You have a creative business, which means, most days, you feel like you’re on top of the world. You can work when you want to, with whom you choose, and take vacations on a whim because hey, you are boss like that, right?
Unless, of course, you’re not feeling confident with your income. That changes things a bit.
The feast-or-famine mindset is real, and can leave you convinced that searching job boards may be a better choice than trying to keep at this ‘“own-my-own-business” thing. We get these feelings in months where we have way less clients, our course sales dip or our Creative Market income has been dryer than Schweppes ginger ale.
Yet many service-based businesses are leaving a ton of money on the table, solely focusing on services, courses and product creation that they ignore affiliate marketing and how it can complement their small biz income.
1 – Some solopreneurs I’ve spoke with tell me the earnings don’t amount to enough to spend their time on it.
2 – Other say that affiliate marketing is dead.
Neither of these could be further from the truth. Think about all of the products and services you use every single day while running your business. Now, consider all of the frequent purchases and investments (the online courses, ebooks, business tools). And how about that one “thing” you always recommend for every single one of your clients to help them get from ABC to XYZ?
If you do the math, you’ll probably feel a bit queasy at how much money you could have been making, just by simply adding an affiliate link to the products and services you love and trust to people who already love and trust you.
Where to start with affiliate marketing
The next greatest hesitation I hear is that people simply don’t know where to start without feeling like a car salesman. Fret not; there are so many great ways to not be cheesy OR greasy.
Without further ado, here are five authentic ways to add a bit of padding to your service-based business by using on-brand affiliate marketing…minus the ick factor.
1. Create a resources page
A resources, or tools, page is an effective way to help your visitors help themselves to the tools, courses and services you rely on to run your business. Get creative by adding images and banners, or simply use shortcodes and columns to create categories and embed your affiliate link into each resource.
Link to your resources page from your blog posts, include it in your email footers, and write social posts highlighting each resource on the page.
2. Make recommendations to your clients
You may be a web designer, virtual assistant or accountant who’s always getting asked what you recommend for solving your clients’ problems. You may also have certain things your client must purchase before you can start working with them (such as a theme or hosting, if you are a web designer).
When you onboard your clients, include a list of your favorite tools with your affiliate links in your welcome packet. Alternatively, if you send your clients a goodbye package, include a list of resources that will be helpful on an ongoing basis.
More than anything, they will appreciate that they can trust your recommendations and that they aren’t stuck having to Google for answers.
3. Build affiliate mentions into your editorial calendar
If you have a blog that complements your business, I imagine you are already sharing high-quality posts that position you as an expert in your niche, so why not turn these posts into money-generating machines?
Some of my best performing blog posts that have affiliate links are resource roundups and tutorials on how to do something that others often struggle with. Review posts of products you have tried and compared are also a good way to introduce your audience to amazing assets while helping you earn more money.
Pro tip: Content is key, but don’t ignore your images. Include high quality, pinnable images for people to share. Add keyword-rich descriptions in your images’ alt text if you want to tap into Pinterest for referral traffic.
4. Complement your newsletters
Dedicated emails about products you love can make you feel like you’re always trying to sell your audience something.
To avoid that, try sharing your experience with them. For example, if you took a totally ah-mazing course that skyrocketed your website traffic and you’re now an affiliate of, share the story of how your stats increased.
You can also write your newsletter content as usual and include links to some of your most recent affiliate-rich posts. Likewise, if you know your affiliates are having a sale and you genuinely don’t want your peeps to miss out, use a PS note at the bottom of the newsletter or within the content itself if it’s relevant.
An example: If you’re writing to your audience about how they can choose the best theme for their business and you happen to know that Bluchic* is having a sale, share it. Don’t be random. Weave it naturally into what your readers know you for.
5. Enhance your infoproducts
You may already have some great infoproducts (ebooks; worksheets; email courses) in place that help you grow your list or populate your shop. What if I told you that there is a way to monetize your free goodies and help you earn more with your paid offerings? Hold the phone, sista!
With on-brand affiliate marketing, it’s totally possible. When crafting your offering, you’re likely linking to tools and resources that are helpful for those who are downloading or signing up for your product.
