Most startups have limited runway.
This is the operation time, granted profit/expenses stay consistent before your startup runs out of capital and hits a dead-end. The game is over. The business is finished.
Owners hope to reach critical mass before this happens.
The time where the startup operates efficiently and found its place in the market.
Most startups seek funding when they’re faced with a reality of coming up short. They give up partial ownership to keep the lights on. This, by no means, isn’t a bad idea if its owners believe in the company, but it does pose limited options before there are too many investors – too many “cooks in the kitchen”.
This article presents an alternative to funding and generating capital to reach critical mass.
You’ll learn how introducing affiliate marketing can help your startup overcome financial obstacles. And, create profits to extend the runway reaching new, successful growth.
Part 1: What is Affiliate Marketing?
Affiliate Marketing is no different than a word-of-mouth referral.
The two differences with our topic being:
- Referring parties receive a commission each sale they generate
- Referrals are done through software and digital platforms
This empowers marketing efforts for passionate business followers, customers, and interested partners through incentives. These individuals become the salesforce for your new startup.
81% of online retailers now use affiliate marketing programs with their growth and sales efforts.
The publisher (you) dictates the commission – often 5-10% or higher – listing the program in-house using affiliate software. Or, hands the work to third-party networks like Rakuten, CJ Affiliates, or ShareASale. Though, options are available when listing through Amazon and eBay, too.
Part 2: Adding an Affiliate Program
Affiliate marketing programs the “hubs” connecting advertisers to publishers. These programs provide affiliates resources including Web banners, advertising copy, and tracking tools.
The program is also where a partner finds their affiliate link.
Adding an affiliate program to your startup’s operations are a breeze when using established affiliate networks. Or, proven affiliate marketing software and/or plugins.
If your website operates using a popular content management system or shopping cart/ecommerce software, then it’s likely there are affiliate options included. Else, you may find plugins for your platform available through the marketplaces.
Alternatively, you may use affiliate software like Omnistar Affiliate Software or LeadDyno to automate affiliate signup, dashboards, commissions, and payouts. These tools have extensive documentation or optional installation services for a premium.
Once installed, you’ll configure the plugin/app to your program specifics – try these common features when testing the program:
- Commission: 5% – 10% or flat-rate
- Cookie Length: 30-day, 60-day, 90-day
- Payment methods: PayPal (for ease) or Check
- Payment Threshold: $50, $100
- Registration: Global or Country-specific
Take time discovering popular affiliate programs from reputable brands. Their programs are listed openly or available through a curated affiliate program directory.
You should create the following before launching the affiliate program for the public:
This page/document details the legal partnership your startup has with its affiliates. The guideline includes clear wording about items like payment details, methods, and accepted countries. Also covered are the program restrictions protecting your brand while setting terms of agreement making partners play fair when representing your business.
These items include tested banners and Web copy you’ll provide to affiliates. Curate the selection of banners providing only the best – having gone through extensive advertising and testing to ensure their highest-possible clickthrough and engagement. Repeat the testing for the copy you share for email newsletters, blog posts, and social media posts.
Veteran or newcomer, a detailed training section will improve future affiliates endeavors. This affiliate marketing training could include tutorials crafted by hand, through virtual assistants, or embedded using white label content. Ideally, it will educate new affiliates while providing reassurance and commitment to experienced players.
Part 3: Recruiting Affiliates and Partners
Your startup’s affiliate efforts are only as good as the affiliates you recruit.
Task #1: Identify the Candidates
Who are those knowledgeable about your product while versed in online business, marketing, or advertising? Or, which customers command an active (engaged) social media following?
- Compile a list of your best repeat, vocal customers
- Find if they’re active on platforms like LinkedIn
- Cross-reference their email (if it has an @businessname)
Extend your efforts beyond your customer list by researching the competition. Identify their affiliates using online search queries for similar products promoted on blogs, social feeds, and sales pages. Or, monitor their affiliate marketing accounts, if available, finding potential leads via their community.
Task #2: Outreach
Alert your potential affiliates through several channels:
- A segmented email list promoting the launch of the affiliate program
- Personalized social media messages inviting them to explore the opportunity
- In-person meetups or workshops with local customers and prospects
This is your time to solicit feedback from passionate and valuable customers. Use the opportunity to understand what attracts them to your business as this accelerates marketing efforts.
