How to Start an Affiliate Program: Your Complete Step-by-Step Guide

You write the best content in your field, your Facebook ads are crushing it, and your last three YouTube videos went viral.

In other words, you’ve got a killer marketing team. And while having the world’s best bloggers, video editors, and web designers on your side never hurt, you should never forget one of the most basic rules of eCommerce:

Your best marketers are happy customers.

So why not reward those customers for being vocal about how much they love you? If you start an affiliate program for your online business, you’ll be doing just that: letting your most loyal and enthusiastic clients share in your success.

But now you’re probably wondering, “How do I get into affiliate marketing from the merchant side?” Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

In today’s article, we’re going to take a deep dive into the following:

  1. What is affiliate marketing and how does it work for beginners?
  2. What is the best affiliate marketing program for beginners?
  3. How to start an affiliate marketing program for your business

By the end of this article, you’ll know exactly how to start an affiliate program that grows your business, builds customer loyalty, and increases revenue.

What Is Affiliate Marketing and How Does It Work?

Affiliate marketing is giving customers a small commission on sales that come from their specific recommendation of your products.

There are two sides to affiliate marketing.

First, you have affiliate marketing from the affiliate side. Those are users who earn commissions by promoting another company’s products in their content.

For example, let’s say you’re a travel blogger.

In one of your blog posts, you recommend that people book their airline tickets through an online booking service called “TravelMonster” (no, this isn’t a sister company to OptinMonster):

If you’ve signed up for TravelMonster’s affiliate program, you’ll get a commission from any sales that come from your blog’s affiliate link:

affiliate marketing cycle

But now let’s turn the tables and look at affiliate marketing from the company side.

If you’re an eCommerce merchant who has generated enough traffic and business for your own website, you may want to start an affiliate program to reward your customers for talking about you.

In this case, you would start an affiliate marketing program, provide customized and trackable links to other content creators, and you’d be responsible for paying commissions on sales made using your affiliate links.

At the end of the day you increase sales and your users are incentivized to advertise your product. It’s about as close to a genuine “win-win” scenario as life gets.

What Is the Best Affiliate Program for Beginners?

Before setting up your affiliate program, you should already have created an eCommerce store with products to sell. Then, you’ll need to choose which platform you’d like to work with.

Just like any aspect of your business, you want to make sure your affiliate program is viable for your business and valuable to your customers. Plus, it also needs to be easy to use.

Some third-party integrations have hidden costs that hardly make their affiliate program worthwhile unless you run a massive operation. Others can be just downright confusing for both you and your affiliates.

Here are three tools we recommend to help total beginners to advanced users start an affiliate marketing program:

Easy Affiliate

easy affiliate homepage

Easy Affiliate is an all-in-one affiliate program plugin for WordPress. It’s easy to install and will have your affiliate program up and running in minutes. One of the many reasons we recommend going with this plugin rather than other affiliate program services is because you won’t need to pay monthly fees or percentages on each affiliate transaction.

In other words, Easy Affiliate’s pricing model is very transparent: you pay one price upfront and you’re good to go.

With Easy Affiliate, you can set up a completely self-hosted affiliate program by simply launching the setup wizard and following the easy steps.

It comes with a built-in affiliate dashboard that lets users get trackable links, monitor their commissions, and view their payment history. Easy Affiliate also autogenerates other important pages you need like affiliate applications and logins.

When it comes to starting an affiliate program for beginners, Easy Affiliate makes the process just about as easy as can be.

Pro Tip: If you’re looking for more comprehensive tools for your blog or website, you may want to sign up for Easy Affiliate’s sister company, MemberPress, an all-in-one plugin that lets you build membership sites.



AffiliateWP is a powerful solution and is easy to set up. It integrates very well with your WordPress site which can be helpful when learning how to navigate the platform (assuming you’re already familiar with WordPress).

You can set up and manage referral links and even have tiered affiliate referrals with AffiliateWP’s Pro add-ons (but note that the Pro add-ons are only available in the Ultimate or Professional package costing $499 and $249, respectively).

Finally, AffiliateWP can be used seamlessly with other popular eCommerce tools such as WooCommerce, PayPal Buttons, MemberPress, and more.

Affiliate Manager

affiliates manager plugin

This plugin is attractive to many merchants for one reason: it has a powerful free version! Plus, it’s got some really great features to it. It’s easy to install, you can set up and track your affiliate links, and integrates with some big names like WooCommerce, SimpleShopping Cart, Stripe Payments, and more.

Even if you decide to go with the Premium package, though, the cost is still very appealing. For a single site plugin (meaning you can only use it for one of your WP sites), you’re looking at just $39.99.

How to Start an Affiliate Program

The first step to starting an affiliate program is choosing the platform you’d like to work with. The three listed above are great starting points and for this article, we’ll be starting an affiliate program with Easy Affiliate.

Here’s what you’ll need to do to follow along:

Visit the Easy Affiliate site and click Get Easy Affiliate Now.

get easy affiliate now

Choose one of Easy Affiliate’s plans and follow the checkout process to complete the purchase.

Once you purchase the plugin, you should receive an email with some installation instructions (don’t worry, we’re going to go through all of those):

easy affiliate installation email

This email is super important for two reasons. First, it gives you the latest version of Easy Affiliate to download (this will be your plugin).

It also has your license key which you’ll need in order to activate the plugin later. Once you’ve downloaded the latest version of Easy Affiliate (from above), you can head over to your WordPress dashboard.

Find Plugins in the right-hand column and click Add New:

wordpress dashboard add new plugin

At the top, you’ll have the option to Upload Plugin:

upload new plugin

Simply upload the .zip file from Easy Affiliate and then click Install Now:

install plugin

Finally, click the Activate Plugin button to make it start working.

activate plugin

And you’re all set! Like we said before, Easy Affiliate makes the process of starting your own affiliate program about as easy as can be.

Starting an Affiliate Program With Easy Affiliate

Now that your Easy Affiliate plugin is installed, let’s look at how to use it. Immediately after activating the plugin, you’ll be redirected to the Easy Affiliate tab in your WordPress dashboard.

easy affiliate menu wordpress

On the Easy Affiliate page, scroll down a bit and click on the Launch the Wizard button. The setup wizard will walk you through setting up your affiliate program step-by-step.

easy affiliate launch wizard

The first step is to enter your Easy Affiliate license key (you can find it in the installation email we mentioned earlier or in your Easy Affiliate account).

Copy your license key and paste it in the field provided.

easy affiliate license key

Once the key is verified, hit the Save and Continue button.

Next, Easy Affiliate will check for any existing affiliate program you have installed and offer you an option to migrate. If you don’t have one, simply click the Save and Continue button to move on.

migrate existing affiliate program

Now you need to choose what eCommerce plugins you want Easy Affiliate to track affiliate sales with.

Easy Affiliate seamlessly integrates with most popular shopping carts such as WooCommerce and Easy Digital Downloads.

Click the toggle button to enable the options you want. For this tutorial, we’ll enable WooCommerce. Then, click Save and Continue.

enable woocommerce in easy affiliate

After that, simply type in your business information including the name, address, and other details.

add business info to easy affiliate

Again, click Save and Continue to move on to the next step in the setup process.

Now it’s time to set up the affiliate program registration process. Easy Affiliate gives you three options to choose from:

  • Application
  • Public
  • Private

affiliate registration options

We recommend choosing the Application option so that you can learn more about applicants before accepting them as affiliates for your brand.

You can also enable other options like when to collect affiliate addresses and tax information as well as displaying an affiliate agreement on the registration page.

Once you’ve enabled the options you want, click Save and Continue.

Next, you’ll want to set your commission type. You can either pay your affiliates a flat rate for purchases made on your site (BlueHost’s affiliate program, for example, pays a flat rate of $65 to their affiliates) or you can set up a percentage of sales.

set commissions and payouts

Quick Tip: You can also set up commissions based on specific products. OptinMonster’s affiliate program, for instance, pays its affiliates different percentages based on the type of product sold.

Before moving forward, select your payment method as well and choose whether you want to pay commissions on all sales or just on the first sale only.

Hit Save and Continue to go to the next step, which is adding creatives for your affiliate program.

Creatives are marketing materials that you can provide to affiliates such as website logos, product photos, banner ads, text documents, and so on.

Simply click the +Add button to upload your creatives. If you don’t have any creatives yet, you can click the Skip and Continue button and add them later.

add creatives to your affiliate program

That’s it!

Your self-hosted affiliate program is all set up. Just click the Finish Setup & Exit Wizard button.

finish easy affiliate setup

Managing Your Affiliate Program with Easy Affiliate

While there are many things you can do in Easy Affiliate, today we’ll focus on the basics.

Easy Affiliate autogenerates the important site pages you need for your affiliate program including the application page, login, and affiliate dashboard.

This will help you automate most of your affiliate program.

To view your pages, go to Easy Affiliate » Settings from your WordPress dashboard. In the General tab, you can preview and edit any of these pages.

autogenerated affiliate pages easy affiliate

You’ll now have a link to give potential affiliates that allows them to sign up to your program:

affiliate application page

They can then log in to their dashboard at any point.

