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We write a lot about digital marketing and affiliate marketers, which benefits greatly from building a following on email or social media platforms. While of course it’s ideal to have a giant email list that you can blast your messaging or a big group of fans on TikTok who tune in to your every move, there are strategies that can make you money while skipping the longer route of building an audience first.
Table of contents
- What is affiliate marketing?
- Benefits of affiliate marketing without a following
- Getting started without a following
- Recommended strategies
Starting from the top: affiliate marketing defined
Wouldn’t it be great if you could focus 100% on promoting a producting, and absolutely zero time developing and maintaing a product. Well, that’s exactly what affiliate marketing offers.
An affiliate marketing business is a model where you promote a product (through affiliate links) that you don’t own, and get paid for any sales you generate. It’s a game changer for anyone who wants to start making extra money, but maybe don’t have the resources or know-how to invest in a product.
If you are going the affiliate marketing route, there are some things you should know:
You need to use an affiliate link to promote a product and get paid. It’s the link that will attribute a sale to your traffic, and ensure you get credit. In addition, pay attention to the cookie referral life of your link (this should be listed somewhere on the affiliate sign up page or FAQs). A longer cookie referral life will help you succeed, since it can take some time for people to decide to make a purchase after that first click.
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Not all affiliate programs are created equal
Just because a company offers an affiliate program, doesn’t mean it pays or performs well. Try to choose a program that is known to generate affiliate sales others. You can figure this out in a few ways, such as simply Googling it, or by seeing if there is a Facebook group specifically for the program.
I always recommend trying the product before selling it, because you can see first hand the benefits as well as any issues. Pay attention to commision structure, and if the payments are one-time or recurring.
You don’t have to pick just one
That’s right. You can promote a lot of affiliate products. Depending on the way you choose to promote, you may find that you’ll make a lot more money focusing on a broad list of products around a specific category or niche.
The benefits of affiliate sales without a following
Starting an affiliate marketing business with a big following is the ideal path. When you already have a lot of people listening to you (whether it be a podcast, vlog, or email newsletter), promoting an affiliate program is as easy as placing a link and watching the sales come in. However, there are benefits:
Low or no monthly costs
When you have a following, it’s likely you need to pay to keep that audience in some way. If it’s an email list, affiliate marketers will likely need to pay an email software some amount of money based upon the number of subscribers every month.
If you’ve decided to go the blog route, you will have monthly fees related to maintaining your affiliate website. An affiliate marketer who is starting fresh without a following hasn’t yet incurred these monthly fees, and decide to focus on channels that don’t have these costs. For example, a YouTube channel doesn’t have any cost.
Just because you don’t have a following, doesn’t mean you can’t reach a lot of people online. In fact, the audience you can reach through advertising and search engine marketing (SEM) will always be greater than the audience you can build. It’s worth saying that many people who are making big money with affiliate marketing are using paid strategies for this very reason (scalability).
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When you’ve built a following, that following is your boss in some ways. You need to keep that following engaged with new content in order to keep their interest. In addition, you need to provide them the kind of content they like; otherwise, they may unsubscribe.
When you haven’t built a following, affiliate marketers have the flexibility to try new things, post content at your liesure, and can spend less time maintaining that audience.
Building a following takes a lot of time. Perhaps this isn’t always the case, as overnight sensations do occur. However, most likely, it will take you years to figure out how to grow your following enough to make a significant amount of money.
So, you have quite a number of advantages. Don’t get discouraged just because you don’t have a following.
Three important steps to getting started without follows
With a good sense of affiliate marketing, let’s discuss how you can get started making money without an audience.
1. Identify your niche and products to promote
The first step is to figure out your affiliate marketing niche. That is, what’s your specialty? It’s better to focus on one product or product category over attempting to sell everything to all people.
Specializing will absolutely maximize your chances for success in many ways. For one, when you focus, you will learn more fully what works and doesn’t work to sell your product. Different products have different product cycles, and what works for selling a beauty product may not work for selling a television.
You don’t need to be an expert in the niche you choose, but it certainly helps. The more you know, the more easily you will be able to sell. You’ll be able to write content more easily, you’ll understand the features better, and you’ll understand the targeting better when it comes to advertising.
