Affiliate marketing is the best way for most people to start making money online. It's that simple. Affiliate marketing takes less upfront investment, requires the least technical knowledge and often provides the quickest income stream for most people looking to start a business online and become a part of the work-at-home crowd.
Affiliate marketing is the process of selling other people's products online - or more accurately, driving potential customers to offers presented by the affiliate programs' owners. You don't need to sell the product - you leave that to the professionally designed salespages already online - your job is just to get targeted people to that page.
Like any business startup, affiliate marketing success requires the investment of time and money - the more you invest of one, the less you need of the other. While affiliate marketing is one of the few businesses you can start with no money to invest, it will take more effort to get it rolling, and longer til you see a profit from it. But you can start of that way if necessary, and use some of your profits to invest down the road, making it a self-funding business opportunity.
For the best, and usually quickest results, start by setting up a blog and an autoresponder account. For best results, these should be on your own web site, using a domain name appropriate to the niche you intend to market to. Deciding on a niche can be as easy as taking any area you're interested in, going to a major search engine and typing in the topic followed by Affiliate Program - so if you're interested in golf, type in Golf Affiliate Program.
If you see a lot of affiliate programs in that niche, you know it's a viable area for affiliate marketers. You'll find that physical goods, say golf clubs or golf shoes, have a higher sales price but pay a low commission, whereas digital products like golf videos or instructional e-books pay a much higher commission rate, but have lower prices per sale.
For people just beginning their affiliate marketing business, I recommend doing 2/3 of your affiliate promotions for digital products and 1/3 for physical goods. Lower outlays for digital products usually make the sale easier to refer, but you don't want to miss out on those occasional big-ticket sales either. Also, to stick with the golf niche, golfers buy only one set of clubs every so often, but might buy 4 or 5 different books on golfing, instructional videos, etc, every year.
Once you've decided on a niche to start in, booked your domain name, set up your blog & autoresponder account, and joined 3 or 4 related affiliate programs, it's time to start adding some niche-specific content. All of that startup can be done in a few hours one afternoon, but how you'll get your content depends on your writing ability and the ratio of time and money you have available.
If you're an ok writer or better, consider writing your own material. Remember, the average education level online is Grade 10, so you don't need to be a Lit major, just capable of successfully communicating via the written word. Since you picked a niche you personally were interested in, you probably already have enough knowledge to start writing your material.
If not, or if you simply don't have the time, there are three other most-commonly used options. One is to use pre-written articles from the myriad of article directories online. These require you to keep the authors' names and links in the material, but considering you just copy & paste them it's a reasonable trade-off.
The second source is articles sold with Private Label Rights, or PLR rights. When you purchase PLR articles, you're allowed to add your own name as author, and usually you can use them however you like - as is, rewritten to include your affiliate links, etc. If you don't have the time to alter them significantly then people can still find the same articles on other sites, but again, you have content to use with very little time invested. Finding niche PL:R is as easy as typing in the niche and PLR at the search engines - i.e. Golf PLR or Golf Articles PLR.
The third option is the most expensive, but next best to writing them yourself - using a ghostwriter. A ghostwriter is a professional writer who can research and write articles for you on any subject for a fee. Far from expensive, such services usually go for twenty dollars an article or less, depending on the number of articles you order and what deals you can work out with them. The advantage to ghostwritten articles is that you have complete ownership of them - you put your name on as author, can claim copyright to them and have articles not available anywhere else. Even in the offline world, a surprising number of books are written by ghostwriters!
The first 7 - 10 articles should go into your autoresponder as an e-course, set to go out at a rate of two articles a week. Read each article and decide which affiliate program offers items most closely related to the content, and either put your affiliate link directly in the article, if appropriate, or as part of a PS you add at the bottom of it. As you get more proficient at this, you can also use an ad at the top of the e-mail, etc. Once the 10 are in the autoresponder series, use the form your autoresponder generates to add a signup form to your blog. Again, this is usually just cut and paste.
The rest of your content can now be used for blog posts. For best results, post at least one article daily or every two days. After each posting notify the various blog directories about your post, and use a free plug-in to notify the main search engines about the new post each time. For plug-ins visit the WordPress site or do a search for them, and check for blog pinging services at the same time. (Pinging is the term for notifying directories about your new blog post.) Be sure to include the major services like Technorati, MyBlogLog, StumbleUpon and Twitter in your promotional efforts as well.
Once you have your blog up and rolling, go back to the engines and search for discussion forums in your niche, such as Golf Forums. Visit a few of them to see which have the most active member base, then start helping out by answering questions people post there. DON'T advertise in your posts - that will get you banned. Most allow you to put a link in your 'signature', which gets added to the bottom of each post you make there. Watch to see how the most active people on the forum are formatting their signatures, and use a similar format. Link to your blog, not to specific affiliate offers.
Next, do a search for other blogs in your niche and visit those on the first few pages of results. Read their posts to get a feel for what's working in your niche, and leave valuable, relevant comments. This helps to get your name out there in your niche, helps to establish your reputation as knowledgeable in the field, and in most cases gives a link people can follow back to your blog. It can even help your blog's positioning in the search engines, since some enlightened bloggers use the do-follow & CommentLuv plugins, which means the link to commenter's sites is indexable by the search engines.
Also, if time permits, submit articles to the various article directories. Again, there's a link in your signature (called the Author's Resource Box on many article sites) that people can use to find your blog, and you're getting more 1-way links back to your site for the search engines to follow. Articles you write yourself or have had ghostwritten can usually be submitted as is, but PLR articles cannot - you'll have to rewrite those first since directories want only unique articles you hold the copyright to.
These are the basic steps to an affiliate marketing business online; you'll repeat these same steps over and over as your business grows. As time progresses you'll want to add in more advanced steps, like direct solo ads to your lists, adding podcasts (audio recordings) and videos to your blog and your promotional efforts, etc. But before you jump into those, be sure you've got the basics down pat and have your blog well established, both in terms of content and links to it from every related source you can think of. And never pass up a chance to get more targeted people on your e-zine list - that list is where the bulk of your affiliate marketing income will come from in the long run!