A Letter to All Current and Future Affiliate Marketers

It’s time to rewrite the story on affiliate marketing. That’s why I’m launching my brand new course, 1•2•3 Affiliate Marketing.

Dear Affiliate Marketer,

Whether you’re just learning about affiliate marketing, or you’ve been enhancing your online business with affiliate marketing for years, this letter—a must read—is for you.

First, I want to tell you a story.

It was 2008. I had just been laid off from my job in the architecture industry. In the months leading up to my layoff, I had been experimenting in online business with my very first effort, GreenExamAcademy.com.

As I was building Green Exam Academy to help others in the architecture industry pass the LEED Exam, I discovered something amazing.

In forums related to internet marketing and online business, I learned about this thing called affiliate marketing. People were finding products to sell online in places called “affiliate networks,” and spending money on ads to send traffic to those products and earning a commission on the side.

This was the first I’d heard about affiliate marketing. The people who were sharing their success were talking about how little they were spending on ads, and how much commission they were making as a result—and with products that weren’t even theirs. I couldn’t believe it, and it just seemed too good to be true.

Back then, when I first started learning about affiliate marketing, the purpose of it was geared toward quick money. The affiliate networks that were prevalent then are a good example of this. They worked like this:

  1. You’d sign up for the affiliate network.
  2. In order to join, you needed to share information about the size of your email list and how much traffic your website brought in, an opportunity for many to exaggerate their numbers.
  3. Once you’re a member of the network, you have access to a giant library of products (from cosmetics to chicken coops) that were being sold as part of the network’s affiliate program.
  4. If someone purchased from those referral links, you earned a percentage of the sale.

This seemed like a treasure trove, an amazing opportunity to make lots of money if you could convince people to click on those links and follow through with the purchase.

Future me (the me who’s writing you today), would say that that’s not the right way to go because you’re not starting from an authentic place. Unless you truly know the product, have used it successfully for yourself, and can prove that to your audience, you can’t expect others to just take your word for it.

But past me (the me who was just getting into online business) didn’t know better. Oh how time and experience can shape you!

My $300 Mistake

During this time, after signing up for an affiliate network, I picked a product that I felt was okay for my audience (but I didn’t really know), I set up a Google AdWords account to start advertising it, and I created my first ad. At that time, I was a terrible marketer and copywriter (still am in many ways!). In the ad, I drove people to click on the link for the product I was advertising.

After a couple of hours, I saw that I had a few hundred impressions on the ad. After a few more hours, it was over a thousand impressions. But I had zero clicks on the ad. Zilch, nada, none. I waited and waited until I finally got my first click, but that person didn’t end up buying the product.

So what did that experience amount to? I spent $300 on a couple dozen clicks, but those clicks amounted to zero sales.

As a learning experience, I began thinking about those clicks, and the person on the other end. Who were they? What compelled them to take action? Why did they click?

After a short while, I learned that there was really no way for me to know the answer to those questions. I couldn’t know that person who clicked, or even my audience. I had created an ad based on a product I didn’t understand inside and out. I didn’t spend the time to know the product, or understand how it could serve my audience. And in so doing, I was failing myself and the people (my small audience at the time) who counted on me.

I wasn’t going to do that ever again. I had a wake-up call, right then and there. I learned how important knowing your audience is, and how integral relationship building is to effective affiliate marketing. My learning process would continue from there, of course, but the building blocks were set.

Affiliate marketing isn’t a quick, impersonal thing. It’s the exact opposite.

Affiliate marketing is about fostering genuine long-term relationships with people you trust, products you love, companies that align with you and your philosophies.

Any healthy relationship takes time and a great deal of trust. And that’s what we need to focus on in our affiliate marketing relationships. I see, too often, people wasting time and energy in promoting products in the guise of affiliate marketing. But, you see, affiliate marketing should be a natural extension of your own efforts in business; not a tack-on just to make a little extra money.

