Affiliate Marketing: hacks for ease and speed for the solopreneur content-marketer
Every online content marketer – especially a solopreneur – sees visions of making money 24 x7. Even while asleep. Passive marketing is the ultimate dream of any online business, right?
Affiliate marketing offers you this kind of opportunity. If you are a newbie online solopreneur, you may be beginning with blogging. You may start by blogging for your business, or blogging as a business.
Either way you may not have enough money to put into long months of waiting for content marketing to work. You need some way to monetize your site to keep going for the long haul.
There is a painless, easy way to Content Marketing Monetization almost from start. You can do it with affiliate marketing. For 99% of people, affiliate marketing is how they get started earning with an online business.
If you want to make affiliate marketing just one of your many income streams, you can limit it to that. But be aware, that affiliate income needn’t be small money. There are hundreds of affiliate marketing millionaires online. It’s can be a scalable way of making big money, if you focus on it.
In affiliate marketing you need to create no products of your own, which you are not even sure will sell. You can recommend other people’s fast-moving products to your followers, to earn commissions. You can do this with no other effort than your blogging.
So learn the tricks of the trade and get going. Nothing moves till you get started!
Affiliate Marketing – a clear definition and description
What is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is nothing but marketing other people’s products for a commission. Online, there are loads of products of different price ranges. Not every business can sell its products by its own efforts.
It thus enrols others who would like to help sell these products for a commission. The person who agrees to sell for a commission is an “affiliate”.
How does affiliate marketing work?
Product or service sellers give affiliates some unique codes. Affiliates need to use these codes in their hyperlinks.
The affiliate may have a blog, newsletter or social media account. Here he may make recommendations for products and services in his niche topic. These would be products and services for which he has signed up as an affiliate.
His content may contain hyperlinks leading to the seller’s site. These hyperlinks are where he adds his unique code. When his readers click these links they get to the seller’s site.
The seller knows which affiliate referred the customer by spotting the unique code. If the customer buys a product, the seller pays an agreed percentage of the sale to the affiliate.
There are likely to be some affiliate program “cookie duration” rules. For example … the seller may allow the affiliate to earn if the sale happens within 60 days of customer referral. Beund this time limit, the cookie, and the referral, times out. This is one simple rule I’ve given you as an example.
Different sellers may have different rules on how long a link stays active. They may also have rules on what percentage of sale to offer as a commission. Usually we have laddered commissions. The more sales an affiliate helps seal, the more the commission rate he gets.
Why are some people so successful as affiliates?
The affiliate’s recommendations must carry a lot of value … with his fans, followers, readers and subscribers.
Also, to sell affiliate products you need have no products of your own. Its a great way to just recommend and sell. There are no customer management hassles, because the seller takes care of all that.
That’s why even beginner bloggers are successful with this method of monetizing their blogs.
The small caveat is this. Your own blog or social account or newsletter should have at least 100 unique visitors a day. That’s when good big brands to sign you up as an affiliate.
Till then, you can still work with smaller brands. You can use the time to learn the ropes. As you gain enough traffic you can aim for pricey brands with hefty commissions.
Why do sellers and customers too like the affiliate model?
Affiliate sales is a win-win-win for the seller, the affiliate and the customer. The seller sells more via the affiliate. The affiliate gets income for his effort. The customer gets a product with a recommendation from someone he trusts.
How much can you earn from each sale?
Lower end commissions usually hover around 4%-6% … going all the way up even to 75%-80%. Sellers of info-products like ebooks or ecourses are among those who pay big commissions. This is because their own costs of production are next to nil.
How much money can you earn as an affiliate?
There are hundreds of affiliates who earn in heavy thousands – even close to millions.
My favorite is Pat Flynn of “Smart Passive Income”. He publishes an honest income report every month. Here’s a snapshot of his earnings. He says 50% of these earnings come from affiliate sales.
Benefits of starting with affiliate marketing
There are 5 great ways to benefit from starting with an affiliate marketing. Here they are”
1. You need no money at all to get started – zero cost
Yes you read that right! Affiliate marketing itself costs nothing. Maybe you are going to spend on setting up your blog. But you’d have done that anyway, right? It costs nothing – zilch – to sign up to be an affiliate to big and small brands. It’s they who want more hands to sell their products.
2. You don’t need to create any of your own products
Thank God for that! After you written enough blog posts for ranking well on Google, who has the time or energy to be writing an ebook? Or worse, writing, recording and publishing an e-course? As an affiliate you needn’t have any products of your own. Solopreneurs, this is the good life!
