It seems like everyone is talking about them, writing about them, and starting side hustles of their own.
And understandably so.
Many of us are working outside of our fields. Few of us get to pursue our passions.
We’re more educated, but earning lower wages.
And we have the debt to prove it.
As a personal finance enthusiast, I read about side hustles all the time. As a blogger, I sometimes write about them, too. And as a millennial working outside of my field, in debt, and who was recently working for minimum wage, I would consider myself to be a side hustler.
But in my offline life, side hustling isn’t really a topic that comes up very often.
So when one of my new coworkers mentioned that she has a side hustle, I started beaming and quickly mentioned that I have one, too.
I fully expected the conversation to turn to discussing the many ways to “make money online”. Because in my world, that’s what side hustles are.
Instead, I was completely taken aback when I was asked:
“What do you sell?”
I was not expecting to be asked that question, and sort of mumbled something about selling articles and website stuff. (Which I guess is technically true.)
It hadn’t really dawned on me that “side hustle” could mean something completely offline and in a different social circle.
I quickly learned from the numerous catalogues left in our break room that to my new colleagues, side hustle means MLMs (multi-level marketing).
What is Multi-level Marketing (MLM)?
For those of you that don’t already know, MLMs are companies like Avon, Tupperware, Pampered Chef, and Mary Kay. People sign up to be a representative for these companies and then sell their products or services and earn a commission from these sales.
They promise you can make tens of thousands of dollars running your own business from home, on your own schedule, while raising your children, running your household, and/or working full-time.
Which sounds a lot like every “make money online” article, doesn’t it?
Generally speaking, however, MLMs have a pretty bad reputation.
They’re highly associated with pyramid schemes (hence the “multi-level” part), which depend on recruiting more consultants in order to improve your downline. They target (or arguably, prey on) the weak and vulnerable.
According to a recent survey done by Magnifying Money, 20% of MLM participants never make a single sale. Many people that sign up actually end up going into debt instead.
But I get the appeal.
Starting your own side hustle is hard!
Especially if you’re starting one on your own from scratch.
Signing up as a consultant with an MLM takes a lot of that pressure off, because the business, the brand, and the products already exist. The companies want you to sell as much as you can and recruit more sales consultants, so they provide you with tools, training and support. If something goes wrong, there are people available to help you or your customers.
Now I’ll fully admit, I don’t know much about MLMs, other than the fact they do not interest me in the slightest. Not as a consumer or as a consultant. I don’t like shopping or spending money, and I’d make a terrible salesperson.
But I was curious and interested in learning more from someone actually involved with one.
Has my colleague had success with her MLM side hustle? Does she spend hours each week on it only to see a small return like most people? Or is she sitting back and watching the money roll in like those lucky few?
In short, I wondered if her experience with multi-level marketing made for a better side hustle than my experience with blogging.
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It turns out her story sounds a lot like mine.
We are those few “hobby side hustlers” that fall somewhere in between the very rare 6-figure success stories and the thousands of people that never earn a dime.
We’re both make low 4-figures a year, working an average of 10 hours a week.
But we’ve also both been working on our side hustles for a few years now.
And I think that’s important to note.
Most of the articles, promotional materials, ebooks, courses and whatever else is out there make it sound like joining an MLM or starting a money-making blog will lead to immediate success.
Which of course isn’t the case, otherwise everyone would be doing it.
In my 5 years of blogging, I’ve made less than $10,000 total. Most of which was made in the last 2 years. I made $0 from my first year of blogging, and only $200 in my second year.
But on the flip side, I spent a lot more of my time on my blog in those first 2 years than I have in the years since. Meaning I worked “for free” for a few years before I was able to establish myself and my blog enough to generate any income at all.
Is Multi-Level Marketing a Better Side Hustle than Blogging?
From my limited experience, I would say no. Blogging is probably a better side hustle than joining an MLM. I’m of course biased when I say this, but the stats for MLMs aren’t too favourable.
A better answer would be, it really depends on you and what you want to do.
Starting a blog is probably cheaper than joining an MLM
All you really need to start a blog is a domain name and some hosting. But blogging expenses can quickly get out of hand between things like training, advertising and marketing, equipment, design and premium plugins.
(Check out my resources page to see how I’ve managed to run my blog for over 5 years for less than $1,000.)
MLMs generally have affordable “investment” fees, but some costs thousands just to sign up. Many also have annual fees. If you decide to start a website for your MLM, you’ll have those expenses, too.
And then there’s the inventory. In order to sell products, you have to have products to sell. As I learned, MLMs often encourage consultants to re-invest their income into buying even more, “fresh” inventory. So consultants often end up buying their own products in order to meet sales goals and qualify for bonuses, regardless of whether they can sell the products or not.
You’ll definitely want to thoroughly do your research and crunch the numbers to see how much of an investment – and risk – it’ll really take.
Both require some level of selling
With an MLM, you’re selling the company’s products, services and the “business opportunity” to try to improve your downline. But with companies like LuLaRoe, you don’t have control over the designs or sizing of the inventory you’re sent. You may be left trying to sell things that no one is interested in buying.
If you’re a strong salesperson, you might flourish at this. Or if there’s high demand for the product in your area, it could sell itself.
If you’re hoping to make money from your blog, it’s sort of up to you what and how much you want to sell. You could sell your services (such as freelance writing, coaching, and virtual assisting), you could sell your website space (through ads and sponsored posts), you could make your own products (write a book, create a course, or sell printable PDFs) and/or you can earn commissions through affiliate marketing.
Level of control
The biggest difference, as Kayla points out is that “being in an MLM is not the same as running your own business”. You don’t control the business decisions or the pricing, and you can be kicked out for violating their rules or not meeting their targets. This also means, however, that you don’t have to worry about making those business decisions.
For me, having control is important. I want to run my blog my way and only promote the products and services that I believe in and that I think will benefit you. But if something goes wrong or if I stop making money from it, that’s all on me.
Who you work with
Because recruiting more consultants is crucial to be successful with an MLM, there’s a lot of pressure to grow your team. Meaning, you may end up working with people that you’d prefer not to. If you’re a social butterfly, you might love hosting shopping parties and meeting new people.
As an introvert, I prefer to work alone. (Again, it’s a control thing.) Yes, there’s a great and supportive community that’s helped get me here, but as a blogger, I’ve always gotten to choose who I work with. And who I don’t.
When it comes to starting your own side hustle, it’s important to consider all of these things and more.
Side hustles are a great way to learn new skills, meet new people, and hopefully make extra money. But they require time, energy, resources and money. Depending on your circumstances, a side hustle may not fit into your life or be worth doing.
If I were blogging only to make money, I would have given up years ago. Even though I’m only making a small amount of money from it, that extra income has saved me on numerous occasions. It’s also taught me more than I had realized, connected me with some truly amazing people, helped improve my confidence level, and is now helping me make a great first impression at my new job.
So find the right side hustle that works for you. Regardless of what that may be.
YOUR TURN: Are you a side-hustler? If so, what do you do? If not, what side hustle interests you the most?
Amanda Kay, the founder of My Life, I Guess, provides valuable career advice and support for anyone striving to make a living and, more importantly, make a life. Whether it's navigating job searches, learning new skills, overcoming unemployment, or dealing with debt, My Life, I Guess has been a go-to resource for career guidance and financial stability since 2013. Amanda's expertise and relatable approach have been featured in trusted publications such as MSN, Credit.com, Yahoo! Finance, the Ladders and Fairygodboss.