There are many ways to make a living online. Each week I have businesses pop into my inbox offering me stakes in their affiliate partnership programs. I also field oodles of reader questions asking me how to get involved in affiliate marketing opportunities — and if they’re worth it.
So, let’s chat.
In this candid explainer post, I’ll dig into my experiences with affiliate marketing over the past 12 years of being a full-time self-employed writer. I focus on marketing, but also have a background in journalism, so I occasionally pick up magazine and newspaper work every now and again. This is solely my perspective as a gal who makes a living writing and taking photos.
In this post I’ll explore:
- What is Affiliate Marketing?
- What is Passive Income?
- How Do Writers Participate in Affiliate Marketing?
- Can You Make Money With Affiliate Marketing?
What is Affiliate Marketing?
From my perspective as a content marketing writer, affiliate marketing is when a company pays you a commission or percentage of a sale that you help them generate by promoting their products or services. Affiliate marketing may be present on a social media feed, in an online group, on a website as an ad in the margin or on a blog.
I like to refer to affiliate marketing as “maybe money”. You do the marketing, and maybe you’ll earn a commission. The only guarantee of getting a cut of the company’s revenue is if you drive the sale for them and the purchase isn’t returned within a specific window of time.
I also turned to some pros for their definitions of affiliate marketing and here’s what I found:
“Affiliate marketing is the process of earning money (commissions) every time you promote a company’s products or services and drive a sale. You only get paid every time you drive a sale, just like a commission-only sales representative.” ~ Neil Patel, NP Digital
“Affiliate marketing involves earning a commission by promoting a product or service made by another retailer or advertiser. It is a monetization model where an affiliate partner, which is you, is rewarded a payout for providing a specific result to the retailer or advertiser. Typically, the result is a sale. But some programs can reward you for leads, free-trial users, clicks to a website, or getting downloads for an app.” ~ Shopify
“Affiliate marketing is when you promote other companies’ products. When someone buys through your affiliate link, you get a commission. As an affiliate, you’re a salesperson for the company. You help to make a sale, the company rewards you. The best thing about affiliate marketing is that you can do it at scale. A typical salesperson only sells products from one company. As an affiliate marketer, you can promote products from many different companies and earn commissions from all of them.” ~ Ahrefs
Disclosure: This blog is reader-supported, which means this post contains affiliate links and advertisements. I earn a small commission if you shop through them, which helps fund this website so I can continue to bring you amazing content. Thank you! ~Angela
What is Passive Income?
The allure of affiliate marketing is the ability to make passive income, or generate money when you’re not grinding away at your desk. Dawn Marie Beauchamp of Embrace Controlled Chaos shares her take in a guest post on the Fancy Comma, LLC website.
She gives an example of a food blogger posting a recipe for lasagna and including an affiliate link to their favorite cooking utensil. For as long as that post is live, it has the potential to earn the blogger some money — passive money — any time of day when a reader clicks through and buys the utensil for themselves.
However, that commission can range from pennies to big bucks, depending on the item being promoted. The rule of thumb in affiliate marketing is the more expensive the item, the bigger the commission.
One of the most successful passive-income earners I followed when I was starting my two blogs (and I scheduled hours on my calendar to build up affiliate links) was a guy who blogged about photography tips and reviewed camera gear. When something sells for hundreds (or thousands!) of dollars and your reader buys it, you can walk away with a nice commission. For him, affiliate marketing makes financial sense.
For me, spending an hour writing a blog post with an affiliate link and snapping photos that would yield a few dollars in sales from a yoga mat or a cookbook, well, didn’t make sense. So, I’ve chosen to focus the bulk of my time on paid content marketing writing for clients. I do however still participate in a few affiliate marketing opportunities, including Amazon Affiliates and some individual company promotions, like Siteground, Grammarly and QuickBooks. I’ll explain why in the next section!
How Do Writers Participate in Affiliate Marketing?
The main way I notice writers participating in affiliate marketing is through blogging, just like in the earlier lasagna recipe example. When you visit a blog and see a mention of affiliate links or products in the post hyperlinked, that’s how a writer is making money off that blog post.
I also notice writers craft witty social media updates and paid ads with affiliate links attached. Again, it’s another outlet for those click-throughs that may turn into sales. Here’s one I did for mail-order plants on my lifestyle blog’s Facebook Page.
So, when do I participate in affiliate marketing as a writer? I will add an affiliate link to a blog post or social media update that I want to write for reasons beyond earning affiliate money. When it takes me mere seconds to add a hyperlink, I do it. I also share affiliate links when someone comments on a post. For example, if they love my yoga pants and ask where I got them, I’ll share a link to the page on Amazon where I ordered it. I’m going to respond to my reader’s questions anyway, so it’s really no extra effort to include a helpful, money-making link.
What I’ve stopped doing is crafting posts with the sole intention of making money from affiliate sales. I would spend hours thinking up great angles and enticing ledes, only to come away with little-to-no money to show for my hours of work. That simply doesn’t make sense when my income comes from writing. Now I focus on paid content writing projects with a guaranteed fee for the work I’m doing. No more “maybe money” for this writer!
Can You Make Money With Affiliate Marketing?
Yes. You absolutely can make money using affiliate marketing programs, but that doesn’t mean it will be much, or worthy of your time. Consistent affiliate sales require ongoing content creation, post promotion, management of that content and conversations with potential customers.
All of that effort requires time, and if you compare those hours against the affiliate payments you’re receiving, you can determine if affiliate marketing is profitable for you. For me, the answer is almost always a solid no. But only you know your purpose for engaging in this type of work. If it’s to hone your writing, marketing and sales skills — and not earn a full-time income — go for it.
With that said, I’ve met many, many affiliate marketers at conferences that are making healthy incomes by focusing solely on affiliate links on their blogs. It is possible. As your blog grows, and you build up thousands of active links on your site, each with a little money trickling in, it can add up! Yes, that’s passive income, but it takes maintenance of that website, lots of promotion and a solid audience to generate the sales, so again, it’s work!
I was initially dumbfounded when a reader reached out to me for some writing tips and let me know they didn’t care if they got paid for their work. They were simply writing as a hobby and filling their time with something they enjoy. Not everyone is looking for a side hustle or income. If that’s you, affiliate marketing could be a fun way to play with ideas, watch some extra money roll in and get geeky over engagement numbers. For some people, that’s what they want, and that’s excellent!
You do you. If affiliate marketing helps boost your income or personal happiness, give it a try. After some effort, you can evaluate the process and see if it’s worth your time and energy. What benefits do you get from it? Is it creating happiness or frustration? That’s for you to determine. Happy writing!
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Note: This blog post was last updated on June 20, 2022.