3. You don’t need experience in this line to get started
You have to choose a topic you love and blog away, or do some great social posting. Collect as many subscribers and fans as you can by the quality of your content. Beyond that, if it’s a subject you love you need to learn nothing. As for affiliate selling, what’s to learn except a couple of small nitty-gritties? It takes all of one afternoon …
4. You don’t need to learn sales funnels or other selling concepts
If you do ecommerce yourself, you’ll know how tough it is. It costs time and effort to set up funnels and systems for ecommerce, even if all you have is one e-book to sell. Affiliate income requires no such infrastructure or learning curve.
5. You don’t need to handle customer service or complaints
Most sellers make money selling, and then lose money in the after-sales service. Besides it’s tough to please customers – thankfully you have no such problems as an affiliate. Sellers do all the grunt work.
The 6 deadly sins of affiliate marketing
All is usually easy in affiliate marketing. It’s also easy to make some rather commonplace mistakes that will later cost you a lot of wasted effort. Forewarned is forearmed!
1. Being too pushy or aggressively sales-y in product recommendations usually backfires
You need a tone of authority, and you need to build credibility. But, people won’t heed your words if you display desperation or aggression. People need to feel comfortable with you before they take your recommendations seriously.
2. Thinking affiliate marketing will get your rich very quickly
Affiliate marketing is easy to do. But that doesn’t mean it will deliver results tomorrow. You have to cultivate your following, and make them believe and trust you. You have to move them gently towards products, and add in the weight of your endorsement. All this takes some time to grow.
3. Over-claiming so much that every seller will willy-nilly under-deliver
You owe it to the sellers and your audiences to claim only the genuine advantages of the products you endorse. If you do an overkill on the claims, the seller may never be able to deliver to expectations. It will erode you as much as it will erode the seller.
4. Marketing wrong products to an entirely wrong audience
You should have done enough target audience and products research to know if they match. It’s easy to get misled. A classic case I came across was this one. An affiliate was marketing dressmakers to someone wanting sewing classes. The customer wanted to do the sewing herself – she was searching on Google for “tailoring how to” not just “tailoring”. Study customer intent properly before recommending.
5. Being an island with no networking online
Anyone who wants to sell online needs to cultivate a network. The seller has a network of affiliates like you. Similarly, affiliates too need a network of sub-affiliates. Some sellers even pay you to get them sub-affiliates, from whose earnings you can take a share. If you are a loner, you can’t market anything. So build that reach and visibility.
6. Not tracking your success and not knowing what to tweak
You need to keep measuring how well you are doing, so that you can keep improving your methods of selling. All it takes is a periodic glance at your analytics which sellers’ programs will often give you. Make sure you track and monitor yourself. Insights are precious to success.
The affiliate marketing process step-by-step
There is a simple 10-step process you can follow to get started with your affiliate marketing. See the diagram below. Steps 1-6 are done at start, and then maybe every quarter. Periodic review of strategy keeps it on track. You also have to keep checking out new products periodically to sign up for as an affiliate. Steps 7-10 are your ongoing activities to continue.
Step #1: Identify Niche
Locate an area where your passion intersects your expertise. You will find it easier to write a lot on such a subject, because your blog needs that. Do a check of Amazon to see if there are a lot of products in your niche that interested people can buy. Are there good brands in all kinds of price ranges? If Amazon stocks a lot in that niche, there’s sure to be good demand.
Step #2: Gauge Competition
Contrary to popular belief, you must find an area of business that has a sizeable competition. Because that’s a sure sign that topic area has a lot of money in it. Especially, look to see if there are a good number of general bloggers as well as affiliates of products. See how they are all positioning themselves and how they differ from each other. Is there a gap where you can serve readers better than they all do?
Step #3: Decide Positioning
Zero-in on a positioning for your brand i.e. what’s unique about you that adds value for a reader. Find a good domain name, brand name and tagline. Find a logo/site designer with panache. Get a simple, minimalistic, but professionally-stylish website hosted and designed. Set up your site’s general pages (About, Contact, Privacy, Disclaimer,, Disclosure etc). Also set up your blog. Break up your niche topic into blog categories that can hold articles you write.
Step #4: Locate Audiences
Take time to really check who your target audiences will be. Start with a narrow audience. Never fear that it may be too small a target. However small a segment of people may appear, if it’s full of buy-ready people, you will make a profit. Look for people who have dire need for products in your niche, as first priority. They are the low-hanging fruit. Then look for more people whom you can educate into buying.
