Why aspiring work-at-home mums are vulnerable

As a mum with young children who is looking to earn flexibly, you are the target of many skilled marketers.

It’s no surprise that there will be scammers looking to take your money in return for business opportunities that don’t exist. But I want to talk about business opportunities that are entirely legal.

In the (almost) three years that I’ve been running Business Plus Baby, I’ve seen  sophisticated marketing techniques designed to snag aspiring work-at-home mums.  In this post I want to shine a light on them so that you can make an informed choice about whether to ‘tune in’ or not.

You see, I’ve been in that truly uncomfortable position where you simply can’t put your baby in a nursery and go back to work, but you have no idea how you’ll pay the bills if you don’t. That desperation makes you open to marketing that you simply wouldn’t have paid attention to before.

There are plenty of perfectly legal business opportunities out there where the vast majority of recruits will make little more than pocket money. The few people who are doing well for themselves will be used as the case studies given to potential new recruits – after all, that’s just good marketing. My problem is that often, their stories don’t show the reality for 90%* of the people who sign up. If you dig a little deeper, you’ll often find that the successful few have a background in sales, which is a huge advantage.

You could argue that a high failure rate is to be expected if people are buying into these business opportunities with little or no business experience and are only working part time.

But I don’t think that’s good enough. If a business opportunity is being offered to you at a price,  your chances of success (and by that I mean at least an income equivalent to what you’d get for those hours in an average job, providing you work hard) should be far more than 10%*(and I suspect the reality is often a lot less).

Here are some clues to look out for:

  • “Recession-proof” – nothing is recession-proof.
  • “Anyone can do it” – not everyone has what it takes to succeed as a self employed person.
  • “Everyone needs to buy these” (e.g. consumables like household cleaners, gas or electricity) – true, but that usually means your competition will be fierce.
  • The founder of the scheme being presented as an ordinary housewife – Look closely and she’ll often have run businesses before. True, she may be working part time for a few years while she brings up her kids- but is it likely that you can replicate this success with your own skills and experience?
  • “I’ll be your partner in…” – you SHOULD get support and training but always keep in mind that you are a customer and you are being sold to. You’re not an equal partner in the usual business sense.
  • Using the lifestyle as a selling point – “I get to travel the world and earn money at the same time” – if you’re starting a business, your focus should be on what you have of value that your customers want to buy. Keep in mind that this ‘lifestyle’ tactic is putting you firmly in the customer role when you need to be thinking like a business owner.
  • “I’m working flexibly around my kids and loving it!” – Great, but are you earning more than minimum wage?
  • Any suggestion that you can earn a full-time income by working part-time hours. This is possible, but it usually takes about five years of hard work to build up to this point. And only a relatively small number of people have the stamina, mindset and skills to do it. Are you one of the few?
  • “No hard sell, just sell to your family and friends” – do you want to be hassling your family and friends on a regular basis to buy these products? Will they want to buy these products?

These tactics are NOT definitive signs that you’re about to be ripped off, but they are indicators that you should keep your eyes open, read between the lines, check the small print and definitely Google the company to see what others are saying about it. It can be hard to tell a good opportunity from a poor value one and you do need to do your homework.

Just to make it clear again, I’m not saying all direct selling schemes, multi-level marketing schemes, franchises or other ‘business in a box’-style opportunities are dodgy or unethical, I just want you to be able to make an informed choice. That’s not easy to do when you’re faced with slick marketing and are worried about putting food on the table.

*These percentages are my estimates. I haven’t yet found any statistics, so if you know of any please do tell me. I’m basing this article on the experiences of mums that I have spoken to over the last few years.

Image courtesy of FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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12 Replies to “Why aspiring work-at-home mums are vulnerable”

  1. Helen, this is excellent advice. I generally am very skeptical about ‘quick-win’ solutions for making money, although agreed, there are some which are worth considering.

    What I have found a useful tactic, is that usually the marketing also includes signing up to a ‘free’ newsletter, and this I usually take up – after all, it just adds junk email, and I am can scan at my leisure. I am very careful never to enter any payment information.

    Obviously lots of these ‘free’ newsletters, exhort you to part with your money one way or another – this you never have to do.

    I tend to stay signed up to the newsletter if it continues to provide useful information, once that stops, I unsubscribe from it.

    Fingers crossed, so far so good, and I have actually learnt quite a lot that way 🙂

    1. I agree, quick wins are like overnight successes – look behind the scenes and you’ll actually find they took 10 years! It’s just that the we don’t see the hard work leading up to it, just the final event.

      Great advice on the newsletters too, both from the point of view of the subscriber and the newsletter owner. If you’re not offering something of value as a newsletter owner then sort it out quickly!

  2. What an excellent post Helen. having dabbled in several “opportunities” before finding my self-employed niche I was bitten more than once. With hindsight a little more research would have been a benefit to me.

    1. Thanks Nicki, I think we’ve all been bitten at least once (hopefully it didn’t cost too much, though) and I bet we’ve all been guilty of not doing enough research at some stage too. It can be a tough learning curve though, can’t it?

  3. Thanks Helen for the post. I am sure most of us have been there when we ignore our instincts and put the debit card on the line for a ‘great’ business opportunity. I was lucky to follow my passion eventually and I am reaping the benefits in many ways. All that glitters is surely not gold!

  4. Great post! I agree, it’s exactly what I have seen. There are no ‘easy money’ schemes, you have to work hard and bring the right skills to make something work.

    May I add:

    ‘Remember that everyone you meet that is currently in the scheme gets paid to bring in more sales people like you. Therefor it is to their advantage to tell you they love what they do, and it works brilliantly for them. You will never hear them speak about disadvantages, as they get well-trained to sell the opportunity to you. However you see most of them opt out after 1 or 2 years.’

    I will also put up a link to your article from Mum & Career, where I have all the best articles on starting a business (http://www.mumandcareer.co.uk)

  5. Thanks for the link Inge.

    Very true, recruiting others is often more important than selling the actual product of you want to be successful in direct selling. And from speaking to mums a few years down the line, I find that most do seem to last only a few years at most.

  6. Loved this post Helen, I thought it was very well-considered and highlights how these businesses target women who may be seeking to earn an income from home. Every product-party I have attended involves not only an emotional sales pitch on the basis that the host will benefit from any purchases, but also a pitch to recruit new sales people that includes pretty much every single one of your warning signs!

    Looking forward to reading more.


    1. Thank you, glad you liked it! In some ways this is good marketing so I feel bad being critical of it. But it’s one thing to use sophisticated marketing techniques on people who are clued-up about these things and another to try it with people who may not be, are in a situation where earning an income is difficult, have their guard down and may even be your friends and family.

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