Five decisions I’ve made about the tricky business of affiliate marketing.

money-changing-hands-crop-1200x675Over the years, I have promoted a number of my colleagues.

Sometimes I have done that as an affiliate (I was paid something for anyone who signed up) and sometimes I’ve done it without receiving any money. It’s been a little bit of Column A and a little bit of Column B.

For the most part, it’s felt good. And from time to time it’s felt other than good to be promoting.

I thought I’d share with you what I’ve come up with in case it’s of some use to you in the future when you find something worthy of promoting and have the opportunity to be an affiliate for it.

The parts that have felt good:

  • I can’t do everything. There are so many aspects of business in which I have no expertise (and have no interest in becoming an expert). So I get to share content that is relevant and trustworthy to my people, thus saving them a lot of time in trying to sift through the mountain of information that’s out there on the internet. I’d be a fool to think i know everything and selfish not to point people to the best resources I know about. I recently had a moment where someone booked a half day session with me to look at their packages. I suggested that, before our time, they check out Rebecca Tracey’s program Hey! Nice Package! A few days later I got a sheepish email letting me know they were cancelling the session with me because her program had worked so well for them. I was thrilled.
  • It’s helped to financially sustain me. Up until this point, I haven’t had many of my own online programs or products. I don’t work with people one on one very much and touring is exhausting. Having the extra income from affiliate deals has meant the world to me – especially give the fact that the vast majority of my efforts over the past decade have gone not into creating products but free content for people. I have over 600 blog posts up right now and my guess is that there are likely about 5000 pages of content there. For free.

The parts that didn’t feel good:

  • Financial fuzziness. When I first started sending out affiliate emails about colleagues it always felt a little off, like I was being sneaky or something. The link in the email was an affiliate link but I wasn’t saying it. Some people would understand that it was. Others would have no idea. Would it change how they felt if they knew? Was it worth explaining it to them or was that my own neuroses about it? It didn’t feel right not to say something but I also wasn’t sure how to talk about it without it feeling weird.
  • It’s all ‘Six Figure’ this and ‘Seven Figure’ that. I’ve had to say ‘no’ to some colleagues I otherwise adore because the levels of glitz, glam and ‘get rich quick’ was too much.
  • Hype. I’ve looked at some of the sales letters for programs I’ve been asked to promote and cringed at the level of hype I’ve seen.
  • Low value free content. I’ve promoted so many colleagues whose promo calls, webinars and content were hyped up as so useful only to find they had almost no content in them at all but were mostly a pitch to buy the rest of their stuff. This has been heartbreaking. I just trusted it would be good and then I read it and my heart sank, ‘This is utter shit…’ I thought. ‘I can’t believe I promoted this…’
  • The Launch Formula. Almost every affiliate promo I have done is for a ‘launch’. A launch means that the product or program is only available for a limited time. Sometimes this scarcity is legit (e.g. you’re running a group program and it only has 100 spots and you only do it once per year) and sometimes it’s bullshit (e.g. ‘Only 200 copies of this ebook!’). Regardless of the veracity of the scarcity, it means that it’s a time sensitive situation. I need to share it in a certain window of time. The other model is the ‘evergreen’ model in which a product or program is available forever and whenever. I personally prefer it when colleagues have evergreen, home study versions of their materials as well because sometimes I want to refer people to them and… there’s no way to do so. I have to wait until the next launch. Launches make everything so urgent (which is why they work) but, because of this, they feel like more pressure.
  • Unsubscribes. The reality is that people unsubscribe from my email list with every email I send out. Every time. If the email if free, useful content then less people. If it’s a pitch for my own stuff then more people. If it’s an affiliate pitch, then more people still. That’s just the reality.
  • It’s not useful. This is a whole other level of heartbreak. Sometimes I have found out that what I am promoting is actually no good at all. Sometimes it’s good content but bad context. What they’re teaching is sound, practical and useful but the way they’re doing it is schmarmy or salesy or hyped up. Sometimes the content is good but the course is structured poorly and tries to cover too much and so it’s way too much too fast and students are made to feel like failures.
  • Sending so many emails. Many of my colleagues, when launching a product or a program, asked me, as an affiliate, to send out a lot of emails. I’d tell them I couldn’t send out all of the ones they wanted and would usually send out half the amount others did but it still felt like a lot. But, this was the inner conflict for me: in the course of their promo they were often providing a lot of very real, tangible value. Perhaps they were offering a book, a white paper, a series of educational videos or webinars. I wanted to make sure people knew about them because, hey, free value! But… so many emails from me and about things that aren’t my own. People joined my email list to hear my thoughts, not to be promoted to multiple times about someone they’ve never heard of.
  • So many emails from other affiliates. Over the years, I began to realize that many of the people on my list were also on lists of other colleagues promoting the same things. This meant that some people on my list might get three or four people all sending out multiple emails promoting the same thing. Oh man. So many emails.
  • So many emails from the person I’m promoting. This was a straw that broke this camel’s back. I finally realized that not only were the people on my list getting multiple emails from me. Not only were they getting multiple emails from colleagues about it but they were also getting multiple emails (often quite a lot) from the person I was promoting. So. Many. Emails. The people on my list were getting it from every side.