Step #5: Describe Personas
It’s far easier to recommend products when you know exactly who you are writing for. Do you have a mental picture of any one person in your audience segment who is typical of the group? Can you give this imaginary person a name, a description of likes and dislikes, a fleshed out persona? Visualizing audience personas ensures your writing will resonate with your target.
Step #6: Trace Journeys
Besides knowing your audiences by persona, you also need to know one more thing about them. How do they typically go about their buying journeys? How long do they take to gather information? How do they evaluate competitive products? During their buying journeys, when can you make timely recommendations? When do you have the best chance to help shape their minds to follow your links to endorsed products?
Step #7: Blog Powerfully
It’s important to understand the significance of your blogging, to be powerful. Your blog should be a repository of topnotch articles in your niche. Your blog should also establish you as the go-to person for information before buying. You don’t have to be an expert in your field to make authoritative recommendations. You can be just as powerful if you made people feel you too were one of them. Help them save time and effort by signposting the best products and information. Share your own experience with conviction, using examples from your own experience.
Step #8: Get Subscribers
Getting people as site visitors for one visit won’t cut it. You need a way to build relationships with visitors so that they come back again and again to your site. That gives you more chances to sell. You need them to start trusting your opinions and valuing your advice. You need to build a community of people who have opted to be on your mailing list. If you grow your subscribers, you can work on building their confidence in your advice.
Step #9: Endorse Products
There are lots of ways to subtly endorse products. One great way is to do some great storytelling or analysis … and include the names of products casually into the piece. Another way is to do a comparison article … where you describe different tools for a particular process, and vouch for one of them. A third way is to do a good review of a product, as people like to know the pluses and minuses. Be credible, be thorough, and back your opinions with research. Also, add a disclosure that you have an affiliate arrangement with the product. People respect transparency.
Step #10: Track Earnings
As you can guess, there is one thing you can measure to see if you are doing well as an affiliate. It’s your earnings! Money doesn’t lie, and you’ll soon know if you’re doing a good enough job of selling. Of course there are other things you can track too, to fine tune your strategy. See how many people you are able to woo to click your links. See which types of articles get more traction. See which kinds of products and price ranges make people buy faster. Insight is income.
8 points to evaluate about a seller’s affiliate program
Not every seller’s affiliate program may be worth your while. You need to look beyond surface reputation and the attractive commissions to see if the seller practices good ethics. Every affiliate program needs evaluation, and there are at least 8 points you can check on …
1. Look for fixed and recurring commissions
Of course, good commission rates are a must in any affiliate program. But, it would be even better if the program has both fixed and recurring commissions. Fixed commissions are one-time payments for products with a one-time payable price. Recurring commissions are usual when a product has a recurring subscription fee. Make sure the seller is open to recurring commissions. Your referred customers may be paying subscriptions for months or years.
2. Look for long cookie life in the affiliate program
Cookies are what determine the earning life of an affiliate link. Check if cookie durations are explicitly mentioned in the program rules. The shortest acceptable cookie duration is usually 30 days for affiliates. The longer the cookie expiration date, the better for the affiliate marketer. These days people take a long time to deliberate before buying products.
3. Look for strong brand recognition of the seller
The seller’s brand should be well recognized. It makes it that much easier for you to promote the product. It also adds to your branding if you are an affiliate of a big-name brand. How do you gauge brand recognition? The point is not to ask other affiliates or the general public. See if the brand has recognition with your target audiences to whom you have to sell.
4. Check the seller’s attitude to transparency
Check that you’ll have access to a real-time earnings-and-performance dashboard. See if the terms and conditions elaborate all transactional and legal details. Especially read the terms relating to situations when the seller can deny commissions if the cookie doesn’t work … or the same referral is from two different affiliates (as sometimes happens). Check what modes of redressal you have. Check also how soon you’ll get your dues if you choose to end the relationship.
5. Check the quality and variety of marketing materials
Most sellers ensure there is consistency of brand messaging across all their affiliates. They offer sample marketing materials that you can use. These may include ad banners, write-ups and product images. Are these of good quality? Do they explain the descriptions and mandatory SEO tags to include? Use such marketing materials as a base for your own natural messaging. Be coherent to the seller’s brand but also unique from their other affiliates.
6. See if you get a dedicated manager if your account grows
If your affiliate business grows, you’ll find it tough to manage the financial mechanics. Your seller should give you a dedicated coordination manager. You’ll find it tough to be blogging and monitoring your affiliate account at the same time. If you handle different seller’s products, it becomes all the more cumbersome. Any help the seller offers is worth taking. But also beware of a frequent churn of your relationship manager. It happens often.
