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Wondering if you can get into affiliate marketing as a freelance writer?
Working as a freelance writer has a ton of benefits, and I have loved every minute of it. I get to work with some of the best clients in the world doing something that I love to do -- I get to write. But I'm not going to lie, there are times when the money isn't there. Especially when I was new, before I had really established myself and was making all the mistakes I now warn people about. Or during those times when I've miscalculated and ended up with a lull between clients.
Not to mention, those few times when a client has disappeared rather than pay me.
Thankfully, I've found that affiliate marketing is a great way to help boost my freelance writing income.
Now, I'm sure you've heard of affiliate marketing -- that's probably why you're here. It's a form of marketing in which you help promote someone else's products or services in exchange for some form of compensation, such as a commission payment or credits for the service. Maybe you've even decided to give it a go before.
Unfortunately, what I have found is that most of the courses out there dealing in affiliate marketing are written for people who want to make affiliate marketing the core of their income, rather than something that boosts or complements their career. And while some of the basics have been the same, there are a couple of very big differences when it comes to adding in affiliate marketing as a freelance writer that other people don't really have to worry about.
For one thing, as a freelance writer, you don't need to have a blog to be successful in affiliate marketing. Since we're not marketing in the traditional sense, that means no landing pages, ads, or blog post reviews for every product or service you want to recommend to your clients.
You read that right -- you can succeed in affiliate marketing without a blog.
So, I thought I would help you out by writing up this guide on how you can get started with affiliate marketing as a freelance writer, and how it has helped me.
Step One: Define your Affiliate Audience
I cannot stress this enough.
One of the biggest mistakes I see freelance writers make when it comes to affiliate marketing (and, indeed, one of the first mistakes I made when I started) is choosing programs without a thought of who they would be promoting them to.
While it's good practice to choose programs and services you use and love, are your clients going to use and love those services? Or are they meant for other freelance writers?
Now, it's okay to choose products and services that will better suit other freelance writers if you want, but figure that out ahead of time. Are you a freelance writer looking to connect with other freelance writers and help them out? Because if you are, that's a whole other marketing ball game you have to figure out.
That means on one hand, you'll need to market your writing services to new and existing clients, and at the same time you'll need to market your knowledge to other freelance writers. It can be done -- but trust me it's a lot easier if you start with that goal in mind.
If you're not ready to market to other freelance writers, then you'll want to be discerning and make sure that you're choosing products and services your clients will use and love. And this might mean having to recommend products and services you don't use - but we'll cover that a bit later.
So, step number one: define your affiliate marketing audience and decide if it is the same audience as your freelance writing audience.
Step Two: Choose the Tools your Audience will Use and Love
I always start with the features first: what will my clients need? Obviously, the list is going to vary depending on the services they are hiring me for. For example, someone looking to have me ghostwrite an ebook for them might need:
- A word processor (Microsoft Word, Scrivener)
- Grammer / spelling checker
- Sales page / website
- Teaser graphics
- Teaser video(s)
- An amazon / KDP account (or other online self-publishing platform)
- Email marketing service provider
- To learn marketing (social media, email, or paid marketing)
- Various tools to help them promote the book online
After all, having a book written is really only about 10% of the battle, the real difficulty comes when it's time to launch and market that book so it gets sales.
Once you know the exact features your clients are going to need, now it's time to start researching and finding the tools, courses, and services that will provide these to them. The goal here is to have an answer to every need your client might have before they even know they need it.
Some Programs to Get you Started
If you're feeling a little overwhelmed at the idea of finding these programs, don't fret. Here is a list of my top five that I used for my clients all the time.
ShareASale - This is probably one of the programs I use the most often. In fact, whenever I uncover a new need that a client may have, I check here first to see if they already have an option for me to look at. ShareASale is an affiliate network that covers just about everything from simple graphic design (PicMonkey and PromoRepublic) to grammar and spell checking (Grammarly and Ginger), and social media management (Tailwind). I was even able to recommend some amazing writing courses (Master Class).
Rakuten Marketing - Another affiliate network that covers brands from all over. Rakuten Marketing has been around for a long time, and you have to go through a screening for most of their programs. And brands love them. I use Rakuten Marketing primarily for courses and learning opportunities, as Udemy is part of this network.
Peerfly - I know I haven't used Peerfly to its full potential yet, but believe me when I say it's there. This is another affiliate network that covers multiple brands and businesses. What I like best are all the programs you can't find anywhere else, such as resume services, skillshare learning platform, Fiverr, and various job boards and job listing sites -- perfect for my clients who have been juggling a full time job outside of the home while trying to launch a business as an entrepreneur.
CJ Affiliate by Conversant - I first joined CJ (formerly Commission Junction) because ThinkGeek is part of their network and I really, really wanted to be able to share all my favorite ThinkGeek products on my Instagram account. I know, I know. But, thankfully, it turns out CJ has more than merely ThinkGeek -- it actually has a lot of programs that my clients have been able to take advantage of, including Bing Ads, several popular website hosting companies such as HostGator, and design services such as LogoWorks. CJ even handles programs like Norton Antivirus by Semantec.
ClickBank - I am still pretty new to ClickBank, so I haven't quite gotten to dig in and see everything that's available just yet. But what drew me was their selection of digital products (primarily courses on career training) where I could send clients to learn as they grew their business. They have everything from courses on how to start a YouTube business, to how to start a digital marketing business ... even how to start teaching online.
