Are you wondering about the most effective ways to get ESL students without incurring an expensive advertising budget? Are you frustrated with how to get ESL students in geographic and demographic markets where you don’t speak the official language? Affiliate marketing is potentially a silver bullet to both problems.
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What is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate marketing is a marketing strategy which involves paying a commission to third parties who promote your services, resulting in a completed transaction, usually a sale, on your website. It offers a win-win-win relationship for all parties.
- It’s a win for the customer because they learn about a service that can help them solve a problem from a trusted, authoritative source i.e. your affiliate partner.
- It’s a win for the affiliate because they earn a commission.
- It’s a win for you because you get customers and sales without necessarily putting in a lot of time or money on marketing programs.
Affiliate marketing should be an attractive option for ESL businesses and freelance operators for the simple reason that your affiliate partners can authentically promote your service in their own language. You don’t need to worry about all the complications of producing culturally suitable and accurately translated advertising for your target audience. Your affiliate partners will get ESL students for you. Best of all, it only needs to cost you money when you complete a sale!
How Do Affiliate Programs Work?
To become an affiliate, your partner needs to have an affiliate account on your site which they can use to generate affiliate links. Alternatively you can just provide each affiliate with the links you want them to use. When they post those links on their blog, their social media, their YouTube channels etc, they are hoping that their site visitors or social media followers click through those links to your site. When somebody does that, it attaches a tracking cookie to their browser history. This lets your site track where your customers and clients came from i.e. which affiliate directed the paying customer to you.
Can I Recruit More Than One Affiliate?
Yes, absolutely. In fact, it is probably a good idea to recruit multiple affiliates to help with your marketing. Over time, you can track which ones are performing well and which ones aren’t. You can reward your affiliates with a “global” rate, offer a “tiered system” of higher commissions for higher performance or negotiate rates with each affiliate individually. If you find a social media influencer in your niche who has an active channel with a large audience, it might be worth offering them a “premium” commission rate to promote and grow your brand.
What Are Marketing “Creatives”?
“Creatives” refers to things like images, banners, your logo graphic, maybe links to your blog articles; essentially any resources that your affiliates might be able to use to promote more links to your site. For example if you create a downloadable PDF resource for your email squeeze page, you would want to let your affiliates know about which landing page they need to promote. Within a short space of time you can introduce visitor sign-ups to your brand via an automated newsletter sequence. Ulitmately, a percentage of them will become paying customers.
It’s always a good idea to have mobile optimized creatives like Instagram “square cropped” images or Pinterest vertical pin graphics. This makes it easier for your affiliates to promote you on their respective social media accounts.
How Can I Calculate Affiliate Payouts?
Affiliate commissions can be automatically determined as a percentage of the final sale amount or as a fixed value. It’s even possible to reward your affiliates for “leads” i.e. email sign ups rather than financial transactions. You’d need to be confident that such a system wasn’t being fraudulently exploited, of course.
When deciding on your payout terms you can choose to reward your affiliates for a single transaction or all transactions for that customer within a time window. You can even set up your program to generate commissions for all transactions generated over a customer lifetime i.e. no end date to the commission rewards.
You’ll need to consider how long you want the affiliate “cookie” window to be. For example if an affiliate refers a potential client to your site, and they become a paying customer two or three weeks later, would you want to reward the affiliate? Probably “yes”.
What if the customer returned to your site six months from the initial referral. Would you still pay a commission for the initial referral? That’s a question you’ll want to consider.
Another very important question (when you have multiple affiliates) is whether to reward the first referral or the last referral.
Consider the case where you have two micro influencers active in your niche. Affiliate A and Affiliate B. Affiliate A sends a visitor to your site, but they don’t become a customer right away. A little while latter, Affiliate B sends the same visitor to your site and this time they do become a customer.
