Affiliate vs Multi Level Marketing: what’s the difference?

So I’ve been asked now a number of times about what makes affiliate marketing different from multi level marketing.. so in this post we’re going to look at affiliate vs multi level marketing. And just just so you know I love the one and I am not at all fond of the other.

I have already published an article explaining affiliate marketing and another article explaining multi level marketing so you can check those out before reading this if you would like some more information about them. In this article I am only going to be looking at the difference between the two.

Affiliate vs Multi Level Marketing

Affiliate marketing and multi level marketing are often confused, but they are actually completely different. The biggest difference in my mind is that affiliate marketing is an amazing way to start your online business and multi level marketing is an unsustainable business model where you will struggle to make money and you are not free to run your own business in your own way.

Affiliate vs Multi Level Marketing

How many people are involved in the business model?

In affiliate marketing there are only 3 people involved in any transactions. There is the affiliate marketer, the company selling the goods and the customer. The affiliate marketer promotes the company’s products and a customer buys the product. The company pays the affiliate marketer a commission.

So in essence being an affiliate marketer is almost like being an independent sales representative that earns commission on sales.

With multi level marketing there will be the company, you, your up-line and your down-line. The biggest part of the multi level marketing business model is that you will be recruiting people into their system. The more people you recruit the more chance you have of making money and if your recruits recruit more people all the better because you will earn from their down-line too.

Affiliate Commission vs MLM downline Commissions

In affiliate marketing the commission is quite simple. You have your affiliate link and if anyone clicks on your link and makes a purchase you will earn a commission. It is clear and there is no confusion.

With multi level marketing the compensation plans are usually very complicated and for the most part I personally don’t understand how it works. One thing is clear, the more people you recruit the more money you will earn. The more people your down-line recruits, the more money you earn.

Who is in control of “your” business?

If you choose to go into affiliate marketing you have full control of your own business. You decide which companies you would like to affiliate with, which products you would like to promote and how you would like to go about promoting them. So you can do whatever you choose to do with your business.

With multi level marketing you don’t really have your own business. They call it your business but you are working for them, according to their sets of rules and how they say you must do things. You are limited to promoting their products only. Yes you can choose to sign up with more than one multi level marketing company, but you will struggle to keep promoting more than one multi level marketing opportunity and keep recruiting people.

What is the cost of affiliate vs multi level marketing?

This is another of the big differences, you don’t ever have to pay anything to a company to become an affiliate marketer. If a company says you need to pay a fee don’t go with that company, this is not a good practice!

All multi level marketing companies charge a fee of some sort to become an independent business owner. So in order to promote their company and make them lots of money you have to pay them money.  This makes no sense to me. If you are going to be promoting their products and selling their products why should you have to pay them?

The reason is because the product is actually you. Recruiting people is really the name of the game, not promoting products.

I’ve reviewed a lot of multi level marketing opportunities on my website and there are a lot of people that love mlm. I’m not a fan.

I love the freedom that comes from choosing to do things my way, yes I am a stubborn person and I don’t like being told what to do, what to promote or how to do it.

I love learning all about how to do online marketing, what the right way is and then choosing to do things exactly how I like them. So this is my affiliate marketing website and it is done the way I like it. I promote the products I think are amazing and when I review something and I think it sucks I can say so!

Making money online is a passion of mine, I have a passion for sharing what I know about making money online. I would love to help you find the right way for YOU.

I have other websites in different niches that interest me. Feel free to have a look and see how you can have completely different websites to cover your passions.

Living With Addiction


Kaboutjie Wholesale

Would you like to learn how to make money from something you LOVE? What are you most passionate about? Can you write about it? Then you can make money from it!

Would you like to learn how to set up your own websites, how to market online and how to monetize your websites so you make residual income?

You can earn multiple streams of residual income from your passions which will pay for years to come!

Then you really want to read my Wealthy Affiliate Review!

This is the best opportunity I have come across that will teach you everything you need to know about building an online business. The focus is on affiliate marketing, but you can also learn how to monetize your website in many other ways too.

If you have any questions or feedback please pop it in the comments and I will come back to you soonest.


Lynne Huysamen

Mommy to a pigeon pair, blogger and online marketer. Lover of chocolate, good books and buckets of coffee.


