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Aug 29, 2023 9:57:24 AM | Start a Business How To Start Affiliate Marketing With No Money: The Ultimate Roadmap

Learn how to start affiliate marketing and earn a commission for promoting brands! Everything you need is in this affiliate marketing for dummies guide.

Cover image shows the words "how to start affiliate marketing" together with the Shoplazza logo. On the right side of the image, there's a photo of a woman posing in front of a camera, smiling and showing a product.

Looking for an “affiliate marketing for dummies” guide? We got you covered with a complete roadmap on how to start affiliate marketing, some basic definitions, pro tips and a whole lot more.

Let me guess: You’re interested in diversifying your income, so you’ve been researching topics like how to make money from home and going through countless lists of side hustle ideas

But as interesting as those ideas sound like, you find yourself always hitting that same wall: they’re all too “businessy”, too centered around teaching people how to start an online store. And you don’t really see yourself doing that, either because you don’t have the time or simply because you’re not interested in dealing with product sourcing, shipping, customer service, and all those other details that take up a lot of free time.

Well, that’s okay! Because there are other ways to make money online — and affiliate marketing is one of the most profitable and diverse alternatives for that.

Keep reading to discover just what an affiliate marketing business is, how affiliate marketers can make money, and how you can start crafting your own affiliate marketing strategy today.


💰 If you do want to learn more about traditional business ideas, though, check out our other guides:


What is affiliate marketing?

Maybe those two words paired together — “affiliate marketing” — don’t really say a lot to you. But even though this name might sound weird, you’ve definitely seen an affiliate marketer in action. Maybe, as a customer, you’ve even bought something via an affiliate marketing program!

You know why?

Because affiliate marketing can also translate as those three words you almost definitely come across every day while you scroll through social media: link in bio.


Affiliate marketing for dummies: a quick definition

To put it simply, then, affiliate marketing is a business model where a brand partners with an affiliate to generate new sales and reach a wider audience.

The affiliate then receives a special affiliate link from the brand and is responsible for promoting that link on their preferred sales channel — social media, blog, newsletter or personal website. Every time someone uses that link to make a purchase, the affiliate earns a commission from the brand.

Here’s a breakdown of how this works in just two easy steps:


Step 1: The connection

A brand that’s keen on increasing sales reaches out to an influencer, creator or someone that’s influential inside a specific niche to propose a partnership.

Or, more likely, an influencer and/or creator that’s looking to leverage their following and diversify their income reaches out to brands that she’s interested in and proposes the partnership.

This first contact can happen in two ways: you either reach out directly to the brand you want to partner with, or you use an affiliate marketing program to find the best possible partners for you. There are dozens of those available online, and we’ll talk about them later on.


🙋 Quick question on how to start affiliate marketing: How do you choose the best brands for your affiliate strategy?


Ideally, you should work with brands that you have an affinity with, which can mean different things for different affiliates.

Maybe it’s that brand that has a killer mission statement and shares the same values as you — but maybe it’s a brand that has the same target audience as the one you’re currently trying to reach.

For instance, if you’re big on creating eco-conscious content and your whole presence online is about green marketing and green initiatives, then becoming an affiliate marketer for Axiology might be a great fit for you. This brand is all about zero-waste packaging!


Image shows Axiology's about page on their website, where it says, "We're on a Mission to End Plastic Waste in Beauty". This image is part of an article by Shoplazza on how to start affiliate marketing


Step 2: The affiliate link

Once you’ve touched base with the brand and agreed to their terms, payment fees and other requirements, you’ll receive your affiliate link.

Each affiliate marketer will have their own affiliate link per brand or per program, and it’s important to take really good care of it because that’s the link your followers and visitors will use to make their purchases. 

This also means that the brands will use your affiliate link to track sales and monitor your progress, so be sure to take extra special care of it when it’s time to place it in your content.

The first thing you should notice, though, is that the affiliate link is longer and just a little bit more complex than the traditional URL. If you were to join Axiology’s affiliate program, for instance, your link wouldn’t simply be something like:




This is the standard URL for one of the brand’s product pages, and it’s what visitors would get if they were just browsing through the website.

