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How to Start an Affiliate Marketing Business | A Step-by-Step Guide

how to start an affiliate marketing business
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If you’re looking for a step-by-step guide on how to start an affiliate marketing business, you’re in the right place.

It’s likely that if you’re here, you’ve heard the buzzwords “affiliate marketing”, “referral marketing”, “passive income”, and you may have even heard of benefits like time flexibility and location freedom. Affiliate marketing is getting lots of hype because it has great perks, however, you might not be clear about how it all works.

In this article, I want to clear it up for you and let you know how to start an affiliate marketing business. You probably want to know things like:

  • What a typical day is like
  • What the startup costs are like
  • And, what types of tasks have to be done

Now, I’ve been full-time as an affiliate marketer for almost one year and I can share with you details to help bring clarity to your journey. If this sounds interesting to you, let’s start the discussion! If you’re interested in seeing this content in video format, check it out here:

What is Affiliate Marketing? | An Overview

First, let me start by explaining what affiliate marketing is…

There are businesses all over the place, and the one thing they need more than anything else is customers. Customers are the lifeblood of a business. Without customers, the business isn’t in business. Simple as that.

There are several methods businesses can use to attract customers to their products and services. Some of those methods include:

  • Advertising
  • Handing out flyers
  • Going door-to-door
  • Cold calling
  • Cold email
  • Content marketing
  • Podcasting
  • TV ads or interviews
  • Radio ads or interviews
  • Hiring salespeople
  • and the list really goes on and onA woman blogging

One thing is sure, every great company is constantly exposing their business to new prospects. Affiliate marketing is one way to expose a business to new prospects. As an alternative to handing out flyers, going door-to-door, or otherwise, you can pay people a percentage of each sale or a set price per lead. When they bring you a new lead or sale (whichever you’ve set as the criteria), you would pay them for the transaction.

In essense, there’s three parties in each affiliate marketing equation: the merchant, the tracking software or affiliate network, and the affiliate. The merchant makes the products or services and needs to get customers to them. The affiliate network keeps a database of affiliate marketers, tracks their sales, bills the merchant, and pays affiliates. Alternatively, independently managed affiliate programs recruit their own affiliates, use software to track their sales, and pay the affiliates themselves.

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In decades past, affiliate marketing was done more informally. You’d tell a friend about a product or service. The merchant would say, “If you send a customer my way, I’ll give you…”, they’d keep a mental or written reminder when someone said “Hey, [your name] invited me” and they’d pay you (if they’re an honest person).

Now, there’s much more “fancy” ways of tracking sales and giving referrals, so the industry is getting much more hype because it’s more formalized now. People are making full-time incomes without creating products or services–simply by giving referrals full-time.

Affiliate marketing is a subset of sales. It’s commission-based like traditional sales positions, but the difference is modern affiliate marketers are more technology prone using tools like social media, tracking links, content marketing, copywriting, and the internet.

Who is an Affiliate Marketing

business right for?

Successful affiliate marketers are people who:

  • Build a sizeable social circle
  • They’re trustworthy. People won’t take recommendations from affiliates who aren’t trustworthy–not for the long-term anyways.
  • They’re willing to stay relevant to their target audience
  • They learn how to use their influence to invoke action
  • They’re observant about people around them so they can identify problems and recommend viable solutions
  • They’re willing to learn the necessary technology to do things like build websites, build email lists, find potential customers using social media, search engines or video
  • And, they’re constantly learning

What’s a typical day in an Affiliate Marketing business like?

Affiliate marketing consists of many tasks like:

  • Identify relevant affiliate partners
  • Market research
  • Content creation
  • Content distribution
  • Networking
  • Responding to comments
  • Answering questions
  • Website or landing page design
  • Copywriting
  • Bookkeeping
  • Analyzing legal affiliate agreements or platform rules
  • Education or improving skill leve

A woman scheduling her day in her affiliate marketing businessHow the Businesses Types Vary

A typical day will depend on if you’re trying to run an affiliate marketing business as a part-time endeavor, full-time endeavor, or for passive income. There is potential to run a passive income affiliate marketing business, but it’s getting more and more difficult to pull off.

The internet is growing drastically! More people are demanding help with making day-to-day decisions from the internet. Affiliate marketers are a large percentage of those informational websites that answer normal search queries. When you click on a solution, the affiliate can be compensated.

Those who run “passive income” affiliate websites typically find very high demand content and low supply content, and create websites that satisfy audiences that haven’t been served well prior. As more knowledge is being spread about how to run affiliate websites, “niche websites” where there is lots of demanded information and a low supply of information gets more and more diluted.

