How One Blogger Stopped Sucking at Affiliate Sales

About two years ago, I spun off this blog from my writer site. I did it in large part because I thought Make a Living Writing had real money-earning potential.

I was planning to write an e-book…but in the meanwhile, I thought I could sell some other people’s products.

I’d never sold anything to anyone in my life prior to this. But I had a plan.

“I know,” I thought. “I could sell some books about writing on one of those Amazon carts!”

That was about all I knew about affiliate selling…getting an Amazon cart.

So I tried that. To date, I think I still haven’t hit $100 and triggered a payment.

Eventually, I took the Amazon cart down.

Clearly, there was more to being a successful affiliate seller that I hadn’t figured out yet.

I eventually figured out how affiliate selling really works, when I joined A-List Blogger Club. I got some tips in there on how to do affiliate selling that not only works, but doesn’t feel sleazy or obnoxious.

These days, I make a nice side income from affiliate sales. I’ve been told I’m a top seller for more than one of my products.

What turned it around for me? Here’s my guide to affiliate-sales success:

Get 1,000 subscribers. It’s unlikely you’ll have enough traffic to sell much below this level of readership. If you’ve got 20 subscribers and ads plastered all over, take them down. They’re probably driving people away.

Find out what your readers need. The first step on the road to affiliate cash is listening to your readers. What are their problems? Take polls or surveys, ask open questions on your blog posts that drive a lot of comments. I’ve even offered freebies in return for readers’ opinions. Without this knowledge, you’re not going to be able to sell anything, and your sales pitches will annoy people and make them unsubscribe. 

Get closer to readers. If possible, hold live events where you can talk live with readers, either in person or online. At one Webinar I put on, for instance, I made a very interesting discovery: While I thought most freelance writers have their own website up, in fact that’s not true. I’ve found about 75 percent of my readers don’t yet have a website or blog. In general, many had very nascent freelance-writing businesses. I also got that many freelance writers have small budgets for investing in their business — so selling some $800 marketing course wasn’t going to work.

Find out what they plan to buy. When you know readers’ needs, then you sell them things they are likely going to need and will probably buy in any case. My new-writer readers, I realized, need quite a few things to get their business going: Web hosting, accounting software, a payment cart, email marketing help, and a lot of information and support.

Watch out for junk products. The potential pitfall here: A lot of products you find online are stupid, crappy ripoffs. So how do you select the right products to try to sell to you readers? I had a major insight: I didn’t want to just go on ClickBank or somewhere, grab whatever I saw that was vaguely related to freelance writing, and slap it on here. I had a gut instinct that would be a mistake, and could put the credibility of my whole site at risk.

Test out products and services. I started thinking about the products I was using to make my freelance writing business successful — products I already knew were great. I started to recommend them, beginning with A-List. I tried it out, thought the resources and support were amazing, and quickly began making far more than my membership dues in affiliate sales.

For me, selling monthly membership products where you get paid every month your referrals stay in is the bomb — Which is why I now offer the same deal to affiliates who sell my Freelance Writers Den community.

I also discovered that the National Association of Independent Writers & Editors (NAIWE) offered a free, hosted WordPress blog site with their $99 memberships. I joined, checked it out, and thought their offering was a great, one-stop, affordable solution for my readers who don’t yet have a blog and are boggled by how to get started — plus, your blog posts get promoted by NAIWE on its site and on Twitter, so it’s a marketing bargain, too. What a cheap, plug-and-play way to stop wondering how to do blogging, and get your writing portfolio out there, today.

Recommend your favorite products. Once you’ve identified the right items to sell, it’s time to share your enthusiasm for them with readers. My best strategy has been to do blog posts about my experiences with a product or service. That’s what I did with A-List, writing about how the community helped me improve my blog’s design, among other things. Show your readers exactly how you benefited from the product, and they get it right away. Live events are great for discussing products you recommend, too.

