What Is Affiliate Marketing? How It Works & How To Get Started

affiliate marketing doodle

What is affiliate marketing? In this article, we’re taking a real deep-dive into what affiliate marketing is, how it works, and how to get started. Plus tips and FAQs!

Studies show that affiliate marketing is used by over 81% of brands and businesses online today.

In fact, Amazon runs one of the biggest affiliate programs in the world with over 900k affiliates as of 2022… that’s almost a million people making money promoting Amazon products!

I first heard about affiliate marketing in 2016 and was instantly intrigued. After spending some time learning more about it, I started making a side income with affiliate marketing in 2017 and haven’t ever stopped.

It’s one of my favorite topics to talk about and one of the best things I ever did for myself and my life.

Let’s dive in to learn more about affiliate marketing and more importantly: how you can get started.

What Is Affiliate Marketing? 

Affiliate marketing is a process where affiliate marketers earn a commission by promoting products or services from another merchant or business. 

The affiliate marketer promotes the products or services to attract new customers or leads for businesses. When the potential customer takes a desired action, the affiliate gets paid. 

This business model allows businesses to attract more customers without spending money on advertising that doesn’t work. They only have to pay their affiliates if the desired result takes place. 

So what kind of desired result are we talking about? Depending on the business and affiliate program, the result might be: 

  • Purchasing a product
  • Signing up with their email address
  • Requesting a quote (common with insurance companies)
  • Downloading an app
  • Signing up for a free trial of a product

Although we commonly refer to affiliate marketing in the form of making sales for a business, there are many ways to do it. 

In fact, 84% of businesses today use affiliate marketing to generate new sales and leads in their businesses. 

And anyone can sign up to be an affiliate – there are typically no requirements or pre-requisites to start promoting.

How Does Affiliate Marketing Work? 

Here’s how affiliate marketing works in a nutshell. 

  1. An affiliate (you or I) signs up with a business or service affiliate program and gets tracking links for products they want to promote.
  2. The affiliate promotes the product or service to an interested audience – they can do this on social media, YouTube, blogging, etc. 
  3. When interested people click the link and make a purchase or complete a desired action, the business records the action and attributes it to the affiliate (via the affiliate link). 
  4. Once the action is verified, the company schedules a payout to the affiliate. Some pay every day, some weekly, and some monthly.

Affiliate marketing is a very varied business model. 

And since so many businesses use it, there are also a lot of different payout structures and commission structures. 

Commission rates vary, too. 

Some companies will pay you a flat rate for every desired action, and some companies will pay you a percentage of the sale. 

Commission percentages range from as low as 1% to as high as 70% or more. 

Let’s use SEMRush as an example. 

This is a popular SEO keyword research tool that many entrepreneurs and marketing agencies use, including myself. 

This tool is a high-priced monthly subscription, so they pay their affiliates really well. 

They pay: 

  • A flat rate of $200 for every new subscription sale
  • $10 for their 7-day free trial sign up
  • $0.01 for a simple email registration. 

Later, we’ll cover which types of programs pay the highest commission rates and which pay the lowest.

3 Types of Affiliate Marketing Explained

There are 3 main types of affiliate marketing – or ways to do it. 

If you’re wondering if you can do affiliate marketing totally anonymously, the answer is: Absolutely, 1,000%. 

This isn’t like network marketing where you have to post about it all over your social media and bug your friends and family. 

You could be a successful and wealthy affiliate marketer without anyone ever knowing you’re doing it or seeing your face. 


Unattached affiliate marketing is a type of affiliate marketing where you don’t have any authority in the market that you’re promoting in. 

You might not even show your face or real name with this method. 

With this type of affiliate marketing, there is no real connection with you and the target audience.

This can be done by running paid ads to affiliate products, creating product review websites, or even hiring someone to make YouTube videos promoting the product for you. 

This method is attractive because you can do it totally anonymously, but it’s not always the most sustainable. 

This method doesn’t help you build an audience or position yourself as an expert in any niche, but for some people that’s exactly what they want.


Related affiliate marketing is a type of affiliate marketing where you are growing an audience and building your authority in a niche and you promote products that are related to your niche or audience. 

You may or may not actually use these products, but you know your audience might be interested in them because they are related. 

For example, I am in the digital marketing niche. 

I write about digital marketing tips, tools, and tactics. My personal business structure is heavily focused on affiliate marketing and SEO. 

But I know that my readers are interested in other business models, like ecommerce. 

A great related affiliate product that I could promote would be something like Shopify – an online service that makes opening and running your own online store really easy.


Involved affiliate marketing is pretty much just how it sounds: it means you’re more involved with the product and/or the company. 

This may be products you frequently use yourself or truly believe will help your audience, and you promote these products constantly. 

This might be in the form of frequent call-outs in video content, banners and call-out boxes on a blog, etc. 

You can even develop a deeper partnership with the company to offer your audience special discounts or bonuses, too.

This type of affiliate marketing involves building an audience and establishing yourself as an authority – or an influencer. 

Influencers aren’t just people who have tons of followers on social media. 

An influencer is anyone who publishes content and promotes products that influences other people to buy or try them.

Why Affiliate Marketing is The Best Online Business Model 

Affiliate marketing can be a standalone business, a side hustle, or a component to a larger online business or organization.

Most online businesses today use affiliate marketing to complement what they already do and provide for their customers.

No matter who you are or what you’re doing online, you’re using products and services that have affiliate programs. I guarantee it.

If you know certain products or services can make other people’s lives better, you might as well sign up and get paid to recommend them!

Here’s why affiliate marketing is the best online business model: 

  • It costs significantly less to start than any other business model on the planet. In fact, you can even start affiliate marketing with no money. 
  • You don’t have to come up with product ideas or test the market to see if they will even sell. 
  • You don’t have to create products or hold inventory. 
  • No shipping hassles. 
  • No customer service!
  • You get to leverage brands that are already successful and promote their products that are already proven to sell – you literally do the least amount of work to help them make a sale and get paid in return.
  • It’s totally beginner-friendly.
  • It’s passive income!

I could go on and on about why it’s so great, but I think you get the point.

Pros and Cons of Affiliate Marketing

pros and cons of affiliate marketing

Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of affiliate marketing to give you the most complete overview of this marketing method.


There is a seemingly endless list of pros, but I’ll leave the major ones here.

Simple to Start

Affiliate marketing is super simple, especially when you compare it to creating and selling your own products. 

You don’t have to have a product, you don’t even have to have an audience or a following. 

All you have to do is sign up for affiliate programs and get paid to promote other people’s stuff – it’s pretty much the most simple online business method that exists.

Low Risk

Affiliate marketing is the lowest risk. You can even start affiliate marketing with no money. 

It doesn’t cost anything to sign up to affiliate programs and you don’t have to have a website to do affiliate marketing. 

You can do affiliate marketing with free tools like Systeme.io in combination with social media to start doing it for zero dollars.

Easy to Scale

The sky’s the limit when it comes to affiliate marketing. 

One of the most popular methods of affiliate marketing is by setting up automated systems online that run on auto-pilot. 

(It sounds complicated but it’s not, I cover this process in my free ebook here.)

You only have to set it up once for each product and it continues to run and make money 24/7. 

This makes it easy to scale yourself without hiring anyone else to help you. 

You can set up a new affiliate marketing promotional system every single week and before you know it, you’ll be promoting dozens of products and making money in your sleep. AKA passive income.

Teaches You High-Income Skills

Learning affiliate marketing will require you to learn a few key marketing skills – they’re not hard to learn either. 

A major benefit of this is that the skills you have to learn to do affiliate marketing can be used to sell any kind of product and help any kind of business make more money. 

This means you can start offering marketing services as a freelancer, get a promotion at your job, or even get a new higher-paying job in the marketing industry. 

In fact, learning the skills required to do affiliate marketing was how I was able to stop working in restaurants and land a remote job in the marketing industry even though I didn’t go to college and I have no degree or certification in marketing.


Here are the potential downsides of affiliate marketing.

You Need Patience

One – it’s not a get-rich-quick thing. Although you definitely can get very rich with affiliate marketing, it’s not going to happen overnight. 

Especially if you’re totally new to doing any kind of online marketing – it will take time! 

It will take time to learn marketing skills… and it will also take time to start seeing success when you first get started. 

However, with consistency comes great reward. This is a long-term sustainable business, not something that will get you rich overnight.

Requires Learning New Skills

Affiliate marketing requires you to learn new skills. I don’t think this is a downside, but some people might. 

Here are the skills you’ll learn on your path to being a successful affiliate marketer: 

  • Email marketing. 
  • Copywriting. 
  • Lead generation. 
  • Paid advertising (optional). 
  • Social media marketing. 
  • How to build landing pages and/or sales funnels (optional). 
  • How to be a blogger or vlogger (optional). 

If that sounds overwhelming – don’t let that list stress you out. 

You don’t learn everything at once. 

You learn it one tiny thing at a time, one step at a time. 

Before you know it, you’ll be a well-rounded digital marketer with an entire set of new skills. 

You can start learning all of this in just a few weeks if you have the time, motivation, and patience!

5 Main Methods To Do Affiliate Marketing

Now that you know how it works, you’re probably wondering where it takes place. 

Recent studies show that affiliate marketing makes up to 25% of total online sales for some of the world’s biggest brands. That’s one quarter of all their sales – a huge number! 

Most of the time, affiliate marketing takes place behind the scenes and you never know it’s happening.

Influencers (Even Small Ones!)

Influencers make a majority of their money through affiliate or referral marketing. 

And you don’t need 100k followers to be an influencer. 

In fact, you can be considered an influencer with as little as 500 – 1,000 followers, depending on how engaged they are with you. 

Influencers make money with affiliate marketing by promoting products and services they use and love on their social media platforms.

Blogging & Vlogging

Another popular method to do affiliate marketing is through a blog or a vlog. 

Bloggers write product reviews, tutorials, case studies, and more to promote affiliate products. 

And if you’re wondering what a blog is, you’re reading one right now. 

A blog is an online website that publishes posts and articles, and anyone can make one. You can make a blog in any niche: hobbies, a dog or cat blog, parenting, and more.

Email Marketing / Growing an Email List

Have you ever bought a product from a company and continued to get emails from them? 

Or have you ever signed up for a free download from a blog or someone you found on social media, and continued to receive an email newsletter from them? 

This is called email marketing. 

And the process of gaining subscribers is called growing your email list. 

Email marketing is one of the most (if not the #1 most) effective ways to do affiliate marketing or make any kind of sales online. 

And this is the best way for beginners to get started with affiliate marketing, hands down. 

When you grow a list of email subscribers, you can use a tool called an email autoresponder to send them automated emails. 

You can write all the emails in bulk and upload them to the tool and then schedule them to send one a day, one every other day, one per week, etc.

Sending your subscribers emails helps them get to know, like, and trust you even more. 

When they see your name in their inbox every day or week, they become more familiar with you. 

In your emails, you can educate them more about the affiliate products you promote, send them inspirational content or stories about yourself, and more. 

Studies show that it takes people on average a total of 8 “touches” before they actually buy a product. 

That means that the vast majority of people won’t purchase an affiliate product the first time you recommend it to them. 

But, as you send them more and more emails that mention the product, they’re more likely to buy. 

Niche Websites

Niche websites are a type of blog that exist solely to talk about products and services in one niche. 

These websites rely almost entirely on affiliate marketing and display advertising to make money. 

These types of websites publish content that primarily consists of product reviews and “best of” lists to make money via affiliate marketing.

Related: The Truth About Affiliate Marketing

Major Media Sites

Major media sites are like blogs on steroids. These websites publish tons of content daily and make a lot of money via affiliate marketing. 

Examples of these types of websites are Buzzfeed, The Spruce, The Spruce Pets, Wirecutter, etc. 

How Do Affiliate Marketers Make Money? 

So we know that affiliate marketers make money via commissions, but how does that work and what does it actually look like? 

Here are the main types of results you can get paid for as an affiliate marketer. 

  • Pay per click – you get paid every time someone clicks a link or ad. 
  • Pay per install – you get paid every time someone installs an app. 
  • Pay per lead – you get paid every time someone fills out a form and gives their email address or phone number. 
  • Pay per sale – you get paid every time someone purchases. 

Affiliate marketers can get paid via direct deposit, Paypal, paper check, and other methods depending on the program. 

And different programs pay out at different times. 

Some affiliate programs pay instantly, some pay every day, some pay every week, bi-weekly, or monthly. 

How to Start Affiliate Marketing in 4 Steps

Interested in starting affiliate marketing? Here are the 4 main steps you’ll need to take. 

Step 1: Decide on Your Platform and Method

First, what platform or method will you use to promote affiliate products? 

This can be through social media like TikTok or Instagram, on a blog, YouTube channel, etc. 

Choose the method that best aligns with your goals, both long and short term. 

Video marketing is the fastest and most effective way to start doing affiliate marketing. It feels incredibly uncomfortable at first, but it’s the fastest way to get started and be profitable. It’s also a great long-term method, too.

