5 Steps to Earning a Living with Affiliate Marketing


If you’ve been surfing the Internet for work-at-home ideas, chances are you’ve come across the concept of affiliate marketing. Maybe you’ve even tried it. If you’re curious about affiliate marketing or are struggling to make it work, you’ve come to the right place. Below you’ll learn what affiliate marketing is and how you can build a livable income from it.

Affiliate Marketing 101

What is affiliate marketing?

At it’s very basic, affiliate marketing is getting paid for referrals. While this concept has been around for a long time, Amazon.com is generally credited with bringing it online when it started it’s Associates Program. Starting in his garage, Jeff Bezos had limited funds to market his fledgling online bookstore. He knew people recommended books to their friends, and decided to reward readers who referred books from Amazon. There was no upfront cost, and yet he had an army of avid readers telling their friends about books and giving them an affiliate link to go buy it. It was only AFTER the sale (from the proceeds of the book), that he paid. Genius.

The idea took off and now companies of all sizes use affiliate marketing (including yours truly) to increase marketing reach.

How does affiliate marketing pay?

There are a variety of ways an affiliate program might pay. Some will pay a percentage of the sale, while others play a flat rate. Some programs don’t require that a sale be made in order to earn income. For example, some will pay for clicks or a lead (i.e. a person fills out a form for free information).

Most programs pay monthly, although some require you reach a specific income threshold (i.e at least $25). There are some that pay more frequently.

Most affiliate programs pay through direct deposit or PayPal. Some will send a check, although it might charge you a fee for the processing and mailing.

What does it cost to be an affiliate marketer?

Most affiliate programs are free to join. There are a few in which becoming an affiliate is part of buying their product or service. In that case, these programs prefer to have affiliates who have personal experience with them.

While most programs are free, there are expenses you might incur depending on how you decide to promote your affiliate programs. For example, if you decide to build a blog, you might have expenses related to buying a domain name and hosting.  Or you might decide to run Facebook or other advertising that can cost money.

Are there pitfalls to affiliate marketing?

There is no perfect way to make money from home, including affiliate marketing. While there are many pros such as being able to sell a product or service without having to create or deliver it, there are a few downsides. For one, you have no control over the product or the company. I’ve had programs in which I was making good money, and all of a sudden the service changed and wasn’t very good, or they terminated their program. In both cases, that income was lost. Sometimes people will manipulate your affiliate link (the special URL that tells the system your the one who sent the referral), so that you don’t get credit. There are some things you can do to counteract this, but savvy affiliate thieves can find a way around it. Only once have I had an affiliate not pay what was owed. Choosing good affiliate partners is the best way to avoid duds.

Probably the biggest challenge to affiliate marketing is generating income. There are lots of bloggers and other gurus that make it seem like affiliate marketing is an easy, automatic, hands-off way to make money. They forget to tell you how much work they put in behind the scenes. Like any work-at-home option, affiliate marketing takes research, planning, and implementation to work. Further, you need to assess your results to insure you’re maximizing your success and avoiding problems.

How to Make a Living Doing Affiliate Marketing

Now that you know what affiliate marketing is, how do you make money at it? Below are the basic steps to getting started:

1. Choose a niche you want to promote.

Since affiliate marketing is essentially referral marketing, and referrals work best when the person trusts you, choose a niche that you can promote with some authority. It can be something you’re knowledgeable about or passionate about. For example, if you love to make chocolate candy, your niche can be chocolate candy making. If you know how to save $1000 per month using phone apps, that can be your niche.

2. Search for products or services that have affiliate programs related to your niche.

You can search by visiting company websites that target your niche (i.e. chocolate candy mold makers), or, a faster, easier way, is to visit affiliate networks and search their directory. A few networks to check out include:

There are many more but this gives you a start. To find more, search “affiliate networks” in your favorite search engine.

Finally, make connections with people who target your niche. You’ll not only learn what they promote, but many may have their own products/services they offer affiliate payment on.

3. Test products or services that sound appealing.

Don’t promote any products or services that you can’t attest to the quality of. If you promote a bad product or a good product from a bad company, you’re reputation as a quality referrer can be jeopardized. Since you’re judged by the company you keep, being associated with bad products or companies can hurt your reputation. Many companies offer free access or discounts so you can test their product or service. But many don’t so you’ll need to buy and test them. For example, I never promote a job database or resource without first checking it out to make sure it doesn’t promote scams or questionable schemes. So anytime a new resource pops up, I either ask the owner for access, or buy it and try it out.

4. Decide how to promote your affiliate programs. 

In many, if not most, affiliate programs you’ll be expected to have a website. There are a couple of easy ways to do this.