By using affiliate links, you can make more money while continuing to deliver your high-quality content for free or increase your earnings with your paid products. For example, I have an email course that helps new bloggers or businesses set up their very first blog on WordPress. Even though it took a ton of hours and energy, I was able to justify giving it away for free because there were so many opportunities to earn money from the free course by mentioning amazing affiliates for WordPress hosting, themes, styled-stock memberships, and more.
But FIRST, here’s what else you need to know about doing affiliate marketing right
When adding a slew of affiliate links to your site, you can consider adding “no follow” links in place so that you aren’t oops-ed by Google (though there is a debate on whether it’s necessary or not). You also want to make your links cleaner with a plugin like Pretty Link Lite, or bit.ly.
Most importantly, and I can’t stress this enough: DO IT LEGALLY. (Caps + bold, necessary.)
You have to have disclaimers on your site that let your visitors know that they may be clicking on affiliate links. You have to share in your newsletter that links are indeed, affiliate links. You have to give a heads up about affiliate links even if you are just recommending a product to someone in a Facebook Group. Recommending something to a client? Gently let them know that they are clicking on an affiliate link.
When in doubt, remember this: Any time you drop a link, drop a hint!
Evaluate your current affiliate strategy and choose one of these methods to start or improve upon today. Need more of a nudge? Sign up for Affiliate Crush, my free, 5-day email course that helps you get started in choosing the right affiliates and helps you create a strategy, track your earnings and lots more.
*Some of the links contained in this post are affiliate links. (See what we did there?) As always, we only promote products and services we trust and believe in.
Welcome to Tools We Love, where we highlight some of the tools that make us more efficient, productive, and effective in our businesses. Have a tool that you want to share with the community? Email us! Today’s tool we love: PopupAlly!
Which email marketing platform to choose. The best social media platform for business owners. Which planner to use at the beginning of each year. And…whether or not to use a pop-up. These are just a few of the things that cause great debate amongst solo business owners around the world. (And…the types of things that make us think, “You know you’re a solopreneur when…”)
Installing a pop-up has dramatically increased our conversion rate for email sign ups. Want proof? As we mention in Building Your Online Community, we credit the combination of a pop-up (installed 5/19/2014) and our opt-in freebie (promoted 6/1/2014) with this little increase in our subscribers:
And given that our email list is one of our top sources of sales, collaborations, and more, we’ve found it to be worth the risk of potentially irritating a minor subset of our website visitors in order to best serve our community.
It’s super easy to customize the look of your pop-up so that it reflects your brand
You can create two pop-ups with the free version, which means you can have both an overall pop-up, as well as a targeted one (we did this on our 100 Best Sites for Solopreneurs page to increase downloads of our Road to Solopreneur Success ebook)
You can split test two different pop-ups to track conversion rate (only with the pro version)
The AmbitionAlly website is chockful of best practices for pop-ups. In fact, we would wager a bet that you can find the answer to any question you have about PopUpAlly or pop-ups
To be honest? As of right now, we can’t think of any limitations of PopupAlly, so we’ll just say this: The biggest “problem” is that we can’t do absolutely everything we’d like to do with the free version. But, as fellow business owners, we really can’t complain about a company providing an awesome free version and then trying to upsell to a paid version. More power to ‘em for roping us in so effectively and making us loyal fans!
Even for those self-proclaimed “tech-illiterate” solopreneurs, we can pretty much guarantee that you’ll be up and running with a pop up in no time when you use PopupAlly pro. (We can say this, because we might just be those people…)
Welcome to Tools We Love, where we highlight some of the tools that make us more efficient, productive, and effective in our businesses. Have a tool that you want to share with the community? Email us! Today’s tool we love: SendOwl!
If you’re like many of the business owners in our community, you probably offer some kind of paid product that you’re looking to sell online.
Us too! As we prepped for the launch of The Solopreneur Success Bundle, we knew we wanted a robust e-commerce platform that would allow us to 1) handle both payment and delivery of our digital download, and 2) manage our affiliate program (we were so thrilled to sign up over 70 amazing affiliates, who actively promoted the Solopreneur Success Bundle throughout the 5 days that it was for sale).
Discount codes: We use specific codes for our fantastic members, to track the success of specific Facebook Ads, and more.
Upsell feature: This requires upgrading to the second tier of the monthly plan, but it allows us to automate the upselling process. An example: Someone goes to buy The Solopreneur Sanity Handbook and they’re encouraged to upgrade to the whole One Woman Shop Bundle instead. (Because…why not?)
Integration with MailChimp (and pretty much every other email marketing platform. Yes, including ConvertKit!): When an individual purchases any of our products, they are automatically added to the appropriate email list or tag, which means we can send them follow-up emails specific to that product.
Easy affiliate management: Want to offer different affiliates different commission rates, like we did when we offered Solopreneur Success Bundle contributors a 50% commission, instead of the standard 30% rate? Easy to do with SendOwl. Want to only enlist affiliates for certain products, but not others? Same. Want to see which of your affiliates is kicking the most ass, so that you can reward her accordingly? Easy.
Order tracking + reporting: If you want to see when you’re making the most sales, how many orders were started but not completed, and your conversion rate (based on the number of orders completed vs. the number of times the page was reviewed), SendOwl’s got you covered.
Google Analytics integration: With a huge launch like The Solopreneur Success Bundle, tracking our conversions was critical. We didn’t get as far into the Google Analytics integration feature as we would have liked, but knowing it’s there for this year’s Bundle is reassuring.
Stellar service: So far, we’ve been very satisfied with their responsive customer service and very complete Help Center. Seriously, we know what we’re talking about here — we did some desperate 11th hour (literally, 11pm) searching of it the night before the Bundle launched.
Limitations + drawbacks
No product is perfect, so SendOwl has to have limitations, right?
Obviously, we would have preferred to use the Upsell feature (mentioned above) without upgrading our plan, but it takes money to make money, friends.
Another slight limitation: We would love to be able to upload materials, like graphics and pre-written social media content, for our affiliates directly to SendOwl to save them a step when they want to promote us — which is always, of course 😉 Our workaround: Create a Google Doc with all of the assets and link it within an auto-responder on MailChimp. They sign up as affiliates, get added to the corresponding list, and get kicked this email with everything they need. Boom. #welovesystems
How to get started with SendOwl
Head to SendOwl and create an account by clicking “Sign up” in the upper righthand corner.
Choose a pricing plan: Basic ($9 USD per month) might be for you if you don’t need to manage an affiliate program, but otherwise, the Standard ($15 USD) is probably the right fit. If you plan to sell subscriptions or would like to offer upsells, opt for the $24 USD per month plan (like we do). No matter which plan you choose, you get a free, 30-day trial.
Head over to the Help Center for instructions on every single step of the process.
Questions about SendOwl? Hit us up in the comments below! Have a tool you love for selling + affiliate management? We’d love to hear that, too!
Curious about how to incorporate affiliate marketing into your solopreneur business strategy? It may be worth your time to explore how affiliate marketing can bring in a bit of passive income to supplement the revenue that your current products and services generate.
Brush up on the basics of affiliate marketing
Essentially, affiliate marketing entails promoting another business’ products or services through your existing public platforms, such as your website, your email list, and your social media accounts. In exchange, you receive an agreed-upon percentage of the revenue generated by the sales you inspire. Though having a large audience is generally considered important for success as an affiliate marketer, a small but engaged community can also bring in a steady income stream.
Here’s how it works: you post a unique link on your website or other online platforms, people click through to the website of the product or service you’re promoting, and, if they make a purchase, you receive a pre-determined percentage of the total sale.
Will you promote only products or services that you have used yourself? Will you consider promoting a service or product that you haven’t specifically used but whose creator you trust? Will you promote any product that seems valuable to your audience? There’s no right or wrong answer, as long as you openly disclose your experience with the product or service.
Brainstorm categories of products and services to promote
What products and services could your client base and those who land on your website benefit from that complement your current offerings? If you offer digital marketing consulting, your community might be interested in social media management tools, website hosting, and WordPress themes.
If you coach busy women, your clients might want resources for eating healthy on the go, reducing stress, and staying fit while traveling (think: cookbooks, a meditation app, and portable exercise equipment).
