A Beginners Guide To Affiliate Marketing (And How To Get Started For Free)

What exactly is this Affiliate Marketing so many are banging on about? Is it still a practical option for beginners to get their teeth into? And how could I possibly build an online business from scratch on a tight budget?

When asking yourself and Google these questions, you have probably been bamboozled by the search results generated online. You are not alone. That’s why I put together a beginner’s guide to affiliate marketing, to help you understand the basics in plain English, get to grips with the concept and show you how to get started for free.

this is a photo of someone sitting at their laptop with a cup of coffee


There are many ways you can make money online these days, from some of the more popular options like selling on Amazon/eBay and creating your own (viral) YouTube channel, to lesser-known alternatives like managing social media content and buying and selling or “flipping” domain names.

However, few are as flexible or as rewarding as affiliate marketing. If done right, it can be a lucrative way of earning a part-time or full-time income, whilst producing creative, helpful and valuable content. Something which a lot of other “make money online” options cannot boast.

Let’s get started…

What is Affiliate Marketing?

Since The 4-Hour Work Week hit our shelves, we witnessed an online army forming, seemingly all with the same goal. To wake up in the morning, open their laptop, and see they have made money overnight – sounds great right? But, how is that even possible?

Two words, passive income – money earned with minimal activity requiring as little daily effort as possible (from the person making it). In other words, not trading your time for money. Think of making money while you sleep, making money in different time zones, automation, you get the idea. Although in essence, affiliate marketing is not by definition passive income, for the vast majority of people, it is the starting point. The affiliate marketing business model is also an excellent way to create a very flexible lifestyle as it has no fixed hours and can be worked wherever you have the internet.

Pat Flynn defines affiliate marketing brilliantly:

“Affiliate marketing is the process of earning a commission by promoting other people’s (or company’s) products. You find a product you like, promote it to others and earn a piece of the profit for each sale that you make”.

The idea is that you as an affiliate get paid for referring customers or sales to a business. Simple right. It’s based on revenue sharing. If you have a product and want to sell more, you can offer promoters (you and me), a financial incentive through an affiliate program. If you have no product and want to make money, then you can promote a product that you feel has value and earn an income from it as an affiliate marketer. Make sense?

Companies will always want more exposure (on the internet) and they will pay you a commission for referring people to their site that take action, either by purchasing something or signing up for a free trial.

this is a picture showing Here’s an affiliate marketing example  – I refer people to Bluehost(affiliate link) and get paid a commission when somebody purchases a hosting plan from them (Bluehost). Simple right? But, here’s the thing;

You should only ever recommend products that you have either used or are very familiar with. You also need to be 100% confident the product or services you’re promoting is a great product and will help your audience – I see this as a smart way to do affiliate marketing.

From my experience, far too many people refer to products and services that they have never used, know very little about or for the sole reason that certain products and services pay out a high commission. People will see through this and not trust your recommendations and more importantly not trust you, your brand. Once you have lost the trust of your audience (the consumer), it’s game over.

The golden rule is to remember we are in the business of helping people solve their problems.

Sticking a random link on your website and hoping they click is not going to cut it. You need to be providing your audience with value and showing them how a product or service can help them before you ask them to purchase or sign up.

How Does Affiliate Marketing Work?

There are 3 main players in the Affiliate Marketing process

  1. The Merchant
  2. The Affiliate
  3. The Consumer

THE MERCHANT – either a company or person with products to sell. The merchant will set out an affiliate agreement and have an affiliate program that you can join and leverage. Amazon is a well-known merchant that offers an affiliate program – “Amazon Associates”.

The majority of companies have an affiliate program nowadays, as it’s cost-effective for them. These companies will essentially get free marketing (upfront) from whoever joins the affiliate programs and are only required to pay the affiliates once a sale has been made.

See for yourself, Google the company’s name + “affiliate program” and (if they have one) it will be one of the top search results.

This is a screenshot showing a Google search of

THE AFFILIATE – Thier job is to promote and generate as many leads as possible for the merchant. This is achieved by driving as much (targeted) traffic to the merchants’ sales or sign up page via a unique affiliate link. This link is how the merchant will determine who to attribute the sale too.

Different companies offer different terms and conditions surrounding affiliate links, such as the percentage of sale and length of time from when the consumer clicks on the link to when it expires.

THE CONSUMER – Someone who clicks the affiliate link and takes action by either making a purchase or signing up. An important point regarding the referral process is that the consumer pays no more for a particular product as a result of using the affiliate link and in some cases will actually pay less due to special offers or discount codes.

Do you shop regularly online? Well, then you have probably clicked an affiliate link and purchased something or completed a signup process.