  1. Hi Lynne,

    This is an interesting topic that I found when browsing about MLM.

    Well, a friend in my office kept asking me to join for ‘leadership seminar’ and she also forces me to join her ‘secret recipe to get around 5 to 20 bucks per day even when you are sleeping’.

    She also tried to force other people too, and it really bugged me. I have heard that she joined an MLM program and decided to search about MLM.

    This is how I found your article here, and now I know the answer why she always forced people to join her: People is the actual ‘product’ of MLM. I really hate that concept because it annoyed me so much.

    Affiliate marketing seems to be a good idea to create a passive income. I would like to check other articles here. Thanks for your article here Lynne :) It’s very helpful.

    • Hi Alblue

      Oooh I would love to earn money while I sleep :) And it is possible with affiliate marketing, but only after putting in a load of work first! Nothing is autopilot or get rich quick, I wish it was true though!

      I am really glad to be able to help you understand the concept of MLM and how it is different from affiliate marketing.

      Let me know if you have any questions, I will be happy to answer for you.

  2. Hey Lynne,
    This is an interesting article. There is a lot of confusion and misinformation about all of these online opportunities. To be honest I wasn’t entirely sure what an MLM was until I read your previous article!
    I can definitely see how the affiliate marketing business model is the more attractive option, particularly if you have one eye on the long term.
    However, with the MLM system I suppose it depends upon where you are in the pyramid. If your at the top of the tree then I guess there’s no complaints as the money filters up the line!
    I just know that I wouldn’t be comfortable “recruiting” people into an MLM scheme knowing what I know now.
    Thank for sharing,

    • Hi Dylan

      Yes you are so right there, if you get into a new MLM business before there are a lot of people involved you do have an opportunity to make good money. BUT like you say is this really what you want to do? I want to have a real business, not take part in a pyramid scheme which is essentially what MLM is. Just because they disguise it with over priced rubbish products doesn’t change what it is.

      It doesn’t matter to me that legally it is not a pyramid scheme because there is a product.

  3. Hi Lynne,

    Once again and seen by me in several of your previously written articles on your websites what an outstanding job you did with this one as you explained the difference between MLM versus affiliate marketing.

    You took the time to differentiate between the two as well as lay out the fact that with affiliate marketing it involves less people. As an affiliate marketer you can also earn more profits especially if the MLM business is a cleverly disguised pyramid scheme.

    I clicked on the link to where you specifically discuss the negative factors surrounding MLM marketing as posted on a previous article at your great website. I especially got a kick concerning your discussion regarding Amway. I did a review of that company recently on my website – particularly noting that as the possibility of a person’s developing a profitable online business with Amway, really their training as I studied it is sorely lacking.

    My now deceased parents back in the early 1980’s got involved with Amway as did the neighbors across our street. I remember their going to a similar meeting that you attended. My parents fell for it hook, line and sinker sad to say; drinking from the Kool-Aid that was metaphorically being passed out by the Amway representatives. They blitzed people with the fact that simply following their “proven sytem” one could become a millionaire being an IBO, (Independent Business Owner) with Amway. I remember that while I attended this same meeting I came to quite a different conclusion than did my parents and I wanted no part of it.

    Well my parents tried it for a year, only to lose money. They had to end up buying a lot of products themselves to give out to friends and relatives hoping to turn them into customers. They ended up giving up although they only had their Amway business for that short period of time as a means of supplementing their income as they both had well paying first jobs each. Still as you say Amway is designed so that some of the profits you make in your business goes to the person upstream in the system instead of directly to you.

    I don’t understand it but that company has been in business since 1959 and is still going strong. I guess you can find a sucker anywhere looking to make $$ by any means in a business.

    Thank you for pointing out that companies such as Amway – all MLM’s is not the way to go in the hopes of creating a profitable online business. Affiliate marketing is so much better and ethical.

    Great article again Lynne


    • Hi Jeff

      Oh my, how did your parents survive a year with Amway without going crazy? I didn’t last long there at all. I felt like they were trying to brainwash me and whenever I asked questions about anything they looked at me like I was slow and explained to me again that I must just follow their “proven system”….

      This is where I get the bad taste for MLM from, it is all thanks to Amway!

