Affiliate marketing is one of the fastest-growing business models on the internet right now. Companies are taking advantage of the millions of bloggers, YouTubers, and social influencers out there and putting them to work promoting their products as freelance commissioned salespeople.
This article will show you how to start affiliate marketing on the right foot (and avoid many common mistakes) with your own affiliate marketing business in 2020. Think of this as a text version of my starter’s guide, which I include as a bonus to the $7 Business Builder Challenge.
What is Affiliate Marketing?
Before we start explaining how to start your affiliate marketing business, it’s important to clarify what we mean exactly when we mention affiliate marketing. Affiliate marketing at its core is the process of referring interested buyers to a company website using your own unique link.
You use your own unique “affiliate link” so when the person you referred buys, the company knows it was you who sent them. When this happens, you get paid a commission for referring the sale.
So I’m Like A Salesperson?
Becoming an affiliate marketer is kind of like becoming a traditional commissioned salesperson, but instead, you sell entirely on the internet and you’re a freelancer. Other than that, the big differences are that you can sell anything from any company and you typically don’t have face-to-face or phone interaction with your customers.
I Can Sell Anything?
The fact that you’re not tied to representing one company’s products means that you can truly give unbiased opinions and recommendations for products you truly believe in. For example, let’s say you were promoting golf clubs.
If you worked for say, Callaway, they would want you to promote Callaway drivers, but have a huge problem if you sold TaylorMade Irons, and a Nike putter. Even though you truly believe that’s the best combination of clubs in the game, you would be forced to sell Callaway irons and putters even though you thought they were inferior products.
As an affiliate marketer and freelancer though, you’re free to do whatever you like. If you truly believe that a Callaway driver, TaylorMade Irons, and a Nike putter is the best combination of clubs, you’re free to sell that combination without fear of consequences. Affiliate marketing allows you to sell what you truly believe in and not have your pitch be influenced by who you work for.
No Phone Calls or Face to Face Meetings?
As an affiliate marketer, your primary mode of communication with your customers is the internet. As a result of this, you rarely (if ever) call your customers on the phone or meet them in person. To promote and sell your products, you create content around them. Content is anything that your potential customers can find online and consume. This can be blog posts, videos, podcasts, social media posts, or any combination of all four.
The upside to this is that once content is created, it lives on forever and never takes a day off from selling. You can potentially get paid for the content you made 18 months ago. The downside is that feedback is rather slow.
You will not get an immediate reaction if you make a bad post or video. In traditional sales, you can sense when the prospect isn’t feeling your pitch and shift gears. In affiliate marketing, you have to watch your traffic and engagement levels for a while. If it isn’t getting much traction, that pitch was probably a flop.
Now that we have what affiliate marketing is out of the way, let’s get into how you can get started with affiliate marketing.
Start By Identifying an Audience
Identifying your audience and choosing the people that you want to serve is the first and most crucial step. There is no sense in picking a product to promote only to find out you don’t have an audience for it. By finding the audience first, they will tell you what they want and you will have buyers before you have a product. This will make promoting your product so much easier.
How you choose your audience is based upon a few factors…
First, choose one of the three big desires people have. These are health, wealth, or relationships. Every single affiliate offer is going to help someone improve their health, make more money or improve the relationships with those around them. For this example let’s choose wealth by targeting people who want to grow their business and make more money.
Then, choose a characteristic or demographic that will group people together easily. This will ensure that they are facing the same pain points and desires. For example, chiropractors who want to grow their business.
Once you have your audience picked out, It’s time to find them…
Figure out where your audience hangs out online. Chances are someone has already assembled them for you. If you are not sure where to find your audience, Facebook is a great place to start looking. They’ve organized people into nice little groups for you. Just join a few Facebook groups where you think your customer will hang out. After you have become part of the community, just hang out and listen. You’ll be amazed by what happens next…
Identify A Common Problem or Question Within The Audience
If you spend time in the community where your ideal customer hangs out and just keep your ears open, you will notice that the same questions and problems keep coming up repeatedly and with surprising frequency. Keep note of these. The problem they are having today will probably be the same problem tomorrow and the next day.
