Setting up an affiliate program for your online business is a great way to reach new audiences, make meaningful connections, and, ultimately, increase your income.
But how do you go about setting one up?
There are a lot of moving pieces involved in starting and running a successful affiliate program. How do you choose the best tech? How do you find people to invite into your program? What promotional materials do you need to create?
This blog post (which is basically an ultimate guide to starting your own affiliate program) will walk you through my process to help you get started! We’ll talk about:
How does an affiliate program work?
Why should you start an affiliate program for your business?
How can you work with affiliates?
Don’t forget to grab my free 17-page guide to make sure you follow each step!
If you’re reading this, you’re likely already familiar with affiliate marketing. I’d even guess that you’re an affiliate for someone else’s product.
Maybe you share a referral link to a software you use (i.e. ConvertKit or LeadPages)? Or perhaps you’ve taken part in a friend’s course launch as an affiliate?
Well, we’re talking about affiliate marketing at the other side of the table.
An affiliate program is made up of a group of people (your affiliates) who share your product and receive a commission for each sale they send your way.
It’s essentially word of mouth with a finder’s fee.
how does an affiliate program work?
You provide others (your affiliates) with a trackable link that leads straight to your e-book or product (this is known as an affiliate link). If someone clicks the affiliate link, they will be cookied for a set amount of time and your affiliate software will be able to track if a purchase is made. When someone purchases a product through an affiliate's link, they'll receive a percentage of the sale amount (their commission).
Here’s an example of how this would play out IRL:
Jenny has an online store that sells graphic design templates
David, who has his own business, comes across Jenny’s store and realises that her templates would be super helpful to his audience across his blog and email list
David applies to join Jenny’s affiliate program and gets a unique link to share her templates. David sends an email to his list with a call to action to Jenny’s shop.
Sarah clicks David’s affiliate link and purchases a $50 template from Jenny.
Jenny’s affiliate software tracks this purchase and attributes to sale to David
Jenny sends David a $5 payout (10% commission) at the end of the month
why should you start an affiliate program for your business?
There are so many reasons you should start an affiliate program for your digital products! We’ve talked about this in much more detail in this blog post but I’ll give you a quick rundown here:
Increased brand awareness - By working with a select group of affiliates, you can get yourself and your product in front of the RIGHT audience in a strategic and organic way
Reaching a new audience - You’re going to reaching whole new pools of people who have never heard of you before through your affiliates and their content
Increased warm leads to your site - Warm leads are people who have a positive preconceived sentiment around you and your brand vs. cold leads who have never heard of you before (from something like FB ads or Pins)
Increased SEO performance from backlinks - Influential affiliates have a positive effect on your SEO, which will mean that you get more referrals from search engines, which means more sales!
Make meaningful connections - You won’t just give them an affiliate link and run in the other direction. You can cultivate great connections and relationships through an affiliate program!
Related Post → Why You Need An Affiliate Program For Your Digital Products
how can you work with affiliates?
The best thing about an affiliate program is that it’s super flexible; you can make it as simple or as complex as you’d like! Here are some ways you can make an affiliate program work for you:
Start an evergreen program - This is an affiliate program that is always open for business with extra promotions and pushes throughout the year. This is best for business owners who have evergreen products such as an evergreen online course or a Shopify store. An evergreen program requires ongoing management but, like I said, it’s flexible so you can cap your affiliates at a certain amount to make it easier to manage. Examples include ConvertKit, The Contract Shop, Amazon Affiliates.
Invite affiliates to support your launches - If you run your products on a launch-by-launch basis, then you can invite affiliates to take part in each launch but the cart is closed for the rest of the year. Getting affiliates involved means your launches are a little bit busier than usual but, with the right affiliates, they will be able to get results that far outweigh the time spent. The most well-known example of this would be Marie Forleo’s B-School - she absolutely smashes her launches with affiliate promotions.
Host one-off collaborations (such as JV webinars) - Instead of seeing your affiliate program as a whole group of people, work on the basis of organising individual collaborations with each of your affiliates. These could be things such as JV webinars, freebie swaps, or product bundles. For a full list of collaboration ideas, take a look inside the Affiliate Program Toolkit! (Side-note: at time of writing, this is what I’m doing for my own affiliate program and I’m seeing some great results!)
Before you dive into starting your affiliate program, you’ll want to create a strategy of some kind. This can be as detailed or as simplified as you’d like but here are some things I recommend including:
define the purpose of your program
Before you really get started creating your program, you need to fully understand what it means to you and what the overall purpose of your program is.
This really thinking about what goals you may have for your program and how you will measure them! 💪
Some examples of goals could be:
Make $500 in affiliate sales per month
Grow by 40 new affiliates per quarter
Thank affiliates for 20% of your overall revenue
However you want to measure the success of your affiliate program, jot it down in your strategy! 📝
Related Post → Is An Affiliate Program Really ‘Passive Income’?
a timeline of key dates + launches
Creating a timeline will help you figure out a) what you want to get your affiliates involved in and b) the best time to launch your program! Have a look through your calendar and overall business plans + goals and map out anything you have coming up.
