If you’ve ever bought something online because a popular person suggested it, you’ve dealt with an affiliate marketing business. Online creators often work with brands to promote their goods and services by forming partnerships with them. In exchange, they get a cut of each sale.
Affiliate marketing is a business that is growing. Statista says that in the US alone, affiliate marketing spending will reach $8.2 billion by 2022.
But the upfront costs, like buying a domain name, ecommerce hosting, courses, books, etc., are a problem for many people who are just starting out in affiliate marketing. So, the question is: Is it free to start?
Yes, that’s the answer. This guide will explain how to make money with affiliate marketing (without having to pay anything up front) and show you step-by-step how to start.
What is the process of affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is when you recommend a product or service from another business and get paid a commission for it. As a way to run a business, it’s very profitable because the company pays you for every sale you send their way.
But not every affiliate programme is the same. Some will pay different percentages of commission, others will offer a fixed bonus, and some will give away free products or services in exchange. Affiliate marketing can turn your side job into a profitable business if you put in the time and work.
What makes affiliate marketing a good way to run a business?
At this point, you might be asking, “A company built on recommendations? That sounds like it would be untrue. According to PayScale, the typical affiliate marketer in the US earns around $52,000 per year. Being sceptical is healthy, but not to an extreme
- Not bad for a product recommendation, right? Affiliate marketing is a good way to run a business, so you can use it to make a living. This is why:
- The risk is low. Businesses only have to pay when you send them a customer (versus paying a fee for influencers). Affiliates can keep their costs low (if they even have any), so they only lose time if they miss the mark.
- It works out well for everyone. When you bring in sales, the business makes money, and in return, it gives you something. But customers also benefit when someone they trust recommends something that meets their needs or wants.
- You can work from any place on Earth. Affiliate marketing can help you work from anywhere if you’ve ever wanted to be a digital nomad. But be sure to follow any tax or work laws that have to do with your job.
- You can make money without doing much. It takes time to build a library of good content. But after a while, you’ll find that content you’ve already made still brings in affiliate commissions months or even years later.
Vivian Tejeda, a writer and affiliate marketer, says, “If you’re just starting out in affiliate marketing and don’t have any start-up money, you need to think long-term.” “First, you need to pay attention to the basics, like choosing a niche and a traffic source.”
Vivian says that creators who want to start out as affiliate marketers can choose from a number of free platforms. “You can make an account on Instagram, TikTik, YouTube, and blogs for free and start making content right away.” Affiliate networks make it easy and free for new marketers to join thousands of good affiliate programmes right away.
How to Start Affiliate Marketing Without Money
At first, the path to becoming an affiliate marketer can seem hard to take. But if you break it up into smaller steps, it’s a lot easier to reach your goals.
- Find a niche
- Pick a programme to join.
- Choose a source of traffic.
- Build trust by making content.
- Build a following
- Answer their questions and talk to them.
1. Find a niche
The best way to be successful at affiliate marketing is to find a niche and stick to it. A niche is the subject on which you will become an expert. Here are some of the best niches:
- I like to travel, take pictures, play golf, and be outside.
- Bitcoin, money management, credit cards, and investing
- Health: working out, eating right, going vegan, losing weight, and doing yoga
- Luxury, airlines, fashion, and jewellery are all part of a person’s way of life.
- Home: things for babies, dogs, plants, and safety
- Hosting websites, VPN, games, and software
- Personal development, marijuana and CBD, and herbal remedies are some alternatives.
You need a niche because if you recommend a wide range of products, people won’t think of you as an expert they can trust. If, on the other hand, you only recommend one type of product and write about it, people will know that you have experience in that area.
It also helps you later with search engine optimization (SEO) on social media and your affiliate website, if you decide to build one.
So how do you pick a niche?
You should start with niches that are likely to make you money. For example, our research* showed that some of the highest commissions are for business-related programmes, while some of the lowest are for clothing, books, and media:
But these aren’t your only choices, and different platforms work better for different niches. Affiliate marketing is not a way to “get rich quick.” You’ll need to care about your niche at least a little bit to keep going.
Ask yourself these questions to help you decide what to do:
- Do you want to learn more about what you do? It’s very important to stay on top of trends and industry news in your field if you want to stay relevant to your audience.
- Have you worked or studied in a specialised field before? If you already know a lot about a subject, you can shorten the time it takes to learn more and move ahead more quickly.
- Can content be made without spending money up front? If you don’t already have the equipment or content, some niches, like technology or travel, can cost a lot to get started in.
- Is it worth it? You want to make money in the end. So, if your niche is too big, you’ll have too much competition, and if it’s too small, not enough people will be interested in it, and you won’t make enough money.
Finding the right niche is tricky, and it can take time and practise to get it right. Don’t give up if you don’t see results right away.
2. Pick a programme to join.
After you choose a niche, the next step is to decide which affiliate programmes to join. It makes sense to pick an affiliate programme or product that fits with your niche.
For example, a lot of YouTube channels advertise Virtual Private Network (VPN) services so that their viewers can watch them from anywhere in the world. Derek Simnett, a vegan fitness and lifestyle educator who is also an affiliate for VIVO Life supplements, is a better example of this.
You can find affiliate programmes that fit your niche either directly or through a marketplace. If you know of brands in your niche that have affiliate marketing programmes, you can contact them directly and sign up for them. This is what Derek did with VIVO Life.
You can also join a marketplace or network for affiliate programmes, where you can look through thousands of programmes and sign up for them all at once.
Affiliate networks like the ones below offer tens of thousands of merchants in many different markets:
Even though all of these are good choices, there are other things to think about when choosing an affiliate programme, such as its commission rate and earnings per click (EPC) rate. Even if a programme has a low commission rate but a high EPC, it may still be worth it to join it.
