“I Made $1,000 with Affiliates” + How to Make Money Online for Free



If you've been following along you've read all about my entrepreneurial struggles, how at the beginning of 2016 I completely pivoted my business, and how I've been able to make more money online. A large part of that has been by strategizing and restructuring my site so that the blog itself makes more income, so I can write less for other outlets and spend more time on this site and providing my (thoroughly awesome) readers with more value.

Since I started posting my online income reports in April, I've been getting lots of questions, mostly asking how I've been able to ramp up my blog income. The answer? Affiliates!

But here's a confession: I made a whopping $90 in affiliate income last year.

Affiliates just weren't a way I was monetizing my site. 

And 2015 was the first year I did any type of affiliate marketing. 2015! After three years of blogging and building an audience.

But after three years of hard work (and getting a little burnt out on writing, honestly) I wanted to monetize my website in a more passive way so I could a) make more money, like my girlcrush/dream girl Michelle and b) free up some mental and emotional bandwidth to do other things besides chase the content writing dragon.

And it worked! Putting my energy into monetizing my site has increased my income, especially in affiliates. Here's how I made it to my first $1k in affiliate sales.

Thinking of starting a blog of your own? I recommend setting up a WordPress site (like this one) using Hostgator. Using my link you'll get hosting for less than $3/month.Here's my step-by-step tutorial on how to get started!


But first, What is Affiliate Income?

Income you get from recommending products from other brands to your audience. I see it as a win-win. I get a commission for my influence, and you get to buy with a company that’s reputable, often at a discount because you used my affiliate link.

Related: Top 10 Affiliate Networks for Bloggers Looking to Earn More

How to Make Money Online for Free with Affiliates

Tip #1 – Prioritize Education

Honestly, I had no idea what I was doing, so I began looking into a few courses. Hands down, my favorite was with Adi Ganley’s Pinaffiliate Master Class, which taught me how to leverage Pinterest to drive greater traffic to my site and to my affiliate posts. Then there's Michelle's course, Making Sense of Affiliate Marketing, which was a game changer.

Related: How I Increased My Affiliate Income 2000% with One Course

Tip #2 – Prioritize Building Traffic Over Other Activities

The more traffic to your website, the higher conversions you’re going to have because you’re getting more eyeballs on your content.

Lena from What Mommy Does wrote a fantastic (and cheap!) e-book, The Traffic Transformation Guide, that I've been relying on heavily to build my traffic. It's an awesome resource! I also enjoyed the sections of the book specifically on how to grow your blog traffic (via SEO and social media and a handful of other methods I hadn’t yet heard of.)

Thanks to those two resources I was able to go from 45k page views to 100k in June.

This is super exciting, because for the longest time I felt I was getting nowhere with my traffic and also because 100k page views was the goal I set for myself for 2016. #killedit. What should my new goal be?

Tip #3 – Monetize Existing Content First

This was a great tip I got from the Commission Junction advertisers Facebook group. Instead of worrying about how to pick an affiliate that works and creating new content for that post, they recommend you pick your ten highest performing posts and try to put an affiliate within those. This is my biggest tip for how to make money online for free because you're leveraging what you already have.

This is what I did and it’s a great way for beginners who aren’t already doing affiliate income to quickly leverage content they have to get started.

Want to learn how to make money blogging so you can post income reports like the one below? Click here to check out Beginner Blog Accelerator, a course that teaches new bloggers how to build and monetize their own website!

Tip #4 – Start (Super Duper) Small & Scale

The world of affiliate marketing is overwhelming. It seems as if every brand offers an affiliate relationship and you don't know which are going to work for your audience, what people are going to want to buy, or what’s going to fit in best with your brand.

When I was looking at my top ten posts, I made a list of potential products that would fit, then looked in my affiliate portals to see if any brands were offering an affiliate relationship. Since I make it a brand value of mine a) not to recommend credit cards because of my own bad history with credit and b) to only recommend brands I thoroughly know about and use/love….it narrowed the pool quite a bit.

I’m currently only leveraging six affiliates within my top ten posts and only two new affiliate content pieces. I’d prefer to be a master of a small group first rather than a master of none.