Make a shortlist of about three problems and questions your customer base is having and store it somewhere. It’s now your mission to help your customers. Now it’s time to go find a product that will both serve your customer well and will pay you well.
Find A Solution To That Problem
It’s time to find a solution to the problem or an answer to the question. Spend some time Googling and researching and you should uncover some good information. You need to do two things in this phase…
Find A Product (Or Products) That Provide A Solution
While you research, you will come across products that fill the need you are trying to fill. Do some homework on the companies that you come across to make sure they are reputable. The last thing you want to do is pitch crap. Decide which ones you like best and check to see if they have an affiliate program. Bonus points if you can fine 2 or 3 products that all complement each other that you can present as a full system or suite of products.
Create A Brand For Yourself That Speaks to Your Audience
Now it’s time to create a brand. Creating a brand name rather than just using your personal brand is helpful because allows you to step away and sell the business later on if you need to or want to. It also helps your customers identify with your business and take ownership of the products more. Russel Brunson talks about the customer identity shift at length in the Expert Secrets book. Check it out here.
You want to create a brand name and identity that speaks directly to who you’re trying to serve and pushes those away that don’t resonate. They should be able to identify immediately what you’re all about and whether or not they want to work with you. By creating a divide in the crowd, those that do attach themselves to you will have a much stronger bond.
I experienced this with the Dadapreneur brand. Those that it struck a chord with instantly bonded with me and those that didn’t share the same family first values shrugged me off as being gimmicky. They should be able to identify immediately what you’re all about.
Create Your Back End First
In continuing with this whole work backward theme, once you have identified who you’re going to serve, what you’re going to serve them, and what you’re going to call yourself it’s time to start putting the back end systems in place so when someone opts into your list, the rest is automated. By working this way, you will free up so much time to focus on creating content rather than following up with customers.
Let me reinforce that before you start creating content, it’s important that you create the back end of your business first. Creating content and promoting products without any kind of back-end processes in place will be like opening a store without a cash register. This is a very common mistake that beginners make.
They just grab a bunch of links and spam the internet all willy nilly. You need to grab the customer and nurture them through your process in a controlled manner to build trust and make the most money.
Create A Lead Magnet
Your lead magnet is arguably the most important part of your back-end sequence. This is the item that you give away in exchange for an email address. This is what you use to attract your ideal customer. Once you have someone’s email address, you can now start to build the relationship and market to them repeatedly in order to gently nudge them into buying your offer.
A good lead magnet is something that has a high-perceived value and little to no distribution cost. A piece of software, a PDF of case study results, ready-made templates, and a short mini-course are all good examples of powerful lead magnets. It’s best if your lead magnet is 100% your own creation.
Spend some time creating a lead magnet that you know your customers will want. Don’t just throw something together in an hour and try to make it work. Put some thought into it. Once you’ve done that, throw it into the community and see what kind of response you get. They will tell you what they want. If they hate it, ask why and make those changes. If they love it, then you have a winner.
Create an Email Follow-Up Sequence
Email sequences are like the flossing of the affiliate marketing world. Everyone knows they should do it but few actually do. This is where you will make most of your money so put the time in here no matter how much you hate it. As an affiliate, you have no control over the main sales page of your main offer. There’s always a chance that the product may be amazing, but the sales page is terrible. However, a good email sequence makes up for a bad sales page almost every time.
A good email sequence builds a relationship with your customer and gently nudges them along in the sales process. It is not consistently pounding them with your sales message in every single email. It starts off with what’s called a Soap Opera Sequence (another Russell Brunson Term) that builds the bond with you and your company before the selling starts. This process warms the customer up so when the sales emails start, they are more likely to buy. Check out the section on the soap opera sequence in Dot Com Secrets to know what I mean.