How to tell you’re selling the right stuff. I found that when I talked about products I personally use and love, I didn’t feel like I needed to take a shower afterwards. It felt perfectly natural. For instance, I learned many readers are on free blog hosting such as Blogger and will probably want to switch to paid hosting at some point. They’ll need a good web host with great support staff, and after some trial and error, I have one I can recommend — KnownHost. It’s more like you’re helping readers out with your recommendation, and less like you’re forcing something on them.

Find better-paying programs. While Amazon gives you a pittance on each book you sell (“it’s failtastic,” as one blogger described it to me), reaching out directly to authors and publishing houses can get you commissions of 30 percent or better. Finally, I began making some actual coin on books writers bought through my site.

Find free-to-pay offers. One of the offer types I like best is selling products or services that start out free. One I sell here is email-marketing service Mailchimp (free to the first 2,000 subscribers). I think of these as no-harm-no-foul — your readers can try them out and if they don’t like them, they leave, having spent nothing. If they like it and it helps make their business grow, you end up profiting. Win-win doesn’t getting any more winning than that.

Create a Products I Love page. I soon realized I didn’t want dozens of ads cluttering up my sidebar. Also, blog posts you write about your affiliate products soon disappear in your blogroll. So I grouped my affiliate recommendations on a Products I Love page. I’m happy to have a chance to thank Tammy Strobel of Rowdy Kittens for showing me this approach. Not only does this keep ads from junking up my home page too much, it allows me to link to that page and leave one affiliate-sales disclosure (required by FCC law) over there, which is more elegant than having to mention it in each blog post where you talk about a product you affiliate sell.

Keep updating. As your blog and business evolves, your readers may have different needs. Review your affiliate products and services regularly to see if it’s time to add or drop products. Personally, I recently got more organized about tracking invoices and payments and got Freshbooks, which is affordable and super-easy to use — and which is free for the first few clients you track. I immediately realized this would be useful to lots of other writers who need to get better organized financially, so it got added to my affiliate services list.

What’s your experience with affiliate sales? Leave a comment and tell us what’s worked — or not — for you.

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22 comments on “How One Blogger Stopped Sucking at Affiliate Sales
  1. Karen Lange says:

    Thanks for all these tips. I’ve been thinking about affiliates but haven’t had the time to look into it much. This is a big help!
    Karen Lange recently posted..Miracles

  2. Bill Swan says:

    For some reason I’m in marketing mode today. I read this and thought “ebook”, “webinar” and probably another two or three ways. Once again, you came up with a post that shows the value of your work.
    Bill Swan recently posted..Of Paying Gigs and Demand Studios

  3. Well explained Carol. I haven’t done well with affiliate marketing. I discovered that without a huge responsive subscribers, it’s a total waste of time trying to sell affiliate products. The best way actually is to network with successful super affiliates, and finally launch your own product. You’ll earn more money from your product than from an affiliate offer.

    I’m glad you shared this. I know you as a freelance writer, never an affiliate.
    So, you’re actually garnishing both together. That’s genius? Lol!
    Michael @Blast4Trafficnow recently posted..You Already Know How To Drive Free Traffic…. So What’s Keeping You?

    • Carol Tice says:

      I still earn most of my living from freelance writing…but it’s nice to get a little cash on the side from affiliate sales. And I definitely do sell my own products. But if there’s something your readers need that you can recommend from your own experience, to me that’s a great fit for a blog, too.

  4. Great post Carol.

    I’d like to complement my freelance career with affiliate marketing also, but I’m still checking out the waters. Your post is a great encouragement for me.
    Ayo @ Business Owners Bible recently posted..How Great Is Your Business Model?

  5. Brankica says:

    So did you ever get that money from Amazon? :) I think you can lower the treshold.

    I agree with you completely on the amount of subscribers vs. ads. People think that as soon as they get the first 50 visitors, the money is there and they put ads up. But even with Adsense. if your CTR is 2% that is only 1 click. Which would probably be 10 cents… not worth losing visitors over.

