Passive income. It’s the holy grail of online business, the dream every entrepreneur chases.
But passive income isn’t just one plan or income stream.
It’s made up of several different types of cash flowing into your business, and one of the most popular is affiliate sales.
Promoting products and services through affiliate programs allows you to:
- Earn cash without having to write books, create courses, or do any of the heavy lifting associated with product development
- Get paid for sharing valuable resources with your readers, fans and customers
- Earn recurring income thanks to cookies and ongoing referral tracking
Imagine referring someone to a product, and when she makes a purchase, you get paid.
But even better, because of ongoing referral tracking, the next time she makes a purchase—even if you haven’t made another promotion—you’ll get paid for that as well!
That is the power of affiliate marketing, and why it’s such a big part of your passive income plan.
Of course, you can’t just start signing up and dropping links everywhere. Well, you can, but you won’t have a lot of success.
Instead, you’ll want to put some thought and planning into your affiliate promotions, so that you can provide your audience with relevant resources they need and want, and so that you can grow your passive income as well.
Before you get started though, let’s talk for a minute about affiliate programs.
Not all are created equal, so when you’re researching options, be very careful to thoroughly read the terms of service.
You want to fully understand how sales are tracked, how long cookies last, when payment is made and any payout thresholds that exist.
If something isn’t clear, reach out to the program manager before you begin promoting.
It’s frustrating to make sales and not be paid due to a misunderstanding of the fine print, so take the time to do this first.
Step 1: Set Up the Infrastructure
You can get started with promoting affiliate offers quickly—all it takes is to sign up for a program, grab your link, and start sharing.
But if you take the time to correctly set up your infrastructure, you’ll find it’s much easier to:
- Collect data (so you know what’s working well—more on that in step 12)
- Promote products on the fly (without having to log in to an affiliate center and hunt down a link every time you want to share a resource)
- Change your mind about what you’re promoting (especially important when companies go out of business or change their offers)
You don’t have to spend a lot of time or energy on this either. There are just a couple of pieces you need:
- A way to create branded short links
- A way to track your results
There are a number of ways to create branded short links.
You can purchase a domain just to house your affiliate links, such as www.yournamelikes.com or www.yournamehelps.me.
From there you can either install software such as YOURLS (open source and free, but a little techy to install) or go with the somewhat simpler HTML redirect files.
A third option is to use a paid service, such as short.com or shortswitch.com.
Yet another option—if you’re running a WordPress site—is to install a plugin such as Pretty Links.
Both the free and paid versions of this plugin give you unlimited link redirects, allowing you to turn ugly, long affiliate links into more clickable short links.
And make no mistake, short links are more clickable. Think about it. Which are you more likely to click on, this:
Clearly, the second link, which is shorter and readable will earn many more clicks than that scary looking long one.
The second goal of your affiliate marketing infrastructure is tracking.
You need a way to track the number of clicks your links receive, and while any good affiliate program will provide you with this information, it’s nice to have it in a handy dashboard where you can compare programs.
Any of the paid platforms or plugins will provide this information, and allow you to see, for example, which of the hosting companies you recommend receive more clicks.
It is not a good idea to rely on unbranded link shorteners such as bit.ly or goo.gl.
While these services are convenient, the links are often seen as spammy, and the service can vanish, leaving you with hundreds of broken links to track down and fix.
Exercise: Plan for the Future
- I have purchased a domain to use as a link shortener:
- I already have WordPress installed on this domain, and will install a plugin to handle my affiliate link redirects:
Step 2: Start with the Products You Use and Love
Now that you have the infrastructure in place, it’s time to start thinking about what products and services you’ll promote.
For most business owners, that starts with the products you’re already using. Here’s why:
- You know the pros and cons of them and can speak about them with authority
- You’re already a fan—and fans make much better evangelists than anyone else
- Buyers will trust your recommendations knowing that you use the product
Think about the authorities you follow online. You’ve likely seen them promoting affiliate products. You may have even purchased some of them.
And by far the most effective promotions are those that maintain their authenticity.
You’re more likely to click through to find out more about a product or service if the email or blog post is authentic and transparent, sharing not only the good but also the bad.
You can’t write or speak with authority unless you’ve actually used the product or service.
Here’s another reason to begin with the products you’re already using: chances are good that your ideal audience needs them, too.
For example, if you’re a business coach and one of the marketing strategies you share with your clients is to create free webinars to grow their mailing list, this is likely a technique you’ve used yourself.
That means you have a preferred:
- Landing page creator such as LeadPages or ClickFunnels
- Webinar hosting solution
- Mailing list provider
Promoting these to your clients and fans is a natural, easy fit.
In fact, making recommendations of this sort is more about helping your readers than it is about making a sale.
