What is affiliate marketing? It can be a great source of income, but only if it doesn’t steal your soul. Imagine if you could make money by recommending products you love to people who know, like, and trust you.
Well, you can! That’s affiliate marketing in a nutshell. There’s a lot of work that goes into doing it successfully in any niche, but if you find an area you’re passionate about it can be a wonderful source of income.
What is Affiliate Marketing and How Does it Work?
Affiliate marketing is the act of selling or otherwise marketing products or services that are not your own in exchange for some sort of commission. This originated pre-internet in the form of folks getting referral fees for sending business to people they knew. In the modern digital age, it’s easy for anyone with a website to set up an affiliate program as well.
Modern affiliate programs are pretty simple. When you sign up with a vendor or the network they’re associated with you’ll get a special link or links. Whenever someone clicks your link and visits the vendor’s site, the traffic and any purchases made are tracked by analytics software.
After a predetermined holding period, vendors pay affiliates a commission which is often a percentage of their sales. While commissions on physical products tend to be fairly low, digital products such as ebooks, software, and web hosting often pay out anywhere from 20%-100%.
100% payouts? Surely that’s too good to be true. Not at all! Many companies will happily part with most or all of their profits for a certain product or period of time simply because of the way it allows them to build their customer base and brand awareness.
How Do You Become an Affiliate Marketer?
It’s easy. If you sign up with an open marketplace such as Clickbank, you just have to wait for your registration to get approved. Once you’re officially a Clickbank affiliate, you can sign up to promote many of their products without needing direct permission from the vendor.
Most affiliate networks have a few more hoops for you to jump through, but not many. Shareasale, Rakuten, and JVzoo are all affiliate networks similar to Clickbank, but you need to get approval from individual sellers before promoting their products.
To reiterate, becoming an affiliate marketer is easy. Becoming a successful affiliate marketer, as in one who makes most or much of their living from commissions, is much more difficult.
How Do Affiliates Get Paid?
When you first get started any company or affiliate network is likely to apply a holding period to your commissions. This is usually thirty days or less but can potentially be as much as two months or longer. It’s mostly up to the vendor, and may depend partially on their return policy.
After you’ve made enough sales to exceed the minimum payout, you’ll receive a payment either from the vendor themselves or possibly from the network if they’re using one. Once a vendor and/or network becomes familiar with you and your process for generating sales, they may reduce the holding period or even increase your commissions. In fact, it’s quite possible for successful affiliates to strike custom deals with the companies they promote.
Can I get Started in Affiliate Marketing With No Money?
Technically yes, but a better method is to wait until you have $50-$75 in startup funds so you can get a decent website. I personally only recommend using a self-hosted WordPress website because it’s the best way to make and manage a professional website that you actually own.
Services such as Wix and Squarespace make it easy to make appealing looking sites, but you’re only renting the platform your business is built on in that case. I have the same problem with people who say you can do affiliate marketing exclusively on social media without needing to spend money on a website.
Can you practice affiliate marketing for free? Yes, but it will mean being dependent on one or more platforms and possibly mean breaking the rules of those platforms in order to profit. You can probably see the problem here; if Facebook catches you spamming affiliate links in groups, they could easily ban your account. Same goes for any other social network, including YouTube.
Social platforms are great places to find your audience and drive them to your website, but having the website is necessary in my opinion if you hope to actually build a business around affiliate marketing. You can find 3 Web Hosts Worth Trusting here if you’re interested in starting a WordPress website.
The Best Affiliate Marketing Networks For Beginners
Some folks say beginners should start with Clickbank because it’s so easy to sign up, but I disagree. I think Clickbank is a bad place to start, because there’s a ton of competition on the good products and even more bad products which you need to sort through.
My own preference, and the network I would probably recommend you start with if you’re interested, is Shareasale. That, or look for reputable companies that have their own affiliate systems. It really depends on what your passion is – what you want to sell.
Note – if you use my link to sign up for Shareasale, I’ll receive a small commission. That’s a perfect example of affiliate/referral marketing.
If you want the truth, I think that wondering which network to start with is backwards. You should start by creating content, providing value to a community, and building an audience. Once you do that it will become obvious which products you should promote and therefore which networks or businesses will make your best partners.
Affiliate Marketing – A Cautionary Conclusion
If I made affiliate marketing sound like a walk in the park, that wasn’t my intention. It’s actually exceptionally difficult to get started successfully. Some folks do it easily, but then there are outliers in every field. For most of us it will be a bit of a slog until we learn the ropes and develop the right skillset.
But that’s not the only thing to be cautious about when it comes to affiliate marketing. In my opinion, affiliate marketing may be one of the main reasons so many people stereotype marketers as being scumbags.
I swear, we’re not all scumbags.
But there are outliers in every area as well as every field. And it’s a bit easier to be dishonest and oversell something when you’re not the one who has to provide support for it and facilitate refunds. There are a lot of affiliate marketers out there who will say and do just about anything to earn their next commission, and that makes me sad.
But that’s why you should start affiliate marketing. We need more good ones working among us to reverse the stereotype. Besides – a little friendly competition is always welcome. Just follow your instincts, don’t promote things you don’t believe in… and if you can’t find a single good product in a network, run away!