Think about things like:
Product or service launches
Sales or promotions
Holidays and breaks
Retreats, conferences, and summits
Collaborations, webinars, and affiliate launches of your own (acting as an affiliate for someone else's products)
Highlight what affiliates can promote and see if you have any slow periods - this will be where you want to focus on launching your affiliate program!
Why wait until you're in a slow period?
Because setting up your affiliate program for success will take time. If you're not outsourcing this to an affiliate manager or a VA, then you’re going to be spending a fair amount of time creating promotional assets, setting up welcome sequences, testing the tech, and researching influencers - and this is all before you launch it.
Once you've started outreach, your inbox will be full of responses as well as questions for more information, more details, more examples - and suddenly you don't have the time to see everything else through.
I REALLY don't want that for you, friend! Let's get this strategy created so you can roll out your new program with intention! 🎉
Hone in on your ideal audience
Personally, this is my *least* favourite part of strategy planning for any element of my business 🙈 That said, I don't struggle to understand the importance of spending time on it.
If you want to reach more of your ideal customers, you need to understand who they're looking to for recommendations (your potential affiliates) and where they are spending time (the platforms you should be searching).
When you're feeling confident in your audience profile, you want to get it down into your strategy. Think about:
Who your ideal customers look to for advice and recommendations?
Where are they spending time online? (i.e. blogs, Pinterest, Instagram)
How do they like to consume content? (i.e. blog posts, videos, podcasts)
Answering these questions will really help you when it comes to finding best-fit affiliates to reach out to!
Define areas of focus for outreach (a.k.a. pick your niche!)
Time to put your audience research to the test! In this part of the strategy, you want to narrow down your affiliate search to at least 3 or 4 niche sub-categories.
If you decide on this now, it will make it super easy to streamline your research and reach out to a targeted group of potential affiliates! 😎
You want to be thinking of people inside AND outside the box! Now, I don’t mean “anyone and everyone” - you want to be selective and targeted, especially when you’re just getting started.
I teach you exactly how to do this in my Affiliate Program Toolkit so you can start brainstorming potential affiliates and reaching out to them to grow your program!
Now you've got your affiliate strategy, you need to start looking into what tech to use and setting up your program!
"What affiliate software should I use?" is probably THE most regular question I get asked as an affiliate manager.
And it’s one that is super hard to answer without knowing more about your product, your price point, your hosting software, and your affiliate program goals! If you want personalised advice on setting up your affiliate tech, your best best is to join the Affiliate Program Toolkit.
research options for affiliate tech that work with your site
This is not a stage you want to rush. Once you’ve decided on an affiliate tracking software, it’s a pain in the ass to change. You’re kind of married into it and the divorce can be ugly. A new affiliate software means that you need to move all your affiliates over, their old links across all their content won’t work and won’t track their sales!
So, let’s avoid that by making sure you choose the best affiliate tracking platform in the first place.
Here are my top three choices for affiliate software:
ThriveCart - $595 one-off fee
ThriveCart is an amazing checkout that has SO much built into it: one-click upsells, one-click cart bumps, A/B testing, countless integrations and - of course - an affiliate centre! I love ThriveCart and I’m using it for my own affiliate program 😍
This is the best option for you if you want:
Affiliates to have links to various landing pages, sales pages, and more!
To set up rules and integrations for affiliates (i.e. when an affiliate hits 10 sales, tag them in ConvertKit)
To give affiliates custom commissions
Edit commissions per product
Affiliates to have access to select products (i.e. you don't want affiliates to have access to promote all your products)
Set custom payout waiting periods
Tapfiliate - $69 per month
Tapfiliate is a dedicated affiliate platform - no checkout software included! Tapfiliate is one of my fave platforms as it's super customisable but it does have its limitations, especially on the lower plan.
This will be great for you if:
Upload assets and social copy for affiliates to share directly from their portal
Have multiple affiliate tiers (for affiliates to earn different commission rates)
Want to customise commissions post-sale
You want to whitelabel your affiliate portal (i.e. affiliates.zoelinda.co.uk)
Integrates with SO many sales platforms (see the full list here)
It's worth noting with Tapfiliate that affiliates can only link to the website you're selling from. So if you have a Squarespace site but you want affiliates to send people to a LeadPage, then it's not going to track!
SamCart - $199 per month
SamCart is best if your product is already selling well because - oof - it's super pricey. Like ThriveCart, it has a lot of built-in checkout and funnel features but it is more of an investment.
This is the best option for you if you want:
Dedicated affiliate portal for your brand
More sophisticated integrations than ThriveCart
Affiliates to have links to various landing pages, sales pages, and more!