Alternatively, authority websites are much more active endeavors. They’re websites that have several niches where they create content. How to Entrepreneur is a great example of this. Here, I create content on affiliate marketing, business ideas, product and service reviews, and entrepreneurship. Since, I am speaking on more broad topics, I have more competitors, an audience with a wider interest area, and more activity required to keep the audience entertained and stay top-of-mind. Make sense?

How Affiliate Marketers Should Divide their Time for Success

Many people who start out in affiliate marketing get extremely confused about how to divide their time for optimal results, so hopefully, this advice on time management will bring lots of clarity for you. I recommend affiliate marketers divide their time into four ways: acquiring the work, doing the work, managing the work, and strategizing about the work.

It can get murky trying to figure out which is which, so let me explain further. As an affiliate marketer, your product is the referral. You have to find good products and services to recommend to your audience that will help them to achieve their end goal. You also have to find ideal customers for your affiliate partners to help them achieve their goals of getting more customers. In this way, you have customers on both sides and you’re in the middle of the sandwich.

You end up being like a trainer/entertainer in order to successfully influence people to take action, and you offer this service via written word, audio, or in-person.

Acquiring the Work

When you’re acquiring the work, you’re looking for people who have the problems your affiliate partner solves. You’re doing things like:

  • Market research
  • Studying audience and behaviors
  • Networking
  • Finding keywords or Social media environments where people (who have the problems your affiliate partners solve) would hang out
  • Distributing content that explains how they can solve their problem to places where the answer is needed (whether in the search engines, on social media, in offline communities, or elsewhere)
  • Running ad campaigns
  • Finding affiliate partners

Doing the Work

When you’re doing the work, you’re creating your entertaining content, influencing decisions, and engaging with people. This could be:

  • Writing blog posts
  • Creating graphics or images for social media
  • Setting up ad campaigns
  • Optimizing ad campaigns
  • Designing your website or landing pages
  • Doing your copywriting
  • Creating your videos
  • Optimizing content for search engines
  • Organizing your finances
  • Setting up legal disclaimers

This is where many affiliate marketers get stuck. They’re doing doing doing the work, but they’re not acquiring the work. If you don’t acquire the work, you won’t have anyone following your recommendations, and you won’t make money.

Managing the Work

At some point, you may want help with things like:

  • Graphic design
  • Writing articles
  • Managing ads
  • Creating content
  • Doing copywriting
  • Bookkeeping
  • Accounting
  • Legal
  • Search engine optimization
  • Social media marketing
  • Customer support
  • Or more…

If you have the budget (either from sales or from external sources), you could invest in getting the help you need, but you don’t want to hire without clearly understanding the management role and being ready to play that. You don’t want to offload everything you’re too overwhelmed to do onto someone else. Instead, you want to give clear instructions, customize what needs to be done for your brand, and provide oversight.

It’s best to include the management time into your schedule early on, so you’re ready when it’s time to hand things off. Before you have people to manage, you can use your management time to create training, then when it’s time to hire, you can train the hirees efficiently, and maintain a unified front within your brand.

No one will know the difference in your articles and your outsourced articles if your training is sufficient. This unity should translate into any position your decide to hire.

Strategizing About the Work

Lastly, when you’re strategizing about the work, you are doing your business planning: planning on how to engage deeper with your current audience, looking at analytics and statistics, planning how to reach new audiences, setting goals, and tracking your actual results.

Strategizing is crucial to growth, so you can continue to expand, learn new things, and reach more people.

Who is the target market for an Affiliate Marketing business?

The target market for an affiliate marketing business is businesses who want more customers and consumers who need a solution offered by a company with an affiliate program.

Business to Business

The business to business opportunity within affiliate marketing is huge! There is so much untapped potential!

Audience OneBusinesses working with affiliate marketing businesses

Many very large companies have affiliate programs like: Amazon, Target, and Macy’s, but there’s still lots of room for them to learn how to run the affiliate programs better. Companies know alot about how to run a salesforce, but affiliates of these companies are spread across the globe: they don’t know whose trained, who’s not, and where to get the training from. My #1 Recommendation for affiliate training is Wealthy Affiliate hands down.

Audience Two

Added to this group of businesses who know about affiliate marketing is a largest group of businesses who have no idea. There are merchants who have never heard of it: gas stations, lawyers, accountants, doctors, and other people who are still using old school referral methods where they say, “You send a customer my way, and I give you [whatever reward or money]”. Now that the affiliate marketing industry is growing, more merchants will raise up affiliate programs, and affiliates will have more niches and choices of products and services to promote.

Audience Three

A third target audience are the service-based businesses and product-based business owners who want to add an additional stream of income, and possibly an alternative to active income. Since referrals is the product, affiliates don’t usually have to worry as much about customer support, refunds, or set hours as alternative business models.

