How to Start an Affiliate Program
Start an affiliate program today and give your eCommerce revenue a boost.
When it comes to online marketing, there are many ways to increase the revenue from your eCommerce business. One of the most popular – and lucrative – methods is affiliate marketing, also known as influencer marketing or performance marketing. If you’re not familiar with the concept, affiliate marketing is when an affiliate, customer, or influencer promotes a company’s digital product or physical product or services on their marketing channels in exchange for a commission on sales, a discount on products, free products, or other forms of payment. It can be a great way to generate a passive income (and to put those passionate current customers to work for you). Today we’re going to show you how to start an affiliate program (and for full disclosure, tell you how LeadDyno can help!).
We’ll review the 4 phases of building a successful affiliate program:
- Phase 1: Preparing your business – steps you must take before you start an affiliate program
- Phase 2: Find the Right Affiliate Software for the Job – finding the right affiliate application
- Phase 3: Launching Your Program – getting your affiliate program up and running
- Phase 4: Maintenance and Beyond – nurturing and growing your affiliate program
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Phase 1: Preparing Your Business
So, you want an affiliate program? Let’s get started!
We suggest taking the following steps before launching your program. To prepare your business, you’ll need:
- An established brand and eCommerce presence
- Social media presence
- Competitor research
- Compensation planning
- Finding affiliate marketers
We’ll review each point one by one so you know exactly what they mean. Once you have these five items in place, you can move on to the second stage in starting your affiliate program — finding the right tool for the job.
1. An established brand and eCommerce presence
This goes without saying but without an already established brand and eCommerce site, an affiliate program may not be the right marketing tool for you at this moment. Your affiliate marketers or influencers wouldn’t have the products to promote for you and their followers (your potential customers) wouldn’t have links to follow to buy those products. So, you’ll want to first set up your online store.
2. Social media presence
The fastest way for influencers and other affiliates to promote your product is by spreading your social media messages to their networks. To do this, you need a strong presence and material that resonates.
Create high-quality content that you want others to read. The type of content that engages and persuades your affiliate’s followers (your potential customers) to buy.
3. Competitor research
Find out what your direct competitors are doing with their affiliate programs. This will benefit you in two ways: 1) You’ll learn what your competition is doing right to attract affiliates and 2) you’ll learn what your competition is doing wrong. You can make competitive analysis work for you by regularly monitoring their performance. A few ways of doing this:
- Take a look at how they handle commissions. What is their commission structure? What’s the value of their commissions? Do those feel fair to you? Is their ask clear? Do they have an affiliate website with content that resonates? How often do they pay out their affiliates? Do they offer bonuses? Your affiliate commission rate must reflect a competitive advantage.
Otherwise, why would your affiliates flock to your program if there’s another one around the corner that pays better? Your affiliates may be loyal to your brand, but if your competitor offers more in their program, their loyalty may only go so far.
However, treat commissions as a worthwhile investment. If raising commissions means breaking even for your program, then you’ll need to rethink your strategy. Commissions should always be competitive but attainable.
- Look at their referral links. Referral links are the bread for the affiliate marketing sandwich. They allow your affiliates to link their blog post and social media posts to your website and also track their conversion success. So, research how your competition handles referral links. Pssst…you can do this by using Ahrefs to track your competitors’ backlinks and uncover which links they use the most. Ahrefs can show you how many links generate the most interest and also how much interest they attract. Keep in mind that some affiliates use link cloaking which may be something you consider for your own affiliate marketing program too.
- Check influencers. Are your competitors using influencer affiliate marketing and if so, to what degree?
- Promotions. Are your competitors offering promotions? How frequently? Do they have a loyalty program?
Once you understand how competitors handle their affiliate programs, you can better establish how to introduce and manage your own. Your competitors’ marketing strategies are free to research and a priceless strategy.
4. Compensation planning
First, you need to decide what you want to offer. How will your affiliate program bring in customers/affiliates/influencers? What types of affiliates will help bring in the customers you want and how will you reward them for doing so? Will any affiliate be able to sign up or will they need to be approved based on certain criteria (such as followers)…there’s plenty to consider. But not to fret, what you decide can be changed down the road. You’re making your best guess to get your program started.
