As your business grows, you may want to give people the opportunity to earn rewards for promoting your business. Those rewards could be anything from discounts to merchandise to plain ol’ cash. Maybe it’s time to look into starting a referral or affiliate program. I am beta testing one for my virtual assistant business, so I’m going to share with you what I learned as I started mine.


What’s the difference?

This infographic explains all the details of the difference between an affiliate and a referral program – check it out!

In general: A referral program rewards people who are already clients for referring others to your business and they are driven to do so by how much they love your products or services. Anyone can sign up for an affiliate program and refer people, whether they know them or not, and they are primarily motivated to do so by financial rewards.

My program is a bit of a hybrid. Right now I’m only promoting it to current and past clients. They can be rewarded with payments via Paypal or with credit toward their next purchase. In the future, I may open it up to other affiliates, and am particularly interested in having bloggers in the program. (If you’re a blogger and would like to chat about this, please contact me!)

Now that you know the difference between the two, how do you go about creating an affiliate or referral program?

Affiliate and Referral Software

There are so many different affiliate and referral software programs on the market that it’s dizzying. I’m going to talk about my two favorites out of the three or four I tried when I was creating my program. Both of these are reasonably priced and great for small service, infoproduct, or e-commerce businesses.


ReferralCandy was the first software I tried, but it is really a better fit for e-commerce and infoproduct businesses: people who sell tangible or digital products online. It CAN be used with online service businesses if your customers check out through a checkout system like Woocommerce or Shopify.

affiliate or referral program

ReferralCandy is extremely flexible and allows you to reward people with discounts or cash. Each referrer gets their own unique referral link, which was #1 in my list of criteria for this type of software. You can also set up a coupon that will give the person referred a discount. However, this did not meet #2 on my list of criteria. I wanted EVERY person in the program to be able to have a unique promo code and ReferralCandy only allows a single promo code for your whole program. (I think there is a way around this with ReferralCandy IF you use it with Shopify).

They make it easy to set up a beautiful opt-in page, automated emails, and you can pay your referrers right through their dashboard.

ReferralCandy is super easy to integrate with your website. I integrated it with Woocommerce on my WordPress site with their plugin.

ReferralCandy is the most user-friendly option in creating an affiliate or referral program that I’ve found. At $25 per month for their basic plan, it’s not too expensive either.

For me, it just wasn’t the right fit, but I would definitely consider it if I ever had a product-based business!


AffiliateWP is a flexible plugin allows you to set up an affiliate program right on your WordPress site. It’s fully-customizable and has many free and paid add-ons, so setting it up as a referral program isn’t hard either. There is even a Store Credit add-on that allows you to credit your affiliates with $$ to spend on your services or products.

affiliate or referral program

AffiliateWP makes it easy to set up an affiliate program with accurate tracking, custom coupon codes, unique affiliate links, and it integrates with all sorts of e-commerce, payment, and membership programs. If you assign each affiliate their own coupon or promo code, they can receive referral credit through their link or if someone uses their code at checkout. This was a big bonus for me since some of my clients asked for an exclusive promo code for their paid coaching programs or private Facebook groups.

You can even set up creatives like sidebar and banner ads that will integrate with your affiliate’s unique link, allowing them to promote you through advertisements on their websites.

AffiliateWP is $99 per year, but they do have sales occasionally and I got my download for $79.

Of course, you still have to have Woocommerce or some other method of checkout set up on your website for affiliate links and promo codes to work. This can be a little tricky with a service business, but it’s possible!

How I Sell Services Through Woocommerce

My site features a “Packages” page that details each service package my company sell to our clients. They can choose their package, add it to a cart, and pay through Paypal. I set it all up through Woocommerce with each package as a unique product, and it integrates easily with AffiliateWP.

This works well if you have set packages such as coaching, copywriting, virtual assistance, etc. packages that don’t change from client to client.

affiliate or referral program

Do you do custom quotes or packages? You can use Woocommerce too with the Product Open Pricing plugin! With the free version, you can create one product for which people can enter their own price then checkout. If you want to set up multiple products that way, you can use the paid version. I used the free version to create the “Custom Package” option above with the instruction to enter the price on their invoice.

affiliate or referral program

Whether you sell products or services, whether your business is small or large, and whether you prefer the affiliate or referral model for bringing new customers to your business – these two programs are easy-to-use options for starting an affiliate or referral program of your own.

Have you started some kind of incentive program for your customers? I’d love to hear about it! Questions about ReferralCandy or AffiliateWP? Leave me a comment below.

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