Exercise: Find and Sign Up for Affiliate Programs
Start by creating a list of products and services you use and love:
Then visit the websites to see if they have affiliate programs.
You’ll generally find the answer in the footer of the website (look for a link called “affiliates” or “partners”) or on their FAQ pages.
Sign up for each program and make note of your login details, your unique link, and the short link you’re creating in your system.
Step 3: Research Complementary Products
What other resources does your target audience need?
Complementary products and services are handy to have as well, whether you’re a business coach, a blogger, a product creator, or a service provider.
Think about the strategies and solutions you most often recommend to your audience. What other help will they need to make use of your ideas?
Using the example above of a business coach recommending free webinars for list building, your client may want to run Facebook ads to drive traffic to her webinar.
If you’re not an expert, this is an ideal complementary training you can promote.
All it takes is to find a valuable training program with an affiliate program, and you can add to your revenue stream while helping your audience.
The list of possibilities for complementary products is endless, and you can find dozens simply by searching for [product] + “affiliate program” in Google.
A few options to consider are:
- WordPress themes and plugins
- Business training
- Facebook ads training
- Graphics programs
- Service providers (VAs, OBMs, copywriters, etc.)
- Other coaching (i.e. life coaching if you’re a business coach, health coaching if you’re a life coach)
- Templates and checklists
- Web hosting
- Project management systems
- File sharing programs
- Social media tools
- Shopping carts
- Payment processors
Exercise: Brainstorm Complementary Products and Apply to Their Affiliate Programs
Not all products will offer affiliate programs. If the product is good and your clients and followers need it, you should share it anyway.
And if you’re going to share it, I would encourage you to create a short link for it.
You never know when a product owner will open an affiliate program, and if you already have a short link, you can quickly add it to your marketing plan, just by changing out the redirect in your link shortener.
Step 4: Consider the Competition
We all have competition.
Other marketers who target the same or very similar audiences, for example, and you may think that their programs are off limits when it comes to affiliate promotions.
You’d be wrong!
Consider this: Even if you and Betty Blogger both offer coaching to stay-at-home moms who want to make money with a food blog, you have very different styles.
Maybe you take a no-nonsense approach, while Betty makes heavy use of positive affirmations and manifestation techniques.
Clearly, you speak to two very different people, even though you operate in the same space.
Betty’s clients would not be satisfied with your approach, just as your ideal client will not resonate with hers.
That makes for a perfect opportunity to promote Betty’s coaching and products to your audience, even though technically she’s “the competition.”
Or what about clients who come to you needing more advanced coaching than you can offer?
Or those newbies who are just getting started when you prefer to work with more established businesses?
Or even those who really want to learn how to create their own products, while you focus on earning money through advertising networks?
These are all great opportunities to promote your competition as well.
Of course none of this means that promoting your competition should be your first choice! Ideally, you want your readers and fans to buy from—and coach with—you.
But when it becomes clear that you just aren’t a good fit, don’t be afraid to offer a different solution.
Exercise: Scope Out Your Competition’s Affiliate Offers
Step 5: Other Tools and Resources
Not all affiliate products are digital.
In fact, everyone’s favorite online retailer, Amazon, runs one of the largest affiliate programs, and it’s the perfect solution for books, planners, electronics and other physical goods recommendations.
Regardless of the type of coaching you provide, chances are good you read books in your field, use a computer, a microphone, a lighting kit for videos, and other physical products.
And your clients use them, too! Why not incorporate these items into your affiliate promotions?
Not only will you earn commissions, but again, you’ll be helping your audience to make the best choice for their business as well.
Be aware, however, that physical goods typically pay a much smaller commission than do digital goods. The reason for this is clear if you think about it.
There is no manufacturing cost for an eBook or training course.
While it might cost a bookseller $7 to produce a $10 paperback, and eBook can be delivered for pennies.
For most digital goods, you can expect to earn between 50% and 75%.
For coaching programs or services, 10% is the norm, and for physical goods, between 4% and 8% is typical.
Besides Amazon, there are many, many other affiliate programs available for tangible goods.
Two large affiliate networks, Share-a-Sale and Commission Junction, offer hundreds of small and large retail stores you can work with.
You can also find dozens that are run independently, just by searching Google. And again, keep in mind the products you personally use.
Many of those sellers will have affiliate programs as well.
Exercise: Brainstorm Physical Products
Make a list of physical products you can routinely recommend to your clients and followers. Include those you use yourself as well as other related items.
Exercise: Register for the Appropriate Affiliate Programs
Step 6: Incorporating Affiliate Marketing In Your Social Media Outreach
Once you know what products you’ll be promoting, it’s time to begin working them into your everyday conversations. For most of us, that means social media.