But there might be people who follow a sustainability influencer like Krys on TikTok, and one day, they stumble upon content like this:



They like what they saw and they get curious to learn more about those brands she mentioned, so they go to Krys’s link in bio and they get to this page, where she lists all of her eco-friendly beauty brands — and lo and behold, there’s Axiology right in the middle.


Page with the title "Eco-friendly beauty brands lists Axiology, with the review "Plastic-free packaging and beautiful colors!", as an example of how to start affiliate marketing.


When they click on that link to get to the brand’s page, the URL will be something like this:




Pretty different from the standard URL we just saw, right? That’s because Krys has her own affiliate link with Axiology. Whenever people click on that link of hers to purchase something on Axiology, she gets a commission.


🙋 Quick question on how to start affiliate marketing: How do I know if I’m the right fit to become an affiliate marketer?


You’ve probably noticed that an affiliate marketing business works best for people who already have some established presence online: YouTubers, TikTokers, vloggers, influencers… Basically, everyone who currently falls within the “creator” category is a good fit to join any kind of affiliate program.

But this doesn’t mean that affiliate marketing is off-limits if you don’t fit within that category. The truth is that there are some well-established affiliate networks for bloggers, writers, coaches, and other professionals who specialize in niche and informative content.

What you need to remember is this: To craft a successful affiliate marketing strategy, you’ll need to be willing to put yourself out there one way or another. 

If you’re creating an online course and focusing on affiliate marketing efforts that’ll partner you with learning platforms, then don’t forget that your credentials and your expertise on the subject matter a lot.

If you’re trying to start your own YouTube cooking channel, and thus considering the possibility of joining an affiliate network that specializes in this niche, then keep in mind that you’ll need to put in some work to gain subscribers and edit your video content.

Remember: At the end of the day, you don’t need to be someone with millions and millions of followers to generate affiliate income. But you do need to be someone who knows how to communicate and to engage with the people who follow you.


💰 Here are some posts to help you figure out your online strategy once you’re done with this “affiliate marketing for dummies” guide:


How to start affiliate marketing: Bonus tip

If you’re still a bit unsure about this whole affiliate marketing thing because you honestly have no idea how or why brands would be interested in partnering with you, listen up: You don’t need to jump on the affiliate marketer wagon right away.

In fact, you can start testing the waters first, just to see how your followers would react to content where you explicitly mention a product or service — and to see if the brand you want to work with will notice you, too.



Why start an affiliate marketing strategy?

Now that we covered the who’s who and what’s what, it’s time we move onto another important aspect of this guide on how to start affiliate marketing: The “why” part.

So, let’s check out some of the reasons why affiliate marketing is considered a profitable business idea.

  • It’s free to join. Most affiliate programs allow you to join for free, which means almost no upfront investment.
  • It can help you diversify your revenue streams. If you’re already working as a creator, you know that coming up with new content ideas that generate money can be somewhat tricky. But when done right, affiliate marketing work can be a great source of passive income.
  • It’s low-maintenance work. Once you create that content and put it live, your work is basically done: All you have to do is wait for those affiliate sales to start popping in.
  • It has huge potential. The beauty of affiliate marketing is that you’re not beholden to just one single affiliate program. You can join as many programs as you like, as long as you’re able to create content for them and manage your affiliate marketing efforts.
  • Less or minimal work on the “business-y” side. Shipping, order fulfillment process, product development, customer service… That can be a lot to handle, but this is all the brand’s responsibility. All you have to do, as an affiliate marketer, is position that unique affiliate link of yours on your social media platforms and work on content to promote it.

What you need to master to really shine as an affiliate marketer

Now that this whole “how to start affiliate marketing” is getting a bit clearer and we already got a lot of the basics out of the way, it’s time to check out five tips that will help you transform into a successful affiliate marketer.


SEO know-how

SEO, also known as search engine optimization, is an extremely important tool to help you with your affiliate marketing strategy.

When done correctly, SEO can help you boost your store traffic (or your social media traffic, or your affiliate website traffic) by amplifying your content’s visibility and discoverability. So if you’re actively considering the possibility of joining an affiliate program, now is the time to polish up on your SEO knowledge — after all, affiliate networks won’t help you with marketing strategies. 