Upload ready to go emails for affiliates to copy + paste
Edit commissions per product
Set minimum payout threshold amount
Read this blog post if you want to see more in-depth reviews of these platforms and find out about some other tools I recommend.
set-up + integrate your affiliate software
Once you’ve chosen your affiliate tracking software, the next step is to set up the details of your program!
Setting up your affiliate commission, cookie length, and payout periods
This is something I teach and give feedback on in the Affiliate Program Toolkit, so I don’t want to go into too much detail here but here’s a quick overview:
Affiliate Commission is the percentage of a sale you’ll pay affiliates for each sale they sent your way. Now, commission rates really depend on the type of product but it's really important to know this: generally speaking, the higher the commission, the more effort affiliates will make to promote your product. Don't leave yourself empty handed but don't expect affiliates to go head over heels for 10% commission on a high-ticket item. What's in it for them?
Cookie Length is the amount of time an affiliate’s link is active and will track a sale. Most customers purchase through an affiliate link in the first 24 hours but, again, the higher the better here to show your affiliates that you value their support. You want to give them credit where credit is due!
Payout Periods are the time it takes between an affiliate’s sale and when they get money in the bank. I typically recommend having a 30 day waiting period to account for any customer complaints or refunds.
Depending on your software, there could be other things to set up so make sure you look around your settings and read up on any learning materials the software provides. For example, I know ThriveCart has automation capabilities and Tapfiliate allows you to set up bonuses for affiliate sales.
Integrate your software
When you’ve set everything up, you’ll need to integrate it into your website. If you’re using something like ThriveCart, SamCart, or Teachable, the affiliate capabilities are built-in so you won’t need to integrate anything there.
If you’re using a dedicated affiliate tracking software, like Tapfiliate, you’ll need to spend time integrating everything into your website and checkout process.
set-up test account + test conversions
Time to test drive your tech!
The best way to do this is to set up a test account and a 100% off coupon code for your product. Open a browser you don’t use as often (i.e. head to Chrome if you’re usually a Safari user) and clear the cookies and cache.
Copy and paste in your affiliate link and purchase your product with the code. Head back to your affiliate software and see if the commission was attributed to your test account!
If it works, you’re ready to start thinking about getting affiliates signed up! If not, reach out to the support team of your tracking software!
In the Affiliate Program Toolkit, I provide you with personalised tech support for certain affiliate tools when you need it in our private Facebook group!
Now you have your tech set up, it’s time to prepare your program for affiliates to best promote your product.
You want to create an affiliate promotional packet to provide your affiliate team with when they sign up to your program!
What is a promotional pack?
This is a folder or portal of some kind where affiliates have everything they need to effectively promote your product. We’re talking email swipe copy, social swipe copy, promotional graphics, launch dates, creative content ideas - basically everything and anything that will help them get your product out into the world and make some money!
What should you include?
Here’s a breakdown of everything you could include in your promo pack:
Welcome Document - an overall welcome to your program with info on commissions, payouts, cookie length, etc, and links on where to find their assets, affiliate portal, etc
Creative Content Ideas - a document with a list of blog posts and positioning ideas for affiliates to promote your product
FAQ Doc - answer affiliate’s FAQs in one streamlined document
Swipe Copy - documents full of copy to help your affiliates promote:
Email swipe copy - 3 email sequence that will work for evergreen and launch-based products
Social swipe copy - Facebook captions, Instagram captions, Tweets, and Pin descriptions
Promotional Graphics - pre-created graphics for affiliates to use to promote your product on social
Vertical pin graphics
Instagram Story graphics
Facebook Cover Photos
This can take a big chunk of time to create and pull together! This is exactly why I created templates for you in my Affiliate Program Toolkit.
One of my Toolkit students, Alysha of Basil and Bark, designed a BEAUTIFUL Welcome Packet template you can grab for only $37. If you want a professional looking promotional packet for your affiliates, then I'd strongly consider grabbing Alysha's template to save you time!
Time to start researching affiliates to invite into your program! Researching affiliates is something I get asked about A LOT so I’m excited to share my top tips with you here.
Consider your indirect competition
It’s important to consider the areas of interest your audience have within and outside of your niche. You want to know who your ideal customers are looking to for recommendations - whether that’s bloggers, YouTubers, celebrities, or magazines - and you also want to think about other brands, services, and products they buy into that you aren’t in direct competition with.
What on earth do I mean by that? Well, two yoga instructors within the same location and the same specialities would be in direct competition. A yoga instructor and a dietician in the same location that share the same audience are indirect competition. You want to be building partnerships with your indirect competition as they can have influence over your ideal audience - especially if they are already selling to them.
It’s best to start super niche and build out
Start by looking at potential affiliates who target a specific group of people within your audience (i.e. personal trainers) and then expand out a little (i.e. fitness professionals) and then even further (i.e. business owners).
