How to Use Affiliate Marketing to Grow Your Small Business

The world is still in economic turmoil, and many companies, especially small businesses, are struggling to find cost-effective ways of drumming up business. One way you can do that is to run an affiliate program.

Affiliate marketing is a performance marketing strategy that involves partnering with influencers or independent marketers who will promote your product in exchange for compensation.

Affiliate marketing is an excellent, low-cost way of raising brand awareness and expanding your reach. In my 11+ years in the industry, I’ve seen businesses enjoy explosive growth after setting up their affiliate programs properly. 

Affiliate marketing can help you build trust through your network of affiliates. It’s also a great way of driving relevant traffic to your site, generating qualified leads, and creating recurring revenue for your business.

The focus of this post is to showcase how affiliate marketing can help you generate more business and where you can find help to make magic happen. 

Let’s do this!

Grow your business by developing key partnerships

Before getting into affiliate partnerships, it’s always a good idea to seek reciprocal partnerships.

One of the fastest and easiest ways to dip your feet into the affiliate marketing waters is to partner with other brands that attract your kind of audience. It’s also an excellent way to get your brand in front of the right audience.

Partnerships have the advantage that you don’t have to spend a penny. It’s a symbiotic relationship that benefits both parties without any monetary exchange being made.

A great example of this type of reciprocal partnership is the WPEngine Plugin Directory. WP Engine provides a hub of trusted plugins that work well on their platform. 

They offer partners like Social Web Suite a place to showcase what the product offers. In return, SWS will refer clients to WP Engine. 

Both businesses target the same audience and offer complementary products, so partnering up was a no-brainer. The partnership results in both brands expanding their reach and tapping into an audience they would otherwise not have been able to tap into.

But what happens when a merchant like WP Engine wants to partner with content sites instead of other brands?

That’s when affiliate marketing kicks into play as a viable option for merchants to pay commissions in exchange for new sales.

Best practices for developing affiliate partnerships

Developing business partnerships is a simple concept. However, if you’re new to affiliate marketing, you should follow some best practices to avoid unprofitable relationships. Just as in life, breakups can be sad and leave a disappointing taste in your mouth.

So how do you ensure that you develop profitable partnerships?

1. Partner with brands that have a similar target audience 

For your partnership to be mutually beneficial, you must both be targeting a similar audience. You must carefully vet your suitors to make sure you’re not just targeting a similar audience but an audience that needs what you have to offer. 

Start by setting standards for who you allow in your affiliate program. Don’t just let anyone in or auto-approve partners (more reasons why here). Going through applications in your affiliate program will help filter through partners that you allow to promote your brand.

2. Partner with industry-specific review or comparison sites

Whether you’re in the B2B or B2C space, reviews play a huge role in gaining your customer’s trust. That’s why you must form partnerships with industry-specific review or comparison sites. 

Partnering with review sites helps you get your product in front of the right audience.

3. Ensure your internal systems are running smoothly

Before launching a partnership with another brand, you must always ensure things are running smoothly on your end. The last thing you want is to lose an alliance due to a technical or logistical error. Make sure your tools and human resources can handle the partnerships and the traffic they bring.

If you follow these best practices, you’ll certainly be able to develop some healthy partnerships. Partnerships that will help you establish a name for yourself and, most importantly, boost your revenue.

Develop your own affiliate program 

Once you have exhausted the free partnerships and have plenty of backlinks to your site, it is time to consider an affiliate program.

Publishers all over the internet are looking to make a dollar to feed their content creation habits. These publishers make money off display ads, sponsorships, B2C, and even B2B referrals. If you are lucky and can talk them into it, sites will send you potential sales in exchange for a commission.

Usually, I suggest e-commerce sites are averaging over $50,000 in revenue each month before starting an affiliate program. The reason behind this is simple: affiliates like to promote brands that they recognize and can trust. If your company and products are too fresh, it can be difficult to convince affiliates into promoting.

You must design an affiliate program that attracts affiliates who have an audience similar to your target audience. To do that:

  • Use an affiliate marketing platform to automate essential aspects of managing your affiliate program.
  • Craft the terms and conditions of your affiliate program. This will protect you and your affiliates from taking advantage of each other.
  • Recruit affiliates that have an audience similar to your target audience. 
  • Set your affiliate commission rates and performance bonuses. 
  • Create welcome to the program emails to help your newly joined partners to hit the greyhound running.

Running an affiliate program has the advantage of helping you boost your ROI while keeping your customer acquisition costs (CAC) low. It also helps improve the quality of the leads you generate. 

The reason for both is that your affiliates (if chosen carefully) will mostly run niche websites that attract your ideal audience. In short, you will have access to an army of sales reps that you don’t have to put on your payroll.

Anyone can create an affiliate program. But if you want to maximize your efforts and learn the secrets to growing the program, check out Performance Marketing Manager.

6 best practices to follow when launching your own affiliate program

To start and grow a successful affiliate program, you must follow best practices that have been proven to work. 

  • Choosing the right tracking solution

The foundation of a good affiliate program is the tracking solution. There are dozens of solutions out there, but the biggest question for you is whether to use a private platform or a large network. There are pros and cons for both.

If you want the easiest solution to getting started, go with a private platform. This is also a more affordable solution that startups find appealing while bootstrapping. The biggest con for private platforms is collecting tax information.

If you want a scalable solution that handles all the tax processing, go with a major network like Shareasale or Impact. The biggest con here is that major networks will charge fees for every transaction, which can add up quickly.

For a full rundown of my trusted solutions, check out this post on best affiliate networks.

  • Design consistent brand experiences

A strong brand identity is crucial to launching and growing a successful affiliate program. Before you launch your program, you must make sure to get your branding right. Failure to do so will result in an inconsistent brand experience across your affiliates. As a result, your affiliates will struggle to promote your product or service.

A great example of this is Joy Organics. They have a consistent (and stylish) brand identity that’s reflected across all of their channels.

Their affiliates also reflect the same simple yet warm branding tone across their marketing platforms.

When a customer clicks on a link from an affiliate, the transition to Joy’s website is seamless. This way, the trust factor is enhanced, and your chances of converting them are higher.

  • Design effective content marketing campaigns

Your success and that of your affiliates depend on getting your product in front of the right audience. To do that, you must design a dual-pronged content marketing campaign:

  • Design an effective content marketing campaign to attract affiliates.
  • Help your affiliates run effective content marketing campaigns to attract customers.

Encourage your affiliates to be consistent in publishing content on their websites and grow an audience there. Of course, their content should regularly feature your product. 

Also, you must encourage them to create custom posts for social media to promote their content and your product. With a tool like Social Web Suite, maintaining a consistent social media presence is easy.

Finally, you and your affiliates need to have a deliberate SEO strategy, revising your keyword planning and making sure the SEO basics are covered when content is published and updated.

  • Develop a resource center to equip your affiliates

Creating an affiliate marketing system that works for your brand and document it. Doing so will enable your affiliates to replicate your success. For those affiliates who show a lot of potential, you may want to encourage them to deepen their knowledge by enrolling in an affiliate marketing course. This will benefit both you and your affiliates.

A great example is Kicksta. One year after launching their affiliate program, they were struggling to find affiliates to promote their product and bring in new customers. Fortunately for them, they didn’t throw in the towel so easily. Instead, they hired a performance marketing manager to overhaul their affiliate program.

I personally coached their marketing team and helped them create an effective recruitment strategy. We also created a resource center to help train their affiliates on how to run an affiliate marketing business. 

Within the first six months of our new strategy, Kicksta recruited over 600 affiliates. They have since gone on to achieve a 750% year-on-year revenue growth.

  • Recruit the right affiliates for your brand.

Once you’ve put structures in place to run your affiliate program, create a wishlist of businesses that attract personas similar to your target audience. For this, I use tools like SEMRush to find high-authority websites and Snov.io to get the contact info for the relevant people on those sites. Once you have the contact details, here’s how you can run your outreach campaign:

  • Create a cold email outreach sequence of three to five emails. Chances are you won’t get a response the first time, so you’ll have to send follow-up emails.
  • Offer better incentives than your competitors to help close the deal. 
  • Help your recruits to be the best brand ambassadors they can be. Offer as much training, encouragement, and motivation as possible. 
  • Audit your affiliates’ content and provide feedback to help improve their conversion rates.
  • Don’t forget to sign a contract.

To ensure everyone is protected, you must create a contract with clear expectations for both parties. The commission structure may vary for the different types of influencers, but the key factor is to have a written agreement on how your relationship will work. It’s advisable to have a lawyer draft the contract to ensure it’s legally binding.

Wrapping it up

Affiliate marketing is an excellent way to grow a small business. The strategic partnerships help you boost brand awareness, generate leads, build backlinks, and drive up your revenue. All with minimum investment and effort.

So, go ahead. Use these affiliate marketing tips to boost your small business.

Dustin Howes owns an affiliate marketing agency that is dedicated to helping companies maximize their affiliate marketing efforts. Through group coaching and private consulting, Dustin teaches program managers how to recruit the right affiliates, optimize working hours, and how to take the growth of the program to the next level. Learn more affiliate marketing tips at dustinhowes.com.

Affiliate marketing stock photo by Wright Studio/Shutterstock

Originally posted in Small Biz Daily

Michael Fraser

Founder & Editor-In-Chief of Entrepreneur Mogul
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