You’ll also want to consider:
- the affiliate revenue you hope to generate through your program
- what that affiliate revenue will cost you in terms of commission
- your conversion rate goals
- your commission structure and payouts,
- affiliate tracking, or how you’ll track your affiliates (whether by sale, click, or website impression)
Doing this work in advance allows you to learn, measure, and track the success of the program as you move into maintaining the program.
Finding your affiliate network
So you’ve made it this far: you’ve hatched your plan and now you’re ready to find your affiliate network.
You may already have some individuals in mind (p.s. have we mentioned LeadDyno affiliate importing is a real breeze?).
If you don’t have any affiliates yet, you’re not alone. There are several actionable steps to get them.
Reach out to your loyal customer base
Recruit them! They’re probably your most powerful brand advocates. And LeadDyno’s Affiliate Invitation feature makes recruiting easy by letting your customers join your program.
The process is simple: you turn on your Affiliate Invitation Email feature so that your new customers will receive an invitation to join your program. Kick back, relax, and watch as your affiliate program list grows without any additional effort. Not sure what to write in your email invitation? No worries, we’ve written one for you here.
Reach out to influencers
Another way to find affiliates is through influencers in your niche. The influencer doesn’t have to be an A-List celebrity. Rather, they should be an individual highly followed and respected in your field. They already have a following, a band of trusty future customers for you, and the credibility to marketing your products or services.
Reach out to social media followers
Calling all followers! You’re now looking for affiliates for your new affiliate program, so post about it on social media! If you’ve already built up an audience for your business, you probably have followers invested in your brand who may want to join right away. You can also find potential affiliates through hashtag searches on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, and more. You can contact them privately through their direct messages to ask if they’re interested in joining your program. This way, you can vet your affiliates and pick only the ones that best meet your affiliate criteria.
After you’ve organized the base of your program, you’re ready to move on to finding the right tool for managing your program.
Phase 2: Finding the Right Affiliate Software for the Job
Put an Affiliate Management App to Work
The internet is full of affiliate management applications. So how do you find the right one for your business? Some key considerations:
- An affiliate system that integrates seamlessly with your online store.
- A track record for performance (In 2021 alone, LeadDyno generated over $230million in affiliate sales. We’ve also been in the affiliate marketing space since 2014, but who’s counting?)
- Reliable tracking that you and your affiliates can trust.
- A convenient payment system.
- Extensive features allow for customization of commission structures, multi-level marketing configurations, mass payouts, custom domain handling, custom CSS for your affiliate website, and any other considerations you might have.
- Affiliate marketing tools that make the affiliate’s job easy to do.
We’ve touched on it above and of course, yes, LeadDyno does offer all of these features and more.
Sign up for a FREE 30-day trial today, and you can experience all that LeadDyno has to offer including:
- An affiliate website with a free URL, yourpagehere.leaddyno.com (or add your own custom domain should you fancy)
- An easy-to-install “Join Our Affiliate Program” button for your website
- Tracking tools so you can track your affiliates and their progress from day one
- Attractive affiliate marketing tools including social media sharing. Get Facebook and Twitter templates that your affiliates can easily copy and paste. We help make it easy for your affiliates to promote you. Arming your affiliates with the exact tools—even the exact scripts— that they need for social media domination is another step toward affiliate promotion success.
- Automated welcome email for new affiliates. Connect with your new affiliates and give them a great start in promoting your online business. That’s what our automated welcome email is for.
- Unlimited commission plans. Set up as many custom commission plans as you need. The world is your oyster and we’re here to help ensure your affiliate program is as tailored to your needs as possible.
- Google Adwords Tracking. Access tracking links that you can easily use for your Google Adwords campaigns for neat performance data.
- Facebook Ads Tracking. LeadDyno will tell you how much business you’re generating from your Facebook campaigns.
- The list goes on.
Phase 3: Launching Your Program
Now that you’ve found the right affiliate platform, what’s next? The first step is to launch your program! This is a big step and we think you’re ready for it. You’ve sent your invitations to your potential affiliates and you’re ready to watch the start of your campaign. It’s time to get to work to give your program the best chance to succeed!
Train your affiliate marketers
Now that you’ve found your affiliates, you’re ready to educate them on the intricacies of your program. First, we recommend sending them an affiliate agreement so they know what to expect from your affiliate program. Regularly check in with your affiliates and discuss their progress.
