Going Up the Mary Kay Career Ladder

Written by Lila

If you’re reading this as a consultant, please know that every word is true and meant to help you learn the other side of the MK story. My story may be old, but please understand that NOTHING has changed in Mary Kay. They may dress it up a little differently, they may pretend there is a new process or incentive meant to help consultants, but it is always the same basic scam.

I originally started in Mary Kay Cosmetics in April of 1991 in college. What attracted me most was the dream of earning free cars, diamond rings, the glitz and glamour of Seminar. I was a very high- I, and my sales director at the time pegged me right away. She knew showing me the Seminar video tape would get me to sign right away. I did and a week later I was asking my parents for $1,000 to get inventory. I even shared with them the line- “You can’t sell from an empty wagon” So of course, they sent me the money so I could get started.

I love selling- I absolutely love to help people get what they want. I have no problem transferring my love of something to someone. I never felt sorry for myself if someone cancelled an appointment or returned product. I knew MK products were not for everyone.

I read every book, magazine and I listened to all the tapes and went to the meetings. I wanted what was “possible.”

I left the college town to pursue a teaching career and to get married. I tried juggling MK with teaching, a new family, and pursuing my Master’s degree and realized I couldn’t do it all. So around 1994 I gave up MK completely.

In 1997, my Sales Director called me and asked me if I would listen to a tape from Linda Toupin called “Choices.” I said yes and when I received it, I immediately listened to it at least three times. I vividly remember sitting on my bed, deciding right then and there- I was ready to start MK again- because “I was where I was, because of the choices I made or allowed others to make for me.”

So I rejoined in March of 1997. I attended Career Conference that very next weekend. I knew the lack of money management was one of the reasons I wasn’t successful before and pledged to not get wrapped up in the prizes, recognition, etc. and to order only when needed. So I told my director I was only starting with a $400 wholesale- which I did. Then I attended Career Conference and heard once again- “You can’t sell from an empty wagon” and thought “what am I doing- I need product”- so $3000+ went on a credit card that I just paid off two months prior. The whole time my director would say- “ You can’t sell from an empty wagon” “ You know you’re going to sell it” Making me feel that decision was the best for me and my family.

I held parties, asked for referrals, sold tons of product, and then started recruiting. I wasn’t fast by any means, but I was loyal and consistent. I loved my teaching career and really felt I had it all. I was attending every MK meeting and event. I juggled everything, running my son to every game and practice, teaching full-time, household tasks, MK parties and events, etc.

I recruited approx. 2-4 women every year from 1997-2001. Many of those women stayed on my team for years. I truly believe it’s because I recruited them the right way and for the right reasons! I loved being a consultant when the money I was making was helping with the ‘extras’ I wanted for my family and I.

In January of 2001, I was sitting at my desk and thinking to myself- I am more excited about doing MK then I am teaching. I think it’s time for me to pursue it full-time. I made the announcement I was leaving teaching at the end of the school year and started working towards car and directorship. I was concerned about replacing my income with MK, because my family NEEDED my teaching income to survive. So I asked my SD to sit down with me and REALLY show me the money side of MK — SHE ONLY SHOWED ME THE INCOME POTENTIAL. NO EXPENSES, NO ACTUAL INCOME ADVISORY STATEMENTS, NOTHING BUT ‘WHAT I CAN MAKE’- BASED ON THE ‘COMPANY AVERAGE’.

By June of 2001, I was on-target for my car and ready to submit for DIQ. In July of 2001, I was $2,000 away from staying on target for the car and directorship. This was the start of the end. I didn’t want to ‘throw away’ two months worth of car production over $2,000 did I? Of course not. So $2,000 went on a credit card.

I earned the car at the end of September with only putting in $3,000 towards my maximum personal limit and felt great about earning the car. I really had 12 quality women who wanted the work this business.

Then at the end of October of 2001- I finished Directorship with at least 7 “help me” consultants- personal use people just to get it finished. I was on top of the world- I earned a car, became a director and now I’m ready for the ‘Big Girls’ Club. I was able to wear THE SUIT! I was able to get ‘privileged’ director information early. I was able to stay in the Director’s suite at Seminar. Now I’m ready to make the money my SD told me about in January. I had arrived!!!

The chart below will show you what it really takes to be a Sales Director in the Midwest (Kansas City). I laid out the expenses and the commissions for you that I incurred. This does not include any product sales or expenses, as I just wanted to show you what the director side looks like.