And then there was the negative feedback…

This has been one of the hardest pills to swallow.

Sometimes I would promote colleagues whose work I believed in but whose selling tactics were… not the ones I’d choose to use. I once asked me list for feedback on the people I’d promoted as affiliates. Here are some of the negative responses I got…

  • “Checked them out – not so helpful, and at times offensive. As a group they seem to be one step removed from your hippy marketing as communication, non-gross vibe – and some of them were so close to the usual vomit marketing stuff I came very close to opting off your list. The worst was the guy – already blanked out his name – talking about how to convince your clients they deserve to pay – they owe it to themselves to pay the high prices for things and how they could afford them. His example was a story about someone who decided she could give up her 2 starbucks a day and walk or ride a bike to work. That’s all well and good for people who are spending excess that way, but for people who are struggling just to pay for groceries, it’s offensive. It’s cruel. I don’t want to study from someone who is teaching people to treat prospective clients this way. People who are doing great work deserve to be paid well, and when prospects are in a position to be able to afford the products and services, that’s awesome. What bothers me is when they try to get that money from people who don’t have – encourage people to use their credit cards and go into debt to purchase the product or service, and then when the client doesn’t get the promised results and struggles to pay off that charge the marketer is either no where to be found or has the audacity to try to sell them something else.”
  • “The next lead of yours that I followed was _______. I wish I hadn’t. Her sales page and videos were so compelling, and I was in so vulnerable a state at the time, that I spent $1000 on her 3-day “virtual retreat” on marketing. She was very knowledgeable and very successful at what she does, which is sucking vulnerable people like me into committing impulsively to spend large amounts of money on her product – which is a too-fast-paced course in wording and structuring sales pages (better known as “squeeze pages” as I have subsequently learned) and videos that result in maximum income for the seller of “leveraged” online “info products”. Her written course materials are very brief (3 documents of about 20-30 pages each). Most of her material is delivered online as live and recorded audio. About half of that is “group coaching” where she has a series of 10 minute chats with other students about their sales page wording and content. I got on once, and she helped me a small bit. Her teachings on niche are much weaker than yours, and her section on technology amounts to recommending the friends she has outsourced her technology to.”
  • “I checked out ______. I got on his mailing list, and came to the conclusion that his program might be a fit for me at some time in the future, but not now. So I clicked a link at the bottom of one of his emails that said “if you want to get a lot less email from me, click here”. When I still kept getting an email every day from him, I complained, but they kept coming. On the last day before the program closed, I got two emails, and I sent another bitter complaint. Obnoxious marketing practices.”
  • “Thanks Tad for asking about the promotions…the first time I signed up with you I checked out Jane Doe. That was useful. I did not sign up as I was going away for an extened period of time. From then on her stuff was self promoting and going down hill and affliate marketing news. I checked out your other “colleagues” and even more self promoting, salesy…a person can use the words, socially conscious entreprenuers , soul centered this or that like Kraft can use All Natural or gasoline companies can talk about mother earth and green wash. It is all upselling. I wondered what has happened to my sweet lad Tad…has he completlely Jane Doe’d himself…Is my friend hungry? Does he need money? Does pay what you want not work? For a bit I was getting so many collegue things from you I was opening them up and checking them out and getting sick to my stomach. But because I respect you, I would keep opening them and find nothing but increase your revenues to 6 figures promises(with huge disclaimers at the end of course). The cynic in me thought, Hey why stop at six- figures, why not promise seven figures and low and behold, the next day, there it was, increase my revnues to 7 figure and now 7 is the new number. Lately I have been getting so many “collegue” letters from you that I have considered hitting the unsuscribe button because I thought you were out of business and into affliate marketing. I like your stuff. One day after having opened an affliate thing from you I got so sad…I went looking for an early Tad Hargrave youtube…I sighed…happy to see the earnest young man…eager, compassionate and so trusting in himself and the world. Don’t let the John Doe’s or anyone like him rob you of your light.”

