In our final part of our Passive Income for Creatives series, we delve into (possibly) the most ‘passive’ of them all: affiliate marketing and referral programmes.
What is affiliate marketing?
If the idea of creating a digital (or physical) product or course is not for you and you’d prefer a more ‘hands off’ source of passive income, affiliate marketing may be the perfect addition to your creative business.
The concept of affiliate marketing is that you promote other people’s services or products and earn a commission if anyone from your audience purchases the product.
To do this, firstly you sign up to become an affiliate partner, where you’ll be provided with a custom link. This link tracks your referral activity using cookies, following the customer journey from the source (your link) through to the final checkout phase. When someone clicks on your unique link and successfully makes a purchase, you then receive a percentage of the sale. Typically, there may be a small waiting time to receive the commission once the returns/exchange period for the product has lapsed and sometimes you may have to reach a minimum payout threshold to receive your earnings.
So how does this look in a real world example for your creative business? For example, let’s say you share in a blog post/email/social media post that you love a particular product or service and you think your audience would do too. When you tell your audience about this product you love, you also share your unique affiliate link. Someone in your audience clicks that link and decides that said product/service is something they like too and so they then commit to making a purchase. Once the purchase is made, you then get a kick-back in the form of commission. Pretty awesome, right?
How to become an affiliate
Most companies these days offer some type of affiliate or referral programme as they’re a hugely effective way to increase website traffic, grow sales and ultimately scale a business. What’s magic about the affiliate model is that unlike traditional ads, where you have to make an initial investment into campaigns and gauge the ROI over time, with affiliate marketing you only pay out once a sale has been made. The merchant (company) makes a new sale or gains a new customer and the publisher (the affiliate) enjoys a well-earned commission for sending the customer their way. So, it’s a win-win for both parties!
So, how do you even know if your favourite company has an affiliate programme in place? Luckily this is pretty easy to find out. Typically, you can often find out if a company has an affiliate scheme by looking in their website footer, which is where the information can often be found. If it’s not too obvious on their website you could simply type in a company’s name into Google followed by ‘affiliate programme’ and if the company has a referral programme, it’ll bring up the relevant page.
Sometimes, companies use third party affiliate networks to handle their programmes so it may not be listed directly on their website. Some of the bigger networks to join are CommissionJunction, Awin, and Clickbank to name just a few.
Once you’ve found out that your favourite company has an affiliate programme, the next thing you’ll need to do is apply to join the programme. You may be able to apply through their own website, or you may have to apply via one of the large affiliate networks depending on the set up of the programme.
Typically, when you apply to join an affiliate programme a company will want to know some basic details like your name, contact info, plus where you plan to promote them. For example, if you plan to promote the company on your website then they’ll need to know your url, if it’s on your social media channels they’d like to know your social handles. Don’t worry, applying is an easy and quick process and all companies need to do this to ensure that they’re being promoted by relevant partners. This application process is simply to ensure that you’re not some sort of spam website, or are posting content that would be inappropriate to their audience.
It may take up to a few days for applications to be reviewed, but once you’ve been approved you can start promoting and earning straight away!
Benefits of affiliate income
A great benefit of affiliate income is that you don’t have to invest time creating a product and deal with the usual technicalities that come with selling products online. This means no having to set up an online shop, process payments or handle customer service. You are essentially the middle (wo)man, connecting consumers with products or services and getting compensated for it.
Digital products typically offer a higher commission percentage as their margins are usually larger than physical products. For example, companies that ship physical products like Amazon offer a commission rate of between 1-12% depending on the item. However, digital products can offer upward of 20% commission or offer a fixed amount per new customer sign up. Therefore, if you want affiliate income to generate substantial revenue, it’s worth honing in on the affiliate programmes that offer the larger commission rates.
What to promote
If you’re a creative service-based entrepreneur you could promote digital products or software and earn generous commissions for any successful referrals you make. For example, if you’re a designer you could sign up to the Moyo Studio affiliate program and promote your link in blog posts or with your email list. Conversely, if you’re a web designer, you could become an affiliate for a WordPress plugin, or domain host and refer these to your clients.
Some of the most generous affiliate programmes include web hosting, courses, email marketing platforms and website platforms such as Shopify and Squarespace. Chances are that if you’re a graphic or web designer the majority of the tools that you use in your own business offer some sort of referral scheme.
Sometimes, vendors will be willing to create a custom code for you to share with your audience. Typically this may be short campaigns (as typically merchants don’t want discount codes floating around the Internet for eternity) as this will help with the sense of urgency to buy and also helps to create better converting campaigns (everyone likes a deal, right?!).
