Affiliate Marketing vs MLM

Affiliate marketing is simply where you receive commission for promoting other companies’ products on your affiliate site. I will explain the difference between affiliate marketing and mlm – network marketing – as they seem very similar and this can be confusing at times.


Affiliate marketing is an art, and can reap rich rewards for you when done in the right way. Before coming across Wealthy Affiliate, I knew that I had to have a list of subscribers linked up to my website as they would eventually be my most prized customers. I did not know how to go about this though and wasted years signing up with various affiliate marketing training sites like Google Sniper and Maverick Moneymaker. With very little support online and offline.

It seemed easy then – put the systems in place and your income will snowball.

Once you have at least 10 posts up on your website, with affiliate links in place, you simply sign up to affiliate marketing networks like Clickbank, CJ (Commission Junction) Amazon, ShareASale, etc and wait for the monies to come in.

Now, Social Media is all the rage and can be used to establish your brand’s reputation. You can also use PPC (Pay-per-click) advertising using Google Adwords, or Bing and Yahoo advertising. However, since the costs of PPC advert campaigns can mount up quickly, it is advisable to use either social media or email marketing to build your brand name and build your list first.

These two methods cost peanuts in comparison.


So What Is MLM or Network Marketing?

MLM stands for Multi Level Marketing and used to be the term used for what is now called Network Marketing. Yes, they are the same thing. The first term emphasizes the different levels of payouts in compensation for the retail sales you do.

The Network Marketing term stresses that you make a bonus depending on how large your team is and how much retail sales it makes.


For example – in Forever Living, as a new Business Owner, you get paid 35% on retail sales you make. On the next level of team leader, you are paid 30% profit on all personal retail sales, 8% Personal Bonus on all personal use and retail sales and 3% Team Leading Bonus.

At that is just for Starters. The higher you go up the ranks, the more bonuses and higher your commissions become. You can also get Royalty Bonuses.  You can even get paid more than your sponsor if they are  not as active.

That’s not all, if you reach the benchmark number of CC (Forever’s term for points) you are flown to an all expenses paid trip to Forever’s Global Rally to receive a percentage of the firm’s annual profit share. This can fun up to thousands of dollars and some people are given a million dollars – and this on top of their monthly income.


Tell Me The Difference!

Right, before I venture way off topic – the main difference between affiliate and network marketing is that one is based online and commissions run at normally anywhere from 4% (Amazon)-75% (ClickBank). There are no royalty bonuses paid or all expenses paid holidays.



Network marketing is more traditional and retail sales are normally offline and made during home parties, or table-top events. All advertising has to be compliant with company regulations and the use of 3rd party websites is frowned upon.

There is heavy emphasis on ‘recruiting’ everyone you know who might want to earn an extra income. It is very hard work and success is made not just by selling products, but by duplicating successful Business Team Leaders within the company.


Difference Number 2

Affiliate marketing is centred around writing content for your site and emails. Also creating videos that demonstrate aspects of your site’s concept. You learn to be really tech savvy especially after learning aspects of WordPress,



Network marketing draws you out of your comfort zone as you are speaking on the phone and face-to face with your warm and cold market. The good thing is Social Media features a lot in the meteoric rise of certain business owners’ payouts since 2013. So network marketers can use the internet to promote brand awareness within company guidelines.


Difference Number 3

With affiliate marketing you can do a lot of work in the comfort of your own home. However, network marketing means you have to attend local business meetings and also bring your prospects and other team members to meetings. It seems there is always one to attend! 1 on 1 meetings to explain the business opportunity, home parties, table-top at events, global rallies, business team leader meeting and various ongoing training which you pay for.


Difference Number 4

Once you join up as an affiliate, you only need to pay for such services as an autoresponder such as Aweber, MailChimp, Get Response, to name a few. This is on a monthly or annual basis. Also domain names are relatively quite cheap at $13 a year. What I’m trying to say is you do not have to fork out a lot of money for the few add-ons you may need to set your affiliate marketing system up.



Network Marketing on the other hand can really end up costing you a packet as you invest in training on Social Media, Business Basics and Accounting, for example. You also have to be a ‘product of the product’ by buying company products for personal use each month.

Difference Number 5

In network marketing it is quite important to join a good team with a direct upline that can encourage and help you learn the ropes of the business. I have seen people cry and become really indignant and resentful if their direct sponsor is either miles away or just gives one-worded answers to their questions.



In an affiliate marketing and training program like Wealthy Affiliate, the founders, Kyle and Carson have created a community of members who fall over each other in their rush to welcome, encourage and train you each step of the way. As the months pass by – I still have nothing but praise for the excellent spirit of support that is evident in WA.