And in their dashboard, they can review their commissions, links/banners, stats, and payment history.

easy affiliate pre-styled affiliate dashboard

Your users now have everything they need to start promoting your business.

On your end, you can manage your affiliates from your WordPress dashboard and track important affiliate stats across your site:

easy affiliate reports

You can also change settings like commission structures, marketing integrations, click history, transaction history, etc.

In other words, you can manage every aspect of your affiliate program through the Easy Affiliate menu on your WordPress dashboard in a way that is intuitive and user-friendly.

Again, this article has simply scratched the surface of what you can do by starting an affiliate marketing strategy. In the future, you’ll want to create marketing materials (like banners) and sync Easy Affiliate with your email list.

Integrate Your Affiliate Program With Your Content

At this point, you’ve probably realized there’s one crucial ingredient missing from your new affiliate marketing program: affiliate marketers. You need to have a network of people engaged with your affiliate program for it to be successful.

To do that, you need to get the word out.

Here are some ways that you can go about finding affiliate marketers to use your program:

1. Reach out to people in your personal network: If you’ve been in your career field for a few years, you’ve probably made friends in the same space who aren’t direct competitors. Let them know you’ve started an affiliate program.

If they already have a content marketing plan in place, they’ve likely built an audience that would be interested in your product, too.

2. Reach out to others in your niche: Perhaps you don’t know anyone in your domain firsthand, but with social media, you can always reach out to influencers in your space.

Explain to them what makes your product so unique and why your affiliate program is worth checking out.

3. Join a community of affiliate programs: As affiliate marketing has gotten more popular over the last 10 years, there are many communities designed to help merchants get their products out there. Here are 3 fantastic resources:

ShareASale: This website has been around for nearly 20 years and is dedicated to helping affiliate marketing from both sides (affiliate and merchants alike). If you are a merchant, you can simply log in to your ShareASale account and promote your product.

ClickBank: This is another industry favorite. ClickBank helps all sides of affiliate marketing. They are a great option not only for affiliate marketers, but entrepreneurs with a product (and an affiliate program) looking to get the word out.

CJ Affiliate: CJ Affiliate is, as they say, “the world’s largest and most established marketing network designed to help you achieve intelligent, scalable, and sustainable growth.” In other words, they’re exactly what you need if you want to promote your affiliate program. This is an excellent resource for finding affiliates for your product with the exact audience you’re looking for.

4. Rely on your email list: This is crucial. Having a robust, active email list will do wonders for your affiliate marketing program (not to mention what it will do for your entire eCommerce site). In this way, you can use Affiliate Royale in conjunction with OptinMonster, the world’s #1 lead generating toolkit on the market.

With OptinMonster, you’ll be able to continually grow your email list in several ways. As you gain emails through your lead magnet and 2-step optin forms, you can start advertising your affiliate marketing program to your current customers.

While reaching out to your personal and professional networks are great for getting new affiliates, using your company’s email list means you’re reaching out to people who have actively expressed an interest in what you are doing and the content you are producing.

It’s just one of the many benefits of having a solid email list to grow your business.

Now you have everything you need to start an affiliate program. Once you’ve mastered the basics, there are some great affiliate marketing plugins to take your program to the next level!

Still not sure how you can get the word out about your new affiliate program? Or maybe you just aren’t satisfied with your traffic and conversion rates. Whatever the problem, why not join OptinMonster? With OptinMonster, you’ll have all the tools and resources you need to grow your business, convert more leads, and increase revenue.

Don’t wait…Join today!

Nathan Thompson
Nathan Thompson is a father, a writer, and a lover of travel (in that order). When he’s not wrestling with his kids, you’ll likely find Nathan giving his eyes a much-needed break from screens with a good book or planning a family trip with his awesome wife.


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  2. Hello,
    I have a question. Is it possible to run my own affiliate program but my website not having a “Checkout button”?
    The product I sell, is not cheap and I tried in the past a checkout button but users, prefer to interact with me and after a bit back-and-forth email exchange pay through bank wire transfer. In this situation, how I could build an affiliate program and still pay commission to the people recommending my website? Is that possible?

    1. Nathan Thompson
      Nathan Thompson July 8, 2021 at 2:03 pm

      Hey, great question! It sounds like you’d need something more like a referral program rather than a traditional affiliate program. With a referral system, you’d reward your partners for leads that start the “back-and-forth” with you. That means you’d either pay commissions on appointments booked OR based on your new customer’s referral source. This is all trackable with tools like OptinMonster and WPForms. For more help with this, check out this resource: How to Create a Refer-a-Friend Popup (+ Template). If you have any other questions, please don’t hesitate to reach out to our customer success team!

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