Is An Affiliate Program Really 'Passive Income'?

Unless you’ve been living under a virtual rock, you’ve probably heard of the phrase ‘passive income’.

Essentially, passive income is money that you earn without being actively involved in the process. Or as Listen Money Matters defines it ‘Passive income is money that you earn without doing much to make it.’

In the world of digital product creators, this could be anything from blogging to evergreen webinars to an online course funnel to, you guessed it, affiliate marketing!

Honestly, it’s not a phrase that I’m super fond of. ‘Passive’ implies that there’s very little work to be done and anyone who’s ever created and launched an online course knows that’s soooo not the case. 😅 Digital product creators put their blood, sweat, and tears into creating courses, e-books, templates, etc. and we spend a considerable amount of time maintaining, updating, assisting customers, and more.

I could go on about this but what I want to chat about today is if an affiliate program falls under the umbrella of ‘passive income’. 🤔

I’m not so sure, which is exactly why I wanted to avoid using this phrase in my content. However, when I read the results my latest audience survey, I realised it was a term I’m going to have to start using more.

When I asked what their goals were, my audience said - and these are direct quotes:

  • “I want to ramp up my passive income

  • “Increase passive income. That's my biggest goal.”

  • “My goal is to move more toward passive income.

  • “Make even more passive income and therefore work less”

And here’s one answer that really inspired this blog post: “earn more passive income with very little effort on my part.”

“Work less” and “very little effort” - eh? You’re telling this to an affiliate program manager who does this on a day-to-day basis 😉

So, let’s bust some myths and crack down on the reality of running an affiliate program! In this article, I’m going to talk about:

  • If running an affiliate program really is ‘passive'

  • My breakdown of daily to quarterly tasks for affiliate program managers (👈 this could be you!)

I also have a free 17-page guide to help you get started with creating an affiliate program of your own! Don’t miss out!

Is An Affiliate Program Really Passive Income? | All the experts have sold you the passive income lifestyle - but is owning and managing an affiliate program part of that? In this blog post, you'll learn if affiliate marketing is passive income and the daily to quarterly tasks you need to do when you have a program of your own! This article is perfect for digital product creators and online entrepreneurs. Click through to learn more!

the four steps to earning passive income from your affiliate program

One of the key benefits to starting an affiliate program is that you have a dedicated team of influential affiliates who are selling your product FOR you. Sounds dreamy, right? Checking your email with your morning coffee to see a top level affiliate has made a bunch of sales of your product overnight. Passive income for the win! 🎉

However, it takes a lot of work to get to that point. Affiliate programs aren’t about creating something once, setting up a funnel, and (to quote ALL the experts) “making money in your sleep”!

Related Post → Why You Need An Affiliate Program For Your Digital Products

There are four steps to take before you start really earning passive income from your affiliate program:

(Pre-S: Before we get started, I just want to clarify that this blog post was written with an evergreen affiliate program in mind as opposed to a program based on a launch by launch basis.)

1 | Creating + validating your product

This probably goes without saying but you need to create a product before you can start an affiliate program. Otherwise, what are the affiliates going to sell?!

Creating a digital product is always a lot harder than it seems - despite was the experts tell you - so this is a whole undertaking in itself and will be the bulk of your workload for a while, depending on the product you are creating.

If you’re at this stage, I’d recommend reading a couple of my other blog posts to see if you’re ready to start an affiliate program:

Related Post → How To Validate + Pre-Sell Your First Digital Product

Related Post → Are You Ready To Start An Affiliate Program?

2 | Creating the program

When it comes to creating your affiliate program, there’s a lot of upfront work involved. The good news is that most of this is work you only really need to do once. When it’s done, it’s done and you can don’t need to look back at it for at least another few months.

