Your website is more than just a tool that gives your business a face online. It can be a business in itself.
Here's what I mean by that:
One of the best ways to increase your income (without working more hours for dollars) is to set up a membership site platform.
A membership site becomes the hub of your online training, allows your fans to connect more, and gives you a community of fans to ask for input, information, and questions.
When done well, it can provide an amazing source of recurring revenue for your online business.
Hosting a webinar is a powerful way to connect with your audience… but do you have what it takes to be the charming, gracious host who captivates an online audience?
The short answer is: yes. You absolutely do.
It doesn't matter if you're an introvert, extrovert, or totally lost when it comes to tech tools – hosting your own webinar can be a fun, enjoyable way to spend an afternoon.
As long as you can get on-air and communicate your passion with your audience, you've got a winning chance at making a lasting impact on your tribe…and it takes only about 15 minutes to sketch out your strategy.
Starting a new business takes dedication and an incredible amount of time and resources.
And let’s be honest, when you’re doing it as a side hustle while still working your day job it can be downright exhausting.
But when you focus on the right activities in the limited amount of time you have each day, you can produce 80% of your results with just 20% of your time.
With this in mind: does your side hustle have the potential to replace your full-time income?
In this case study, we’ll take a look a closer look at how you can make it possible.
Meet Shannon Mattern, Your WordPress BFF
Shannon Mattern, the founder of WP-BFF.com, first started her freelance web design business as a side hustle.
The hours she spent at her full time job meant that she struggled to find enough hours in the day to scale her freelance business.
Shannon found her niche when she realized that most of the WordPress site building resources available were very specialized, and didn’t provide basic users with the essential “how to build a WordPress website from start to finish” information.
This realization sparked the creation of her free 5 Day Website Challenge.
But to be successful, Shannon knew she needed to grow her email list.
Enter the 30 Day List Building Challenge.
The 30 Day List Building Challenge was just the catalyst Shannon needed to take WP-BFF from a side hustle to a full-time income.
Thanks to the exponential growth and success of the free challenge Shannon created and her online courses, she was able to walk away from her 9-5 in January of 2018 to focus on her business full time.
Here’s how she did it…
Advice From Shannon: Do It Right The First Time
1. Do your research.
“When I was getting started with my business, I had not heard of AccessAlly and I was so focused on doing everything as cheap as possible because if it didn’t work out, I wasn’t out any money.”
This mindset lead Shannon to OptimizePress. While it could ultimately do what she needed it to do in terms of features, Shannon found the plugin extremely cumbersome and she spent a lot of time getting it set up.
Once set up, the tech setup continued to require substantial time troubleshooting tech issues for members who were having issues logging in and using her membership area.
“It was costing me so much time to try to make it work I was finally like this is just not sustainable,” Shannon notes.
The search ultimately led her to AccessAlly, the plugin that would finally give her the power and flexibility she needed to grow.
2. Take your business seriously.
The shift from side hustle to full time business doesn't happen overnight… but it starts with a mindset shift.
“During a coaching session with my business coach,” Shannon shares, “she told me that if I was going to grow this thing, I needed to act like a real business owner.”
It was an eye-opening moment. Shannon had to take a look at her systems and tools to evaluate what was working, what wasn’t, and where she needed to level up.
3. Invest in the systems that will make you money.
The first upgrade Shannon made was trading in her Mailchimp account for Infusionsoft, so she could take advantage of the marketing automation. With this setup, she discovered that AccessAlly might be the key to unlock growth potential for her membership plugin.
The alternative? “You’ll constantly be investing your time in upgrading each time your business hits a new milestone and outgrows your tech tools that just met your needs at the time.
4. You don’t need a ginormous email list to make money.
Shannon has had over 7000 students go through her free course, and in 2018 with less than 2000 people on her mailing list she was able to generate $36,500 from her online courses within her membership site.
“I know this area of my business is scalable, and it doesn’t require a lot of time from me outside of marketing it to get people in the door through my free course. “
There is some effort and time required to nurture the relationships and people in the free course, but the majority of her time is now spent on 1:1 client work.
AccessAlly is a Game-Changer
After upleveling her WordPress membership site by investing in AccessAlly, Shannon was finally freed up to focus on marketing her business, which ultimately lead to quitting her day job.
Her inbox wasn’t filled with emails from members about issues with her membership site anymore, but rather emails from them raving about it, and also wanting to do something similar.
“The AccessAlly team makes it so easy to get started on your membership site. The setup videos are the best setup videos I’ve seen for any plugin.”
Not only does AccessAlly focus on supporting you in building a great course and membership site, but it helps you market a great course and great membership site. Everything is baked-in.
Use all of the strategies at your disposal within the AccessAlly knowledge base to build out your course.
These methods are tried and true and you don’t have to reinvent the wheel when it comes to setting up your course and automations.
Shannon shares that “When I first started, I was pulling strategies from different places, but would have saved myself so much time if I would have followed the tutorials instead of making it harder than it needed to be.”
Shannon’s Favorite AccessAlly Features
In the interview, Shannon shares a close up view of what her membership site and course area, built with AccessAlly, looks like. Some of the key features she’s used to increase engagement and profitability are:
Total Design Flexibility
Rather, it's completely flexible so you have creative freedom to use whatever WordPress theme you want when it comes to how you want your membership site to look.
Shannon raves about how this is one of AccessAlly’s major strengths, because as a designer she wants to be able to control the way her membership site looks.
AccessAlly is just a plugin, built to control your membership site’s functionality when leveraged with your marketing automation system, and the overall design is controlled by your theme.
Makes it Easy For Students To Pick Up Where They Left Off
The progress tracking features in AccessAlly Pro help members keep track of their course progress, and make it easy for them to pick up where they left off.
Increase Your Revenue With Upsell and Cross-Sell Options
The course dashboard makes it easy to cross-sell additional courses and membership levels you offer, and AccessAlly makes it easy to offer upgrade options for your free members so you can turn them into paying customers.
How successful is this feature? Shannon revealed that she's earned $36,500 from the online courses inside her membership site–and that's just from users that came in for her free course and wanted more.
Integrate With The Email Marketing Automation System That Best Fits Your Business
Last, but not least… the integration with lower cost marketing automation systems such as ConvertKit makes it possible to create a premium membership site at a lower cost.
When she first got started, Shannon chose to work with Infusionosft as the CRM that powered her AccessAlly site. (This was back in the day when Infusionsoft and Ontraport were the only integrations available.)
However, once ConvertKit became an integration option, Shannon decided to move CRMs, noting that Infusionsoft was really overkill for where her business was at the time. It made sense for her to downsize and work with a tool that was designed for businesses her size (and saving hundreds of dollars a year in the process).
Turn Your Side Hustle Into A Full Time, Profitable Career
A solid tech foundation has the potential to change the trajectory of your best membership site ideas. Not only does it bring you peace of mind, but it allows you to focus on growing your business, instead of just fixing it all the time.
Take some time out to evaluate your current systems. If something isn’t working, improve it. In the end, you’ll save yourself so much time and money.
If you’re ready to follow Shannon’s lead and transform your membership site so you can finally turn your side hustle into a full-time career, let’s chat.
Book a demo with a member of our team to see if AccessAlly can help you get there.
How well is your business doing?
Talk about a loaded question…
However, as an online course creator or membership site owner, it’s one you should be able to confidently answer.
Healthy, thriving membership site owners know their projected revenue, customer retention rates and lifetime value, as well as their conversion numbers.
One of the most efficient ways you can start tracking these metrics is by creating a dashboard that displays all your most important numbers at-a-glance.
With the help of a metrics dashboard, you can easily gather the data necessary to help drive decisions, and detect any leaky buckets or holes in your customer’s journey.
Knowing these numbers is not only key to the success of your business, but also to the success of your members.
What Metrics Should You Be Tracking For Your Membership Program?
The best metrics to be tracking in your membership site might look similar to your business-wide metrics, and can include any of the following:
- Member churn rate so that you know, on average how many customers you’re losing each month.
- Customer lifetime value so you know how much money your membership program is taking in versus how much you’re spending to maintain and advertise it.
- Revenue forecasting so you can project how much money you can expect to earn in your business in the next year.
Not sure what metrics are best for your setup? Click here to learn about the 11 tracking metrics examples of metrics for membership site owners.
Let’s take a closer look at 4 metrics tracking solutions you can use to support you in growing your membership site.
