How to Respond to a Home-based Business Invite

Get your pants from CAbi, your jewelry from Stella & Dot, your stylish bags from 31, your skincare from Rodan + Fields and your nutritional products from The Wellness Company. The rise of these type of businesses find us invited into conversations and requests of our time, attention and dollars more frequently than ever before. Connections near and far all have something to offer.

How will you respond?

For starters, it is important to understand that these businesses span several distinct and sometimes overlapping categories including multi-level marketing (MLM), affiliate, direct sales; and industry terms like home-based, referral-marketing and networking-marketing.

MLM’s are defined in general as regular businesses offering products or services with one notable difference: they contract with individuals to do their selling as independent contractors. MLM’s vary widely in their requirements and approaches. The government has been cracking down on unethical practices, like requiring purchasing products to maintain or advance status within the company. MLM’s involve getting other people to build a team in order to promote a product and earn income. The more levels you build (downlines), the more product you sell and you’re awarded higher bonuses as your team grows.

Affiliate marketing is defined as an exchange between three parties - the merchant or store, the affiliate and a customer. In affiliate marketing, the affiliate sends the customer to the merchant and is awarded an agreed percentage of the sale (commission) when the customer makes a purchase.

Direct sales businesses sell product in environments other than traditional retail or storefront locations. Typically, the owner of this type of business invites people into a home environment (their own or a friends) to see the product, provide expertise and directly sell to them to earn a commission.

The above three categories are very broadly defined and the structures and methodologies to reach people (in-person, online) vary as well. The successful ones are those that don’t require minimums or quotas, deliver high quality products and provide specific expertise (like fashion consultants), and provide reliable residual income.

It’s also important to note that the individuals associated with businesses in this arena have a lot of leverage to build their business as they like. The successful ones are authentic, creative, respectful and built on relationships. They possess a people over profits mentality and draw upon the personality and expertise of the business owner. For a top-notch website on exploring home-based businesses, see The Balance.

Again, how will you respond?

The Mad Response

So the reality is that the invitations will keep on coming. I recently came across a post in Money entitled IfAnother Mom Tries to Sell Me Something on Facebook, I’m Going to Lose It. The overall slant of the experiences the author describes is negative, highly skeptical and rather bashing of even respectable home-based businesses and brands. She shares her experiences and feelings and makes many valid points, many of which I echo.

She describes being approached on Facebook and invited to grab a coffee. She details an invite to party where she came to enjoy the wine and was asked to shop. She even went so far as to buy into a weight loss program her cousin was involved with no success. She sights several annoyances with every incident that hinge on lack of transparency, pressure to buy and outright frustration with having bought and then being asked to buy more.

Seems like some pretty awful experiences. I’m mad for her. While I want to believe that the invitee in all of these experiences was well intentioned and respectful, that might not have been the case. I also wonder if the author might have been a bit more empathetic. Might she have taken that Facebook friend request up on the offer to have coffee? Or might she have been open to a brief conversation or found a more direct way to kindly say thanks, but no thanks?

The Supportive Response

In my own lifestyle-oriented business, I use social media to connect with people and share what I do health and wellness-wise. Does that make me a terrible person as the Money article implies? I have met hard-working, honest people with referral-based businesses and I can attest that many have a passion for what they do and want to share the expertise or the value they’ve found with others.

The stories I hear -- from women and mothers in particular -- is that they want to be with and raise their children. The typical 40 hour plus work week doesn’t work for them. They want more time freedom. They want to work and pursue something for themselves. They want to contribute financially. I choose to support these type of businesses whenever I can within reason. If it’s not in my scope, I try to be direct.

I definitely see that in some MLM, affiliate and direct business models, even people with the best intentions can get swept up into reaching goals, which can sometimes cloud judgment about maintaining respectful boundaries. In all cases, if someone reaches out to you, reserve judgment, openly listen to what they’re trying to share, respectfully decline directly if you are not interested.

The Bottom Line

In the current climate of agitation, I understand there may be less tolerance and higher skepticism of invitations that come your way from an old high school friend. I also understand that having coffee with someone who wants to share their business with you might make you feel pressured or uncomfortable. I’m suggesting that both sides might be more open to the other and work on a way to manage conversations in healthy ways that respect both parties. Marketing reps: continue to practice intentionality and thoughtfulness when reaching out to people. Make sure you don’t view people as business prospects. Respectfully accept a no, I’m not interested reply. The invitee: be open to an initial conversation. If you don’t have the interest or maybe the timing is off, be direct. Keep the door open for future connection.

Let’s all practice a bit of empathy in this space. We might just be able to lift each other up and keep our relationships thriving and mutually beneficial. After all, we don’t lose friendships over laundry soap.