If you're like most people during these tough times, you know every penny counts. You may have started cutting back on those mochas you like so much, or you may hold off on buying that pair of shoes you've been eyeing. Wouldn't it be nice to find a way to make a little extra money—even in your sleep?
It may sound like an infomercial or an impossible get-rich scheme, but it's not. Affiliate marketing allows you to do just that—although the amount of revenue you get will vary and it can take a while for it to start rolling in. Still, you might be able to bring back some of those treats you gave up.
Affiliate marketing is a method of online advertising in which online merchants, or advertisers, pay someone else to promote their products or services—but only for results. They don't pay you just to reach a particular audience, according to Commission Junction, the largest affiliate network in the U.S.
That means you don't make money unless the merchant does, because you're promoting their goods, not your own.
You don't have any of the risks that usually come with the ownership and storage of inventory
"This is a good thing and a bad thing," writes Cartsten Cumbrowski, an Internet marketing entrepreneur. "The good thing is that you don't have to carry inventory, worry about the fulfillment of orders, online payments, customer service, returns, etc. You don't have any of the risks that usually come with the ownership and storage of inventory. The bad thing is that people who (you) are referring to the merchant become the merchant's customers and not yours."
But you can still benefit from the partnership. Affiliates usually advertise the products of others on their Web sites, so why not promote those products on your storefront or blog? It could lead to two sources of revenue: a purchase on your site and a commission from an affiliate.
This is mutually beneficial to the merchant and the affiliate, says Darrel Howell, an Internet marketer. "It is a great way for both to make money selling products on the Internet."
Laying the groundwork
Getting started may seem intimidating, but if you know where to look, the process becomes easier. Start by perusing the various online affiliate directories like Affiliate Ranker. This site has a customized search engine and an extensive directory of affiliate programs. All you have to do is type in keywords for your site, and the site will return a list of possible affiliates relevant to your focus. It also provides a description of the program and the commission each one offers.
Affiliate Ranker is just a directory of affiliate programs, so you will have to go to your desired affiliate's site to sign up. But that's fairly easy since the directory links users to the programs' sign-up pages. An added plus is that sign-up is simple. Many programs just require your contact information and the URL of your Web site.
And since affiliates want to promote their businesses, most of these programs will cost you nothing. All you have to do is promote items and wait for people to buy them.
If you want something more familiar, try Auctiva's KickItBack program. Users simply sign up on KickItBack.com and get paid when their referrals make purchases on eBay or any of the other 200-plus online retailers KickItBack has relationships with.
The nice thing about KickItBack is that the program will also reward you when you make purchases through its site. That's because the retailers on KickItBack—such as Beauty.com, Macy's, PetSmart, VistaPrint and others—pay the site a commission, and the company "kicks" some of the profits back to you.
Focus your attention on becoming the top consumer resource for information for your niche
Making the sales
Your commission will depend on the amount of sales your affiliate makes. So don't be shy about posting products and even adding photos on your pages. Publish them on social networking sites, your blog or other pages you manage. You could also include links to products in your signature when you comment on discussion threads or blog posts. The more places, the better.
Don't forget to use Twitter to tell customers about new products from your affiliate, too.
Choosing the right products is very important to a becoming a successful affiliate. Be sure to pick items that complement your site but don't directly compete with the products you offer. You also want to focus on a niche market, notes AffiliatePrograms.com.
"Do not try to be everything to everyone," the site advises. "Instead, choose a topic area and focus your attention on becoming the top consumer resource for information for your niche."
Think about items that people need, especially in this economic climate when people are doing without "luxury" goods. It's also a good idea to scour the Internet and see what products others are selling. You may notice an untapped market. Less competition could mean more sales.
Products that are "in fashion" may bring in a good amount of revenue for a while, but remember that just as easily as items become popular, they fade into the background.
It's important to keep track of traffic and sales, but if you use an affiliate network such as Clickbank, Commission Junction or ShareASale, they'll do it for you. However, this usually requires paying a percentage of the sale.
"Having an affiliate marketing Web site will also help you to understand which products sell the most in any given niche compared to other products," reports Internet marketing expert Alan King. "From here, you can either decide to make a product of your own, or decide which product you want to push more aggressively."
Seems like there's little to lose by trying affiliate marketing—and potentially a lot to gain.