As your business goes global, you have to work out multiple solutions, frameworks, strategies and policies. That’s where many businesses go astray and turn chaotic. Even perfect intuition may fail you some day, leading to a multimillion collateral damage.
We did it the hard way, by trial and error. So, here are a few lessons we learned when scaling an affiliate business. We hope they might answer your whens, wheres and hows.
1. Acquire clients before you launch
First things first, you don’t really need an office in the new market until you set up a stable workflow. You need clients. You need to make your office self-sustaining. In terms of the affiliate industry, first you find publishers, then lure in advertisers. It is only when the cooperation between those two brings fruit that you consider opening a local branch.
We launched multiple offices across the world — with a varying degree of success. The one in Turkey for instance turned out not that great. India was a blast. What was wrong with one country and what helped in the other? We can’t know. We do know one thing for certain, though: if there is room for growth, you will be able to earn even without an office. Otherwise, it’s a gamble every time.
What can make a difference? People. Our own employees turned out to be more open-minded and productive than agencies, but those employees had to be local and know their market as the back of their own hand. A third-party agency might suffice too, but in the long run we found out that in-house resources are easier to manage. So that is what we did: we hired quality staff everywhere we went.
2. Recruit communicators. Educate.
Affiliate marketing is a narrow field, much narrower than we would want it to be. Even people experienced in digital marketing might need time to adapt. For that, we established an internal education department.
You might think that a person needs to possess specific skills to work in the affiliate. The truth is, after ten years of recruitment we went down to three parameters. Our best employees for business development are fluent English speakers, powerful communicators, and quick learners.
However, if you aim for higher-grade staff, you might find the position to be more demanding. Managers for new regions and offices have to be entrepreneurs more than anything. They have to be self-sustaining, able to take decisions on the spur of the moment. Even if they make mistakes, they have to make them swiftly and take responsibility.
If one person can raise enough money in the region, the team can grow. When there are publishers and advertisers, that’s when managers who speak local languages come in.
3. Nurture your HR brand
When your company is big enough, fostering your HR brand gives you an extra advantage — an access to new cooler employees. The ones that will share your values. The ones you will need to crush your enemies.
But let us start from the very beginning. An HR brand is a complex indicator that shows how appealing your company is as an employer. Are you a leader in the industry or is the public barely aware of your existence? Are you an evil corporation that thrives on others’ demise or an all-forgiving charity organization? Do you push your employees to their limit, till the very light in their eyes goes out, or do you genuinely care for them?
Medical insurance, abiding the labour law, supporting your staff during a global pandemic or firing them in dozens as deadweight — every detail counts and will be remembered. So make sure that there are more pros than cons. It applies to affiliate marketing as well as to any other digital businesses.
The problem is that building an HR brand rarely intersects with global marketing & PR purposes. Surely, there are exceptions — like, establishing a $300,000-worth support fund for your employees — but seriously though, how many acts of God can happen within a year? For HR brand management, you might need a separate line of regional advertising.
4. Embrace change. Adapt. Overcome.
If you want to expand, you have to keep changing. As your business grows, so does the need for proper organization. As the market changes, so should you.
After 8 years in the market, we had to grow up and get rid of the start-up thinking. We felt trapped under our own weight. You see, when you have over 600 employees, you cannot afford wasting their time anymore. Every error keeps arising until you patch up the holes and fix the system loops.
When the time comes, you have to be ready to change, rebuild and pursue new procedures that would enhance your growth and stop holding back your potential.
Once shackled by our inefficient structure and HQ decision-making, we learnt to be decentralized to increase the speed of decision-making. All the solutions regarding specific regions are now taken by people who know what they are doing. This is how we got better, faster, stronger, and hired even more people to test new regions before going full-scale.
4. Test. Research. Launch.
Testing new regions doesn’t come naturally. Once you are knee-deep in the new market, you are less likely to back down, even if the progress is insignificant. However, it has to be done if you really want to find a perfect niche to thrive on.
Data-driven approach has become a cornerstone to the IT and digital economy, and the affiliate is no different in this respect. New products and tools, new business models and traffic sources — everything has to be tested before it goes live. That saves money. Keep your budgets at bay and invest only where the data seems most promising.
In the end, business is not only about gross turnover, but about your company’s net income. Expanding internationally takes a lot of awareness: conducting research, knowing your capabilities, and using your resources wisely.
The same applies to recruitment of staff. If you are not completely sure, whether the candidate can handle the responsibility, give it a try, and they might surprise you.
Most frequently, in a good way.