Whether you’re trying to sell a service or a product, using a variety of marketing tactics is your best bet to garner interest. One tactic that’s often overlooked by small business owners is affiliate marketing. However, this type of marketing offers little risk and big rewards if done correctly. Does affiliate marketing make sense for your small business?

What is affiliate marketing?

lead generationAffiliate marketing is the process of paying money (usually commissions) every time someone promotes a company’s products or services and drives a sale. You only pay every time you get a sale, just like a commission-only sales representative. For affiliate marketing, they’re focused on generating revenue by promoting third-party products and services. The affiliate model is based on revenue sharing. As a small business, you offer a financial incentive to others to promote and sell for you. As a form of outsourcing, it allows brands large and small to tap into a wealth of marketing experience within their niche without wasting unnecessary resources. As a business owner, you only pay for results rather than for direct advertising. According to recent studies, 81% of brands rely on affiliate links because they involve little investment.

The benefits of affiliate marketing

ROI from contentThere are several benefits to including affiliate marketing in your current marketing efforts. One is the higher ROI than some other direct advertising options.


Compared to Google Ads, the cost per sale for affiliate marketing is impressive. Depending on the industry, a sale through Google Ads can cost as much as 20x more than the same sale through affiliate marketing.

Brand awareness

A second benefit is expanding the audience being exposed to your product or service. Small businesses can tap into the audience of their affiliates and, as a result, expand their brand’s reach. These new audiences might not have been easy to target and identify using other marketing and advertising methods.


Affiliate marketing can also help your website’s SEO through numerous backlinks via your affiliate websites, blogs, and social media pages. This is especially true if you’re working with higher-ranked partners whose audiences share content about your product or service across a variety of platforms.

Social proof

Affiliate marketers spend a lot of time building up a dedicated audience. Affiliates who have built a rapport with an engaged audience are trusted by them. When they give a review of an affiliate service or product, this provides credible social proof for the product and the brand.

How to start an affiliate program for your small business

start an affiliate programWhile there are many positive aspects of affiliate marketing, you need to be diligent when setting up and monitoring your program. Before getting started, make sure you understand the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) guidelines about disclosing affiliate relationships. Second, make sure your expectations are realistic. Not every affiliate marketer is going to be interested in selling your product or service. There must be something in it for them, and a good fit for them. If you can, do some competitive research to see what your competitors are using for affiliate programs. This will help you decide on the target audience, commission structure, requirements and rules defining how affiliates can promote their affiliate links, and restrictions on what and how affiliates can promote products and services. It’s a good idea to be fairly rigorous in your application process so you’re getting genuine marketers that will drive the right kind of business.

There are several affiliate marketing systems where you can promote your products or services for a fee. Affiliate networks are like project managers for your affiliate program. They manage your program by providing services such as recruiting, vetting, sales tracking, and commission payouts. The most popular affiliate networks are:

  • ShareASale
  • Awin
  • Amazon Associates
  • CJ Affiliate
  • Rakuten Marketing

Here’s a great article that compares affiliate networks, listing the pros and cons of each, including the ones listed above.

Once established, you’ll still need to monitor and track the activities of your affiliate marketers or have a small business marketing professional do it for you. It’s important to ensure you’re product or service is being properly represented, and the leads or sales are quality.

Affiliate marketing can be a smart investment for small business owners. If you’re looking for ways to expand your sales, affiliate marketing may just fit the bill!

Patty Hughes
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