There is a right way to run an affiliate program for monthly subscription services. There is a right way and a wrong way because there are unique aspects to these monthly programs. In this post, you’ll learn EXACTLY how to run such an affiliate program.
What I’m sharing today has LITERALLY transformed affiliate programs from “bump along” businesses that make a few bucks into life-changing enterprises that change family trees!
What you’re going to learn today is NOT theory.
It’s proven itself where it matters most…in the marketplace.
When we can help a business owner take their monthly recurring revenue from a few thousand dollars to $10,000, it’s a game-changer.
The first coaching client I had was back in 2011.
I worked with him for a year.
At that time, he was earning about $80,000 a year…about $7,000 a month.
About nine months AFTER we stopped working together, he informed me that he was making significantly more money.
He went from about $88,000 to about $212,000.
Naturally, I thought that was awesome and told him so.
But then he said…
‘No, no… you don’t understand. Let me explain what that did for me…remember how I was telling you how we lived in this crappy two-bedroom apartment? With two kids and hardly any room to turn around? Well, we’ve been able to move into THIS neighborhood! My daughter who has special needs is in a better school now! I’m taking more time off. I hired somebody…life is good!’
THAT’S what tripling a $7,000-a-month income can do for somebody!
Not only does it make going full-time possible, it also allows you to take vacations.
The financial stress melts away.
It’s the same thing when I help a business go from five figures to six figures a month.
When they go from making twenty thousand dollars to one hundred thousand dollars, that creates jobs.
THAT changes lives and takes businesses to the next level.
And it’s all because of one thing…
The ability to create a successful affiliate program for a subscription service.
This applies to membership sites, monthly subscription masterminds…you name it!
ANYTHING that is generating recurring monthly revenue.
Now, before I get started, I’ve got a few things I want you to keep in mind.
1. Know that creating a successful affiliate program requires an ONGOING commitment
This is long-game stuff.
Membership sites are a marathon, NOT a sprint.
It requires taking action EVERY month.
2. Affiliate programs might not be suitable for your audience or your product
If you know that people NEED to have had a personal interaction with you BEFORE they buy, an affiliate program might not be your best choice.
For example, a membership site might only work AFTER someone has previously been through a course or bought another product.
Otherwise, it wouldn’t make sense to have affiliates promoting your membership directly.
3. It DOES require you to get additional tech systems set up
This is not necessarily an issue, but it’s worth bearing in mind. Especially if you’re not a fan of tech!
If that’s the case, maybe now ISN’T the time to start an affiliate program for your membership site.
If that’s the case, find somebody who IS a techie.
This is too good of an opportunity to let this prevent you from having a lucrative business you never dreamed possible.
All right, so let’s dive into the key considerations for setting up a successful affiliate program for monthly subscriptions…
#1. How will you recruit your affiliates?
Who will you let in?
With a membership site, you’ve essentially got three choices:
- Members only. I’d say 60% of affiliate programs for membership sites or subscription sites ONLY allow members can become affiliates.
- Invite only. This allows you to hand-select people. Maybe you decide to bring on only bigger affiliates. Maybe it’s only members who are RAVING fans. You decide.
- Public. Basically, this is ANYONE who wants to become an affiliate.
There’s nothing wrong with any of these. You just need to think through which is the best fit for you.
It’s a personal decision.
I definitely don’t do invite only. For me, it’s either all members or the public.
Although I’m not going to go in-depth on this, I will say…
If you have a KNOWLEDGE-based membership, I’d tend to lean toward members only…
Here’s why: Members are familiar with you..through your podcast, emails, and various promotions…
They KNOW about you and the products you offer…
But if it’s a subscription site for a service like software, I think you can definitely open THAT to the public.
We do this all the time…a good example is ConvertKit – our go-to email service provider.
Although we switched over from MailChimp, we still suggest MailChimp to newbies as an option.
The basic idea when recruiting affiliates is to find people who are promoting similar products that are courses (not memberships, of course) and get them to promote yours as an ongoing thing.
Need help recruiting affiliates? Learn our secrets inside our Find Affiliates Now course.
#2. What will your commission rate be?
