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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