How to Start Affiliate Marketing

Starting an Affiliate Program

A Chef could be part of an affiliate marketing program for wedding professionals

A Chef could be part of an affiliate marketing program for a wedding photographer

Marketers all agree that starting an affiliate program will increase your business and boost your revenue. So how do you do it? Where do you start? We’ll guide you through this process with information on…

  1. Who Should You Affiliate With
  2. How Affiliate Programs Work
  3. Affiliate Program as Publisher
    • Publisher Tips for Your Affiliate Program
  4. Affiliate Program as Merchant
  5. Merchant Tips for Your Own Affiliate Network
  6. Tracking Sales for Your Own Affiliate Program
    • DIY Affiliate Tracking System
    • Affiliate Coupon Codes
    • Affiliate Tracking with Google Analytics
    • Affiliate Tracking Software
  7. Running an Affiliate Program

Who Should You Affiliate With

If you already have a business, either brick and mortar or internet, then an ideal businesses affiliate  would be with a business that does not compete with you but who you share the same customer base. A good example of this is wedding businesses. If you are a wedding photographer, you could affiliate with a wedding florist, a disc jockey and a videographer. Ideally it will be people and businesses you know and trust and you can honestly recommend them to your customers. But you don’t have to know them personally. You could also rely on online reviews and telephone discussions to make your decision.

How Affiliate Program Work

You need to understand how affiliate programs work. When you set up an affiliate program, you will either be a publisher or a merchant. You can even choose to do both. As a publisher you will be paid for referring business to merchants. As a merchant you pay others to refer business to you. You can choose to run an affiliate program on your own, use affiliate tracking software, or join affiliate programs.

Affiliate Program as Publisher

As an affiliate publisher, you advertise products or services of other businesses and receive compensation for doing so. You can install banners, or text links on your web pages linked to other merchants that are coded to identify you as the referrer. If your website visitor makes a purchase the merchant pays a predetermined amount to you. It can be a percentage or even a fixed amount. You may be paid for sales or even for leads, depending on each affiliate arrangement.

You can affiliate online as an affiliate publisher by placing advertisements on your webpages from…

  • Google Adsense   Set up an account, then place code on your website and Google will rotate ads automatically.
  • Amazon.com Select products you would like to advertise or let Amazon select products based on the content of your webpage.
  • Ebay.com  eBay will pay you for sending traffic to them. They will allow you to actually build a website to showcase some of their merchant’s products. They work with commissionjunction.com and set you up as a “publisher” for CJ.
  • Affiliate Programs.   Companies such as Linkshare, Shareasale.com, or Commissionjunction.com have free to join affiliate programs.  Select the companies you want to promote, request to be a publisher for them. Once approved, choose the banners or text links you would like to use to promote them and add to your website. Be aware that they may have minimum sales that you must meet each month to earn a check. If your traffic is low, this can be difficult. Check out a sample advertisement below. Look familiar? You probably see affiliate advertisements all over the internet.
  • Your own affiliate network.  Find the companies, products or services you want to promote then set up affiliate arrangement with them yourself.
Sample Shareasale.com Dessy Ad for affiliate program

Sample Shareasale.com Dessy Ad for affiliate program. For your affiliate program, create some great banners in various sizes for your affiliates to place on their website.

Publisher Tips for Your Affiliate Network

Set up a “We Recommend” page on your website with actual businesses or products that you really do recommend and that have agreed to be an affiliate partner with you.

Use your customer email list and solicit business for your affiliate merchants. But use great caution when emailing offers and be certain that you do not spam. You do not want your email address to be identified as a spammer and become blacklisted. Also, the vendors you work for could have their reputations damaged if your email with their name and links to their website are identified as spam.

Do you have a newsletter? This is a great way to send affiliate offers by email. Write a blog post about your affiliate merchant’s products or services and include an excerpt in your regular newsletter along with other regular blog post excerpts.

Be aware that some states have restrictions on affiliate marketing. For example, California prohibits California businesses actively marketing for companies outside of California. They don’t want to lose tax dollars if customers buy outside their state. But passive marketing is acceptable, in other words, banners on a website are legal as they are passive. Know your state laws.

Do you have a brick and mortar location? Pass out brochures or mail post cards to your in-store customers with discount codes to affiliate businesses identifying you as the referrer. You can receive added revenue for very little work.

Affiliate Program as Merchant

Of course, you may want to also find publishers to sell your products and services. Then the above information operates in reverse. As a merchant in an affiliate program you pay publishers or other businesses when they refer customers to you to buy your products or services. You can pay for sales or just for leads. Pay a percentage or a fixed price for each. It depends on the affiliate network or your own determination.  Some places to sell your products as an affiliate merchant…

  • Google Adwords Set up ads that will pop into other business websites.  This works for both products and services.
  • Amazon.com  Amazon has many ways to help you. They can store your product, sell it on their website and even ship it for you.  You pay fees for all of these services.  Or they can advertise your product on their website below similar products.  You pay when someone clicks on your ad.
  • Ebay.com  Ebay was designed to sell people’s “stuff.”  But many people design their entire business to sell products on ebay.  You can even create your own store to sell your products.
  • Affiliate Program Linkshare, shareasell.com, or Commisionjunction.com are merchant programs with many publishers ready to sell your products.  Unlike their publisher programs that are free to join, their merchant programs can cost a few hundred (shareasell.com) or several thousand (Commission Junction and Linkshare) to join.  Also be aware some may have monthly fees you have to pay.
  • Your own affiliate network.  This is a great way to get new business. But you need to find businesses to refer business to you, a way of tracking the sales they refer to you, and a way to pay them easily and regularly so they will continue to send business your way.

