If you have a shopping cart on your site and you are not involved in affiliate marketing than you are missing out on one of the strongest online marketing techniques available to you. Affiliate marketing is a proven success and it is responsible for millions of dollars in sales for a great many websites.
In fact, affiliate marketing is one tool that levels the playing field for smaller online retailers. A tiny site can work day to day and gain thousands of affiliates in a short period of time. A thousand affiliates in six months for someone working an hour or two a day, a few days a week, is very realistic.
A rough definition of an affiliate program is simply a program that allows webmasters to display your ads on their website and get a cut of the sales generated from the traffic that they send to your site. So, if webmaster Joe puts an ad on his website for your product and a hundred people click that ad and go to your site and three people end up buying your product, Joe will earn a percentage of the money you make from these sales. At the end of each month, you send Joe his check.
One great aspect of the affiliate marketing campaign is that you pay for the advertising only if it is effective and you pay the affiliates only after you have received payment for the sales made. You can not beat that!
The up front cost is generally under a couple of hundred dollars. This is to buy the affiliate software and install it on your server. This is an inexpensive way to begin and it also has advantages over the other option of joining an affiliate network.
There are a few big affiliate program networks that charge five grand or more to join and will integrate your site in to their network and expose it to their base of thousands of potential affiliates. This is a temptation way to spend five grand and it seems to makes sense that the exposure to the affiliates will be worth the large set up fee. But without your site is truly unique you will also encounter serious competition within the network. Because of this, every time you recruit a valuable affiliate they will join the network and be exposed to your competitor's offers plus those of a thousand other affiliate programs. Very distracting and not exactly preferable.
This is the advantage of an independent program. The affiliates you recruit will be focused on your program alone. Why spend so much money and so much time bringing in associates who are immediately directed to other programs as soon as they join? This is a big negative for affiliate networks that makes a strong case for running an independent program.
Setting up an affiliate program is very easy. You need some good affiliate software installed on your server and you need the ads. For the software, iDev has a great program for only a hundred dollars. They will install it for you for an additional fifty. For a great affiliate program software package, check out iDev's at: iDev Affiliate Software [http://www.blogaboutretail.com/affiliateprogram.htm]
The ads you can create on your own. If you are uncomfortable creating your own ads, look for a good art forum and post with a request for help from a graphic artist. Usually you can find a good artist for an affordable amount.
Once your affiliate software is set up and you have loaded a few ads, you can begin to recruit affiliates. The first thing to do is to submit your program to affiliate program directories. Simply search "affiliate program directories" and you will find a nice list. The directory traffic will bring in some nice affiliates but your own efforts in recruiting will generate the best results.
To recruit affiliates is a simple procedure. Search the web the way you would expect your customers to and go to the sites that come up in the top of the search results. Check the site out and if it looks good send the webmaster an email or a letter, or both. The letter is mentioned because spam filters have begun to block a lot of legitimate email and letters have had fantastic response rates. Working the phone is always good too.
As your affiliate base builds so will your sales. Run weekly or monthly specials, create new ads consistently and communicate with your affiliate using a newsletter and / or a blog. Keep the communications professional and consistent and you will see your program grow every month.
For a small investment you buy a lot of potential. It's not a get rich quick scheme and it does take a serious effort on your part but the nice thing about affiliate programs is that if you have a good product, and you put the effort forth, you can build an online sales force consisting of thousands of websites helping you sell your product. You only pay for results and only after you get the cash. Few marketing programs compare.