When choosing a niche, it’s also beneficial to be interested in the product or product category. Whether or not you have a following, affiliate marketing will be a grind, and there will times where you feel like throwing in the towel. Being sincerely interesed in the product is one way to keep going.
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2. Research and select an appropriate program
Like stated earlier, just because a company offers an affiliate program, doesn’t mean it will generate affiliate income. You need to research a product and the program details to decide if it will work for you.
This starts with understanding how you plan to promote the product. We will go into some options later in this article, but you need to align the product with your promotion plan.
So, if you plan on utilizing search enging marketing, you want to ask, “Do people who buy this product do so from search engines? How do they search before purchase? What is the keyword competition like?” You can likely be successful with promoting any product using search engine marketing, but your life will be a lot easier if you align your chosen product to the channel you plan to use.
When researching the program, you next should consider the product itself. Is it good? Is the price and features better than the other options available? What do the reviews say? How many affiliate marketers are promoting it? One huge benefit of being an affiliate marketer is that you can choose the product you sell, so why not choose the best one? The better the product, the more easily it will sell (which, in turn, will result in less work for you).
3. Understand the terms and conditions of the program
This is a suprisingly important consideration, especially for selling without a following. Most affiliate programs are eager to tap into an already established following, so the channels of those with a following (e.g., email newsletter, organic social, etc.) are most likely going to be compliant with the terms of an affiliate program. When setting up an affiliate business without a following, you will need to tap into other channels which may not be compliant.
When signing up for an affiliate program, pay close attention to any channels which are not allowed. Many programs do not allow digital advertising channels, especially, such as paid search and paid social (i.e., Facebook ads or TikTok ads).
Ignorance isn’t a good excuse, and you may find yourself banned from a program if you violate their terms. So, make sure your planned outreach strategy is aligned with the affiliate program terms and conditions.
Another important aspect of the terms and conditions of the program are the payment terms. When promoting a product, you should know (1) the commision percentage, (2) the total lifetime value of a customer, (3) the minimum payment threshold and timing, and (4) refund or free trial periods.
The commission percentage and lifetime value of a customer
There is no right commision, but a standard commission is between 5-30%.
Anything below 5% may mean you will struggle to make a decent return unless you drive a lot of sales volume. The lifetime value of a customer is simply how you get paid, in total, per customer you generate.
If you are paid a one-time fee, then it’s likely just whatever you are paid on that initial sale. But, if you are paid a recurring commission on a subscription (let’s say you get 30% of a monthly fee of a software subscription sale), then you’ll be interested to know how long the average customer uses the software. If the average customer uses the product for a whole year, then you will be able to pay a lot more to acquire that customer and remain profitable.
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The minimum payment threshold and timing
When looking at the terms and conditions, you should know how many sales you need to generate before the program pays out (i.e., the minimum payment threshold). Most programs are pretty reasonable at $50 or so.
However, you may find the program will have you wait until the sales exceed $150, and you may also find that the program doesn’t pay you for a few months after the sale. This is important to know, especially when you are trying a new program and aren’t 100% confident that it will perform well.
If you need to wait 6 months for payment, that’s a lot of wasted time if the program doesn’t work out.
Refunds and free trials
Many subscription software programs offer gaurantees around refunds or free trial periods. This is great for customers (and your conversion rates) as it allows them to try before they buy at no risk.
However, if the product is not good, you could very well have a 100% refund rate. In addition, refunds may not occur for two or three weeks after the initial purchase. This can be devastating if you run a campaign, believing it’s working well, only to find your ad dollars all wasted.
Make sure to understand how the refunds and free trial periods work, especially if you are running paid ads and are thinking about scaling up your spend.
Recommended strategies for promoting affiliate products without a following
By this point, you should be very informed about affiliate marketing business model, and what to look for in a program. Now, it’s time to learn some ways to grow your business if you don’t have a following.
Leverage organic search engine optimization (SEO) tactics
You don’t need a following to get your website listed on Google and Bing search enginges. This effort is not easy, or fast, but is low cost and will pay dividends in the long term.
