Come sell with me – advice for Affiliates

Keeping in the theme of articles written a while ago, but still relevant, here’s another one from my time at the Multimedia Internet Network.

Come Sell With Me – Advice for Affiliates
The Multimedia Internet Network (min)
November 2001
by Sally McLean

You’ve been looking around the Internet and you’ve decided to open an affiliate store. You’ve seen plenty of other sites doing it, and they seem to be doing okay. So, you stock your store with every affiliate program you’ve ever come across on the Net, have all the flashing banners, ads and specials displayed proudly for all to see and now all you have to do is throw open your virtual doors for the flood of customers that will now rush in to buy these products from you. Right?

Well … not exactly. In the case of affiliate programs, as with many other things in life, it’s a case of planning, strategy, savvy and an emphasis on quality, not quantity.

I’m speaking from experience. Like many who initially put their company online, I thought that becoming an affiliate would be the answer to online costs and a great way to make extra cash. And it is – as long as you work at it, like anything else to do with your business. If you become an affiliate of any product or service, you have to treat it as if you are selling your own product – which includes extensive promotion, careful placement and constant updates of either the product line or information about the product, to keep your customers coming back.

I have changed and swapped my choice of affiliate programs a few times over the years, and been through the Affiliate mill as a result. I’ve made mistakes and had some success – as everyone does in business. Here’s a brief summary of what you can expect, taken from my own experience in the Affiliate market, along with some tips from the frontlines to help you in your own pursuit of becoming a successful Affiliate.

How It Works

An affiliate program (which is also referred to as reseller, referral, partnership, associate or producer program), is basically a system where you (as an affiliate) promote a product or service, on behalf of the owner of that product or service, who then pays you with a percentage of sales.

The way you promote this product or service is either via placing banner ads, text or graphics on their site, which is linked to the site of the owner of the product or service, or by a multi-tiered system where you earn commissions on not only the sales you generate, but also the sales of the sub-affiliates you have signed up.

You’re given a special code within each link to the original site, that contains your affiliate ID, so that the original site can record where their customers are coming from, and credit your account with any sales made.

What are the benefits?

No overheads, for starters. You get to run an online business without the worry of creating your own product, running a warehouse, transporting the goods or dealing with the paperwork. All of this is the concern of the business whose product you are selling. Your job is simply to get people to go to that business’s site.

But don’t get caught up in the myth that you will make millions from being an affiliate. The big money goes to the original owner of the product, you are just on a commission. It is estimated that you will need to attract at least 500 unique visitors a day to your site, to achieve reasonable financial success with affiliate programs.

While not suggested as something you could retire on, affiliate programs are a good way to get into online sales, and can eventually run alongside your own product or service.

The Seven Ways To Win

Here are seven suggestions that will improve your chances in the Affiliate Stakes:

One: Choose Your Affiliate Program Carefully

There are hundreds of Affiliate Programs on the Internet. Some do well, some do not so well. The trick is to become an Affiliate of those companies that don’t only have popularity and a stable reputation, but also have relevance to your site’s theme.

I have a web site that promotes my film production company. Therefore, my visitors are usually filmmakers, actors, writers, distributors and other industry players. With this in mind, it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to offer them, say, gardening products. Although I’m sure some of them love gardening, they haven’t come to my site for that purpose. Some may impulse buy if they saw gardening products were available, but that’s highly doubtful. They are most likely there to find out information about filmmaking. So to make the most of why they’re visiting me, and enhance my chances of them buying from me, I should offer them industry-related products and services.

This can cover anything from books on filmmaking, to movie soundtracks, to videos of certain films, to lighting supplies, to industry magazines. You’ll find that once you start thinking of your online store as a real high street store, you’ll be able to identify what your visitors are likely to buy, which informs what Affiliate programs you should join.

Two: Buy The Product Yourself

My first affiliate association was, as in most webmasters cases, with one of the prominent online booksellers. I had seen other Affiliates’ stores and thought that maybe this might be a good idea to help supplement my own website. I signed up, and then went to look at the bookseller’s list of successful Affiliates. One common factor I found – all these Affiliates personally recommended the titles they sold, whether in a quick synopsis of the book, or a review.

With this in mind, I went to the bookseller’s site, ordered a few books that I needed, and waited for the shipment to arrive. Once the books got here, I read them all and then set up the beginnings of my store, with my own personal recommendations. People like to know that the person selling them something has actually tried the product they are promoting, and are more likely to buy from you as a result.

