Where do I start?
For new affiliates, the most important question is “where do I start?” Building a solid foundation will help ensure future success. If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing right — the first time. So, kudos to you on doing the proper research as you build your foundation as an affiliate. Remember, sometimes you have to dig down before you start building up.
If you’re already an affiliate and are looking to brush up or for new ideas on how to be more effective, this is also going to be a great tool for you — so stay engaged. We have lots of new ideas, useful tips, and resources included.
Create Your Platform
First, you need to start by creating your platform. This may sound simple, but there are some important things to keep in mind. Before you invest all your time and energy into one platform, be sure you pick something that will last well into the future.
This information is primarily for those preparing to create a website or blog. You can choose from dozens of platforms and CMS (Content Management System) options, but navigating them can be confusing by yourself. Many of these platforms tout their services as “free”, but you should be skeptical about that claim.
Services such as WordPress.com offer users the ability to publish content to their website. Most services offer minimal benefits for anyone planning to monetize their content. When you sign up, you agree to the platform’s terms of service, which most often grant a license for them to use your content at their discretion. The service can also monetize the content that you create, but you will not be included in the transaction.
Who’s in Control?
Ease of use can often mean a lack of control. Free versions offer a much smaller library of themes, grant little or no access to make CSS customizations, and your content could be deleted by the service.
Many people lost years of work when Google exercised its terms to remove their entire Blogger site. Posterous closed its doors forever, and Squidoo was acquired by Hubspot.
The question you must ask yourself, before investing your efforts into one of these platforms, is “Can I afford a free platform?” Aside from the money you save, you’re investing a considerable amount of time. What value do you place on your time?
Perhaps you would like to monetize your WordPress.com site by way of affiliate marketing. If so, beware of restrictions, such as “We do not allow any image with an affiliate link.”
In addition to this restriction, they are also choosy about what types of offers you promote, and how your promote them. This is your site, right? No, it’s their site.
Should I Use a Free Platform For Business?
If you intend to use a free publishing platform for your business, I would strongly advise against it. The first impression you give potential clients matters. If I’m searching for a company to do business with, and their website is “businessname.freewebsite.com“, I’m immediately wondering if this is a serious business.
My personal thought is if this business can’t afford to invest $10/month, how competent are they in their field of work? You can usually add a custom domain, but your account ceases to be free.
Free options also involve a loss of SEO benefits as well. If your blog is associated with your business site (such as this one), you will miss out on the search engine traffic. Instead of visitors coming to your site, they will be visiting the freebie site, where you then have to work to push them back to your main site.
When to use a Free Platform
The only instance in which I would agree that a free publishing platform is a viable option is if you’re just starting out, and unsure if you will continue blogging. If you want to see what it’s all about, but don’t want to pay the $20 or so to get started with a self-hosted option, then I say “go for it.” I recommend testing out WordPress.com in this case, as you’ll likely be using the installed version of WordPress (wordpress.ORG) if you decide to carry on.
Newbies fear the self-hosting option because they simply don’t know how to begin. However, self-hosting can be surprisingly inexpensive and simple.
To begin, you’ll need to choose a domain name and a web hosting site. Most hosting sites also register domain names, so consider using one company for both. A domain may cost around $1/month for a .com domain, and a shared hosting plan will be about $10-15/month.
Content Management Systems (CMS)
WordPress has risen to become the most popular CMS. Not only is it free, but it’s relatively easy to learn how to use it as well. Choose from thousands of free templates, or purchase a premium template from a vendor.
Another benefit of WordPress is that Google’s search results seem to love the structure. In addition to the ability to customize the look of your website, you also access countless plugins that add a wide variety of additional functions to your site. If you happened to start your blog on a free service, there are even plugins to transfer your content!
Most importantly, your site will belong to you. You will not be bound by content restrictions, subject your visitors to advertising you didn’t choose (and aren’t getting compensated for), and you retain possession of the files on your site.
Go For it!
If you’re still deciding if you should start a website or blog, my advice is to just get started. Don’t belabor every detail. However, I’m not suggesting that you shouldn’t plan what your website’s domain name or subject matter should be.
While you get started, here are some options to inform your audience that you’re still under construction:
- Create a “Coming Soon” page that tells the world who you are, how to contact you and what you’ll be doing with your website in the future. There are WordPress widgets that can help you with this – Ultimate Coming Soon Page is one that I’ve had luck with in the past.
