This article contains several affiliate links to brands I know, use, and trust. I receive a small commission when you purchase services through these links.
If you’ve spent any time reading blog articles for either entertainment or research, you’ve probably seen plenty of examples of affiliate marketing at work (though you may not even realize it!).
What is affiliate marketing?
“Affiliate marketing” is the process of linking out to certain products or services in exchange for a small commission. This happens when someone uses your special tracking link to make a purchase. The buyer doesn’t pay more for the product, but you do get a small kickback from the seller for “referring” a new customer to them through your link.
Although the commissions aren’t usually very sizable on their own, they can add up over time, especially as new readers click through your blog posts. It’s a great way to make passive income, or money that you keep earning without having to continue to work for it.
All you need to do is use an affiliate link when you mention a product or service (and disclose when affiliate links are used). When someone clicks on your link and buys the product or service, you earn a percentage of the price. Even smaller blogs can see a little additional income each month from affiliate links when done correctly. Here’s what you need to know.
Affiliate Marketing for Bloggers and Freelance Writers
To get the most out of your affiliate marketing, be sure not to overwhelm your readers. Even if it’s not your product you’re advertising, no one likes reading a “salesy” blog post. You should work to incorporate affiliate links naturally within your content when appropriate. Don’t force them in just for the sake of it – your readers will be able to tell!
That said, the best affiliate programs are ones that relate to your niche and work effortlessly within your content. Here are some examples:
Your website hosting service or domain provider. If you have your own website, you have a great opportunity to plug an affiliate link whenever you mention the service providers you use. SiteGround, WordPress (those are two of my affiliate links!), GoDaddy, DreamHost, and many of the big-name domain and hosting services offer affiliate programs that are easy to plug on your site or in a blog post.
Your website elements. Did you have a graphic designer create your logo, or buy a custom theme to use for your website? Many of these businesses have their own affiliate programs! Even if you purchased from a smaller company, it’s worth asking to see if that’s something they offer. I create all of my website graphics and images myself with Canva and built my websites with the Divi Theme from Elegant Themes. (As you probably guessed, those are both affiliate links.)
Amazon. One of the most common affiliate programs to join is Amazon Associates. It’s easy to sign up for and super flexible: Not only do you make a commission when someone buys a product you linked to, but you also make a commission when a user purchases anything from Amazon after clicking to the site with your link, even if they don’t buy the original product.
Any websites whose products or services you use regularly. This will depend on your industry, but if there are any tools or products that are necessary in your niche, it’s worth checking to see if the store or platform you bought yours from offers an affiliate program. You can make money just by recommending products and services you already use and love!
Online classes or courses that you recommend. Many online learning platforms like Skillshare also have affiliate programs, which is great because you can appeal to a wide variety of audiences when you recommend online classes.
Words to the Wise
Affiliate marketing programs often have strict rules about how and where you can use their links. If you break those rules, you risk being banned from the affiliate program altogether. Make sure you understand the rules of any affiliate program you join and keep track of the regulations to stay in the green.
In addition, as I mentioned at the beginning, you need to disclose when you’re using affiliate links in order to abide by FTC regulations. Check out the FTC website to make sure you’re doing it correctly.
Although it can feel salesy to announce when an affiliate link is being used, a simple explanation of what those links are and why you’re using them can go a long way. After all, your readers don’t pay anything extra to use your affiliate link.
The key is to use affiliate links only for products or services you really, truly stand behind. The last thing you want to do is recommend things you’re not sold on in the name of making an extra buck. Your readers will appreciate your integrity, and they’ll be more likely to click when they see an affiliate link on your blog.
While it takes some time to make serious money from affiliate programs, it’s a low-effort, no-cost way to give yourself additional streams of passive income each month. Even if you don’t have a sizable following, affiliate programs are worth pursuing. After all, you never know how quickly your business will grow, and one day you’ll be grateful those links are there!
When you’re designing your website and writing blog posts to promote your business, there’s a term you need to keep in mind: search engine optimization, also known as SEO. Not sure where to start? Don't fret: Let's take a quick look at SEO for beginners.
