From time to time, people ask me whether or not you need to pay for whatever you’re promoting as an affiliate, in order to earn commissions. And I think this mostly stems from the MLM world, where in many cases you do need to purchase products to “qualify”.
But what about affiliate marketing, do you need to buy the products you promote?
No, you generally do not need to purchase products and services you want to promote as an affiliate, most reputable companies do not require this. Typically, only MLM companies and “pay to play” schemes require this. However, it can be a good idea to buy stuff you promote regardless, so that you can share your first hand experience with people.
Let’s take a closer look at how most reputable affiliate programs work, versus how MLM and other schemes work, so you know the key differences. And then we’ll discuss some of the reasons why buying either way can lead to a more ethical and profitable affiliate business.
How Most Reputable Affiliate Programs Work
Let me start by explaining what an affiliate program is real quick…
An affiliate program is basically a special program that connects a vendor (who’s selling something) with an affiliate (who wants to earn commissions promoting that product).
Most affiliate programs are free to join.
You simply sign up, apply to the program, and once accepted, start promoting the product. So that when people buy products through your unique affiliate link, you earn commissions.
For example, Amazon has an affiliate program called Amazon Associates. And they pay their affiliates up to 10% commissions when you send customers their way:
This is a 100% free affiliate program that anyone can join, and it’s very easy to get accepted. Once approved, you have access to promote millions of Amazons products throughout their entire website. Including low ticket items like books, to high ticket items like refrigerators.
Another example of an affiliate program is Clickbank. This is basically the “digital download” equivalent of Amazon. Where you can sign up and start promoting ebooks and digital video courses and the like, within many different niches.
And like Amazon, it’s free to sign up. And you don’t need to buy the products you promote. Just join, get your links, and start promoting.
Obviously you’re going to need to learn how to do affiliate marketing if you want to be successful though. It’s not as easy as signing up and plastering your affiliate links all over the internet, hoping to make a sale (lol).
But that’s the gist of how a regular, ethical, reputable affiliate programs work. You simply do not need to buy the products you’re promoting. Which makes sense when you think about it, because you’re sending them paying customers. So they are going to reward you, not bill you.
How MLM and “Pay to Play” Schemes Work
In contrast to what I just explained, MLM and “pay to play” schemes work very differently.
Most network marketing companies expect you to reach a certain sales quota, which often involves buying products for personal consumption. And pay to play schemes take this a step further, by requiring you to buy every product they offer.
And if you ask these companies why it’s required, they’ll probably tell you something like “if you don’t own it yourself, how can you expect others to buy”. As if somehow it’s an ethical arrangement.
But this is simply not the case. The real reason they require this is far more self serving, and in no way represents a more ethical business model.
Let’s take a closer look at these types of programs to see how they work.
Multilevel marketing (AKA MLM or network marketing) is a system of selling products and services through a network of distributors. And those distributors earn commissions on both product sales and by referring others into the business, who sell products.
MLM companies don’t exactly require you to buy their products to make money promoting them. Because if they did this, they might be accused of running a scam or pyramid scheme.
Instead, they have certain “qualifiers” in place that you need to meet if you want to remain “active” in the company and able to earn commissions within the compensation plan.
For example, you join a company and in order to start earning, you need to accumulate 100 PV (personal volume). And this volume is tied to products. So “product x” might cost $50 and have 50 PV attached to it. Which means you’d have to buy two of these to meet your quota and become a qualified, active consultant.
The good news is, most legitimate MLM companies allow you to meet this quota by actually selling the products. So you can just sell enough products to become qualified.
The bad news is, most people don’t make enough sales, especially when they’re first starting out, so they just buy this stuff for the sole purpose of qualifying.
And this is why you hear all these stories of people in MLM who have a garage full of products they don’t use. There is no shortage of network marketing hopefuls that buy products from the company, in an effort to qualify for that coveted commission check.
In any case, I’m not sure I would call this arrangement a “scam”, because you can just sell enough products to qualify. Which is fine. But these MLM companies are essentially creating a “false demand” for their products in doing so. Because people are buying the products to qualify, instead of buying because they actually want the product.
This is why I’m not a fan of this model.
But it has nothing on the next type of business model I am about to explain. Which essentially takes this concept a step further, into the depths of scammery.
Pay to Play Recruiting Schemes
For the sake of this article, when I talk about “pay to play schemes”, I am talking about “bizopps” where you must buy the products you want to promote. Where the whole thing is about joining, buying products to qualify, and recruiting others into the same scheme to make money.
And it often doesn’t involve buying just one product either.
It involves buying multiple products that each are higher and higher in price. The first product might cost just $47 but the subsequent products can cost into the $10,000’s.
So what happens is, the person joins at a low price point thinking this will be a good money making system. Then they find out that they really need to “upgrade” to make the real money. And there are often “coaches” who pressure them into upgrading, saying that by doing so, they will be in a position to make higher commissions.
Which is true. Because each higher priced product represents a higher “level”, and each higher level represents a higher level of earning potential.
That’s how these systems work.
These programs can either be regular affiliate pay plans or structured like an MLM, where you earn on multiple levels. The key difference is that you must buy the “product level” you want to earn commissions on when you recruit people. And if you don’t, and someone you recruit joins at a higher level than you, you miss out on that commission.
The whole thing basically works like a product-based pyramid scheme.
Reasons You Should Consider Buying The Product or Service Anyway
At this point, I’ve shown you how a reputable, ethical affiliate program works, and how other types of programs work that essentially try to “force” you to purchase their products, in the hope of earning money as an affiliate.
But there’s actually some very good reasons to purchase a product you want to promote, even when the affiliate program is legit. For example, you might want to:
- See if the product is of a high quality, before promoting it.
- Buy for the purpose of doing a more thorough review.
- Buy a bunch of products, so that you can compare these and publish a “top 10” review list as an affiliate for example.
Any of these are good reasons to make the purchase, before promoting it.
And that’s what I do myself before I promote anything on this site for example. I promote tools and resources I use myself because I think people respect that more than if I was to just promote whatever made me the most money at the time.
I’ve also spent thousands of dollars buying programs that I wanted to try out, and then share my review to help others make a more informed decision. Like a program I recently reviewed called Inbox Blueprint for example (which I’m not even promoting).
My point is, it’s not that you have to buy every single thing you review or promote. But in some cases it can really give your audience more value. And when it comes to affiliate marketing, your mission should be to give people as much value as possible.
Because this leads to trust, credibility and ultimately, more commissions. And it feels good to know you’re running an ethical, legitimate business that helps people solve a problem.
In this article, we’ve answered the question of whether or not you need to buy the affiliate products and services you want to promote.
And the answer is that no, you do not need to do this when it comes to reputable affiliate programs. But some business models like MLM have a sales quota system in place. And there are some pay to play schemes outright require you to buy, which is not legitimate.
Either way, there can be some good reasons to purchase regardless of the business model, individual product, or affiliate program. Such as wanting to help your audience make more informed buying decisions and provide the most value possible in your niche.
I hope you found this article helpful, and thanks for dropping by. 🙂