How to Start Your Own Affiliate Program

affiliate marketingThinking about starting your own affiliate program to promote your products online?

Good for you!

Having your own affiliate program is the best possible way to ramp up site traffic and increase product sales without breaking your marketing budget, as affiliates are paid on a pay-for-performance basis.

But before you rush into affiliate marketing as a merchant, the first things you’ll have to consider is how you want to manage your affiliate program… i.e. use software, a service.. a network?

Listed below are some of the affiliate program management applications and services — and in an effort to save you time, I’ve mentioned only a few of the solutions available — those used by most of my affiliated merchants.

There are basically 4 different types of affiliate management solutions. They are:

  1. Custom Software – You can have proprietary software written and hosted on your own server. However, unless your company has very specific needs not served by other solutions, this can be a very costly endeavor. I highly recommend that you look at a number of third party solutions before resorting to this option.
  2. Affiliate Network – Affiliate networks are the most expensive, yet feature-rich affiliate management solutions. Some networks charge either a flat monthly fee or a percentage of sales to handle all your affiliate sales transactions and in handle commission payment processing. The biggest benefit to joining most affiliate networks is that thousands of affiliates will be introduced to your offer as soon as your offer is made available on the network. Some networks are trade-specific, such as Credit Soup, which promotes only offers from credit card companies and financial institutions.
  3. Remotely-Hosted and Third-Party Software – You can buy an existing script for placement on your own server, or lease a solution that resides on the leasing company’s server.
  4. Shopping Cart Integrated – Some shopping carts, like 1ShoppingCart have affiliate program management solutions built right into them.

Understanding the different types of solutions, here are a few more things you’ll want to factor into your decision.

Do You Sell a Digital Product?

If you sell a digital product, like an ebook or software, you should definitely consider Clickbank, which acts as a third party payment processor, (say THAT 3 times fast) and has a built-in affiliate program/network. It is the company I’ve used since 2003 to process sales of my Super Affiliate Handbook. Jim Edwards and I also use their services for Affiliate Business Blueprint sales.

Checks arrive like clockwork every two weeks.

It’s super cheap to set up with Clickbank too. There’s a one-time $50 setup charge, and then a $1.00 fee and 7.5% applied to every order processed. Order fees are split between you and the affiliate who referred the sale.

Best of all, Clickbank has thousands of affiliates in their network who are always looking for digital products to promote…Nothing but nothing sells like information on the ‘net, and Clickbank affiliates know that well!

Sure, Clickbank’s affiliate program has its limitations, not least of which is the inability to contact the affiliates who promote your product. (There are some easy workarounds to that problem, however.)

Nevertheless, it is a ‘best bet’ for getting an affiliate program started quickly, easily and inexpensively.

Do You Sell Hard Goods or a Service?

Merchants who sell hard goods and services have many affiliate program management solution options… and I do mean many.

Do you want to have your program introduced to tens of thousands of affiliates… today? Then consider partnering with Commission Junction, the largest affiliate network.

Although CJ is a costly solution – it will cost thousands to gain access, and an annual maintenance fee of 250 (or more) dollars – having so many affiliates available to promote your product from the outset, may offset the initial and ongoing costs of having CJ administer your program.

Clickbank is another – much cheaper – option, and they now permit the sale of hard goods.If you like the idea of having thousands of affiliates on your ‘doorstep’ by joining an affiliate network, but think CJ’s prices are a too steep, you might want to consider:

Alternatives to the big (and smaller) affiliate networks can be found through…

Remotely-Hosted and Local Third-Party Solutions

If you’d want to save money and don’t mind finding your own affiliates then a Third-Party affiliate management program solution may be right for you.