Neither affiliate marketing nor network marketing are get-rich-quick schemes. You have to work hard at both. Personal development is more important in network marketing because you have to know how to communicate and duplicate your efforts in a way that is both ethical and diplomatic. You are dealing directly with people from all walks of life most of the time, so professionalism counts.

In my research, I have noticed that email marketing forms a big part of communication in affiliate marketing and needs to be friendly yet professional at the same time. Website design and titles should be interesting otherwise the temptation to click away to another site can be huge.

I hope you decide which type of marketing model suits your personality and also make a good choice of business opportunity so that you can get off to a flying start.

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to leave them here below.


24 thoughts on “Affiliate Marketing vs MLM”

  1. Hi Stella,

    What a brilliant post I myself have always wondered what the differences were between the two. After reading your post I now know exactly what they are thank you for yet another very informative post.

    • Hi Ofa,

      Yes, there is a big difference between affiliate and network marketing.
      The first is centred around computers and typing and the other – well, you read the post!

      All the best…

  2. Great Post Stella. The problem with the MLM is that they are pyramid systems and your success depends on whether others will be have the same level of determination that you have or not, and that is hard to assess and to build.
    Since 99% of people quit as soon as they start, it is very hard to get a lot of dowlines built.

    • Hi Pablo,

      Thanks for commenting…Network marketing is actually not a pyramid scheme and yes it can be hard work for the first 2-5 years, but after that you can literally cruise. I have personally met many people in Forever Living who are on 6-figures and have overcome shyness and many other character traits that can prevent them from having good self-esteem.

      Once you understand the compensation plan, it becomes clear that you can become richer than the person who sponsored you if they are not as pro-active as you are. The business model is a simple yet effective one.

      Out of all the MLM or network marketing companies I know, Forever Living stands head and shoulders because they are ethical, up to date and very supportive. Like one big family.

      Personally, I do not like talking so much and that has been a barrier to me succeeding with network marketing. On the other hand internet marketing can also be hard, but like MLM, just follow in the footsteps of people who have been ethically successful and you and myself will succeed.

      All the best.

  3. Great post and good info

    For me MLM is a dead history, I tried it once with Herbalife, which I think is the most famous known one.

    In the beginning all went good but people didn’t buy it anymore, for 2 reasons. It is expensive and you can buy cheaper ones online.

    Now I started being an affiliate marketer after that, by Wealthy Affiliate, and it is the best I ever encountered.

    You can make good money without having the worries of a team and commissions.

    People, I highly recommend it!

  4. Hi Stella

    I was involved with a Net work company for a few years and spent 1000’s of dollars trying to make it work and I felt like i would get 3 people to join, then lose 2, then get 1 then lose 2 and this was continual and seeing what you have said about this Affiliate Marketing platform, I am going to take a look and see if it is suitable for me as I really want to build my own business and stop feeding the top 2 people in MLM anymore and make a go iof it for myself instead so thank you for your recommendation

    • Vicki – what method of internet marketing are you using at the moment?  I thought you were already using this method as this is what Wealthy Affiliate training is mostly about!

  5. Very useful post. It seems you have good experience of both affiliate marketing and also network marketing as you describe the differences very well.

    I was not totally aware of how much work went into network marketing. Sounds like affiliate marketing is far more relaxed! I much prefer making a success from my own efforts and not having to rely on other peoples efforts which is what it seems network marketing is all about.

    Thanks again

    • Jon, 

      Yes, network marketing is harder at first, but thanks to Social Media, it is getting easier.

      It requires a major shift in mindset from Can’t to Can…..But then again so does anything new we are learning.

  6. Hi Stella. Thank you for sharing Affiliate Marketing vs MLM.

    On my quest to get Wealthy, my first encounter was MLM. I must confess I don’t like it. It is so difficult and takes so much effort to convince people. Although I have seen some persons that do it with ease. What I figured out was that a more successful person can easily get down lines because he has much evidence to show to his clients. In essence, little success triggers greater success.

    Affiliate marketing on the other hand is not easy tho but kind of convenient as one can work easily from anywhere with a laptop and the required softwares.

    I’m going for Affiliate Marketing and probably include MLM as time goes by.


  7. Hi Stella,

    What an awesome article!  You have made the difference between MLM (or Network marketing) and Affiliate Marketing so easy to understand, anyone, even a a brand newbie could easily get it!  Now I may be biased here because I prefer Affiliate Marketing.  

