership Academy at Heythrop Park in Oxfordshire.
Anyhoo, back to the story …
I started promoting these book ‘Advent calendars’, and held a couple of stalls and managed to get my first 3 x £100 orders in two weeks! It wasn’t too hard as book Advents were £25 each, and I’d put in an order of £100 myself for stock for stalls.
By week four I had achieved the next bonus, with help from my upline giving me three of her £100 orders (which was strictly forbidden, but for some reason she was really obsessed with me doing well. I didn’t realise she was earning commissions on all my orders…). I’d also put in another £50 myself to be able to hit my target.
During the first four weeks I had two friends join my team after seeing what I had been doing, and then in the next two weeks, two more joined. We were on fire!
I pushed my friends hard to sell, tagged then in every training video, and three of them started to do well too! One didn’t, though, and I blamed it on lack of effort, but she couldn’t compete with what was already available in her area.
It was one day before my 12 weeks were about to expire. I was £100 away from hitting my promotion, and awful me wanted it so bad I put orders on my other half’s credit card, pushed my friends so hard to sell sell sell or buy books for themselves. My last order was dependent on one friend whom I nagged and nagged till 11pm to put an order through, and top it up to make £100. She did this quite happily, and all was well. I hit Team Leader status, bagged £200 before Christmas, and got a stay at the Leadership Academy in the new year!
Then I started noticing things …
Usborne books were everywhere…literally. There were brand new titles in the supermarkets, for a fraction of the price. Other book companies such as Scholastic were also selling Usborne books cheaper than we could. They were at the zoo, in the toy shop — everywhere. As the months went by, even more shops stocked more books.
For example, our most popular and recognised books “That’s not my…” series retail for £6.99 — but supermarkets sell them for £4.00!
I kept on finding more things. It was neverending. All the uplines just brushed it off: “Oh that’s just how it is, we sell more books than the stores ever could, and have the personalised service!”
But people didn’t care — they just wanted what’s cheaper.
I carried along as my Advents did okay, but I didn’t account for the fact I would have to wrap them all myself, though! (I think in the end my partner and I ended up wrapping about 325 books individually!) Nor did I think of the postage in these bad boys. Books are heavy and one Advent boxed was at least £10.00 to ship, which customers weren’t too happy to pay, either.
But then Christmas ended…and nobody cared. I stood at countless stalls, event after event, as people browsed but never bought, or just walked straight past. Unless I heavily discounted the books or wrapped then as a lucky dip — then they’d buy! Children would ask for a book but the usual response was: “Not at that price!”
I’ll never forget one stall I did. A little girl kept coming back to my stall looking at a quite chunky unicorn sticker book that retailed for £7.99. £7.99 just for stickers! I ended up giving it to her for £4.00, as I felt so awful. Her mum outright said in front of me “No, that’s a shocking price for a sticker book!” (And I did agree with her).
During all this, I bagged myself a relatively local school event. (As Usborne reps, we can host ‘sponsored read’ events in schools to help them raise money to go towards Usborne books. If they raise over £600, Usborne will add an extra 60% of their total on top in books, and I get a 20% commission, as stated before.)
The school’s sponsored read was taking place over four weeks, during which time I hosted three assemblies and a book fair (I made £20 from that and people kept asking me if I was the Scholastic lady and why didn’t I have Scholastic books! 🤦🏻♀️) All free of charge, no fuel paid for, and childcare had to be sorted — but I thought that’s alright, I’ll get a decent bit of commission to make up for it all.
A week before the sponsored read was due to finish, I was told by my upline’s upline that a percentage was taken from our commission to cover the free book allowance, dropping our commission from 20% to around 14%. To say I was disappointed is an understatement. At this point, in January, my Team Leader and her upline had left Usborne, leaving me adrift.
In the end the school raised £787.42, and with 60% extra, it was well over £1,000 worth of books they received (all which had to be delivered to me, which I then had to ferry to the school, and I had to pay the bloody postage!) And I made a measly £140. I’m not turning my nose up, that is still a lot of money — but after all that hard work, to find out about the commission drop, I wouldn’t have put in so much effort. It worked out to bugger-all per hour.
Then came February and the Usborne Leadership Academy. I was a nervous wreck and had never solo driven that far, or done anything alone like this before. But I drove the three hours, and got there in one piece, and got chucked straight into a motivational speaker session to get us ‘pumped’.
Then monotonous training began. Endless slide shows, and writing down and then writing from the board. It was like being back in school. And all of the information had already been taught to me through the Facebook groups by the many Team Leader Facebook Lives. It was basically a copy and paste job.
In the evening we had a meal which kicked off with a speech from the CEO. What he lacked in height he made up for in ego. I swear he felt like some James Bond with ‘book mothers’ fawning around his feet.
I knocked backed another glass of prosecco, and steadied myself against the wall, hungry for my three-course meal, as his “uplifting and motivational” chat brought everyone else into the room, applauding and cheering.
It was like a cult in there. Everyone hanging on every word.
I didn’t eat much. I tried to talk twice on my table, and got cut down or interrupted, so I hurried back to my room, where I was annoyed to find I didn’t even have any tea-making facilities.
Next day there was more training, and practice coaching sessions. Yet again more things we’ve repeatedly heard on Facebook Lives, pushing people far from their comfort zones, and making people stand and talk in front of the room about books. I’m just glad I wasn’t picked.
Then the long drive home in the evening, feeling deflated and that I’d wasted my time away from my kids for nothing except a huge dip in the diesel in my car.
And after flicking through previous and then following photos from past and next Leadership Academies, I noticed it was always the same people there, bar the odd lucky one like me who go once and never again. And that’s because to actually maintain and keep being invited to Leadership Academy, and get all the perks of free postage and help from Head Office, you have to hit such ridiculous criteria … the amount of sales required is extortionate, you need to be bringing in regular new team members every month and so on. Only a few people at the top are achieving it.
The only people winning are those on top of the pyramid. Those of us on the lower levels may get a taste once or twice, but that will be it, I promise you. They want the commissions. The bosses want those pay cheques, and we’re the minions who make it for them.
After this, more uplines disappeared, as more books appeared in more places for even cheaper prices. Even Poundland! One of my friends complained to Head Office, and was told to pretty much shut up or leave.
See, the thing with Usborne is the publishing company is completely separated from the ‘working at home’ side of it, so the publishers pump out the books, and are continuing to pump them everywhere and anywhere to be sold for a fraction of the price, make us ‘direct sales organisers’ pretty much obsolete.
No one wants to pay the full overpriced cost and then postage and wait for it to be delivered, when they can pop into the shops and buy it the same day cheaper — personalised service or not.
In the beginning, Usborne was shiny with ribbons and bells on. It did something for me in the beginning, I guess, but only just — and it wouldn’t have if it wasn’t for order sharing from my upline (which wasn’t allowed). As much as they like to make out, they do not care about their organisers one bit — just the sales of books, and how much money lines their pockets each day.
[Red:] Thank you, Esme, for kindly sharing your MLM experience. If you have any questions for her, please add them below and we will ensure they reach her.
- If you find yourself in Esme’s position, take a look at this selection from our General Advice category: