The Case for the Complete Affiliate Marketing Business

I mentioned a while ago that I’m working on a bigger project all about affiliate marketing. I’ll share more details about that project shortly (and at the end of this post), but I wanted to talk today about affiliate marketing as a complete business.

If you’re completely new to affiliate marketing, the concept is simple. Lots of businesses and people online are willing to reward you for referring new customers or visitors. All you have to do is sign up for an affiliate marketing program and direct people to the program owner’s site. If those people purchase something, you earn a commission.

What I love about affiliate marketing as a business is that it doesn’t require you to create any products, write any software, hire any employees or meet with anyone in-person or online. You just find people who might be interested in purchasing a product and show them where they can purchase it. It’s probably the easiest way to get started making money online.

Rinse and repeat and you can earn a full-time living solely through affiliate marketing. In fact, affiliate marketing is already a $13 billion industry and growing. The popular affiliate network ClickBank has paid out over $1.5 billion in commissions to affiliate marketers alone. That’s just one network.

Affiliate marketing can be a highly scalable business model too.

Anything from a 1-page website / $100 per month business to a huge site earning millions of revenue per year can be based on affiliate marketing.

Chances are, you’ve visited some big affiliate marketing sites before, but weren’t aware of it. Here are a few you might have heard of (thanks to Rae Hoffman for the examples):

All three of those huge sites are essentially affiliate marketing sites. That’s how they each make money. They provide content or services based around a particular topic (consumer credit or product reviews in this case) and refer customers to other websites as an affiliate so they can collect commissions.

Those sites are each at least a decade old, they are run by companies with hundreds or thousands of employees and they generate millions of dollars in revenue each year. How’s that for scalable?

But you don’t want giant, right? You want a lifestyle business.

You’re not here for advice about building giant employee-heavy companies in the traditional way. At least I hope you’re not. You’re here because you want freedom. You want to do be able to do what you love. You want to be able to live and work anywhere and decide how you spend your time.

Good news, affiliate marketing could be the foundation of the lifestyle business you’re looking for. Take Karol Gajda of Ridiculously Extraordinary for example. He has earned the majority of his income over the past 10 years from affiliate marketing (up to $2,000 per day I hear). I’ve been earning the majority of my income for the past six months from affiliate marketing too, although not on the same scale as Karol.

We’re not just talking supplemental income. Real, earn-the-freedom-to-live-how-you-want-to income is possible.

Both Karol and I have spent considerable time outside of the country over the past year. Affiliate marketing doesn’t care where you are or when you work. Even better, it allows you to earn money when you’re not working.

OK, that’s all good, but will I feel good about working in affiliate marketing? Is it something you can be passionate about?

Hmm, good question. That really depends on who you are. Affiliate marketing isn’t the kind of business where you necessarily get to interact with a lot of other humans. You could build a site that’s more interactive, but it’s not typical.

By feeling good about it, you could also be thinking it might be a little sleazy. You know, like internet marketing. There is a ton of crappy information out there about affiliate marketing put out by the same hucksters who try to sell you guides about “Twitter cash machines” or “membership site millionaires.” I feel sorry for beginners who have to wade through all of that garbage to figure out what affiliate marketing is all about.

It really comes down to what you want to make of it. Those sites I referenced earlier (Bankrate, etc.) are certainly useful, well-intentioned sites.

Assuming you’re looking to contribute something worthwhile to the world, there is no reason you can’t be proud of what you create around affiliate marketing. Here’s a great example of an affiliate marketing site with valuable information that’s run by a small team (and happened to do over $100k in revenue last year).

I would suggest to anyone looking to get into affiliate marketing that you focus on building sites on topics you care about (not just ones that seem to have opportunities). It makes a big difference in the long run if you like the products and topics you’re selling on.

Get-rich-quickers need not apply.

I said earlier that affiliate marketing is one of the easiest ways to get started working online. That doesn’t mean it is without work. Get-rich-quick schemes don’t exist in my book, and affiliate marketing is no exception. You’ll have to put in some serious hours to earn a livable wage.

The cool thing is though, that you can start earning money in a short period of time (weeks if you’re a quick study). That’s much different from creating your own product and selling it, which usually takes at least a few months. It’s also much different from blogging, which seems to take even the best about a year to start earning anything meaningful.

Getting quicker results is a big part of staying motivated. Too many people quit online projects because they didn’t see results after a few weeks or months. With affiliate marketing that risk is less.

That’s my case for affiliate marketing as a complete business.

What else do you want to know about affiliate marketing? Advantages / disadvantages? Do you have experience as an affiliate marketer? Share your thoughts in the comments!

If you happen to be interested in the beginner’s course on affiliate marketing I’m putting together, sign up for updates over at and I’ll send you a special discount when the course is ready (I’m sorry it’s taken so long!).

photo by Adam Foster | Codefor

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Hi, I’m Corbett Barr. I’ve been writing here since 2009. Join my email list for new articles about supporting yourself doing something you love: