Affiliate marketing and freelancing are two common methods for making money online. Affiliate marketing involves promoting products in order to earn an affiliate commission, while freelancers earn money by offering their skills as a service to businesses or individuals. Despite the potential of both business models, there are 5 often ignored hazards you should consider before choosing either, going with another online business model like local lead gen, or sticking with traditional employment. In the following article, we take a closer look at affiliate marketing vs freelancing so you can decide which income opportunity is best for you. Plus, 5 simple steps to start making money with either opportunity!
What is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is a digital marketing strategy where you promote products in order to earn a commission on the sale of the product. With affiliate marketing, you either partner directly with a brand or go through an affiliate network like CJ.com to get your own custom affiliate link. You earn money by adding your custom link to content you promote, and when someone clicks your link and makes a purchase, you’re credited with a portion of the sale.
How can you promote products?
Affiliate marketers use various marketing channels to promote affiliate links. As an affiliate marketer, you can make money by promoting products through channels like:
- Email - Promoting product by constructing an email list of relevant, potential customers and sending out regular emails with valuable content that incorporates your affiliate links.
- Blog - Creating a niche website around a topic like personal finance or travel and publishing regular blog content linking to affiliate products where possible.
- YouTube - Creating an audience through a video content strategy and recommending relevant products that would interest the audience.
- Paid advertising - Paying for advertising space on major platforms like Google or Facebook to direct clicks to content with your affiliate links.
What is freelancing?
Instead of working in a company like traditional employees, freelancing is self-employment where you work for clients on a project or contract basis. If you have an in-demand skill, there are businesses that will pay for your services.
Where can you find freelance work?
With the right skill set and proof of ability, finding freelance work nowadays is quite easy with sites like UpWork, Fiverr, or Freelancer. These are freelance marketplaces where businesses go to find talent, and individual freelancers create profiles to attract businesses in hiring them for the work.
What kind of freelancing work can you do?
Businesses hire freelancers in a broad range of career fields, from accounting and finance, to information technology (IT) and medical services. According to LinkedIn, the 15 most in-demand freelance skills right now are:
- Web design
- Search engine optimization (SEO)
- Graphic design
- Social media marketing
- Web development
- Data analytics
- Video production
- Accounting and bookkeeping
- Application development
- Artificial intelligence
Affiliate marketing vs freelancing: The key differences and some similarities
Work from anywhere
If you engage in either of these ways of making money online, you’ll have great flexibility in choosing where you work.
Interrelated skill sets
As an affiliate marketer, you’ll need to have some of the common skills freelancers have, like writing, SEO, and video production, if you want to be successful.
Low startup costs
You can get started in affiliate marketing for substantially less than a traditional business, with startup costs ranging from $0 to $500, depending on whether you build and promote to your audience through free organic or paid methods. Freelancing is essentially free, with freelancing marketplaces usually taking a percentage of the exchange once the client pays you for your work.
5 often ignored hazards you should consider
1. Income uncertainty
When generating income with either freelancing or affiliate marketing, you don’t earn a fixed amount each month like you would with a traditional job. Some months you may earn a substantial sum of money, while other months you may not earn much at all. This can make it difficult to plan for and pay recurring expenses such as rent, car payments, or anything else you need to pay on a monthly basis.
2. No benefits or help with retirement planning
Unlike traditional employment where you usually receive benefits like paid time off (PTO), help with health insurance, and 401K planning and matching, you’re left to figure it out by yourself.
3. Responsible for quarterly tax payments
When you work for a company as an employee in the United States, they withhold and send estimated tax payments to the IRS for you. When you make money with either freelancing or affiliate marketing, you’ll need to estimate your own tax payments and send them to the IRS quarterly. If you don’t keep track of your taxes and pay each quarter to the IRS, besides the burden of having to hand over a large lump sum of cash over to the IRS for the taxes you owe, you’ll also likely face a late penalty when tax season roles around!
4. Not everyone has the personality required
With many traditional working arrangements, you’re usually going to get paid as long as you show up, even if some days you give minimum effort to your role. Also, your coworkers and superiors are there to hold you accountable for your tasks. As a freelancer or affiliate marketer, you only get paid when you produce results. However, it takes a lot of internal motivation to produce results day in and day out, especially when the only person who’s really there to hold you accountable is yourself.
5. Extreme competition
Anyone with a computer can get started with either of these. In affiliate marketing, all you have to do is sign up for an affiliate program, of which there are many open to everyone like Amazon Associates or CJ affiliate, and you have the potential to make money. If you have some digital skills and want to freelance, there are plenty of websites you can create a freelancer profile and compete for jobs. Although this sounds great if you’re just getting started, it also means both opportunities are highly saturated with beginners and experienced professionals alike from around the globe.
What about local lead generation?
Local lead generation is a less competitive, alternative online business model that can generate more stable income than either affiliate marketing or freelancing. With local lead generation, you create a website around one of the many profitable local lead gen business niches, develop that website so that it ranks high in organic search for a particular location in Google, and then sell the valuable leads it generates to businesses for hundreds to thousands of dollars each month. Businesses that partner with you usually stick with you for the long term because you provide them tremendous value and they want to avoid their competition from getting the leads you generate. Therefore, once you get a website to rank and connect with a local business to buy the leads, you can generate stable revenue each month with very little overhead cost or further work on your part.
Pros of affiliate marketing
Affiliate marketing is one of those rare business models out there where you can genuinely make a passive income from your efforts. When you create and post content on the internet, it sticks there forever. So, if you use marketing channels where your content can reach internet users in the future, like with blogging or YouTube videos, your affiliate links can still generate income years down the road.
Avoid direct contact with clients and customers
Affiliate marketers have all the resources and tools they need readily available to make money without ever having to interact with other people. You just need to sign up for an affiliate program, get your links, promote those links by creating or copying content, and then the commission money goes right to your bank account.
Many programs and products to try selling
According to Truelist, over 80% of brands use an affiliate program as part of their marketing strategy. Therefore, affiliate marketers can choose from and promote products from millions of companies. If you find your affiliate marketing efforts aren’t working for one group of products or niche, you can always move onto other niches and try selling products there.
Brands depend on it
In our digital age, affiliate marketing has secured itself a permanent place at the table for essential digital marketing strategies. Affiliate marketing is so important and beneficial to brands compared to other forms of marketing because it’s a performance-based marketing strategy. With affiliate marketing, you only make money when you actually sell products, and therefore businesses only have to pay you when you have actually helped them make money.
An affiliate marketing business has incredible scalability. You can create affiliate marketing funnels to promote products across many niches. You're able continuously expand your income potential by hiring out content creation needs or even using paid advertising like Facebook ads to boost sales. Depending how much revenue you’re willing to reinvest, an affiliate marketing business can grow to extraordinary heights.
Cons of affiliate marketing
Unless you’re going into affiliate marketing with the financial ability to spend on paid advertising, don’t expect to earn money right away. Your results depend heavily on many factors, like which marketing channels you use, your niche, and the quality of the content you produce. For example, according to BuzzLogic, it takes a new blog 3 - 6 months on average to gain traction in the search engine.
No guarantee of compensation
You may put months or even years of work into an affiliate marketing business and see very little compensation for your efforts. You only get paid when you produce results by selling the affiliate product you're recommending. If you choose an overly saturated niche, make bad product choices, or just produce bad content, your affiliate business likely isn’t ever going to takeoff.
Affiliate program rules
Each business sets its own guidelines for its affiliate marketing program. These rules dictate how you can promote the brand and also specify payment terms. Not only do affiliate program rules limit how you can market the product, with for example many like the Fiverr affiliate program prohibiting the use of paid advertising, but keeping track of them all to make sure you're getting paid can also be quite a hassle.
Successful affiliate marketers leverage a broad range of skills. If you’re just getting into the world of affiliate marketing, the learning curve may be huge if you have to start from scratch learning the many skills required to be successful. According to EasyAffiliate, the top 5 skills affiliate marketers should have are:
- Problem solving - Understand customer pain points and provide a solution through your affiliate product.
- Creativity - Creating unique content that stands apart from the competition and attracts customers.
- Communication - The ability to acknowledge your audience’s wants and needs and clearly express ideas and information to draw them in.
- Technical aptitude - The ability to use digital tools like WordPress for content creation and an understanding of technology to succeed with search engine optimization (SEO).
- Productivity - The ability to put all the skills together to create consistent value for your audience on a regular schedule.
No loyal customers
With freelancing, you can build a client list that is likely to continue reaching out to you for opportunities when the need for your services arrives. However, as an affiliate marketer, it's difficult to develop a loyal customer base because you are just promoting the product of another brand, so the relationship is usually built between the brand and the customer.
Risk of affiliate program ending
Brands don’t keep affiliate programs around forever. Therefore, the affiliate links you put into your content are likely to lose their ability to generate money, eventually.
Pros of freelancing
More consistent income
As a freelancer, you usually do work for a few clients on a project or ongoing contractual basis, so you have some insight into how much money you’re going to make. It’s not uncommon to have multiple clients that regularly hire you for work, so your income is oftentimes more consistent and predictable than with affiliate marketing.
Usually earn higher rates
If you’re considering moving into freelance work from a normal day job, it’s likely you will earn more money. Skilled freelancers in the USA earn more per hour than 70% of employees in traditional jobs.
Work as much or as little as you like
As a freelancer, you determine how much you want to work. You can work part-time hours if you prefer a more laid-back life, or take on as many clients as you can handle to maximize your income potential.
Minimal penalty for taking time off
As a freelancer, your penalty for taking some time off is that you don’t get paid. You still have your portfolio of work and client references to return to when you’re ready to work again. If you decide to take time off from your content marketing efforts as an affiliate, it’s likely going to negatively affect your organic rank. Platforms like YouTube and Google use algorithms to determine where your content ranks in search, and they give priority to consistent content publishing.
Cons of freelancing
You need to be available for clients
Although you can usually work wherever you want as a freelancer, you do have to be readily available to clients. Some clients are easy to work with and respect your schedule, while others can be more demanding and expect you to be available whenever they desire.
Your schedule can be hectic
When you have multiple clients with various project timelines, organizing your freelancing schedule can be difficult. If you don’t do it well enough or just take on too many things at once with overlapping deadlines, you may find yourself with an overwhelming work schedule.
Limited by your time
When you freelance, you trade your time for money, and you only have so much time to trade. Your income is limited by the number of hours you can handle working.
Often necessary to specialize for each client
As a freelancer, you’ll often have to put time and effort into learning about the specifics of the businesses you’re doing work for. For example, let’s say you’re a freelance marketer or freelance writer and you specialize in financial content. Even though you have your main skill and baseline knowledge of a specific industry, each client you take on is likely to have a slightly different business model. In this example, you could take on work for an accounting firm trying to attract clients for tax season, an investment company trying to attract more capital, or a bank trying to draw more people in need of a home mortgage. A successful marketing campaign will look different for each of these clients and require you to develop a niche-specific understanding.
How to get started
Where to start with affiliate marketing
Before actually diving in and spending time and money on an affiliate marketing business, you may find it beneficial to learn the basic skills from free resources or from one of the many affiliate marketing courses available, like Wealthy Affiliate. Once you have the basic skills and knowledge, these are the steps you’ll usually follow to generate affiliate income.
5 steps to start affiliate marketing
- Do market research to find a niche you can be profitable in
- Become an affiliate partner by signing up for affiliate programs that have products within your niche
- Choose which marketing channels you will promote your affiliate products through like by blog post, email marketing, or social media
- Copy or create content, then publish and promote it consistently
- Optimize your results by running paid advertising like Google Ads or Facebook Ads to your affiliate content until you see enough organic traffic to your content
Freelancers need skills to make money
If you want to earn money as a freelancer, you first need to determine if you currently have a high value skill by browsing through freelancing platforms to see what other freelancers with that skill are charging. If you find that you don’t currently have a high value skill, don’t worry! There are plenty of resources on the internet to learn valuable digital skills like bookkeeping, programming, or digital marketing. Let’s use the digital marketer example and run through the steps to becoming a freelance digital marketer.
5 steps to earn freelancer income
- Learn a digital marketing-related skill by finding free resources on Google and YouTube or pay for a focused course. You can find courses on SEO, paid advertising, influencer marketing, and more.
- Sign up and create a profile to showcase your digital marketing skills on freelancer platforms
- Network on professional sites like LinkedIn with businesses in your niche and attend in-person meetups with others in your field
- Create and update a portfolio of work you can present to clients as you successfully complete projects
- Build and maintain a client and potential client list you can reach out to for opportunities
You’ll likely have to price your services on the low end when getting started with freelance digital marketing or any other service to attract clients and start getting positive reviews. Once you get more work than you can handle, it's proof your skills are growing in value and it’s time to raise your prices!
Every successful person currently enjoying the lifestyle benefits an online income allows started with a dream to make it happen. Whether you decide to earn freelance income as a marketing consultant, sign up as an amazon affiliate, or generate stable and passive income with local lead generation, your online business success story could be right around the corner! All you have to do is take the leap...