Associate and affiliate programs have long been a way for people to earn money. Even in the days when it was not considered proper for a married woman to work outside the home, it was common and completely respectable for wives to host Tupperware parties or sell Avon beauty products.
For people who aren't ready to start marketing a product of their own making on the Internet, an associate or affiliate program with an established business can be a happy medium. These companies offer various commission rates for selling their products through your Website. They take care of billing, shipping, and customer relations. You need only create an attractive website that generates traffic and makes people interested in purchasing the items they sell.
Even GeoCities, which generally forbids all commercial activity on their free webpages, has entered the affiliate game with their Pages That Pay program. This has the advantage of letting members choose a number of different businesses to represent and receiving a single commission check. (Many associate programs have minimum sales below which they will not cut a check, so being able to lump a number of small revenues can really help).
Internet affiliate and associate programs enable you to reach a far larger circle of potential customers than the traditional "sell to your friends" systems. They also have the benefit of attracting people who are buying because they genuinely want your products, not because they do not want to appear discourteous by failing to purchase anything (one problem with many of the traditional programs was a felt social pressure not to turn down friends' sales pitches, to the point that many families had cabinets full of items purchased through such programs out of courtesy and never used).
Amazon.com has an excellent associate program that offers commissions of up to 15% on books that you link directly from your site, and 5% on books found through an indirect link or search box. Amazon.com also has 5% commissions on videos and CD's purchased through links to their online store.
If you do a lot of reading and enjoy writing reviews of the books you read, you will want to look into this program. Take a look at my own online bookstore, which features reviews of dozens of books I have read and enjoyed. I have been able to tie it into my science fiction fandom pages, and thus pull in customers among the fannish community.
GoTo runs a program by which you place their search box on your page. In return, they will pay you a $0.02 commission on every search made through that search box. This has the benefit of adding additional functionality to your page.
Go ahead and search it for other associates programs. There are plenty out there -- lots of companies are finding it useful to pay commissions for other people to advertise for them rather than keeping webmasters on salary to do it.
A more lucrative, but more compex and risky, variant on associate programs is the multi-level marketing system. Some people swear by them, while others consider them to all be sophisticated scams.
A word of caution -- today there are so many different associate and affiliate programs, offering so many different products, that it is easy to become overwhelmed. One can easily be tempted to sign up for one program after another, since they all sound so promising. Surely one of them will have to make money, especially when the people touting them are making hundreds or even thousands of dollars in commissions.
However, this can be a trap. A person who signs up for a large number of programs will not be able to devote much time or energy to any one of them. Like butter spread too thin, each program will get only a fraction of the effort and attention necessary to really make it work.
Instead, choose one or two programs, preferably selling goods or services with which you are already familiar and comfortable. Because you know the product, you will be able to write sales copy that feels sincere and will generate trust. Keep working one that program until you are able to make it successful.
If your sales don't immediately meet your expectations, don't abandon the program in search of some other sure thing. Instead, spend that time learning the skills and techniques of internet marketing, then apply those skills and techniques to your own site until you see the sales start coming in.
Then how can some of the really big names in affiliate marketing make huge commission checks on five or six programs at once? They all have developed the marketing know-how to set up a system so that it runs itself. They use automated scripts, autoresponders and other computer tools to do much of the work for them. Thus they need spend only a minimal amount of time on each business but still have an excellent site that draws customers and makes them want to buy the product.
If you want to be able to pull in multiple streams of income like this, start small. Begin with one company that sells a product or line of products with which you are already familiar. Concentrate your time and energy on setting up a site that will sell those products as well as possible. When that site is working well and requires only a minimal amount of your time for routine site maintenence, then you can consider branching out into affiliate programs with other companies that will enable you to bring in side income.
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This page last updated June 28, 1999
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