How to share affiliate links
There are many creative ways to share and promote affiliate links with your audience and chances are you’ll already be familiar with many of these ways to share content. You could promote your affiliate link through your email list with a value-packed newsletter, include it in your blog posts, or refer services/software directly to clients or social media platforms like Instagram or Pinterest.
Another effective way of including affiliate links in your website is by creating a resource or ‘tools’ page, which includes recommendations for products and tools that you use for your business. (Fellow creative business owners love recommendations!)
Does audience size matter?
If you don’t have a big audience, this does not necessarily mean you’re not in a good position to earn affiliate income (though that’s not to say of course that it doesn’t help). Rest assured, it’s not all about size here but this is where having an engaged audience is what really matters.
If you have no online audience at all but you do work with clients, awesome. If you have clients that would benefit from some of the tools that you already use, then they would be an ideal place to start your affiliate journey!
For example, if your client is launching their business and you’re designing an e-commerce website for them using Shopify, you can send your customer a referral link when they sign up to their plan. Or perhaps they’re looking for a design-led email marketing provider and you recommend to them Flodesk. As an affiliate, not only do you usually get a unique introductory discount code to offer your audience, but when they purchase a plan you’ll also receive a commission too!
Affiliate income practices
For successful affiliate marketing, we encourage you to only promote products that you genuinely love and use. It may be worth noting that some referral schemes (though not all), you’re only eligible to apply for if you’re an existing customer. Whilst it can be tempting to promote as many things as possible, it’s best to be selective and share with intention. Rather than list all the website hosting companies out there and hope that someone in your audience picks one that you’ve listed, it’s much better to simply promote the company that you use personally. Sincerely share the exact reasons as to why it’s your choice and why you favour it above others.
This type of promotion is more trust filled, making it more likely that your audience will take action. Plus, you get to show your genuine appreciation of the companies and services that you love and have supported you and your business.
How ‘passive’ is affiliate marketing?
For highly converting affiliate campaigns, as with all ‘passive’ income models you get out what you put in.
The most ‘passive’ way of earning affiliate income is by having an ever-green highly converting piece of content. This could be a top ranking authority blog post, or one that enjoys consistent high levels of traffic from sources such as Pinterest. Whilst content you share on social media can be fleeting, content shared on Pinterest on the other hand sticks around for much longer and has the potential to be shared and circulated indefinitely.
To squeeze even more juice from the fruits of your labour, you could even put this piece of content into your mailing list sequence to get more engaged eyes on it.
Or, conversely you could always be more intentional and aggressive with affiliate marketing by creating targeted campaigns. This type of approach works best with a time sensitive offer, such as a course launch or a sale or special promo price for your favourite product or service.
These are like any other sales campaign, where you invest time into creating promotional content that is both targeted and timely. Usually this means creating (often unique) content in the build up to a launch/sale event and being very proactive during it. This will often mean social media posts, email campaigns and a lot of ‘hype’ building. Not so much passive, but definitely effective if you’re wanting to earn substantial chunks through affiliate marketing.
Why we love affiliate marketing
Of all of the ideas we’ve discussed in our Passive Income Ideas for Creatives series, affiliate marketing can potentially be the most ‘hands off’ of them all. If you’re not intending to make it the primary focus of your business model, it would be conservative and fair to say that it can be a healthy supplementary source of income to add to your creative business.
That extra trickle of income can be an added bonus to look forward to at the end of each month or Quarter. Whether it’s just enough to treat yourself to a nice lunch, to buy that course you’ve been wanting to invest in or whether it reaches a consistent level of hundreds or thousands of dollars (totally possible) meaning that you can take a couple of weeks of work, affiliate income definitely has its perks. What’s more, it’s never been more simple or quick to implement as an additional source of revenue, with little investment except for your time.
If you’ve taken a course, or invested in a service that genuinely made a huge difference to your life and business, this can be an amazing way of giving back to the creator. By sharing the positive effects that this product or service has had with others, it creates a feel-good mini ecosystem of appreciation which is super rewarding for everyone involved.
If you’ve already started to implement affiliate marketing into your business or perhaps you’ve not started yet, but would love to jump in? We’d love to hear your insights and help your kick-start you on your journey, so be sure to let us know in the comments section below!
If you haven’t already, be sure to check out our other articles in our ‘Passive Income for Creatives’ series:
Header image taken from The Sofia Collection