If you’re looking to grow your client base without breaking the bank, then setting up an affiliate marketing program might be a good fit for your company. If you’re not familiar with affiliate marketing, it is a Pay for Performance marketing channel where bloggers and website owners (affiliates) send customers to your website in return for commissions on the sales they bring you.
What makes affiliate marketing such a great fit for small businesses is the fact that you only pay for results. This usually comes as a breath of fresh air for business owners who know all too well how fast CPM and PPC campaigns can blow through their marketing budgets, regardless of the conversions they deliver.
Unless you have the resources to build and operate your own in-house affiliate program, then your first step should be to join an affiliate network. While affiliate networks are numerous, you may want to start with one of the larger networks such as CJ.com, ShareASale.com, LinkShare.com or Neverblue.com. All networks are a little different in regard to features and types of merchants, so it is worth it to do your research before choosing one. Rick Gardiner wrote a great piece about choosing the right affiliate network for your business.
While most of the larger networks have small start-up fees, they are cheaper than what you would spend building your own in-house program. Joining large networks is also beneficial because they already have thousands of potential affiliate partners who you can contact to join your program.
After you have joined a network, you will then place the tracking pixels on your site, draft your terms and conditions, and upload banners and text links for affiliates to use. Coupon codes are a big subset of the affiliate industry, so if you offer those then be sure to list them as well. If you need help with any of the technical aspects, the networks have customer support teams to walk you through the process. Personally, I have had very positive experiences with CJ and ShareASale’s client support teams.
Once your program is live, the next step is to start recruiting affiliates. Networks have helpful recruitment tools you can use to search for affiliates by categories, which will allow you to target affiliates in your niche or industry. You should also spend time recruiting relevant bloggers and thought leaders from your industry into your program.
Recruitment is the toughest part of affiliate marketing, so don’t get discouraged if everyone doesn’t join your program. This is especially true in the early stages of your program, as some super-affiliates wait to see proven success before they join.
Sending recruitment emails is a fine art, and it takes time to perfect. In my experience, emails that are personally tailored, non-spammy and short produce the best results. Geno Prussakov wrote a good article about recruitment emails on his blog.
Managing Your Affiliate Program
Managing your affiliate program will also involve choosing the affiliates you trust to promote your brand. As a rule of thumb, you should always manually accept or decline your affiliate applications. This not only helps to protect you from affiliate fraud, but it also allows you to begin forming relationships your affiliates. Successful affiliate program management means talking to affiliates and discovering what they need to successfully promote your brand. Always treat affiliates with respect and remember that they work with you, not for you.
It will take some time before you start seeing results from your affiliate program, but that doesn’t mean they won’t come. On average it takes about three to six months for a program to gain traction, so it is important to keep growing your affiliate list and stick with it.
If you do decide to launch a program, here are some very valuable resources on affiliate marketing and program management.
- Abestweb.com– One of the best affiliate marketing forums on the web. If you have a question about anything affiliate related, Abestweb has the answer.
- Affiliate Summit– The largest affiliate marketing conference around. The next one is in Philly from August 18-20 so there is still time to register!
- Affiliate Management Days– A professional forum where affiliate managers and marketing execs from all over the world get together and discuss program management and strategy. If you’re just starting your program this is a great chance to interact with and learn from the best.
- Feedfront Magazine– The official magazine of Affiliate Summit. Wonderful content and it’s FREE.
- Affiliate Tip– The blog of Affiliate Summit’s co-founder, Shawn Collins.
- Geno Prussakov’s Affiliate Marketing Blog
- Greg Hoffman’s Affiliate Management Blog
Do you run an affiliate program, or are you considering starting one? We’d love to hear your experience in the comments!