- Add an opt-in box and ask visitors to “Join our list and receive updates when we launch”. Constant Contact and MailChimp allow you to build these forms and easily place them on your Coming Soon page.
- Start building a social following. Create your Facebook, Google+, Twitter and Pinterest profiles. Follow, re-tweet, share, pin and “like” content that will appeal to the people you’re looking to attract with your new site.
Some people never actually do anything because they feel the need to learn everything there is to know first. You will never learn it all, and you don’t have to. Simply make up your mind, and go for it!
Coming up with a great new idea for an affiliate site or a blog is hard. Business ideas are like melodies – they’ve all been done before in some shape or form.
If we look closely at products and services we love, we find similarities to other products and services available. The ones we love are just better or different than the competition. That’s because the entrepreneurs behind them saw an opportunity to disrupt or improve upon an existing idea.
Q: What’s the biggest room in the world?
A: Room for improvement!
Netflix and Uber are great examples of disruption. It’s not that we didn’t have taxi cabs or video stores (Blockbuster on a Friday night, anyone?) before these companies came long. They just took the ideas that already existed, and improved on them. Not only that, but they continued to improve on their own ideas. Remember when having Netflix meant you had to wait for your DVD in the mail every week? Now people stream everything, and they’re even creating original content.
So, just because people are already doing something one way, doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement. And once you have a great website, don’t stop innovating and growing. Even your own fantastic ideas will have room to improve, and that’s the beauty of business development.
When It’s Just Copycatting
Even if you can’t come up with an idea that hasn’t been done before, you can approach it from a different angle or you can figure out how to do it better. Some of the most popular, successful brands today came from disruption and improvement.
Knowing this is true, I’m completely blown away when I hear affiliates and entrepreneurs say that they are going to build a site or a business “just like so-and-so”.
We talk to at least one person each week who says something like, “I want to build a site just like insert-well-known-retail-coupon-site-here. I am having a designer build my site to look just like theirs – now I just need coupons. Does your feed have all of the same coupons they have on their site?”
Copycatting Guarantees Failure
So, there’s a site out there that millions of people have heard of, thousands have used and at least hundreds are loyal to. Why would you want to create the exact same thing? Additionally, you’ll be at a disadvantage due to the millions that have not heard of your site, the thousands that have not used it and the zero loyal fans you have.
You see where this is going. Why would somebody choose your site over the one you’ve copied? They won’t. You may fool a few people for a while, but most will spot your copy and you’ll have a hard time building the level of loyalty you need to sustain your business.
Your best bet is to have key features that separate you from the competition. Additionally, this gives you a built-in marketing strategy to convince others to visit your site first. Do you have the most coupons in a certain niche? Do you have exclusive offers from your direct relationship with merchants? Maybe you’re not RetailMeNot, but you have the largest offering of beauty or travel offers for people to browse who aren’t interested in every coupon out there.
Why invest so much time and money into something that’s guaranteed to fail? Take a look at that business you want to imitate and figure out how you can make something better through disruption or improvement.
What are they missing? What could they be doing better? How could they deliver information, build loyalty or reach a target market in a way that nobody else doing yet?
Answer those questions and do that. Build your business and your brand.
Remember, the business you want to copy was once a small idea that someone took the time to build. That is the only way to build a successful business – one that someone else may want to copy some day.
Once you create your blog, you can monetize it in a few different ways. The best place to start is by joining affiliate programs — and if you get rejected at first (don’t be surprised), you can look at options such as Skimlinks to still make a cut of the commission.
How to Join Affiliate Programs
First, you need to have a website, like we covered previously. Even though you’re not ready to release your full deal site yet (you don’t have any deals for one thing!) – that doesn’t mean you can’t put up a site.
Not only will this help you show affiliate managers your intentions, but it helps get momentum going for your site before it launches. You’ll benefit greatly from having a list of email addresses and loads of followers across the social networks tuned in when you’re ready to make your new deal site live.
The Secret to Affiliate Program Approval:
Having trouble getting approved for affiliate programs? You aren’t alone — even the biggest coupon sites may have trouble joining certain affiliate programs.
First, you need to get fully behind your idea for a new site. Put your name, contact information and other relevant details publicly. Here are a few reasons this is important:
- If you don’t want your name on the site – do you really expect brands will want their names on your site?