Three: Give Your Visitors Something Different

Having used this particular bookseller’s service myself, I could vouch for their prompt delivery, good customer service and helpful manner. Having read the books I was selling on my site, I could give a short personal review of each one – thereby encouraging my visitors to buy it and read it themselves. The trick of being an Affiliate is to offer your visitors something they can’t get on the company’s site you’re affiliated with. Your own personal experience and reaction to the product is certainly something they won’t get from anyone but you.

Also, if possible, avoid using the generated web pages from the Affiliate Program Owner. It’s much better to integrate your online store with the design of your site, thus making the visitor feel that they are still within your cyber space. It’s more personal and definitely more interesting.

Four: Think Of The Product As Your Own

If you perceive the product or service you are promoting as your own, you will sound even more convincing to your visitors. You will be sharing in the product’s profits, so you should take pride in what you are selling to the public. Advertise the fact you are an affiliate on your website, and your newsletter (if you have one) and (if allowed by the company you have affiliated to) in the signature line of your emails. If people don’t know that you’re promoting a product or service, how are they going to buy it from you?

Five: Keep Communication Lines Open With The Owner

It’s always good to keep in contact with the owner of the product or service you are promoting. Once I’d set up my Bookshop, I emailed the bookseller’s affiliate service to let them know. One of their staff emailed back a couple of days later to say they really liked what I had done. I now had a contact at the company that I could directly email if I needed to. As I did updates, or had inquiries about new offers, I would email my contact, who would respond. A rapport was created, which made the experience more enjoyable on both sides. Going from a number to a person in the bookseller’s eyes, and they, in turn, going from a faceless Net presence to a friendly individual, meant we both valued the other more than we might have.

Six: Vary Your Advertising Strategy

Classified ads, sales letters, sponsored ads, personal recommendations, email signatures and other such simple ad strategies work much better to promote your affiliate store than just a banner on your site. Firstly, you need to get visitors to go to your site to see what you’re promoting before they can buy it, and secondly – how often to you see banners online yourself? And how many of those made enough of an impression for you to remember what they’re promoting? I’d hazard a guess that your answer would be – not many. We’ve become blinded to banners, in much the same way as we tend to use television commercial breaks to go make a coffee. Unless it’s a really interesting banner, the kettle will get our attention, not the product being sold.

People won’t necessarily buy something from you just because you’re selling it. You need to explain why they need it and how it will benefit them. You need to sell it to them. Hence written explanations work much better for you as an Affiliate, than paying for banners to pop up all over the Net that are likely to get ignored.

Seven: Use Good Basic Customer Service

Answer all your emails. Even though the Net is all about technology, there are real people operating behind that technology. And people haven’t essentially changed. They’ll have questions and complaints, and they’ll expect an answer when they contact you. Especially when they contact you about a product you’re promoting. You’ve put yourself up there as a representative of the company running the affiliate program, therefore you’re putting yourself forward as your potential customer’s first point of contact. And not responding in a timely fashion to an email inquiry, is the best way to lose sales.

If you have purchased the product yourself, then you should be able to answer most inquiries from visitors. If you come across a question that you can’t answer, then email the prospective customer back, saying that you don’t have the answer yourself, but you have forwarded their inquiry to the owner of the product. This is where your relationship with the owner of the product or service comes in handy for both of you.

I had a situation where a visitor wanted a copy of a book that the bookseller I was affiliated with had listed as out of stock. This visitor wanted to know if I could help them find out how to get hold of the book. I emailed them to say I was looking into it, and then emailed my contact at the bookseller. They got back to me within 24 hours to say that they could get hold of a copy and to put the visitor in touch with them. I emailed the visitor, they contacted the bookseller, they got the book. I got the commission, and the visitor became a loyal customer of my Bookshop. I had helped them, they were grateful and kept coming back to me, which generated sales for me and the original owner.

The Final Word on Affiliates

While being an affiliate is a great way to earn a bit of cash, the real money is in creating your own product or service, and then recruiting affiliates to work for you. The Internet has opened up a plethora of opportunity for sales and marketing – so to truly make money from it, bring your own product to the party. Learn what you can from the Affiliate programs you have joined, and then apply it to your own Affiliate program. While there might be a lot of competition out there, there is always room for new ideas, products and services – and good affiliate programs!


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One thought on “Come sell with me – advice for Affiliates

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