If you teach photography to beginners, your students might be looking to purchase a DSLR camera, a stylish but sturdy case, and an edition of Photoshop.
Think about the minute-by-minute daily needs of your community, as well as the products and services that you use on a regular basis if you are within your target market- whether it’s a food processor, a convertible dress, a coding class, or a productivity e-course.
Find products and services to promote
Now that you have a sense of the kinds of products and services you’re interested in showcasing to your community, it’s time to find specific affiliate programs to join.
Search the sites of products and services you’d like to promote
Already have an idea of a product or service you’d like to share with your community? Search the website by using this Google search string: websiteurl.com affiliate OR “partner program”
For example: Googling “restored316designs.com affiliate” leads you to a page dedicated to information on their affiliate program
Email business owners that you respect
Can’t find mention of an affiliate program on the website of someone you’ve previously partnered with or benefitted from? Email them to ask if they have an existing affiliate program or might consider an affiliate relationship with you.
Browse affiliate marketing networks
Many companies run their affiliate programs through networks like CJ Affiliate by Conversant, ShareASale, and E-junkie. These sites have directories of their partners so that you can easily scroll through to find fitting products.
Think back to the categories you brainstormed earlier then turn to Google for a bit of help. Google (“affiliate” OR “partner program”) AND (keyword related to your industry).
For example: Googling cookware affiliate program brings up several legitimate companies, such as the RachelRayStore.com, Le Creuset, and EmerilStore.com
Ensure that your chosen products and services pass your litmus test
A few questions to ask yourself: will my audience find this genuinely useful? Will my community feel alienated if I promote this product or service? Does this fit into the budget of my audience?
If you’re not sure that you can comfortably vouch for the product or service, consider asking for a sample to review or ask the company or business owner if you can send them a list of questions you think your audience might want the answers to.
Looking to start an affiliate program for your product? We’ve talked about it a tiny bit before, but we thought you might be craving some more resources. This infographic from Dekh is a comprehensive 51 point checklist for starting an affiliate program from scratch- so hang on, it’s thorough!
Any advice on starting an affiliate program? Email us!
Do you have a product or service that you feel super passionate about it, but it’s just not taking off like you’d like it to? Before you chalk it up to a big failure, try these five ideas to bring your offering to life (or back to life):
Make sure your target market will actually pay for it: Trust us, people will tell you day in and day out that they love your product or service and, when you ask them to invest, they have a reason why they can’t. It’s no one’s fault; just the name of the game. As you collect email sign ups from potential customers, send them an email offering a discounted “beta tester” rate. If they won’t even invest the discounted amount, you may need to restructure your offering or find a different client base who will actually pay.
Collect feedback and testimonials: Not surprisingly, people unfamiliar with your work may be reluctant to invest money if they’re not the quality or value that you’ll provide. Reassure them by showcasing raving testimonials on your sales page. Remember those beta testers we mentioned above? Send them a Google form asking for specific positive and negative feedback and a 1-2 paragraph testimonial that you can put on your site alongside their name and a link to their website.
Put the product or service on autopilot: Let’s say your product is a paid email series. Once you design the course and set it up as an auto-responder series on MailChimp, you can just pop up a sales page on your website and hope that people find it. Bam- autopilot! It may not result in the hundreds of sales you envisioned, but it can keep your offering alive for the time being.
Promote it in low-cost, low-maintenance ways: Let’s take the example of the paid email series again. A few easy ways to promote it are to include a link to your sales page in your email signature, add a link in every email newsletter you send out, send out tweets periodically, add a link as a tab on your Facebook page, and email the link out if you see a good opening (like if a potential client can’t afford to hire you at your consulting rate). Consider promoting it through Facebook ads, which can be highly targeted. If your email series is $40 and you spend $100 in Facebook ads to generate 3 sales, that’s still profit, right?
Bring affiliates on board: Another great way to spread the word about your product or service? Reach out to individuals who work with your target market and ask them to be an affiliate of your program- you get to reach their network and they get a monetary reward for supporting your work! Services like E-Junkie and Infusion Soft make this process easy to manage. Here’s a complete guide for creating a great affiliate program.