To get started, you’ll need to create a strategy, sort out your affiliate tech, test the tracking, prepare for outreach, create promotional assets, and more - and this is all before you’ve even onboarded your first affiliate. 🙈

If you want to learn about everything you need to do to create your affiliate program with my free guide below 👇

Click here to subscribe

3 | Building your affiliate team

Once you’ve set up everything for your new program, you’re ready to start reaching out to potential affiliates! Woohoo! 🙌

This is the stage where you spend a lot of time in your inbox. You’ll be sending out pitch emails to influencers and tracking responses in a spreadsheet but a lot of the time spent here is just waiting for people to get back to you.

You’ve done all the setup + prepwork so once someone joins your team, they will automatically be getting everything they need to promote so this stage is just a case of pitching and waiting, pitching and waiting.

4 | Managing your affiliate team

You’ve got affiliates in your program and you’ve put outreach to the backburner. Now it’s time for ongoing management, which is where the ‘passive’ and the ‘income’ really start to kick in.

In this stage - which is less of a stage and more of a long-term commitment - you’ll be spending time on recurring tasks from approving affiliates to evaluating your strategy. I’ll talk a little more about exactly what you need to do on a daily to quarterly basis in a second but, before that, I want to break down the ‘passive income’ side to ongoing affiliate program management.

This is where the ‘passive income’ you know and love kicks in. You could be binge-watching The Crown, lying on the beach, or hanging out with your kiddos when you see sales come in from an affiliate’s promotion. 😍

Related Post → How To Start An Affiliate Program To Increase Product Sales

daily to quarterly management of your affiliate program

As an affiliate manager, I’m running programs for my clients (and myself) on a day-to-day basis. There’s so much that goes into managing your affiliates!

I’m going to break down for you what I do for clients on a daily to quarterly basis - which is the best way for me to illustrate which parts of an affiliate program are passive and which part aren’t!

Daily Management Tasks

  • Approve affiliates into your program

    • You can set up your affiliate tech to auto approve affiliates or you can approve them manually if you want to double check they’re legit

  • Approve conversions your affiliates have made

    • I.E. making sure they’re not using their own affiliate link to purchase your products

  • Respond to emails from affiliates

    • To make this more organised, you should set up an email dedicated to affiliate communications (i.e. You can do this with G-Suite!

Weekly Management Tasks

  • Reach out to potential affiliates

    • I like to batch this with 10 x outreach emails per week otherwise my inbox can get a bit overwhelming!

  • Keep track of outreach responses in an affiliate management spreadsheet

    • If you want a way to keep this super organised and easy to track, I have a template set up for you right here.

Monthly Management Tasks

  • Send payouts to your affiliates for their earned commissions

  • Send a monthly update/newsletter to your affiliates in your ESP

    • I use an automation within ThriveCart to tag my affiliates in ConvertKit as they sign up in ThriveCart so it’s super easy to send them a quick email blast!

  • Generate a report to see how many clicks and conversions affiliates are getting, the growth of your sales, who your top performing affiliates are, etc

    • This will help you see how your program is performing month by month and if it’s improving over time

Quarterly Management Tasks

  • Review your affiliate strategy

    • See if there are any new areas of outreach you want to focus on, any new launches, etc. You want to keep checking in on this document to make sure it’s still aligned with your current products and your brand values.

  • Research more potential affiliates to reach out to and add these into your tracking spreadsheet

    • If you want your program to grow, you need to keep reaching out to best-fit influencers!

  • Review and create more promotional assets

    • You might want to tweak some copy or create more Instagram Story graphics, for example! Keep these up to date so affiliates have the tools they need to promote your products.

  • Review the affiliate software you are using

    • Have a think about the tech side of your program. Is it still the best platform to help you achieve your goals? Do you need to consider switching to something more robust?

so, is an affiliate program passive?

I wasn’t so sure, but after writing this post I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a little bit ‘yes’ and a little bit ‘no’.

The creation of your product and the whole set-up of your program is so far away from the idea of ‘passive income’. However, once everything is in full swing, affiliates are selling your product FOR you and that’s when your ‘passive income’ kicks in.

100 people selling your product is better than you marketing it on your own, right? 😉

Click here to subscribe