Q: What do you do if you have a great product, but no money?
A: There are two things you can do in affiliate marketing without a budget: apply lots of ingenuity and elbow grease or run a crappy affiliate program.
I’m sure everybody intends to do the former, but more often than not, I see the latter for affiliate programs on shoestring budgets.
One of the first keys to running a successful bootstrapped affiliate program is to run it through a quality technology. I know it is tempting to use the built in affiliate program technology in your shopping cart, but resist it!
There are several quality affiliate program tracking options with a low or free set-up fee. I would suggest using one of the following: Affiliate Clicks, Fusion Quest, Groundbreak.com Ultimate Affiliate, or Shareasale.com.
In all reality, if you use the shopping cart affiliate tracking or some bare bones script, it’s going to be a BIG red flag to affiliates that you couldn’t invest a couple hundred dollars in tracking, so you may well not have money in the bank when it comes time to cut commission checks.
Then, you’ve got to recruit targeted affiliates. There are plenty of ways to do this, and most cost you money, such as advertising on affiliate program directories and using software programs to prospect for affiliates.
But you can do just fine if you are willing to put in some quality time. If you are short on time and money, I would suggest walking away from affiliate marketing, because you really need to invest one or the other (preferably both).
When you think of your competition, who are the three biggest competitors in your space? OK, you’ve got that list in your head. Now go to Google and put this in the search box: link:www.siteurl.com
Replace ‘siteurl’ with the domain of each of your competitors and click ‘search’. This is going to tell you which sites are linking to your competitors. These are prime sites to contact for your affiliate program.
Next, what is unique about your affiliate program or your company. If your company gets mentioned in the right media, that can help deliver your marketing message in a very cheap or low cost manner. Leave shame at the door and aim to capitalize on any news story that is remotely relevant. If you sell jewelry and you see a story on the local news about a couple whose wedding rings were stolen from their car, swoop in and give them a couple new rings. Then blast out a press release about it. The news loves a hero.
Now, think about some sites that are similar in scope to your business – they target the same audience, but they do no directly compete with you. Check whether they have affiliate programs. For those that have affiliate programs, contact them and offer to exchange blurbs in your affiliate newsletters to promote one another. Then take it a step further – suggest inserting plugs for one another in the envelopes with your affiliate commission checks.
And depending on the affiliate program tracking you are using, you should look into setting up your affiliate program as a two-tier program. This means that your existing affiliates will receive commission for referring new affiliates, either in the form of a one-time lead, or a percent of each referred sale the affiliate makes who joined through them.
There are lots of ideas out there – get creative and put your mind to it – you can run a great program on a small budget.