While it’s possible to earn a great living by providing a service, a passive income stream or two really levels off the ups and downs.
Just don’t buy into the myth of passive income — make sure you understand what it really is before you start!
Affiliate links are the quickest and easiest form of passive income to implement. Done right, they can also give you a surprisingly good return.
Back in 2011 when my husband and I were preparing to move to Panama, I wrote this on my Future Expats blog:
Without giving you actual numbers — I’m willing to be transparent, but not quite that transparent — here’s what’s happened so far in 2011.
First Quarter: 100% of my earnings were from freelance work.
Second Quarter: 14% of revenue came from affiliate links, the remaining 86% from freelance work. At the same time, my income from freelancing increased by about 34%.
Third Quarter: Keeping in mind that I’m writing this in mid-July, which is the first month of the quarter, these figures are rather stunning. . .
Affiliate revenue was 23% of the total. Earnings from freelancing are up 20% from the Second Quarter while revenue from affiliate links is up 210% from the Second Quarter. A big thank you to those of you who’ve used them!
My goal is to see my revenue from affiliate links equal half of my income by the end of this calendar year, while earnings from freelancing continue to rise at 20% per quarter. When that happens, I’ll have no worries at all about being able to maintain myself in Panama.
What Is An Affiliate Link?
An affiliate link is simply a link you add to your website, social media posts, or email that sends interested readers to a product or service someone else is selling. If they buy, you receive a commission.
Some commissions are tiny, and some are pretty substantial. For example, a commission on the sale of a book at Amazon will be tiny. The commission when someone purchases a course can be hundreds of dollars. Most are somewhere in between.
What Kind Of Response Can You Expect?
Several things have to happen before you’ll see much response to affiliate links.
- You need a minimum level of traffic. I can’t tell you what that magic number is — it depends on your niche and your audience. But if you only have 100 visitors to your site every day, don’t expect a lot of affiliate sales.
- Your traffic must be targeted. This means, if you’re selling widgets, the people coming to your site must be interested in owning widgets. If you have 10 million visitors a day who don’t know what a widget is, you won’t sell much.
- You need excellent content. You have to give your targeted audience the information they’re looking for in a form that’s interesting to them.
- Your audience must feel they know, like and trust you. That process takes time, so putting great content out on a consistent basis comes before you can make a lot of sales.
Once you’ve developed some targeted traffic and your site visitors trust you because you’ve been giving them useful content, then you can move on to the next phase: choosing companies to affiliate with and letting your readers know about them.
How To Choose Affiliates
As always, start with what you know — as long as it’s something your readers will want. You wouldn’t expect to see links on this site for wedding gowns or plumber’s tools. (And if I put them here, they wouldn’t get any clicks anyway, because nobody comes here for that.)
Think about companies you’ve done business with that offer something your readers will like. Then go to their websites to see if they already have an affiliate program in place. Often, you’ll see a link labeled “affiliates” in the footer of the website.
If they have an affiliate program, the next step is to figure out whether they run the program themselves, or whether they’re part of a network. Read their rules, and the network’s rules. Some networks, like CJ.com, have a minimum sales requirement or they’ll charge you a fee for the months when you don’t meet that minimum, so until you’ve got a good amount of traffic, it’s probably best to avoid those networks.
Once you’ve found a company you like that offers affiliate links, fill out their application form. It might take a few days to get accepted into their program, but once that happens you can start adding links right away.
The affiliate network I’ve had the best success with is Shareasale – and yes, that’s an affiliate link.
Other affiliate networks include CJ.com (mentioned above), Clickbank, Rakuten, and Avangate.
Ethical Affiliate Linking
One thing I can’t stress enough is the importance of choosing ethical businesses to affiliate with, and to handle your links in an ethical manner.
I like Shannon O’Donnell’s yardstick — if she wouldn’t want her grandmother to click it, she won’t link to that company, product, or service.
I only link to companies, products, and services I’ve personally used and would recommend even if I weren’t an affiliate.
Disclosure is Mandatory – and It’s Good Business
If you’re using affiliate links, you must disclose that fact to your readers.
In the US, it’s the law. Wherever you are, it’s good business. That’s because your readers need to be able to trust you.
There are lots of ways to disclose affiliate links. On this site, I have a disclaimer in the sidebar. It’s there all the time, telling you that some links on the page might be affiliate links. Generally, if I’m including an affiliate link in an article, I’ll either add [aff] immediately following the link, or I’ll mention in the text that it’s an affiliate relationship.
Here are some examples of affiliate links that I promote:
- Siteground web hosting – the best place to start a blog or website if you want shared hosting
- Rocket.net, for super-fast managed WordPress hosting.
- WP Engine hosting – the best place for managed WordPress hosting
- StudioPress – one of my two go-two WordPress theme designers
- Astra Themes – the other theme designer I recommend
- SmartBlogger – creator of top-notch courses about blogging, including this one on successful guest blogging strategies
- AWAI – American Writers and Artists, Inc, creators of many programs for writers and other freelancers, including their flagship 6 Figure Copywriting and Web Copywriting 2.0 courses.
The first four of these all relate to WordPress. Since I talk a lot about WordPress here, and build WordPress sites, these are appropriate.
Smart Blogger and AWAI both provide courses to help people build profitable blogs and become qualified copywriters, respectively, they’re very useful for anyone thinking about a portable career.
I have used all their products or services, and would recommend them whether or not I got paid.