Are you ready to make a ton of money and sell a ton of shakes? It won’t be an easy path, but people trying to succeed in this business are everywhere these days. If you haven’t gotten an invite to a health challenge or seen friends posing with shakes on social media… well, congrats! You’ve got a ton of fresh customers ready to hear your pitch.
Illustration by Sam Woolley.
Herbalife, Shakeology and Advocare are among the brands that promise you can quit your day job or even earn millions as a shake pusher. We’re not saying that these companies are evil, just that if you did want to set up a lucrative and borderline illegal pyramid scheme to get rich at others’ expense, you could learn a few lessons from them.
You’ll have to be careful, of course. Under Australian law, it is OK to recruit sellers to help get your product to the customers who use it. So far, so good. But you can make far more money if you think of your sellers as your real customers, and require them to pay fees or buy a ton of product. Then your business goal is really just to pull people into the system, shakes be damned. If you’re doing that, you may find yourself in the same boat as Herbalife, who recently had to settle with the US Federal Trade Commission to the tune of $US200 million ($265 million) and promise to make changes in their business. Ready to navigate those tricky waters? Grab your blender and let’s begin.
Make the Shakes Really Expensive
If you want a lot of money flowing up to you through the pyramid, you’re not going to get it with grocery store-style $0.70/serving shake powder. Take your cue from Shakeology and price each scoop at a whopping $6, or go higher, if you like.
How do you get away with this? Not by comparing your powder to that 70-cent garbage. No, yours is a shake bursting with real foods — superfoods, even! — and vitamins and minerals and fibre and all the buzzwords you can pack in.
“To match the nutrition in one serving of Shakeology…” this video argues, you would need to eat over $US40 ($53) of fresh fruits and vegetables, including radishes and raw onions. See, doesn’t a delicious shake sound better than that? Just hope your customers don’t get too nosey asking what you mean by “nutrition”. The shake powder only has 544kj per serving, so it clearly can’t contain everything in that pile of groceries. Really, you’re just selling protein powder with just enough ground-up fancy foods to provide a few vitamins.
Never mind that people can find shake powders with the same ingredients for a lot less at a store like GNC. Or that they could take an ordinary protein powder, skip the useless superfoods and make a shake to their liking for cents on the dollar. Instead, hone your sales pitch so people will feel good about themselves for buying your shakes.
Pretend It’s Not a Gimmick
The best way to sell a shake is to make it be whatever the customer wants to be. If they want to lose weight, it’s a tool to do just that. If they’re suspicious of quick fixes for weight loss, well then your shake is just a convenient way to get healthy food on the go. Are they too busy to make breakfast every morning? Who isn’t, right? Your shake product is a perfect solution!
Most people like the idea of losing weight, so that’s a good place to start. If you’ve lost weight drinking these shakes, or can point to somebody who has, you’re golden.
But wait a minute, you might be saying, Does that mean my shakes have to be some kind of effective weight loss tool? Not at all! Be like Herbalife and encourage your sellers to call themselves “coaches” and invite people to join them on weight loss challenges, no shakes required.
These challenges can be informal groups of friends or coworkers posting workout selfies and encouraging each other, or you can open them up to the public and impose a scammy fee structure. Your choice. Make sure to encourage the participants to exercise and to eat healthy, and while you’re at it, casually mention your company’s products whenever you can. If they find the shakes a handy way to abide by your nutrition advice, then so be it.
Almost anybody can lose a few kilograms in a short term challenge, so just point to their success as evidence that the shakes must have worked. Before you know it, those overpriced shakes will be flying off the shelves — and your customers will be asking if there’s any way they can get a discount!
Turn Customers Into Sellers
Here’s where we get to the heart of a pyramid scheme. If you set it up very carefully, it can even qualify as a legal “multi-level marketing” business.
The idea is this. You don’t just want to sell product; if that was your goal, you would have made a 70 cent shake and listed it on eBay, or a $3 shake that you could sell at GNC. You want to recruit sellers. People who have incentives to purchase lots more product — whether they sell it, drink it or throw it in the trash, we don’t care. So you get them on board by offering discounts, commissions or both. No matter what they do, you need to make sure they’re sending plenty of business your way.
Take a look at how Advocare does it: People can become “preferred customers” who get a 20 per cent discount, but only if they buy a $US20 ($26) “starter pack” that turns into a $US20 ($26) annual fee. You can get a still deeper discount — by buying more product.
As long as people get their product at a discount, they might as well sell it to others and pocket the difference, right? Advocare has a special level for these folks, called distributors, and they have to start by buying a $US79 ($104) kit and paying a $US50 ($66) fee every year thereafter. If they can sell enough product, including a minimum of $US500 ($657) out of their own pocket, they can qualify for another level of discounts, commissions and bonuses.
If this sounds complicated, great. You’re catching on. You don’t really want the average customer to fully understand how the system works. Just tell them you’ll explain it more as they work their way up.
Don’t Tell the Sellers How Little Money They will Be Making
It’s not the sellers that will get rich here: It’s you, and a handful of people who got in on the ground floor. You guys are the top of the pyramid. Everybody below you makes next to nothing.
For example, Advocare discloses that 90 per cent of their sellers make $US250 ($328) per year or less, with 72 per cent making absolutely nothing. Herbalife says the average seller makes $US245 ($322) per year, and that’s an optimistic estimate. Beachbody, makers of Shakeology, have obfuscated their disclosure enough that it’s hard to tell how many people are at the very lowest income levels.
The shake companies all have testimonials from people at the top of the pyramid, either talking about their millions of dollars or sometimes (to seem more approachable) about how they simply have a fun and easy job that supports their family. Here’s one testimonial Herbalife is currently running, featuring a woman named Nancy who has a “nutrition club” where she serves shakes:
Unfortunately, most nutrition clubs don’t turn a profit. And they aren’t exactly selling shakes. Instead, they charge a “membership fee” that covers the cost of a shake, herbal tea and aloe water. Club owners are not permitted to put up a sign saying whether the club is open or closed, and the club’s interior may not be visible to passers-by. The clubs mostly exist to recruit sellers, who may be required to pay for hundreds of shakes to complete their “training”.
The exact way you bilk people out of their money is up to you. If you do it too blatantly, you may end up in trouble, as we saw with Herbalife’s settlement. For some reason, the government wants businesses to make their money from sales to customers, rather than from sucking people into into a scam. Are you going to let that stop you? Come on, it’s Evil Week. Bilk away.
This post is part of our Evil Week series at Lifehacker, where we look at the dark side of getting things done. Sometimes evil is justified, and other times, knowing evil means knowing how to beat it. Want more? Check out our evil week tag page.