Give them the right tools to succeed by asking yourself, what information will help them succeed in my program? Create an affiliate marketing guide and resources for your affiliates to use and learn from. And always keep the channels of communication open as your affiliates can help you make your program the best it can be.
Did you know that LeadDyno offers the ability for affiliates to refer other affiliates? In affiliate marketing, this is called Multi-Level Marketing (MLM). We mentioned it briefly above. With Multi-Level Marketing, you can incentivize your affiliates to recruit additional affiliates by offering them an additional credit for any purchases their sub-affiliates generate.
It works like this:
- You invite Affiliate A to your program.
- Affiliate A invites Affiliate B to the program.
- Both your Affiliate A and their newly referred Affiliate B receive credit for any of Affiliate B’s sales.
You can create up to 9 levels of commission for MLMs. Wow, who knew?
Affiliate Marketing MLMs are great because your already trusted affiliates can refer affiliates they trust to join your program and market your products. What better way to find affiliates than through referral? Once you build one affiliate relationship, it’s easy to continue building others.
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Easy tools to setup your affiliate program. Start your free trial today!
Phase 4: Maintaining Your Program
Nice hustle! You’ve organized your affiliate program, found the right affiliate management tool, launched your program, and now you’re ready to (mostly) sit back and enjoy the fruits of your labor. However, it’s not without a bit of maintenance. Every affiliate program requires monitoring and finding opportunities for improvement and adjusting from there.
Check-in regularly with your affiliates and their progress. You’ll know how all your affiliates are doing based on your tracking flow:
- Unique Affiliate Link. Each member of your affiliate program will have a unique affiliate link so that all of their visitors, leads, and customers are tracked in your affiliate management program easily and efficiently.
- Real-Time Affiliate Performance. As for you? Well, once you’ve got a new affiliate partner set up, you’ll be able to view their affiliate link, their visitors, their leads, their customers—all of it—all from your program’s affiliate dashboard (or at least you can from LeadDyno’s).
- Transparent Tracking for Affiliates. Your affiliates can check their statistics by logging in to their dashboard. This means they can view their progress and upcoming commissions with up-to-date statistics. Many of our own users here at LeadDyno make this feature one of the points of emphasis when advertising their affiliate program.
You need to track affiliate marketing efforts in order to know if their efforts are successful. Without it, you won’t know which affiliates are doing well and which need help. Make sure your affiliates know you value their contributions and find out what help they need to get your message out there (i.e. maybe a quick video of a new product would be a great asset for them to share or a quote from a customer).
Also, track your entire program’s progress. How much revenue is your program bringing in? What is your overall conversion rate? If your program doesn’t meet the goals you set when first starting your program, you’ll want to adjust your strategy accordingly.
For more easy step-by-step guidance, check out our affiliate management resources. We’ll take you through everything from installing and testing LeadDyno to tracking banner ads and going international. Oh, and we have a super friendly support team to help you when you need it.
But, why start an affiliate program?
Improve store visibility
If customers can’t find your site, chances are they are shopping on another business’s site. That means you must increase your store’s visibility by whatever means (legally, always) you can. Affiliate marketing drives traffic to your website. Your affiliates market to their followers and as a result, they spread awareness about your store. And because the majority of buyers trust reviews from people they know, they’ll also build trust in your business. This brings us to our next point about affiliate marketing programs.
Enhance social proof
92% of consumers trust word-of-mouth recommendations and when a brand builds trust with an engaged audience, this enhances the brand’s overall social proof. The higher social proof you have, whether it’s in the form of reviews, likes, or shares, the more likely customers are to purchase your products.
You may have users actively lurking on your site, but how many convert? Conversions track the success of your marketing efforts. These rates show the percentage of users that complete the sale on your website or complete the desired conversion action. Because customers trust recommendations from affiliate marketers, they’re more likely to visit your site and convert. The more sales you make, the high your conversion rate, and the more successful your marketing efforts are.
So there you have it, business owners – simple affiliate marketing strategies to starting your very own affiliate program. It’s not as hard as you might think, and with a bit of effort, you can get everything up and running in no time at all. And once your affiliates start bringing in some sales, you’ll be well on your way to affiliate program success! Are you ready to get started?