Affiliate marketing is also very scalable. So as an example, an accountant spends their time fulfilling their clients most likely at their desk with accounting software and doing client-facing activities. Their work (while enjoyable to them) is active income. If they don’t organize their clients finances, they likely don’t get paid. If they decide to become an affiliate of a relevant product or service (like Quickbooks or Freshbooks), they can add an additional income, refer customers when appropriate, add links on their website, and make an income when they’re not actively working–a win-win.


Most of the target audience emphasis is on the consumer or the person who has the problem, and is looking for a solution. Right now, there are millions of products that can be promoted thru affiliate marketing. People are looking online typing in queries from “dinner ideas” to life-changing decisions like “how to find a spouse”. Billions of searches are done monthly and as more people get personal computers, smartphones, and internet access all over the world, the amount of reliance on the internet is projected to increase.

The traditional sales industry is evolving more and more into affiliate marketing as companies are now being REQUIRED to be online to compete in the market. Those who are competing poorly online are losing a massive amount of buyers and businesses are shutting down!

What is the growth potential in an Affiliate Marketing

business?A chart of the growth of the affiliate marketing business

As you can see from my previous examples, the growth potential in affiliate marketing is huge. It’s the new version of the sales professional. “Sales is the Highest Paying Hard Work and the Lowest Paying Easy Work” as Zig Ziglar or Jim Rohn (one of them) said it.

Now, with easier access to a larger audience as a result of the internet and prospecting tools like social media, Youtube, WordPress blogs, smartphones, cameras, and other advanced technology, affiliate marketing is becoming more and more lucrative. Added to that, a very small percentage of overall companies have an affiliate program, so as more of them get insight about how to start affiliate programs, the potential within the industry will skyrocket!

I’ve seen income reports showing affiliates earning their first dollar well up past millions of dollars in annual income. Look at Google, Yelp, or AirBnB for example, they’re massive referral engines! They’re paid mostly for their referrals, and this just shows the potential of an affiliate marketing business.

What are the skills you’ll need to make an Affiliate Marketing

business work?

I mentioned quite a few interpersonal skills already, but we haven’t yet talked about the technical skills you need to run an affiliate marketing business. From my experience as an affiliate marketer and from watching others, I’ve noticed these skills are common for those making money with affiliate marketing:


  • Realistic Expectations
  • Positive Thinking
  • Work Ethic

Website Setup and WordPress Technical Basics

  • Plugins
  • Hosting
  • Website Setup
  • How to use WordPress

Getting Traffic

  • SEO
  • Paid Ads
  • Video Marketing
  • Market Research
  • Economics – Supplying what’s in Demand
  • Professional Collaboration
  • Social Media

Converting Traffic & Increasing User Engagement

  • Email Marketing
  • Landing page design
  • Sales funnel design
  • Webinar creation
  • Copywriting
  • Photography
  • Videography
  • Reading and Applying Analytics Data

Website Monetization

  • E-Commerce
  • Blog sponsorship
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Ad sales
  • Selling services
  • Freelancing
  • and, more

Strategic Core Competencies that Enable Scaling

  • Documenting processes
  • Outsourcing
  • Hiring and training staff

Disclaimer: You don’t have to have all of these skills! Many successful affiliate marketers have a few, they may start with one and stack other skills on top to amplify their success, or they may hire to amplify.

What are the costs involved with an Affiliate Marketing business?

One of the major perks of starting an affiliate marketing business is how inexpensive it is to get started. Of course, you can decide to start out with much more than the basics, but you can actually start an affiliate marketing business:

  • With a website domain
  • Web Hosting or Funnel Software
  • A Professional Community for support
  • Training
  • Market research tools
  • And, an interest area

These tools can very in features and cost, but the best suite of products (that includes everything required to start an affiliate marketing business) is at Wealthy Affiliate. Check it out, get 10 free lessons on affiliate marketing, access to a community of 1.4 million+ members, two free websites, and get 7 days of free coaching here.

What are the steps involved in starting an Affiliate Marketing business?

This is the basic breakdown of how I’d recommend you start an affiliate marketing business:

1. Validate your IdeaValidate your affiliate marketing business idea

There are lots of niches to choose from, audiences that are looking for information, and interest areas you might have. One of the first things you have to decide is what audience you’re going to focus on solving problems for. Some people call this your “niche”.

Many new affiliate marketers get stuck here or pivot quite a bit. They may be interested in things like bike riding, health and fitness, affiliate marketing, or so many other topics, and it becomes difficult to choose which is the best area to focus on in their business starting out. After you really understand the affiliate marketing business, you can transfer the knowledge into many different interest areas, but it’s best to validate one idea and stick with it.

