How to Increase Your Online Course Sales Using Affiliate Marketing

9 min read

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How to use affiliate marketers to sell your online courses

I’m sure most of you reading this are familiar with the term affiliate marketing, where a blogger/content creator partners with brands and companies, promotes their products, and makes sweet [almost] passive income just by sharing some links. If you’ve been around The Side Blogger, then you’ve seen me promoting products I love. In fact, I even have an online course on affiliate marketing!

But in everything I have shared with you so far, I’m the affiliate marketer who promotes other people’s products. I teach from the affiliate’s perspective.

Today is going to be different because I want to show you what it’s like to be on the other side of the affiliate marketing game—when you’re the “merchant” working with an affiliate partner/marketer.

Content

My Story

I have an online course on selling Canva templates. I sell somewhere between 15–20 of this course every month on average without any specific promotions or sales campaigns. During a campaign (like the one we had last month) I end up selling significantly more. The course is priced at $165, and so, even without the special sales and campaigns, during any regular month, the sales from this course bring in a couple of thousand bucks. Seeing how this is my side-hustle, I’ve been pretty happy with these numbers.

A few months ago, however, I started to wonder if there was another way to market my course other than relying on SEO and Pinterest traffic. That’s when I decided to reach out to Michelle from Making Sense of Cents to see if a potential affiliate partnership was possible.

Michelle is a blogger who’s made millions writing about saving money/making money for over a decade now — she’s a big-time influencer in this field. She’s one of the earliest adopters of the digital nomad lifestyle. I figured her audience will likely be interested in learning more about a low-risk secondary income stream.

We struck up a deal and crafted a modest sales campaign. After the campaign went live on her blog and newsletter, with Michelle’s help, I was able to bring in a bunch of new sales, on top of my regular 15–20 sales. In just four weeks, I was able to add an additional $4K+ to my monthly revenue, after paying Michelle her share of the cut.

In this blog post, I will share with you everything I learned from this experience, and hopefully, give you everything you need to use affiliate marketing to sell your own online course (or webinars, digital products, etc.)

What Is Affiliate Marketing?

Just in case this is your first time hearing about affiliate marketing, let me give you a quick run-through. You can also learn about how to make money with affiliate marketing in this blog post.

A popular way for content creators (or bloggers) to make money is by partnering with companies or individuals to help sell their products. In return for this marketing effort, the product owner pays the marketer a percentage of the sales, called commission. This process is called affiliate marketing.

The product owner is often referred to as the merchant, and the marketer is called an affiliate partner (or just an affiliate, in short). Successful sales are tracked by a unique link — called an affiliate link — that the merchant provides the affiliate.

Here’s a simple illustration:

A simplified life-cycle of affiliate marketing.
A simplified life-cycle of affiliate marketing.

Why You Should Consider Partnering With Affiliates To Sell Your Online Course

Let’s say that you’re a subject matter expert. You have started a blog in order to attract a certain audience who’s trying to learn more about your niche. Your ultimate goal is to create online courses, webinars, etc., and sell them to this audience. But right now you’re brand new; you have no audience. What do you do?

You could take the long way like I did. I had been blogging for a whole year before I even thought of making an online course. And it wasn’t until I created and launched Side Income with Canva Templates (SICT) that I had any success with my courses. All throughout I had been writing blog posts every week, creating freebies to attract email list subscribers, and it was thanks to those amazing subscribers that I was finally able to have an awesome course launch for SICT. But yes, it took me two years before I was ready to successfully create and sell a course to an enthusiastic audience.

Two years. That’s how long it took. Not because it was premeditated, but because when I started my blog, I didn’t even think one day I’d be selling courses.

But I know for a fact that many of you’re not where I was when I started my blog. Some of you are way more ambitious, and rightfully so if my blog coaching calls are anything to go by. About 80% of my coaching clients ask me how to go about making and selling online courses.

Don’t get me wrong, as a blogger or any type of content creator, you’ll find that you’ll need to do these painstakingly time-consuming things anyway. There’s nothing more important as a content creator than to have some form of ownership over your audience. So yes, you’ll want to grow an email list. You’ll want to grow your Pinterest account, You’ll want to learn about SEO. 

But, should you wait a couple of years to do all that before you can finally create your online course and sell it?

That’s when affiliate marketing is helpful because someone else with a bigger audience can direct their audience to your product and help you make sales even when you yourself have no audience of your own. But even if you do have a tribe under your belt, partnering with an influencer to market your course or digital product for you can still bring in an extra income (just like I did for me.)

Take a look at how an affiliate partnership can benefit you.

Affiliate marketing gives you access to people you otherwise wouldn’t reach

Until I partnered with Michelle, I had been selling my online course — Side Income with Canva Templates — for almost a year, to my existing audience. I’d get new potential students every month thanks to my blog post on the same topic ranking on Google’s first page. This blog post also does fairly well on Pinterest. And like I was saying, I get 15-20 buyers every month from just that.

But when I partnered with Michelle, I was able to tap into her audience — an audience I had no access to before. There may have been some overlap — a few people who may have been following both Michelle and myself — but that number is low simply because of how big Michelle’s audience is compared to mine. She’s had her blog for over a decade, and mine’s just about three years old.

My point is, when you partner with the right affiliate, you have a chance to access people — a whole new set of audiences. And that’s powerful.

Affiliate marketing is financially low-risk

There are primarily two ways to market your product when you do not have an audience of your own.

The first is by way of advertisements. You could run ads on Facebook, Pinterest, Google, etc. This can be effective provided you’re well-versed in ad lingo and targeting technologies. Many aren’t. This is a whole different area of expertise. You could hire someone knowledgeable in that area to set up your ads. But consider the cost. You’ll be paying the ad expert on top of the expenses for the ads themselves. I’ve come across plenty of horror stories where someone ended up spending thousands on ads and not earning back even half of that.