There are entire books dedicated to mastering SEO, but the good news is you don’t need to be an expert to get started. Search engine optimization determines what page of Google or another search engine your website can be found on. A good SEO strategy can help your website get found by your ideal clients and customers. Here are 5 steps to set you on the right track.
1. Think like a client.
While optimizing your website and blog posts, it’s important to think like a client or whomever you’re trying to attract to your site. You might be familiar with some of the jargon of your industry (if you’re a freelance writer, for example, it’s common to see acronyms like SEO, B2B, CTR, etc.). However, your ideal customer might not be as familiar with the lingo that insiders use.
Let’s look at an example for a freelance writer: Put yourself in the shoes of a potential client. Would the average person know to search for those terms when looking to hire you? Chances are, while a small business owner might be familiar with those phrases, they would probably search for something much more simple when trying to find you, like “freelance ecommerce writers.”
If you’re a blogger, the same idea rings true. Think about how your ideal audience or followers might search for things related to your niche or blogging topic on Google. Whatever you come up with, see how much you can simplify it. That’s probably what people are most likely to search for.
Once you have a few terms in mind that your clients or readers might search for in order to find your site, we’re going to take them to the next level.
2. Do some keyword research.
When you have a good idea of what your clients are looking for, it’s time to get specific. Using tools like Ubersuggest, Google Analytics, Ahrefs, or Moz, you can see exactly what search terms you can use to maximize your optimization.
The exact process varies depending on which keyword tool you use, but essentially you’ll want to type a good, generic keyword into the tool to start. Any of the phrases you came up with in step 1 will work. If you make and sell crochet hats as a side hustle, it can be as simple as typing “crochet hats” into the search box.
Once you’ve done that, there should be a list of suggested keywords for you to view. The first thing you’ll notice is that the term “crochet hats” isn’t very specific, and a lot of people are using that term on their websites. It will be pretty difficult for a new business to swoop in and appear on the first page of Google for a term that broad.
However, you may also notice that it helps to be specific. A lot of the related search terms have to do with patterns for crochet hats and not hats for sale, so if you tweak your keyword to be “crochet hats for sale,” you won’t have to worry about the wrong people stumbling on your website.
The more specific you can get, the more likely you are to attract the right people to your website. Of course, it’s a good idea to sprinkle in some of the broader terms when they’re relevant, too. Make a good list of keywords to keep in mind as you write your web content, but don’t get started until you consider the next step…
3. Write with “user experience” in mind.
Throughout the years, companies have been using different strategies and techniques to improve their search engine ranking. But ultimately, Google’s algorithm boils down to this: What pages are going to be most relevant to a client’s search and what pages out of those are easiest to read, navigate, and use?
This means that although you have a list of keywords you want to target, you don’t want to force them into your text where they won’t make sense. The algorithm has gotten a lot smarter in recent years and it can tell when you’re trying underhanded tactics, also known as “black hat SEO” or “keyword stuffing.”
Use your keywords where they naturally fit but don’t overdo it. You want your content to be accessible and make sense to the humans that are reading it. Keep in mind that you’re writing for a person, not a robot.
Take this article for example. The keywords I'm hoping to rank for in Google search results are “SEO for beginners.” You might notice that if you do a page search for this (go ahead and try it if you're reading from a computer – click “ctrl + f” on a Windows computer or “command + f” on an Apple computer), you won't find that specific phrase more than once in the body of this text. That's because it doesn't really fit naturally.
The point here is to not force things, even if you're tempted to. Stick with a conversational tone and easy content. The Google algorithm will see right through any “old school” tactics.
4. Format correctly.
There’s more to SEO than just what you write. It turns out that your formatting matters, too. Using proper headings, breaking up big chunks of text with paragraph breaks and bullet points, including images and videos, and adding images and graphics where relevant can all make the page more visually interesting and appealing to readers.
In addition to the formatting of the page itself, you’ll need to make sure any images you use are optimized as well. Each image needs an alt tag, which should be a brief description of the image that helps search engine crawlers know what the image is. While this won’t be seen by your readers, it’s an important step to remember.
