3 Le$$ons from Selling Other People’s Products

March 14, 2012

One of the best parts about being a solopreneur is having the freedom to experiment — with what you create, with your time and with your income.

Over the last year or so, I’ve been experimenting with affiliate marketing: selling other people’s products and earning commission. If you’ve read much about making money online or earning passive income, this is one of the big, flashy techniques the pros suggest.

Cultivating your money tree

Cultivating your own, personal money tree.

Take a look at Pat Flynn, for example. He shares monthly revenue reports — and his affiliate income is more than many of us make in total.

Of course, most of us won’t bring in that much by selling as an affiliate, but every bit helps, right? While selling other people’s products hasn’t become a big slice of my income pie (yet), my affiliate revenue is increasing. And in my grand scheme of experimental learning, that makes me happy, because it means I’m doing something right. (And that I have more experimenting to do.)

Here are three lessons I’ve learned so far about making income as an affiliate marketer, tips that will apply whether you’re a total newbie or already bringing in a good chunk of affiliate change:

Lesson 1: You need a lot of eyes to make any money

I’m constantly surprised at how many people I have to tell about a product to land just one sale, even when I think the product is right up my community’s alley. I have no idea what the stats are on this — though I could probably figure it out with Google’s help — but the ratio of eyes to clicks is oh-so-low.

In other words, to sell anything, you have to have a big audience. Which means, unfortunately, that if your online community is still small, it will be difficult for you to make money off affiliate marketing.

You’ll have better luck, of course, if you tailor your products to what your community wants. That’s why I sell, for example, Joanna Penn’s How to Blog for Authors & Writers and David Navarro’s How to Launch the **** Out of Your EBook — because a lot of you are writers who might be interested in these products. But even if you only link to relevant, helpful offerings, you’ll need a lot of eyes to make sales.

Lesson 2: Don’t bother with programs that don’t offer large commissions

This, I’d say, is the most important lesson. Because you need a lot of eyes to make a single sale, it really only makes sense to spend time pimping products with a high payoff.

Lots of authors participate in Amazon’s affiliate sales program, but if a reader buys a $14 book, you’ll only earn a few cents, right? I’d argue that doesn’t even make it worth your time to pull and place the proper affiliate link.

Instead, focus on products that offer a significant commission, say, $10 or more per sale. That way, even if you make just one sale, the money makes a difference in your bank account.

This high-commission rule is why I love selling the Thesis theme for WordPress, which is what gives my blog its look and feel. Each time you buy Thesis through me, I get to keep a third of the $87 you pay. Thesis is smart to offer such a high commission because it gives me incentive to tell my readers about their product (in addition to the fact that I love Thesis).

The rule is also important to keep in mind if you’re on the other side of this equation, hoping others will sell your product as affiliates. That’s why I offer 50 percent commission on my social media consulting guide — so people who enjoyed the ebook will want to sell it to their community.

Lesson 3: Share links in places other than your blog

Sure, it’s great to add affiliate links within your blog posts when you can. But don’t forget that your community could click from lots of other places: newsletters, on Twitter and Facebook, even in your blog sidebar.

If you put the effort in on the front end to add an affiliate link whenever you see the opportunity, it will pay back when you least expect it.

Last week, for example, I got an email telling me I’d earned $28.50 from an affiliate sale of Ali Luke’s Blogger’s Guides. That made me smile — because I’d forgotten that I’d even signed up for her affiliate program!

Want more insights on affiliate marketing? Interested in learning how I diversity my income? Check out my Solopreneur Secrets archives.

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    3 Replies to “3 Le$$ons from Selling Other People’s Products”

    • Hi Alex:

      I really enjoyed this post and couldn’t agree more with your conclusions. I’ve experimented with affiliate programs and my experience was the same as yours. I’ll keep at it, mainly because my affiliates are all products I would endorse regardless of whether or not I collected a dime in the process, but a get rich quick scheme they ain’t!!

      All best,

    • Ryan Brinks says:


      I read your recent “How One Entrepreneurial Writer Makes Money Online” post and then this “3 Le$$ons from Selling Other People’s Products” caught my eye. I like your suggestions and think there’s an additional step you could take to streamline your affiliate sales income. On Lesson 1, I agree that it takes many eyes to sell a product IF you’re selling only a few products. Cutting-edge technology has now enabled writers to easily and efficiently sell a whole lot more of what their readers are ALREADY buying – meaning those products are still very relevant. By increasing the number of relevant products, you can offset the number of eyes needed to make the same amount of money. And for Lesson 2, I again agree with leveraging your time by helping others sell your products, and I think there’s a next level possible. Like you mention, Amazon is taking the bulk of the profit on sales through its website. But now imagine a franchise concept for Amazon where much more of the profit goes to a franchise owner rather than a corporation. This is the new business model behind SHOP.COM: more relevant products (more products available than Amazon and a financial incentive for readers to buy) and higher profits. As a writer myself, my SHOP.COM franchise fits in conveniently with my life. I’d encourage you to evaluate this as another piece of your income stream; I’ve included a link above.

    • Khalid Grant says:

      Hi Alexis,

      Great post on affiliate marketing. All your lessons learnt are exactly what I’ve found so far. High commission items are definitely the ones worth promoting and in addition, recurring commissions. That is now my new favourite word. I have a few services which are now paying a small but consistent commission on a monthly basis which adds up over time.


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