The affiliate relationships I’ve built over the years took time because I spent the time to do the research, test out the product, meet with the creators, and understand their vision. We took the time, together, to build that trust so we can gain the trust of our respective audiences. All of that is essential in affiliate marketing.

And you need to know your audience.

Knowing Your Audience

If you want to make affiliate marketing work for you and have it help build you a long-term passive income, you need to know your audience. Always ask yourself this question:

How can I best serve my audience?

There are a multitude of ways to serve your audience. Sometimes it will simply be a free piece of content that you create: a blog post, a YouTube video, a podcast episode. Sometimes the best way to serve your audience is to promote one of your products, such as an online course of your own, or a piece of software, or a targeted service created specifically for them.

Other times, the best way to serve your audience is to recommend another person or company’s product that already exists. You are a problem solver, but sometimes the best solutions are the products that already exist. If you can make that connection for people, you can be rewarded for it.

Your perspective, always, should be from a place of serving. Serve first.
[Tweet “If you’re not thanked for the products you’re promoting, you’re doing affiliate marketing wrong.”]

Rewriting the Story on Affiliate Marketing

Because of the potential for abuse in affiliate marketing (and actual abuse by some), it’s getting a bad reputation. If you are an affiliate marketer, and you really want to succeed as one, you need to do everything in your power to rewrite the story, and allow people to see affiliate marketing as the positive force it can be: to serve.

When you promote something that is not helpful, you’re not only not in tune with your audience, but you’re doing them a huge disservice. They will, in turn, be less responsive to any calls to action you create in the future, whether it’s related to affiliate marketing or not.

It’s your responsibility, as an affiliate marketer, to see and understand the whole journey of those you serve with your affiliate marketing. It’s your responsibility to know what happens to those you serve. And, it’s your responsibility when things don’t go as planned, which happens even if you have the right intentions.

Here’s an example: A company I trusted and promoted started to fail my audience, and me. I started getting reviews from my audience about the company that were less than stellar. So, I flew to the company’s headquarters and had a serious chat with the CEO to see what was going on. I learned that changes were indeed being made, and although it took awhile, things began to improve. I’m so thankful that the company listened to my feedback, because the service they provide is significantly better now, and the customer reviews that are coming in more recently are back to the levels that they should be.

You can read about that conversation in more depth in my May 2016 Monthly Income Report.

Sometimes, as an affiliate marketer, there are things that happen that will be out of your control. But you have to be willing, if something happens, to take responsibility and take care of your audience—even if it means giving up your affiliate income to find a better solution.

1•2•3 Affiliate Marketing

As many of you know, I’ve come out with several courses this year covering a wide range of topics, including podcasting, starting your business from scratch, and building your own brand. In total, thousands of people have received help they need from these courses to grow their online businesses. And guess what? I have one more course coming out this year. In fact, it’s coming out next week! And that course is:

1•2•3 Affiliate Marketing

This brand-new course is designed to guide you from not making any money in affiliate marketing to a place of understanding exactly how affiliate marketing works, so you can make your first commission in a way that’s genuine, effective, and with an eye toward the long term. Even if you have tried affiliate marketing, and so far it’s just not working out, 1•2•3 Affiliate Marketing was created to help you too.

Here’s my promise to you:

If 1•2•3 Affiliate Marketing does not help you earn your first commission the right way, you will get your money back—no questions asked.

Editor’s Note: 1•2•3 Affiliate Marketing is now a part of the All-Access Pass, our educational membership community. Learn more about the Pass.


Want to try your hand at affiliate marketing and deliver even more value to your podcasting audience? The Smart Podcast Player affiliate program lets you reap the benefits while you “share the wealth” of the best podcast player for power users with your fans. Learn more and sign up here.

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  • Pat Flynn

    Hi, I’m Pat, founder of SPI and host of the Smart Passive Income Podcast. Let’s continue the conversation over in our communities.

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