In my experience, I’ve found that the more niche an affiliate is, the better results they get in terms of conversion rates!
Search for affiliates across social media
Use social media to search for relevant affiliates for your program. You can use hashtags on Instagram, keywords on Pinterest, or even search on iTunes to find podcast episode guests to find the best fit affiliates.
(Psst: My Affiliate Program Toolkit has in-depth tutorials to teach you exactly how to find influential affiliates on Instagram, Pinterest, iTunes and Google as well as my Affiliate Management Spreadsheet to keep you organised in your search!)
Create a spreadsheet to track potential affiliates
When researching affiliates, it can be easy to get lost down a rabbit hole and lose track of who you want to invite into your program. Stay organised with a spreadsheet (I love using AirTable for this) and take note of names, email addresses, websites, and any notes you had whilst you were go through their content. You can also use this spreadsheet to keep track of when you email them and what their responses were!
I have an Affiliate Management Spreadsheet template for $27, which includes a few trainings and my Influencer Outreach Swipe Copy so you know exactly how to word your outreach emails.
You’ve got your list of potential affiliates - it’s time to start preparing for outreach! This step is super important to make time for because, when you start, outreach can be hard to keep up with. Here’s what you can do to save time and streamline your outreach process:
Write a templated outreach email
I’m all about making pitch emails as personalised as possible but you can save so much time by creating a template to start off with.
Make sure the email is scannable, short and sweet but also emphasises the advantages of being an affiliate! You should provide them with information about your product(s), share the the commission rate, and give them a link to sign up.
If you grab my Affiliate Management Spreadsheet, you’ll get my influencer outreach swipe files as a bonus, which includes emails for pitching affiliates, chasing them up, and more!
Set up a workflow in your PM tool
Use your chosen project management tool to set up an SOP for affiliate outreach. What email will you send them? When will you chase up? What happens if they say ‘yes’ to being an affiliate?
This is a necessary step to take if you plan on outsourcing your affiliate outreach to a VA or affiliate manager.
Write an email welcome sequence for new affiliates
Write and setup an email sequence that new affiliates get when they sign up to your program. This sequence could welcome them into your program and walk them through where they can find your promotional assets as well as providing them with affiliate marketing tips!
Make sure you set up an automation (using something like Zapier) so new affiliates automatically go through this welcome sequence!
Want templates for your welcome sequence, pitch emails, and workflows? You guessed it! They’re all included in the Affiliate Program Toolkit 🎉
When you’ve got a list of potential affiliates to reach out to and you’ve spent time preparing your outreach process, you’re ready to start inviting affiliates into your brand new program!
So, how do you start affiliate outreach?
Warm up the connection
Like most things in business, it’s best to start small. From your list, choose 2 to 4 potential affiliates you feel are the best fit for your business and take the time to make a connection with them.
So, how do you do this?
Follow them on Instagram - simple!
Turn their post notifications on and take the time to interact with their Instagram posts with relevant and authentic comments
Watch their Instagram stories and message them where appropriate
Follow them across another social media page and interact with them over there
Check out their blog content and comment on their posts
Join their mailing list or FB group - perhaps even sign up for a webinar if they are hosting one soon
This should feel as organic and meaningful as possible so don’t go too overboard on all the comments and DMs!
Note: This step is nice but it isn’t totally necessary if you don’t have the extra time to spend on it. You can always outsource this to a VA but I recommend keeping the connections as authentic and meaningful as possible.
Personalise your email template
When emailing each affiliate, make sure you tweak and tailor your template to work for the person you are emailing. If you have a previous connection with them (i.e. you were in a virtual summit with them or you’ve exchanged some DMs on Instagram), make sure you reference that in your email.
The more personalised you get, the better - so don’t skip over this stage!
Chase up emails one week after sending
I find it’s best to leave at least one week between your initial email and a chaser email. Some people hold back on sending chaser emails because they can be ‘too pushy’ but, more often than not, the recipient appreciates the reminder!
Keep your spreadsheet updated
Remember that spreadsheet you created back in Step 4? Make sure you keep that updated with everyone you reach out to so you can track responses!
I use my spreadsheet template to be able to see when I first emailed each affiliate and then I know if it’s time to follow-up with a chase or not!
I also keep notes on email threads and tag each affiliate with their response - such as ‘signed up’, ‘not interested’, ‘need to chase’, etc.
want to start + grow your affiliate program?
The Affiliate Program Toolkit is everything you need to start + grow an affiliate program - in a box!
It includes a step-by-step strategy guide, walkthrough videos, tutorials, workflows, and done-for-you templates to save time and set your program up for success!
Disclaimer: This blog post may contain affiliate links. This means that if you purchase something through these links, I’ll receive a commission - at no extra cost to you!