A neighbour asked me round to discuss a new business she was involved with.

For example, you join and then recruit five people below you.

All they need to do is recruit five each, making 25.

Unemployed graduates, freelancers and management victims of "company downsizing" are particularly likely to be tapped, as are married couples (which are seen as more efficient networking units).

If it hasn't yet happened to you, it is likely that sometime this year, sooner rather than later, a colleague, an old friend, or someone you meet at a wedding will mention a "business opportunity you might be interested in".

How it works sounds simple: you join a company, buy their products (your initial layout might be a few hundred pounds), and sell them on a part-time basis to friends, family and colleagues.

But the more important part of the business is to recruit people to join the structure below you, and then make roll-on commissions from their sales.

Over 442,000 people are now involved in the whole direct-selling business in the UK.

Network marketing companies would like to be seen as part of the same tradition as the Tupperware and Avon ladies, but it is a cosy connection which is almost perniciously misleading.

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We chatted about the neighbourhood and she told me a bit about her very successful business career as an importer.