In this case, who do you decide to reward? Affiliate A who made the customer aware of your offering in the first place? Or do you reward Affiliate B who (possibly) provided the necessary additional push to convert them from a “lead” to a “customer”? There aren’t any right or wrong answers here. It depends on your philosophy and judgement.
All these questions should be clearly resolved in your “Affiliate Terms and Conditions” document that you have affiliate partners agree to before they create an account on your site.
Where Can I Find Affiliate Marketing Partners?
Your former students are probably the best candidates to become your affiliate partners. They have already experienced your lessons first hand, which makes them authentic voices to promote your lesson offering. They probably also have friends and colleagues who would be a good match for you. Whenever a student finishes a program of lessons with you, asking if they want to become an affiliate should be a standard part of your “exit interview” procedure.
Social media is another great opportunity to find affiliate partners. Look for Facebook Groups which are popular for people in your target audiences. Most of these groups have well-defined rules about posting affiliate links. Some are OK with it. Others, not so much. So the best approach is to contact the Group administrators. Explain to them that you can help monetize their group by registering the Admin as an affiliate. Then you can encourage the Group admins to post your affiliate links OR offer to do it on their behalf. Usually it works better if the Group admins are doing the posting since they have more accrued authority with the group audience.
Try to add value to the Facebook Group members in other ways too, like answering questions and posting discussion topics of your own. This will help build your trust and authority within the group membership.
You’ll need to “vet” your affiliates to make sure they are an appropriate fit for your brand. Make sure that they don’t misrepresent you to potential customers or generate content which will damage your reputation.
It’s a good idea to keep your affiliates informed about the latest developments in your business. For example if you have released a new curriculum, make sure your affiliates know about it, so they can help you with promotion. A regular newsletter just for affiliates is a great way to keep everyone in the loop.
It also keeps your affiliates motivated if you are accessible to them e.g. regular “office hours” or Zoom group meetups. Creating a community atmosphere around your brand and keeping it fun will energize your affiliates network.
What Affiliate Program Plugins Are Available?
Depending on what platform you are using for your website or landing page, you should be able to find affiliate program plugins or modules.
Tapfiliate has affiliate plugin modules for WIX, Squarespace and Weebly starting at $69/mth. It comes with plenty of options and affiliate program features.
Affiliates Manager is free but AffliateWP offers a more modern UX and more comprehensive features. AffiliateWP licenses start at $149 / yr. Please watch Adam Priesner’s video where he provides a good feature set comparison of the two WordPress plugin solutions.
Paying Your Affiliates
It goes without saying that you should always try to pay your affiliates on time. You should have a designated payout day each month when you remit affiliate commissions. Most affiliate programs deal with payouts via PayPal or some other fund transfer facility.
Make it clear to your affiliates that you need to allow for any refund periods to expire before their commission payouts qualify. You don’t want to pay an affiliate for a referral but then a short time later end up “out-of-pocket” because you refunded the initial sale to the customer.
You’ll also want to set “thresholds” for commission payouts e.g. you only make a payout for the month if the accrued commission is greater than $50. It makes sense for the affiliates themselves because making frequent low value payouts will generate higher bank transaction fees and PayPal transfer expenses which eat away at the amounts they earn.
Some of your affiliates (former ESL students for example) might prefer to receive their rewards “in kind” rather than in cash. For example, instead of receiving a $50 cash payout they might prefer to be compensated with a free lesson. You should consider such possibilities in your terms of service agreement.
Affiliate marketing can be a great way of leveraging the influence and connections of others to attract ESL students to your freelance online business. Former students themselves are potentially great advocates for your brand. Having a structured reward system in place can be a great way to motivate them to help your business succeed.
The author of this post lives in Japan with his wife and family. He has taught English part-time (online and off) for more than a decade. He is passionate about WordPress consulting, online marketing and using the power of the internet to help people achieve their dreams.
He thinks that until you’ve tried sashimi tuna with wasabi, soy sauce, hot sake and a cold beer chaser, you just haven’t lived.