You want each email to pull the reader into the next one. This is kind of like when TV shows leave you hanging and you have to come back next week to see how it ends. Each email will provide more value to your customer and offer small tidbits of advice and wisdom that build you up as an authority in your field. As your authority increases and the relationship progresses, your customers buying resistance will drop and you will be able to sell more and more expensive items.
Set Up Technical Accounts
Here is where most people get scared, but there is no need to be. An affiliate marketing business requires only four core accounts. A content site, a funnel site, an email autoresponder, and tracking software.
The Content Site
The content site is where all of your content will live. I use HostGator for my site. Grab a domain that represents your brand and upload all of your blogs, videos, and podcasts to it. This is what you want your customers to find first. This is where you provide value for free to your customers so that they know you aren’t just someone looking to take their money so you can get paid. However, all of the free content you give should lead them somewhere…
The Funnel Site
The funnel site is where you put the squeeze on your customer so to speak. Hopefully, at this point, you’ve earned the right to ask for the sale and have given enough value to make them want to click on the link to your opt-in page that contains your lead magnet. The optin page is where you aim to capture the email address, pull them through the sales process and look to make a sale on the first pass.
90% of your content site should point towards your optin page in some way or another. If you create a piece of content that doesn’t, point to another piece of content that does. You want to weave a web of content and create a rabbit hole for your customer that ultimately leads them to the optin page. However, don’t make the hole so deep that they get bored and leave early.
A simple affiliate marketing funnel consists of an opt-in landing page and an affiliate sales page. If you had multiple products and offers you would add upsells and downsells and the funnel would get a little more complex. However, we will focus on the simple opt-in sales funnel for now. To keep things simple.
Create a good optin page that captures the customer email and forwards them onto the main sales page via an affiliate link and you should be good. Both Clickfunnels and GetResponse allow you to build a funnel and landing page with ease.
The email autoresponder is what allows you to send out thousands of emails every single day without missing a single customer. That email sequence you wrote a little while ago? This is where you pre-program what emails you want going out when and forget about it.
As people are added to your list, the emails will fire automatically and no one is missed. Once you finish writing your email sequence, you shouldn’t have to write another email again unless someone responds. I use GetResponse in my business for this.
Tracking software is what allows you to judge what is working and what is not. To do this, you simply place tracking links wherever you would place a normal link and the software will track not only where all of your affiliate traffic is coming from but also what people do after they click your link.
By having this data, you can now make data-driven decisions as opposed to just flying by the seat of your pants based on how you feel. This allows you to double down on what’s working and cut bait on what’s not.
In the long run, it will save you hundreds of hours by not creating content that’s a dud and thousands of dollars by not creating ads that don’t work. For this function, I use Clickmagick in my business.
Once you have all of your core accounts set up, it’s time to integrate everything so they all talk to each other and flow as one seamless unit. Once this is done, you’re ready to test.
Test, Test, Test
The last thing you want is to have potential customers enter your site and have something not work. A missed sale because of a technical error is a classic rookie mistake. You’ve spent so much time setting things up and you just want to make money already so you skip the test step and end up costing yourself more money.
If your optin page is live, your email sequence automatically fires, and your tracking software is recording events correctly, you are ready to go live. Time to launch and start publishing.
Launch By Publishing
When most people think of a launch, they think of hitting the magic button and people will start swarming your website. It’s actually a lot more anticlimactic than that. You’ll hit the “publish” button on your website and funnel and no one will see it…initially.
However, you can get a quick initial burst of traffic if you have built up a social following first. Just blast a link to your following and you’ll see some hits to your website.
However, social traffic is very perishable. The second you stop working, the visitors stop coming. If you want long-lasting, passive traffic and sales, you have to publish non-perishable content. What do I mean by that? I mean something that will live on forever in the search engines and stay relevant.
This article is an example. The basic principles around affiliate marketing have not changed in the last 5 years and they are not going to change in the next 5. This article will stay relevant for a long time after it’s published.