  1. My Affiliate Program is a very popular robust and completely customizable third-party hosted Affiliate Tracking and Management solution offered by Kolimbo (Kowabunga Technologies).They brand themselves as the ‘The Original Affiliate Tracking & Management Solution Provider, Since 1997′ and claim to ‘power over 500,000 affiliates, and 2000 private networks, and continues to hold its place as the #1 private affiliate software and management solution on the market today.’Indeed, many of the most successful companies with which I do business use the ‘My Affiliate Program’ to power their affiliate programs.
  2. Ultimate Affiliate by Groundbreak is a script that allows you to run a fully featured affiliate program from your own website with no monthly fees, while promising easy setup and free updates to their software. Many of the merchants whose products I promote use Ultimate Affiliate. As an affiliate, I appreciate Ultimate Affiliate’s simple, easy-to-use statistics interface.

Last, but certainly not least are affiliate management program solutions which are built right into your shopping cart.

Once you’ve decided to start your own affiliate program, I recommend that you also pick up a copy of the Super Affiliate Handbook to learn how affiliates think and like to work.

Although it is the industry’s standard training manual for new affiliates, it is also very popular with affiliate managers and owner/merchants who want to make the most out of their affiliate programs.


  1. says

    Hey Rosalind,

    That’s a nice step-by-step summary. You can probably add more value to this article by mentioning some rules about ‘affiliate agreements’ and how to drive affiliates to your offer.

    Just finished writing my own guide on the same topic, so I have a few thoughts running in my head. You can read it here:

    Hope you like it :)

  2. Thush says

    Great post and gave me a better understanding on this subject.

    One question – I’m looking to start an Affiliate Network where there is no Network in this country.

    I’m looking to use a Private Label program from one of the established Networks and pay them an override commission of 25%. (e.g. – If the Commission is 5%, pay the Affiliate 4%, keep my commission for running the Network 1% and will charge 25% extra on 5% from Merchant and pay this for the Network)

    Their platform is quite advanced and even can manage other channels such as Display Advertising.

    Is this a good option?


    • says

      Hi Thush,

      Working with an established network is always a good idea. That way you always have support. As to what and how to charge, I’m afraid I cannot really comment as I’m unfamiliar with your business.


  3. says

    Hey Rosalind, Have gone through your course once as suggested to get an overview and am now working through it step by step. I tried once before with another program (which will remain unnamed) and found it next to impossible to get through. Yours is very well written and though there have been stumbling blocks it is coming along fine. Thanks so much for a great publication and you will be hearing more from me as my business grows and I know it will. Hey it helps you are a fellow canuck and also a BC’er.

  4. says

    The success record of Rosalind Gardner is a very inspiring story. We need more entrepreneurs like her, who could introduce innovations in entrepreneurship – specially in doing business in the Internet

  5. Alex Ryder says

    It is really a great idea of starting an affiliate program and it would help a lot to many people to gain good strength and reputation.

    • says

      I would like to start my own affilite program, i am in South Africa. How can you help me, what do i need to do this? Is it possible to start as a setlite of your company? I hope to hear from you soon.

  6. says

    Hi Rosalind,

    I was thinking about starting an Affiliate program. But how? This article of yours gave me a clear picture about almost everything I wanted to know.

    I surely value this one from you.


    Sandy Phillips

  7. says

    Hi Rosalind, I have been following you for years but never sent a comment.
    So here’s the first, hopefully of many.
    I want to set up links for affiliates with hard goods, but the industry is like many hurting today and I know they have not been introduced to affiliate marketing before or 90% of them .
    I have contacted a few companies to which they don’t understand how the affiliate programs work and not too sure of it.

    How could I get them introduced to this system and what would you expect to calculate a payment percentage on all various products.

    Dave Ailey

    • says

      Hi Dave,

      That can be a tough row to hoe, indeed. There are a couple sample notes in the Super Affiliate Handbook that you can use to send to those folks which explain affiliate marketing and how they can get started.

      Based on your niche, you might want to consider setting up a dropship arrangement with those companies, much as I’ve done at with watches. You use PayPal to take the orders and sell the parts and forward the orders to the company.

      Just make sure that you cross all your t’s and dot all your i’s in the event of returns. I don’t think you’d want to find an engine on your doorstep. :-)

      I hope that helps!


      P.S. Great start on the site, and cool that you got comments so quickly. Proof of a great niche and the power of WordPress!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Disclosure: We are compensated for our reviews. Click here for details.