How to start affiliate marketing for your business
Now more than ever, consumers rely on social proof to guide their purchasing decisions. The average person wants to know that other average people have used and enjoyed a product or service. That’s why 92% of consumers turn to online reviews before clicking “check out.”1
However, reviews aren’t the only one-way ticket to brand growth and loyalty. Another way to build trust and grow your revenue through social proof is to harness affiliate marketing. This strategy provides third parties payment in exchange for promoting a product. Whether you partner with a social media influencer or a well-known magazine, affiliate marketing can open you up to a world of new potential customers—for a relatively small investment.
Regardless of the size of your brand, you can use this tried-and-true marketing strategy to your advantage. As is often the case, the trickiest part is starting out. With that in mind, we’ve put together this step-by-step guide on how to start affiliate marketing.
Step 1: Define your demographic
One of the most important affiliate marketing tips is defining your demographic. Before you can try affiliate marketing, you need to understand whom you’re marketing to. If you’ve been in business for a while, you likely know your target audience already. However, you need to understand more than the typical age and gender of your customers to run a successful affiliate program.
There are billions of social media accounts, blogs, newspapers and review sites out there.2 Because there’s so much choice, publications and influencers tend to create content that caters to a particular niche. When you know which chosen niche your ideal customers fall under, you’ll know which affiliates to work with and which to avoid.
For this reason, the process starts with a deep dive into your demographic data. One way to pinpoint your ideal customer is to develop one or more buyer personas.
A buyer persona is a sketch of a fictional customer that represents the “perfect” fit for your brand. To come up with these personas, you’ll want to think about the following details:
- Income level
- Education level
- Personal values
- Hobbies and interests
- Likes and dislikes
- Media consumption habits
- Other lifestyle choices
By the end, you’ll have an outline of the consumer who supports—or whom you want to support—your brand. The clearer your picture is, the easier your next steps will be in creating an affiliate marketing campaign and strategy.
Step 2: Decide on a payment model
Now that you’ve homed in on your ideal audience, it’s time to think about how you’ll reach those people through affiliate marketing. But before you start thinking of potential affiliates and making offers, you’ll need all your ducks in a row.
First up: Let’s talk money.
The good news is that affiliate marketing is a relatively affordable option for brands of every size, even a small business. Still, your expenses (and your affiliate program’s success) will depend on how you compensate your partners.
In general, there are three ways to structure your payments:
1. A percentage of sales (commission)
The commission model is the most common contract for affiliate marketing partnerships. This model incentivizes your affiliates to become true ambassadors for your brand. How? When an affiliate stands to earn more by talking more about your brand, they probably will.
The process is simple: Your affiliate partner promotes your product or service and encourages consumers to check it out. For each sale they facilitate from the affiliate product, they earn a small commission (often between 5 and 15%). To track an affiliate’s sales, you’ll usually provide them with a unique purchase link or a personalized promo code that customers can enter at checkout.
Affiliate Commission-based partnerships are appropriate for most scenarios. There’s no upfront cost for you (a rare phenomenon in marketing) and there’s a clear incentive to push your product.
2. A flat rate
Of course, the issue with offering a percentage is that there’s no telling how much you might spend. While low-risk, commission-based models can slowly eat into your margins.
One alternative? Offering a one-time payment in exchange for coverage.
Flat-rate spending makes budget balancing a breeze, as there’s no uncertainty around how much you’ll spend on your affiliate marketing campaign. However, a fixed payout doesn’t encourage your affiliates to vouch tirelessly for your brand. Instead, you’ll receive exactly what you paid for—one listicle, a few short TikToks or an affiliate email marketing blast.
3. An exchange of products or services
If your marketing budget is on the smaller side, you can also ask affiliates to promote your brand in exchange for your products.
Ideally, you’ll use this model sparingly—after all, free shoes or software don’t pay the bills. When you’re not offering cold, hard cash, you probably won’t see as many takers.
Still, like other affiliate marketing strategies, this one has its uses. Freebies are especially effective when you’re trying to drum up unbiased product reviews.