5. Update old content.
The best part about SEO is that you don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time you want to boost your site traffic. Search engines like to see that content is timely and relevant, so if you’re stuck for new ideas, why not give some of your older content a refresh?
Adding new links, updating outdated information, including more images, and sprucing up the text are all things that show search engines your website is up-to-date. It’s a good idea to go back through your old content at least once per year to keep it fresh, but you can update it more frequently if your analytics show your page views dropping.
Although there’s always more to learn about SEO, the basics are more than enough to help you build your website and write killer blog posts that will help your business or website get noticed. With a little research and some strategy, you can put yourself lightyears ahead of your competition.
Whether you realize it or not, having a blog content strategy is the key to being found online.
And by now, you likely know how important it is to start a blog or website for your side hustle or small business – but setting one up is the easiest part. The hard part is what comes next: What do you write about?
If you don’t make a plan for your blog, you’ll just be sending your posts out into the ether with no way of knowing whether they’re worth the time you spend writing them.
Here’s how you can build a blog content strategy that will help you achieve your business goals and maximize the value of every blog post.
1. Clarify your intent.
Before you write a single post, you need to think about your “why.”
What are you hoping your blog will accomplish for you? Do you want it to educate your customers on how to use your product or service? Sell your products or services? Show your clients the behind-the-scenes of running your business?
The big thing here is to give value. While it’s okay to use your blog for whatever you want to share, you should think about how your readers and clients can get the most value out of your blog content.
Here’s what I mean by this: Focus on writing about topics that will help your audience – answer frequently asked questions, explain important topics or ideas within your industry, teach what or how to do things, and share how your industry is changing.
If you want your posts to help grow your business (as you should!), you need to do a little research into what your ideal customer is looking for. What are businesses similar to yours blogging about? How can you take those ideas and make them better, customizing them to suit your audience?
Make a list of the types of posts you think your ideal client would want to see. It helps to have a variety, so the more the merrier, especially when you’re first starting out.
All in all, your blog should be an information hub and a way to connect with your potential clients and customers. Don’t write about yourself all the time – it’s okay to do occasionally but be careful about doing it too often.
2. Create an editorial calendar.
Once you’re clear on the types of posts you want to write, it’s time to get planning. First of all, you’ll need to decide how often you want to post. When you’re first starting out, you can play around with posting on different days of the week and at different times to see when your audience is most likely to interact with them.
For the most part, though, it won’t matter when you post, as most people will be finding each post some time after the fact (more on that in step 4!). Once you know how often and when you plan to post to your blog, the next step is to establish an editorial calendar.
Your editorial calendar can take many forms: You can use a spreadsheet, a Google doc, an actual calendar, or a program like Trello or Asana to help create your process. The idea is that you want to keep track of post titles and when each one will go live. If it helps, you can set other deadlines for yourself as well, such as when you want to have the first draft done, when edits will be complete, etc.
I use my Google calendar to keep track of my content.
This “calendar” will help you see what topics you’re posting about so you can make sure you’re not publishing too many similar blogs in a row. It can also help you keep track of ideas for the future, such as seasonal posts around the holidays or yearly events you want to cover.
Even if you’re in a competitive industry and don’t have much of a chance to rank on the first page of Google, SEO will help search engines determine that your website is credible and can put your posts in front of fresh eyes.
4. Schedule and promote.
In order to stay on top of your blog and make sure you post consistently, it’s a good idea to work a little ways ahead so you’re never scrambling to throw a post together at the last minute. Most blogging platforms will let you schedule your posts ahead of time, so once you’re done, you can set a publish date and then forget it.
But you don’t want to let publication be the last step of your blogging process. When a new post goes live, you have an opportunity to promote it across your social media channels! Programs like Buffer, Sprout, and Hootsuite allow you to schedule social media posts in advance, so the minute your post goes live, you can send out a post about it to all of your followers.