If you want to get found on the internet without having to grind it out constantly on social media posting, you need to be publishing on a consistent basis. The more content that you put out there and publish, the bigger the chances are that you will be found by your potential customer.
This means once you start publishing, you can’t stop. After a while, the compounding effect of publishing will take effect and your traffic and sales will spike.
Blogging, Podcasting, or Video?
There are three main ways to publish. Text-based as a blog, video-based as a YouTube Channel, and audio-based as a podcast. Pick which one suits you best and that you are most comfortable with and stick with it to start. You can branch out to other avenues as you get more comfortable. If you try all three to start you’ll be overwhelmed and quit.
Publishing has the sole purpose of pushing people toward your lead magnet and/or funnel. Keep in mind that when you publish, you want to be relevant and provide the reader, viewer, or listener whatever they came there looking for, to begin with.
After you have done that, you have earned the right to direct them into your lead magnet and funnel. Make sure 90% of your content has calls to action to grab your free thing. If you publish a piece of content without a call to action, make sure you link over to one that does.
Like I said before, once you start, you can never stop. This is how you remain relevant and on the top of your customers’ minds. Stick to a schedule so they know when to expect new stuff.
QUICK TIP: Most publishing platforms allow you to build up a bank of content and drip it out over time. Create your first 10 pieces of content and set them to release twice a week. If you do this, you will always have a 5-week buffer before the bank is empty. Just make sure you’re refilling the tank.
This is how the top influencers can go on month-long vacations and have it appear as if they never left. They batch content and drip it out over time.
Decide What Topics To Write About
This is one of the hardest things to do for new marketers. You want to write about things that are going to be found. To make sure that your content gets found, make sure you are creating content that people are looking for.
To accomplish this, do keyword research. There are many free sites out there like Ubersuggest and Alexa keyword research to find topics that people are searching for but do not have a ton of competition.
As a new business, you want to seek the path of least resistance in search. You will never be able to compete head-to-head with a huge competitor in the first few months of your business. Try to focus on areas that are underserved and a little more niche than most topics.
Actually Create The Content
Now that you have topics to create content around, it’s on you to actually make the time and create them. You can never find time, but you can always make time.
For Blogging, You Can Crank Out Posts In About an Hour…
If you decide to go to the blogging route, I have put together a piece on how to crank out thousand-word supporting articles in about an hour. Check it out here.
In addition to these supporting articles, your blog should have three to four “cornerstone” posts. They’re kind of like the content you become known for. “Don’t Stop Believing” is a cornerstone piece of content for the band Journey. “Tom Sawyer” is a cornerstone piece of work for Mark Twain.
These are posts that are much longer than the rest and they are something that is considered evergreen. They will never go out of style. If you spend a few hours on these, you can put out large, cornerstone pieces of content in the same fashion as the smaller articles.
For Video or Audio, Get The Right Equipment. It’s Cheaper Than You Think…
If you’re going video creation, I have an article here on what makes a good YouTube video. There is a section that talks about equipment and there is no need to spend more than about $200 on video equipment to make a quality YouTube Video. Bonus Tip: the microphone required for video can also be used for podcasting.
Most of what makes a good video happens in front of the camera anyway. I’m talking about you. You are what makes a good video good. The equipment is what makes sure that it is clicked on.
To see what I mean here is a video from the starter’s guide that talks bout video equipment:
Keep Publishing. Even Though Nobody Is Reading, Listening, or Watching.
In the beginning, you will be trying to find your voice and clarify your message. You will be nervous and jittery. You will stutter a lot. Your editing will be choppy. Your content will probably not be very good. This is okay because everybody was horrible at some point. Pick your favorite influencer that has content and scroll back to the beginning. You’ll notice a marked difference between episode 1 and episode 100.
As you’re finding your voice, adjust your message based upon what the few people that watch are saying. Crank out 30 blog posts, videos, or podcasts and you will notice a marked difference between the first one and the 30th one. What happened in that time span is that you got more comfortable in your medium and found your voice just like the top dogs.
