Should Your Courses Have Affiliates?

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If you have created an online course…

And you’re selling that course…

And you want to get the word out about your course…

Then chances are you have considered implementing an affiliate program.

In fact, a quick look at some of the more successful internet marketers would suggest that having an affiliate program is almost essential for your course to make any sales.

The “pie-in-the-sky” view of affiliate programs is that thousands of people are out there promoting your course for a generous cut of the profits. They do the hard work promoting and you get to sit back and watch the sales roll in. Sounds good doesn’t it? 😉

I think you can agree though that this is a pipe-dream. One thing new online entrepreneurs often overlook is how difficult it is to manage an affiliate program. At the very minimum you need to:

  • Recruit affiliates
  • Offer large enough incentives
  • Monitor sales for fraud
  • Support affiliates
  • Pay out commissions
  • Manage disputes

And this list goes on.

Why You SHOULD NOT Have an Affiliate Program

I get it, affiliate programs are attractive. When we first launched LearnDash we were keen on implementing a public affiliate program as we thought it would be a great way to help spread the word.

So we did.

And then we closed it.

People would assume that we closed it because it wasn’t working for us – and perhaps that is true to some degree. But mainly it was becoming a distraction from our core offering. We wanted our focus to be on our software and customers and found that managing an affiliate program was diverting our attention.

While most people out there have good intentions when signing-up for the program, there were cases where people would sign-up for the program and then make their purchase through their own affiliate link.

Because of this, we then needed to spend time reviewing purchases and voiding commissions. As you can imagine, if a commission is voided then you receive an email demanding an explanation which often resulted in a back-and-forth email debate. Again, not what we wanted to be doing as it was taking time away from our core value proposition.

Keep in mind that these kind of things are generally typical when running an affiliate program. Bigger organizations often hire an affiliate manager to take care of all this but when we were first starting out that wasn’t an option.

Another reason we opted to close it was because we felt that it may result in potentially bias reviews of our software.

You probably know what I mean as I’m sure you have tried to find a review on a product online only to come across a completely one-sided article littered with affiliate links. Perhaps the author of the review is sincere, but it is hard to tell in situations like that.

Why You SHOULD Have an Affiliate Program

Affiliate programs are not all “doom and gloom”. They can be quite lucrative actually.

If you have a strong network within the same industry as your course then having an affiliate program could have a big impact on your business. It gives you the opportunity to ‘partner’ with others as well. Let me give an example:

Say you are known expert in your field and have created an online course. You get a few beta testers to go through your course and they are raving about it, but you don’t yet have an online presence.

Your industry likely has places where other professionals congregate such as forums, Facebook Groups, or LinkedIn Groups. These individuals have the presence but not the product. There is a potential ‘win-win’ relationship here where having an affiliate program in place would advantage both parties.

If you have the desire to hire a full-time affiliate manager then having an affiliate program is probably worth considering as well. They can take care of the day-to-day affiliate activities so that you can focus on your core business.

A good affiliate manager also knows how to scale an affiliate program, not just manage it. They form connections, create winning promotional materials, facilitate affiliate contests, and provide new ideas for promotion. If they are really good at their job then your affiliate program could become one of your greatest assets. Some online businesses exist because of their affiliate program alone!

In The End…

At the end of the day your decision to implement an affiliate program depends on many factors. The truth is that they can generate a lot of revenue, but in order for that to happen you need to really put in a tremendous amount of effort.

If you are starting your business on a part-time basis, then I’d probably suggest holding off on the program initially until you have the resources for doing it right.

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About the Author:

Justin Ferriman is the co-founder and CEO of LearnDash, the WordPress LMS trusted by the world's leading organizations, such as the University of Michigan, Digital Marketer, WPEngine, and Infusionsoft. Justin has made a career as an elearning consultant where he has implemented large-scale training programs for Fortune 500 companies. Twitter | LinkedIn

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