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Is MLM the same as pyramid marketing?

If you’ve ever dived into the world of MLM, you’ve probably bumped into the term “pyramid scheme” more than once. And if you’re anything like me, it’s got you scratching your head in confusion. In this blog post, I’m going to un-muddle these often conflated terms.

First Off, What’s MLM Again?

Ah, a quick refresher is always handy! MLM, or Multi-Level Marketing, is a strategy where individuals sell products directly to others. But the twist in the tale? They also recruit others to do the same. Every sale your recruit makes, you get a small portion of their earnings as commission. Think of it as a bonus for being a stellar mentor!

Pyramid Schemes: The Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Here’s where things get a bit dicey. Pyramid schemes often masquerade as MLMs, but there’s a core difference. Pyramid schemes are primarily about recruiting. Money is made when new recruits buy-in, but there’s no real, valuable product to sell. The primary focus? Get more people, get more money. But as you might guess, this isn’t sustainable. The pyramid eventually collapses, and those at the bottom are often left with empty pockets.

Breaking It Down: MLM vs. Pyramid Schemes

Product Value

MLMs have genuine products or services on offer. Whether it’s beauty products, health supplements, or any range of goods – there’s something tangible to sell and potentially profit from. Pyramid schemes? They’re more about passing money upwards without a legitimate product to back it up.

Earning Potential

In MLM, you earn by selling products and recruiting others. In pyramid schemes, recruiting is the main game. Your earnings primarily come from the fees of those you recruit.


This one’s a biggie. MLMs are legal. They operate under clear regulations and have been around for decades. Pyramid schemes, on the other hand, are illegal in most countries. Why? Because they’re unsustainable and often result in significant losses for those at the bottom.

Why the Confusion Then?

It’s simple, really. Since both MLMs and pyramid schemes involve a tiered structure where you recruit others, it’s easy to get them mixed up. But remember: the presence of a genuine product and a legitimate earning structure is what sets MLMs apart.

Tips for Telling Them Apart

If you’re eyeing an opportunity and can’t tell if it’s legit, here are a few pointers:

Ask About the Product

Is there a genuine product or service on offer? Can it stand on its own, independent of the recruitment process?

Understand the Earning Structure

If the primary way to earn is by recruiting others rather than selling products, tread with caution.

Do Your Research

Check reviews, look for testimonies, and always read the fine print.

Wrap Up

So, in the grand debate of MLM vs. pyramid schemes, the verdict is clear. While they might seem similar at a glance, they operate on different principles. As always, be inquisitive, do your research, and never dive in without a clear understanding.

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About Lilach Bullock

Hi, I’m Lilach, a serial entrepreneur! I’ve spent the last 2 decades starting, building, running, and selling businesses in a range of niches. I’ve also used all that knowledge to help hundreds of business owners level up and scale their businesses beyond their beliefs and expectations.

I’ve written content for authority publications like Forbes, Huffington Post, Inc, Twitter, Social Media Examiner and 100’s other publications and my proudest achievement, won a Global Women Champions Award for outstanding contributions and leadership in business.

My biggest passion is sharing knowledge and actionable information with other business owners. I created this website to share my favorite tools, resources, events, tips, and tricks with entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, small business owners, and startups. Digital marketing knowledge should be accessible to all, so browse through and feel free to get in touch if you can’t find what you’re looking for!


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