The second method is by utilizing affiliate marketing. In this scenario, you won’t need to pay someone unless you make a sale (remember, you pay commission only when you make a successful sale), at which point you already have some money at hand.

Basically, affiliate marketing doesn’t require you to spend money before you’re making money from your product.

How To Choose an Affiliate Partner

I get a bazillion emails every month where someone wants to be an affiliate for my courses or Canva templates. I pretty much always respond with a “sorry, not accepting affiliates right now.”

It doesn’t help to have a ton of affiliates who never bring in a single sale. I’m picky when it comes to who gets to be my affiliate partner. Unlike some companies, I do not have dedicated employees to manage my affiliates. I’m a one-woman business, so I have to be careful about how and where I allocate my time and resources.

When I partnered with Michelle, I sought her out myself. Here are some tips for how to choose your affiliate partner.

Make sure they have an audience

Sometimes new bloggers and influencer-wannabes can bring in a sale or two. But if you’re in need of making a profit fast, you need to get in touch with someone who has a much bigger audience.

This can be tricky. On one hand, if you’re a total newbie with little to no established authority in your niche, then a bigger influencer may not be willing to promote your product. On the other hand, if you can’t get someone big enough to promote for you, then you may not be making a whole lot of money.

So, what do you do?

I’ll recommend you make a list of influencers you want to reach out to, and have a variety in this list — from big ones to not-so-big ones. Start reaching out from the top of the list. Chances are that one or two of them with a bigger audience than yours will be willing to work with you provided the product is a good match for them, and the commission is high enough. I’ll talk more about these shortly.

Do not reach out to someone who is in direct competition with your content

I see newbies making this mistake often. They search for influencers in their own field and want to enlist affiliate marketers who’re targeting the exact same audience as theirs.

This doesn’t work. Also, reaching out to someone in your exact market to ask for promoting your product is just rude. Don’t do it.

Instead, look for someone whose niche is different from yours but whose audience will have similar interests.

Take my product for example. My online course is about selling Canva templates and making a side income. Michelle’s niche is making/saving money. But she doesn’t specifically teach her audience about selling digital templates.

Do you see the crossover there? Her audience wants to make money. And I teach how to make money [selling Canva templates]. Basically, I was hoping to tap into a specific group of people among her larger audience who’d be interested in selling Canva templates, without trying to take her audience away from her.

How To Convince Influencers to Work With You

It’s natural to feel intimidated when reaching out to bloggers or other influencers who’re way ahead of you with a huge audience. But if you believe that you have a high-quality product, then chances are that they’ll want to work with you too. Here are some tips to help you with your negotiations.

Make sure they know you have a good product

When I reached out to Michelle, she asked me just one question — “how many students do you currently have?” Basically, she was trying to gauge the quality of my product.

If you’re a total beginner and haven’t sold anything so far, then consider offering the product to the influencer/potential affiliate partner for free. However, if your product is something like an online course like mine is, then understand that the affiliate partner — especially if they’re big and influential, — may be too busy to try out your course. If that’s the case, show them some testimonials from people who’ve taken your course.

You can always find relevant Facebook groups and such where people will be more than happy to test your course for free — also known as beta testers. Offer them your product/course for free, in exchange for an honest review. You can then show these reviews to a potential affiliate partner.

Offer a handsome commission rate

If you’re new and small, and your affiliate partner is seasoned and big, it only makes sense that you reward them lavishly.

Think: 40–70%

For example, let’s say that you have an online course that sells for $199. Offer your affiliate partner at least $80 or more.

Also, how you word your message can significantly impact a potential partner’s decision. For example, $80 sounds better than 40%, right? Using a higher number is a slight psychological manipulation, but then again, what is marketing if not just that? Right?

A Few Strategies for Selling

Let’s say that an influencer has agreed to be an affiliate partner for your product. But now what? How do you make sure that both you and your affiliate make the maximum profit?

Consider these:

  • Guest post or interview: Your affiliate could do an interview with you in their blog or podcast or YouTube — whatever their platform is. Alternatively, you could also write a guest post for them.
  • Email blast: If your affiliate partner has an email list (you could always make sure that they do before you reach out to them), ask them to mention your product in a newsletter. They could time this to go out simultaneously with the interview or guest post.
  • Run a limited-time discount: When the guest post/interview goes up, you could consider giving your affiliate’s audience a unique discount code. A limited-time discount can always incentivize people to make a purchase.

You and your affiliate partner can always utilize any of the three methods to promote your product. You could also combine all three to create a sales campaign for the best results.

For example, that’s exactly what Michelle and I did to maximize our sales. We planned an interview post and a discount code, and then, on the day that the post went live on her blog, she sent out a newsletter to her subscribers with the interview link and the discount code.

Make This as Easy as Possible For Your Affiliate

They’re busy. And they’re also bigger than you. Don’t make them work too hard. Give them everything they need. Think about what they could need from you. Create an affiliate package with logos, relevant images, and whatever else your affiliate may need from you to run a successful campaign on your behalf.

Offer to provide them with email and/or social media copy. Be active during a campaign, and not just a passive observer. It’s your product, and you likely need the money more than your more successful affiliate partner does. Make sure they know that you’re available to help them with whatever they need.


Most new bloggers know how to partner with big companies and sell their products. But if you’re ready to think bigger, consider being the person who utilizes affiliates to sell their own products! It’s time to grow! Let’s do it!

As always, if you have questions or thoughts, please leave them in the comments section 🙂

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How to use affiliate marketers to sell your online courses

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