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5 ways to improve 
your company's 
marketing results

Here's a quick way to increase your company's cash flow. If you're selling products or services via the Web and you're not already running what's known as an affiliate marketing program, 
it's time to start.


Affiliate marketing is one of the best online marketing programs available for small businesses. Why? There's no risk. You only pay if the customer makes a purchase, signs up for your newsletter, joins your emailing list or whatever product or service it is that you want that person to get. Unlike advertising, where you pay an up front fee with the hope it delivers customers, affiliate marketing programs let you pay only after the results are delivered. As a marketer, you have to like that.

With affiliate marketing you agree to pay other businesses (your affiliates) a referral fee for each customer who completes an activity at your Web site.

Forrester Research reports that Internet businesses rate affiliate marketing as one of the most effective marketing tools for driving Web site traffic. Big online players like Amazon.com have turned affiliate marketing into a significant source of new customers. You can do the same for your small business.

Here are five tips for making affiliate marketing live up to its potential for you.

1.      Good offers that graduate:
You need to offer partners a compelling referral fee. If you offer 2% of sales, and your competition is paying 10%, it'll be impossible to attract good affiliate partners. You can check competitors' affiliate offers by looking directly on their Web sites or by checking out affiliate directories. In one nice "snapshot" you can usually find several businesses in your industry to compare their affiliate offers.

2.      Some businesses increase their referral fees for partners who send them lots of business. This can be an effective way to make sure your best affiliates aren't enticed away by other affiliate programs. Away.com, an online adventure travel business headquartered in Washington , runs an active affiliate program and increases its referral fees as an affiliate partner sends them more and more customers.

3.      Variety of links:
You'll want to provide your affiliate partners with creative material to put on their sites to lure customers to you. The more variety you can provide them, the easier it will be to sign up lots of partners. NextCard runs a thriving affiliate program and offers a wide variety of sizes and themes for the links they ask their partners to put up on their sites.

4.      Find the right affiliates:
If you're like most small businesses, you'll find that 80% of your affiliate sales come from 20% of your affiliates. Obviously, you'd like to find more of those top performers. How do you identify them?

1.      Common themes: Look for partners whose businesses have themes similar to your own. A Web site selling lobsters might partner with a site selling gourmet truffles, or a site selling flowers might partner with a greeting card partner to encourage folks to send more than just a card.

2.      Common demographics: Web sites that seem unrelated, but that serve the same customers you do may do well for you. Paul Meek at Autoprices.com (a great place to go to find out what your used car is worth) was a bit surprised to find that stock market sites were good affiliate partners, until he realized that his 25-45 year old male customers were naturals at those stock Web sites.

3.      Malls: Online shopping and comparison sites, like MySimon.com can be a good source of price-comparing customers.

5.      Actively recruit affiliates:


FACT:
85%* of all traffic to Web sites and 70%* of all online purchases originate from a search engine or directory (like Google, Yahoo, or MSN). If you're ready to get your share, here's the solution: All-new
Traffic BlazerTM 
from Identity Designs.


The one thing I see most consistently among small businesses that have made affiliate marketing really work for them is that they actively recruit new affiliates. There are many ways to reach potential affiliates.

1.      On your Web site: The most affordable way to find affiliates is to advertise your affiliate program right on your Web site. FreshFlowerSource.com, a small company in Encinitas , Calif. , used to have a compelling pitch on its Web site.

2.      List or advertise on affiliate directories: Another easy & affordable way to recruit new affiliates is to list your business on several affiliate directories. Some of the most popular are Associate Programs, ClickQuick.com, and Refer-it.

3.      Contact potential affiliates directly: Once you know that a certain type of company is a good affiliate for you, find as many similar companies as you can (a good search engine like MSN or Yahoo! is all you need). Then get on the phone or e-mail and actively recruit these folks.

 

6.      Care and feeding of affiliates:
Once you've found good affiliate partners, it is critical to tend to those partnerships. Send them a welcome email when they join, and a monthly or quarterly newsletter telling them about new products or news about your site. Develop a place on your Web site focused on helping your affiliates be more successful. Include suggestions for how they can make the program work better for them.

With a bit of effort, affiliate marketing can increase your online sales by 10% to 15%. It does take some time to administer the program and to make sure that your affiliate partners are legitimate Web sites with complementary content to your own site. But with a small time commitment and little up-front financial investment, you can start a low-risk marketing program that has proven to be a great customer generator for larger online companies. Amazon has more than 450,000 affiliates sending them new customers. Smaller businesses should take a page from their book and get affiliated.

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