What To Look For In A Business Metrics Dashboard Software Solution
The ability to analyze sales data, get insights on your projected revenue, and knowing your retention and churn rates will help you maximize your revenue and keep your customers coming back for more.
There are 4 key areas you’ll want to see included in your metrics tracking tool for your membership site and online courses. They are:
- Revenue and sales, this will help you get a clear picture of exactly how much money your business is bringing in.
- User-related stats, to keep a pulse on the number of members you have (free and paid).
- Abandoned cart data, to gauge the effectiveness of your checkout process. (According to Statista, 75% of people abandon their cart when they click the “buy now” button…that's a lot of valuable data for your ecommerce setup.)
- Subscriptions, that help you measure the success of your offers.
AccessAlly is a membership site and online course plugin for WordPress that comes equipped with a built-in, customizable metrics dashboard to help you gather the most crucial data for your online courses and membership site.
This KPI dashboard design allows you to get a complete understanding of your numbers, from big picture stats to drilled-down metrics.
The great part about this setup is that you can pick and choose which metrics are displayed, creating a fully customized dashboard that’s tailored to your business
You can see the full suite of metrics available in AccessAlly here.
Revenue and Sales
A great number to start with is your total revenue, which is the sum of all payments. This will help you get a clear picture of exactly how much money your business is bringing in.
You can use forecasted revenue projections for the next month and year to help you understand your growth trajectory and if you’re on track to reach your revenue goals.
You can also track the number of cancellations and total refunds and refunded amounts so you know at a glance how many members you’re losing to each.
You can also track affiliate sales, and sales generated from specific promotions from within your AccessAlly metrics dashboard to understand how effective your affiliate program and promotions are in generating revenue for your business.
These stats will help you understand how long your members are staying committed to your membership and will help you understand where your opportunities for growth lie.
For example, if you notice engagement and retention peak around the 3 month mark, you can craft a retention campaign to provide additional support and motivation shortly after their 2nd payment to increase the longevity of your memberships and provide additional value to the customer.
You can also use lifetime value to understand exactly how much each customer is worth to your business so you can determine how much you should be spending to acquire each customer to maximize profits.
AccessAlly displays the number of orders that are initiated and completed vs. abandoned. This can give you the insights you need to improve the sales process, and put a follow-up in place to re-capture some of those lost sales.
The number of active, cancelled, and completed subscriptions (if you offer payment plans) will help you track trends over time. This will help you attribute the activities and promotions that are bringing in the most revenue, but also spark improvements in your retention campaigns so you can improve the lifetime value of each customer.
AccessAlly also includes a custom calculation/advanced option so you can add metrics specific to your business into your dashboard.
Who it's best for
There are a lot of great metrics available within AccessAlly to help you monitor and improve your membership site model. AccessAlly only tracks metrics from its own plugin, so you can only use it if you’re an active AccessAlly subscriber with the plugin installed on your site.
All metrics will be displayed on the same dashboard (although it does allow you to create sections to help organize).
MemberMouse is another membership plugin for WordPress with a built-in reporting suite so you can track your most important membership site metrics.
Revenue and Sales
MemberMouse’s reporting suite also includes sales reporting data such as total revenue, sales reports for a given date range, sales by product, and customer value for each traffic source.
You can also see the total sales by each payment system if you use a combination such as Paypal and Stripe. This is helpful in understanding which gateway is most popular amongst your members, in the event you want to reduce your expenses by reducing the number of tools in your tech stack.
You can also track sales by channel, which is key in understanding which activities and promotional channels are driving the most revenue for your business.
The MemberMouse reporting suite tracks your total number of members, average customer lifetime value, and retention rates.
The graphical representations are great for helping you understand your membership site growth in relation to the number of members over time, not just revenue growth.
You can also monitor your member engagement rate in pages per day to spot trends and work to increased engagement on your slower days.
This is one of the key metrics currently missing from MemberMouse's reports. The fact that it does not track abandoned cart data, can make it difficult to analyze and improve your checkout process and recapture lost sales.
(If you do have an abandoned cart automation set up, you might be able to manually figure out the data by reviewing how many abandoned cart emails were sent out, and checking to see if the recipients made a purchase after receiving the info.)
MemberMouse tracks average daily or monthly revenue, as well as customer churn rates, so you can ensure you’re not losing more customers and revenue each month than you are adding.
MemberMouse does not include a built-in projected revenue metric. Projected revenue helps you forecast your financial earnings over the next few months, and year. This metric helps you determine whether or not you’re on track to reach your revenue and growth goals.
Who it's best for
The reporting suite by MemberMouse is only available to MemberMouse customers. Since it provides a wealth of valuable data to improve your membership site, the metrics dashboard itself can be a huge comparison point when you're deciding what membership software is the best fit for your business.
For more comparison points, read our WordPress membership plugin comparison post.
ProfitWell is a 3rd party SaaS tool used to report subscription metrics for your business, and ultimately, your membership site.
ProfitWell integrates with your payment gateway, rather than your membership platform, so its' metrics are very revenue and sales focused.
The ProfitWell dashboard displays a high-level overview of some of the most popular metrics you want to be tracking for your members.
You’ll also find a recent activity feed with real-time updates about your member’s actions from new customers, customers who have churned, and those who have recently upgraded or downgraded their plans.
Revenue and Sales
Revenue and sales stats are graphically and numerically displayed in your ProfitWell metrics dashboard, so you can see exactly how much revenue has been generated from new, and existing sales. Additionally, you can view the upgrades, downgrades, and churned members that contribute to this number month after month.
ProftWell also does a great job showcasing the breakdown of your metrics month after month in a table format so you can easily track your growth from month to month.
ProfitWell provides insights for your active and inactive users based on revenue generated from each group of members, indicating what percentage of forecasted revenue is at risk due to the possibility of those inactive members churning.
You can also easily see which members are the most active broken down by course and membership levels.
You can also track trends in activity for your customers month to month on a weekly basis.
ProfitWell does not currently track abandoned cart data so you’re not able to optimize this part of your customer’s journey, potentially leaving thousands of dollars on the table month after month.
Like the other tools we’ve compared here ProfitWell tracks monthly recurring revenue, churn, customer lifetime value, and retention rates for your members.
Who its best for
If you're using one of the payment gateways from their integration list (which includes Stripe, Braintree, Zuora, Chargebee, and Recurly), ProfitWell might stand out as one of the top contenders for tracking your membership site revenue and sales data. (You may also be able to integrate via API if your developer can set this up for you.)
If you use multiple payment gateways, ProfitWell does not aggregate the data so you will be required to manually combine them.
Baremetrics is another 3rd party SaaS tool built to integrate with your membership site using a third party tool such as zapier.
Similar to AccessAlly’s setup, Baremetics gives you full control over your metrics dashboard.
Similar to ProfitWell, Baremetrics provides you with a livestream of all activity from sales and subscriptions. You can even see at a glance a breakdown summary of new signups, churned customers, upgrades and downgrades on your main dashboard.
Revenue and Sales
Baremetrics does a great job visually displaying your revenue and sales metrics, specifically forecasting revenue. The graphical representations show cash flow projections based on current MRR and ARR and growth.
You can also calculate your projected revenue by plugging in custom growth percentages and churn rates. For example, if your goal is to reduce your churn rate to 4% and increase your growth by 10% for the next year, their custom calculator will generate your projected income based on those numbers to help you plan and set goals for the next year.
Baremetrics provides you with a full account summary of each customer’s financial account activity.
It does, however, take things one step further and reports your payment processing fees on your main dashboard.
It’s common for membership owners to focus on the revenue number, but not account for the payment processing fees automatically deducted from the incoming revenue which will slightly skew your perception of the total amount of money actually hitting your bank account each month.
While Baremetrics is really great at tracking sales and revenue data, it falls short on the user-related stats for membership site activity. If this is important to you, you’ll have to depend on your learning management system or membership software to provide that data, or use an additional 3rd party tool for these metrics.
Similar to the other tools compared here (with the exception of AccessAlly) Baremetrics also doesn’t include data on users who initiate checkout, but end up abandoning their shopping cart.
Who its best for
What Tool Is Right For Your Business?
Let’s get to tracking!
You don’t want to be caught with your pants down the next time someone asks you how things are going with your membership site.
And, with the help of one of these KPI dashboard tools, you’ll be plugging up the holes in any leaky buckets and giving your members the best possible experience with your brand.
If you’re interested in a personal, behind-the-scenes tour of AccessAlly, schedule a demo with our team today.
We’re here to answer all of your questions metrics and membership site related to help you find the best membership and learning management system for your business.
Timing is everything, especially when it comes to determining how to start an affiliate program for your business.
Start too early and you might end up with a pile of paperwork and no revenue. (But if you wait too long, you might miss out on valuable revenue and reach for your business.)
In fact, affiliate programs work best when your business is already well established.
They also aren’t magical growth accelerators. A successful affiliate or referral program requires structure and a nurturing environment to bring in those extra sales.
Here’s why it works that way:
1. The Best Referrals Come From People Who Know Your Program
Sure, anyone can share an affiliate link… but the highest conversion rates come from individuals who have experience with your program (or services and courses) and can give a genuine account of it to their network of trusted relationships.
People see through a make-me-money-fast scheme, whether it’s coming from your mouth or the mouth of your affiliate partners.
So make sure that you’ve done your due diligence by making sure your program or services are stellar and that you have happy clients who are more than ready to share the news about it all.
2. The Most Valuable Affiliates Have A Following Of Their Own
Want to gather a group of affiliates who are worth their weight in gold? Ally yourself with individuals who have a strong following of their own… which is easier said than done.
To do this, of course, you have to “prove” that your affiliate program is going to be worth their time and attention. You’ll also have to prove that your program offers more potential than the other ones out there.
You'll also want to make sure that you treat any affiliate's referral like gold: which is why having a proven product or service makes it easier to onboard affiliates.
If I don't have a good time at a restaurant, I'm not going to tell my friends to go there because they'll never trust my recommendations for restaurants (or anything else)! The same is true for anyone who spreads the word as an affiliate.
3. Affiliates Aren’t Going To Put Effort Into A Product That’s Not Selling
Do you know who’s the most loyal affiliate of your program? You.
Your affiliates are in it for the money, otherwise they would be using their time and efforts to promote their own products and services.
So if you’re having a tough time making sales on your own, there’s very little reason to believe that your affiliates will do any better.
And, to be totally honest, if the time spent with you isn’t paying off for your affiliates, they’re likely to abandon your program entirely.
4. Affiliates Are Looking For An Easy Way To Make Money
And this is totally, 100% ok.
After all, it’s not their course or program to sell, it’s yours.
Your next job is to create the best sharable graphic, social media posts, and email swipe copy that they might possibly need when advertising your program – and make sure it’s all easily accessible.
Many of the strongest affiliates often have full-time gigs of their own, and don’t have time to plan an entire marketing strategy around your programs.
Once again, that’s your job. Make it as easy for them as possible!
5. Affiliates Are Also Looking To Build Stronger Relationships
Our AccessAlly Affiliates are some of our all-time favorite business allies. We’ve taken the time to get to know as many of them as possible.
Whether that’s through email, Skype conversations, or in-person meetings, we’re always excited to get to know each one of them a little more whenever possible… which does require effort.
It's good for all of us when we focus on helping our affiliates succeed: our collective customers benefit and so do we.
Building a strong business means building real relationships. Especially with your affiliates. So be prepared to dedicate quite a bit of time to making sure they have everything they need to be successful.
The Strength Of Your Business Dictates The Success Of Your Affiliates
Jumping the gun and setting up your own affiliate program “too soon” means that you might not see the great benefits that you’re craving.
Can it still work? Sure.
In the world of online business, anything is technically possible.
But know that your affiliates will quickly see how much or how little dedication you’re putting into it. And the stellar ones aren’t likely to stick around if things aren’t running as smoothly as they could be.
This also means making sure that your affiliate tracking system is fully automated, so that there are no awkward mix-ups or payment inconsistencies.
Speaking of Awkward, Expensive Pitfalls…
A lot that can go wrong when you're not totally prepared for (or invested in) an affiliate program. But here are the main 3 pitfalls that we see most often:
Mistake #1: Investing Too Much in A Big System… Without The Payoff
Since affiliate programs tend to be a little more “high-end” on the business investment spectrum, affiliate program software typically comes with a price tag attached. Yes, there are some WordPress referral plugin options on the low end but you'll want to make sure they integrate with your existing systems.
Affiliate systems also require a ton of time to manage properly, which means that you might either burnout (if you're trying to do it all yourself), or have to hire a new tech savvy team member (which can be quite expensive).
If your affiliates aren't bringing in enough extra revenue to cover this investment, you can end up in the red.
Mistake #2: Recruiting the wrong type of affiliates
Anyone can be an affiliate, right?
Some affiliates are only in it to make a little money, and aren't as discerning about the type of traffic they're sending to your products.
We've seen a huge influx of website traffic and purchases from affiliate referrals… only to have it followed by refunds and returns. These were just not our ideal customers to begin with.
It's not just a hassle. It's a total waste of money and resources to try to get everything straightened out.
Mistake #3: Losing your best affiliates because of poor leadership
Say you've successfully avoided mistakes 1 and 2, but then find yourself pulled in many different directions. Yeah, you promised new graphics, more promotions, and an affiliate contest (complete with prizes)… but when it comes right down to it, you don't have the time.
Unfortunately, neglecting your affiliates can completely annihilate their interest in you and what you have to offer. Because while you were trying to refocus, another company may have stepped in with a better program.
Your affiliates might decide to skip your next promotion or dis-engage entirely.
Always remember that your affiliates are humans with their own lives! They need inspiration and leadership from you if you're going to expect any bit of effort from them!
…and that brings us to the next part of building your own affiliate program:
When You’re Really Ready for It… Here’s How To Set Up An Affiliate Program That Actually Benefits Your Business
By this point, you should know in your gut whether or not an affiliate program is the right fit for your business at this time.
If the answer is “Heck yes, absolutely,” then there’s a whole new list of practical things to consider: the set up and running of said program.
To be 100% honest, it’s a huge undertaking, both in the setup and in the management of the program itself.
But the payoff (for the right fit) makes it all worthwhile.
So here are the top 5 “practicals” of building your own affiliate program:
1. What Features Do I Need To Have In My Affiliate Center?
So… what does an affiliate center typically include?
- Unique Affiliate Links – each affiliate should be able to login and access their own unique links, that will be used to track referrals and purchases.
- A Tracking System That Integrates With Your E-Commerce – Not only should the links be trackable, but they should also be automatically “figured’ inside your e-commerce system. This will allow for streamlined accounting – a total must!
- A password-protected location – this should house all affiliate links and resources for a quick, one-stop-shop for your affiliates.
- An Affiliate “Leaderboard” – one great way to incentivize affiliates is by running a contest. Typically, we do this by offering a prize, and keeping a list of the top 5 or 10 affiliates. It creates a little friendly competition and amps up the enthusiasm.
- ”Swipe Copy” – In your affiliate center, you should also have a place to hold “swipe copy,” or the pre-written emails and social messages that your affiliates can use during promotions. We also like to create custom graphics to make it all a little more visually appealing
2. What affiliate program platform should I use?
The software “brain” behind your affiliate program is really the one that ensures all the features (listed above) are readily available and functioning.
Because of this, it’s definitely recommended to use a robust affiliate system that thoroughly integrates with your CRM/e-commerce system – whether that's a third-party tool, or something that's already built into your current tech setup.
For example, we used Infusionsoft's affiliate center for years to host and track our affiliate program, and were really happy with its performance.
After we added affiliate functionality to our AccessAlly plugin, we switched to using that, instead.
3. What % of a sale should I offer my affiliates?
This is a huge question, and one that you have to dig deep into your business model to find the answer to!
Many entrepreneurs who run affiliate programs won’t directly advertise how much they’re sharing with their affiliates, but in short, the answer is this:
Share enough to make it be worth their while.
If you’re selling thousand-dollar services, you won’t necessarily need to designate as high of a percentage as when you’re only selling $20 products.
But on the other hand, most affiliates will appreciate your generosity if you decide to give out a 20 – 50% cut, no matter how much you’re charging for your products.
4. How Much “Swipe Copy” Do I Need To Prepare For My Affiliates?
Generally, there are two types of affiliate promotions:
- Evergreen promotions – when your products are always available to purchase.
- Launch promotions – when you’re opening up enrollment or sales for a limited time.
Each type of promotion should include its own set of swipe copy… in general, I like to see:
- 1-3 pre-written emails (more, if you want them to do a sales sequence with their email lists)
- 3-5 Facebook/LinkedIn/Google+ posts
- 3-5 Twitter posts
- 3-10 unique graphics to use as social posts, website banners, etc.
5. How Many Affiliates Should I Recruit?
Once again, this is totally up to you.
“The more the merrier” isn’t always a good motto to have, since you definitely want your affiliates to be invested in your business and mission.
(Think about it: affiliates who send low-quality traffic to your site will also be sending you less-than-ideal clients who might buy a product quickly… but then cancel just as fast. Total customer service headache!)
At the same time, you want to recruit enough affiliates so that you can count on some referrals always coming in, even if some of your affiliates are busy with other things during a promotion.
Find a sweet spot that works for you – possibly setting a “good-better-best” goal to reach when recruiting.
What’s the Next Step In Starting Your Own Affiliate Program?
First, be 100% certain that now is the right time to begin your program.
Then, find the affiliate platform/plugin that will work best for your needs.
Next, spend ample time planning out your promotions and preparing a ton of copy and materials for your affiliates.
Lastly, take time to recruit affiliates who love your business and are ready to make you proud.
The future of your business might even depend on the strength of your program.
Content updated March 2019.
Maria Myre is the word person at AccessAlly, where she spends her days sipping on espresso and exploring new, intuitive ways to connect entrepreneurs with the tech tools and training that will best fit their business needs. When she’s not writing tech-y business stuff, Maria enjoys art and horseback adventures in the Great Outdoors.
Content updated February 2019
Many affiliate programs begin with new ideas and enthusiasm for sharing your products with new audiences … but progressively lose that focus as time goes by.
As the focus wanes, so do the commissions, and new sales: a downward spiral of unenthusiastic affiliates and a decrease in revenue.
It doesn't have to be like that – but, if you're the one running your affiliate program, the responsibility is on your shoulders to kickstart a new revolution of affiliates who care passionately about the same things that you do.
Start Your Own Affiliate Program That Stays Competitive And Profitable
Ok, so you have an affiliate program (or are about to build one in the near future). Before looking ahead at longevity, review the program to make sure you have the foundation built:
- A great product
- Resources to help your affiliates succeed
- Bandwidth in your business for proper setup and ongoing management
(We go in-depth about the setup in this article: How To Use a WordPress Referral Plugin To Increase Your Reach and Revenue)
Rekindling Enthusiasm In a Fading Referral Program
Referrals who see consistent revenue from promoting your products will naturally stay engaged with your program.
But the rest of your affiliate marketers–those who perhaps got off to a rough start, or those whose referrals are more sporadic–need help staying motivated and focused.
Why Affiliate Contests Can Help Boost Sales
For the go-getters, contests tend to be invigorating. You can easily create an affiliate contest leaderboard using the AccessAlly membership plugin for WordPress.
By presenting a challenge, and providing the structure and motivation to accompany it, a well-designed contest can truly get your team back into gear.
Adding a Leaderboard to the Game Also Increases Motivation
With the right setup, a leaderboard is truly a tool that establishes some strong momentum and motivation for your affiliate contests. The setup you use for your affiliate leaderboard should include:
Tracking For A Limited Time
Setting a strict “start” and “end” date for your contest will allow everyone to start off on the same level. High performers will begin alongside the affiliates who haven't been making a ton of sales.
You can choose whatever length of contest you want, of course, but I have to say that month-long affiliate contests are one of my favorite.
A month is long enough for each affiliate to be able to formulate a sales strategy, but not so long that it causes burnout.
One thing that we really like to do when we run affiliate contests is only show the top 3 or top 10 affiliates on the leaderboard.
First, because keeping a list of all affiliates (especially if you have quite a few) on the leaderboard tends to be a little overkill. It also might be deterring in situations when an affiliate chooses not to participate in a particular contest, but still has to see their name on the list of an all-affiliate leaderboard.
A “Top 10” affiliate leaderboard, on the other hand, gives you the opportunity to amp up the rewards and offer a little more incentive for affiliates to dive into the fun of the challenge.
For example, you might choose to offer an exclusive bonus for the top 3 performers at the end of the contest. It will give your affiliates more incentive to track exactly where they stand in the competitors…and what it'll take to get to the top.
Track Relevant Numbers
Typically, an affiliate contest is used in conjunction with a focused marketing push for a specific product.
In these cases, your leaderboard should be able to filter out any non-pertinent information (and a bonus for you if this happens automatically!).
Whether you choose to track sales of a specific product, sales of all product (“top affiliate of the month”), or the dollar amount of sales (used with multiple products, since some will be worth more than others) is totally up to you.
Keep It Updated
So the other thing to keep in mind is that a leaderboard isn't going to be super effective unless it's being updated consistently.
By offering up-to-date information, you can ensure that affiliates will be checking in frequently to the Leaderboard “hub” to check out the latest rankings.
With the AccessAlly Leaderboard, all stats are automatically updated every 24 hours. So if the sale has been processed successfully, the numbers will show up the following day.
If you're running a leaderboard through another piece of software (or doing it manually…), take the time to ensure that all numbers are up to date at least once a day, especially during shorter contests.
Our Affiliate Contest Checklist
Running periodic affiliate contests has become a regular part of our schedule.
1. Decide on Prizes for Top Affiliates
Before the contest even begins, we make sure that we have a few stellar prizes ready for top performing affiliates. One thing we like to ask ourselves when picking out the right rewards is: “Is this something of value that our affiliates would be tempted to buy on their own?”
If so, the prize is a good one and will help keep the motivation high.
2. Write Swipe Copy For Affiliates
Another big part of the setup process is writing swipe copy. This saves time for your affiliates and increases the chance that they'll participate on a deeper level. (Remember: your affiliates are likely busy with other jobs and projects; make it easy for them to promote your products!)
- Write social media swipe copy for Facebook and Twitter posts
- Write a sample email newsletter that affiliates can simply copy + paste to use
3. Get Affiliates Excited
This is where your motivational skills come into play! Amp up the anticipation before the contest by sending out an email or two, then take the time to keep the momentum going strong throughout the duration.
- Before contest:Write & send email to all affiliates, announcing the affiliate contest, rules, and prizes. This should include helpful hints for how they can join in the promotion.
- During contest:Write & send 3-4 emails full of encouragement to all affiliates throughout the duration of the contest.
- After contest: Write & send a wrap-up email that announces prizes and winners, and is full of gratitude for the partnership of all affiliates.
See The Affiliate Contest Leaderboard In Action
So…how are you going to improve your affiliate program?
An affiliate contest and leaderboard is simple to setup and use, with the right software including AccessAlly.
And reaping the rewards of an increased business revenue and excited affiliate partners can be so refreshing for a hard-working entrepreneur.
About The Author
Maria Myre is the word person at AccessAlly, where she spends her days sipping on espresso and exploring new, intuitive ways to connect entrepreneurs with the tech tools and training that will best fit their business needs. When she’s not writing tech-y business stuff, Maria enjoys art, horseback riding, and adventuring in the Great Outdoors.
I found it.
The closest thing to passive income you can earn online.
It’s good old affiliate marketing.
Now before you dismiss the idea entirely… I need to say it: what it takes to achieve affiliate marketing success is not what you might expect.
I’m sharing the numbers with you because I know that we don't see a lot of realistic affiliate marketing success stories…
Here’s the thing: most affiliate marketing is ineffective and can be a waste of time.
Unless you do it the way I’m about to show you today.
What Type of Affiliate Marketing am I Talking About?
When it comes to affiliate marketing success, there are two sides to the coin…
You can be the one creating products and enlisting the help of other business owners, by creating your own affiliate program. You get more exposure, and you pay a cut of your sales to your referral partners.
Or, you can be the one recommending products as an affiliate and earning a commission.
Most long term business owners end up doing both, but in this post I'll be talking about my income and experiences being an affiliate for other companies.
I talk more about how to create an affiliate program here.
You can also take a look at what it takes to add an affiliate program with a WordPress affiliate plugin, in this video:
How To Do Affiliate Marketing Right (Plus My Surprising Numbers)
When I started out in my very first business online in the health space, nearly 10 years ago, I didn’t know anything about affiliate marketing.
I quickly learned that I could become an affiliate for another company, and earn a commission when someone who came from my link purchased.
It seemed simple enough, and there are plenty of affiliate programs you can sign up for…
From big ones like Amazon, niche product sites, software, and online programs…
Since my business was brand new, and I didn’t have a product or online course to sell, I signed up for one of my “competitors” affiliate program.
Then I sent an email to my tiny email list (it was about 50 people at the time) with an affiliate link for their online course…
A week later, I had made a handful of sales and earned $132.
Email Marketing + Affiliate Promotions
I was stoked! That was my first taste of “passive income”, because I didn’t have to create a product or show up to deliver a service…
I just wrote an email and hit send.
The downside? I had tapped out this opportunity…
Even though I knew that my audience responded well to this offer, I couldn’t just send the same email again.
But there was a better way, that I had yet to figure out.
Writing Affiliate Reviews on Your Website
Fast forward a few years…
I’m in the next iteration of my business teaching people how to get techy with it (funky dance videos included).
Because I was often talking about tech tools and systems, I decided to sign up for the affiliate programs of the ones I was already recommending.
I also realized that people often had a hard time deciding between multiple competing systems, so I put together some comparison posts.
In the end, I wrote a few in-depth reviews about some of the tech tools that I was using and knew a lot about.
One of the email platforms that I recommended was Aweber (yep, that’s an affiliate link!).
Soon, people were finding my review and comparison posts and I started to see people who weren’t on my email list signing up through my affiliate link.
Before I knew it, I was bringing in $200 a month from my recommendation for just one system. (Even after I stopped recommending it and started talking about other email marketing platforms.)
Over the years, I’ve amassed over $15,000 in commissions from just this one company… Pretty amazing right?
The Difference Between One Time Affiliate Promotions and Residual Affiliate Efforts
So what was different between my one-time $132 cash infusion and my steady $200 a month approach?
Yes my reach was much smaller in the early days… but the biggest difference was that my reviews continued to bring people in over time.
The search engines were doing a lot of the heavy lifting for me… and I was able to offer my opinion on the product and help people make the right decisions.
I kept my reviews as unbiased as possible, by sharing both the good and the bad and I was very clear that my links were affiliate links.
Plus, the affiliate program offered a recurring commission structure, so I knew that the money was going to continue to steadily trickle in over time.
Why You Might Want to Invest Your Time in Affiliate Marketing Even If You Have Your Own Products and Services
If you’ve read this far, then you know you can make a modest amount of money by aligning yourself with products that you love and recommend anyway.
But it goes even further.
Writing in-depth review articles and doing comparison videos also positioned me as an authority on the topic.
This in turn helped me to attract more clients for my services, and in turn sell more of my own products, too.
You see, if someone is researching something with the intent to buy then they are more likely to buy other related services and products, too.
Having highly ranked review posts helped me to build my email list and attract more of my ideal clients.
But here’s how I feel in love with affiliate marketing all over again in a big way…
How I Went On To Make Multiple Six Figures in Affiliate Income
My involvement in affiliate marketing had been positive up to this point, but things were about to get crazy.
In 2011 I decided to sign up as an affiliate for my mentor Marie Forleo’s B-School program.
I decided to write a review of the program after having gone through it and gotten so much out of it myself, and because I knew that Marie could really help her students succeed.
This was a $2000 course, and the commission was 50%.
The B-School program was not available all year, but Marie had a great set of free training videos that showed people what to expect if they signed up for the course.
After the enrollment period, I had earned $11,000 dollars.
Now, you might be thinking: wow, that’s amazing – I want some of that passive income action!
But here’s where my next affiliate marketing tip comes in…
Offering Bonuses as an Affiliate Marketer
You see, in 2011 I was a web designer and I knew that people who signed up for B-School could benefit from having a website created for them.
So I offered everyone who purchased B-School through my affiliate link a website project…
This is where the “passive income” story falls apart.
I worked my buns off for that commission, but I ended up delivering some great starter websites and making friends for life with these people in the process.
I also learned that offering bonuses in an affiliate review can be very effective, because it helps you deliver more value than just your opinion…
This is especially important if you’re promoting something that has a lot of other affiliates, and that may have a “launch model” where people need to make a decision to buy before registration closes.
The next year, I revisited my B-School review blog post, updated it with more in-depth information and decided to switch out my bonuses.
This time, I decided to offer some consulting sessions – these would be easier to deliver and would still be very useful for the people who signed up through my affiliate link.
I ended up with over 50 sign ups, and I was on the phone in back-to-back consulting sessions for weeks. (This was no hardship considering I brought in over $50,000.)
Fine Tuning Your Bonuses and Adding In Other Forms of Marketing
At this point, B-School was such an important part of my business that I was also asked by Marie Forleo to come on board as the resident tech trainer for the program.
Each year, I put more energy behind my B-School promotions… from sending emails, posting on social media, updating my review post, and answering individual emails from people who had questions.
The interesting thing was that because B-School was becoming more popular, more people were researching B-School before signing up and finding my review.
So each year I saw a bunch of new email sign ups during B-School season… and this was great for my business, whether they signed up through my link or not.
I ended up earning multiple six figures in B-School commissions over the years.
Each year I also revisited the bonuses that I offered.
I learned that offering 1 on 1 time was extremely beneficial, but that I could also offer more group bonuses… like a ticket to my live events, or access to our courses or software instead.
That was still not the passive income that everyone strives for, but I felt really good offering a lot of value because it was such a big part of my business revenue.
Bringing In Facebook Ad Retargeting
As digital marketing continued to get more sophisticated, I also tried a few other things in combination with affiliate marketing.
One example was to run Facebook retargeting ads to people who had visited my review posts…
That way I could remind them about my bonuses and give them another chance to sign up through my affiliate link.
The great thing about Facebook ad retargeting is that you don’t need to spend a lot on your ads, because you’re just showing them to people who have already expressed interest in the program or product you’re recommending.
But everything starts with having a really high quality review post or video, that people are finding through the search engines.
How You Can Earn More With Thoughtful Reviews
Okay, so you might be thinking that some of this affiliate marketing stuff feels really out of reach.
I admit that I was in the right place at the right time, when it comes to B-School. And I continue to proudly recommend it to new and established business owners who want to master modern marketing. (Although it’s no longer as big of a revenue source now that our business has shifted into software.)
But each year there are new “blockbuster products” and affiliate opportunities.
Not to mention lots of long term residual income affiliate programs, like our own AccessAlly affiliate program.
So let’s take a look at how you can construct a winning affiliate review, and how you can set your review up to show up in the search engines when people are doing their research…
Types of Affiliate Review Approaches
The product you're recommending will usually lead itself to one of these types of affiliate marketing success paths.
- Resource page link: if the product is something that anyone visiting your website could benefit from. This is a simple link in a resource page like this, with a quick explanation of who it's for and why you use it or recommend it.
- Direct review post: this was the type of post that did all of the heavy lifting in my B-School promotions. This works well if people are not comparing two different things, and they really want confirmation before they buy.
- Tutorial post: this is a great way to provide value by teaching how to use a tool or product. It's also a great way to explain why you recommend a product, by showing how it works.
- Comparison post: this type of post usually pins 2 or more competing products against each other. The more personal you can be when creating a comparison post, the better – since most people can compare basic things like price and features themselves. What they really want is the personal experience. Here's an example with 10+ products being compared, and with a fewer number.
What to Include in Your Affiliate Review Post
What you include in your affiliate review can really impact the effectiveness of your efforts.
If you’re going to spend the time reviewing an affiliate product, make sure that it covers these basics – and that your review is valuable for people whether or not they purchase.
The sale should always be a secondary consideration, and the goal of your review post should always be to share your own experience with the product and to help people decide if it’s right for them or not.
Here’s what you need to include in your review:
1. An Affiliate Disclosure
It’s important to be transparent and let readers know that your review contains affiliate links.
Being honest with your readers about your motivations for publishing a review not only helps them trust you more, but it also keeps you compliant with FTC regulations.
Example disclosure: I’m a proud AccessAlly affiliate, which means I earn a commission for any sales I refer. I personally use AccessAlly to run my business and membership site, so I share this review from my first hand experience (including both the good and the bad!).
2. Video (Optional)
Video is optional, but it can help you get your point across and share your story with a product more authentically than text.
If you’re creating a video review, upload it to a public platform like YouTube and use some of the keywords people might use to help your video appear when people are searching.
Make sure to include your affiliate link or a link back to your full written review on your site in the video description.
Include a verbal affiliate disclosure in your video too – it’s best to be upfront in all of your affiliate partnerships.
3. These Key Points (Sample Outline Below)
Affiliate marketing success starts with including the right details in your review.
Here’s an example of the flow you might use to review a software tool like AccessAlly.
Post Title (Example: WordPress LMS Plugin Review)
What I’ll Be Covering
Who This Review Is For
Why You Should Listen To Me As a Reviewer
What I Was Looking For
How I Found AccessAlly & What It Is
What I Like About AccessAlly
If You Use [CRM], Here’s Why You Should Check Out AccessAlly
Final Call to Action and Affiliate Link
Include your affiliate link throughout the post, and be sure to put your affiliate disclosure before you link to the product.
Be as honest and personal as you can be: don’t just repeat the features and details anyone can find on the product’s sales page…
People who are researching a product or course want to know what results you personally got from it, not a regurgitated “feature list”.
How To Pick Your Bonuses
If it makes sense to offer bonuses, here are some suggestions to help you put together a great bonus package.
First, think about the type of person who will be signing up for the product you’re recommending… what other things do they need?
Is there anything you can offer that will make them more successful? Think about things that complement the offer (not distract from it).
You’ll also want to check the affiliate program terms, to make sure that what you plan to offer as a bonus is allowed.
For example, some affiliate programs don’t allow you to offer bonuses worth more than the program price or the commission you earn.
This prevents people from offering SO much that it devalues the original program, and makes people feel suspicious about the “over compensation” in the bonus department.
Similarly, offering to give cash-back may be against the rules of an affiliate program. For example, if you plan to split the commission with the person purchasing – that would reduce the price of the product for the person buying and give them an incentive to buy through your link…
But again, this devalues the product and may not be allowed.
So here are the types of bonuses that tend to do well:
- Your own existing courses and products, if they’re relevant
- A training course or program specifically designed to go along with the product (for example a “how to use XYZ course”)
- Templates, checklists, highlights that help people implement or get results faster
- Group coaching, live events, or other “face time” with you
- Access to you for feedback or questions along the way (it’s especially helpful if you make the effort to check in with people over time – and it shows you care!)
Other creative things you could do is donate all or a portion of an affiliate commission to a charity.
The most important thing is how you frame the bonuses: as something that brings additional value, without making the original product feel inferior.
Bonuses should remain the cherry on top, and not become the focus of your review.
If your bonuses could be a paid offering on their own, you could split them off onto their own individual sales page, and link to them from your review instead.
How to Optimize Your Affiliate Marketing Efforts with SEO
Now that you’ve spent some time writing or recording your thoughts about the product you’re recommending…
It’s time to make sure that your post shows up in the search engines, so that you can get the full benefits and effects of this strategy.
The first step is to do a little bit of keyword research… start off by thinking through what people might be searching for if they’re thinking about buying this particular product, a competing product, or even just wondering about the possibilities in this category.
For example, for AccessAlly you might realize that people are searching for a “ConvertKit LMS plugin”.
Now, you’ll want to type that into Google, preferably into an Incognito or Private browser, and see what comes up.
You might see some suggested related keywords while you’re typing, and you might also get more ideas for keywords based on the results.
You’ll want to pick one main keyword and then 2 other related keywords. So in our example, that might be “ConvertKit WordPress integration” and “ConvertKit course plugin”.
Now here are the ways you’ll use these keywords in your review, to increase your odds of showing up on the first page of the search results:
- Use the main keyword in your post title
- Include images that are relevant and set one of your keywords as the image name, description, or caption / alternative text
- Use these keywords where they naturally come up in your text (this isn’t about stuffing your post with a bunch of keywords, but if you can weave them it where it makes sense, it’ll help tell the search engines what your post is about)
- Use the keywords in your sub-headings as it makes sense
- Link to your post from other relevant pages or posts on your site
- Write the description for your post in an SEO setting area or plugin, and include your keywords as long as they sound natural
- Make sure your URL for your post includes your main keyword
- Once you hit publish on your post, share the post on social media and include your keywords as they make sense
Putting It All Together – How To Have Affiliate Marketing Success
I've covered a lot in this guide, but the most important thing that can help you reach affiliate marketing success is your attitude.
If you're in it for the long term, then it doesn't matter if your first commission payment is small… it will continue to grow over time, and by adding up all of the referrals you'll make in the next decade, you'll be glad you started.
Affiliate marketing may help you fund your main business like it did mine, or it could help you take more time off, pay off your mortgage, or save a little extra for a rainy day.
The key is to get started today.
The sooner you do, the sooner you'll be earning referral income and reaping the rewards with your strategic affiliate marketing success!
ConvertKit is a marketing automation platform, especially popular with bloggers and small businesses for its flexible, easy-to-use features that make email marketing a simple, straightforward process.
As your business grows and thrives (thanks in part to ConvertKit's automations), you might start looking at affiliate marketing as a way to reach new audiences and increase the visibility of your company.
There are a few generic affiliate plugins on the market that might work … and one that's created specifically as a ConvertKit WordPress affiliate integration
Before trying to find the right tech tool, it's important to dive in deeper and pinpoint exactly what you want to accomplish with your ConvertKit WordPress plugin.
What Kind Of Products Are Do You Want to Sell With Your Affiliate Program?
The first question we need to answer to help you choose the best ConvertKit WordPress affiliate plugin integration is this:
What do you plan to offer? It could be…
The good news is that there are different WordPress plugins that handle many of these options.
For An Affiliate Program That Sells Online Courses, Digital Products, or a Membership Program…
… it's possible to “do it all” with a single plugin that handles everything: your digital products, courses, memberships, order forms, and the affiliate program itself.
The benefits of an all-in-one tool is that you don't have to worry about trying to get multiple tools to speak to each other, the way you would if you used one of the WordPress affiliate plugins that can only communicate data with ConvertKit usings a third-party API tool like Zapier or other add-ons…
Zapier is a great tool in a lot of scenarios, and we're certainly not bashing it here. But when you use a third-party tool like that for sensitive data, you end up relying on two separate integrations (the plugin > Zapier & Zapier > ConvertKit) for every data transfer. If something ever goes wrong, it can be difficult to track what happened…and even more difficult to set things straight again.
That's why we created a dedicated affiliate plugin integration for ConvertKit users to use with AccessAlly.
All-in-one Tool For Your Affiliate Program Needs
With AccessAlly’s mobile friendly order forms you can now track affiliate cookies and run your own affiliate program.
Why is it ideal for those who offer online courses, digital products, and membership sites you ask? Because AccessAlly also handles delivery of each of these types of offerings.
In fact, AccessAlly is a ConvertKit membership plugin too!
This affiliate management plugin does so much more for your business, and here's just a taste of the full features you can look forward to:
- Affiliate Registration is handled directly through ConvertKit's opt-in forms – becoming an affiliate is as easy as having an “affiliate tag” applied and getting the AccessAlly account created through a ConvertKit webhook.
- Unlimited affiliates: the number of affiliates you have is up to you! Since each affiliate is a contact in your ConvertKit account, you'll only be limited by your ConvertKit plan.
- Real time reports: see exactly which affiliate accounts are sending traffic to your website, including where the link is coming from. Very few affiliate systems show you what page a link it being clicked on.
- Easy affiliate login and reports: your affiliates can access their own individual affiliate sales reports and see their progress in the affiliate area on WordPress as they send people your way.
- Promote your products and services: there's no limit to the amount of products or services you want to promote through your affiliate program using this WordPress affiliate plugin. The sky's the limit!
Let’s take a look at how easy it is to set up an order form and an affiliate program on WordPress for ConvertKit.
How To Set Up Your ConvertKit affiliate plugin integration
The first thing you need to do is integrate ConvertKit with your WordPress site. It's not as complicated as it sounds — all you have to do is add your unique ConvertKit account API info into AccessAlly's settings are:
Set Up Your Products
After the integration is ready, you can create as many products as you want–no limits here! Online courses with single payments or payment plans, memberships with a free trial and monthly charges, even coupons and special discounts are all available options for this part.
Add Your Order Forms To Your Site
AccessAlly lets you use a 3-step order form, that captures the user's contact info on the very first page. Then, if the user doesn't complete their check-out, you can follow up using ConvertKit’s automation functionality.
Finally, once you have your products in place you can create the affiliate program in AccessAlly.
In AccessAlly’s affiliate plugin functionality, all you need to do it make someone an affiliate is assign a tag in ConvertKit.
This gives them the ability to access your affiliate center on your WordPress site, where they can get their affiliate links, stats, and more.
Delivering Courses and Products using ConvertKit
Delivering your online courses and products using AccessAlly is easy with ConvertKit’s automations. You can do dripped content release, or instant access – it’s all based on tags.
You design the course or membership structure in AccessAlly, while your WordPress theme handles the look and feel of your site.
From there, ConvertKit handles the delivery of emails and decides when to unlock access. It could be a daily challenge, a weekly course, or a monthly membership… your automations in ConvertKit power it all.
Plus, you can decide what kind of affiliate program you want to run.
You decide what affiliate commission structure you want to offer, how long you want to track affiliate cookies and if you’re offering a recurring product you can also choose how long you want to pay affiliates.
Get Started with the ConvertKit Affiliate Plugin WordPress Integration in AccessAlly
While there are other WordPress referral plugin options out there – not all of them were designed with ConvertKit integration in mind.
So if you’ve been looking for the right affiliate plugin on WordPress that deeply integrates with ConvertKit… you’ve found it!
Check out AccessAlly and get started integrating your ConvertKit account with the checkout pages and affiliate system.
Referral programs are on the rise.
The industry of affiliate programs is projected to reach $6.8 billion by 2020 in the United States alone.
That's a huge chunk of money… and the playing field is wide open for more people to get in on it.
For business owners, the projected growth also means that affiliate programs are becoming increasingly mainstream and viable options for you to increase your reach and revenue.
So let's take a look at how you can use something as simple as a WordPress referral plugin to host a profitable affiliate program on your own website.
How a WordPress Referral Plugin Can Increase Your Reach
Nathalie Lussier, the founder of AccessAlly, recently shared a candid look at how she's been on both sides of the referral industry, and has made multiple 6 figures in referral sales.
That's good news for those who are building an income as affiliate marketers.
And, considering the fact that the affiliate only receives a portion of the cut, it's even better news for the company selling the products.
The initial revenue from an affiliate sale is only the beginning of the story: referrals have a prolific tendency to snowball. A single affiliate might be end up being responsible for a large percentage of your sales. As more affiliates become engaged with your business and actively promoting your products, the bigger the snowball effect will be.
Features of an Affiliate Program Poised for Success
Ok let's pause a minute.
A referral program isn't a magic cure-all for your sales and marketing woes. There's a possibility that it might not be right for your business.
That's because the ultimate goal, for affiliate marketers, is to create streams of recurring revenue, whether through annual launches or with evergreen promotions that keep on earning.
Once your understand this, you'll be in a good place:
To successfully enroll affiliates and earn referrals you'll need:
#1 A Great Product
Hopefully this is a total no-brainer, but the product you're opening up to affiliates will have the most success if it can beat the competition in the eyes of your affiliates and clients. A smart affiliate marketer (the kind you want on your side) will ignore poor quality products in favor of ones that deliver real results to their end clients.
#2 Dedicated Fans or Existing Network
Speaking of a great product… if you don't already have a crowd of dedicated fans or an existing network of peers, you'll definitely want to focus on building relationships before starting your affiliate program.
After all, it takes an average of 6 to 8 touchpoints before someone is ready to commit… so if your product isn't already “out there,” you may find that your affiliates fizzle out and lose interest quickly.
#3 A Good Commission Structure
It's tempting to want to fill your pockets faster. But generosity with your affiliates is a long-term strategy that increases their own incentive to promote your products, bringing you more revenue over the long haul. (If it doesn't pay off for them, it probably won't pay off for you, either.)
Many affiliate programs start at a 50% commission split, depending on the offer.
#4 Referral Training Materials
The fact that someone is excited about your product doesn't mean they're a natural marketer. The more guidelines and training materials you can provide to your affiliates, the better they'll be able to promote your product.
#5 Promotion Materials
Along the same lines as the training materials, it's always a good idea to pre-design a variety of promotion materials, from banner ads to social media posts to email swipe copy. Not only does this help save time for your affiliates, but it also ensures that the promotional material will be on-brand.
#6 Affiliate Management & Guidelines
We've talked before about the dark side of affiliate marketing. The more effective you are at eliminating spammy promotion and fake coupons, the better your product will appear to online shoppers.
Prepping Your Business for An Affiliate Program
You know what to include in your affiliate program and how you want it to look… but you also have to do some preparation on the business side of things to make sure that the new referral program will get off the ground without a hitch.
1. Multiple success stories
The best affiliate marketers are often those who have already invested in your product and received its benefits first hand. Make sure you have a strong network of these case studies in place, as they may be responsible for your very first referral sales.
2. Bandwidth to manage a separate program
Affiliate marketing might seem like a hands-off way to get more sales… but there's a ton of behind-the-scenes admin work required, too.
3. A WordPress referral plugin to run your affiliate program.
Finally, you need the right software to take care of the all the technical component of you referral program, from order records (purchases, returns, and refunds) to link tracking and custom referral links. There are self-hosted plugin solutions that you can add to your own WordPress site.
Affiliate WP is a “standalone” referral plugin that can give your site affiliate functionality and offers some integrations with other order form and shopping cart WordPress plugins. If you have a WordPress site set up, but none of your other plugins or systems include affiliate functionality, you may benefit from using the Affiliate WP plugin.
AccessAlly is a full suite plugin that includes memberships, online courses, and an e-commerce solution in addition to affiliate program functionality. The benefit of using AccessAlly is that, since everything is housed in a single plugin, you don't have to worry about failed integrations that might put your entire program in jeopardy.
Plus, since it integrates with your CRM, you can have a fully automated program that's set up once, and runs automatically afterwards.
Tips & Tricks' Affiliate Plugin
Tips and Tricks' Affiliate Plugin is another option for WordPress referral plugins that focuses on integration with WooCommerce and Cart66 plugins, along with a few other options. One main drawback will be integrating with your CRM, but the biggest benefit for this option is the low price point. Worth checking out if you're just getting started.
These software solutions are made for the sole purpose of running the affiliate programs of hundreds (or thousands) of businesses. They can be particularly beneficial if you can't house an affiliate program on your own site (like if you're not on WordPress or you plan to move off eventually).
The downside is that it's another tech tool to add to your stack, and it might not integrate with some of the systems you're already using. You also don't have full control over what the affiliate area looks and feels like. With a WordPress referral plugin, you can design your own affiliate center and keep it on-brand.
How To Set Up Your WordPress Referral Plugin
In this video, you'll see first hand what a “real” referral program looks like to the affiliates and program manager. While the video is specific to AccessAlly, you can expect to follow the same general setup process no matter which tool you sign up for.
1. Accept Applicants
At AccessAlly, we prefer to review all affiliate applications, asking for some key information to assess whether an applicant will be able to send high quality referral traffic our way.
This helps us prevent irritating spam signups that waste our time and that of our clients.
2. Add New Affiliate to a Tier
Each affiliate tier that you create can have a different commission structure. So you might offer a “regular” 30% commission for affiliates, but a higher commission of 50% to key joint venture partners of your business, for example.
3. Connect Affiliates With Resources
When a new affiliate logs into your site, they should see a well-organized area where they can access promotional materials (including swipe copy and graphics), as well as any information available on the number of link clicks, sales, and clawbacks associated with their account.
4. Motivate Affiliates With Contests and Leaderboards
Your affiliates have lives of their own, and may not always feel motivated to promote your product, especially if they've hit a referral dry spell.
One way to counter this natural loss of motivation is by running special affiliate contests and using leaderboards to offer special bonuses to top performing affiliates.
5. Manage and Review Link Clicks
As your program begins to grow and you start getting some great referral traffic, you'll want to keep an eye on where all that traffic is coming from, and whether it's converting into sales.
Take a look at the link clicks periodically to see what pages (and affiliates) are making the biggest impact on your program.
6. Payout Time
Pay your affiliates promptly and on time every month, to maintain trust and a positive working relationship with them.
Increasing Reach with Your Referral Program
A well-run affiliate program will grow and expand along with your business, multiplying the effectiveness of your campaigns, leading to increased visibility and reach for your products. As you begin to develop your own referral program, always look for ways to leverage your existing fans and clients, trusting that the ripples will make their way to other circles as well.
Take a look at how AccessAlly's WordPress affiliate plugin functionality has helped WordPress membership site owners scale.
Content updated February 2019.
Building a digital recurring subscription business is smart, because all of your sales and marketing efforts compound from month to month.
You can have happy long-term members paying you monthly or yearly… for years!
But if you pick the wong WordPress subscription plugin, and realize you need to switch down the line… you might lose all of your hard work and cut your income in half.
The Curse of the WordPress Subscription Plugin Migration
It happens to the best of us: we pick a WordPress paid subscription plugin based on a “top 10 list” and get on with our project.
After hours of work creating our membership site, putting in the effort to recruit paying members, and keeping them engaged and happy…
Maybe the plugin…
- Doesn’t handle pausing subscriptions for members who will be away.
- Can’t handle free or paid trials, and you want to test this new way of onboarding members.
- Doesn’t automatically process refunds and revoke access, and it ends up causing an administrative headache.
- Is clunky on mobile devices and causes a reduction in sales as more people browse on their cellphones and tablets.
Whatever the reason… you realize you’ve set up your recurring subscription business on unsteady ground.
You need to switch WordPress recurring plugins to solve your problem.
But switching means you have to ask all of your current members to sign up all over again.
Now there are ways to incentivize people to register on your new WordPress payment system, by giving them bonuses or other perks.
Some people will miss your emails, be on vacation, or just forget.
So you’re left managing two different WordPress subscription plugins on your site… or forfeiting some of your revenue for the members who don’t switch.
But it doesn’t have to be this way, and that’s why I’m writing this article: to help you evaluate the different WordPress recurring payment plugins out there, so you can make the best decision for your business long term.
So you can avoid the curse of migrating members down the line.
Let’s dive in.
How to Evaluate The WordPress Subscription Plugin Options On the Market
Often we don’t know what to look for when we’re selecting software, so we end up comparing on price and what the different vendors seem to highlight.
But it’s often the “little things” that no one advertises or makes a big fuss about, that end up being really important to how usable a tool really is.
Here are some things that are really important to the long term success of any subscription program – so you can dig in and test out the different tools you’re considering to make sure they can handle these cases.
Order Form Design & Functionality
It goes without saying, but I’m going to say it anyway: a paid subscription plugin needs to be able to take payments… easily.
That means you need the ability to have a design-friendly and branded order form that can handle the different offers you might want to test.
Here are just a few of the things you might want your order forms to be able to handle:
The ability to have someone make an immediate or later purchase without re-entering their credit card details is important for increasing lifetime customer value. Read more about 1-click upsells here.
Showing an additional offer on the check out form right before hitting “buy now” can get people to spend more on their initial purchase. Check out some order bump examples here.
No one talks about the fact that 75% of people who start the checkout process never finish their order… with abandoned cart follow up you can recapture these lost sales.
See a successful abandoned cart follow up email sequence.
Offering a free trial or a many-day paid trial is a great way to get more people into your membership or subscription. The more flexibility you have around how you design your trials, the easier it will be for you to figure out what works for your particular business. See how offering a $1 trial increased sales by 400%.
Combine different products, services, and subscriptions for different groups of people. There are always going to be people who want a premium experience or are willing to purchase more – so bundle your best stuff together.
Running seasonal or evergreen promotions is part of many business best practices. The ability to set up different types of coupons is key here: you might want a coupon that expires after 10 people have claimed it, or that runs until a certain date. Still, you might want an expiring individual coupon for each person who enters your funnel. See examples of different ways to set up coupons here.
As the digital landscape continues to get more and more global, being able to offer multiple currencies on your subscription payments is great. You might be based in one country but have a large base of customers in another part of the world – so why not have people see the price that makes the most sense to them.
Tracking Key Metrics
Knowing how much growth your subscription services or membership site is experience is key, but so is knowing churn and other stats. Having an easy way to track metrics, like revenue, refunds, and cancellations can help you make better decisions about your subscription business.
Integration with Other Systems
Ahh… integration, that pesky but oh so important part of any digital system. When many companies say they integrate with another tech platform, they don’t go into detail on how deep of an integration it is.
Here’s what you might need to keep your eyes peeled for:
CRMs & email marketing platforms
Your business likely already has an email platform or CRM (if not, check out our in-depth CRM comparison) so it’s important to make sure you’re not adding a tool that won’t work with your existing set up. You might be thinking that your WordPress subscription plugin doesn’t need to talk to your CRM/email system… but with anything subscription related, it’s important to be able to segment the email addresses of your paying members and those who default or cancel. So you can target your messaging and not bombard the wrong people with the wrong emails.
Many systems offer PayPal payments for their shopping cart… but for recurring PayPal subscriptions there’s a bit of a hitch. PayPal allows members to cancel their PayPal recurring payments within their own PayPal accounts, so how your subscription plugin handles these cases is imperative. With some tools, you might never be notified that someone cancelled their subscription and so they’ll continue to have access as if they were still paying. Yikes!
Over the past few years, Stripe has become the standard when it comes to taking recurring payments via credit cards. Being able to integrate with Stripe and send invoices through Stripe is a great way to make the most of a recurring subscription integration.
Will you need an additional affiliate management plugin or system, or does the subscription management plugin handle this as well? If you plan to start an affiliate program, then you'll need to think about how the integration will work for paying out affiliates on a regular basis, too.
If you’re using a WordPress subscription plug-in, then it stands to reason you’ll need to manage people’s subscriptions over time.
Here are some cases you might not have thought about that come up often once you start offering a recurring payment membership.
Start, Stop, Pause
Some members might want to pause their subscription and come back at a later time… they might also want to stop and re-start entirely.
Having the flexibility to offer these options shows you care about your members, and they’re more likely to come back when they’re ready.
Apply credits to skip months/payments
Every now and then, you might want to be generous and give some credits to your members so they can have a few months without paying. Maybe they earn these free months by referring friends or because submit a testimonial… the reason is up to you!
Refunds and revoke access
Every business will experience a refund or two along the way, and being able to control access after someone asks for a refund is key. This should be something that’s easy to handle, and that happens automatically once you notify your subscription management system of the refund.
If you offer different subscription plan levels or payment frequencies, it pays to make it easy for your members to manage their subscriptions. For example, if you offer monthly and yearly plans or a starter and high level plan, a member should be able to switch between these options without waiting to email support or cancel one subscription to re-register for another plan. If it’s pro-rated when they switch levels, so they don’t pay more for switching – then all the better!
To reduce administrative overhead, you should be able to set up a simple “cancel my subscription” button that a member can click to cancel future payments and stop their subscription.
Subscription WordPress Plugins to Evaluate
Selling on WordPress can be as simple or as complicated as you make it – but the key is to keep in mind what you need to accomplish today and where you see your business going in the next 18 months.
Now that you know what to look for, here are some suggested WordPress recurring payment plugins to consider:
- WooCommerce Subscriptions: as an add-on to the free WooCommerce plugin for WordPress, it makes sense to choose this option if you're already taking one time payments through WooCommerce. It allows subscribers to upgrade or downgrade their subscriptions.
- AccessAlly: we're biased because we created this all-in-one paid subscription plugin that also includes membership site and learning management system functionality. It ticks all of the boxes above, from member management, CRM integrations, and subscription set up flexibility.
- MemberPress: this is a straightforward plugin for those who want to use an all-in-one system that doesn't have a ton of flexibility, but that can be extended with additional coding savvy.
- Restrict Content Pro: this WordPress paid subscription plugin focuses on protecting paid content, as well as integrating with payment systems. It also handles sending emails for you directly.
- Paid Memberships Pro: also created by a husband and wife team, this plugin comes with both a free and a paid version and might be a great option for protecting content and running paid subscriptions through for smaller businesses.
- S2Member: the biggest difference between this WordPress subscription plugin and the others on the list is that it has a one-time fee instead of a recurring cos,t which might be good for budget conscious startups or solopreneurs. It handles different payment integrations and protecting content as well.
- Cart66: this is a big competitor of WooCommerce, and it focuses on offering a simplified interface and set up for both one time and recurring payments through WordPress. They also offer a service to set things up for you.
- ThriveCart: although this option isn't on the market at the time of writing this WordPress paid subscription plugin review, ThriveCart is a popular option for offering one time or recurring payments through a few different payment integrations.
So what WordPress paid subscription plugin will be the winner for your business?
It's time to pick the subscription plug-in that will serve for you for the next few years, and beyond as your business continues to grow!