3. Choose a source of traffic
Now is the time to start thinking about how people will find your site.
People often think that to become a blogger, you have to have your own website (which costs money). Even though it helps when you’re ready to reinvest in your business and grow, you don’t need one right away.
You can start making money as an affiliate by getting traffic from free sites like social media, YouTube, and forum sites like Reddit and Quora. Let’s look at some of the pros and cons of each channel.
- Pros: It’s the biggest social media site out there. You can reach a large number of people.
- Cons: Younger people are less likely to like it. Poor natural reach.
- Pros: It’s very visual and a great way to show off products and services. Videos like Reels and Stories get a lot of attention.
- Cons: Feed posts have less organic reach.
- The pros are that it’s great for SEO. Over two billion people around the world.
- Cons: Most niches have a lot of competition. Videos need to look good and be made by professionals.
- Pros: Short video clips that don’t need to look or feel “professional.” More individual and real experiences. Trends start on TikTok.
- Cons: You can’t click on links in descriptions.
- Pros: The organic reach is great. Professionals can use a well-known platform.
- Cons: Mostly for business-to-business audiences.
You may be thinking, “But I don’t have a following on social media! How am I going to make money? If you don’t already have a following, now is the time to start. But even if you don’t have a lot of followers, you can still make money if you reach the right people.
A lot of affiliate marketers make all of their money from social media alone. Papery Thoughts, a YouTube channel and other social media account that makes videos about journaling, is a great example.
Affiliate sales are made through links in the video description to products that the creator uses on-screen. Joining Facebook groups in your niche and answering questions is another way to use social media. You can also reply to relevant TikTok videos in your industry. The best way to build an audience is to get people to interact with you, not to spam them with affiliate offers.
4. Make content that will help build trust
No matter which affiliate marketing platform(s) you choose, the next step is to start making content that builds trust with your target audience. By 2020, people around the world who used the internet spent an average of 145 minutes a day on social media. Why do we spend more than two hours a day online? Great stuff.
It takes time to build a content library, so it’s a good idea to plan ahead and make a content calendar or strategy. Your calendar can have plans for what kind of content you’ll post each day, like:
- Reviews of products
- Advice and hints
Be sure to include a keyword strategy in your content strategy, especially for YouTube SEO (if you choose YouTube as your platform). Even good content can get lost in the noise if it is not optimised for search engines.
With a little research, you can figure out which keywords to use. Use YouTube as an example and try to find the channels of your competitors. Check out their most popular videos and pay attention to the title, description, and tags they’ve used.
And of course, don’t forget to include links to your affiliate products or services and a disclaimer that says they are affiliated.
Focus on putting out good content that teaches people something. Always give them something of value and don’t just talk about yourself. You’ll be excited to start making affiliate sales and getting brand deals, but before you can do that, you need to build an audience that is very interested in what you have to say. This will pay off in the long run!
5. Bring in more people
You should also start building an email or SMS list while you’re making content on your chosen platform. This is important for two main reasons:
- Since you own your contact list, you don’t have to use social media to talk to your audience. All of the big platforms have problems from time to time, so if they all go down at once, you can always email your audience.
- Even though some affiliate programmes, like Amazon’s, don’t let you put affiliate links in emails, you can still email links to content you make that has affiliate links in it. This is how you send traffic to any of your content.
Using your email list is a great way to give your audience even more value and build your authority in your niche. Some ideas for content for your email list can help you get started:
- Reports or news about a business
- New blog posts’ links
- Roundups or summaries of the interviews
- How your life or business works behind the scenes
- Deals and discounts (every once in a while)
- Free digital downloads
There are many email marketing software companies, like Shopify Email, Mailchimp, and MailerLite, that offer free plans for building an email list. It’s a good idea to look at different options to see which one fits you best.
Once you have built trust with an audience, you can start promoting high-ticket affiliate programmes. These programmes give you the chance to make up to $5,000 per sale. But to get people to buy more expensive products, you often need to have a well-known niche and a lot of influence.
6. Answer their questions and talk to them.
The last thing you can do to grow your business through affiliate marketing is to interact with your audience. Conversations not only make your followers or subscribers feel like they are being heard, but they also help you in the eyes of social media algorithms.
When people interact with your content, it usually tells algorithms that your content is worth boosting and showing to more people who might be interested.
When you like and reply to comments on your videos on TikTok, for example, those comments will have a badge that says “Liked by creator,” which makes them stand out from other comments.
These exchanges are important because they show your audience that you read and care about what they have to say. So, they’re more likely to interact with the content you make in the future (and maybe even encourage others to do so, too).
When you respond to your audience, you can also find out what kind of content they might want from you in the future.
Get started with your affiliate marketing business right away.
Affiliate marketing doesn’t have to involve a big investment up front. Getting started on your journey can be pretty safe if you follow the steps in this guide. Your time and work are the only costs.
So start thinking about what niche you could start building, work up to a passive income, and work from anywhere you want (or just tinker with outside of your main income). If you’re interested in e-commerce and business, you might want to join the Shopify Affiliate marketing programme.
No money for affiliate marketing FAQ
How do I start a free business in affiliate marketing?
- Find a niche
- Choose an affiliate programme that is free.
- Choose a source of traffic.
- Build trust by making content.
- Build a following
- Answer their questions and talk to them.
How can I use affiliate marketing to make $100 a day?
Affiliates can make $100 a day by promoting multiple affiliate programmes in their content. It doesn’t happen overnight. But if you post useful content that entertains and helps your audience on a regular basis, you can make regular sales in your affiliate marketing business.