#RealDirectSellers Don’t Obtain Financial or Time Freedom

Trade organization campaign features deceptive income claims.

| Bonnie Patten

Would the real direct seller please stand up? The Direct Selling Association (DSA) recently unveiled a hashtag — #RealDirectSellers — through which the trade group claims you can make enough money to quit your day job and obtain time freedom through direct sales.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Time freedom is inextricably linked to financial freedom. Which is to say, distributors cannot obtain time freedom unless they make enough money to quit their jobs and that doesn’t generally happen in the direct selling industry. There are no published data to support the contention that the typical MLM participant earns a living wage. In fact, the vast majority of direct sellers (74 percent) report making no money or losing money.

And this reality isn’t news to the DSA – in 2016, its president, Joe Mariano, took to the stage at a DSA conference and stated:

Let’s unabashedly acknowledge that the top earners are really outliers, and that although the possibility is there for everybody, most people will probably not achieve that level of income.

Later that year, he wrote:

We must increase our efforts to ensure prospective distributors are fully aware—clearly and unashamedly—that for most, direct selling can provide supplemental income. Most distributors will not realize a replacement income, let alone a lavish lifestyle.

In 2018, Mariano, discussing the direct selling industry, stated, “Earnings are typically quite small,” and in 2019 he cautioned that, “Anyone who’s saying that you’re going to make a lot of money is not telling the truth.”

The possibility of earning life-changing income is so remote for distributors that the FTC has cautioned that:

Multi-level marketers should stop presenting business opportunities as a way for individuals to quit their jobs, earn thousands of dollars a month, make career-level income, or get rich because in reality, very few participants do have success of this type, testimonials from these rare individuals are likely to be misleading because participants generally do not realize similar incomes.

So why is the DSA promoting atypical income claims from top-earning distributors on its website and Twitter feed when it knows better?

Bonnie Patten

Bonnie, executive director of, is an attorney and mother of three. Her commitment to educating the public about deceptive marketing stems from her belief that education is the only…

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