You will want to look at relevant affiliate programs, do some financial planning, investigate the market online, look at competitors, talk to family and friends to see about their input, and commit.

When you’re done, you’ll be able to say, “I’m starting an affiliate marketing business. My first website will have the mission to [solve what problem].”

2. Prioritize Your Business

Once you’ve chosen which website idea you’re sticking with, then it’s time to make this business a priority. Every business requires time and money. You’ll need time for your market research, content creation, networking, and so on. You’ll also need money for your hosting, domain, and gadgets (like premium website themes or plugins) that make things easier for you.

You’ll need to set aside time and money. Then, starting with what you have, you divide your time and money to complete the tasks that will grow your business. As you get more sales and income, you can reinvest more and more into things that will amplify your sales, and grow your business.

3. Build Your Brand

Starting out, no one will know about your brand. No one will know you’re a person who wants to help them with solving their problem. You’ll have to begin giving and giving until more people see the value, you’re getting more and more attention, and people are trusting you more.

Once you’re building trust, then you’ll be able to influence and your circle of influence will expand–this is the essence of brand building. You’ll use things like your logo, your color palette, your quality standards, your wardrobe, the quality of your recommendations, and your overall aura to intentional build your brand.

4. Start Getting Leads and Traffic

Your brand will require traffic and volume in order to grow. More people will need to hear about you, your content, and the recommendations you make.

Get the training, support, and tools to start getting leads to your business online here. Get started for free. No billing info required.

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Wealthy Affiliate Review and Demo

5. Convert the Traffic into Customers

As the traffic gets substantial, you’ll need to have a process for turning the interest into paying customers. Many affiliates use video marketing, webinars, tracking links, conversion funnels, landing pages, pop ups, heatmaps, countdown timers, and web design to influence the conversion process, and you’ll need to master this to improve your sales.

6. Form Your Business Legally

Once money is flowing, your tax and legal liability will go up. You may be accused of things like plagiarism, slander, or other things. We see lawsuits all the time with media icons. They say something wrong and before you know it, someone is trying to file a lawsuit against them. You don’t want to operate long without protecting your personal property from legal liability.

Incorporate your business and ensure your taxes are as low as they can get and your personal property is protected. I recommend Swyft Filings for business incorporation. You can learn more about them in my Swyft Filings review here.

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7. Organize Your Books

To maintain compliance with your tax regulation authorities, you’ll need to track your income and expenses and report them during tax time. You can do this manually using Microsoft Excel or Gsuite, or you can use Quickbooks or Freshbooks.

Accounting software will import information from your bank accounts, and make it easier for you to sort thru your transactions to calculate income and expenses accurately–this can be very helpful and save you loads of time. Either Quickbooks or Freshbooks is great for this. I use Freshbooks. My husband uses Quickbooks, and they both have a free trial so you can see which is easiest for you to use. Check them out!

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8. Get Your Office Supplies

As an affiliate, you’ll still run into situations where you’ll need physical office supplies. For example, many affiliate networks will require W9s, many banks will require paperwork, and you’ll need to do administrative tasks. Make sure you have at least the basic office necessities so you can stay productive and easily perform your work.

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8. Systemize Your Process

In the beginning, you might be overwhelmed by all the things you have to do, but over time, you’ll get into a “groove”. You’ll find certain writing templates help make blog writing more efficient, certain landing page templates make landing page optimization easier, and you’ll find checklists and task management gets easier and easier when you systemize your processes.

As early as you can, begin to systemize things so you can improve your efficiency.

9. Reinvest and Scale

Once you’ve performed all 9 of these steps, you should start seeing income growth incrementally. You’ll see your first dollar, then one month, you might have a 10% increase, another month it might be 100%, and another it might be 5%. Affiliate markting businesses are similar to sales in that once  you’ve mastered the fundamentals, you’ll see incremental growth upwards.

When your income is growing, it’s very easy to spend the income on new purses, new cars, new clothes, and other consumer goods, but if you do this, you could squeeze your business dry of the growth potential. Instead, it’s important to reinvest in:

  • Advertising
  • Methods to reach more people
  • Marketing
  • Getting help
  • Improving the quality of your content
  • The tools and equipment you need
  • Joining new communities
  • and, Educating yourself

Recommended Reading:

Ready to Start Your Affiliate Marketing Business?

If you’re ready to get started with your affiliate marketing business, you should join the #1 community for affiliate marketers online. I would love to be your 1-on-1 coach and you can have my unlimited coaching thru private messaging at Wealthy Affiliate. Along with my coaching, you’d get all of this…

Added to all of this, you can get access to my e-course and all of my free bonuses by signing up here. Let’s get started building your Affiliate Marketing Business!

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