    I always wait to get a lot of traffic before I put any ads up.

    As far as recommending products, I like to make sure I try and test it before I recommend it, I think that is the only fair thing and I have buying a lousy product someone recommends just for the sake of selling it.
    Brankica recently posted..Complete Guide to Customizing your Facebook Fan page

  6. Great points, Carol. I struggle between do I want to write to sell other people’s products (affiliate marketing) or do I want to sell my own products. Or, can I do both successfully?
    Carol J. Alexander recently posted..How to Motivate Your Child

  7. NEWBIE READER! :) I was doing a search trying to find out how much LivingSocial pays their freelancers and came up your blog. I’ve read half a dozen posts and all are chocked-full with sage and helpful advice. As a full-time working mom who would love to transition to being a social-media writer, I’m most grateful! Thank you so much! Consider me subscribed.

    :) Jughugs, Kirsten
    RNTgirl Kirsten recently posted..i’m sexy anyway

  8. Kim Hamlin says:

    Thank you Carol, it’s so awesome the way your articles give back to the industry. They are always so helpful. I don’t have a good platform for affiliate marketing, and probably one have it anytime soon, but it’s wonderful that I know where to come for help when I do.
    Kim Hamlin recently posted..American Revival

  9. Nicholas says:

    These are very useful suggestions. Great idea on testing the products I like and choose the best one to recommend. I have read a lot of blogs and I feel really confident about the product I like when the author shares his/her experience and why he/she recommends it. I am excited to learn more and build trust with the readers.
    Nicholas recently posted..how to flirt with a girl

  10. Hey Carol, thanks for this information. I find your ‘Products I love’ section very nice and unique (thanks to Tammy too). I think it is very useful to keep the ads and content separate (sometimes). It makes everything neater. I will most likely adopt this approach :) Thank you very much!
    Neeraj Sachdeva recently posted..A Perspective on Perspectives

  11. Rob says:

    Okay, you’ve talked me out of joining your affiliate program until I’ve actually tried your ecourses first and built up more of a following on my writing blog, which I’ve just started to promote. The good news is that I’m going to get my first $100 from affiliate hotel bookings on my travel blog (http://www.sihanoukville-cambodiajournal.com) at the end of this month and I vowed to use a portion of it productively. Since yours is the most interesting writing site I’ve found, I think it’s worth a try and I never pay for anything if I can help it.

    You recommend getting 1000 subscribers before plastering ads on a blog. That’s motivated me to remove my useless Amazon ad and probably adsense as well. However, I have pitifully few subscribers to my travel blog, but get about 5000 page views a month. That seems to be enough to make my affiliate piggy bank worthwhile. How many visitors (as opposed to subscribers) do you think will justify ads?
    Rob recently posted..Reflections on the Harlan Ellison Rant about Writing for Free

    • Carol Tice says:

      I just find it’s a policy that I like. I only affiliate sell things I know from people I trust. I knew from the beginning I wouldn’t be one of those people just grabbing products out of Clickbank and slapping them on, or putting up Google ads where you can’t control what it says.

      Many of us would say that nothing justifies ads, Rob…they sorta suck. They send your readers away from your site to buy something else from someone else, for which you get a tiny pittance. They’re only worthwhile if they make you a lot of money, because they annoy and discourage visitors from coming, so you have to experiment and hit that balance of when it makes sense, through trial and error.

      Why not develop your own products and keep all the money when you make a sale instead?

      But it all depends on your positioning. I want to be known for recommending a select few, quality products only.

      I often get emails from people who’ve bought a course or book I’ve recommended THANKING ME for showing it to them, and how excited they are to have found a learning oportunity they really need. When people tell you, “Thank you for helping me spend money and send you a commission” you know you’re doing it right, in my view.

