I’m often asked about what my favorite growth hack is.
The truth is, I do have a secret growth hack that grew our startup from $2 million to $14 million in just two years. I’ve spoken about this growth hack on podcasts and radio shows, lectured about it at business schools, and shared my knowledge at conferences around the world.
My secret growth hack is how to succeed at affiliate marketing.
But before I get into the nitty-gritty of those mistakes, let’s start with the basics of what affiliate marketing really means.
What is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is talked about a lot, but rarely understood. In simple terms, affiliate marketing consists of the following: you build partnerships with influencers and bloggers in your niche who already have a sizeable audience. Then you pay them per lead they send to your site.
There is often a contract involved that outlines how much a partner will receive for each lead or conversion, but sometimes it’s more casual. It all depends on the partner.
The point is to create a system that’s mutually beneficial for you and your affiliate partners. With this deal, they get to make money from their site traffic, and you get access to qualified leads that have a higher possibility of converting.
Why it works
Okay, so you know what affiliate marketing is. But do you get how it really works? Like I said, your part of the mutually beneficial affiliate deal is that you get access to qualified leads that have a higher possibility of converting.
How does that happen?
When you’re learning how to start affiliate marketing, you look for influencers and bloggers that are already popular within your niche. This means that your partners’ audience is already the type of customer you want.
This is how affiliate marketing can make your conversion rates skyrocket. Using way less effort than traditional internet marketing, you get to target an audience with pinpoint accuracy.
It can be tempting to go looking for a marketing or advertising agency to help you grow your affiliate program, but this type of work is best done in-house. This is because you want to build personal relationships with your affiliates.
5 affiliate marketing mistakes to avoid from the start
I had to learn about these major mistakes the hard way, but you don’t have to!
1. Not perfecting your pitch
You know your business has value, but how are you convincing your affiliates that working with you is worth their time?
At first, I tried emailing possible partners and telling them they would be a good fit for our affiliate program. I lauded the benefits and explained how it worked. I thought this would get them for sure, but I couldn’t have been more wrong. Only a fraction of sites responded, and the ones that did rejected my offer.
So, I tried a different approach.
Instead of pushing the value of my own business, I decided to highlight theirs. This goes back to a basic human need: people need (and love to) be recognized.
I started creating lists of top blogs, restaurants, stores, and so on, and featuring them on my own site. Only then did I reach out to them, and I didn’t even have to mention our affiliate program.
So, why did this work?
Because I already proved to them that I could provide value to their business.
My “pitch” didn’t need to convince them of anything, because when I told them I already featured them on my site, they knew I was worth working with. They also saw social proof when I shared the articles on social media.
When you start your affiliate program, make sure you have a solid pitch that shows how you benefit your affiliate's business. That’s what really matters to them, and it’s the element you need to create lasting and effective partnerships.
2. Not tracking affiliate activity properly
You figured out how to start affiliate marketing, you made some partnerships, and you wait for the leads to roll in. That’s how it works, right?
Nope. Too many people start their affiliate marketing programs and totally neglect the need to track affiliate activity. It’s imperative that you know which leads come from which partners.
For managing affiliates, I use a program called Ambassador to help me build and maintain a network of partners. This helps you me see which partners are most effective, how much each partner is earning, and it even pays them out automatically.
However, if you’re just starting out, you can use Google’s URL Builder to add UTM parameters to the links you give your affiliate partners. This way, you can track exactly where each visitor to your website came from. That way you can see which affiliates are generating leads for your business and you can manually pay them accordingly.
Without this information, your affiliate marketing program can’t function. Avoid this mistake at all costs. The bottom line is this: use the right tech to stay organized and your affiliate marketing program will reward you for it.
3. Not providing affiliates the tools they need to be successful
Signing a contract and giving an affiliate partner the go-ahead doesn’t empower them to create good content, say good things about your company, or start sending you the leads you want. To really make a partnership successful, you need to provide your affiliates with the tools they need to be successful.
This means giving them the right information, the right content, and the right support they need to benefit their own business and yours.
Create a folder of information and content to give your affiliates a running start. They should have important points about your business, press pieces that highlight your company, examples of blogs and headlines that worked in the past, and more.
To give your new partners even more support, set up a time for a kickoff call to get things started and make sure everyone is on the same page. This personal touch is bound to create a lasting and successful affiliate relationship.
4. Not providing the right incentives
Every affiliate partner you ever reach out to will want to know the same thing: what’s in it for them?
How do you avoid not providing the right incentives? It’s pretty simple. You just have to make sure you pay your affiliate partners well. After all, money talks. When they ask you what’s in it for them, being able to reply with X amount of dollars is the quickest way to incentivize a partnership.
Providing payment is an obvious step, but there’s more to it than a flat fee or commission-based rate. Part of incentivizing your partners is rewarding the ones that do well and alerting the ones who are not.
When an affiliate consistently sends you amazing warm leads, consider upping their rate to keep them around and let them know they’re doing a great job. When the leads are severely lacking or nonexistent, have a conversation about whether this partnership is really worth it for either of you.
There’s no one right or wrong way to provide the right incentives for affiliates, but remember to always pay them and always reward them for excellent work.
5. Not maintaining your affiliate relationships
Your relationships with affiliate partners are like any other type of relationship: They need work. When most companies are figuring out how to start affiliate marketing, they only think about creating the partnerships they want, not maintaining them.
This is like baking a cake and leaving out the sugar. It’s not going to be good for anyone in the end, and it will leave a bad taste in their mouths.
Instead of only contacting affiliates when you need them, keep up constant communication with email drip campaigns. Try to send personalized emails when you can, just to check up on their progress. Also, send them anything about your company in the press so they can stay up-to-date and share the news with their own followers.
Additionally, make sure you connect with your affiliates in other ways. Follow them on social media. Share their content with your followers and friends. Comment on their posts. In other words, show them that you’re really paying attention.
Lastly, consider hosting some in-person events to bring your affiliate partners together to network. Whether it’s an in-office event or a special party just for affiliates, it shows that you care. Not to mention – it can be really fun.
TIP: Even if you're not an event planner or have an event marketing team, you can use event planning software to help you create the most wonderful event for your affiliates!
Learning how to start affiliate marketing is no easy task, but it’s so worth it. I built my business on this type of marketing, and I stand behind these methods.
When it comes to the 5 mistakes you need to avoid, I know these are true because I personally made these mistakes. Not perfecting your pitch, not tracking affiliate activity properly, not providing affiliates the tools they need to be successful, not providing the right incentives, and not maintaining your affiliate relationships create a recipe for disaster. But when you avoid these harmful practices, you kick-start the growth hack that will fire up your business and give you lasting success.
So, what are you waiting for? Start your affiliate program today and get ready for explosive growth.
Hailey Friedman co-founded
Growth Marketing Pro and built it into a 6-figure passive income business in 18 months with SEO alone. She leads and advises growth at venture-backed startups in San Francisco and around the world, generating millions in revenue. Connect with Hailey on LinkedIn.