Affiliate marketing for small businesses: an introduction

Liane Dietrich, UK managing director of LinkShare, gives advice on using this digital marketing strategy to build business.

Today, consumer eyeballs are firmly online thanks to the rise of social networking and availability of connected devices such as the iPad, iPhone and BlackBerry. Because of this increased attention towards all things digital, brands are naturally following suit. But it's not just the big players that can benefit.

Digital marketing offers huge potential for small businesses looking to increase their range and communicate with the audience that matters most to them. With the nation now beginning to look beyond the recession, digital marketing can be a huge asset to the business. Affiliate marketing in particular provides a good opportunity for businesses looking to trial the digital spectrum, as it offers a targeted campaign reach which can be closely monitored, and tailored to maximise ROI. Here we'll outline five steps to success for small businesses looking to embrace affiliate marketing.

1. Mastering the basics of affiliate marketing

Put very simply, affiliate marketing is a way of making money online in which online publishers are rewarded for promoting a particular product, service or site. So regardless of size, resources or sector, there is an online tool for each and every small business looking to increase its impact on its chosen market. Beyond this, the targeted approach that affiliate marketing affords means it is ideal for small businesses, giving them the chance to reach out directly to interested consumers rather than taking a less accurate broad-brush approach.

2. Understanding that it doesn't cost the earth

The second step is to address the most common misconception around affiliate marketing: cost. The reality is that affiliate marketing is not about splashing large budgets all over the web. It is about selecting the right campaign and the right tool, and making sure there is a clear return on investment. Affiliate marketing is not only more accountable and measurable than its traditional counterpart but as a result, the return is more easily recognised.

3. Having a joined-up approach

Integration is key in affiliate marketing and strategies are most successful when they work in tandem with existing activities - whether this is in-store, at point of sale, print advertising or direct mail. For example, an in-store advert offering a special promotion could be emailed out to customers, promoted by your affiliates and be part of a social networking campaign on sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Nevertheless, when operating in the digital space, small businesses need to remember that 'one size does not fit all' and campaign efforts need to be tailored depending on who the consumer it is trying to reach and on the platform it is engaging across.

4. Embracing new tools and tactics to keep the campaign fresh

There are now a variety of tools and technologies that can take the campaign to the next level and help publishers engage with new audiences. Take the mobile web as an example: consumers are increasingly turning to this connection to browse online while on the move. Recent upgrades to network capacity and the introduction of flat-fee mobile broadband plans means this is now cheaper and as a result there are an even great number of opportunities for small businesses looking to capture consumer attention on the go through mobile advertising. Tools such as our Mobile Links provide an easy to use technology framework for distributing and maintaining M-commerce links, helping you to accurately measure the buying behaviour of mobile customers.

5. Tracking and reporting to assess trends

To make the most of new technologies and approaches to affiliate marketing, it is important to ensure an affiliate programme is on track by monitoring success through solid key performance indicators (KPIs). This approach also helps to keep campaigns alive and interesting by incentivising affiliates in case interest begins to tail off. It also means that the campaign is geared around getting the right results and stays on track.

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