As growth and partnership manager across a variety of industries, from FTSE 250 to Fintech startups, I have grown affiliate channels from nothing to something in a very short space of time, and quality affiliates at that. It really comes down to four main steps…

Create your program

Step one is to prepare everything that they might need. Decide what it is you want your affiliates to be saying about you and what you want your prospective customers to know about your proposition.

1. Creatives and tracking – create your ads in all the traditional sizes, here’s a really useful link for this. Write up several useful articles and interesting content that affiliates can use. Then formulate your tracking links. To start with simply use UTMs (Urchin Tracking Module) tracking via Google Analytics (GA).

2. Decide your CPAs (Cost per Action) – analyse your cost of acquisition to determine the amount you are willing to pay for a customer. Find that optimum CPA that brings in high LTV (Lifetime Value) customers at positive ROI (Return on Investment).

3. Which program – join a network where you can upload your creatives and, hey presto, wait for publishers to grab them and start promoting your services. Or go it alone with an in-house solution like GA or CAKE and manage your affiliates with a hands-on approach. A quick but more expensive option is to work with an agency. The advantages though are they recruit affiliates on your behalf and manage the admin.

Finding new affiliates

Step two is the fun part, time to take your non-existent affiliate channel from zero to fifty affiliates. Now it’s important to say at this stage don’t just take any old partner, don’t just accept a man and his WordPress blog, the first fifty define your channel, the first fifty are the springboard to the first one thousand. Firstly think about what type of affiliates you are after…

  1. Cashback
  2. Voucher code
  3. Content
  4. Aggregator/Comparison
  5. Email
  6. Other

Now many people ask; how do I actually know what affiliates are out there? Introducing the ‘Affiliates Map’. The idea is essentially a mind-map; jot down and categorise every relevant brand and site you can think of that will resonate with your customers. As an example, in the finance industry I immediately think of the big three; MoneySuperMarket, and Money Saving Expert.

This exercise encourages you to research heavily. Use social media and look at your competitors to who they are affiliated with. Don’t be afraid to ask around; ask your colleagues, ex-colleagues, your CEO, and your friends and family on who they think you should work with. The sites listed here will range from tiny cookery blogs that just your mum reads, to huge cashback sites such as TopCashback or Quidco.

A tip is to refine the map by highlighting the ones you are sure your customers use, with the largest reach, and those you already have a connection with. Reach out to them by going directly to their sites, complete their contact forms or call them. Ask your friends, family and colleagues for their contacts. Go to industry events and get out yourself there. In line with this get your agency to do the work, you’re paying them after all. Insist they reach out to your listed partners. Also, start telling the world that you want affiliates. Create an affiliates page on your site, here’s a quick example you can create in minutes. And get active on LinkedIn, add your affiliate counterparts and you’ll be surprised how many are keen to work with you.

Your first five affiliates

There will be responses from this and you will begin to build up contacts across the industry. Whether it is from your agency or from your own pursuits I hope that you have managed to sign up your first five. To have in place one cashback site such as Topcashback, two high profile content sites such as MoneySuperMarket and Money Saving Expert and two long-tail review or niche blogs would be a great start.

You now want to please them as much as possible, let them have exclusive content, tailored promotions and be quick with your responses and payouts. Literally become friends with your counterparts, wine and dine them and build up the relationship. Start leveraging this for the best positions within their table and the most visible ad placements. Now take this foot in the door as a stepping stone to bigger things.

Taking it to 50

I’m not going to lie, it helps if your brand is performing. If the other channels are doing their bit then the affiliate channel will reap the benefits. Start to accept the affiliates who approach you through the network, who’ve heard of you from your ATL (Above-the-Line) advertising, and those directly via your affiliates page. After a while, you should get a strong idea which is converting. This is the springboard to the next stage, to look carefully into the data at those succeeding. If aggregator sites are proving a success then reach out to others and enlighten them. If it’s voucher codes, then create more vouchers and spread them far and wide. Also, pay attention to the ones that aren’t working and find out why that is.

If you’re a one-man band I recommend what I call an affiliate funnel to organise your growing base. You can begin categorising into those you’ve contacted, in discussion with, at contract stage and those actively promoting you.

My tip is to always have a goal; have your desired affiliates in mind and go out and get them. If you act fast, prove your worth, make your affiliates money and acquire the customers your business needs then your affiliate channel will go from zero to hero overnight.

James Cristal will be sharing more of his affiliate marketing wisdom in October at PerformanceIN Live. For a taste of his session, click here