As you can see the net income was next to nothing. I was working 50+ hours a week for that. I know it wasn’t all seeing faces and recruiting- it was everything MK related, i.e. Calling and motivating my consultants, informing them of new contests, new promotions, asking who their top 5 customers are, attending every guest event and company events. (Because that’s what a good leader does.)

Regarding prospects, I was no longer looking for great customers to purchase the products, I was to find future consultants (that is a director’s job). I turned into a stalker! I couldn’t even enjoy eating out with my family or going to a movie, without checking out the crowd.

In 2004, I started realizing I wasn’t able to pay my household bills, so to keep the ‘image’ of a great business, I started opening credit cards. I was approved for very high limits because of my good credit with little revolving debt. I even opened cards in my husband’s name without him knowing about it. I had to charge everything or take out cash advances- all so no one would know how bad my year had been.

I started substitute teaching, because I did miss teaching, but I really needed to make some kind of income! This was another warning sign! I was told “NOT TO TELL MY CONSULTANTS OR ANYONE ELSE I WAS WORKING ANOTHER JOB BESIDE MK!” It would give the appearance that you can’t make money in MK. When did working become so shameful?

In May of 2005, I made the decision that I was tired of not making money in MK so I “kicked it” into gear. I convinced myself (with the help of my upline- because you NEVER talk to anyone about your troubles unless you’re talking UP!) to book a 20/20 and talk to EVERYONE! Travel anywhere I needed to go, help anyone I needed to help- to finish a BIG GOAL- becoming a Grand Prix unit. Our unit needed over $22,000 wholesale to complete it. With all the new recruits and my personal 6 team members we did it.

Wow- what a great feeling. WRONG!

That next month I realized, I became one of those VERY PUSHY, VERY DETERMINED MARY KAY SALES WOMEN WHOM NO ONE WANTED TO BE AROUND! I sacrificed my time with my family and friends to meet this goal, but most of all I sacrificed my integrity! I knew some women did NOT need $3,000 worth of product on their shelves, but I convinced them they would lose out on so much FREE product.

I was now on top of the slide- ready to come down! I knew the way I earned that car was wrong. AND I was being praised for it!! I was being rewarded for unethical behavior and my heart and soul knew this was wrong! I was in true conflict. I put on a fake smile and faked excitement at my unit meetings, area and company events from June 2005-May 2006.

Finally in May 2006, I couldn’t sleep one night and had the breakdown I so desperately needed. I let everything get out of hand. I was making NO money, trying to keep it together so my family would not find out. We were getting close to three months behind on our mortgage, every bill was behind, and every credit card maxed out to a tune of $75,000+. I wasn’t honest with anyone, especially myself!

I had to come clean. I sat down with my husband that weekend and revealed EVERYTHING! He was very disappointed and shocked, but still supportive. I immediately went around to department stores and applied for jobs. I started working in the office at a catering company. I really enjoyed it and was bringing home a paycheck every week.

In September of 2006, I went back to teaching full time. I still upheld my director status, but changed my focus. We continued to make production until August 2006. We missed August and September, and I was NOT going to put in the rest of the production to stay a unit. My NSD and Sr. Director were SHOCKED that I did not want to ‘Save my unit.” I was no longer considered the “team player” that I was known as. I was no longer the “find a way, make a way” gal.

In October of 2006, when my NSD called to see what I can “make up” so she can plead with the company on why I needed an exception, like a death, ill parents, etc. I told her NO. I was working other jobs and needed to focus on my family. I know for a fact, my NSD has asked the company for so many exceptions for the directors in my area. This was my very first time we ever missed production twice in a row. In fact, out of all 60 months of directorship, we missed production only once for Aug and Sept. 2006.

Finally the call came from my NSD—she informed me that I am no longer a director. My feelings- MAD- yes… SAD- yes… but most of all- RELIEVED!! I truly thought I would get back on the wagon and start over, but the more time that passed, the clearer I was beginning to see the truth!

I would NEVER go back to directorship and want to help every consultant out there get ALL OF THE FACTS- BEFORE STARTING UP THE CAREER PATH.

I continued to sell for a while. I had a handful of loyal customers. It worked for me and I was able to turn a small profit, only ordering what they wanted. No meetings, no events, no conference calls, no stalking. I finally got to have my evenings and weekends with my family and nothing MK related unless it was dropping off product- which only took two minutes since I’m not trying to recruit them anymore.

