If you’re working long hours as a trainer, the idea of earning more while working less—passive income—has probably crossed your mind. There’s a good chance you can receive that income from something you’re already doing naturally: affiliate marketing.

First, let’s review some terms so you can decide how they may help your business. Passive income is money you earn based on your past work or work that requires minimal effort on your part. An affiliate is an organization or a person formally connected to another organization or person. For affiliate marketing you create formal relationships to advertise someone else’s products, or another person or company advertises your products or services. The passive income comes in through commissions on sales.

Affiliate marketing offers a unique revenue stream, whether you’re in a brick-and-mortar business or 100% online. There are two ways to develop affiliate marketing relationships:

  1. Invite others to affiliate with you. Set up an affiliate program so that other fitness professionals or businesses can make money promoting your programs or products and you can reach a larger audience. You pay commissions to affiliates who recommend the products and services you sell, such as videos, books, workshops or body composition testing.
  2. Be an affiliate for others. Select the products and tools you use regularly and are comfortable recommending to your clients or other professionals, and earn commissions by recommending those products and services. When you’re an affiliate, you earn dollars as a commission if your clients purchase one of those products or services through your website or using your affiliate identification.

Dave Smith, owner of Make Your Body Work, Vancouver, B.C., was first motivated to try affiliate marketing as a trainer working long hours in a brick-and-mortar business. Like many trainers, he knew that being paid solely for his time wasn’t scalable. Smith has now been selling as an affiliate for others for 10 years, and affiliates have been selling his products for 3 years. “As a product creator, [I’ve found that] affiliates have been instrumental in growing my business,” Smith says.

Dan Ritchie, president of the Functional Aging Institute, West Lafayette, Indiana, agrees that affiliate marketing helps to grow business. “Affiliate marketing greatly increased our revenue,” Ritchie says, adding that “most of our revenues were generated off of selling other people’s products.”

Follow the Money

Revenue from affiliate sales is generated by commissions you receive for recommending a product, service or program that is sold to the “lead,” the person who linked to it through your website or recommendation.

In my business relationships, digital products—such as online courses and exercise videos—usually earn a 40%–50% commission. Products with a smaller profit margin, such as supplements or books, provide commissions in the 15%–25% range.

For affiliates who promote your products, lower commission rates of 5%–10% may not be enough of an incentive. But, if you are already getting referrals from others, it could be worth offering them a small commission to help increase the consistency of recommendations.

Set Up Your Affiliate Program

The affiliate partners who promote your products and services want an easy system. Provide referral partners with images they can use and examples of email, blog and advertising copy—called swipe files—that you’ve tested and you know convert well. In other words, turn subscribers into buyers.

Does this sound overwhelming? It’s really just sharing what you’re already using to successfully promote and sell.

You’ll need a way to capture the leads referred through your affiliates, track the sales and revenue and schedule the payments. You may be equipped to manage affiliates through your current customer relationship management (CRM) software, like Infusionsoft®, or you may opt to add your product to a retail marketing website that manages your affiliates, such as Clickbank™. You can also invest in affiliate tracking software. Post Affiliate Pro™ is one example.

Assure your affiliates that you’ll take good care of the people they send you. It’s their reputation, too. They want to know you’re not going to spam their followers or make hard sells that will come back to bite them.

You can learn a lot about how to set up an affiliate program by becoming an affiliate marketer for other companies.

Steps to Affiliate with Other Companies

Before you decide to market the products and services of other companies, think through the impact on your practice and collect all the details.

Choose the companies. Begin with products or programs that you recommend all the time, that complement what you do and that add value for your customers. Consider all the products you may recommend or believe in. Do clients ask for your playlist or the books you like? Why not link to those songs and books on iTunes? You could create an Amazon Associate account for media. Ideas for affiliate products include these:

  • food preparation or meal planning
  • blenders, pressure cookers, cookware
  • tubing, bands, foam rollers, balls
  • supplements
  • shoes, clothing

Start with programs or products created by someone you know and trust to deliver quality and service to your audience. As Smith advises, “Keep in mind that poor-quality products reflect badly on you.”

Check details on the affiliate agreement. Know the rate of commission and how the commission will be paid. Find out if your partner is paying on a one-time sale or if you will earn a commission on future sales from the lead you sent. Agreements might stipulate commission over a time frame: 6 months, a year or a lifetime commission on backend sales. If you’re promoting a course, for instance, and supplements or additional services are sold as a part of that course, there’s more revenue opportunity if it’s stated in the agreement. Physical products have a smaller profit margin, however, and may be excluded from backend sales or reap smaller rewards.

Make it your responsibility to read the fine print for each affiliate relationship you have, and check these regularly to stay current.

Promote the affiliate partner. To make affiliate marketing work, plan a marketing strategy that will regularly put links to your affiliate partners in front of your audience. Introduce the creator and the product to your audience in a video, podcast or webinar. Know your audience members well enough to determine how much information they want. You might need to teach about the topic or problem that a program or product solves before you make the offer. The higher the product’s perceived price, the more content (blogs, emails, webinars) you’ll need to promote it.

You can start weaving product links into your blogs, articles or programs. For example, if you suggest a high-powered blender for fast and convenient meals, you can link to the product website in a recipe post or list the item in a “success kit resources” message you send to clients.

Understand legal issues. Before you jump in, be aware that the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) requires you to disclose and display your affiliate relationships. FTC guidelines state that “a network devoted to the sale of health products may require more supervision” (ftc.gov).

Anywhere you post or host an affiliate link, you must clearly and conspicuously disclose the relationship. A reader or viewer should be able to see both the disclosure and the link to a product simultaneously. Affiliate success is based on your authentic recommendations that align with your business. You just need to let people know.

Sample disclosure statement: “I receive a commission for purchases made through links on this post.”

Each affiliate may also have rules about placement of its links. Amazon, for instance, currently doesn’t allow links in emails, but the company does allow you to place its links on your website. Read the fine print. Once you’ve been approved as an affiliate, you can safely create a “products I love page” on your website with links to those products. Even when you can’t put the affiliate link directly in social media or emails, you can link back to a page on your site.

Review your social posts, videos and emails—anywhere you’re adding affiliate links, including podcasts and webinars. It’s not enough to disclose in the text of the podcast description that you receive a commission for products you mention, nor would it be all right to bury your disclosure in the description of a video. It’s wise to have a lawyer with expertise in this area review the disclosure statements you use.

It’s also your responsibility to ensure that anyone in an affiliate role on your behalf adheres to FTC guidelines as well.

Get Started

Passive income is possible when you take the right steps to make it successful. It all comes down to offering your customers, website visitors or fans products and services that add value for them.

Debra Atkinson, MS

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