What Is Multi-level Marketing (MLM)? Characteristics & Examples

The Internet has been flooded with new MLM opportunities where it can be difficult to differentiate the legitimate operations from the scams. In this article, we'll help you do just that by explaining some of the hallmarks of a well-run MLM, whether or not it's for you, and what to watch out for before joining anything.

What Is Multi-level Marketing (MLM)? Characteristics & Examples

What Is Multi-level Marketing (MLM)?

Direct marketing companies are often focused on compensating their sales force not only for the sales they make but also for the sales of people they recruit. The recruited salesforce is called a downline and can provide multiple levels of compensation.

MLM companies have a variety of structures. Some MLM companies have a single level of compensation or one-tier, while other companies have multiple tiers. The most common structure is the pyramid-shaped organization. The people who are at the top of the marketing company recruit new people to join the program. When a new person joins an MLM company, they start at the bottom and work their way up through different tiers in order to advance in their careers.

Multi-level marketing is a way of selling products or services through distributors called participants. They earn money from the sales they make and from the sales made by the people they recruit to join the network, their downline.

MLM, also known as network marketing or pyramid selling, is a type of sales in which the company makes money by enlisting non-salaried workers who sell their products or services. The participants receive commissions for their sales, and these commissions vary depending on the rank in the hierarchy.

A pyramid scheme is a business model that recruits members and gets other people to recruit members. This process continues until someone reaches the top of the pyramid, at which point their recruiting stops and they instead get a percentage of all sales made by those below them in the pyramid.

Characteristics of Multi-level Marketing

- Multi-level marketing is a type of sales where direct sales companies make money from a non-salaried workforce that sell their products or services.

- MLM stands for multi-level marketing, which is also sometimes called network marketing or pyramid selling.

- Participants' earnings are based on a commission system that has tiers like a pyramid or binary structure.

- There are many different types of multilevel marketing companies. Some have just a single level of compensation, and others have multiple levels.

- The pyramid-shaped MLM MLM scalar web enterprise is the most typical form of Multi-level marketing business.

For example, if the Multilevel Marketing Company has products at $100 and wants to sell them 2x as fast, they might offer incentives of 10% off or buy it now.

When people participate in MLM, they sell products and services door to door or through a catalog. Participants earn commissions on their own sales as well as on the sales of others in the downline, typically through a hierarchy of levels.

The people running the pyramid scheme expect people at the top to recruit more people, while those at the bottom make less.

When it comes to multi-level marketing, opinions can vary greatly. Some consider it a legal form of a pyramid scheme and some believe that it's legitimate. All businesses using this model need to be very careful or else they can end up being accused of running illegal pyramid schemes.

Understanding MLM – Meaning of Multi Level Marketing

Companies that rely mainly on sales to generate revenue might find success through multilevel marketing. This can result in legitimate ways to increase your revenue.

In most multi-level marketing programs, sellers may need to come from two different revenue streams. Participants usually get compensated for the product or service sold and for anything else those they recruit may sell. The amount of the commission varies based on whether you are selling or create a wholesale purchase.

A downline distributor is someone you recruited in addition to yourself and anyone they recruit. This provides the organizational hierarchy for MLM businesses.

As a Multi-level marketing business, one of the responsibilities of an MLM salesperson is to sell products directly to end user retail clients. They do this by using word-of-mouth and relationships as ways of promoting their products. However, they are rewarded for bringing others as fellow salespeople and building the company's distribution chain. This makes them one level below your team in the organizational structure of your company.

The Federal Trade Commission studied and published a report about the reality of MLM businesses. It found that 99% of people who joined them will lose money in the process.

Although many MLM companies rest on the premise that participants can make large returns, this is statistically improbable. As such, many countries outlaw or regulate these businesses out of existence.

Is MLM Legal?

Multi-level marketing companies have generated a lot of controversy during its history, with some people calling it a legal form of a pyramid scheme while others assert that it is a legitimate way to sell products. The legality of MLM depends on the structure of the enterprise. In general, the term network marketing or multilevel marketing refers to a type of sales approach in which individuals are incentivized to bring new people in. This person then gets a commission as their recruiter earns profits for recruiting them. Furthermore, each salesperson earns commissions from any sale made by their recruits, so that there are incentives for everyone within this multi-level marketer system. Hence, these businesses are generally legal and provide an opportunity for individuals to earn money by selling products.

Is MLM a Pyramid Scheme?