Meaning: Selling those affiliate products is something that’s entirely up to you, so you better up your game!


How to start affiliate marketing: Bonus tip

If you’re planning your social media content, keep in mind that hashtags are also part of a successful affiliate marketing strategy. You can use them both on Instagram and TikTok to help new audiences discover your content, so be sure to explore them whenever you get the chance.


👍 You can read all about how hashtags can help you get likes and attract customers here in our Shoplazza blog, too!


Basic design skills

You don’t need to be a Photoshop genius to become a successful affiliate marketer, but you do need to know at least the basics of how to edit elements like:

  • The pages of your affiliate site (if you’re building one)
  • Your social media posts
  • Your newsletter and email messaging


This is important because while your ultimate goal is to get people to click on your affiliate link, you can’t just paste that gigantic URL of yours haphazardly and expect people to click on it.

You need to create a mood, tell a story, and tell people why you think they’d like your recommended affiliate products.

How to start affiliate marketing: Bonus tip

A lot of people seem to think that you need to build your own affiliate website to work with this business model, but the truth is that more and more affiliate marketers are migrating their content exclusively to social media.

So, if you’re interested in working solely with posts that engage on social media, don’t worry about building your own affiliate website from scratch. Just remember to pick out a nice and easy-to-use link in bio tool, ok?


Familiarity with editing

Thinking about joining an affiliate marketing program and focusing your content efforts on platforms like YouTube and TikTok? That’s awesome! Video content has quickly secured its spot as a mainstay in social media during the past few years, and it’s undoubtedly a great format to handle — especially if your target audience is young adults.

Just remember that because you’ll be dealing with video content first and foremost, your editing game will need to be strong. Make sure you create good transition scenes, add in some music if you think that makes sense for your audience, and highlight the hues so your videos really stand out among the others.


Content marketing planning

“Content” is a word that has appeared quite a lot in this affiliate marketing for dummies guide, right?

And that’s no accident: Affiliate marketing is, first and foremost, about creating content that will help you generate the affiliate income you’re hoping to achieve. And this means that, in order to succeed, you’ll need to have your very own content marketing strategy in place.

Content marketing is, in short, strategic planning that revolves around creating content that is both relevant and valuable to your audience. Its main goal is retention: Getting people to follow you and to engage with you in a consistent manner.

It’s easy to see how that relates to affiliate marketing, right? After all, your content will be responsible for providing information and actionable solutions that meet your audience’s needs. And the solutions are — you’ve guessed it — in your custom affiliate link.


Smart thinking

Not planning affiliate marketing campaigns is one of the major affiliate marketing mistakes that newbies make, especially when joining affiliate networks for the first time.

As we mentioned earlier, affiliate marketing success is all about knowing where and how to place your link and your offer. You won’t be doing yourself or your audience any favors if you just throw them a link and say “Here, click on this.”

This is exactly why you need to think smart, especially when it comes to your affiliate business and the results you want to achieve. Always try to plan ahead and have a detailed posting schedule for the following weeks — that way, you’ll have more time to go through your affiliate marketing stats and see if and how you can improve your content.


What you need to do before you join an affiliate program

Joining an affiliate program can be challenging, especially if you’ve never done it before. 

We already talked a lot about what affiliate marketing is and some of the skills you need to master before starting your journey, but the truth is that no “affiliate marketing for dummies” guide would be complete without the two main decisions you need to make before you start your affiliate business.


Pick your audience and niche

The first thing you need to decide is your audience and your niche. Those two elements should always come first, not least because they’ll dictate everything else that’ll come after: the type of affiliate network you’ll join, which sales channel you’ll be using and the kind of content you’ll need to create.

Conducting market research might be the best way to get this going because then you’ll be able to collect insightful data about the niche you want to enter and your potential target audience.

Ideally, you should try to focus on markets that intersect at least two areas in which you’re knowledgeable. For instance, if you’re into the lifestyle and wellness niche, maybe you can create content about vegan makeup for older women and join affiliate networks that sell cosmetics.