This is one of the most important considerations.
Here are some things you should consider when deciding on your commission rate.
- Will you use a flat fee or a percentage?
- Will you pay recurring commissions or one-off only?
- Do you want to offer 1 or 2 commission tiers?
- Do any 0f your direct competitors have affiliate programs?
You can set whatever commission rate you want but it needs to be attractive enough to make it worthwhile for your affiliates to invest their time promoting your site AND provide you a return on investment you’re happy with.
The commission for membership affiliates is typically lower than is recommended for digital products or courses where you may find 50% or more as the suggested rate.
It’s important to remember that the RECURRING model is different than selling a one-off product.
Unlike a one-off sale where the affiliate’s work is done once the initial sale is made, you will be doing ongoing work to keep that member each month. So, giving something like 25% on a recurring basis is more typical for a membership.
#3. How often (and how) will you communicate?
Communication can’t be too frequent. But, it can’t too little, either.
Unlike a launch, where you would typically be communicating on a daily basis, you need to be thoughtful in communicating with your members.
You CAN send emails once a week or every other week. (think “as needed” notifications.)
Don’t be shy about firing off a Facebook Group post once a week or so.
And, two-three times a year, you can do BIG promos of 7-10 days with DAILY communication.
Treat those using the same rules as launches…big promos and steady, ongoing contact with your affiliates.
Click here to get FREE access to an actual affiliate training we shared with affiliates for one of our client’s programs.
Use your communication to TEACH your affiliates.
- Host a Training…not just for small affiliates. Invite your largest affiliates to attend as well. Make it an EVENT.
- Send Cheat Sheets…a simple PDF with all the important stuff.
- Share Testimonials…when you get a really awesome testimonial, share it in the partner group. We do this often for our affiliates. It’s a great way to make them feel like what they are doing is having an impact.
- Updates…keep them informed…Make sure they see the leaderboards, get contest updates. This personal touch gets them INVOLVED. Ask for their picture for the leaderboard. Think about it…wouldn’t YOU be a little more excited about the prospect of seeing yourself on a leaderboard?
- Ask if They Need Anything…even if it’s something simple. Attending to it can have a huge impact.
- Ask for Referrals…this is the #1 way to get new affiliates. ASK them for referrals.
- Send Physical Mail…stop solely relying on email and Facebook. Send them something in the mail. Even if it’s a simple newsletter.
This is only a STARTER list of what to communicate and how.
#4. Who’s going to run your affiliate program?
Like anything, there are advantages and disadvantages of your running your program, or outsourcing.
Here are some resources to help you decide which is the best option…
If YOU are going to run your affiliate program yourself…
Click here to get access to a recording of The Affiliate Code LIVE EVENT that reveals insider information to EXPLODE your affiliate program!
Or…apply here for a FREE Your Affiliate Launch Coaching Call…
If you decide you’re going to OUTSOURCE…talk to us!
#5. What kind of tracking will you use?
You need to decide WHERE your program will live.
There are several options to choose from when it comes to actually setting up your affiliate program:
- Affiliate Program Software or Plugin – if you have a WordPress site then you can use an affiliate plugin. This means that everything will be kept on your site and you have total control over everything, but it may not be as powerful as a dedicated affiliate system. Here’s our favorite…Post Affiliate Pro. While it is not cheap, it offers affiliates reliable tracking via cookie, contact record (email), and IP. In addition, the reporting is second to none. If you have the budget and are serious about growing your business, Post Affiliate Pro is the affiliate tracking tool for you.
- Affiliate Platform – this is a third-party software which means your affiliate data will be kept off your website. These may have more features than affiliate plugins, but you will typically have less flexibility as far as customization and branding are concerned.
- Affiliate Network – if you’re running a public program, then you might want to consider a third-party network like Clickbank. These have the added bonus of being able to recruit affiliates for you, and will typically also reduce management responsibilities as they pay your affiliates for you.
- Custom Program– You might have a custom program that someone builds out that integrates with all your tools. There’s a higher cost to that, but it might work better for you.
Here are some things to consider BEFORE choosing your affiliate system:
- What options integrate with your membership plugin?
- What commission options do you need?
- Do you want to have a customizable affiliate area?
- Can you upload your own creatives and resources for your affiliates?
- Do you need to account for refunds?
- What are the initial and ongoing fees involved?
These are some additional Affiliate tracking software/plugins/networks we like:
- Our recommended network is ShareASale
- Our recommended tracking is Post Affiliate Pro, but we also recommend iDevAffiliate
#6. You need to make sure to ACTIVATE your inactive affiliates
Before you can activate affiliates who have stopped participating in your promotions, you need to determine WHY they became inactive.
That will determine the best approach to take to get them back in the game.
Here are 5 typical reasons affiliates become inactive along with ways to get them reactivated:
Reason #1: They signed up on a whim
This happens more than I wish it did. Person A sees Person B promoting something, signs up and then quickly realizes one (or more) of three things:
- this is not a good fit for my audience, or
- I have no idea how to promote this, or
- I don’t have time to promote this.
With this group, there is not much you can do.
If you find out someone mistakenly signed up, just remove them and move on.
Reason #2: They are promoting a competitor
This one hurts. The reality is that no matter how awesome your product is, how great the commissions are, or even how solid you feel a relationship is, sometimes people leave for “greener” pastures. That’s the nature of our world.
When this happens, it’s important to understand their WHY.
In other words, shut up and listen. Don’t get defensive, angry, or try to convince them at first. Just listen to why they switch allegiances.
It might be for any of the following reasons:
- The new offer converts better
- The new offer pays better
- The new offer has better affiliate tools
- They may have been promised a reciprocal promotion
My advice when dealing with this type of situation is to stay calm, ask why they switched, and listen. Trust me, it’s best not to say anything initially. Give them some time and follow up in a few weeks to see if there is anything you can do.
If the issue is something like tools (graphics, copy, tracking), this is a sign you need to fix these things! Get them what they need and then tell them you listened.
If the issue is conversions, find out what the competition is doing to beat you. Help them optimize their campaigns to convert better. Work on your sales funnel and get your conversions up.
If the issue is commission structure, make sure you aren’t underpaying. I don’t prefer to get into bidding wars over commissions, but I will make sure we are competitive.
If someone leaves a program that is already paying 50% for a program that is paying 80%, let them go. It’s not worth killing your margins.
But if you are just being cheap and someone else is beating you, STOP BEING CHEAP! Pay a competitive commission.
If the issue is that you can’t do a reciprocal promotion, reconsider your stance. It might be worth promoting them to keep them. Or consider other alternatives if you truly can’t do a reciprocal promotion.
Reason #3: They went out of business
It happens…and they’re isn’t much you can do about it. Move on.
Reason #4: They don’t know how to promote
Sometimes an affiliate just doesn’t know HOW to promote your product. Or, they haven’t done a good job of adapting to the ever-changing landscape of the marketing world.
Regardless, your job is to help your affiliate succeed.
That means doing things like:
- Hosting training webinars to show them how to promote
- Recording videos to show them how to promote
- Getting on calls with them one-on-one to help them
- Telling them to subscribe to MY site (seriously)
- Create checklists for your affiliates
Reason #5: They’ll “get around to it later”
There are two types of “get around to it later” affiliates…
- Type 1: (0.17%) They truly have it on their calendar for the future. These are the ‘let me look at our promo calendar real quick…Yep, it’s this September 7-12’.
And then, there are THESE guys…
- Type 2: (99.87%): They’re NEVER going to “get around to it”…UNLESS…you give them a nudge.
Often all it takes to activate inactive affiliates is a gentle reminder.
That means sending a specific email to get them to get off their virtual couch and start making sales.
I’ve sent more than 300 different versions of activation emails in my decade-plus of affiliate management. Along the way, I cataloged the BEST performers.
Click here to get our most effective “Affiliate Activation Email Templates.”
As you can see…there are A LOT of moving parts to create a successful affiliate program.
But, I’m here to tell you that if you follow the guidelines I laid out in this post, you’ll be glad you put in the time and effort necessary for phenomenal affiliate marketing success.