I eventually paid off the credit cards and my customer based dwindled to nothing. I still place one or two orders a year to get the products that I like at wholesale. I know not everyone agrees with me still supporting MK by buying their products, but I like what I like and I’m okay with these occasional orders.

Thank you for listening. I hope this story helps women considering Mary Kay. They will tell you my story is unusual. That I didn’t work the “Mary Kay way.” That I never should have bought my production and that was my own fault and choice. Please understand that this happens ALL THE TIME in MK. Most directors are buying products they don’t need because they want to keep their units or get to the next level.  This is how it’s done if you want to move up the career ladder. How much are you willing to put on a credit card to create the illusion of success?


  1. BestDecision

    Your story sounds so familiar! I think one of the reasons people claim they make more money than they really do is that they don’t count expenses correctly. My Senior was an absolute mess, and I never saw her saving receipts or anything. So, if you were to go strictly on commissions, she made decent income—although still not “executive” at all.

    The whole culture of MK taught us to only speak positively and think abundantly. We were to spin anything slightly negative into something “awesome”.

    “How was your unit meeting?”…”Unbelievable!” (When only 3 were there.)
    “Are you having a great year?”…”We’re on our way to Cadillac!” (When only doing $7K/month.)

    Spinning that much and keeping up the facade of happiness and excitement was exhausting. As the first Seminar group starts to fly out, I’m so glad I’m at home, eating delicious meals, sleeping in my own bed, not sharing space, and cool as a cucumber out of the heat.

  2. Cindylu

    This is the sad 🙁 story of hundreds of other women in Mk. Yes a breakdown or illness often is a blessing. To those consultants and Directors that are caught up in the ladder of success spiel. This song and dance story is fake and over 45 years old. Just think of how many women have believed in the empty talk that is MK. I left Mk and have had a wonderful life and career. I have no debt and can enjoy my family. I was able to retire early and just be there for others. Get out now before this mlm ruins your life.

  3. Pinkiu

    Thank you for sharing. Your story is still relevant! I too came to MK in the 90s and as I read about MK in 2019, there is no difference to the mechanism of how it works. Yes, newsletters are online rather than mailed and recruits listen to podcasts and watch You Tube videos rather than CDs, but it’s still the same message. Warm stalk, book, recruit, frontload.

    1. Char

      Yes, and let me reinforce your words. The reason it is the same is because the definition of MLM, aka multi-level market-ING, is what it is. It doesn’t change with companies.

      The scammers have purposely used the language “an” MLM so people will think each one is a different “opportunity”. Ever notice how many MLM companies and MLM products people fail at? They fail at multiple ones because they are doing the same act/method – and don’t realize it.

      Cheat-ing, ly-ing, drown-ing, suffocat-ing, etc., had the same definition 50 years ago too. It doesn’t matter who, what, or where someone does the method. This method called MLM-ing that is inherently flawed.

      I once lied for the Acme Company, now I lie for ABC company. Still a liar. Drowning in a 5 star chlorine pool in Hawaii, or middle of the Black Sea, still drowning.

      I believe this is the one message that everyone needs to comprehend in order to take down MLM – or protect themselves from the next one that comes knocking.

  4. Mountaineer95

    Any legit wholesale company that wants its consultants (sales force) to succeed will absolutely tell them the truth about earning potential, because they want to foster a long term, mutually beneficial relationship between the manufacturer and the sales force. The fact that MK directors consistently, negligently, and intentionally provide ridiculously inflated earnings as “average” and “commonplace” shows that they do NOT value retention and that the turn and burn approach works just fine for them.

    This is hugely different from “legit” wholesale manufacturers for several reasons, one big one being the cost of training. A legit company will factor in a cost investment in training their new hires, because turnover is EXPENSIVE. Why do you think the MK “sales force” are independent contractors? Well, a big reason is that there are a lot of costs involved with general HR stuff for actual employees. Think about how much cost is incurred (or rather, the lack of) by MK Corporate for each new consultant they add? Little to none. If you look at traditional employment, every new hire costs much more to HR, etc. Mary Kay Corp has NO reason or desire to retain their consultants; rather, they likely PROFIT more from the turnover because usually the largest order any consultant places is their first inventory order (at least I think so, Tracy please correct that if it’s wrong).

    So, sorry for the length, my point is that it benefits MKC and its force to not be honest about “average” earnings potential because, while a traditional employer doesn’t want to on-board people who won’t stick it out and thus will not inflate earnings potential to secure hires (only to lose those new hires after they realize they won’t earn what they were led to believe they would), this isn’t a risk for MK.

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