If you’re promoting your content on Facebook, your Facebook page (a business or organization page, not your personal page) and Facebook groups you manage will allow you to schedule posts for free, too. This is a great way to save some money and post to Facebook “natively” if you want to save a “paid” slot on your scheduling software for a different platform.
5. Track your analytics.
The blog content strategy that works when you’re first starting out won’t necessarily serve you in the long term. Trends change, customer attitudes shift, and algorithms for search engines demand different approaches to your content year to year, and even sometimes month to month.
It’s vital that you tweak your strategy as you see what works, or doesn’t work, for your business. The best way to do this is to check your analytics with tools like Ubersuggest, Google Analytics, or Moz, depending on your price point.
Again, if you’re just starting out and don’t want to spend money, you can do your own tracking by using a spreadsheet system. The key is to consistently check your own analytics and update your spreadsheet.
All of these tools can give you insight as to which blog posts get the most views and, in some cases, where your clients click once they get to your posts. Paid tools can also help answer questions like these:
Do your readers prefer long posts or short ones?
If you include videos in your posts, do people watch them?
What topics do they like to read about, and which ones do they avoid?
All of this information can help you optimize your blog content strategy over time.
A blog content strategy is the missing piece that will transform your blog into a powerful tool to help you build your business. With a little planning, your blog can boost your sales, increase your web presence, and win you customer loyalty in the long-term.
If you’re thinking about starting a side hustle or own a fledgling business, you might be so concerned with the day-to-day that you forget to plan for the future. But if you don’t have a road map in front of you, how will you know where to go? It’s important to set goals for your business to keep yourself on track, especially in regards to income.
Setting income goals for your business will help you achieve sales and find clients beyond what you ever thought possible. However, if you set random goals without strategic planning, you’ll risk throwing off your trajectory.
Here’s what you need to know about setting income goals for your side hustle.
1. Set business goals first.
Before you can set an income goal, you need to know what to expect from the business itself. Where do you see your side hustle a year from now? Five years? Ten years? There’s no shame in keeping a side hustle as just a hobby for a little extra pocket money, but if you want it to become your full-time job, you need to set some business goals as well as income goals.
In order for your business to grow over time, you’ll need ways to “scale.” This is a term that’s thrown around often in the entrepreneurial world and it’s often misunderstood. When we’re talking about “scaling” a business, we’re not talking about starting or even growing a business. “Scaling” means being able to take on more work without sacrificing much in terms of income or in other areas, like time management or working yourself to death.
Brainstorm additional products or services you can offer in the future as your business expands. If you anticipate hiring other team members or contractors, how many, and when? Will you want to offer any special bonuses to your team? All of these will factor into the income goals you will need to set in order to succeed.
2. Check your history.
Next, take a look back at your business’s sales over time, if any. How much money have you been making so far? What seems realistic to expect for next month or next year if things stay the way they are?
If your projected income based on your sales at this point isn’t as high as you hope, don’t worry. This is just an estimate of what you can expect if your business continues at the level it’s currently functioning at. Your goal should be to grow!
3. Factor in expenses.
For this step, we’ll need to look to your past as well as your future. What have your expenses been so far? Don’t leave anything out, no matter how small. Even the tiniest expenses can add up over time, costing you money and throwing off your estimates.
Now think about new expenses that you can anticipate as your business scales. Those new hires we thought about in step 1? This is where you’ll need to think about how to pay them. If you want to rent a spot in a coworking space, how much would that cost in your area? Do some research and pull up realistic figures so you’ll know what to expect.
4. Pick an end goal.
After you take those expenses into account, it’s time to think about the fun part: Profit! How much money do you want to be making from your side hustle per year in an ideal world?
Add your profit to your expenses and factor in some leeway for emergencies. Be sure to take year-end taxes into account, too, based on your country’s taxation laws. You’ll need to pay taxes on your earnings every year.
Add all these things up and the final figure is the amount you’ll need your side hustle to make each year in order to meet your goal.
5. Create milestones.
By this point, you might have an end goal so large that you can’t imagine ever reaching it. That’s okay! Even the biggest goals can be achieved if you just put one foot in front of the other. The key is to divide your end goal into smaller milestones that are easier to achieve.
