Affiliate programs may only be rising in value, appeal, and importance. This can be especially true for a startup business. It’s a trend that could become far more of a staple in the economy given our continued shift to virtual business and social media.
Your startup could benefit from joining and deploying existing programs as an affiliate. It could be a tool that offsets expenses, increases income, generates more traffic and engagement, and diversified revenue streams for consistent finances.
Or you can build an affiliate program of your own, and reap many advantages.
What Is An Affiliate Program?
An affiliate program is a business model that essentially compensates frontline marketers for getting customers to take specific actions.
It’s like a systemized and scalable referral program. If someone else promotes or advertises your product or service to their audience, you pay them referral compensation for certain predetermined actions.
This can simply be for sales. Either as a percentage or flat rate. For example; 10% to 50% of the sale amount, or $10 or $10,000 when someone they refer buys from you. You may also compensate them on a recurring basis, if you like. Such as with a SaaS product where you continue to get paid from that customer every month. Much like insurance agents make upfront income and recurring income from a sale.
In addition to sales, affiliate programs can be arranged to compensate referral (affiliate) agents for adding leads to your funnels. This could be through website traffic, form fills, webinar attendance, free downloads, or other actions.
When you think about it, this is really a form of how Amazon and Walmart.com make their money. As well as what Google does with Ads and Adsense. They are referral engines.
Affiliate marketing is not a new concept. Yet, it is increasingly gaining respect and steam as we go more digital, social media seems here to stay as millions of people and businesses need new ways of making money.
An affiliate program is the means by which those with the products and services organize their systems and grow this part of their business.
Why Create An Affiliate Program?
There are many reasons to build an affiliate program.
Costs are a big one. One of the great advantages and benefits of building an affiliate program is reducing marketing and advertising costs. It essentially puts all of those expenses on your affiliates. It’s pay for performance marketing. They do the promotion to the audience they’ve invested in building a relationship with. You only pay for actual results. This eliminates a lot of risk and waste in marketing.
Scale is another huge reason to do it. With the right affiliates, you can almost instantly get in front of thousands, tens of thousands, or perhaps, millions of customers. Far more, far faster, and cheaper than you could do with your own marketing.
Then there is engagement. Your affiliates may also be among your best power users. Bringing them in as affiliate partners means increasing engagement and strengthening your relationship with them. That can be important for retaining them, while boosting their value.
How To Build An Affiliate Program
Where do you start building an affiliate program, and what are the key parts for success?
The Steps To Building An Affiliate Program
- Decide what results you want in terms of sales or leads
- Calculate what you can afford in terms of affiliate compensation for these actions
- Identify who your ideal affiliates are
- Determine how you will find and recruit affiliates
- Choose your software or platform
- Create your marketing and training materials
- Get to work
The Key Parts Of Building An Affiliate Program
Picking the right affiliates is probably the most important element of a program. Maybe only with the exception of ensuring your math works.
Keep in mind that startups that go to raise an early stage financing round via a safe note, use affiliate programs to kick start their traction, and to show progress towards investors.
The biggest pitfall is picking the wrong affiliates, and this risk is often overlooked. The wrong affiliates will drag you down, becoming a huge time drain and management burden, without performing and producing any deals or dollars. They may even become a liability, or mean losing control of your brand and the customer experience.
Even when you pick good affiliates it takes efforts and systems to get the most out of them and get them to produce. You have to make your affiliate program, idiot-proof, effortless, and intuitive. This means creating material for them. In some cases, it may mean providing training.
The mechanics of a successful affiliate program is really all about links. Links for tracking activity and crediting actions and sales to individual affiliates. You can DIY this, and some experienced affiliates may be able to help. You can also recruit freelance help for selecting the right software for your affiliate program and programming any integrations needed. Then, there are existing affiliate platforms that facilitate the mechanics and can act as marketplaces for both sides of the affiliate equation. These include Share A Sale and CJ. The better they are, often the tougher the criteria and the more expensive they are.
Be sure to watch your math too. You need to offer enough to motivate your affiliate partners to action. Yet, to maintain healthy profit margins that your business can sustain. This is especially important if you are considering multiple levels of affiliates.
Affiliate programs can be one of the best ways to boost revenues and scale a business. They can also take work to set up and manage. Understand the steps and create or adopt a good system, and you could be breaking through your goals faster than you thought possible.
Alejandro Cremades is a serial entrepreneur and the author of The Art of Startup Fundraising. With a foreword by ‘Shark Tank‘ star Barbara Corcoran, and published by John Wiley & Sons, the book was named one of the best books for entrepreneurs. The book offers a step-by-step guide to today‘s way of raising money for entrepreneurs.
Most recently, Alejandro built and exited CoFoundersLab which is one of the largest communities of founders online.
Prior to CoFoundersLab, Alejandro worked as a lawyer at King & Spalding where he was involved in one of the biggest investment arbitration cases in history ($113 billion at stake).
Alejandro is an active speaker and has given guest lectures at the Wharton School of Business, Columbia Business School, and at NYU Stern School of Business.
Alejandro has been involved with the JOBS Act since inception and was invited to the White House and the US House of Representatives to provide his stands on the new regulatory changes concerning fundraising online.