      • Rob says:

        I couldn’t agree with you more. Something always smells fishy about sites that have too many ads on them. Yes, my own product would be best, but another writing or blogging ebook isn’t it, when others like you do it so much better. Besides, I’m more of an expert on how not make a six figure income to than on how. I look forward to the end of the month, when I can try Freelance Writers Den. Then I’ll be in a position to make a knowledgeable decision.

        Thanks again for your replies. I think I’ll give it a rest now, lest I start to look like a spammer.
        Rob recently posted..Reflections on the Harlan Ellison Rant about Writing for Free

  12. Nida Sea says:

    I was looking for a post like this! The part about testing affiliate products is a great tip in my opinion. I’ve tested many products only to find the majority of them are crap. And, I understand that dilemma of selling crap to other people and feeling sleazy. I definitely don’t want to be that kind of salesperson. Great post!
    Nida Sea recently posted..Why Being a Stubborn Ass can Be Good and Bad for Working At Home

    • Carol Tice says:

      Hi Nida!

      Yeah, when I started out that was the big mystery to me — I looked through Clickbank’s offerings for writers and thought…ick.

      But this is one reason why it’s important to cultivate relationships and get to know mentors, so you can find products to sell you feel proud to offer.

      My yardstick of whether I’m doing it right is when I get thank-you notes from my readers who buy, for introducing me to a product I’ve promoted as an affiliate. As long as that happens, I know I’m providing valuable info my people need and not annoying them.

      And you’ve definitely got to preview any product you’re going to sell. I’ve been offered quite a few that I looked at and went…um…no.

  13. Hi Carol,
    It is nice to meet you and I’m learning so much from reading your blog. It’s taken me quite a while to figure out what I should be doing online (writing) and then learn to do the marketing. I have been in affiliate marketing for quite some time and have had some success but again, my focus wasn’t where it should have been.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog, along with Mary’s Write to Done.

    Have a great weekend.
    Monna Ellithorpe recently posted..Squidoo is Outta Here and Will Be Gone Forever

    • Carol Tice says:

      Glad I could help — and I appreciated the link you shared, as I collect info on content sites that are going bust. Hadn’t gotten the word on Squidoo, but it seems like many revshare and content-mill type sites are floundering. There was the Elance-oDesk merger, then the recent shutdown of the former Associated Content, which became Yahoo Voices.

      I believe there’s less room at the bottom these days, as the business model of paying off ad-clicks is a failing one for most sites, thanks to Google’s search algorithm changes.

  14. Hi Carol, You are absolutely right. The days of earning from revenue I also believe is becoming a thing of the past. I am happy I could give you some information on Squidoo. I had not heard about the ones you mentioned above. Friends and I are now wondering if Blogger is going to suffer the same fate as it seems they are pushing Google+ even more.
    Monna Ellithorpe recently posted..Squidoo is Outta Here and Will Be Gone Forever

    • Carol Tice says:

      Well, Blogger is just a blog platform, and it’s set up to make it hard to earn money on it…that’s an interesting thought. They could decide to kill it one day.

      My eyes are more on Demand Studios — their parent company’s revenue has been plummeting, and they recently spun off their other, more profitable business, an idea they’d been working on for a while, as I discuss here. That could be a prelude to shutting down their content mill, cutting writer rates, or otherwise changing their content business.

      It’s been true for a long while now that only sites with huge traffic could earn substantial money off adclicks.

      I’ve done fairly well affiliate selling very select product by mentors I trust with my life, mostly through free Webinars, not ads. My policy is not to sell anything if I haven’t either used it myself or know the company or person personally. That’s built trust with my readers, and allows me to feel confident what I’m selling is going to help my people and isn’t a scam. You can read more about that on my Products I Love tab up top there.

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "How One Blogger Stopped Sucking at Affiliate Sales"
  1. [...] Davenport on A-List Blog Marketing. This one makes a nice companion piece to my own recent post of affiliate marketing tips.Action! Can Our Hollywood Experiment Help You Make Money Blogging? by Joke and Biagio, on [...]

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