- Pitch the idea of an affiliate marketing program
- Explain the basic concepts and what they could earn
- Give them access to an affiliate account
New affiliates will likely pass their cloaked links among their friends & family. This isn’t ideal since they’d have referred your business without the incentive. But, what you’re seeking are super affiliates – those operating campaigns, websites, and feeds capable of delivering thousands of sales.
Which brings us to…
Part 4: Growth via Affiliate Marketing
Why give away 5-10% of every sale to an affiliate versus taking on a partner for that much? Why give up a part of the sale if people may abuse their affiliate links? As noted… the super affiliates.
The benefit of affiliate marketing in the startup phase goes beyond the sales.
Online sales are driven through online marketing channels – incentivizing an affiliates effort deploys their skills into helping your startup grow through means including:
- Link Building
- Online Reputation
- Paid Advertising
Mentioned earlier was the concept of turning followers and interested parties into a sales force. These individuals also become your SEOs, social media influencers, and moderators. They now feel a part of the startup helping it grow while earning commissions each sale delivered.
Here’s how growth works when tapping affiliate marketing:
Your brand will spread like wildfire across the Web if affiliates follow your guidelines.
Affiliates will create a multitude of content representing your startup and offers:
- Website/blog content
- Social media shares
- Video and comments
- Interviews and round-ups
You’ll build your startup’s reputation from their efforts through association.
Some affiliates may design new creative, test campaigns, and deliver a copy to your business. Their efforts improve existing campaigns done by the in-house team. The affiliate generates new branding opportunities you were yet to explore!
These brand ambassadors are a cornerstone of effective social media marketing.
Link Building Benefits
Backlinks help your website rank and there’s no easier way of obtaining them than multiple affiliates listing their affiliate links on your blog (given they set them as do-follow or leave it naked).
Google may not place a high value on these links.
But, they could include generalized links to the homepage and product pages. Or, drive people through keyword-rich links. The added branding and awareness may turn other content creators into your startup gaining backlinks with no additional effort!
- Allowing deep linking capabilities so affiliates can link specific Web pages
- Data feeds and coupons giving feed-based blogs an easy way to list offers
- Attractive creative for the sidebar and in-content advertising linked to strong pages
Die-hard fans will speak loudly for a brand they love – look no further than passionate followers during a big new cycle or industry report. Passionate followers are quick to triumph the brand and help others understand its value.
In some ways… your affiliates become part of your online reputation management efforts.
- In-depth reviews explaining value and features
- Added personality if they invite you to guest contribute
- Comments and setting the record straight or sharing alternatives
Sustain a strong online reputation and you’ll attract a powerful network. This network further cements your placement in the industry helping your startup reach critical mass and connecting you with those who matter.
Naturally, more sales equal more reviews and as the review count grows so does your presence on local and online listings. The affiliate holds up their end – vetting prospects and delivering leads – opening these individuals to your marketing message and branding.
Deliver an exceptional customer experience and you’ll lock in repeat business. And, create an easy path for new customers to leave reviews benefiting your startup and its online exposure.
Your affiliates will likely deploy paid advertising campaigns — you should too.
Paid advertising lets you cut through the ‘noise’ but, more importantly, provides great data you could forward to affiliates. A startup using paid advertising methods should leverage A/B testing to improve their creative & copy. This feedback and data then let you share creative & copy with affiliates — giving them templates usable in their personal campaigns.
Where should you advertise?
- Google Ads
- Niche sites
Startup funds may have limitations but this small investment can carry one’s affiliate marketing push. Use the platform’s documentation to explore each opportunity. Else, follow trusted guides from industry experts. Or, outsource where it’s needed.
Reaching New Milestones with Affiliate Marketing
You may choose to eliminate the affiliate program upon critical mass absorbing profits otherwise distributed to affiliates. This is to your discretion, but the benefits of leaving the program operation greatly outweigh its closure.
- Growth efforts continue showing promising returns as new affiliates find your program
- Fewer expenses are curbed to hiring sales and marketing pros as they’re already present
Your startup may grow beyond wildest expectations when tapping affiliate marketing. The payouts are a small price to pay for a positive return on investment. And, full control of your company.
Do you see affiliate marketing as a viable option for startup growth?