How Do You Get Paid From Affiliate Links?

this is a photo of a person holding several 20 dollar bank notes

So to recap;

  1. You recommend a product/service to your audience
  2. Your audience purchases the product/service via your unique affiliate link
  3. The merchant tracks the affiliate link back to you
  4. You get paid a commission from that sale

One special note on receiving payments from affiliate links – there are different ways you can get paid. A sale can lead to a one-off payment which is the most common form of an affiliate commission, or in some cases a sale can also lead to a recurring commission such as when someone purchases a subscription service for example. It’s this recurring commission that leads to regular income and what people are mostly referring to when they link affiliate marketing to passive income.

What Attracts So Many To Affiliate Marketing?

There are a lot of benefits to starting an affiliate marketing business as well as some drawback, but some of the main reasons affiliate marketing is so popular are;

  • You don’t need any prior knowledge or high-level education
  • Low start-up costs, therefore low risk. This is great news for anyone on a tight budget
  • You choose the niche & topics to write about based on your interests
  • No need to create your own products, saving a lot of time and effort
  • You don’t need to actually do any selling as the person or company who own the product will do the selling for you
  • No need to stock the product – all the selling, shipping and taking payments is done by the product owner
  • Your website will be online 24/7, meaning anyone anywhere in the world can make you money, at any time

Now don’t get me wrong, there is work to be done, especially in the beginning if you’re starting from scratch. This is not a “get-rich-quick” scheme. This will take up a lot of your time and effort and some trial and error. Anyone not willing to put in the work should not even bother going any further with affiliate marketing, let me be clear on that.

Yes, you can speed up the learning process somewhat by investing in some high-value professional training, but this all depends on your budget and how serious you are about starting an online business in affiliate marketing.

However, regardless of where you choose to start, to be successful, there’s no doubting you need to build a smart strategy. By this, I mean researching and learning from those that are already successful in the industry. But this is consistent when starting any business, online or offline.

Ultimately, as an affiliate marketer, it’s down to you to find the customers (for the products) and carry out the promotion and marketing. But if you get it right, then affiliate marketing can be a real winner with uncapped potential earnings and the icing on the cake, a work schedule, and lifestyle designed by you.

Think back to Passive Income.

this is a picture of a lightbulb depicted as a person, standing infant of three doors with question marks on

How To Start Affiliate Marketing For Beginners

There are now (in 2019) more options for getting started than ever before when it comes to affiliate marketing. Wherever you look, you’ll find courses and training that promise all sorts of secrets and tactics in return for $197, $997, even $1997 & beyond. Whilst some of these programs and courses will have some great content and training when you’re just getting started it can be a daunting process knowing where to start & who you can trust. At the end of the day, it’s the internet & there are a lot of SCAMS out there.

So, before giving up your day job and calculating the cost of that Lamborghini you’ve always wanted, consider the following; how serious are you about starting an online business?

If you answered something like, “I’m not sure yet”, “I have no money”, or “I want to know more”, then the best option is to find platform that offers some form of FREE training that will teach you all the basics of affiliate marketing whilst you’re still deciding if it’s for you.

The platform I found to offer the most comprehensive FREE training is at Wealthy Affiliate. Why? Well, the Free Starter Account at Wealthy Affiliate not only provides great affiliate marketing training for beginners but it also shows you how to build 2 of your own websites (all for free). This is an amazing offer that I haven’t seen matched by anyone else yet. But don’t just take my word for it, have a look at the platform in the video below and see for yourself.

this is an image showing lesson 1 from the wealthy affiliate training course online entrepreneur certification
Wealthy Affiliate – A Comprehensive Platform Walkthrough



Did You Know…

To put the whole affiliate marketing idea into context, think about this for a minute. Affiliate marketing is very similar to something we all most likely do in our offline worlds through word of mouth nearly every day, but probably don’t even realise when and don’t get paid for it!

Have you given any recommendations to your family or friends recently about a specific product or item they were looking to buy? Or maybe even if someone has asked if you know a good place to eat or visit?

I’m sure you’re getting the point by now. But, imagine every time you did these things, you got paid for them! Would that be something of interest to you? At the end of the day, there is only ever one way to find out if affiliate marketing is for you, and that’s by taking action. Stop procrastinating and start doing!

If you think I may have missed an important point or have anything to add to “A Beginners Guide To Affiliate Marketing”, then please leave a reply in the comments below.

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About Author: Michael Anthony is the owner of Life Captain and a proud father to twins. He hopes to help fellow parents escape the 9-5 rat race and take back control, by providing the tools to start their own business.

This Post Has 16 Comments

  1. Hi Mike,

    Very informative and comprehensive post on affiliate marketing, I have been pondering over affiliate marketing for some time however there are questions that are holding me back. How much time will I need to devote per day for making this successful, the reason I ask this question is that I have a full-time job from 10 am to 7 pm job and add to this I commute daily back and forth for more than 2 hours, I do this practically 6 days a week. Can you share some of your experience on how you started all this? Would really appreciate your reply.

