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Affiliate Marketing on a Budget: How to Launch a Program That Won't Break the Bank

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Affiliate marketing programs have become a popular way for businesses to generate revenue, but the cost of launching such programs can be daunting. In this article, we will guide you through the process of starting a successful affiliate program without breaking the bank.



Step 1: Define Your Goals and Objectives

The first step in obtaining any sort of goal is to first define it. What do you want your affiliate program to look like? Would you like to keep it small and intimate? Or would you prefer to get hundreds (or thousands) of partners into your program? These decisions are important first steps.
The easiest way to keep the costs low is, of course, to do everything yourself. So naturally, keeping your affiliate program small and intimate is going to be the way to go. You will want to align your goals accordingly.
If you want to grow your business revenue, maybe instead of having recruitment goals (get a certain number of new affiliates into your program) you have individual affiliate goals (motivate each of your affiliates to increase their sales). This will allow you to scale your offer without having to spend a ton of extra time or monetary resources. The same goes for increasing traffic as a goal.
If your goal is more along the lines of brand awareness, you will likely have to expand your affiliate audiences in order to leverage new communities of people. This likely will result in having to make some small investments in tracking systems or potentially a team member to help out with the manual processes. With affiliate marketing's basic revenue share model, you shouldn't have to worry about these types of investments being able to provide a positive ROI (return on investment).

Step 2: Choose the Right Affiliate Tracking System

Generally, the best route for most affiliate programs is to host it on an affiliate network, however I will add that there are some exceptions to this rule. As a general rule of thumb, your affiliate program is either going to take time or it's going to take money. So first, think about where you have extra resources in your business. Since we are writing an article on how to achieve low-budget options, I'm going to err on the side that you have a little extra time on your (or someone on your team's) hands to devote to launching and growing your affiliate program.
I like to think about this in the form of three separate buckets depending on where you are in your business journey and what your budget is: Manual, Third-Party Tracking & Affiliate Networks. We will only discuss the first two tools here, as the third option requires a significant investment
The option with the least amount of cost investment is going to be manual tracking. This generally means that your affiliates don't have a tracking link, but they are simply connecting interested customers to you via email, 3-way messenger chat, or by trusting that their customers will denote who referred them in a "who referred you?" box at checkout. The last option obviously only works if you have an online checkout for your product or service. As sales from your affiliate referrals start rolling in, you will manually go in and pay your affiliates as necessary.
The second bucket is a third party plugin or tracking tool. These aren't free, but they can generally be very cost-effective. Essentially, these tools will integrate with your website or invoicing software to allow your affiliates to each have their own unique tracking link. Tracking happens automatically, therefore payments happen automatically, which means that you have more time on your hands for some of the other tasks that go hand-in-hand with launching an affiliate program, such as creating effective marketing materials.

Step 3: Create Compelling Marketing Materials

My number one tip in creating compelling marketing materials? Make it as easy as possible for your affiliates to promote your offers.
Maybe you already have swipe copy, banner ads and sales pages that can be repurposed for your affiliates. If so, kudos! You just saved yourself a ton of time. Simply reuse these--and tweak the messaging if need be--for your affiliates to grab and market your offers with.
If you don't have any marketing materials created, then this can be a perfect opportunity for you to line up some assets that can benefit both your core business promotions and your affiliates. I recommend creating a suite of items--banner ads, text links, email swipe copy, etc--for your affiliates to use in order to best be able to promote your offers. Consider using Canva or utilizing a designer who can regularly update these as your promotions change.

Step 4: Recruit the Right Affiliates

One perfect affiliate can be all it takes to get your affiliate launch off to the races. And in the same sense, recruiting all of the wrong affiliate partners into your referral network can be the demise of your program.
If you have already established your target market (ie ideal customer avatar as it's often called), this is where you want to revisit this topic and search for affiliate partners that have the same audience. Their offer should also nicely complement yours, versus competing with it.
Unless you invest in some recruitment tools (or an expert in this field) to help you perform outreach, you'll want to take some time to regularly reach out to new partners (check out my free resource guide on this). This can be done by using a number of online search engines that you may or may not already be aware of: Google, Pinterest and YouTube are a few of my favorite places to perform searches that can lead you to find nicely aligned affiliate partners.
The last thing you want to think about when recruiting affiliate partners is where their online presence is. You'll want to make sure that it aligns with where your ideal clients are hanging out. These can be social media platforms (Instagram, TikTok, Facebook, LinkedIn) or authority platforms (YouTube, podcasts or blogs). There are a number of places where your ideal clients are probably hanging out, so make sure that your affiliate partners are also present there.
In the whole realm of affiliate launching, recruiting affiliates into your program will likely take up the majority of the time and simultaneously remains one of the most important elements in successful affiliate program launching.