SEO traffic is almost too good to be true (free traffic that converts well), but the catch is that you really need to know what you’re doing and that it takes a lot of time and effort.
If you are new to SEO, the first thing we’d recommend is that you learn everything you can about it. Trust us, a lof of wasted time can be spent writing articles into the void, hoping for organic search traffic to start.
You really need to understand how Google’s algorithm chooses which articles to show in it’s search feed to make this work well for your business.
In a nutshell, you should consider the following when writing for SEO:
- How many people are searching for the topic of the article I’m writing?
- What is the competition like for these keywords?
- What many words do competing articles have?
- Before you publish, is my article really the best one for this topic?
You can also make your life easier by using the right SEO tools. You should have a tool for evaluating keyword competition and opportunities (we like Ahrefs), and a tool to help internal SEO (we like SurferSEO).
Knowing about keyword competition is what separates the winners and losers in SEO.
Utilize social media advertising
Believe it or not, you don’t need a following to do well with social media. In fact, many of these platforms are pay-to-play anyway. For example, reports suggest most Facebook pages only reach around 6% of their followers. That means that, even those with huge Facebook followings, will likely need to spend some money on advertsing to get a decent amount of reach.
What’s also beneficial is that you can grow your organic following through your paid ads. When you advertise something on Facebook or Twitter, for example, thousands of people will see your brand, and a percentage of those people will go on to learn more about your page, and follow you.
What’s critical for success on social media advertising and affiliate marketing is nailing your ad creative and knowing the ad platforms. By nailing your ad creative, you need to have a provacative ad image and text that both educates the viewer to the product and resonates strongly with their buyer persona.
To do well in social media advertising, you should learn how people use the platform, and the kinds of ads that work well. For example, for TikTok, having the ad look native, using trends, and taking advantage of video formatting is very important.
If you do advertise on social media platforms, do not use your affiliate link directly in the platform. It will very likely get you banned from that platform.
Leverage social media influencers
Don’t have a following? Take advantage of someone else’s following!
An influencer is a person or brand that has built a following on a platform (any platform), and has a particular influence over their audience. They often have a fairly targeted audience around a specific topic (music, beauty, etc.), which is perfect for your efforts.
There are so many influencers today, and many will happily share out your link, post, article, or your profile for an appropriate fee. Using an influencer is a great way to get your brand noticed very quickly.
Finding influencers willing to work with you will take a little bit of work. You’ll want to search through different platforms, get a sense of their audience and the type of content they post, and then reach out directly to them to discuss partnership opportunities.
Despite the work, the right influencer can completely change your business, and maybe you won’t need to do affiliate marketing without followers after all!
Take advantage of solo email marketing
Email marketing is a top channel for affiliate marketing. In digital marketing, it is known that some channels succeed with certain campaign objectives better than others. Display ads, for example, are not the best for sales and lead generation. Email, in contrast, is great for sales, and just because you don’t have an email list doesn’t mean you can’t take advantage of email marketing.
We write a lot about solo ads on our website. Solo ads is a form of email marketing where you pay for your message to be included in someone else’s list.
This is a great way to boost sales from this channel, without the need to spend the time to build your own list (if you have a list, you can even become a solo ad seller yourself). Solo ads are also great for building your own email list if you do by chance wish to go that route.
Related reading: Weighing Out the Pros and Cons of Solo Ads
Create an email sales funnel
This one is a bit more complex to learn and do right, but can definitely make you a successful affiliate marketer. How this works is as follows:
- Create a campaign (like advertising) that points traffic to a landing page
- The landing page will have a form for a user to opt-in to receive your emails
- The emails will promote your affiliate links, alongside quality content (the reason the user signed up in the first place)
- You optimize the emails and landing page until the average lifetime value of the email subscribers is greater than the cost to acquire each new email
This is much easier said than done. However, once you nail this funnel, you have yourself a scalable business that you completely control.
So, should you focus on getting followers at all?
This article is an expert guide to building an affiliate business without the need for followers, but don’t be confused, having a following is a huge benefit. If you can build a strategy that maximizes follower growth and channels that don’t require a following, the synergy between the two will maximize the growth of your business in the the affiliate marketing industry.