- If you don’t want to offer contact information on your site – don’t expect affiliate managers to take you seriously. Who does business but doesn’t want customers, followers or contacts?
- If you don’t take the time to show that you’re not just some scam artist or someone who will never execute their plans – how will they know?
And for those of you that are worried that announcing your intentions might create an opportunity for someone to “steal” your ideas… remember what Helen Keller said, “Ideas without actions are worthless.”
Announcing your idea is several steps into executing your idea… potential competitors will be light years behind you if hearing your idea spurs them on to consider a business of their own.
What About Skimlinks?
Skimlinks is a great option for those of you getting started (or anyone that doesn’t want to deal with their own relationship management).
To get started, you apply for a Skimlinks ID. Essentially, you become their “sub-affiliate”. Skimlinks tracks everything you do through their ID with the network and the programs. The networks cut the commission check to Skimlinks. Skimlinks then cuts you a check – after taking a 25% cut. (Yep, there’s the catch!)
Some of our clients choose to use Skimlinks to get started, and then slowly build up their own relationships with each merchant through the affiliate networks. Others choose to use Skimlinks to keep things simple and have a consolidated hub for managing all of their relationships.
However, even Skimlinks needs to see who you are and what you’re planning to do. They won’t accept you without a site either, so make sure you complete step 1 before skipping ahead. Remember, it’s important to build a solid foundation to last years or decades into the future.
How You Get Paid As An Affiliate: Step-by-Step Process
Let’s work through an example of the process of making your first affiliate sale.
1. Write a creative post for your website to promote a certain affiliate link or offer
You promote Flirty Aprons’ Father’s Day deal: 50% off and Free Shipping on Men’s and Boys’ Aprons in your blog post, “Thinking Outside the Tie for Father’s Day”.
2. – Someone Clicks the Link and Purchases
A reader of the post loves the apron idea, clicks on your link, and buys an apron for her husband’s Father’s Day gift.
3 – The Activity Is Tracked
As your reader progresses through those actions, her click and her purchase are tracked by Flirty Aprons’ affiliate network, ShareASale. (We’ll explain more about networks later, so just keep reading for now.) Her click sends a report back to ShareASale, letting the network know that you sent the click. Your performance report in the network will now show one more click.
When she checks out and buys the apron, another report is sent to ShareASale letting the network know that the click converted into a sale. The sale amount is reported as well. Your performance report is updated to show the sale and the commission you earned (usually a percent of that sale).
4 – You Get Your Check
At the end of the month, ShareASale cuts checks. They add up all of the commissions you earned over the month from Flirty Aprons and the thousands of other programs on their network, and they send you your check (cha-ching!!).
In order to make those payments, ShareASale holds on to an “escrow” for each merchant. This is an estimate of the amount they believe a merchant will payout on a monthly basis. So, after they send you your check, they let Flirty Aprons know that they need to replenish that escrow to be ready for next month’s commissions.
What is an affiliate network, and what does it do?
As I’m sure you see – before promoting that Father’s Day deal, you’ll need to connect with ShareASale (an affiliate network) and with Flirty Aprons (a merchant, or the seller of the product.)
How do I become part of an affiliate network?
Your first step will be to apply to the networks, like ShareASale from our example. You can find a full list of networks we support here.
Most networks will have an option to join as either a merchant or an affiliate. For your purposes, you’ll want to apply to join as an affiliate or publisher. (Some networks may also refer to you as an influencer. For these purposes, the terms are synonymous.)
When you sign up, they’ll have step-by-step instructions or a form to complete. Many of them offer fantastic resources and tools for publishers as well, so make sure to take advantage of all the free information you can.
Applying to Join Affiliate Merchants On the Network
Once you’re in the networks, don’t stop — there’s more! You’ll need to apply to the affiliate programs for the merchants you’d like to promote.
When you apply, offer as much information as you can. Your goal is to help the merchant understand who you are, what you do and how you’ll be talking about their products and services.
Merchants are understandably protective of their brands. They want their messages spread by ethical publishers through legal and positive interactions (ie, not through spam, hijacked cookies, etc). They can’t always tell who you are at first, so if you experience difficulty getting approved for a merchant’s program, don’t take it personally.