But if you want to remain totally anonymous, you could try a niche website. 

Step 2: Pick Your Niche and Target Audience

Once you’ve decided on your method, you need to pick your niche and target audience. 

Your niche is just the category and could be something like parenting, pets, cryptocurrency, investing, insurance, credit repair, etc. 

Once you’ve decided on your niche, do some research on the platforms you’ll be using and see what your competitors are doing. 

Look at what kind of content they’re making and what kind of products they’re promoting. This will help you get a better idea of what you can do and promote to connect with that audience.

Step 3: Find Affiliate Programs and Products

You will usually find affiliate programs and products to promote when researching what your potential competitors are doing. 

But you can also Google “your niche + affiliate programs” and see what comes up. 

You can also join affiliate marketplaces that give you access to hundreds of affiliate products you can promote. 

Here are some popular affiliate marketplaces for beginners: 

  • Clickbank
  • DigiStore24
  • JVZoo

Step 4: Create Content and Promote

Once you’ve decided on your method, your niche, and the products you want to promote, it’s time to put it all together and start promoting. 

The best way to promote affiliate products is by creating content about them or that’s relevant to them. 

This can be in the form of reviews, education, tutorials, etc. 

As you continue on your affiliate marketing journey, you can expand into paid advertising to get more traffic fast. 

But, in the beginning, I would recommend making content to get free traffic on TikTok, Instagram Reels, Facebook Reels, and YouTube. 

Tips for Affiliate Marketing Success

success with affiliate marketing

If you’re looking for ways to make a lot of money fast, I hate to break it to you: that doesn’t exist. 

Affiliate marketing is a great way to make a side income or even a full-time income beyond your wildest dreams… but it is a long-term game. 

Here are some tips for success as an affiliate marketer. 

Focus on Promoting Digital Products

If you want to make the most money possible with the least amount of effort, focus on promoting digital products only. 


Because they pay more. A LOT MORE. Plain and simple. 

Digital products are things like online softwares, online courses, ebooks, digital downloads, etc. 

Digital products only have to be created one time and they can be sold over and over and over and over again.

Physical products are anything you can physically hold like clothes, accessories, skincare, pet products, etc. 

Physical products have to be manufactured over and over again. When they sell, they have to be packaged and shipped to the customer. This costs a LOT of money. 

Since digital products only have to be created once and they don’t have to be shipped or be stored in a warehouse, they’re significantly less expensive to make. That means the merchant can pay you a MUCH higher commission. 

Here’s an example using Amazon – Amazon products typically pay between 1% – 8% commission. 

If you sell a $100 product from Amazon that pays you a 4% commission, you will earn $4 from that sale. 

However, if you promote and sell an online course that costs $100 but pays a 50% commission, you will earn $40 from one sale. 

To make $40 with Amazon at a 4% commission rate, you will have to make 10+ sales that cost $100. 

It’s much easier to make ONE sale of a $100 product than it is to make TEN sales of a $100 product. 

Build an Email List

Building an email list is one of the best ways to start making money as a beginner. 

It’s also one of the best and fastest ways to grow an audience of followers who know you, like you, trust you, and see you as an authority or expert in your niche. 

When you do it right, your email subscribers will buy from you again and again and again. 

If you build trustworthiness with them, they will always be interested in learning more about any products you promote in the future. 

Get Over Your Fear of Being Seen

It’s not comfortable. 

It feels terrible in the beginning. 

But you have to get over your fear of being seen! 

I talk more about this in my article about secret affiliate marketing hacks.

Yes, you can be a successful affiliate marketer while remaining totally anonymous. But that won’t happen fast. And it’s getting even harder and harder to do these days. 

The great thing about affiliate marketing is you don’t have to be comfortable being seen as a marketer by your friends and family… You are building an audience of complete strangers. 

The only way to get over your fear of being seen is to just show up and do it. 

This could mean publishing articles in your name or growing your social media accounts. 

But what I’m really talking about… Is making videos. With you in them. Which brings me to my next point…

Get Over Your Fear of Video 

I know it’s terrifying! 

I know you’re going to be worried about what other people think.

You don’t want to be judged for your appearance, your flaws, the way you talk, or the way your hair won’t lay right. 

But most people don’t care. And the ones who make rude remarks about anything you do or say can be blocked. 

Video (YouTube and TikTok) is the number one way to establish yourself as an authority, build an audience and email list, and make sales as fast as possible. 

