Is ELT ready for Affiliate Marketing?

The question of whether ELT is ready for Affiliate Marketing boils down to two subsidiary questions:

  • Would you feel icky about promoting other people’s products or services in return for a commission?
  • Would you feel uneasy about paying other people to promote your products and services?

In the business and marketing world, both of these things are considered good business and highly desirable, not sleazy tactics. Yet, in ELT, I think most of us aren’t comfortable at the idea of either. And I’m wondering why that is.

What is Affiliate Marketing anyway?

Firstly, a lot of the absence of it might be just lack of familiarity with Affiliate Marketing as a thing in the first place. So, if you’re not sure what Affiliate Marketing actually is and how it works, here’s a post I wrote to explain what it is so that I could then write this post looking at why it’s not a thing (yet?) in our industry.

Affiliate marketing squirm factor 5/10: marketing in itself

Affiliate Marketing is, after all, marketing and, worse, promotion and those often come up as elements of doing business that ELT people are unsure of or downright uncomfortable with anyway. Though, it’s true, a lot of the discomfort usually arises around self-promotion and visibility. I was reluctant for years to have a business or even market products I’d created (ebooks in this case) because I felt like it spoiled the part I did like which was the creating.

That’s partly because I didn’t understand that marketing and sales were different things. I still can’t say I love selling, but I do now love marketing and if someone wants to call it promotion I’m happy with that too. My ears have stopped ringing over being called a “self-promoting bitch” online 9 years ago. I may even get it on a T-shirt.

But if the idea of marketing and promoting your own things is a bit bleurgh/hard work then the idea of actively marketing for other people seems like even more hard work perhaps. And asking people to market your stuff? A bit big for his/her boots maybe? You’d have to be a pretty big fan of yourself to ask other people to promote you, wouldn’t you? .

And so we end up back where we began. But marketing is a critical part of doing business because otherwise no-one will know about that great thing you know about. So whatever gremlins still lurk, maybe affiliate marketing is how to practise marketing enough to feel even better about making your own offers.

Squirm factor 7/10: guilt

Taking a commission on someone else’s work, if you’re the one doing the affiliate marketing, can feel like “money for nothing” and that induces guilt.

I think that fear forgets the fact that promoting and marketing other people’s stuff, beyond the first couple of mentions where you just tell a friend or two about the thing, is work. You need to actively create content around that product or service, remember to mention it, look for occasions to mention it, even create occasions and events to mention it, like email campaigns, webinars, podcasts etc etc.

Even worse, what if the buyer you recommended the thing to isn’t happy with what they bought but you made money from it? More guilt.

But people are just as free to do further reearch and weigh up the pros and cons as they are when you make a non-comission-based recommendation. They can, and should, do exactly that and, as long as you’re not recommending or marketing things you think are bad for people, and they know there are other options, no guilt needed.

Squirm factor 9/10: ethics and truth

We might feel getting a paid comission turns us into slimy politicians taking a cut for our opinions and endorsements. And that it affects the veracity of those opinions, or that people will think we’re being untruthful for money.

I’d personally only do affiliate marketing for products and services I use and like and have had enough experience of to be able to recommend. Or, if I’ve not been using it long, I’d be upfront about what parts of it I do know.

A lot of influencer marketing is so far from this it’s almost comical. They often sponsor products they’ve never seen beyond the time they spent filming the reel and, in real life, they use far more expensive or unattainable methods to get the results they promote. That’s sponsorship though, a branch of affiliate marketing, but not the same thing.

So, anyway, this should really just come down to … does your audience trust you and do you know what you’re promoting well enough that you’re sure it won’t let them down? If yes, the fact you’re earning a commission shouldn’t compromise your ethics or truthfulness any more than sellling your own services would.

Squirm factor 8/10: conscience

I’m guessing a bit here but I suspect, if we don’t think affiliate marketing is hard enough work to justify getting a commission (see Squirm factor: guilt), people feel that they’d rather not “steal” a percentage from the person whose product it actually is (if it’s someone they know) and let that person retain 100% of their sale.

But, honestly, getting customers and getting in front of new audiences is the hardest part! Too small an audience or having people who are in your audience but aren’t yet convinced enough to buy are literally the two biggest blocks to consistent sales. Affiliate marketing is a huge help, and you’d only stop offering those commissions if you’re so huge everyone knows you and is clamouring for your stuff.

Squirm factor 7/10: profit erosion

This one applies more to not wanting to have an affiliate program ie people earning commissions from marketing your stuff. Just like some people might feel bad about taking a percentage, you might feel bad about paying people a percentage as you think “I could make more on my own.”

To start off with, and if your audience and the affiliate’s audience overlap a lot, maybe they’re not reaching more or different people than you are. There are two main arguments against this.

At some point, that overlap will decrease and they’ll be reaching new people not in your orbit or who just don’t see your posts much, or the recommendation is offline between individuals. Plus it’s that additional recommendation that tipped them to buy anyway; it was necessary on top of your own marketing.

But the far, far bigger reason is that someone who’s your affiliate is working on your behalf because they earn money from it. I often recommend courses I’ve done of course, with no affiliate link or expectation of commission.

But do I bother every time to find a link so the person clicks through there and then? No.

Would I create content and occasions over and over again about that topic to bring clients to you? No.

Would I remember or bother every single relevant time to type the extra few sentences on a post mentioning your thing or chime in and recommend you every time I see relevant conversations on social media, much less go searching for those conversations so I could promote you? No.

Word of mouth sells.

Affiliate marketing is targeted word of mouth.

Word of mouth that scales to put it another way.

So, I’ll happily pay out a commission if you’re putting in all that work on my behalf.

If you want to learn how to RUN affiliate programs on your offers successfully and without too much effort, here’s my affiliate link to business strategist, Lizzy Goddard’s course on The Lazy Guide to Street Teams (aka) Affiliate Programs).

If you want to learn how to BE an affiliate and market other people’s things, here’s her course on that: The Lazy Guide to Affiliate Marketing (affiliate link).

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