Five affiliate marketing decisions I’ve made:

A few months ago, while promoting someone I really admire, I began to sat with all of this, the upsides and downsides more seriously in an attempt to find some reconciliation of it all.

I hope the following learnings might be of some use to you in the future.

Affiliate Decision #1 – Giving the non-affiliate link:

This has been my policy for years now.

The nub of it is this: when you send out an email promoting someone using an affiliate link, then include, usually in the p.s. an explanation that the link above is an affiliate link and that, if that feels off in any way, there is a non-affiliate link they can click below.

Like so many good things I do, I do them because someone else did it to me and I noticed how good it felt. I can’t remember when or who but there it was. I was reading an email from them in which they were promoting someone and, at the end, they told me, “Hey! This is an affiliate thing, click the link below if you don’t like it and I won’t get any money.”

It was so refreshing. I felt respected. And I noticed, compellingly, that I was actually more happy to click on the affiliate link to make sure they got the money. Ever since using this approach, I have felt a world better and gotten emails like the below one telling me that they felt just as I did when I got my first email like this.

One good fellow said, “Congratulations on your transparency about the affiliation, and your providing of the alternate link. Although I am not doing anything with your stuff right now because I am drowning in developing a new website (plus teaching college). However, the likelihood that I will not delete your emails and will actually read them when I get through the next 2-3 weeks has increased exponentially.”

Another lady said, “I really appreciate your transparency at the bottom (in your P.S.), nice! Thanks for the openness. P.S. I forwarded your email to someone who may be interested. He appreciated that P.S. too. :)

But one time I got some feedback from someone on my list of a way I did it that didn’t totally land for him. I was grateful for his honesty.

“Hey…I really like your stuff, the content, and your ethos. Refreshing mix of marketing and community values.

Just one thing, feedback. I have NO problem with you doing the affiliate thing. Why not, its all part of the mutual benefit. I really appreciate your disclosure of it.

But theres just a bit of cringe factor in the way you do it…like you can’t quite own it. Hey dude:

p.p.s. Full Disclosure: This is an affiliate arrangement with George meaning I’ll make some amount of money (I actually haven’t checked how much) for everyone who signs up from the call. And it’s not why I’m promoting it. I hope you’ll dig it.

Ok, heres the critique. Firstly, you bend over backwards to make it clear you don’t really care about the money, and you are just doing it cause you want to support him and us.

Drop it, please. Your casual (don’t know how much I will make) sounds weak, and defensive.

Secondly, its a muddy mix of self interest and generosity. You are trying to separate out the two by the disclosure, but the way you put it actually is confusing. Again, its kind of defensive around your self interest. There IS,somewhere, your own profit (if not money, then your own career) motive in your promoting him. Maybe only .1%, but so what. It IS partly why you are promoting him. By somehow trying to make it less, you sound like you are trying to make it go away, rather than what you are ostensibly doing, which is owning it.

