How to start an affiliate income stream

If you want to grow your self-employed business revenue there could be a quick and simple way to bring in some extra money. Find out how to start an affiliate income stream, and you could start making commissions from the tools and services that you use for your work.  

Simply adding a few affiliate links is unlikely to make you a significant increase in income, unless you work with products or software that has a high lifetime value, such as insurance or financial products. But investing a small amount of time can create a noticeable amount of affiliate revenue each month, and you could even use it as a way to develop new websites and income streams alongside your main self-employed career. 

A big benefit to affiliate marketing is that you can get started quite quickly and easily, and build up your efforts over time as you discover what is most effective for your personal connections and audience. 

It’s also a great option if you have an interest and knowledge in areas which aren’t directly related to any existing self-employed career. You can monetise your passion for sports, hiking and the outdoors, board games, reading, parenting, classic cars and pretty much anything that has products or services available to purchase. 

How does affiliate marketing work? 

Affiliate marketing simply means that when you recommend a business, product, or service, you earn a commission if it results in someone making a purchase. You can also potentially be rewarded for other actions, such as website registration or app downloads, as specified by the company or individual offering the affiliate rewards. 

Rather than arranging this individually, referrals are tracked using dedicated links which will identify you as the source. Businesses may offer their own affiliate schemes (such as Amazon or eBay), or use a service such as Awin or ShareASale to manage their efforts. If you’re wondering whether a service you use offers anything for affiliates, it’s often linked in the footer at the bottom of their website, along with having a dedicated page which should contains more details. 

Payments are usually either a percentage of the sale price or a fixed amount, and vary a lot depending on what is being sold. If someone buys a £4.99 book, then you’ll probably earn around 29p for your referral, but you could receive up to £60 for a car or home insurance policy. 

You can normally expect to be paid once or twice a month by bank transfer or other methods such as PayPal, and there’s normally around 30 days for amounts to be processed and validated before any money will be sent to you. But pretty much every affiliate program will offer analytics and reporting, so you can identify the links that are driving results, and see how much you can expect to receive in the future. 

Affiliate links can be added pretty much anywhere, but common locations include: 

  • Websites 

  • Social Media posts 

  • Email newsletters 

  • Some forums and communities (many will have rules about posting affiliate links) 

  • YouTube and video platforms 

  • Podcasts 

  • Within digital products, such as browser extensions or WordPress plugins 

  • Paid advertising (subject to the affiliate terms and conditions) 

Adding affiliate links to a blog

It’s also worth researching other affiliate marketers to see what approaches and techniques they’re using to potentially attract sales. That includes looking at your direct competition, and also seeing if there are tactics used in other sectors which might work for you.  

There are endless courses being offered by apparently established and successful affiliate marketers offering guaranteed systems, but be wary about investing potentially large amounts in training. A lot of good and helpful advice can be found online for free, and it’s not difficult for anyone to hire a Ferrari and holiday villa for a day to film videos advertising their tuition. Check reviews and try to speak with people who have taken a course before spending any money. 

The main advantages of affiliate marketing 

One of the main advantages of affiliate marketing is that it’s quick and easy to sign up and potentially start earning money. Especially if you already have an audience via your website or social media networks, and there are good schemes offered in your industry.  

It’s also extremely low cost, and fairly low risk. You don’t need to invest in any inventory, equipment, or software to get started. And once your first affiliate links are published, they can potentially earn you referral commissions indefinitely without any extra effort. So, it’s possible to find you’re making sales through content you’ve posted months, or even years ago.  

Affiliate marketing also allows you to experiment and learn sales and marketing techniques, with many businesses providing useful information and assets to help you improve your efforts. And you could then apply similar techniques to help your own business, or clients running their own affiliate schemes. Along with rewarding you financially for improving your SEO, content marketing or social media efforts. 

Another advantage is if you’re looking to build an additional income stream which isn’t related to your main self-employed career. It’s never been quicker or easier to launch websites, social media profiles, or a YouTube channel, which can start sharing affiliate content and links in whatever industry you’re looking to move into. 

With enough time and effort, it’s possible to build entire websites focused predominantly on affiliate marketing. And in some cases, these can deliver significant revenues if they become popular enough, or target particularly high commissions. That could enable you to eventually swap client and contract work for running your own properties. Or to sell them in the future for multiples of your current and predicted earnings, which can potentially run into five or six figure sums. 

You’ll also be far more likely to notice when you’re reading articles, guides or social media content which includes affiliate links, making you able to decide whether you can trust the advice being offered. 

Potential problems with affiliate marketing 

The first problem you may encounter when starting affiliate marketing is if you’re trying to monetise your existing audience. The fact that you now earn a commission for referrals may mean people will question your advice or recommendations. 

Disclosing your affiliate interests is important, as it falls under non-broadcast advertising and the CAP Code. So, it’s best to be open, honest, and explain that any affiliate revenue doesn’t impact your choice of products or services. But be prepared that you may still get occasional negative comments or responses, despite the fact that the majority of large publications and media outlets use affiliates as a revenue stream. 

Along with understanding the advice from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA), you also need to check the terms and conditions for each affiliate scheme you join. Many will prevent you from using advertising against specific keywords, making dubious claims, or using non-approved brand logos or images. Infringing against those rules will usually mean your account is cancelled, and any unpaid commissions will be lost.  