Your Facebook page and groups (that you own), your Twitter stream, LinkedIn and other platforms are all ideal for sharing the tools and resources you recommend.
It doesn’t have to be complicated, either. Something as simple as a Tweet that says, “I just picked up this new book, and it’s filled with great business ideas.
Have you read it? [LINK]” can lead to sales.
Of course, you can (and should) incorporate relevant products and services into your campaign strategy as well.
For example, if you’re rolling out a new group coaching program that will require members to take big steps out of their comfort zone, you might consider warming them up with some books on mindset and goal setting.
If a podcasting course is on the agenda, then it’s important that your followers have the right equipment, so you might want to share links for microphones and recording equipment.
The real keys to success with affiliate marketing—regardless of the venue—is relevance and authenticity.
Just dropping links to random products and programs will not bring you success.
But when the products are clearly related to your overall strategies and teachings, and you can speak about them with authority and authenticity, affiliate marketing can be extremely profitable.
One word of caution about promoting affiliate products via social media. Some social platforms expressly forbid it, such as Pinterest.
You cannot create “pins” which link directly to affiliate offers. Instead, you should create pins that link to your website or blog, and from there link to relevant offers.
The bottom line? Always read the terms of service, both for the product you’re promoting as well as the platforms on which you promote them.
Exercise: Add Affiliate Promotions to Your Social Media Calendar
Step 7: Blogging and Affiliate Marketing: The Perfect Match
In Step 6 we mentioned that you cannot link directly to affiliate offers from some platforms, and that you should instead link to your blog or website first.
This is good advice, and will become the heart of your affiliate marketing strategy.
There are two easy ways to do this:
- Product reviews
- Resource pages
If you’re blogging in your business (and you should be) then product reviews offer an ideal way to not only add more content to your blog, but also to earn a nice affiliate commission—even if you hate a product!
A good product review isn’t just cheerleading. Remember, your followers count on you to give them the best information.
You’re the person they trust to be fair and honest with them, and they’re counting on you to give them real advice, not just push products to make a buck.
So it’s critical that your product reviews are thorough and that they share both the good and the bad aspects of a product (there are always things you don’t like!)
Here’s another tip: Don’t make it a habit to accept free products in exchange for a review.
While this can help you save a few dollars, you’ll often times miss out on important issues.
For example, the software or service might be stellar, but if you are simply sent a download rather than go through the checkout process, you won’t know if there are 25 confusing upsells to navigate just to make a purchase.
You won’t know if the customer support staff is responsive or painfully slow. You won’t know if members’ area is cluttered or easy to manage.
These issues—when they do come up—can cause endless frustration to your readers, and if you don’t know about it, you can’t warn them.
Always pay for the products you intend to review. It will make all the difference in your authenticity.
There’s another important reason to pay for products you review.
In the US (other countries may vary) if you are given a product for free, then you are considered to have written a paid promotion, and that relationship must be disclosed, according to the FCC.
You also must disclose if you are being paid an affiliate commission, so be sure to follow the guidelines for your country before adding links to your blog or website.
You can learn more about affiliate disclosures here.
If you have specific questions or concerns, you may want to consider speaking with a lawyer who specializes in this area.
The second way to promote affiliate products on your website or blog is to create a resources page.
Done well, this page can be one of the most visited pages on your site, simply because your readers want to know what tools and programs you’re using to run your business.
On your resources page, you’ll want to include a categorized listing of the tools you personally use, such as WordPress themes and plugins, training programs, software and other tools, books to read, planners, project management systems…the list of possibilities is long!
Ideally, you want your resources page to be a valuable, well, resource for people, so don’t limit it to just affiliate programs.
Even if a product doesn’t have a commission structure, include it anyway if your readers need it.
Also, be sure to add a short explanation (a paragraph will do) about what the product is and why you endorse it.
Exercise: Create a List of Products to Review
Exercise: Create a List of Products for Your Resources Page
Step 8: YOUR Products
Whether you’re writing eBooks or developing a year long, high-end group coaching programs, there are lots of opportunities to share your tools and resources with your customers.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because they’ve paid for a product that you should never promote anything via an affiliate link.
You are not obligated to eliminate an income stream simply because someone has paid you—just be sure you’re promoting with integrity.
Remember, too, that your buyers have trusted you to provide the best advice to them, and part of that advice relies on recommending the right tools.
Not only that, but by earning a small profit from those recommendations, you can help keep the costs of your program down.
Just as you do on your website, your products will benefit from including a list of resources. Some ideas are:
- A downloadable shopping list for members
- A resource guide to include in your welcome sequence
- A resources page in your members’ site
- Relevant resources and tools shared in your private Facebook group or forum
- Next step products and services for those who are graduating from your program
- Recommended reading lists for new customers
The key—as always—is to ensure you’re promoting products and services that offer value to your customers, that are relevant to your trainings, and that you personally feel good about endorsing.
Always come from a place of service and integrity, and you’ll stop selling, and instead simply enjoy a little profit just for doing what you would do anyway.
Exercise: Map Your Products and Relevant Promotions
Step 9: Review Your Autoresponder Series For Opportunities
Your mailing list is the ideal place to make affiliate offers.
Since the majority of people on your list are likely not buyers, but instead are seeking information, it’s the perfect chance for you to share your best resources with them—both your products and affiliate promotions.
If you have existing autoresponders, now is a good time to read through them looking for opportunities.
For example, if you have a series of emails that promote your group coaching program, what happens to subscribers who get to the end without purchasing?
For most online businesses, these subscribers are simply lumped into a segment to be sent the occasional broadcast message.
But what if instead you move them into another sequence that promotes your competitor’s program?
Perhaps these subscribers, like the potential clients in step 4, simply don’t resonate with you.
They might find Betty Business Coach a much better fit, and you would be doing them a disservice by not introducing them to her programs.
Look for related product placements as well.
If you send an email with instructions for setting up a new website, you should also link out to your preferred hosting provider, WordPress theme developer, and any important plugins you recommend.
The same goes for any actionable content—if you’re asking your readers to do something, be sure you’re also sharing the tools they’ll need to get the job done.
You can also create an entire autoresponder series around affiliate promotions!
People love to know how others run their business, manage their time, organize their household, budget their money, and any number of other tasks.
Create a downloadable resource guide with affiliate links to your recommended tools, then set up a landing page to collect addresses.
In your email follow-up series, you can dig deep into each tool, explaining what it is, why you like it, and any tips you have for making it work better.
And of course, you’ll populate these emails with your affiliate links.
You’ll grow your list AND generate some passive income as well!
Exercise: Map Your Autoresponders and Relevant Promotions
Step 10: Create Canned Responses In Your Email or Help Desk (For Those Looking For Products You Don’t Sell)
One place that’s often overlooked when it comes to affiliate promotions is your help desk.
While you might think that the only correspondence that will take place in a support ticket will be about your products, you’d be mistaken.
In fact, you very likely get plenty of support tickets looking for advice on a variety of topics, and you cannot possibly have a product to cover them all.
Of course, you don’t want to respond to current or potential clients with a curt, “Sorry, we don’t offer anything like that.”
So instead you make recommendations, because you genuinely want to be of service, right?
The only difference now is that you’ll start making those recommendations through an affiliate link.
Take a look at your recent tickets, and look for frequently asked questions and problem areas your clients are having, and take a few minutes to create resources you can share.
For example, if you offer coaching to bloggers who want to grow their income from low six figures to high six figures or more, you probably don’t have much to offer a brand new blogger.
But that doesn’t mean they won’t sometimes show up looking for help.
So next time you receive a support ticket asking something like, “How can I get started as a blogger?” you can pull out your canned response and reply:
“Here at [YOUR COMPANY NAME] we work with established bloggers and marketers, but for those just starting out, we highly recommend [PRODUCT OR PROGRAM LINK]. Their training is exactly what you need to get established quickly!”
Another option for promoting affiliate offers via your help desk is on your FAQ page using the same parameters as above.
Create recommendations for products and services that do not directly compete with you, and list them on your FAQ page using the questions that come up in your desk.
Finally, don’t forget about your support staff signatures. A simple P.S. can be a great place to remind people about books and tools you routinely recommend.
Exercise: List Your Most Frequent Questions and Relevant Affiliate Promotions
Step 11: Track, Test & Tweak
Affiliate promotions are great for adding dollars to your bottom line, but unless you’re keeping track of your results, you won’t be able to improve.
Now is the time to set a goal for your affiliate income, and start tracking your sales so you can make any necessary changes.
This can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet, and it’s a great task to hand off to a VA for monthly reporting.
Start by listing all the products and programs you’re routinely promoting either via social media, in your blog, or in your autoresponders.
You can leave out one-off promotions, such as a new training launch.
For this, we want to concentrate on the getting the most bang for your buck with ongoing promotions.
Remember way back in step 1 when we created the infrastructure for your promotions by installing a link shortener? This is where that tool will really shine.
You’ll be able to see how many clicks you sent to a link, and when you compare that number with the dollar value, you will instantly see if there is room for improvement.
You will also be able to quickly change any programs that are not performing, without tracking down every single link out there in the wild.
For example, if you used to recommend a certain hosting company, but sales have dropped off due to their increasingly poor reputation, it’s a simple thing to switch out those links, just by updating your link shortener.
Exercise: Create Your Tracking Sheet