You can choose quarterly goals, monthly goals, or even weekly goals if that’s feasible for your business. The key is to match up these income goals with your business goals so you’re growing your business over time. What can you do this week, month, or quarter to find more clients and boost your income?
6. Write it down.
It’s no secret that actually recording your goals somewhere makes it more likely that you’ll actually work toward and achieve them. In fact, it’s science.
Once you’ve gotten much of the background information worked out, write down your goals. I would even go as far as encouraging you to literally write them somewhere you can see them. In this day and age, it’s easy to record something digitally on a spreadsheet, in a Google doc, or an iOS note. I’m particularly guilty of this myself.
But physically writing things down helps us to better remember whatever it is we’re trying to remember and give it more power.
Putting these things somewhere you’ll see them often will further reinforce those goals in your mind. You’ll be even more likely to put in the work needed to make things happen. Trust me – it’s made all the difference for me in my business.
While setting income goals for your business can feel overwhelming at first, the key is to do your research and use real numbers in order to project the final figure. No goal is too lofty to aim for.
As the saying goes, shoot for the moon! Even if you don’t hit your goal, striving for greatness will lead to more success than you could otherwise achieve.
Let's play a compare and contrast game – a contract vs. a letter of consent. Are they the same?
If you’re new to the world of freelancing, you might come across the term “letter of consent” while negotiating an agreement. A letter of consent is one way for freelancers to document an agreement with a new client, but is it the best one? How does it measure up to a legal contract?
Here’s what you need to know.
What is a letter of consent?
A letter of consent is an informal agreement between two parties. Where contracts are legally binding, letters of consent, or agreement, are not.
Letters of consent are common in situations where there needs to be only a casual acknowledgment of agreement that something is taking place, usually when the stakes are low.
For example, a letter of consent for a freelance writer might contain the names of both parties, the nature of the tasks assigned, and the method of compensation.
Usually, letters of consent are not used in a setting where money is changing hands. While it helps to have an agreement in writing, the client is not legally obligated to follow through on the terms, so you could very easily end up not getting paid for your hard work.
If you’re a freelancer and a potential client wants you to agree to a letter of consent rather than a contract, think twice. The terms of a letter are not enough to protect you if the working relationship goes south or your client refuses to pay. If you intend to get paid for your work, you should consider a contract instead.
What is a contract?
A contract, on the other hand, is a formal agreement between two parties that lays out the terms and conditions of an agreement. Legally, a contract must contain several elements: A purpose or offer, mutual acceptance of the agreement, the promises each party is offering, and the material terms and conditions, such as payment and deadlines.
The contract must also be signed by freely consenting adults in their right minds. While a contract must follow a much more specific format than a letter of consent, it’s also legally binding, meaning it offers you recourse if your client does not fulfill their end of the bargain.
There are many templates online to help you draw up a contract if needed. Contrary to popular belief, a contract doesn’t need to be written or approved by a lawyer to be valid. Of course, if you can have one look it over before you sign, that’s awesome! If not, just be sure to read through anything a client sends you carefully to make sure you agree to the terms.
A Contract vs. Letter of Consent
Letters of consent are okay when you’re doing pro-bono work where no money is being exchanged. As long as there are specific parameters in place to determine the amount of work, type of work expected, and what is being offered in exchange, a short letter between the two parties should be fine.
For example, if you agree to do some work for a client in exchange for promotion or a good reference, a letter of consent is likely all that’s needed. There is still a possibility that one party will not follow through with the agreement, but there is much less at stake than there would be with a paying job.
When we're talking about actual work for money, however, the safest bet is to go with an ironclad contract that explicitly lays out the work being done, the timeframe it will be done in, whether or not there will be edits made, and how those edits can be requested and returned. You should also cover consequences for nonpayment, such as a late fee for missing an invoice.
If a client doesn’t pay, you’ll have wasted valuable time that could have been spent on other, more lucrative projects. Even worse, one missed payment can be the difference between paying bills or struggling to get by for some freelancers.