Viewing sales and commission analytics


But the biggest issue tends to be approaching it without an achievable plan or realistic expectations. It’s highly unlikely that just sharing an affiliate link will result in sales unless you already have a fairly large or relevant audience. Celebrity influencers may be able to earn thousands from a single tweet or Instagram post, but everyone else will need to devote much more time and effort to build a sustainable income over time. 

If you’re not a Kardashian, then you may need to create content including guides, reviews or other advice which can contain relevant affiliate links. This will take time to research and write, and also before it ranks highly enough on search engines to drive traffic. Or you may need to publish Youtube videos or email newsletters for a significant number of months to build enough of an audience to convert a proportion into paying customers.  

This doesn’t mean it’s impossible to build a good income from affiliates if you’re not already an online celebrity. You just need to be realistic about the time and effort you can commit, and the income you’re likely to see in the early days. 

How to start an affiliate income stream 

Choosing what to focus on

The first step is to decide whether you’re going to try to build affiliate income related to your existing career and audience, or branch out into a new area. In both cases, it’s helpful if you know something about the subject, giving you insight into the problems people encounter and whether products or services actually provide some value to potential customers. 

Recording a video to show affiliate products

If you’re creating website content, it’s useful to use free tools such as Google Trends or Answer The Public to research popular questions and keywords around the subject. Various tools also exist for social media, such as Buzzsumo, or Social Blade for YouTube and Twitch channels. 

This will also help you to decide whether you may need to target a smaller niche to stand out. You may find there are countless websites, blogs, social media and Youtubers offering advice on outdoor living and pursuits. But far less covering the specific needs of hill walkers in the Lake District, particularly any who live in the area. 

You might decide to specialise in one particular model or make, rather than creating a generic car website. Or to concentrate on particular eras of video games, technology, or fashion.  

It’s also a good idea to sign up to a few of the affiliate platforms available to look at the number of relevant programs available, and which areas are likely to generate higher commissions. If your niche is particularly unusual or specific, you may find your options for affiliates is much more limited. But that might mean an opportunity for you to move into offering those products or services yourself in the future as an eCommerce business if your affiliate efforts generate enough interest. 

Finding the right affiliate programs 

There’s no penalty to signing up to multiple affiliate services and programs, although you may find some businesses will remove you if they don’t see enough traffic and sales over a long period of time. 

Some of the main platforms for affiliate marketing include; 

Within Amazon and eBay, you’ll find the commission rates offered will vary depending on both the product category and sometimes the volume of referrals you’re sending. This can also be the case on other platforms, meaning that you can choose whether you want to target items with a potentially high volume but a low payout, meaning sales are more likely but less rewarding. Or higher revenue but smaller volumes, meaning you’re targeting quality over quantity. 

For most people using affiliate marketing to earn extra income it makes sense to offer a mixture of lower cost and commission links which will tend to result in sales more regularly alongside higher value items which will generate rates in much smaller numbers. But you may decide to focus entirely on promoting luxury items, which will inform how you approach creating content and the design of your site or social media profiles. And who you try to connect with. 

Diversifying the affiliates and programs you use is always a good idea, as it helps to safeguard you if that provider decides to end the relationship or ceases operations. Or if one platform suspends or disables your account for any reason.  

Generating traffic and increasing your revenue 

It’s unlikely you’ll see significant results from a website and social media profiles which are only visited by a handful of people each month. For most affiliate marketers, the challenge is to consistently grow both an audience, and increase the number who make a purchase via referral links. 

Your exact methods will vary depending on the platforms you’re focusing on, but there are a wide range of ways to market your business. Methods such as search engine optimisation (SEO) will apply to in-depth guides on your website or ensuring your YouTube channel pops up in relevant searches, but aren’t applicable to an email newsletter only visible once someone has signed up to receive it. 

Some marketing channels will tend to offer more immediate results, such as paid advertising. But they’ll require an ongoing investment, whereas an article which attracts lots of people through organic (non-paid) search results might only need a one-time investment of time and effort. 

Regularly monitoring the products or services which are delivering affiliate sales, and the content leading people to them, will help you understand what resonates most effectively with your existing audience. 

You’ll also be able to see anything which isn’t performing as you expected. You may need to fix and improve any issues, such as making stronger recommendations or adding more obvious links. But it might mean that you need to change your tactics and approach for the future to be more successful. 

It might be that your niche is too broad or specific, you’re reaching an audience which isn’t receptive or ready to purchase right now, or there are better products and offers available.  

Over time, you’ll be able to develop affiliate marketing funnels, which guide a potential purchaser through every stage of the process. You can develop content for each step on the journey, from initial research, in-depth consideration, tips on getting more when they buy the product or service, and how they can use it in the future. This is particularly relevant for anything with a higher price, and which requires more commitment from customers. 

By consistently investing time in testing, experimenting, and optimising your affiliate marketing, you should see consistent improvements.  

You can also increase the revenue you’re earning by regularly checking for programs which offer better commission rates. And if you’re driving a particularly significant number of sales for a particular product or business, then it can be worth reaching out directly to see if you can negotiate higher fees or other incentives as a result. 

More support to increase your self-employed income 

If you’re looking to increase your income and grow your self-employed business, then you can find plenty of other useful tips, guides and support from IPSE. Whether that’s how to get more clients, or raising your client rates, starting a new eCommerce business, or how you could save money as a freelancer and effectively manage any personal debts

IPSE members also get access to a range of savings and rewards from relevant partners, a library of useful resources and templates, access to webinars and events, and lots more. 


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