Blog: One is to set up a blog and become an authority on the subject. You can include banner/button ads (i.e. in the sidebar) advertising your affiliate partner’s products or services. Or you can write a review of the product/or service, or a how-to article that links to the affiliate product/service as a useful resource.

Funnel: Another option is to setup a funnel system whereby you have a landing page that offers a freebie related to your affiliate product/service. Visitors enter their email to get the free offer and then are taken to a thank you page, where you can promote your affiliate product. Plus once you have their email, you can continue to contact them about related news, tips, and offers. I’ve been using funnel systems more and more because they’re less work and maintenance than blogging in the long run.

Email list: Most super affiliates have an email list, and I’d argue that it’s probably the most important tool in affiliate marketing. The blog and/or funnel can be crucial, but often it’s because they’re great ways to introduce people to your email list. The key to successful email marketing is to NOT sell all the time. People don’t want to be sold. They want tips, tools, and to be entertained. Set up a ratio of something like 3-1 in which only one out of every three emails actually sell something. Does that mean you can’t have affiliate links in non-sales email? No. But instead of an overt sales pitch, have an article that provides value to your subscriber. From within the article, if there is a a great affiliate tool or resource, you can link to it.

Social media: You can promote your affiliate partner on social media, although read the TOS and be aware of the market’s attitudes about having ads show up on their streams. Many use (aff) next to the link to let followers know the post contains an affiliate link. Instead of posting directly to your affiliate partner, you can link to your blog that contains the affiliate partner information.

Video: Video reviews, tutorials and tours are great ways to share information about your affiliate partners. Since people often search about businesses before working with them, video and your blog are great ways to be a resource for these pre-buyers. And if they like your information, they’ll buy through your link. Just make sure you’re always honest about the products and services you promote.

Podcast: Instead of a blog, you can have a podcast (or video-cast) that provides information and resources in your niche. Like in a blog post, you can promote your affiliate products and services within the podcast or in ad segments.

While you don’t need to to all of the above, there are several that can work together. For example, you can promote your blog or podcast through social media. However, no matter what, you should have an email list.

5. Build A Trusting Community

The most successful affiliate marketers have a community of people who look to and trust them for information and resources. You can expect to promote affiliate links to anyone and everyone and make a living. Why should the people who see your promotion or recommendation listen to you? How do they know what you’re offering has value? So as you do your promotional activities (i.e. blog, social media, etc), your focus shouldn’t be on selling so much as helping others. Offer tips and information. Give them something of value. Engage with them by answering their questions. Through these interactions, they will get to know and trust you, and therefore will buy from you. Some ways to do that include:

  1. Provide tips and how-to that your readers can use to make their lives better. This can be on your blog, through social media and/or your email list.
  2.  Be a resource for new trends and news, even without affiliate referrals. Not everything should be about selling. Instead, think about being the go-to source for information in your niche. This builds credibility and trust.
  3. Tell your own story. How did the product or service you’re promoting help you?
  4.  Have conversations with your followers. Answer and ask questions to learn about them and the problems they need solved that you can help solve.
  5. Be transparent. While the FTC requires that you disclose affiliate links and other compensation (i.e. sponsored posts), it’s a good idea regardless. You don’t want your readers to question your sincerity in recommending a product. Are you saying it’s good because you’re paid or because you really thin it’s good. That’s why honest reviews and telling your own story can be helpful.
  6. Be helpful if something goes wrong. I’ve had people contact me about affiliate products they bought. While they should go directly to the company for help, since they found it through my site, they sometimes come to me. I always try to be helpful in getting their questions and concerns answered. I’ve gone so far as to contact the company myself on their behalf. Remember, your credibility is on the line too, so if an affiliate program messes up, you don’t want your buyer blaming you. If you can help, you should.

Great Resources for Affiliate Marketers

Below are some of my favorite resources regarding making money affiliate marketing. And yes…some of these are affiliate links. With that said, I have or continue to use all the resources listed below.

Setting Up a Blog: This is a blog post here at WAHS that walks you step-by-step through setting up a WordPress blog. Blogging is one of the top ways people make affiliate income.

Digital Writer Success: This is my book on how to make money blogging, freelance writing and publishing online. It covers affiliate marketing and other ways to make money through blogging.

Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing: I like this course for people who are new or are struggling with affiliate marketing. It provides an overview of affiliate marketing, plus different ways to make money at affiliate marketing, how to know if you’re maximizing your effort, and more.

ClickFunnels: There are many funnel/lead page services out there that work really well in building a affiliate sales funnel. However, many still require that you piecemeal together the resources to make it work, such as the lead page, the email service, sales page, etc. ClickFunnels offers everything in one place so you can avoid trying to integrate systems. There are service levels and a free 14-day trial. This is one area I’ve been moving more and more towards in my passive income streams.

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