At the end of the day, contracts offer much more protection for freelancers than letters of consent. As much as we all want to trust our clients, nonpayment is unfortunately a very real issue for freelancers across a variety of industries. Always insist on a contract when completing client work. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
If you’re a freelance writer, chances are you’ve seen job postings or heard about freelance writing for an agency as opposed to going it on your own. Digital marketing agencies usually look for remote copywriters to produce web content and blog posts for their clients. This practice is good for the agency, as it’s usually much cheaper to hire freelancers than to have an in-house writing team. But is it good for the writers as well?
Before you apply to an agency’s writing position, there are some pros and cons to consider. Here’s what you need to know.
The Drawbacks of Agency Work
Your agency experience will largely depend on whether the company itself is trustworthy and reliable as well as how they’ve built their business model. There are some unscrupulous agencies out there that will try to take advantage of their freelance writers, especially if those writers are relatively new in their careers. Here are some things to beware of when considering agency work.
Pay is often much lower than you can negotiate on your own. Agencies are looking out for their bottom line. They make more of a profit when they pay you less. Often, agencies pay close to minimum wage which isn’t enough for most people to live on. Unless you’re very experienced, it’s hard to make a lot of money at an agency.
It’s harder to guard your hours. Even with part-time agency work, you’re often expected to be online at the same time as the rest of the team. This helps the agency in case there are any last-minute requests. It can be hard to sign off at the end of the day if there’s still work to be done, leading to pressure to work overtime.
You have little or no say in the work itself. Marketing agencies might take on a variety of clients in different industries, even ones you’re not interested in. With what I call the “lone wolf” freelance option, where you’re not working with a middle-man agency but finding gigs on your own, you have more opportunities to seek out niches you want to write about and pitch to those clients.
Agencies can be incredibly fast-paced. Agencies often must turn content around on a tight deadline. You may only have a day or two to produce the work they need, which doesn’t allow for a lot of editing time. To succeed at an agency, you must have a keen eye for detail and be able to produce high-quality work on a limited schedule.
Benefits of Writing for Agencies
On the flip side, there are plenty of agencies out there that would be great to work for. Plenty of writers choose that path. Ethical agencies can be a great way for writers to bring in a regular paycheck. Here are a few of the unique benefits of writing for an agency:
The work is consistent. Freelancing can be unpredictable and you’ll need to spend a significant chunk of time pitching new clients and/or applying to job posts to guarantee a reliable stream of income. Agency work tends to be much more stable, with a set number of articles you’re expected to do each week or hours you can expect to work.
You’ll get paid on time. Freelancers often face late payments or need to chase down clients when their invoices go unpaid. Agencies are much more likely to pay on a set schedule like an office job would.
Agencies handle client communication. When you work for an agency, you rarely have to interact with a client one-on-one. This cuts down on time responding to emails and allows you more time to write.
It’s a great way to gain experience. For those just starting out in the world of freelance writing, working for an agency will allow you to produce a lot of content, often across multiple platforms, to build a diverse portfolio of work. You can use that throughout your career as you move on to pitching clients later on.
Is Freelance Writing for an Agency Right for You?
Whether agency work is right for you depends on what you’re currently looking for in your career. If you’re a newer freelancer, agency work can allow you to produce a large volume of work for a future portfolio while providing steady work and a consistent pay schedule.
However, freelance writing is a competitive field; many agencies know they can get away with paying you much less than you could negotiate on your own. If you’re more well-established as a writer and have plenty of experience to help you land clients, you can make significantly more without tying yourself to an agency.
Still, the consistent work and regular pay from agency work is attractive even to writers who are further along in their careers. Unsurprisingly, there are exceptions to all of the cons listed above. If the reliability of agency work appeals to you, it’s worth looking around to see if you can find one that will allow you to work the way you want.
There are pros and cons to client work and agency work alike. Ultimately, the path you take depends on what you want to get out of your writing career. No matter which you choose, you can eventually turn a significant profit by freelance writing from wherever in the world you are.