Step 3: Draft a contract
Once you’ve settled on a payment model, you can begin drafting a standard contract for your soon-to-be affiliates. Consider crafting a template. That way, it’ll be easier to modify it for future campaigns or partnerships.
Ideally, your affiliate contract should include:
- Definitions – Clearly defining each term at the beginning of the contract guarantees clarity.
- Relationship – Notably, affiliates are not employees. It’s wise to clarify this distinction within the contract.
- Payment model and timelines – Here, you’ll explain how and when you’ll pay your affiliate. Will this be through a commissioned affiliate link, a flat rate, etc.
- An NDA/confidentiality section – If you have to provide insider info to help an affiliate market your product, a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) protects your intellectual property.
- Termination details – This section should cover when the contract ends, what happens when it does and what (if anything) could lead to an early termination of the partnership.
Note that this is not legal advice. Before you send out your contract, you may want to touch base with a legal professional as well.
Step 4: Create your how-to guide for affiliates
All of the legalese is only ½ of your contract. The other portion of your affiliate partnership agreement should cover the dos and don’ts of posting about your brand. To ensure you see successful affiliate marketing efforts the way your brand sees it, consider a branded document for each content creator or affiliate partner. A branded document guides your affiliates toward quality content creation that aligns with your branding, values and messaging.
Some stipulations to include are:
- How to say or write out your brand name.
- Types of acceptable advertisements with examples.
- Where a partner can and can’t display their affiliate link.
- The ideal length of an article or video.
- Words or phrases to say/avoid.
- Hashtags to use.
Keep in mind that the more you ask of your affiliates, the more you’ll want to fork over to ensure a job well done.
Step 5: Assemble your affiliates
With a plan and an ironclad contract in place, you’re ready to approach the potential affiliates you want as partners.
For some platforms—namely social media and blogs—you can go directly to the source. Sending a direct message or email to a content creator can certainly bring you results. However, unsolicited requests may go unread, especially if you’re dealing with a high-profile entity.
To find people who are actively soliciting affiliate partnerships, you can turn to affiliate marketplaces. These platforms put a network of creators and publications at your fingertips. While these sites are convenient and may help stretch your marketing budget further, your mileage may vary.
Want the best of both worlds? For a low-effort approach that brings results, you can always join forces with an affiliate marketing agency. An agency can handle the ins and outs of setting up partnerships while all but guaranteeing success. You’re also far more likely to see a return on your investment.
Step 6: Analyze and react
Finally, it’s worth noting that your responsibilities don’t end when the contracts are signed. To squeeze every last drop from your affiliate marketing budget, you should monitor your partners and react as needed.
Unlike traditional marketing efforts, you can modify an affiliate program at the drop of a hat (contract permitting, of course). For example, if you notice a blog post is barely generating clicks, you can suspend your partnership. If one of your partners is absolutely crushing it, you can offer them a higher commission to further incentivize their work and possibly increase affiliate revenue.
By paying attention to where your campaign is making waves, you can slowly develop a long-standing affiliate program that runs in the background. From there, you can sit back and watch the sales come in.
Start affiliate marketing today with Power Digital
While it may only be a six-step process, starting an affiliate marketing program for your brand requires significant time and effort. It’s worth it, of course. But in a world where time always seems to slip away, sometimes it pays—literally—to have the experts handle the affiliate marketing efforts for you.
At Power Digital, we’re the growth marketing firm that makes effortless affiliate marketing possible. If you want a no-risk path to more site traffic and higher SEO rankings, our affiliate management strategy is the answer.
Let’s partner up and find you the best affiliate partners.
- Trustpilot. Social proof: What is it, and why is it important for eCommerce? https://business.trustpilot.com/reviews/build-trusted-brand/what-is-social-proof-and-why-is-it-important-for-marketing
- Statista. Number of social media users worldwide from 2018 to 2027. https://www.statista.com/statistics/278414/number-of-worldwide-social-network-users/