Starting an affiliate program for your online courses and digital products is a great way to reach more of your ideal customers and increase your sales.
But a lot of course creators tell me that they’re not ready to create an affiliate program. If you feel the same, you’re missing out on a simple way to promote your courses!
As long as you have at least one course available for sale online, you’re ready to tap into the power of affiliate marketing.
I’m so glad I created an affiliate program in 2013 because it’s had a major impact on my lifestyle and my revenue. In fact, Karon and I met because we had similar content and wanted to promote each other’s courses as affiliates.
If you want to get your products in front of new audiences, affiliate marketing is a great solution that costs you nothing upfront. You just need to learn how to start an affiliate program that gets other people excited about promoting your offers.
Affiliate Marketing 101
Before I talk about how powerful affiliate marketing is, I want to make sure you understand how affiliate marketing – from the course-creator’s standpoint – works.
Affiliate marketing is really common. You may have bought a product, course, or piece of software from an affiliate (and not even known it).
Affiliate marketing is an arrangement in which other people earn a commission by promoting a specific product.
There are two parties involved in an affiliate partnership:
- The host (the one who created the product/course/service)
- The affiliate (the one who promotes the product/course/service)
To look at it another way, the host pays a commission and the affiliate earns a commission.
In this blog post, we are talking about you being the host of an affiliate program.
As the host of your own affiliate program, you’ll be responsible for:
- Providing the product/course that will be promoted
- Handling the backend of your program by creating links, tracking cookies, etc. (Usually done automatically with software.)
- Tracking the earnings of your affiliates, so that you can pay them the right amount! (Usually done automatically with software.)
- Paying out a commission to each of your affiliates. (Usually done automatically with software.)
The affiliates you’ll work with will be responsible for:
- Promoting your product/course to their email subscribers
- Recommending your course on their website/blog
- Talking about your course to their social media followers
Let’s take a look at some of the benefits of starting your own affiliate program.
Why You Should Create an Affiliate Program
There are so many benefits to affiliate marketing. I love working with affiliates because it creates a win-win situation.
I’m happy (as the host) because I get my offer in front of way more people (which means I get more sales!).
The affiliate is happy because they earn a commission for promoting a relevant product to their audience.
That being said, let me address the elephant in the room….
I sometimes hear people complaining that working with affiliates is expensive because you have to give up some of your sales to cover the commission.
I don’t think those people are seeing the big picture. Because the way I see it, affiliate marketing is practically free for the host.
I actually think of my affiliate sales as free money – and I encourage you to do the same!
Think about it. You only pay your affiliates if they successfully get you a sale. So the money you keep after your commission is paid is like a bonus sale!
If that affiliate never introduced your product to their audience, you wouldn’t have gotten the sale at all.
Remember, 100% of ZERO dollars is ZERO! And that’s what you get when you don’t use an affiliate who could bring you a brand new customer.
If your course is $500 and your affiliate gets 50%, you each get $250. The affiliate didn’t have to do the work of creating the course and you didn’t have to do the work of finding the customer. You’re each getting paid for your fair share.
Still not convinced? I was recently reviewing my own numbers and realized that I’ve now earned over $1,000,000 in profit that can be directly attributed to working with affiliates. Good thing I was willing to “give away” some money to get ALL those extra sales 😉
How To Start an Affiliate Program
Are you getting excited about the prospect of outsourcing your marketing?
Here’s what you need to know to start an affiliate program.
Before you create your affiliate program, you should have one thing in place: a completed and tested product with a functional sales funnel.
Likewise, before you ever approach an affiliate to promote you, you need to be ready to make sales.
I know that might sound obvious, but you don’t want to approach an affiliate if you’re only at the idea stage of creating a course.
If you want to make it even easier for affiliates to say, “Yes” to you, you’ll get big bonus points for having a proven product in place.
That means you have a product that’s already selling.
If your product or course is brand new, it’s not a total dealbreaker. But your affiliate might want some kind of proof that your course will actually sell.
Speaking of selling, you need to have a working sales funnel in place, too. That means you need to have a tested opt-in, sales page, sales emails, and buy button/checkout page already in place.
You also want to have things like course delivery and customer support taken care of.
If you’ve already been selling your products online, you’re good to go!
And to clear up a few misconceptions, let me tell you about some things you don’t need to have before you start your affiliate program:
Time-Tested, Proven Marketing Strategies
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- Dozens of products for sale (it’s totally ok to have just one product!)
- A large marketing budget (your affiliates’ commissions will come from the sale cost – you don’t need any upfront payments)
- A huge network (it’s better to work with a handful of perfect-fit affiliates than dozens of random affiliate partners)
All set? Let’s walk through the steps of creating your affiliate program.
Pick an Affiliate Platform
First you need to pick an affiliate platform. There are tons of options and you may already be using a product that has affiliate support. For example…
- If your courses are already on an all in one platform like Kajabi (that’s where mine are), you can just use their affiliate platform to manage your affiliates
- Your shopping cart (like ThriveCart or SamCart) may come with an affiliate platform
- Membership plugins like Amember typically come with their own affiliate tracking platforms
In other words, you might already be paying for a tool that can handle your affiliate program!
When my courses were hosted on WordPress, I used Amember to handle my affiliate program. But now that my courses are on Kajabi, it’s a no-brainer for me to use them as my affiliate platform too.
Your affiliate platform is where you’ll set up the backend of your affiliate program. This is the more technical stuff like…
- Tracking cookies and special share links (this is how your affiliate gets credit for bringing you a sale)
- Affiliate management (so you can see how many leads/sales your affiliates have brought in)
- A place where your affiliates can check on their stats and track their sales
Luckily, none of this requires a lot of tech savvy. Your affiliate platform should do most of the dirty work for you automatically, once you set it up.
Choose Your Commission Structure
Deciding how much commission to offer your affiliates is one of the biggest decisions you’ll make as an affiliate host. It can honestly make or break the success of your program.
Many affiliates are willing to overlook some of the technical aspects of affiliate marketing if they’re less than perfect. But if the commission structure doesn’t make sense, they’re a NO from the get-go.
Standard commission amounts vary by industry and range from 10% to 50%.
My personal sweet spot for online courses is 40%-50%.
I offer high commissions because I want my affiliates to bring me as many sales as possible! Every time I see an affiliate sale come in, I celebrate making money that I would not have otherwise earned.
I even have a few special ways I set up my affiliate accounts so that my affiliates are really taken care of.
Research and Contact Affiliates
Once you set up the backend of your affiliate program and decide on a commission structure, you’re ready to start researching, vetting, and contacting potential affiliates.
My affiliate outreach list isn’t a random list of big Internet celeb names (even though there are some on there). I’m looking for really specific things when I consider asking people to be new affiliates for me.
I have a list of 8+ things I am looking for on each site BEFORE I will even consider reaching out to them. Here are a couple of the things that I screen for when I’m doing my research (to see the full list and get access to my outreach spreadsheet, see my course at the very end of this post):
- Do they promote other products as an affiliate?
- Do they have decent website traffic?
- Is their site on topic with my course? (This is the most important question to ask yourself.)
If they make the cut in the vetting process, they get added to my Outreach Spreadsheet. This helps me manage my outreach and my follow-up process as I approach new affiliates.
Once I’m talking to potential affiliates, I want to make it as easy as possible for them to sign up for (or apply to) my affiliate program.
That means I take the time to create a few additional assets like:
- Affiliate information page (a page on my website where potential affiliates can go to learn more details about my affiliate program – this helps people see if they’re a good fit)
- Affiliate application (this helps me double check my vetting process or screen inbound affiliate partners)
- Affiliate program user agreement (the Terms of Service for my affiliate partners)
My goal is never to talk as many people as possible into being my affiliates. I really only want those perfect-fit affiliates who will have an easy time promoting my products to their audience.
If you spend time on this step, you’ll have much better success with your affiliate program. Plus, it saves you a ton of time.
I know it may seem daunting to get all of those things in place, but don’t worry, I’ve got a course that walks you through it all step-by-step.
Once I have new affiliates in place, I want to make their lives as easy as possible!
That means I communicate with them regularly via email. I actually have a separate email sequence set up in ConvertKit that’s just for my affiliate partners.
I want my partners to have all the information they need to succeed. That means I email them about things like:
- How to access their links
- Offering to create content for them (like this blog post)
- Notifying them about any upcoming sales or new courses that I’m working on
- And more…
The easier it is for my partners, the more likely they are to promote me!
Pay Your Affiliates
When you have affiliate partners working with you, you’ll have to determine how often you’ll pay them.
I pay all of my affiliates once per month (on the same day). I recommend that you pick a day and stick with it!! You never want your affiliates to be the ones responsible for chasing down their payment.
Yes, this actually happens!
Many affiliate programs pay out affiliates after the refund period has expired. Meaning, if your course has a 30-day refund period, the affiliate would be paid in the month AFTER the 30-day refund period expired.
This can be helpful when you are first getting started because it ensures you’re not paying out commission on purchases that may end up getting refunded.
This is very standard and would not be out of the ordinary for most affiliates.
Your affiliate platform will track how much money you owe each affiliate, so all you really need to do is send over the right amount.
Ready to Create Your Own Affiliate Program?
I hope this post has you excited about starting an affiliate program for your courses and products. My affiliate partnerships have been so helpful in growing my business and I want other people to have the same opportunities!
Because I’ve worked as both an affiliate marketer and an affiliate host, I’ve learned a lot about the way it all works. And I’ve seen a huge need for people to host the kind of affiliate program that makes affiliate marketers happy to promote them.
My new program – The Course Creator’s Guide to Affiliate Hosting – is a step-by-step guide for creating an affiliate program that gets other people excited about promoting your courses.
It goes in depth about all of the things mentioned above to make sure you are up and running, and ready to reach out to the right affiliates.
If you’ve been looking for a way to get your course in front of new audiences, this training will show you exactly how to create an irresistible affiliate program from scratch.
If you have questions about starting an affiliate program, leave them in the comments below!