Hey, I do the same thing in my representations about my generosity. My wife, who knows me so well, always pulls a face and asks, yeah, but whats the cost?

So, small point, but hey, don’t like to see you marr your marvellous work.

So, my suggestion:

• Transparency statement: when George profits, so do I. I love it – I get to promote people I think are excellent, like George. If you like him as well, hee gets more business, you get a benefit. And I get a kickback :-) Everyone wins.

Well, thats a playful version. A straighter version:

• Transparency statement: if you like George’s products its win-win-win. You benefit, George’s work grows, and I get a percentage as an affiliate.

All the best.”

So what exact wording might you use?

Here’s an example of the kind of thing I’ve come to over the years,

p.s. I have been incredibly impressed with the nuts and bolts, practical nature of Marisa’s work and have learned something from every conversation with her I’ve had. And clients I’ve sent her way have thanked me. The above link is an affiliate link, meaning you signing up with her also supports me financially. If that doesn’t feel right for you for any reason, you can click on the following link and it will take you to the same page but I won’t be tracked as an affiliate.

http://liveyourmessage.com/training/130930/replay.php

Whichever link you click, I urge you to check out her brilliant work.

Note: In many countries you are legally obligated to let people know if it is an affiliate link or not in any of your promotions.

Affiliate Decision #2 – Personalize.

When you agree to become an affiliate for someone you’ll get some swipe copy from them. Meaning, if they’re smart, they will send you some prewritten sales copy to promote their stuff.

In my experience, as a result of it being difficult to write about one’s self objectively and a lack of understanding of how to write sales copy without hype, it’s not usually that good or useful to me beyond giving me the raw material I need to work with to write something of my own.

One of my colleagues wrote me his thoughts on this whole tangled mess of affiliate marketing,

“I think the subject of endorsing is one that is on a lot of people’s minds as we see more and more affiliate marketing between people. It’s funny – sometimes I find I don’t like the feel of it, and sometimes I do. When you do it, I like it. When John Doe does it, I don’t seem to. And I have no idea why. No idea. Like anything, my guess is that it is not this ‘activity’ that’s the problem ever, but how it is handled and communicated. For some reason, just off the top of my head – I notice that I love how you write about other people.

It always comes from your perspective, and why you feel it’s important. Though it’s more work for you, this feels great! It’s different entirely than the emails that are clearly written by someone else, or just come across super hypey – which I do find is more the norm. If I’m on someone’s list, I prefer to have the feeling that the endorsement (commission or not does not matter to me) is coming with a clear feeling as to why it’s important for ‘me’, and how it fits into my being on the person’s list. Relevance.

Maybe I like it when it’s communicated with the feeling that the endorsee is really doing this for ‘me’ and can clearly explain why. In that case, I am fine with there being a commission involved – I like it even – and I think that most people are. If I join Mailchimp or a John Doe program b/c of someone’s recommendation, I love using their affiliate link to do it. Makes me feel good that they are getting a commission for it. It’s like ‘thank you for telling me!’

Maybe my underlying feeling is that I love it when people earn great money from their own work and JV commissions, but my expectation is always the feeling like they have my best interests in mind when they speak, lead, endorse. And it’s ok with me if unsure as to the value for me, to change the wording to reflect that – like you have done in the past. ‘This *could* be very interesting for you’. That works just fine for me – again it’s all in the communication.

But many lists I’m on I can sense another way of endorsing – where there just isn’t the same level of care for ‘me’ communicated in the message. And this feels emotionally not as nice. I find I get a low level annoyance happening with this. You’re one of the very few that I’ve never had that feeling about, ever. Not that I’m so difficult to please, I don’t get tied up in knots about it, I just choose to ignore many other ‘teachers’ when they do these more flippant feeling JV endorsements. I put up with it, and then resume my interest when they get back to ‘leading me’.”

So, it will feel better to people if you personalize it.

As my own understanding of marketing has evolved, I’ve found the swipe copy to be less and less useful because it’s written to get people to say ‘yes’ rather than to help them understand if it’s a fit for them or not.

To deal with this, I have, as of today, created a form I will be asking all future colleagues to fill out if they want me to be an affiliate for them. Feel free to copy this.

Affiliate Decision #3 – One email policy:

This is my most recent learning.

From now on, if a colleague asks me to promote them and it feels like a fit to me, I will only send one email out about it (with a good possibility of sending a reminder to those who clicked on the link in the email a day or two before the end of the promotion if I don’t get any negative feedback from their promo).

After wrestling with this for years, I was reminded about how Jay Abraham promoted the first major marketing workshop I ever attended.

His initial email said, in essence,

“I’ve got this amazing seminar coming up. I’d love for you to come. But of course I think it’s amazing. It’s my program. So here’s my proposition. I’d like to get your permission to market this program to you and make my case for why it will be in your best interests to attend it. And, during the course of that promotion, I will give away more free content than most people give away during their actual seminars.”

He was, in essence, asking for people’s permission to market to them.

It was a brilliant approach during which he genuinely gave away an incredible amount of value.

What I loved about it was how respectful it was (if you didn’t opt in to be marketed to that was the last you ever heard of it) and, if you did, you got a bushel full of useful marketing tips. And it was so direct. No beating around the bush.

And so, just a few weeks ago, it dawned on me that this was how I was going to approach affiliate promotions for the foreseeable future.

Instead of sending out four emails during the course of a promotion, I will send one.

Instead of telling my list about every free piece of launch content they’re offering, I will tell them about all of them in advance and encourage them to give their permission to be marketed to by the person in question. I will make my best case for the program and be as clear as I can about who it’s a fit for and who it’s not a fit for.

I can’t even begin to tell you what a relief this feels like to me.

What it means is that I will earn less money from affiliate deals and likely be less attractive to colleagues. It will mean I likely don’t grace the promotional leaderboards (where they keep track of whose made the most sales) with the nimble agility I used to but… it will also mean less clutter in your email inbox. It will also mean me feeling more peace in my heart about this whole thing.

Examples of the single emails:

Jesse and Sharla’s Client Attraction Mastery Home Study Course: Said someone of this email, “I can’t help but to send you a note to say thank you for putting this email together. It’s the best affiliate marketing promotional email I’ve ever seen! It’s done with so much heart, I’m amazed. Thank you for being a shining example of how to do AM with authenticity. While I don’t think I’ll get this product now, if I ever do, I’ll definitely get it through your link even though some other people I follow are also promoting this.

 

 

Affiliate Decision #4 – Disclaimers:

Finding someone to promote who you are 100% behind is rare.

Sometimes you’ll love them personally.

Sometimes you’ll love their style.

Sometimes you’ll love their content.

Sometimes you’ll love how they market themselves.

Rarely will you find someone where all of those are true. Very seldom will you find an utterly perfect fit.That’s just how it is.

But, when it’s not perfect, it can be good to speak to that directly in your sales copy.

This can mean…

  • letting people know you’ve never met them in person.
  • using the word ‘colleague’ instead of ‘friend’ in your sales copy.
  • bluntly stating where and how you disagree with them. I recall reading a book review that said, “I think most of this book is garbage but it’s worth 1000 times the price of the book for the content in chapter three.”

A client once wrote me and said of this very topic,

“I do think, also, that those of us who consider you a mentor understand full well that we will be dealing with different businesses and personalities. Maybe a simple stock sentence to that effect might help. You’re much better at that sort of wording than me, but something like: ‘you’re used to me, and I’m ‘this way’… I will promote people I feel have a really important piece to share on ‘something’, it’s something that I can’t do very well for you, even though I’d love to… and know that these works come in various personality packages… This brings an unexpected gift. It helps us navigate how we want to show up in the business world. Of course my way isn’t the only way. As a matter of fact, while you are learning from their particular genius, thank them for this, and also notice how they are doing business, notice how they are doing their intros, their content, etc. and as well as taking in the genius of what they’re great at, notice what you will do differently to find the way of doing *your* business. We are all trying to figure out just how to package and deliver the gifts that we have, and these people will help you see how they’ve done it. Notice what works for you…”

Affiliate Decision #5 – The Optional Follow Up Email:

I credit Danny Iny with this idea and it’s likely one I will use a lot.

I’ve often sent reminder emails about a deadline on a colleagues program the day or so before it’s over. And I’ve often been grateful, as forgetful and busy as I can be, to receive such emails.

But, Danny pointed out that, instead of emailing your whole list with the reminder, you can, using most online email programs, identify who clicked on the link inside it and email only those people since they were the ones who expressed some clear interest. So, instead of 10,000 people getting the reminder, only maybe 300 people do.

Less clutter for everyone and a friendly reminder to everyone else.

I hope these learnings have been useful to you. I’d love to hear what you’ve been learning yourself.

Bonus Thoughts:

Blog Posts: A few times, I’ve wanted to share my colleagues work for their evergreen products and so I interviewed them for my blog about their thoughts on the topic. This felt better than just emailing a straight up promo for their product because the people on my list were getting some immediate value and the affiliate code was embedded in the blog post. In these cases, I’ve not bothered to give the non-affiliate link since the trust of the email wasn’t about getting them to sign up for anything. It should be noted that, in the short term, this approach will not get as many sales but the blog post can be recycled over and over via social media and, if you structure your website right, you can guide people to it from other blog posts and link to it in future emails.

I did this with Rebecca Tracey about her brilliant work on helping people create packages for their work and with Carrie Klassen about her genius ebook on how to write a lovable homepage.

Resources Page: For evergreen products, you can also create a Resources Page on your website where you give links to useful resources, affiliate and otherwise, that your clients might find of interest.

Feedback I’ve Gotten from this Post:

In addition to the comments below, here’s what people have been telling me about their thoughts from this blog post.

  • “I think you’ve nailed the affiliate link thing. You disclose, you offer an alternative, non affiliate link, and most importantly for me, you only send the one email about it. I trust you, and you’ve stayed in my inbox, when I’ve been culling others like mad.:)”
  • “THANK YOU for this well thought out blog post. I have loved you for years and have gone through ups and downs in my feelings about the JV emails I was getting from you (and from other “colleagues” promoting the same “good friend”). I can hear the struggle you have gone through and I appreciate you for grappling with all of it to come to what feels right for you. Through all of it, I have never wanted to unsubscribe from your email list (though I came close twice) because you were the person whose programs I knew and trusted. I always appreciated your transparency with the affiliate link. And of course I am always happy to click on your link to benefit you as I have received so much benefit from you. Thanks most of all because I had developed such a bad taste for JV programs that I had vowed never to participate in them or market myself that way when I developed online programs. Reading through your thoughts has made me reconsider this point of view. I hope this works well for you and that less people unsubscribe from your list. I know that the times I considered it, it was not just because of the JV content, I was at a point where life was overwhelming and email seemed like a small thing I could control.”
  • “I’ve been thinking about how affiliates could be part of my business plan & how I want and don’t want to go about doing it. I’ve certainly been glad for your shares. Danny Iny had great free content, but I didn’t buy his product. Carrie Klassen I bought into and really enjoyed. Timing and price point had a lot to do with both of those decisions. I’ve noticed that you give the non-affiliate link and I like it so much I’ll copy that practice. I also really appreciate the One Email Policy. So. Many. Emails. Thank you for not clogging my Inbox.”

Other great posts on this topic:

Steve Mattus of Heart of Business has written a wonderful piece on this called Getting Tangled Using Affiliate Links.

George Kao shares his thoughts on why he’s stopped doing affiliate marketing here.

Honesty in Search Results: Why We Decided Not to Offer an Affiliate Program

My Stance on Affiliate Marketing – Julie Wolk

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