How to build an affiliate program for any product
Enelin Paas built SafetyWing's affiliate program back in 2018 as SafetyWing's first growth channel for its first product.
What does SafetyWing do?
SafetyWing is on a mission to build a global social safety net with equal access and freedom for all. They aim to create things traditionally provided by governments (insurance, pension plans, etc.), but on a global scale and available to anyone. SafetyWing’s first product, Nomad Insurance, is a travel insurance for digital nomads who encounter unfortunate instances abroad (injury, illness, electronics theft, etc).
👨👨👦👦 Target Audiences
Digital Nomads (people who work and travel outside of their home country)
📝 Briefly describe the growth project
What is an affiliate program?
An affiliate program allows content creators to promote the products of companies in exchange for a commission % of sales. Typically sales are tracked using an affiliate link, which operates just like a traditional UTM link.
😍 Why is this a good growth channel?
Trust - Content creators don't want to betray the trust of their audience. They are therefor unlikely to recommend something they don't believe in. You'll also receive valuable feedback, as affiliate partners will tell you what their audience thinks.
No upfront cost - Because affiliate partners only get paid when someone purchases from their content, you pay money only when you make money.
SEO - If you are building a site from scratch, SEO can be difficult. An affiliate program not only increases your domain authority (significantly), but your affiliate partners do much of your SEO work for you. Once your program grows, page results will be dominated by your affiliate partners.
Scalable - if you were to just stop doing work, your affiliate program would keep running for you. Additionally, your sales will scale with your affiliate partners as they grow.
🤔 Downsides to affilaite marketing
Moderation - you need to monitor what your affiliate partners are publishing to make sure it's accurate and on-brand.
Product Focused - you have to have a genuinely good product for affiliate marketing to work. It doesn't have to be perfect, but it does have to solve the problem it's aiming to solve.
Can be seen as spammy - much like ads, some people are turned off by seeing an affiliate link.
What does SafetyWing's program look like?
*Note: SafetyWing calls their affiliate program the “Ambassador Program”
Once signed up, affiliate partners (usually travel bloggers and influencers) are given a unique link. They include this link with a recommendation to the product. When someone buys through that link, the affiliate partner gets 10% of the sale back. All payments to partners are made at the end of each month.
You can see an example of their affiliate content here.
📈 How has it gone so far?
The program took 6 months to start seeing revenue, but then started growing 20% MoM consistently
It started with 100% outbound outreach. Once the program gained noterietay, inbound requests also came in
Since Enelin built the program in 2018, it has brought in millions in revenue and tens of thousands of customers
💡 Why does the channel work for SafetyWing?
Insurance is inherently trust-based. It's not a "fun" thing to buy, and not something that can easily be researched online. Particularly for something like travel insurance, it's much easier to go with the option recommended by a "professional" that you trust.
Digital Nomads also consume well-defined niche content from travel bloggers and influencers. It's not hard to figure out where they 'hang out' online.
🏗 How to build your own affiliate program
Create a good offering for partners (general rule of thumb is 10% for recurring revenue, 20%+ non-recurring revenue products)
Give as much as you can. The more you give the more partners will join
Calculate how much you can afford based on your profit. Think of commission as your CAC for this growth channel
Brainstorm groups of potential affiliates you'd like to reach out to that have overlapping audiences
Digital Nomads, for example, read travel blogs, follow travel social media accounts and watch YouTube videos about their next locations
You can even make specific offerings for each category
Build out the affiliate program system infrastructure
Use an affiliate program manager tool that tracks payments and onboarding (see tool section below)
You can build from scratch (as SafetyWing did), but not recommended unless you have a lot of engineering and design resources
Build a well-crafted outreach email
Reach out and FOLLOW UP with affiliate partners
Use tool like Buzzstream for tracking
When someone agrees, send them to the sign up landing page through the tool you've chosen
You'll also want to onboard them to your content and brand at this point
Automate what you can (onboarding, touch points, etc.)
Do periodic audits of partner content to see how you can help them improve
🛠 Tools to use for building an affiliate program
For Lead research, use SEO tools to see what competitors are doing and what trends are happening
Manage your affiliate leads, creating sales pipelines and automating emails
Analyzing if an affiliate lead is good
Manually check their engagement numbers on platforms (sorry, not a tool)
Check their data with tools like influence.co/go/engagement-rates.
📈 How to scale an affiliate program
Automate as much as you can (so important it’s worth mentioning twice)
Build out an inbound system with demand generation (almost like sales)
Use affiliate networks to find partners in bulk (just do a google search for affiliate networks in your niche, there are a bunch of them!)
Use influencer sponsorship models once you have a good idea of the content that will work for you (large influencers often won’t take commission structures, but avoid taking these risks before you have your footing).
🛠 Common Problems and Their Solutions:
❌ Problem: Emails sent but no responses
✅ Solution: change copy or offering
❌ Problem: Affiliates sign up but no sales
✅ Solution: Activation or content problem
💡 Advice for someone trying to build something similar
Use the existing tools she recommends above instead of trying to build everything yourself
Build relationships with your content producers and help them succeed
Your affiliates are your army that you need to lead!
Ask for feedback and talk to your partners frequently