How To Politely Say 'No' To Your Friend's Multi-Level Marketing Pitch

Sorry Becky, we don't want to join your essential oil pyramid scheme.

Hey hun, I have an incredible opportunity I’d love to tell you about.

Whether it’s a cousin, friend of a friend or former classmate you haven’t spoken to in years, you likely have at least one connection who joined a multi-level marketing company and now sees themselves as a small business owner. They repeatedly pitch you to buy their products or join their team, spamming you with Facebook messages, even if you already declined.

Multi-level marketing ― MLM ― involves buying inventory upfront and then selling those products directly to your network of friends and family. It’s estimated that 73% to 99% of participants ― mostly women ― lose money selling for MLM companies. The small percentage who are successful usually don’t earn money by making a ton of sales, but by amassing a large downline of recruits and taking a cut of their earnings. Pyramid scheme, anyone?

If you’re privy to the predatory nature of multi-level marketing, you know not to get involved. But often, huns have a hard time taking no for an answer. MLM companies often pressure sellers to keep at it, even when their friends and family continually decline an invite. If a sale can’t be made, it’s a personal failure (and certainly not due to the questionable products or oversaturated market). And so the sellers push and push, jeopardizing their reputations and personal relationships to make “their business” successful.

If all of this sounds familiar, here’s what to do to stay as far away as possible.

How To Politely Decline An MLM Pitch

The pandemic has only encouraged MLM consultants to double down. With so many Americans out of work or worried about their health, huns have a golden opportunity to push their cure-all essential oils and recruit new members in need of income.

So if you’ve been inundated with MLM pitches and aren’t sure how to get your “no” across effectively, consider these tips from etiquette experts.

Keep your reasoning brief.

When declining an MLM pitch, you may feel compelled to give an excuse and soften the blow. But going into too much detail about why you’re saying no can open the door to debate.

“Folks who are involved in multi-level marketing are always looking for a means to circumvent your reasoning,” said Elaine Swann, a lifestyle and etiquette expert. “So if you say, ‘I don’t have enough time,’ they’re going to try to help you figure out how to have enough time.”

The simplest response is to explain that this effort does not fit your lifestyle and your current focus is on something else, such as homeschooling due to COVID-19 or getting your oldest child through college. If you’re self-employed, you can say that this particular product or company does not fit your current brand, or that your focus is on growing your own existing business.

“Let them know that this is not an endeavor you want to engage in and it doesn’t fit within your current focus,” Swann said.

Actually use the word “no.”

MLM consultants can lay on the pressure to attend a product party or buy something from them. And when that person is a close friend or family member, fear of straining the relationship can make it even more difficult to be direct. However, it’s important to actually use the word “no” in your response, according to Swann

“Tell them ‘no,’ give them your very short reason why, and then move on,” she said. “Do not allow yourself to be drawn back into it and do not make any promises for future consideration if you have no intentions to do so.”

Change the subject.

Another strategy for turning down an invite from an MLM consultant is to redirect the conversation. “If you want to shut it down, say you’re not interested and then change the subject,” said Juliet Mitchell, A.K.A. Ms. J., a life etiquette expert.

For example, say “No thanks, I’m not interested,” and then ask about their recent vacation or how school is going. This helps diffuse the situation, keep the conversation friendly and move the focus to something unrelated to the MLM.

Be prepared for some awkwardness.

If your friend just doesn’t seem to get the message, your instinct may be to give in or simply avoid them. But the only way to ensure they stop hassling you is by being direct, courteous and consistent, according to Diane Gottsman, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas.

If they continue to push their MLM, you can respond, “My answer is not going to change,” and leave it at that. A more blunt response might make things feel a bit awkward, but Gottsman pointed out that it’s more awkward to avoid them, make up excuses, and then make mercy purchases that you don’t want or can’t afford.

Remove yourself from the situation, if necessary.

“Like any other situation that might get contentious ... and you know that you could go to a hot button, it’s time for you to remove yourself,” Mitchell said. If it’s a phone call, say that you appreciate the chat but you need to go, and hang up. If it’s an in-person encounter, thank them for the visit and take your leave.

Don’t try to save them from their situation.

You may be tempted to steer the conversation into an intervention and try to persuade your loved one to leave the MLM. After all, you don’t want to see them waste money or push people away. However, you should avoid going down that road.

“It’s not your business,” Gottsman said. Just as your friend has no business telling where to work or how to spend your time, she explained, it’s not your place to talk them out of their venture. Plus, they probably won’t be receptive to feedback due to the cult-like nature of MLMs.

If your friend laments that they’re having trouble making sales or the business isn’t going well, Gottsman said you can suggest that maybe it’s not a great fit for them. “Something like that is fine because it’s conversation,” she said. “But feeling compelled, even if they’re a close friend, so say, ‘Hey, this isn’t working for you’ ― that’s not your lane to be in.”

In other words, it’s up to your friend to figure it out the hard way.

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