Merchant Tips for Your Own Affiliate Network

There are several ways to find businesses to act as “publishers” and refer business to you. The first is find businesses that you can refer business to, and ask to swap with them. This goes back to our first tip, find businesses that have a similar customer base but not a competitor. You can refer customers to them and they can refer customers to you. This works best in a local area where your customers are local as well. It is likely that you may run into some of these individuals or businesses while doing your work. Give them your business card and ask for theirs. Call them at a more convenient time to discuss an affiliate arrangement.

Networking is another way to find local businesses to affiliate with. For instance, The Association for Wedding Professionals International has local chapters that meet regularly and socialize to discuss their industry and help each other. Go to their monthly events prepared to assist others in their business and not just to push your services. If you attend regularly, it will only be a matter of time before relationships are formed and the opportunity to discuss affiliate selling will present itself.

You can also use websites that promote businesses within an industry to find affiliates to work with. For instance, in the wedding industry you can use theknot.com, weddingwire.com or other wedding planning websites. Read the reviews of advertising merchants on their site and look for those with good reputations. Yelp is another place to check the reputation of other businesses. Once you find some good candidates, give them a call to see if they are already affiliating and if they would consider working with you.

If you are a national provider of a product or service, you really have the whole country to consider affiliate selling with. Brainstorm ideas of what other businesses would share your customer base. Then research them, contact them and set up your national affiliates.

Tracking Sales for Your Own Affiliate Program

Now the trickiest part – how to track the sales and pay your “publishers”. You have a couple of options: DIY affiliate tracking system or buying or leasing affiliate tracking software.

DIY Affiliate Tracking System

If your network is small, you may be able to handle a DIY affiliate tracking system yourself. Here are some ideas…

  • Affiliate Coupon Codes
  • Affiliate Tracking Systems with Landing Pages and Google Goals
  • Affiliate Tracking Systems with Google Campaigns

Affiliate Coupon Codes

Design special offers for your affiliates to promote your products or services with coupon codes that identify your publishers. For instance, we provide brochures and postcards with a custom discount code for our affiliates to give their customers. The discount is for a “Free Bouquet Preservation Box with a Wedding Gown Preservation order“. The coupon code might be: FBB-SWS which stands for Free Bouquet Box, Sara’s Wedding Shop. When we receive an order with that coupon, we send 15% of the order total to Sarah’s Wedding Shop.

Create custom coupons for your affiliate program that can be added to affiliate brochures, postcards and even websites.

Create custom coupons for your affiliate program that can be added to affiliate brochures, postcards and even websites.

You can do something similar. The coupon you create can also be on a custom banner placed on your affiliate’s website and linked to yours. When you receive an order using the coupon, be sure to send the agreed percentage or fixed price commission to your affiliate right away. You can bet they will send you more business.

You will need a good image editor to do create banners yourself. Or better yet, find a virtual assistant on odesk.com or fiverr.com, to create the custom banners for you as needed.

Affiliate Tracking Landing Pages and Google Goals

Setting up a custom landing page for each affiliate is one way to track sales coming from websites. Making unique landing pages isn’t hard to do in WordPress or many other website publishing formats. If you have Google Analytics set up (and you should) you can now track sales that originated from your affiliate’s landing page. Do this by setting up a “goal” for each affiliate in Google Analytics with each unique landing page as part of their “goal.” Read more about this.

The downside to this one is that you cannot identify the specific sale that you received from the affiliate. This works best if you are only selling one product or service through the affiliate, not as good if there are multiple options for the customer, with different price levels. However, this could also work if you are paying a fixed amount for each sale, or for each lead.

Affiliate Tracking with Google Campaigns

Another way to use Google analytics is with “campaigns.” You can track the specific dollar amount of sales coming from an affiliate’s website if you also have Ecommerce set up in your Google analytics. Create custom urls for text or banner links that identify your affiliate in Google Analytics Campaigns.

An easy way to do this is with a custom url builder such as: http://gaconfig.com/google-analytics-url-builder/
Put your destination url in the top text box, add your affiliate’s name in the Campaign Source text box, the Campaign Medium (banner, email, webpage, etc. ) and Campaign Name (i.e. Free Bouquet Box) are also required. The end product is a url that looks like this: http://www.heritagegown.com?utm_source=SarasWeddingShop&utm_medium=Banner&utm_campaign=FreeBouquetBox

With either the goals or the campaigns, be sure to check your analytics at least monthly and mail payments immediately to help develop trust with your affiliate.

Affiliate Tracking Software

As your affiliate network grows, or if you decide that DIY is too complicated, you may decide to purchase or lease affiliate tracking software. This is software that will create your affiliates url’s, track the sales or leads that come from them and tell you how much to send each affiliate you are working with. The benefits are obvious – simplicity.

Another benefit is that your affiliates are also able to track the sales that they send your way. They can log in and see how their efforts are paying off.

There are numerous affiliate tracking software systems to consider. Some charge a monthly fee, others sell the software to you to install on your website. Many let you choose either. If total cost is your priority, then purchasing the software is cheapest. But if you are not sure about whether this will work for you, consider leasing for a couple of months, and if you like the product, purchase it then.

We found a review of The Top Ten Affiliate Tracking Software Systems that was helpful. Our first choice after looking it over, was the Post Affiliate Pro software because it was economical to lease or buy and simple to use. They even have a 30 day money back guarantee so you can try it risk free.

Running an Affiliate Program

Last of all, but perhaps it should be the first thing you decide.  When will you do any of this?   Your affiliate program can be a great asset to your business but it will need some attention from you. As a small business owner, you wear a lot of hats so organization is critical to success. Be sure you set aside some time on a regular basis to work on marketing and include your affiliate program in that process.

More Information on Affiliate Programs

10 Best Affiliate Programs
Best Paying Affiliate Programs
Pay-per-click affiliates