Don't forget the Smaller Programs
The five programs I listed above are all pretty large affiliate networks that provide programs to a multitude of brands and companies - which is nice because most of the time, if I need to find a new program, I can find it there.
But there are also plenty of individual programs out there: companies who have opted to run their own affiliate program without the third party. So, even if you can't find something in one of these larger networks, keep looking for smaller programs, too.
What if I don't use Some of these Programs?
If you're building an affiliate marketing strategy that includes marketing these products to other freelance writers, you want to be sure to recommend products and services you have experience with:
Note what I said: recommend products and services you have experience with -- not necessarily products and services you use.
This is probably one of the biggest differences between affiliate marketing as a freelance writer and affiliate marketing in general (which is why affiliate marketing coaches say never to do this). Those coaches aren't wrong, but they are coaching people who are entering affiliate marketing with the intention of marketing to people within the same industry.
Not to clients who may be working in a different industry.
We all start with one service, and then at some point in time move onto another service. Maybe the first tool was smaller, with fewer features, but cost less and was all we needed to get started. Or maybe we expanded our services and needed to expand our tools to manage them. Take me, for example: I started with MailChimp as my email marketing service provider, then moved to GetResponse. Many of my clients use ConvertKit. So, which service might I recommend to a client?
If I limited myself to only recommending GetResponse because that is what I'm using for my email marketing now, would I really be doing any of my clients a favor? Absolutely not.
I would be doing them a disservice by not showing them all the options available -- possibly better options for their needs. And I would be losing out because if GetResponse doesn't fit their needs, I've left them with no room but to go with someone else.
If you outgrew a product or service and have moved on to a competing product or service, it is still absolutely okay to be an affiliate for both. The only time this becomes an issue is if you are trying to recommend a product or service you don't believe in. There is a pretty big difference between moving onto a bigger service that handles your growing needs and leaving a service because it didn't do what it said it would do.
Another thing to think about if you're building a strategy like I have, to use affiliate marketing primarily for my clients, you may not always have experience with certain products or services. Does that mean you shouldn't recommend them?
Again, I am going to go with no. You should always recommend a product or service that will help your client with his or her needs -- regardless if you use it.
Affiliate marketing works best if you recommend products or services you believe in. But when it comes to recommending services to my clients -- most of whom are not freelance writers -- we are not always going to need the same tools. I am not a Pinterest Manager, but have many clients who are. I know of several courses that help Pinterest Managers - should I not recommend those courses simply because I never chose to take them for a service I don't need?
And, sometimes, the same tools are not available.
I use Quicktime to handle a lot of my screen recording on my Mac -- but if my client is on a Windows computer and needs a recommendation for a good screen recording software, it wouldn't make sense to tell that client Quicktime when it doesn't work on Windows.
Finally, if you are putting in the time and effort to research the products and services that would best serve your client, then what harm is there in being compensated for that time? They would pay an assistant to do the same thing -- you're just doing it and compiling a list before they ask you for it.
Step Three: Get Your Affiliate Disclosures in Order
Affiliate disclosures are no joke. And they should not be taken lightly.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is constantly working to make sure consumers are given the opportunity to make well-informed decisions about the products and services they invest in. No consumer should ever feel duped or suckered into a purchase. This means that most of the FTC's policies are grounded in the concept of complete transparency when it comes to things like sponsorship and affiliate marketing.
It's not that the FTC doesn't want you making money as an affiliate -- but they want buyers to have all the information that might influence their buying decision upfront.
And for some people, knowing that you are being compensated for making a recommendation or referral could affect their decision to buy.
So, make sure you write an affiliate disclosure that complies with all FTC regulations. Not only will these disclosures keep you in compliance with the law, but it will help you build and establish trust with your clients.
Having one main affiliate disclosure on your website is not enough. You will also want to be sure to provide a complete affiliate disclosure in every blog post or email that contains affiliate links. I even have an affiliate disclosure in my writing contracts with my clients -- so they know before we even start working that I may, from time to time, recommend products or services that complement my own... and that I am an affiliate for some of those products and services.
Step Four: Get Approved for your Chosen Programs and Read those Agreements
Believe me, I know exactly how boring contracts and legal agreements can be. But we're talking money here, right? And we don't want anything to happen to you that would get you kicked out of an affiliate program. So you want to suck down some caffeine, put the kids to bed, get rid of the distractions, and read those affiliate agreements as they come in.
Every program has its own rules and guidelines. But there are a few staples that are fairly universal:
- Don't be spammy,
- Don't try to trick people into buying through your link,
- Don't lie,
- Don't purchase through your own affiliate link,
- Don't try to game the system using auto-refreshers or bots, and
- Don't misrepresent yourself by posing as part of the company.
Most of these seem pretty easy, right? In a nutshell, don't be one of those people who give other marketers a bad name.
But, even knowing these basics, you still want to go through and read each agreement so you can be sure that you are always in compliance with their policies. This is especially true for companies that have large, complicated affiliate programs, like Amazon.
Plus, a lot of companies provide training and other resources, such as banners, for their affiliates. So you'll want to make sure you read everything to help maximize your potential earnings from their program.
Did you enjoy this article? Here are some more posts about marketing as a freelance writer you may like: