If this is not the first article you’ve read on Unsettle, you probably know that I don’t sell advertising on this blog.
Advertising may be right for you, but on a personal level, I take issue with being advertised to when I read a blog. I use an intuitive business model, by which I only do things in my business and brand that feed my soul and genuinely contribute to the majority of my readerships’ lives and business, and advertising doesn’t do that.
If I had to put it into words, I would say that advertising:
- Weakens the integrity of the Unsettle brand
- Sells your attention
- Gives me that feeling in the pit of my stomach that I’m not doing something right.
So when I get emails from companies offering me money to throw an ad up on Unsettle or mention them in an article, I delete or ignore them. A few hundred dollars is not worth my integrity and I’d rather sell my time for money than sell your attention.
But there’s another way of making money with a blog without having to develop your own products, while still making a meaningful contribution to the lives of your people:
The term affiliate marketing sounds a bit icky at first glance, but it’s one type of selling that feels good in my soul, because of how I approach it.
So let’s talk first about what affiliate marketing is, and then what it shouldn’t be (and how to do it with integrity).
Affiliate marketing is when you promote another businesses’ products or services and earn a commission for every sale referred by you.
But for every one person who does affiliate marketing with integrity, there are a dozen who are are slimy and sleazy about it.
See, in the past affiliate marketing has been seen as a way to earn loads of passive income.
People read the blogs or listen to the podcasts of entrepreneurs who earn sometimes tens of thousands of dollars each month from affiliate sales. Anytime there are impressive numbers like that, a bunch of shady people enter the market and spam. It was like the magic “get rich quickly” button of the 2010’s – what sponsored content was before that, and Google Adsense was before that.
But the thing is, when affiliate marketing is done right, done with integrity and goodness, it’s not passive at all.
For every $75 commission I get from an affiliate sale, I spend at least 8-10 hours writing guides, building tutorials, answering emails and questions, building relationships and fostering that trust with my audience.
Affiliate marketing shouldn’t and can’t be passive. You don’t make money with affiliate marketing – you earn money, and the only way to earn affiliate income is to burn the midnight oil building a community, fostering trust and integrity, and contributing to the lives of your audience.
Affiliate marketing should be about giving your audience the tools they need to meet their goals. Nothing more, nothing less.
As with almost everything I do in my business, I have set some guiding principals in place for affiliate marketing. This helps me make decisions, keeps me in check, and gives a backbone to my “why”.
1. Don’t Sell Out
Most of you know that I recommend Bluehost as a web hosting service. One of the first steps to starting your business is starting a website, so almost every Unsettler needs a host, and that means that web hosting is a natural fit for a recommendation from me.
I love Bluehost for it’s simplicity and support. Hostgator, which is another hosting service I’ve used, pays 25% more for a referral than Bluehost. I earn about $75 for a referral on Bluehost and would earn $100 for a referral to Hostgator. By referring you to Hostgator, I’d earn hundreds of dollars more each month in additional revenue.
But I wouldn’t do that.
Hostgator is a fine host – almost all hosting is pretty much the same – but their dashboard system is confusing and complicated. If I referred you to Hostgator, I’d be selling out. And selling out for an additional $25 per referral is just gross.
2. Honesty is The Best Policy
I remember getting an email from a reader asking why I disclose all affiliate links. He asked “do I have to tell people if my link is an affiliate link?”. The answer to this is “no”, but it’s one of my guiding principals to do so.
If you don’t tell your readers your links are affiliate links, it feels sneaky. Transparency is important to me, my brand, and my integrity, and I see no reason why I wouldn’t disclose affiliate links.
I’ve found that when I disclose affiliate links, I feel a lot better about placing them, and certain members of the community actually go out of their way to use them. Not everybody knows what affiliate links are when they see them, and assuming you are contributing substance to your reader’s lives, they want to support you.
3. Treat Readers Like You Want to Be Treated
I remember the first time I ever used an affiliate link from a blogger, I then found out that there was an equivalent available for free. Maybe I misinterpreted the situation, but it seemed as if they left the free one out intentionally because they wanted to earn the commission. The product was the exact same – same brand, same version, everything.
I see my community as an extension of myself, and I know that I want options. I don’t want to spend money on things I could get for free (and I do want to spend money on things that contribute to my life in some way).
That’s why I mention Mailchimp if I’m talking about email service providers. Is Mailchimp the provider I recommend? No. I recommend Aweber, because I’ve used both and far prefer the latter. But Mailchimp has a limited version of their service for free under 2,000 subscribers, and Aweber only offers a free month. Granted, you’re very limited with what you can do with the free version of Mailchimp, so that’s why I recommend Aweber, but I don’t want you to be ill-informed of options.
4. Don’t Hawk Wares You Haven’t Used
Perhaps this point should be first, because it’s so crucial. If somebody approaches me to be an affiliate for their product and I’ve never used it, I’ll immediately tell them “no”. If it seems like a great fit, I’ll insist upon not only seeing the content of the product, but also trying it out first.
How can I recommend something I know nothing about? This seems like a no-brainer, but apparently it’s not. I made the mistake of including an affiliate link to a product I hadn’t used before in my personal finance blog and I’d never make that mistake with Unsettle.
5. Share Products You Love (Whether or Not They Have an Affiliate Program)
I love the 5-Minute Journal.
It’s something I use every day and see great value in. It helps me set my day up for positivity and success, express gratitude,and set my most important missions for the day.
Unfortunately, the 5-Minute Journal didn’t have an affiliate program when I began to use it. Even so, the journal has contributed so much to my daily routine that it wouldn’t feel right to not share it.
There are some products I’ve used that I have loved but don’t have affiliate programs, and that doesn’t mean anything to me. Value to you comes first, and the commission is a small bonus.
6. Choose Your Audience Over Money Every Time
If I have to choose between a benefit to you and a commission to line my own pockets, I always choose the benefit to you. Sometimes, as a business owner, you have to choose between the greater good of your audience and earning more. In this case, I always will choose the former.
Let’s use the 5-Minute Journal as an example.
I have an account with Amazon Associates, which for physical products has an affiliate program even if the company who produces the product doesn’t. So, I could use Amazon affiliates for the 5-Minute Journal. However, the folks behind the journal have generously offered me a discount code for my readers who want to buy the journal (it’s Unsettle if you’re wondering :)). You wouldn’t be able to use the discount code on Amazon, and I’d prefer you get the discount than me earn the commission.
7. People Are People, Not Dollar Signs
There’s some force at work that makes the universe protect people. That means that if you approach your business with integrity and view your audience as what it is: a group of people conspiring to support you and learn from you and grow with you, rather than a money making opportunity, you’ll make far more money in the long run.
I know this is true, and I hope you agree, because we’ll all live with far more abundance if we stop acting like crooked CEOs and start acting like human beings.
Affiliate Marketing is a Great Way to Earn Money…
If you go with your gut.
I strongly believe that if you go with your gut – if you act with integrity and keep the best interests of your audience at heart – you will build a more sustainable, profitable and authentic business.
If you are approached to act as an affiliate for a product you don’t know or believe in, go with your gut.
And always remember: the products and services you endorse are a direct reflection of you. Even one shady recommendation breaks the trust of your readers and weakens your bond with your audience.
The stakes are high. So only back products you truly love. And the money will keep coming to you.