Tip #5 – Quantify Your Goals and Track Them Every Day

It isn’t enough to say, “I want to make affiliate income.”

Goals have to be a little bit smarter than that. (And I’m not just talking SMART goals, which I actually kindof hate.)

  • Say you want to make $300 a month at first from affiliates.
  • That’s $10 per day.
  • And if you leverage an affiliate that pays $5 per lead. You just need 60 leads a month, or 2 per day.

Figuring 2-3% conversion, you can then estimate how much traffic you’d need to each post in order to hit the number of sales you need.

Get strategic, my friends!

Related: How to Set Goals Like a Champion

Tip #6 – Promote, Promote, Promote Again

I’m not saying be pushy. People will get mad. (In fact, I had an email from someone who got mad I was doing “too many sponsored posts” and putting them into my weekly email newsletter. Yikes!)

I’m just saying you can’t put an affiliate link in a post and then leave it. You’ll make more money if you regularly schedule that post on your social media channels.
After all, it’s affiliate marketing. And marketing is a touch point game. Statistically they’ve done studies that prove it takes nearly seven “touches” to get someone to buy. Because you’re a blogger and need to be a bit more authentic with your connections, you’ll have to spread this out over time and promote to your audience in a genuine way, but the point is to always be promoting that content.

It took me awhile to get to this place and the learning curve has been steep, but I'm glad I'm now effectively leveraging affiliate income, especially after focusing on audience building for so long. If you'd like to learn more about making money from a blog, click here to read my tutorial or here to grab my course, Beginner Blog Accelerator.

Putting my energy into monetizing my site has great increased my income. Here's how to make money online for free with affiliates.


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  • TJ
    September 26, 2016 at 7:03 pm

    I invested $25 in the grow your traffic e-book. Thanks for mentioning that, because I never would have heard of it if i didn’t see it written about here.

  • Kayla @ Shoeaholicnomore
    July 27, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    This a great post! I’ve started looking into affiliate programs lately and I think they will be an excellent opportunity.

    • Lauren Bowling
      July 28, 2016 at 1:57 pm

      Do it!!! You’re so big on pinterest, I bet you’ll have great success.

  • Britt and the B's
    July 26, 2016 at 6:17 pm

    This post is speaking right to my heart. I’m strongly looking into affiliate income as I’d like to start earning more passive side hustle income, and this seems like a great route to go. I had never even thought about using previous posts and mirroring them up with an affiliate, but that is a great suggestion. I’ve also heard Michelle’s affiliate course is great, so I’m probably going to enroll in that in the near future. So much to learn! A couple of questions, though, if you don’t mind answering.
    My initial thought was to increase traffic before getting into the affiliate game. Do you think it’s valuable to wait until you hit your traffic goal before starting? And which are your favorite affiliate portals?
    Appreciate any help/advice!

    • Lauren Bowling
      July 26, 2016 at 8:11 pm

      I don’t think you have to wait to start monetizing your site, but if results aren’t what you expected that could be why. I like Commission Junction and Impact Radius. Some of these portals require a minimum traffic count so keep that in mind too!

  • Giulia Lombardo
    July 26, 2016 at 5:23 am

    I ove this post is really informative and helpful:D

  • Colin // RebelwithaPlan
    July 26, 2016 at 5:03 am

    This is such a timely post! I’ve been reading up more on the psychology behind site design and navigation in terms of conversion and ramping up affiliate income. Definitely agree on prioritizing education. I enrolled in a Pinterest e-course a few months back and became more convinced of it’s effectiveness when utilized.

    Do you use any sort of spreadsheet or something when quantifying your affiliate goals? I just have stuff written down in an Evernote file but thinking about making a Google Doc spreadsheet. Hmm.

    • Lauren Bowling
      July 26, 2016 at 8:34 am

      I do have a blog income tracker where I keep tabs on what I made from each program each month alongside what I make from products, campaigns etc. I also know in Michelle’s (Making Sense of Cents) affiliate course she has a great spreadsheet template.

      In terms of visualizing my goals – what I aspire to make from affilaites each month is just written on a post it note and taped on my vision board where I look at it every day. 🙂