As an autonomous fitness professional, you’re probably working hard to build your business and name. Promoting other companies may seem to run counter to developing your own brand, but the reality is that making connections and building affiliations can help your business grow.

What Is an Affiliate Program?

Have you ever visited a website and noticed another company’s logo with a link to a product or service? It’s likely that the site owner is an affiliate of the company it’s linking to. Anytime a site visitor clicks the link and makes a purchase, the affiliate receives a portion of the profit. This is referred to as affiliate marketing. By posting a link to a product or service of another company, you are marketing for that business. In exchange, the company pays you a commission.

Sound intriguing? Jade Teta, ND, CSCS—author of The Metabolic Effect Diet (Morrow 2010) and co-founder of Metabolic Effect Inc. in Winston-Salem, North Carolina—thought so.

“The great thing about being an affiliate is that you get to choose who to be aligned with,” he explains. “If you use a product and have had great success with it, why not recommend that product? You probably would be telling people about it anyway. Affiliate programs allow business owners and service providers to point their clients to great programs and get something in return, filling in the gaps of your expertise and services. It is a win for the client, a win for the trainer and a win for the business.”

Affiliate programs also allow you to sell products without the overhead. “For most of us in the nutrition and exercise industry, it is difficult to carry all the products we would like to, due to cost, space and additional time required,” says Gary Collins, MS, author of Factor X: The Last Health Program You Will Ever Need (Second Nature 2012) and owner of New American Nutrition in San Diego. “It also allows us to provide high-quality products to our customers as a service that we would not necessarily be able to carry.”

Collins notes that he has also benefited professionally; being an affiliate for other companies has opened the door to new relationships. “Through my affiliates, I have been referred to other people in the business who have similar goals and passions, which is to help people with their journey to optimal health.”

Getting Started

So how do you become an affiliate? For starters, you need a website for your own company. The companies you’re affiliating yourself with will want to know what type of company they’re aligning themselves with, and they’ll want to know that you have the tools to effectively promote their products or services.

To find potential affiliate companies, begin with those you already use and believe in, and see if they offer an affiliate program. It is very important that you associate yourself with companies that share your core values, both personally and professionally, advises Collins.

Teta agrees. “Too many people recommend products they don’t believe in, because of the money,” he says. “But this is a short-sighted tactic, because if your clients spend money on something you recommend and do not find it beneficial, who are they going to blame? In the same way, if you recommend a great product you will be given credit.”

“We strongly believe in practicing what you preach,” says Collins, “If you don’t use the products you sell, I feel that sends the wrong message to your customers.”

The next step is to fill out an application. A credible company will not make you pay to become an affiliate! There should be no up-front costs for you.

“It does not cost to be an affiliate, although some companies will screen affiliates and monitor their behavior [over time],” explains Teta. “As you can imagine, an affiliate becomes somewhat like a spokesperson for a company, and if [the affiliate is] involved in shady behaviors or making false promises, the affiliate company can suffer.”

Teta adds that a good company will watch an affiliate’s performance over time and calculate how many sales the affiliate generates. “If you are not representing the company, you may lose affiliate status.”

“I don’t know of any good affiliate programs that do not make you put in an application with relevant financial and tax information to be screened and then approved,” says Collins. “Then, once accepted, you usually have to do a little more work than just putting their logo on your website.”

The “work” that Collins refers to could involve dealing with the technical side of things. “I have a Web developer who does a lot of the affiliate back-end work for me, as the links can be a little complicated if you don’t know what you’re doing,” he says. “In addition, affiliates will run special promotions and change their product pictures from time to time. It is a good idea to make changes on your website when this happens, to make sure your affiliate links work properly and are up-to-date.”

The Bottom Line

While it’s not a get-rich-quick scheme, affiliate marketing can add a little depth to your bank account without a lot of work. Teta has found that the average affiliate take-home per month amounts to anywhere from $100 to $1,000. Collins is more conservative in his estimate—he has seen double- to triple-digit numbers monthly.

While the amount you can generate varies greatly, both Teta and Collins feel it’s worth it when it’s done right.

“I think for people just getting started in the nutrition and exercise business, affiliates are a great way to bring in a little extra income,” says Collins. “However, I’ve seen a lot of people get in the business and just throw up a website without much thought, and then plaster it with affiliates. This really degrades their business and message.”

“I use affiliates in my company and am an affiliate for companies, and I think this is one of the best ways for trainers to make a silent income and give their clients extra support,” says Teta. “But [affiliates] also have to make sure they’re working from the mindset of serving their clients first, rather than making money. If you start from the place of serving your clients first, you will never get into trouble.”