Affiliate programs are like big wheels

You just brought your new baby home from the hospital. You’re freaked out a little, but at the same time so excited and can’t imagine life before that day. You feed your new baby, change its stinky diapers, and hold it while it falls asleep every night. Determined effort over countless nights with little to no sleep. You vigilantly work so hard to provide your baby unconditional love, and do everything you can to keep it safe. Your dreams for your new baby could not be higher. You see a future president, the first person to walk on Mars, or Nobel prize laureate. Before long, all your tireless efforts start to produce an adolescent. Your new baby is not new anymore, and ready to launch…. an affiliate program.

You likely guessed it, but yes, the baby is your new ecommerce website. I have not personally started an ecommerce site before, but I know, and have spoken to many who have. All of them speak about their site in these same heartfelt terms. The site is their baby, and they have poured out their hearts and souls to get it off the ground. There is not only a significant financial investment starting up a new ecommerce site, but an equally, and often more impactful emotional one.

So you have done it. Your site can feed itself, get dressed in the morning by itself, is potty trained, can sleep through the night, and even clean its own room for once! The site is about a year old (adolescent) now and you’re excited to finally launch an affiliate program. Ready to go right!? Well, lets take a close look at this kid of yours. Yes, he is a “big kid” now, but what other channels are driving significant traffic and revenue? Some of the other ecommerce channels are great at starting from zero and should be up and running at close to full steam by now. Pay per click, SEM, SEO (I know, I know SEO – ugh) and email. The kid needs baths, to brush its teeth, and haircuts too. And by those I am referring to site optimization. Is conversion and optimization constantly examined and improved? Are there re-targeting campaigns running? How about cart and page abandonment? Affiliate programs are great at picking up the ball and carrying it further, but not so great at being the the first one through the door. They rely on a clean cut kid, with good hygiene, and clean clothes, ie with established traffic, brand awareness, and loyal following.

Lets fast forward a bit here. Lets assume all of the above applies, and you have done all your due diligence and now have a new budding affiliate program. I am going to call the affiliate program, your kid’s new big wheel. Can you see it? What color was yours? I had a batman one growing up and it was one bad ass, mean looking machine. As everyone who had one of these as a child knows, if you just start peddling fast, the wheel spins and you don’t really go anywhere. The key is to place just enough pressure to accelerate without spinning out. Top speed is then not achieved until much later down the sidewalk. The same is true for affiliate marketing (minus the sidewalk).

First, before you can even take your new ride out for a spin, it takes a bit to get the dumb thing out of the box, and put together. Assuming of course the manufacturer put ALL the pieces in the box to begin with! We will call that the technical program installation. This one can be tough. I can’t tell you how many times the technical integration for a new affiliate program has taken weeks to a month, and killed the excitement of launch. You finally have the thing put together. Hopefully with only a couple bandages on your hands from using razor blades to cut open the box. You also survived a near death experience with one of those plastic containers with sharp edges containing all the parts. I swear those are made to kill people.

An affiliate program needs to get out in the affiliate space to get noticed. Announcements, social media, forums, conferences etc. Affiliates need to find and then join the program. Get their pages optimized with tracking links and content. Hundreds of conversations need to be started before the program will gain any traction. (big spinning wheel) I know what you are likely thinking at this point. This is great and all, but I need my program to make more revenue! Yesterday! it’s just loosing money at this point (month one). This is the uncomfortable part. Getting any real speed (revenue) takes time. At the second month mark, your still trying to get that dumb wheel to provide traction without spinning, but finally seeing some movement. Revenue is coming in, and starting to get to an interesting amount. At three to six months you should be starting to get some decent speed (revenue). And then at the 6 month to 8 month mark, you should be approaching top speed. We typically see a well managed, incremental affiliate program produce anywhere from 10% to 20% once fully mature at this stage. The key thing with all this is, the juice is worth the squeeze, you just need to be patient, and deal with the work with that smooth plastic wheel that won’t grab the pavement early on. Then it is time to race all your buddies around the block on your new big wheel to show how fast it can go! So all you have to do now is ask yourself a question. Was your big wheel growing up as cool as my Batman one? Nope… keep dreaming.