7. See if there’s a minimum automation in the seller’s systems.
You want ease of picking up marketing materials or affiliate links. You need a simple tracking and payment system. If your seller allows multi-tier affiliates you can get part-commissions on another affiliate’s earnings, if you brought him into the system. In such cases accounting can get very tricky. You need a good admin interface from the seller … to see your own earnings and the earnings of second-or-third tier affiliates.
8. See if the seller offers fully or partly subsidized affiliate training
Complex products and highly competitive brands will need a period of intense affiliates training. Ensure the seller’s partner education is a unique and valuable training system. It should be periodically updated and refreshed. Several brands take great pains to ensure their affiliates are up-to-the-minute and top-notch. But with such training there is sometimes a “cooling period” if you should part ways later. You may not be allowed sign up with competitive brands for 3-6 months after you leave the one you’re with.
My pick of top 9 affiliate programs and exchanges
Below I’ve picked 9 of the best affiliate programs and exchanges that I think are safe to join – and also pay extremely well for content-marketers. Some of these are affiliate programs of brands themselves, and others are affiliate exchanges – where sellers and buyers find each other. Some sellers like to limit their affiliates by certain criteria, but in most cases you would qualify even as a beginner.
Amazon is the one online marketplace that can deliver anything … but anything! Products from every niche are on Amazon. This is why it’s the best place to gauge the potential for success of your affiliate marketing. The good part of Amazon Associates Program is this. Your referral can earn you income on any product bought from Amazon – not just the one you linked to. The flip side is that the cookie life is only 24 hours!
eBay is huge marketplace. eBay wants people to advertise and sell any manner of items on their platform. You can be an affiliate for any products on eBay – or you can advertise your affiliate products on eBay. There are no difficult rules to follow. Just share your affiliate-link for the listing and you’ll earn if someone buys off it.
Clickbank is a diverse marketplace filled with merchants that you pick-and-choose to promote. It is particularly good for digital info products. Their database is one of the easiest to navigate. However, they have a maximum affiliate earning limit of $150 per referral sale … which is bit off-putting.
Shopify is a leading eCommerce software used by bloggers and online marketers. As a blogger yourself, you’re likely familiar with it. If your customers are other online marketers, you can sign up as an affiliate of Shopify. They pay out a lot as their product costs a bit. You can earn an average of $58 for each user who signs up for a paid plan with your unique referral link. You can earn $2000 for each Plus referral.
ShareASale has been in business for close on 17 years. The have a huge marketplace, full of merchants selling almost everything you can think of. You’ll never get through their huge library of products to choose from to promote. But it must be said … their signup process is a tad complex, and requires a bit of technical savvy. Most content-marketers get through this quite okay.
Rakuten is an award-winning leading online store. It stocks a lot of items from top-end electronics to even pet supplies. They pay you for helping to market anything they sell. You have to apply to each individual brand you want to promote from their store. They have a great affiliate support team, so it’s rather easy to work with them.
CJ Affiliate (formerly known as Commission Junction) is a platform that’s been around from 1998. Their expertise is visible in everything they do. They too have products in every niche. Their years of experience have made their systems watertight. So there’s a very detail-oriented application process. Once you get in, though, life is a breeze, because everything works perfectly on their site.
MaxBounty is a relatively new, up-and-coming affiliate exchange. But they’ve already started working with some big name brands. They are out to beat the established players, with some substantial deals for affiliates. They offer $1,000 bonus to any affiliate that earns a minimum of $1,000 per month for their first 3 months. Plus, they pay weekly, while most other programs only pay monthly. They are constantly looking to offer incredible rewards for top affiliate earners.
Google AdSense is every budding bloggers go-to affiliate program. It’s more of an online advertising network … but still you can count it among good ways to earn referral income. You don’t need to find a product to promote. Google AdSense looks at the copy on your webpage and matches a suitable ad to place there. When your site visitors click on the Adsense ad, you earn money. It’s small money per click. But if you’re seriously growing traffic, you can increase your Adsense earnings as well.
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Do share!
This post is incomplete without your input. The community of content-marketer solopreneurs would feel galvanized to hear from you … so do share your thoughts on this topic with us, in the comments field below this post.
Other articles in our series “Content Marketing Monetization”:
- Content Marketers Selling Digital Info Products Can Dream Of Empires!
- Make Money Blogging: The 3-Step Way To Monetize Your Mind!