Step 5: Monitor and Optimize Your Program

The best way we can effectively (and freely) optimize our program is looking at the statistics we have at our finger tips. I don't recommend you look at all of these, but simply choose the one (or two) that works best for you.
If you are using a tracking tool or plugin, you should have access to statistics within your merchant dashboard regarding affiliate performance. This is going to be your most valuable asset for monitoring your program statistics.
Google Analytics is also a great tool. You can definitely get access to helpful statistics regarding where traffic to your site is coming from and it is especially helpful to denote what affiliates are posting blogs linking back to your website.
Take some time each week to go in and look at your top performing affiliates. How are they promoting you? What platforms are they using to send traffic to your website? What kind of conversion rate do they have (ie how much of their traffic is actually clicking and purchasing from you)? From here, you can make data-driven decisions on what type of support and assets will be most helpful to your network of affiliates.

Step 6: Leverage Low-Cost Tools and Resources

There are so many free ways to manage your affiliate program, that only take a little bit of time every week.
If you are wanting to go the absolutely free route, I recommend using ClickUp to manage the back-end of your program. I have an awesome swipe-file resource for you if this is the route you'd like to go. It's a done-for-you ClickUp board that will guide you step-by-step through your program launch, making it super easy and stress-free for you. Essentially, ClickUp provides an amazing way for you to organize and systemize the back-end of your affiliate program, without breaking the bank.
You'll need an email service provider in order to communicate with your affiliates. I know you'll be tempted to send emails directly to and from your Gmail account (or Yahoo or Outlook) but trust me on this, you don't want to go there. You will want to be able to properly communicate with your affiliates if you want your program to grow and work well for you. MailChimp offers a free version, and FloDesk offers a very affordable (and super pretty) option at a worthwhile cost.
When it comes to sharing assets with your affiliates, you'll need a way to provide them with a space where these things are hosted. No, it's not okay to just email them to your affiliates. Put any banner ads, text links and promotional materials in a hub. This can be done on Google Drive or DropBox for free, or it's highly likely that your tracking tool has place to upload these and/or attach assets directly to an offer.
You'll need an online checkout system. Yes, even if you want to go the absolutely free route, you'll need a way for customers to purchase your product or service online. This can be in the form of an invoicing system (I absolutely adore Wave Accounting) or more of a robust system that can support your products, services, communities, emails, payments and more (I love Kajabi). An online checkout system not only allows you to track where your referrals are coming from, but it also allows you to pay your affiliates their designated commission for your referrals.
This last tool is optional, but a great one to consider. Provide a community for your affiliates, where you can share upcoming promotions and provide guidance on how best to market your offers. We all know how useful Facebook is a free tool (take it or leave it), but there are also some low-cost options for group interaction, such as Slack, Circle or platforms that have a specific "community" tool (I know Kajabi has this). A community provides a place for connection, which we are all craving these days. There is the mindset that all of your affiliates are "competing" with one another to promote your offer, but what if it wasn't a competition, but more of a "rising tide lifts all boats" situation? Regardless, it's always nice to give them the option to opt-in or out.


Launching an affiliate program on a budget is achievable with the right strategy in place. By focusing on your goals, choosing the right affiliate tracking system, creating compelling marketing materials, recruiting the right affiliates, monitoring and optimizing your program, and leveraging free resources, you can launch a successful program that won't break the bank. Start today and see the benefits of a well-run affiliate marketing program for your business.

Looking for help managing your affiliate program? Allow my team to take care of everything from launching, to strategy, to scaling your affiliate program. See if we are a good fit by  scheduling a discovery call!

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