Expect many of them to deny you right out of the gates. This is a common practice. Merchants receive thousands of applications each week, and instead of trying to weed through them all, they deny everyone – but then give instructions for “making their case”. The few affiliates that take the time to provide more information are often approved for the program.
How much can I make as an affiliate?
People ask that question with mountains of hope that the idea they came up with will pay off in millions after a few months. Finally, all of their problems will be solved, they’ll have the money they need, the security they want and all they have to do is launch this idea into existence by becoming an affiliate.
I answer the question honestly (and the truth is the only acceptable route as far as I’m concerned) and I’m the jerk that crushes their dreams of a new house, a new car, paying off their credit cards and living happily ever after.
The answer? “It Depends.”
Your success as an affiliate depends on many things — including, but not limited to:
- How hard you work
- How lucky you are to be in the right place at the right time
- How good you are at putting yourself in the right place at the right time
- Who you know – and aren’t afraid to “use”
- Your ability to get others to trust you
- How well you communicate your passion
- How hard you work (yup – I am repeating this one!)
The “10,000 hour rule” came from the popular business motivation book Outliers: The Story of Success by Malcolm Gladwell. The book explores a variety of factors that lead successful people to their success. One of the factors is the time that successful people spend in deliberate practice of their craft. It’s a lot of time — often 10,000 hours or more.
I especially like the application of this theory to answer the question: How much money can I make as an affiliate?
It depends… on how much time you’re willing to put into mastering your niche, building your traffic generation strategies and creating a scalable business model.
Finding 10,000 Hours
Are you willing to spend 10,000 hours? Let’s see how long that will take. Working all day every day, no breaks for sleeping, eating or anything else, would allow you to spend 417 days on the task. In fact, there are not enough hours in a whole year to truly master your craft.
If you took a more realistic approach so that you could sleep, eat and spend some time with your family and friends, you could figure spending 40 hours a week toward your 10,000 hour goal. At this rate, it’ll take you about 5 years to get to the top of your game.
You won’t be making millions in just a few months, but don’t let that discourage you. It doesn’t mean you won’t have incremental success as you keep going.
Each hour you spend gets you closer to mastering your skill. Each hour contributes to how much money you can make by doing whatever it is you choose to do.
If you’d like to delve into the 10,000 hours topic a bit more, here’s a great article on Forbes.com that offers more information about how the hours should be spent and how things like genetics and financials might affect your success.
How Can FMTC Help Me Become an Affiliate?
I’m glad you’ve asked!
Many resources exist to help new affiliates. We’ve gone over a couple of these already, but now we’ll talk about the unique ways FMTC can help you build success.
FMTC provides easy access to about 160,000+ affiliate links at any given time.
Imagine that instead of searching all over to find out if Macy’s has an affiliate program, you just popped open one nice little tool and typed in “Macy’s”.
Here’s an example from our Publisher Toolkit user interface:
Now, imagine if you found out that not only do they have an affiliate program, but they have 367 deals going right now — and two of them were for women’s swimwear:
With just a few clicks, you grab your link to Macy’s 25% off swimwear deal and insert that instead of the plain link to their homepage.
Now, your blog post has gone from offering fashion advice to being a personal shopper, showing your readers where to get the trendy items all the way to helping them save with a great deal on the items. You just had to open one tool and type in “macys”.
That is what we do.
With our Deal Bank (that’s where the pictures above are nabbed from), you can search through over 12,000 stores. You can find out if there are affiliate programs for the stores you’re already mentioning in your posts – and you can take it a step further and share information about deals happening at those stores.
We Do the Heavy Lifting
We do all of the tedious work of collecting the deals, verifying that they work, providing the affiliate links that are tracked back to you and putting it all together into a nice, neat tool for you.
All you have to do is search, find the deals you want to share, and copy your link and paste it into your blog post.
Ta-Da! You’re now an affiliate.
Your awesome content is not only providing value to your readers (and, now even more value because you’re helping them save!) but, it’s also providing value back to you in commissions each time your readers act on your recommendations and buy from the stores you’ve mentioned.
Affiliate Marketing Glossary
Learning affiliate marketing requires getting familiar with a lot of new terms and buzzwords. If you’re getting lost in the jargon, we have a helpful resource for you. Visit our Affiliate Marketing Glossary to research the most common terms you’ll come across in your endeavors.
Got More Questions?
We’re always here to help! If you’d like more information or have questions about FMTC’s products and services, please email [email protected] at any time.