    1. Hi Satish, great questions! You seem to be in the same situation I was when I started and in actual fact, I held myself back from affiliate marketing for over a year because I convinced myself I didn’t have the time to start my own online business. But once I did take action, I started out barely managing 1 hour a day and it was tough, but I knew that once I got started and built a bit of momentum the whole process would get a little easier with time. I talk about some of my experience in my about page and also within “working online from home”. I think the key Satish, is to firstly have a vision of what you want to do and then it’s all about persistence from then on. You can’t fail if you don’t give up!

      I hope that helps

  2. Every beginner should read this article. Especially those hesitant or unsure of the what, why, where, when and how. It encapsulates the role of an affiliate marketer with ease and your attention to the detail I find to answer a lot of questions that may arise in the beginning phases of learning and/or starting. A great and essential read for anyone interested in affiliate marketing.

    1. Thank you for your kind words Kourtney

  3. Hi there, this is definitely one of the best beginner guides I’ve read about Affiliate Marketing, great job! I particularly liked how you explained the 3 Main Players involved as I think there can often be some confusion there in terms of understanding who is who and what role they play so this section was great. Also, linking back affiliate marketing online to word of mouth in the real world definitely makes it hit home as we definitely share about products and tips that have helped us often. I think a post of FAQ would be another great addition for beginners too.

    1. Hi Tamika, great point regarding the FAQ post for beginners, something I will look at next. I think once we break down who is involved and relate affiliate marketing to an offline example, it helps beginners especially to understand it that much more and helps break down any barriers to entry that may be apparent. I know that I had a lot of barriers before I began building an online business and that there are many others looking to get started feeling the same way.

  4. Hi Mike, I’m furious that you imply I can’t prepare for that Lamborghini yet. How about a McClaren? I’d prefer one of those anyway. Seriously, this is a fantastic article. Affiliate marketing definitely is not a get-rich-quick scheme, but it does work. I’d rather spend 30 hours a week on my Chromebook at home than 40 at some dead-end job, barely making ends meet. Thanks for posting!

    1. Cathy you had my back up when I started reading and saw the words “I’m furious”, totally had me! You’re right there are some other alternatives to the Lamborgini, but it’s usually the car of choice they use in those affiliate scam artist youtube adverts right? Thanks for reading and don’t forget to share via your favorite social media!

  5. Hey, Mike,

    Excellent post with lots of useful information on affiliate marketing for beginners. People are starting to realize that money can be made online. There are so many options out there it can be overwhelming to pick just one. Affiliate marketing definitely seems the way to go.
    As you said, it’s not easy and you won’t get rich quickly. It takes time and effort, but it’s worth it.
    I started out a couple of months ago and have been learning a lot. I still have a long way to go, but I’m willing to do my best.
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. Hi Enrique, I’m glad you enjoyed my beginner’s guide to affiliate marketing. There are too many scams out there that promise overnight riches and give affiliate marketing a bad name, so I aim to demonstrate and show as many people as possible that affiliate marketing is legit and you can make a very good living with the right education and the right tools. Good luck with your training, enjoy the ride and don’t listen to the naysayers!


  6. What a great in-depth article about affiliate marketing for beginners, very well put together. Getting started for free or on a budget is important I think. Thank you for posting.

    1. Hi Troy and thanks for stopping by. You’re right, being able to try something out for free or on a tight budget is important to a lot of people in the beginning. I was really sceptical when I started due to hearing about many Internet marketing scams etc… Wealthy Affiliate is a great place for beginners and thier community is amazing at helping each other. Make sure you check out our blog for other posts on affiliate marketing.


  7. Hey Mike,
    I love your article! It gives some great insight into affiliate marketing and I think that it really helps to understand what it is. I’m fairly new to all this and I must say that not long ago I was searching the internet for some info on affiliate marketing and it was pretty hard to find a straightforward answer!
    I’ll definitely be recommending your website to other people interested in learning affiliate marketing and looking for a beginners guide.

    1. Hi Stefania, glad you enjoyed my beginners guide to affiliate marketing. You’re right, sometimes it can be difficult to understand all the jargon surrounding the industry so that was my primary goal. To break it down and explain it all in plain English and remove alot of the barriers anyone new to the Internet marketing industry might have. Let me know if there’s anything else I can help you with regarding getting started.

  8. Hey Mike, great review!

    You’ve described the affiliate process very well. I used to think internet marketing was only about all those scams that hit my inbox, but then discovered it’s so much more.

    I’ve been noticing that even when I shop on Amazon, I’m using someone’s affiliate link.

    I’ve researched Wealthy Affiliate and it seems to be the cheapest platform online to learn about affiliate marketing and online business. Plus you can start for free which is totally amazing. Most places will only offer a 1-week free trial.

    Wishing you well,

    1. Hi Suzanne, you’re totally right. It’s so difficult as someone new to the industry to know what is legit and who to trust. Having a reputable company like Wealthy Affiliate is reassuring and the fact you can start their training for free is a great deal. I wish you every success with your training.

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