My First Affiliate Checks and How It All Started!

While I was cleaning up my office, I came across a few copies of some of my first affiliate checks I earned online over twenty years ago! It’s funny when I think back to how you got started, because everything was so different, yet the same. Affiliate marketing was just starting out… companies were taking a chance at a new form of advertising and most didn’t know what to expect. Imagine if the Associates Program had never exist… would affiliate marketing still be as big as it is today?

C’mon everyone, hop into the delorean…  and let’s step into the affiliate time machine and go all the way back to 1997!

Back in the 90s… Domains Cost $70!
Before finally spending the big bucks to get my own domain, I spent years on free web hosting sites like Geocities, tripod and mostly through my free AOL accounts. Who didn’t have 20 or 30 free AOL disks sitting around… so I went for a very long time without having to pay for internet access. Getting my own domain several years later was one of the biggest events yet to hit my business, not to mention… one of my first big expenses!

networksolutionsdomainregistration by you.

Back in the 90s… CJ was Personable!
Sure, Commission Junction is now one of the largest affiliate networks out there… if still not the largest! However, years before ValueClick even thought about buying them, I was an affiliate and merchant on their network for years. Along with your monthly check, you also received a printed letter from CJ and their President Lex Sisney… and YES!, he actually did sign off on each of these original letters.

commissionjunctioncheck by you.
Commission Junction Monthly Statement, Signed by President Lex Sisney

Back in the 90s… Checks were smaller, but meant so much more!
No matter what sites you visit today, it’s not hard to come across their affiliate program. Back in the 90s they were far and few… and many companies weren’t even online yet! One of the first companies I worked with was a hosting company called eAds, and they were the equivalent to what ValueClick Media and CasaleMedia are today. They had a small network of banner advertisers that you could place on your website and you would be paid a specific amount per click.

eadscheck by you.
eAds Check: $10.45, September 16, 1998

One of the most lucrative companies I worked was a hosting company called AdGrafix. What was really great about their affiliate program was that they offered residual income on any new web hosting clients you sent them. I used to go into the AOL chat rooms and find people that wanted to get a website for themselves or their companies. I was around 15 or 16 when I started pushing the web hosting programs and they continually made me residual income for years. Affiliate programs now as days just pay a large affiliate commission per signup, to avoid paying nice residuals and keep it for themselves.

adgrafixcheck by you.
AdGrafix: $29.65, October 5, 1998

Back in the 90s… Amazon was King!
Not only was one of the largest and fastest growing sites online, they were also one of the first affiliate programs available. Here is one of my earlier checks from During the first few years of their associate’s program, you could earn 5-15% on sales, depending if they were books or movies (since that is all they sold at the time). Using FrontPage97 I created hundreds of celebrity pages with book/movie listings to generate sales. The high-quality content from the sites ranked very well in the search engines, bringing in new traffic and sales. Still, at this point, I hadn’t spent any advertising dollars to promote my sites… but I was still able to send a couple hundred thousand dollars in sales.

As my online shopping sites became more popular, so did affiliate marketing. I added new advertisements to the site and found I was starting to make more money from getting signups to CPA offers, then pushing sales for Amazon. I gradually moved everything over to a CPA perspective for affiliate marketing and my main focus.

amazoncheck by you. $38.72, Jul 30, 1998

Back in the 90s… it was all coming together!
Everyone has to make a start somewhere. Below is one of my first financial reports and as you can see, payments from AdGrafix hosting revenue was one of my biggest money makers. Seeing this type of revenue, while just starting high school, only fueled the fire to excel and make the most out of what I had started. It was only a matter of time before everyone else started to get into the game and more affiliate marketing opportunities became available.

97revenuechart by you.
Beginning Monthly Earnings Chart – 1997/1998

Back in the 90s… The Almighty Banner Started it All!
But what really started it all?… it was “The Almighty Banner Ad“. Before affiliate marketing, before affiliate networks, mailing lists, and blogging… there were always banners, and even more importantly, the AOL Web Diner. The Web Diner was a chat room on AOL where webmasters and designers could talk about what’s happening on the internet. Long story short, I made my first dollars online by designing 468×60 banners for people to promote their website. There was no Paypal at the time, so I would receive actual dollar bills in the mail… well, most of time (imagine that, people ripping a 15-year-old kid off!) Nonetheless, the experience was amazing and even in it’s the smallest form (of $1.00), it showed the true potential of the internet and what was to come!

Looking Back, 20+ Years Later…
It’s amazing to look back and see how everything started. I still have my original computers that I worked endless nights on, cranking out new web pages and absorbing as much information as I could. I should load them up again and see what other old school goodies I can find. It’s been an amazing journey, and it’s still just in the beginning phases… I’m still so excited for what the future holds and the fire is still burning to excel that much more!

When did you make your first dollars online and what stories do you have from yesteryear?

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  1. Pretty cool, I personally wasn't in the internet world back then, as I was too young, but it's interesting reading how it all went down back then!

  2. Great post. Thinking back… diddlyoo, diddlyoo, diddlyoo (think Waynes World & waving hands)….

    I was just out of college in 98/99 and had just purchased by first computer, but had to wait a couple of months before a local ISP opened shop in our village. The ISP was so new it didn't even have its billing software up and I think I fell through the cracks on receiving a monthly bill (only about 3 months worth before I moved). I never saw any AOL disks until I moved back to the college town for grad school, but of course didn't need them w/ a dial up connection included in the tuition.

    It wasn't until 2005 that I read a WSJ article on the online TShirt business that I started a CafePress store. I didn't have a design up until March of 2006 and made a sale a week later. The design: joe

    Yep, that is all it said. joe in black letters, plain white background. I got $5 commission for that shirt. After that I shelled out the $7/month to have a premium shop and uploaded as much as I could. I registered a website (since changed) and put adsense on it (alltime earnings of $2.83 so far since 2006).

    T-shirt sales are quite brisk relative to the amount of time I spend, but am now finding myself enjoying reading about affiliate marketing. 2 years into online $ now and closing in on your first financial report total of $1,100.

    I don't recall how I found your blog (maybe QuickSprout?), but glad I did.

  3. Zac, I'm sure people have told you this before, but you are meant to make money online and be a top affiliate that you are now. It really takes brains and knowledge to know of these things before the Internet is what it is now. This is how millionaires are still rich and were rich to begin with. way to go Zac!


  4. LOL, wow what a great trip down memory lane! I used to use CJ and always got excited my even small cheques.

  5. I still clearly remember working as a Paramedic in which I worked for 24 hours straight (at a station) and was then off for 48 hours. Each day before my shift, I'd pack up my computer and take it to work with me.

    Since this was from 1996-2000, "my computer" consisted of an actual desktop pc, crt monitor, keyboard, and mouse. I'd then set it up at the EMS station and work on web design during my downtime.

    That routine went on for a little over 4 years until I finally had built up enough of a client base and residual income, that I was able to quit the EMS job.

    I've now been working out of my house ever since and have loved every minute of it. And with having 3 daughters, I've been able to attend almost every single school event for each of them since I no longer have to answer to "the man". 🙂

  6. Those are some classic pictures. I can't believe people were sending actual cash in the mail. It's so different today, I wonder what it will be like 10 years from now. Maybe we'll get Jetson style computers that crank out the money automatically.

  7. Wow, that's a wicked post. Cool to see a little piece of history. Domains for $70!!??! Jesus.

  8. hey nice post! i remember my first checks back in the early 00's. wish i had of stuck with it now! hah.

  9. i DONT think in portugal existed anything like that a few years ago but now it exists some good ones also….

  10. Awesome post, lol. I have a check here for $29 from one affiliate network, hehhe. It all starts with small checks!

  11. The first dollar I ever made online was on the purchase of my first book, which, at the time, I only had in electronic form. When I got that first email from Paypal I almost thought it was a scam because I'd never seen anything like that before. What a rush that was; I think it was 2004.

  12. Zac,

    Great post! I have made twenty dollars in four months of blogging. No bucks for PPC, no clue how or where to start, on info-overload, looking for that next great day job to pay the bills..will keep blogging at night until the 'ship comes in'.. Respectfully, Nicholas Chase – 'the video guy' at BlogWorld Expo 2008

  13. Yeh, it brings many memory back then,

    You should start keeping all your memory in the videos, may be 10 years from now we still can see the old days…

  14. ahaha I havent even made 5$ yet! but ya know, I do it for the fans. Just kidding. Back in the 90’s I was wondering why they kept changing all the pokemon and when Brock was coming back. I was being reintroduced to the coolness of Micheal Jackson and rocking out to Ricky Martin. I didn’t know what this “internet you speaks of” was until like…7 years ago. 😛

    1. All it takes is one design, keep at it. Funny thing, I checked today, and my last 3 sales were all "joe" merchandise. I think it must be some sort of residual effect from Joe the Plumber – you never know where the next opportunity will pop up.

      Good luck to you eh.

  15. Hi Zac,

    Great post. Ahh, the good old days. I was one of the first youngsters on the internet in 94'. I remember the days when hackers were cool and everyone knew what IRC means. One of my best friends growing up went to school with Justine Ezarik. I knew her as an acquaintance and was her friend on Myspace when we both had around 1,000 friends.

    Now she has about 45,000 friends on myspace and runs a successful blog called Tasty Blog Snack and is doing this fulltime. I followed her as she got more popular and even got featured in Wired Magazine.

    I say all that to say that I have been sitting on the sidelines too long. It may take awhile, but I am in this for the long run and will be making money here soon.



  16. Great story. I didn't get a computer until 1996 and I never thought about using it to make money until 2002.

  17. Great Story Zac. Incredibly interesting and inspirational. I got my first computer in 1998, when I was 11 years old; I got the Internet setup in 2000; and got my first check in 2002 for $1,500 after I sold my website. That is what got me started.

  18. Excellent! That's crazy to hear that domains cost $70 in 90's. Loved the sentence "checks were smaller, but meant so much more!" Thanks for sharing your affiliate marketing experience/success. Liked and Tweeted 🙂
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