Choose a sales channel

After deciding your niche and target audience, it’s time to select your content format and sales channel. The affiliate marketing industry is incredibly diverse, and you can use a variety of different channels if you’d like.

Just keep in mind that the majority of affiliate marketers usually work with one or more of the following ones:


1. A blog 

Affiliate marketing is a great alternative for anyone interested in how to start a blog and make money.

You can write about things that you like, and because you can mix text with visual or audio content you’ll also have more opportunities to display the affiliate products you’re earning a commission for.

🎧 You can also make a podcast for your business and dive straight into the audio content. Most affiliate programs have special links and deals for podcasters, so you might want to check that out.


2. Social media

Social media is likely already on your mind, as it should. 

After all, platforms like Instagram can help you create a lot of valuable content (not to mention shareable content, too) — but remember that while the photos and videos you post there are great magnets for making affiliate sales, you need to create content that actually dazzles followers.

If you create average content, chances are your affiliate campaigns won’t take off.


3. YouTube channel and Pinterest boards

Affiliate marketing is huge on YouTube and Pinterest, and it’s not difficult to figure out why.

On the one hand, YouTube’s standard format of longer videos provides affiliate marketers with all the tools they need to insert a few affiliate links here and there without being too pushy. Pinterest’s highly visual interface, for its part, is a great asset for showcasing affiliate products and recommending them in an organic fashion.


4. Affiliate site 

Last but not least, an affiliate website.

Having your very own affiliate marketing website is a great move to make if you already have a solid following and/or are selling long-form affiliate products, like online courses or coaching sessions.

How to find the best affiliate marketing programs

Phew: We’ve reached the end of our affiliate marketing for dummies guide. But before we send you off to your own affiliate journey, though, let’s check out some of the best affiliate networks and programs out there.

Finding the right affiliate network is an important move to make, not least because it’s where you’ll start to calculate your potential revenue. After all, while it’s true that there are high-paying affiliate programs, there are also specific sets of rules that you need to comply with before you get started.


Rakuten is probably one of the oldest affiliate programs in the game. 

With over 25 years of experience, this all-in-one platform handles some of the major retail brands in the business and has a lot of top-quality tools to help you generate passive income.

To get started, though, you’ll need to reach out to their team directly.


Screenshot of Rakuten's website with the words "The #1 global affiliate marketing program", as part of the blog post on how to start affiliate marketing.



Next up is Etsy, the number one marketplace for small and indie artisans. They also have one of the best affiliate programs currently in operation, with pretty reasonable commissions and requirements.

The only thing you should note, though, is that you’ll need to apply to the specific affiliate program in place for the region you are located — be it Canada, US, UK or the other countries where the program is available.


Screenshot of Etsy's website with the headline "Etsy Affiliates and Creators: Sign up for the program that fits. Earn a commission for every one-of-a-kind piece you discover and share, when you sign up to become an Etsy Affiliate or Creator Co member." This image illustrates blog post on how to start affiliate marketing.



The Amazon affiliate program is also a pretty popular alternative for people interested in generating passive income, but they do have some strict requirements.

One of them is that, in order to become 100% qualified, you’ll need to generate at least 3 sales within the first 180 days and around some 10 original pieces of content where you’re promoting the products.


Image from Amazon's website shows the headline "Recommend products. Earn commissions." as part of how to start affiliate marketing with Amazon.



Yes! We have our own affiliate marketing program, courtesy of ShareASale. The only difference here is that, unlike Rakuten, Etsy or Amazon, you won’t get to pick which products you’re recommending — because you’ll be recommending, well… Us.

If you’re interested in empowering small and independent businesses with high-quality content, why not sign up today? We can make a great team!


Image from Shoplazza's affiliate program website shows the headline "Make money with Shoplazza."


Become a Shoplazza affiliate

Marcela Lanius

About the author: Marcela Lanius

Marcela Lanius is a translator and copywriter. She’s been writing and translating for over a decade, and for the better part of that time, she’s been working almost exclusively with all things related to marketing and ecommerce. She loves words (obviously), cats, and coffee.