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How to Start a Successful Affiliate Program

Graphic that says How to start and affiliate program.
This post includes affiliate links. If you click through one of my links and buy something, I might earn enough to buy myself a semi-decent bottle of wine. Thanks!

7 steps to start an Affiliate Program

If you want to increase traffic to your website, spread awareness of your brand and generate more sales; you should consider starting an affiliate program.

In this article, I’m going to walk you through the basic steps of how to start an affiliate program. But first, I should explain how affiliate marketing works.

Affiliate marketing is a two-way relationship. There are affiliates and there are merchants. The merchants create the products and the affiliates generate leads and sales. These leads and sales are generated through blog posts, emails and social media posts.

Affiliates benefit from this relationship because they are paid commission based on performance. They can also earn income on their own terms from the comfort of their own homes.

An affiliate program can benefit merchants in several ways.

You can…

…increase brand awareness through word-of-mouth via affiliate posts.

…increase sales without spending ad dollars.

…improve SEO by encouraging backlinks.

…reward your loyal fans for spreading the word.

If you can’t afford to hire a sales team, an affiliate program is a great alternative.

Here is how to start your own affiliate program…

1. Pick an Affiliate Platform

In order to run an affiliate program, you will need a reliable way of tracking affiliate sales. Most small business owners use third-party services to do the heavy lifting in this department. Many third-party affiliate platforms will manage the tracking, payment and even tax paperwork for you. This can save you time and headaches.

ShareASale and CJ.com are two of the biggest affiliate platforms on the market. The benefit of working with a big platform is that they have a lot of support and resources to help you get started. The disadvantage is that they typically have some start up costs in addition to the transaction fees.

Gumroad is a great option for small businesses or businesses selling digital products. They have a great looking, user-friendly interface.

Some other popular options are Refersion and Impact Radius.

Don’t just jump at the cheapest option. Make a list of your wants/needs and compare the platforms. Check around and see what your competitors or community is using. Don’t be afraid to reach out to the affiliate platform sales teams and ask them if they can meet your needs before you sign up.

2. Create your affiliate program policy and terms

True Fact: This is the most boring part of setting up your affiliate program — unless you love paperwork.

The first things you will want to sort out are your commission rates. Will you be paying a flat rate or a percentage? Once you’ve got that nailed down, you need to create detailed terms & conditions and an affiliate agreement.

Don’t less this part trip you up. There is a great book that can help you create these essential documents. It is called Affiliate Program Management – An Hour A Day.

You can also reach out to your affiliate platform for help.

3. Create on-boarding emails and resources

Before you launch your program, you should spend some time creating your on-boarding communications. These are emails and support documents that you create and distribute to new affiliates.

It takes some time upfront, but it will reduce the amount of time you have to spend with one-on-one support down the road.

I recommend the following documents for a smooth on-boarding process…

  1. Initial affiliate welcome email – this would be an autoresponder that they receive as soon as you approve their account. It should include a basic greeting and links to any support posts or affiliate handbooks you’ve created.
  2. Affiliate rejection email – this is an autoresponder that is sent to people that you reject for your program. It should politely say that they have not been approved for the program. You should invite them to email you they feel that the rejection is a mistake.
  3. Follow up welcome email – this is a longer and more personal welcome email that you send out to new affiliates. This is an opportunity to introduce yourself and get your affiliates accustomed to receiving your emails.
  4. Affiliate handbook – Create a simple pdf ebook that your affiliates can download. It should include the key selling points of your product, F.A.Q.s and key terms of your affiliate program in plain language.

4. Develop creative inventory for affiliates

Affiliates will use text links and banner ads to promote your brand. You should create a variety of banners in order to fit different blog layouts. Google has a guide to top performing ad sizes right here.

You should create ads that are linked to your homepage as well as best-selling/high-converting products or pages. Don’t be afraid to test a few different ads to see what affiliates respond to and what customers click.

5. Recruit affiliates for your program

You have to be proactive to attract quality affiliates. A quality affiliate is one that is aligned with your ideal customer.

You can actively recruit affiliates by..

…sending an invitation to your customer mailing list.

…including an invitation on your receipts or purchase confirmations.

…putting a sign up page on your website.

…reaching out via email or social media (please don’t spam).

6. Communicate and motivate your affiliates

Once you’ve started building your affiliate community, you need to nurture it. The best way to do this is through regular email communication. Send a monthly newsletter to create excitement around new products or company initiatives.

It’s also important to reward the high performers. Run affiliate sales competitions to motivate and encourage affiliate activity.

7. Analyze and Improve your affiliate program

Once your program is off and running, you should regularly check your analytics to see what is working. Evaluate the success of each banner ad size, check which pages are converting, check-in with your top performers and ask your affiliates for feedback.

Don’t just set it and forget it. There is always opportunity to improve and adapt.

Want more tips for building your brand on a budget? Grab my free PDF below…

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