      • Regarding my parents and Amway, I distinctly recall that I became one of their customers. I mean they were my parents and I wanted to support them. I think they finally got sick of A). purchasing products themselves trying to get others to buy them which cut into their profit margin and B). They probably got tired of always begging these friends into becoming recurring customers. It’s can be tricky doing that tasks, friendships can be endangered. It really was the only way they could succeed as the internet did not exist back then.
        I also wanted to share with you Lynne a story about that next door neighbor who I mentioned also was a member of Amway along with her husband. She was kind of an air-head to be honest. In Aug. of 1981 I took my first vacation trip out to Hawaii with a tour group. So coming back, after a long overnight flight covering some 4,500 miles, (I lived in a state just north of New York) and for the first time really experiencing jet lag I arrived back at home in the morning. At the time in my early 20’s and just starting out in the working world after graduating from college I lived with my parents. They happened to be away at the time so I had been picked up by a friend after a two plus hour bus ride coming from NYC Kennedy airport, (after the 10+ hour long flight eastbound) to my house which only made me even more tired. I remember arriving home. Across the street this woman saw me arriving and came running over. Now you think here intention was to ask me how my trip went, (in several years this woman her husband and their 3 daughters would go on a Hawaiian vacation themselves) and so on. No! She immediately started badgering me about buying some Amway products off of her. Can you believe that? This infuriating woman asked me if I need shampoo? Toothpaste? Mouthwash? Soap? Cleaning products? I remember this annoying woman even helping me with my luggage and following me inside the house. She had to have noticed how exhausted I was, simply wanting to go to bed even though it was around noon time. Finally counting to ten for I was about to scream in her face to just leave me alone, somehow she got the hint and left. I think within 10 minutes of her leaving I had collapsed onto my bed drifting off probably into a 4 – 5 hour dead sleep. Besides that, this incredibly selfish woman did not even consider the fact as to why in the world would I buy Amway stuff from her and at the same time doing this, would also be figuratively been thumbing my nose at my parents for not helping them with their business? Eventually both she and her husband saw the light as well, getting out of Amway as “Independent Business Owners” following my parents.

        Thought that you’d get a kick out of this Amway story. My parents after awhile stopped talking about Amway completely. They probably felt that it was as if they wasted a whole year out of their lives to which they would never get back.
        Take care,

        • Hi Jeff
          Yes it is sad. When I was with Amway for that short period they really just drummed into me how everyone is a “potential client” and I must jump at every opportunity as soon as it arises. So yes that woman was taught that if you see your neighbor getting out of a vehicle outside their house, it doesn’t matter what the circumstances are you must run and trap them.
          It really is sad.

  4. This is really thought-provoking article. When people take the risk and go into this kind of business, they often end up in an MLM situation and they don’t realize they have an alternative. I think that you make a compelling argument that Affiliate is the way to move forward. Thanks for Sharing!

  5. You have very interesting points in your article. But I don’t agree with how you portray MLM but for all I know you could’ve had a bad experience. I’m actually getting involved with Amway and they explain what a pyramid scheme actually is through the books they provide. A job is a pyramid scheme if you think about it. The people at the top get the most. But it doesn’t matter what business you get into, the business model will always be shaped like a pyramid whether it’s a regular business or the government. Remember…your upline can’t be successful unless you’re successful. So it’s in their best interest to help you get to where you need to be. What MLM basically is, is networking. Networking can you be the POWERFUL thing you can do to be successful. It’s not what you know but WHO you know. The people who quit Amway just didn’t try hard enough. Its not that business didn’t work for them its people just didn’t want to work at it. They didn’t treat it like a business. They got into it thinking they can spend an hour or two on a Tuesday afternoon and make some money. Amway has been around since 1959 with almost 5 million people worldwide. If it were a scam I don’t think it would be around for that long. Amway did make mistakes but I don’t think it should be held against them. Look at Walmart or Verizon for example. They made HUGE mistakes but people still seem to buy stuff and work for them. I believe you really can be successful in MLM if you study and work hard. The biggest thing in MLM you have to realise is that your dealing with peoples psychology and how they perceive everything. People base their logic off of what other people say and that’s just flawed logic. Just because it didn’t work out for the person doesn’t mean it can’t work out for the other.

    • Hi James
      Thanks for sharing your views on MLM, I really hope that your venture with Amway works out well for you. Please come back and let us know how it goes!