Plus video lasts forever – a YouTube video that you publish today can be found months and years from now and you can earn money from it. 

It compounds on itself and it’s the fastest way to grow a rapport with your audience – aka getting them to feel like they know you, like you, and trust you. 

I literally have the worst stage fright of anyone I know in person. 

If I have to do a live video, I completely freeze and my brain blanks even if I have a script in front of me. 

So… I don’t do live videos… yet. I know I will. I’m building my courage and desensitizing myself to that fear by publishing non-live videos.

And that’s the only way to do it – you have to desensitize yourself to your fear by doing the thing that creates the fear. 

Most Importantly: Be Consistent

Finally, the only way to have success is to be consistent in whatever you do. 

And it can be really hard to be consistent when you don’t see results the first week, the second week, or even the first few months. 

But consistency is the only way to build momentum. 

So start and don’t stop. 

I don’t mean that you shouldn’t take breaks – but try not to take more than a week off from creating content and promoting. 

Once you build momentum, you can take as much time off as you want because you will be making money passively. 

But in the beginning – the first several months to a year – you have to be really consistent. 

How to Find Legit Affiliate Marketing Training

There are a variety of ways to learn affiliate marketing. 

You can learn it on your own, but knowing exactly what to learn and exactly what to ignore as a beginner can be confusing. 

As a result, you might spend a lot of time focusing on the wrong stuff, which can significantly impact how fast you’ll see results. 

But, finding legit training can be hard too. It’s hard to know who to trust. 

I first heard about affiliate marketing in 2016 and I was so excited about it that I spend $600 on an online course by some guy I found on YouTube. 

He claimed to be making a ton of money and I was so excited to learn his secrets! 

But his course was a total waste of my time. It was so scammy that I couldn’t bring myself to implement it. 

I don’t think the information he taught was ineffective, but the way he promoted products was very spammy. In his course, he basically taught you how to mislead people into signing up for or buying products they didn’t actually need, or products that weren’t good quality. 

And his course had a no-refund policy… That was so discouraging when I was first starting out! 

I didn’t have a lot of money and $600 was all I had in my savings at the time. 

I took a break for a while, but I came back to affiliate marketing a year later and took some better trainings and have been learning more and more ever since. 

Plus, now I know who to trust and who not to trust. I’ve been doing this since 2017 and I’ve learned a lot about the methods and the industry as a whole. 

My Favorite Training is a 2-Week Affiliate Marketing Training

If you want to take a legit training by someone who is actually successful (and not from scamming people), I highly recommend checking out the 15 Day Business Builder Challenge by Legendary Marketer. 

I signed up for this challenge last year because I kept hearing about it and I wanted to see what it was all about. 

I didn’t exactly need the training because I’d already been doing it for several years, but I wanted to see if it was legit. 

And, surprisingly, I learned some new things!

Not only that, but I did some deeper research on the guy who started Legendary Marketer and it turns out I’m mutually connected to him from some of my marketing friends and he is 100% legit. He’s genuine, his results are real, and his training is of the highest quality.

He’s been doing affiliate marketing for 15+ years and has made millions – now he teaches beginners how to get started. 

Check Out the 2 Week Affiliate Marketing Challenge Here


Let’s dive into some of the most frequently asked questions about affiliate marketing.

Is Affiliate Marketing Legit? 

Yes, affiliate marketing is totally legit. It’s so legit that over 84% of brands and businesses use it to gain new sales and customers – including major brands like Amazon, Target, Walmart, etc.

Is Affiliate Marketing a Pyramid Scheme? 

No – affiliate marketing is not a pyramid scheme. It’s nothing like a pyramid scheme at all. You earn commissions by being a middle man between a business and a customer. You don’t have to recruit anyone or build a downline. 

Is Affiliate Marketing Worth It? 

Yes, affiliate marketing is totally worth it! If you’re looking for a beginner-friendly way to start making a side income or build a long-term profitable online business, affiliate marketing is the best way to start. 

Can Beginners Do Affiliate Marketing?

Yes – affiliate marketing is one of the most beginner-friendly online business models there is. There are no requirements to get started and all the information you need to learn can be readily found online. 

Is Affiliate Marketing Profitable? 

When you do it right, affiliate marketing is very profitable. You can start affiliate marketing for $0 and start making commissions – which means it’s insanely profitable! 

Will Affiliate Marketing Ever Die?

No, it won’t. And it won’t stop being a major business method and marketing method. As long as there are products for sale, affiliate marketing will exist.

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