How One Blogger Stopped Sucking at Affiliate Sales

Carol Tice

How One Blogger Stopped Sucking at Affiliate Sales. Makealivingwriting.comAbout 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.

Join my freelance writer community.


  1. Monna Ellithorpe

    Hi Carol, You are absolutely right. The days of earning from revenue I also believe is becoming a thing of the past. I am happy I could give you some information on Squidoo. I had not heard about the ones you mentioned above. Friends and I are now wondering if Blogger is going to suffer the same fate as it seems they are pushing Google+ even more.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, Blogger is just a blog platform, and it’s set up to make it hard to earn money on it…that’s an interesting thought. They could decide to kill it one day.

      My eyes are more on Demand Studios — their parent company’s revenue has been plummeting, and they recently spun off their other, more profitable business, an idea they’d been working on for a while, as I discuss here. That could be a prelude to shutting down their content mill, cutting writer rates, or otherwise changing their content business.

      It’s been true for a long while now that only sites with huge traffic could earn substantial money off adclicks.

      I’ve done fairly well affiliate selling very select product by mentors I trust with my life, mostly through free Webinars, not ads. My policy is not to sell anything if I haven’t either used it myself or know the company or person personally. That’s built trust with my readers, and allows me to feel confident what I’m selling is going to help my people and isn’t a scam. You can read more about that on my Products I Love tab up top there.

  2. Monna Ellithorpe

    Hi Carol,
    It is nice to meet you and I’m learning so much from reading your blog. It’s taken me quite a while to figure out what I should be doing online (writing) and then learn to do the marketing. I have been in affiliate marketing for quite some time and have had some success but again, my focus wasn’t where it should have been.

    I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog, along with Mary’s Write to Done.

    Have a great weekend.

    • Carol Tice

      Glad I could help — and I appreciated the link you shared, as I collect info on content sites that are going bust. Hadn’t gotten the word on Squidoo, but it seems like many revshare and content-mill type sites are floundering. There was the Elance-oDesk merger, then the recent shutdown of the former Associated Content, which became Yahoo Voices.

      I believe there’s less room at the bottom these days, as the business model of paying off ad-clicks is a failing one for most sites, thanks to Google’s search algorithm changes.

  3. Nida Sea

    I was looking for a post like this! The part about testing affiliate products is a great tip in my opinion. I’ve tested many products only to find the majority of them are crap. And, I understand that dilemma of selling crap to other people and feeling sleazy. I definitely don’t want to be that kind of salesperson. Great post!

    • Carol Tice

      Hi Nida!

      Yeah, when I started out that was the big mystery to me — I looked through Clickbank’s offerings for writers and thought…ick.

      But this is one reason why it’s important to cultivate relationships and get to know mentors, so you can find products to sell you feel proud to offer.

      My yardstick of whether I’m doing it right is when I get thank-you notes from my readers who buy, for introducing me to a product I’ve promoted as an affiliate. As long as that happens, I know I’m providing valuable info my people need and not annoying them.

      And you’ve definitely got to preview any product you’re going to sell. I’ve been offered quite a few that I looked at and went…um…no.

  4. Rob

    Okay, you’ve talked me out of joining your affiliate program until I’ve actually tried your ecourses first and built up more of a following on my writing blog, which I’ve just started to promote. The good news is that I’m going to get my first $100 from affiliate hotel bookings on my travel blog ( at the end of this month and I vowed to use a portion of it productively. Since yours is the most interesting writing site I’ve found, I think it’s worth a try and I never pay for anything if I can help it.

    You recommend getting 1000 subscribers before plastering ads on a blog. That’s motivated me to remove my useless Amazon ad and probably adsense as well. However, I have pitifully few subscribers to my travel blog, but get about 5000 page views a month. That seems to be enough to make my affiliate piggy bank worthwhile. How many visitors (as opposed to subscribers) do you think will justify ads?

    • Carol Tice

      I just find it’s a policy that I like. I only affiliate sell things I know from people I trust. I knew from the beginning I wouldn’t be one of those people just grabbing products out of Clickbank and slapping them on, or putting up Google ads where you can’t control what it says.

      Many of us would say that nothing justifies ads, Rob…they sorta suck. They send your readers away from your site to buy something else from someone else, for which you get a tiny pittance. They’re only worthwhile if they make you a lot of money, because they annoy and discourage visitors from coming, so you have to experiment and hit that balance of when it makes sense, through trial and error.

      Why not develop your own products and keep all the money when you make a sale instead?

      But it all depends on your positioning. I want to be known for recommending a select few, quality products only.

      I often get emails from people who’ve bought a course or book I’ve recommended THANKING ME for showing it to them, and how excited they are to have found a learning oportunity they really need. When people tell you, “Thank you for helping me spend money and send you a commission” you know you’re doing it right, in my view.

    • Rob

      I couldn’t agree with you more. Something always smells fishy about sites that have too many ads on them. Yes, my own product would be best, but another writing or blogging ebook isn’t it, when others like you do it so much better. Besides, I’m more of an expert on how not make a six figure income to than on how. I look forward to the end of the month, when I can try Freelance Writers Den. Then I’ll be in a position to make a knowledgeable decision.

      Thanks again for your replies. I think I’ll give it a rest now, lest I start to look like a spammer.


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