4 things to consider before launching your first affiliate program

So, you have a WordPress online shop up-and-running and so far customers are happy with the quality of the products or services you deliver.

Business is growing slowly, but steadily.

You’ve been pondering over it and decided it’s time to incorporate affiliate marketing into your revenue growth strategy.

But where do you get started?

As with anything in life, if you want to succeed, you need to plan a bit ahead.

We organized below a checklist of the top four things you should consider before jumping head-first into starting your affiliate program.

Without further ado, here it is:

#1. Research your competition

You should already know who your competitors are, but if not, now’s the best time to start researching and analysing them.

This step is important because it keeps you in the loop with what’s going on in your market, gives you valuable insight into your business niche and will help you set realistic, reasonable business goals.

It can also reveal aspects that you can improve in your product or business approach or give you ideas for new strategies to adapt and try.

When analysing your competitors’ affiliate marketing strategy, a few things to look for would be:

  • Commission rates: What’s the standard commission rate in your niche? Is it flat rate or percentage? How much?
  • Platforms: Where does your competition have the most engagement for their content (YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, blogs etc)
  • Type of affiliates: Are they bloggers? Influencers? Both?
  • Creatives: What do they offer their affiliates for promotional purposes (links, banners)? How do they look like?
  • Terms and conditions: What is usually allowed in affiliate promotion and what isn’t?

Once the analysis is done, you can take better educated decisions for your upcoming affiliate marketing campaign.

#2. Outline your affiliate marketing strategy

This is probably the most demanding part, but also the most important. If you do it right, results shouldn’t be late to appear.

After researching your competition, it’s time to use the data you gathered and layout your own affiliate marketing strategy.

First of all, you’ll have to decide which product or products will be promoted through affiliate marketing. You might want to make the program available for your entire store, or only for a smaller range of products (perhaps a new premium one that you’ve just launched).

Second of all, think of the types of affiliates, promotional channels (for example: social media platforms, websites, blogs) and methods that fit best with your message, your product and your audience. Think of how you’d like your business to be promoted. Is it through imagery, or in-depth review articles, or links discretely inserted on a niche website? You’re not limited to pick just one, but outline a few to start building from. We’ll cover this in more detail at the last point below.

Third, you’ll need to do the math and determine how much you can afford to pay your affiliates, so that – obviously – you stay profitable. If you haven’t launched your product yet, work out your shelf price by adding up a marketing budget to your total costs. Moreover, decide whether you’ll go with a flat rate or commission rate (later on you might implement both, depending on affiliates, products, etc., but for now let’s keep it simple!).

Also, think about cookie duration. Depending on the type of product you sell you’ll want to be able to set a cookie duration that makes sense for your strategy. Cookies “remember” which affiliate sent you which customer, so each commission goes to the right partner.

Last but not least, who will make the creatives, if any? You might need to consider working with a photographer and/ or graphic designer to create beautiful imagery to not only make your affiliates’ job easier, but also to ensure a certain level of quality throughout the campaign.

This will imply an additional cost, so if your marketing budget is really, really low (like zero kind of low), start small, work with what you have (links and content created by your affiliates) and build up from there.

#3. Pick an affiliate management platform

You have your products, you have a marketing direction, what’s next?

Well, you need to pick an affiliate management platform that will integrate seamlessly with your online shop.

You have pretty much 3 options you can choose from:

  • WordPress plugin: You install it on your website and it’s the perfect choice if you’re a small business and want to have full control of every aspect. All the data is in one place: on your website. You buy the plugin license once and then renew it yearly for new updates and customer support.
  • SaaS (Software as a Service): Works similarly to a plugin, except you don’t have to install it on your website. It’s an application hosted by a third-party, where you create an account and access it online. They’re usually more expensive than plugins and most of them have a monthly recurring subscription fee.
  • Affiliate network: If you’d rather work through an intermediary, then joining an affiliate network might be up your alley. The main benefit is that you have access to their database of publishers (affiliates), so it’s easier to find partners. Most work with an initial setup fee and then a recurring monthly fee and/ or a percentage of the affiliate’s commission. All in all, it can turn out to be the most expensive of the 3 options.

As our knowledge is mostly in the WordPress plugin niche, we will limit our advice to what we know.

Therefore, if you go the plugin route, there are a few important things to look out for:

  • Ease of use (both for you and your affiliates!): We live in a fast paced society and it’s not worth spending more time and energy than the minimum required to understand how a plugin like this works. So pick one that you find easy to setup and that offers your affiliates a smooth experience as well.
  • Reports: You should be able to track your campaign’s return on investment (ROI) with metrics like visit tracking (how much traffic are your affiliates bringing to your business), how many of these visits end up in purchases, which products perform best and so on.
  • Customization: Setting up your preferred cookie duration or commission rates (per affiliate or per product) or customizing email notifications should all be easily available for you to adjust depending on your needs.

We’d be more than happy to help you get started and make your on-boarding as smooth as possible shall you pick SliceWP as the WordPress affiliate manager plugin of your choice!

#4. Find your first partners

At point #2 we recommended you to think of the types of affiliates and platforms to work with. Now you need to find those people!

Being a small business means you’ll have to do the ground work of finding your first affiliate partners, instead of them approaching you out of thin air. Even though this implies more time and effort on your part, it can actually be a good thing because it ensures you find the right people. It also can lead to long term flourishing partnerships as you might find people to grow along with.

For this to happen: research, research, research!

For example, let’s say you are selling handmade concrete flower pots for interiors. This is a subject that will surely need a lot of visual content to incentivise customers to purchase it. Endorsement from people and social media accounts with authority (influencers, magazines) can also hugely help.

In this case, you might want to look for bloggers in the home decor & interior design niche to include images and links to your products in their articles.

You might also want to look for Instagram or YouTube influencers in these same niches that can create beautiful visual content with your products and promote them to their audiences. Lifestyle influencers might be a nice fit too, if they touch the “home” or “interior” themes in their posts at least from time to time.

Another idea would be to search for potential websites that dedicate to, say, selling gardening products, for a banner placement.

Go on and see how each idea brings another one and another one and another one… Once you have a solid bunch of potential ideas, narrow it down to start with the ones that promise the highest impact (and ideally lowest effort on your part).

Make a list of the potential partners and contact them! Be mindful of how they want to be contacted (via email or directly on social media) and have a friendly, but respectful and professional approach in your messaging. Keep it short and mention what will they benefit from the collaboration with you, not just what you’ll get out of it. Remember this has to be a mutually beneficial partnership.

In the example above with the concrete flower pots, assuming it’s a newly launched business (or product), we would focus our first efforts in growing our brand image with the help of a handful of micro-influencers in our niche. Ideally, you would also receive valuable feedback from them and improve your products (if needed!) before they reach more customers.

If you decide to go the influencer route, our article about mixing influencer with affiliate marketing might come in handy.

Running your first affiliate marketing program won’t be all peachy, so don’t get discouraged if some people refuse you or don’t answer at all! It will surely happen, so set realistic expectations from the start to avoid unnecessary disappointment later on. Keep trying and researching more people and you’ll get there!

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