How to Start an Affiliate Marketing Program For Your Startup

Learn how to successfully launch an affiliate marketing program for your startup with these essential tips and tricks. Maximize your marketing efforts today!
Image of author Nick Cotter

By Nick Cotter
Updated Jan 10, 2024

How to Start an Affiliate Marketing Program For Your Startup
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You run a startup.

I help decide whether your startup is ready for an affiliate program.

That’s the deal you’re getting into when you continue on with this article. We’re going to decide together, whether or not, your startup is ready to launch an affiliate program.

Or, maybe there are other marketing channels you should be doubling down on.

Because, I have to say, launching an affiliate program is one thing. Maintaining and growing the channel program is a whole different set of tasks.

Let’s jump into and decide together shall we?

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5 Benefits of Affiliate Marketing for Startups

So, the first question we need to address…

Is affiliate marketing beneficial to startups, and if so, why?

The benefits will vary across different types of startups and the stages they’re in, but below are some of the core reasons why you may want to kick-start an affiliate program.

1. Cost-effective marketing channel.

As a startup, I know we're all counting pennies here.

With affiliate marketing, you only pay when the desired action is taken. No action, no payment. It really takes the pressure off your budget.

Example of brand’s budget vs. affiliates budget
Example of brand’s budget vs. affiliates budget

Unlike other marketing channels (paid social, paid search), you’re at more risk to test out those channels and need to also put a lot of upfront budget to test out the validity of the channel.

2. Brand visibility.

With affiliate marketing, you’re tapping into an opportunity to really get your brand out there.

For instance, let’s say you’re a new player in the competitive razor brand space.

Likely one of the most competitive personal hygiene spaces out there today.

Example of “new” brand Harry’s jumping to #1 in GQ article
Example of “new” brand Harry’s jumping to #1 in GQ article

If you were to launch an affiliate program, you could likely tap into a few of the smaller publisher websites who already rank for content such as:

  • Top razor brands for men
  • Best razor for sensitive skin

If you were to land a placement on one of these articles, it could seriously begin a chain reaction with the growth of your brand – from word of mouth, platform trust, pipeline generation, and so forth.

3. Scalability.

Now onto the second point - scalability. Affiliate marketing is like an escalator; once it starts going up, there's no stopping it!

Well, technically there is if you mismanage the program and don’t pay attention to your affiliate partners.

But we won’t let that happen.

The point here is that affiliate marketing is a scalable marketing channel that really doesn’t require all that much up front marketing capital.

The more qualified affiliate partners you add into your program, the more traffic and conversions you’ll drive for your business.

4. Lower risk.

From a cost perspective, it can be a lower risk than other marketing channels that require an upfront investment like Facebook and Google Ads.

With affiliate marketing, you’re setting the bounties, payment terms, and who your brand works with. You’re able to mitigate a lot of the financial risk, because you’re the one crafting all of the rules to play in your program.

That said, it must be stated–from a brand perspective, it can be looked at as high-risk if you’re not paying attention to who you’re letting into the program.

Let a few bad actors in, you could be opening yourself up to a lot of heachaches.

5. SEO benefits.

Let’s not forget about SEO benefits too.

Example of new brand getting featured in prominent publication
Example of new brand getting featured in prominent publication

With loads of backlinks coming from various high-quality websites (thanks to our affiliates), Google will start taking notice of your site and give it some well-deserved recognition!

That is, of course, if they’re do-follow links.

But either way, it’s a great benefit to your brand being able to show-up for important product queries on Google, and your affiliates are there to help.

Is Your Startup Ready for Affiliate Marketing?

Now, onto the question you’re really thinking about.

Is your startup ready for an affiliate program?

To decide if your startup is ready for affiliate marketing, evaluate your business, goals, and infrastructure.

Example of a new startup's affiliate program

Here are some critical factors to consider, and one’s I’ve gone over countless times with current and former clients:

  1. Product/Service Maturity: Before engaging affiliates, ensure your product or service is polished and ready for a wider audience. If a product has too many problems, it can turn customers away and discourage affiliates.
  2. Clear Brand Identity: Your brand message should be clear, consistent, and easily conveyed. Affiliates should be able to represent your brand effectively. If you're still in the process of brand evolution, it might be premature to bring in external promoters.
  3. Infrastructure Preparedness: Do you have a system in place to track affiliate sales, manage commissions, and handle increased web traffic? Before starting with affiliate marketing platforms, make sure you have a well-designed website and secure payment gateways.
  4. Marketing Collaterals: Affiliates will need materials to promote your product/service. High-quality graphics, banners, and promotional texts are essential to equip your partners effectively.
  5. Financial Readiness: While affiliate marketing operates primarily on a commission basis, there are associated costs. Some possible costs are platform fees and the need for more customer service with more customers.
  6. Support & Training: Are you ready to support and train affiliates? Their success is your success, so having resources, training materials, or even personnel dedicated to assisting affiliates can be crucial.
  7. Long-term Commitment: Affiliate marketing is not just a set-it-and-forget-it strategy. It requires constant monitoring, optimization, and communication with affiliates. Ensure you have the bandwidth or designated personnel for this continuous engagement.

Affiliate marketing can help your startup grow by increasing traffic, sales, and brand awareness.

But, it's important to be prepared.

If most of the above elements align with your startup's current status, then you might be poised to venture into affiliate marketing.

If not, try to improve these areas first. This will make your affiliate marketing journey more effective and streamlined later.

10 Steps to Starting an Affiliate Program for Startups

Of course! To make your business's affiliate program effective, you need to follow a systematic approach. Here are the key steps to consider:

1. Set Clear Objectives:

Before diving in, determine what you want to achieve with your affiliate program. This could be increasing sales, driving website traffic, or boosting brand awareness.