Multi-level marketing can be a legal business model, if it’s done correctly. However, pyramid schemes are illegal in many jurisdictions because they are seen as harmful for consumers and because they can be perceived as a form of financial fraud. Multi-level marketing businesses have different organizational structures than pyramid schemes, which tend to have a single person at the top.

The two types of businesses are set up differently. Multi-level marketing businesses have a more flat management style where participants are all equal. People in multi-level marketing businesses also typically sell actual items or services, while people involved in pyramid schemes usually do not. One common argument against saying multi-level marketing is a type of pyramid scheme is that not everyone will lose money in MLM.

Multi-level marketing can be a risky venture to be involved with because, while some people do make their profit from the business, most people don't. In fact, many people get involved who end up losing money. Basically, a pyramid scheme is not what MLM is, but it can become one if it's not managed correctly.

What is the difference between multilevel marketing and pyramid scheme?

The main difference between a pyramid scheme and a Multi-level marketing business is that participants in Multi-level marketing businesses actually sell products/services, while participants in pyramid schemes only receive commissions.

Multi-level marketing businesses also have a flatter organizational structure than pyramid schemes, which are typically hierarchical with a single person at the top. Multi-level marketing business also tend to be more transparent about how profits are divided among partners than illegal pyramid scheme-based businesses.

Examples of Multilevel Marketing (MLM) Businesses

1. Amway

Amway is a family-owned business that sells cosmetics, health products, and cleaning supplies. In 1959, Jay Van Andel and Richard DeVos founded the company in Ada, Michigan. Since then, it has grown to have offices all across the world.

Amway is the largest seller of home care products in North America, Europe, and India. The FTC investigated their business practices and found nothing suspicious. This greatly improved the company's reputation following accusations that it was a pyramid scheme.

2. Mary Kay

Mary Kay is a cosmetics company that was founded in 1968 by Mary Kay Ash and has been growing ever since. The company offers skincare, fragrances, and makeup products that can be purchased by women in over 35 countries. It operates in the United States, Canada, Mexico, and Australia as well as several other countries.

Mary Kay has long been one of the world’s most successful MLM companies. They manufacture and sell their own skincare, makeup, body & sun, fragrance, men's and gifts lines. There are three ways for customers to order from Mary Kay: visiting a brick-and-mortar store, speaking to an independent consultant, or buying from their website.

They employ a hybrid MLM approach. They arrange offline events or meetings and employ beauty experts who provide products directly to consumers. When new sales agents are invited, distributors also get a cut of the profit.

3. Herbalife

Herbalife is a global nutrition company that sells weight-loss, dietary supplements, and personal care products. The company was founded in 1980 by Mark Hughes. Herbalife operates in more than 90 countries and its products are sold through a network of distributors.

Despite the controversy over the years surrounding whether or not Herbalife is a pyramid scheme, the company continues to operate.

Herbalife employs close to 10,000 people and covers the entire world. They have over 4.5 million members and focus on a binary structure that limits one distributor to two sellers at the first level of sales.

4. Forever Living

Forever Living is a direct-selling company that sells health, beauty, and wellness products. It operates in more than 145 countries and has a network made up of 9.5 million independent distributors.

Forever Living offers a range of products for the beauty and wellness industry. The company includes aloe vera-based drinks, personal care products, weight management products, and essential oils in its product offerings. Forever Living also owns one of the largest beekeeping operations in the world, which provides honey for some of its products.

In 2021, the income for Forever Living is expected to reach $4 billion. Many of the other businesses listed here also have offices around the globe. They're constantly interacting with millions of people.

5. Nu Skin

Nu Skin is a global market leader in anti-aging skincare and nutrition products. Nu Skin was founded by Blake Roney, Steve Lund, and Sandi Tillotson in 1984. There are currently more than 54 countries who carry their products and they employ over 1 million independent distributors worldwide.

Nu Skin has a product range that includes skincare, cosmetics, dietary supplements, and personal care items. They are well-known for their cutting-edge anti-aging technology and have continued to expand their operations in recent years. The company has a major focus on the Asia-Pacific region and continues to grow there.

Nu Skin uses a Stairstep Breakaway Plan to motivate their sales force. This plan encourages distributors to sell more products by increasing their commission percentage when milestones are reached. It has been an effective strategy so far.


Multi-level marketing has been around for a long time, and there are both legitimate businesses and scams out there.

Never sign up for a multi-level marketing opportunity without doing your homework first. Keep in mind that you should never have to pay to start your own business!

Before investing in a multi-level marketing company, make sure you talk to independent business owners who have experience with the organization and ask them what it takes to get started.

What is your experience with multi-level marketing? Share your story in the comments below.


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