Affiliate marketing is a tempting proposition. By teaming up with others, you can have your marketing— and selling— largely done for you. But like any marketing strategy, there are different ways of doing it. In fact, affiliate marketing done improperly can be very, very dangerous to your brand. In order to get the sales you’re looking for without posing a risk to your business, it’s vital to know exactly how to pull off this sometimes misunderstood technique.
For the uninitiated, affiliate marketing is simply having others sell your product for you at a commission. You provide a special sales link to your affiliate, and any sales made through that link earn the affiliate a cut of the profits. Affiliates can be other business owners, bloggers, or just influential users; anyone with access to an audience that you wouldn’t otherwise reach.
Before You Affiliate
Before you get into an affiliate relationship, there are things to consider. First, you’ll be giving up revenue— potentially lots of it. On the low end, some affiliates take around 30% of each sale they make. That’s no insignificant amount, and that’s generally the minimum. It’s not uncommon for affiliates to ask for 40, 50, or 60 percent. In fact, it can go even higher. In some cases, affiliates keep 100% of the profits!
The obvious question is why anyone would agree to give up that much (or all) of the revenue from sales of their own product. The answer is simple: exposure. It’s the price of marketing this way. With the right affiliate, the access you get to a wider audience is well worth giving up profits from sales you weren’t likely to make without them anyway.
Another, larger concern with affiliate marketing is the effect on your brand. By hitching your wagon to someone else, you’re giving up some control over your own business’ reputation. You’re putting your brand into the hands of others. Whatever your affiliates do in their efforts to move your product will reflect on you.
For that reason, rule number one is to choose your affiliates wisely. If unprofessional or unscrupulous affiliates leave a bad taste in consumers’ mouths, you run the risk of guilt by association. For example, we did some affiliate marketing to promote our software service, WebinarNinja. The problem was that initially, we were willing to let almost anyone who wanted to sell our product do so— even non-users who knew nothing about it! After a few low-quality, embarrassing ads for our product made the rounds on YouTube, we knew we needed to be more picky when deciding to whom we’d lend our name.
Affiliate Management Options
To keep track of all your affiliate sales and process the payments, you have a few options. Clickbank and JVZoo are management systems for open, public affiliate programs. This means that anyone is free to sell your product for you, with or without your approval. Neither service requires a signup fee, and both completely handle the payment process for you.
For a more dynamic approach, there’s ShareASale. This service is much more involved, and less appropriate for beginners. It also costs $650 just to get started. In order for that to be worth it, it’s better used by those with a bit more experience and in-depth knowledge of how they want to structure their program.
If you use Infusionsoft, it also comes with an affiliate management system, though it’s bundled with the rest of its small business services. Again, it’s not as beginner-friendly as Clickbank or JVZoo, and unless you’re already using Infusionsoft for other things, it’s less likely to be the most convenient option.
For our own part, we’re taking a more labor-intensive approach that will give us even greater control. We’re building a custom independent affiliate program for Webinar Ninja completely in-house. Ours will feature a tiered system available only to users. More frequent, expert users will qualify for “black belt” status— and a bigger commission.
The system will come with custom tutorials, email and social media copy, infographics and videos. While it will require no small amount of time and resources to build, it’s worth it. That’s because our system will guarantee the most important thing from our affiliates: that they represent our business well. Whatever option you choose for your own business, that principle has to be the top consideration.
Done right, affiliate marketing is a good thing. It’s an inventive way to boost sales and exposure without actually hiring dedicated sales or marketing employees. It’s only when affiliate marketing is done incautiously, or without considering the risks, that it can go badly. If your business isn’t ready for it, don’t do it! Only when you’re confident in your ability to manage your affiliates and their representation of your brand should it be attempted.
Affiliate marketing is an option, a gambit. It’s not a requirement. When it’s worth doing, it’s only worth doing correctly.