In the beginning, take comfort in knowing that nobody is listening rather than getting frustrated because you’ll probably be pretty bad. However, as you get better people will start to listen. Once you do get good, leave your bad early content up there. This will show people that you are human and that you were once in their shoes.
Check Your Opt-in Stats
Until you have 20 pieces of content generated, do not look at your stats or your feedback. I use 20 pieces of content as a general rule. I do this because, before 20, there simply won’t be enough traffic for you to make a decision on whether or not your lead magnet is good and your optin rate is acceptable.
However, after your 20th piece of content check your stats. You should have an opt-in rate of about 30% or more. More than that is awesome, less than that means that either your lead magnet is not valuable or your opt-in page needs work. Reach out to the community, make some adjustments and raise the opt-in rate to an acceptable level.
Get Ready to Scale
Congrats on generating organic traffic via content! You now have a free traffic source to test your stuff with before pouring gas on the fire so to speak with ads. If you’ve done everything described above, you should now be getting a trickle of traffic and making a few sales.
Nothing life-changing, but it’s a start. However, if you totally rely on free traffic, you will not grow very quickly. Unfortunately, fast and free do not go together very well online. You need ads to scale quickly.
This is where most people either stop because they’re afraid of losing money on ads, or they skip this next, crucial step and then lose a bunch of money on paid ads. However, this crucial step can significantly reduce or eliminate the risk of losing money on ads altogether.
Create An Order Bump On Your Lead Magnet
Before making the leap from free organic traffic to paid traffic, it is important to make sure that your offer is profitable at the point of sale. Otherwise, you will simply lose money on ads and it may take a long time to recoup your money if at all.
To create profitability upfront, an order bump is required. I personally prefer an order bump on a free lead magnet. This is also known as a tripwire offer. For instance, your lead magnet on the opt-in page is free, but rather than directing right to a sales page, there is a “lead magnet plus” offer that is about $20 before the person is taken to the core offer. This is related to the core offer and the purpose of this is to cover your ad cost when somebody buys it. Everything they buy afterward is pure profit.
For instance, let’s say you are paying $5 to bring somebody into your funnel. With a $20 “lead magnet plus” offer, your goal is to sell one of those for every four leads that opt-in. By doing this, you’re break-even at the point of sale and your ad cost is eliminated.
If you are able to become break-even (or even profitable) on the front end with your “lead magnet plus” offer, you will be able to grow your ad spend infinitely right away. This is because your customers are paying you right away and ads are billed at the end of every month. The money for the ads is already in the bank before the bill is even due. This is the position you want to be in.
Off To The Races…
Now that you have a profitable front-end funnel, feel free to scale up your ad spend however you please. You have eliminated the risk of losing money on ads and getting more customers to your offer is now simply a matter of just spending more money.
Wanna spend $2,000 on ads next month? Sure. Wanna up it to $5,000? It doesn’t matter at this point. because you’re recouping your money before the bill comes due. REMINDER: MAKE SURE YOU ARE PROFITABLE BEFORE SCALING AD SPEND!!! DO NOT SKIP THE PREVIOUS STEP OR YOU COULD LOSE ALL YOUR MONEY!
This is how people get to six and seven figures very quickly. Getting to even six figures is very hard if even possible at all on nothing but free organic traffic. Again, fast and free do not go together on the internet.
Just to recap. How to get started affiliate marketing in 2020 requires a few things. An audience looking to solve a problem, and product that solves that problem, and an automated back-end sales process. Once those are created, content is needed to get the word out there to the audience for free. Once the audience is accepting what you have to offer, it’s time to create a tripwire in preparation for scaling. Once the tripwire offer is hammered out and profitable, you can buy ads to pour gas on the fire and really grow quickly.
It’s a fairly simple process but requires a lot of hard work, motivation, and dedication. However, it can be one of the most rewarding businesses out there. It allows you to live life 100% on your terms when it is up and running.