      I just can’t understand how you equate a JOB with MLM. A job is where you work a certain number of hours and days, you perform a certain set of tasks and get paid for that task. You don’t get paid commission for what other people do in the company and you don’t have to recruit people into the company. So for example if you work as a cashier at a supermarket… how can that be the same as MLM? I am really confused, perhaps I’m missing something here.

      Not everything is set out as a pyramid. Affiliate Marketing certainly isn’t.

      • Unless you come up with a business to where you can have others talk about your business, affiliate marketing won’t accomplish that for you. A job is a Ponzi scheme in my eyes. You have to work soooo hard just to make pennies on every dollar your boss makes. Does that make since? I worked at supermarkets before so I know the struggle. But lately, I adopted the entrepreneur mindset so I’m done working for other people. Think about what Kyle and Carson did with WA. They’ve adopted the MLM business model. Everybody and their mother made a website talking about WA and in return they get a commission for every person they invited. That’s multi-level marketing in its trustest form. You don’t receive the full cut, just a commission. I fully understand completely what they did and it’s absolutely brilliant. Is that a pyramid scheme? With this site, its ALL up to you to make sure you get sells but what if you had 300 to 400 people representing your website for you on a daily bases and all you have to do was give them a small commission. That would be beautiful!!! (I’d feel like a God at this point)

        And they are right, the product doesn’t matter (sort of). You have to have passion in the products in order for you to talk about them successfully but its the way the business works is what you gotta pay attention too. Do you think the people at the very top in these big time companies understand what their workers can do? Do you think the CEO of Verizon knows how to put a camera in a cellphone? No, they don’t. But the CEO knows how to bring people together with the right knowledge and work towards a common goal and make his/her business grow. Once you learn the process, you can sell any product that drops in your hand….literally.

        How do you invite people you may ask? It’s simple. You have to learn human relations and psychology. I don’t know WHAT they’re thinking BUT I know HOW they think. Now you may be thinking that this is a form of manipulation and I would say you’re right! But does it have to be in a negative form?? In many ways, it can be a good thing. When a police officer stumbles across somebody about to commit suicide, what does he do? He tries his hardest to TALK him/her out of it. That’s a form of manipulation! This is what I’m doing right now with you. You don’t have to join Amway but it would be suicide to not understand MLM for what it is and what it can do for you!!

        What you’re truly doing is like what I said before…you’re networking. Those people you invite can become your closest friends and alleys. Pretty soon they will become like your own little Spartan army ready to conquer anything that might come your way. You yourself is a part of Kyle and Carson army aka MLM.

        …..Think about it……

        • Hi James

          Thanks for sharing your opinion.

          I do agree with you that MLM can work for some people. I know of a few people that have made some nice money and enjoy doing it. However I know a lot more people that have lost a lot of money and been manipulated into the dream! Check my post on The Pink Pyramid Scheme.

          Just to correct something your comment… Wealthy Affiliate is not MLM!

          1. There is no down-line with Wealthy Affiliate, you can refer people and earn a commission but that is where it ends. This makes it affiliate marketing, not MLM.
          2. You don’t have to promote Wealthy Affiliate if you are a member, you can affiliate with anyone you like and they will train you to do this. This makes it affiliate marketing, not MLM.
          3. You don’t have to pay anything to promote Wealthy Affiliate and earn commission. This makes it affiliate marketing, not MLM.
          4. The product here is just awesome and it is well priced. There is huge value with Wealthy Affiliate and this makes it completely different to MLM where chances are the product is rubbish and the price is insanely expensive. You can join Wealthy Affiliate for free and start your business for free. You can also stay free forever if you choose. This is very different to MLM, where you have to keep paying to be a part of it.

  6. Before I got started online, I looked into a couple of mlm marketing programs, I didn’t know what it meant then! The big turn off was a) the thought of selling products I had no passion/interest in and – the bigger issue – trying to recruit people. I am fine suggesting products or programs to people if I believe in them but trying to get people to sell physical products etc really doesn’t appeal at all and the whole idea is too restrictive for me. Affiliate marketing isn’t easy but there is a vast scope of possibility and a real freedom that appeals.

    • Hi Netp

      Yes that is exactly how I feel. I love the freedom of being to choose exactly what I want to promote and how with affiliate marketing.

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