    The problem for me on the MLM part is first of all the recruiting!  I’m  not a salesman, and never been a good one either.  Cold calling or even “skyping” face to face to convince someone of the benefits of a certain product is really NOT my cup of tea. I have joined one of these lately, just to see what it was like and I actually just let it die in the bud.  Just not for me.

    Affiliate Marketing on the other hand is exactly what I’m looking for.  No recruiting, just promoting something you believe in and then promoting it some more so that people find you! Basic, but a lot easier for me anyway!

    Thank you for the easy to understand differences, it makes a lot of sense now!


    • Hi Denis, 

      In MLM, recruiting helps to grow and mature in self-development.  However, Affiliate Marketing helps grow in skillset and patience. 

      I totally understand some people prefer working directly with people whilst others  don’t.  The good thing is that  MLM companies are now using internet marketing methods to recruit.  Affiliate marketing is not one of them!

      I am glad you have found the method that works for you and wish you all the best.

  8. Hi Stella,

    Great site outlining the differences between affiliate marketing and MLM or multi level marketing, I have worked in both of these methods to make money and trust me being an affiliate marketer if far more preferable than working in MLM, that’s not to say that people can’t make money at MLM some have made millions but I think the failure rate is quite high. Affiliate marketing is a totally different concept in that you get the proper training at Wealthy Affiliate and you put the training into practise build your website attract visitors that click on your affiliate links and get paid!

  9. Dear Stella,

    Thanks a lot for the detailed and in-depth post. I do know the basic difference between the two but after reading your thorough post I learned a lot difference between them which I am not aware of.

    You explained it very well and I got helpful insights from your post.

    I done both MLM and Affiliate Marketing based on my experience I believe Affiliate marketing is the best (in my opinion). As you mentioned rightly, it depends on individual preferences. However in most of the mlm companies you need to purchase their products, often the products cost will be more expensive. With Affiliate marketing you can start your business with low investment (As you mentioned in “Difference 4”).

    I really enjoyed the content and in the manner that you presented and you have really given a lot of value here.

    Much Success!


    • Thanks Paul,

      Yes, though many of us have heard of network  marketing, we need to understand the difference in the marketing model before we proceed.

      I prefer affiliate marketing because you can almost “set it and forget it”.  If you do that with network marketing, you could end up losing your team!

      I am glad you enjoyed reading this post and hope to hear from you further on our WA journey.

  10. After a few weeks of research now (your article included), I’ve come to the conclusion that MLM marketing is definitely not for me – I personally think it has a much higher risk factor. 

    I also believe that affiliate marketing can be done without any damage to your wallet, and in most cases you can get started for free. Do you agree with this? Do you know of any affiliate marketing programs that one can start for free?

    • Hi Chris,

      No, I don’t know of many affiliate marketing programs you can start up for free except MoreNiche.  It is a UK based supplement company.

      You can start up with affiliate programs for free only for a trial period, for example, Wealthy Affiliate.  You can do your own research though as there are  thousands of affiliate marketing programs online.

  11. I have previous experience with MLM, being a member of Amway for a short time. It’s really exhausting, between inviting people to join so you can build your up line and buying and selling products to earn small commission. There is also a fee to join. Your comparison of Affiliate Marketing and MLM is indeed correct and will definitely be helpful to persons reading in making an informed choice. Being a member of Wealthy Affiliate, I must say that affiliate marketing stands to be the better of the two. I appreciate the opportunity of experiencing both as I am now more knowledgeable and can offer my honest opinion.  With Affiliate marketing, I have learnt so much about various online opportunities and I can stay at home, build my business and interact with people all over the world.

    Thanks for sharing!

  12. Your differentiation between multi level marketing and affiliate marketing was probably the best that I ever read and you have covered all the aspects of what to expect in each platform. I personally have tried both and I found out that my personality fits with affiliate marketing more. I love the aspect of network marketing that I n work whenever I want as long as I can deliver a useful content. On the other hand, for network marketing the compensation is way better than affiliate marketing but attending too all these events are tiring. Also, cannot bring myself selling the products to my friends when we are hanging out. It is just my personality. I have seen so many people who can sell naturally, I wish I have that personality.

    My goal now is to ry out affiliate marketing first and when I am good at it I might reconsider MLM or maybe even E-commerce. I think everyone should start with affiliate marketing first and pick it from there. Great article.

    • Thanks Nuttanee,

      I am glad you found my article easy to read and understand.  Affiliate marketing is not easy to set up, but once you do, the sky is the limit.

      As you noticed, network marketing is definitely more face to face contact and lots of travelling to trainings…

      Take your pick!


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