2. Choose the Right Platform:

Decide whether you'll manage affiliates through a self-hosted solution like Everflow, Trackdesk, Reditus – or join an affiliate network like ShareASale, Impact, or CJ Affiliate.

Affiliate marketing dashboard

Each has its pros and cons, which we go into further detail in another section if you’d like to jump ahead.

3. Determine Commission Structures:

When it comes to commission structures, make sure it’s 1) something your new startup can actually afford 2) competitive commission.

Now, there are a couple different ways you can go about structuring your commissions:

  • Fixed vs. Percentage: Decide whether affiliates will earn a fixed amount per sale or a percentage of the sale's value.
  • Tiered Commissions: Consider offering higher commissions for top-performing affiliates or for selling specific products.

4. Draft an Affiliate Agreement:

This document should clearly outline the terms and conditions, including payment details, prohibited marketing tactics, and guidelines on how your brand should be represented.

With this, be sure your partner channel manager is closely monitoring the affiliate contract. Spotting any program violations and bad actors that slipped into the program.

You can read more about affiliate marketing agreements here.

5. Develop Quality Marketing Materials:

Provide affiliates with banners, product images, promotional texts, and any other affiliate resources that will help them promote your products or services more effectively.

6. Recruit Affiliates:

A very important, but overlooked step in the launch of an affiliate program. There are many ways to recruit affiliates, but below are just a few top channels that come to mind:

  • Direct Outreach: Identify influencers, bloggers, or websites within your niche and reach out to them directly.
  • Affiliate Marketplaces: If you're using an affiliate network, you can list your program in their marketplace.
  • Promotion on Your Website: Announce your affiliate program on your website to attract your customer base and site visitors.

Want more? Read more about our affiliate recruitment tactics.

7. Offer Training and Support:

The more knowledgeable your affiliates are about your products, the better they can promote them. Offer training sessions, webinars, or written materials to educate them.

8. Implement Tracking Mechanisms:

Ensure you have reliable tracking in place to monitor affiliate sales and traffic. This helps in accurately calculating commissions and analyzing the effectiveness of your program.

9. Regularly Review and Optimize:

Monitor the performance of your affiliates and the overall program. Identify which products are selling well, which affiliates are performing best, and where there might be gaps or opportunities.

10. Establish Payment Procedures:

Determine how and when you'll pay your affiliates. Popular payment methods include bank transfers, PayPal, and checks. Also, decide on payment frequency, e.g., monthly or bi-monthly.

11. Build Relationships:

Foster a strong rapport with your affiliates. Regularly communicate updates, gather feedback, and offer incentives or bonuses for outstanding performance.

12. Stay Updated on Compliance:

Ensure that your program complies with relevant laws and regulations, especially concerning advertising and online sales.

Affiliate Network vs Affiliate Software for Your Startup

Now, another question that always comes up before launching an affiliate program for your startup.

Do you opt for an affiliate network or do you go down the route of using affiliate software?

Let's break it down and see what might work best for your startup.

What is an affiliate network?

Affiliate networks serve as a middleman between your business and potential affiliates. They're like matchmakers in the dating world, but instead of love, they're about finding profitable partnerships. Joining an affiliate network can give you access to a large pool of affiliates who are ready and waiting to promote your products. It's a pretty good deal if you ask me.

What is affiliate software?

On the other hand, we've got affiliate software. This is where it gets kinda techy—so bear with me. Affiliate software is essentially a tool that helps manage your relationships with affiliates directly without needing a middleman (network). You'll have more control over things like commission rates and payment schedules.

Now let’s talk pros and cons:

Affiliate Networks:

  • Pros:
  • Access to lots of potential affiliates
  • They handle all administrative tasks
  • Cons:
  • High competition among similar brands
  • Less direct control over relationships

Affiliate Software:

  • Pros:
  • More control over partnership management
  • Usually more cost-effective
  • Cons:
  • Need time investment in managing relationships
  • Limited access to potential affiliates unless you actively recruit

To sum up, choosing between an affiliate network or software really boils down to what resources you have at hand and what strategy aligns most with your company goals.

If time isn't on your side but budget is - a network might be right up your alley.

If however, saving money while maintaining direct control sounds more appealing - then software could be the way forward.

Remember, there's no one-size-fits-all solution in affiliate marketing. It's all about what works best for you and your startup. So take a deep breath, weigh your options, and dive right in!

Wrapping up our Startup Affiliate Marketing Content.

Embarking on the journey of establishing an affiliate program is a strategic decision that can usher in a new era of growth for your business.

As we've outlined, the process involves meticulous planning, continuous optimization, and fostering genuine partnerships with affiliates.

Remember, the heart of a successful affiliate program lies not just in numbers and sales, but in building relationships and crafting a win-win scenario for both your business and your affiliates.

As you take the steps we've discussed, always keep the larger picture in mind.

Affiliate marketing is not just a channel for immediate sales; it's a long-term investment in expanding your brand's reach, reputation, and revenue.

With dedication, understanding, and regular review, your affiliate program can become one of the most potent tools in your marketing arsenal. Dive in with preparedness, and watch as the synergies unfold.

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Nick Cotter

Nick Cotter

Founder & CEO
Growann

With over 7 years navigating the intricate realms of marketing, and specifically B2B partner marketing, Nick has forged collaborations with top-tier tech brands, prominent agencies, and some of the industry's foremost B2B publishers and content creators. His deep immersion in both marketing landscapes showcases a trajectory of expertise and innovation. Identifying a significant void in specialized resources, he founded Growann.The aspiration? Deliver unparalleled insights and guidance, carving out a dedicated space where the broader marketing and B2B partner marketing communities can flourish.