To recruit affiliates, first of all you need to think like an affiliate. There's no point in trying to recruit affiliates if they're disappointed when they visit your website and examine your affiliate product and your affiliate agreement.
If possible, hire an experienced, successful affiliate as your affiliate manager – someone who knows what affiliates want and can talk the same language as affiliates. It's disconcerting for an affiliate to talk to an affiliate manager and find out that he's never built an affiliate site.
If I meet an affiliate manager who's like that, I immediately think, “Can I trust what this person tells me?” Encourage your affiliate manager to build affiliate sites and get first-hand experience.
Pay your affiliate manager performance bonuses. Give him/her a strong incentive to help your affiliates achieve sales.
When you're seeing things from the affiliate's point of view, you'll start by creating a superb product which affiliates will be keen to promote. You'll pay the best commissions in your industry, use tracking software which affiliates are comfortable with, and you'll pay commissions fast – preferably on the first or second of the month. You'll provide affiliates with a range of tools to help them promote your product. You'll ask your affiliates what they want and do your best to provide it.
If possible, you'll pay lifetime commissions or residual commissions.
You'll also have tested and tweaked your website so that it has the highest conversion rate you can achieve. Serious affiliates hate being used as guinea pigs. So get your conversion rate up as high as you can BEFORE you start recruiting affiliates.
Before launching your program to the masses, you'll probably want to test your affiliate program quietly with a few affiliates so that you're 100% sure everything is working smoothly.
When you do all these things, you increase the chances that serious affiliates will not only join your program but also stay loyal to it. You'll also find that affiliates will recommend your program to their friends.
Once you've polished the basics, you're ready to find and recruit new affiliates.
First of all, here's a really important tip…
Don't compete with your affiliates
If you purchase a large number of key phrases on AdWords and pay-per-click search engines, you'll scare away many affiliates. After all, you can afford to pay more than they can because you don't pay a commission on the sales which you generate.
You've stopped doing that? Good. Now you're ready to start finding and recruiting affiliates.
SEO a two-edged sword
Search engine optimization (SEO) is an obvious way to attract the attention of affiliates. However, it can be a two-edged sword. If you're TOO good at it, being very well placed in search engines for many phrases in your industry, you may scare away serious affiliates who don't want to compete with you in the search engines. Tread carefully.
Develop your own list/newsletter
Your own email list is a good place to start looking for affiliates. Develop your own email list or newsletter for people who are interested in your industry. Give your readers useful information, earn their trust and friendship, and then turn them into loyal affiliates. Some of your customers could eventually become good affiliates.
Email prospects one by one
It's terribly time-consuming, but contacting affiliates individually by email can work well. While doing this, you must keep in mind that affiliates receive a lot of spam and junk mail. So YOUR email has to stand out favorably.
The first few seconds are vitally important.
Start your email by praising a particular section of the affiliate's site. For example, comment on a particular article, and explain how an affiliate link to your product could be woven into that article.
If you want an affiliate to promote your product, explain where the affiliate could promote it on his/her site. Do your homework. Find an appropriate spot.
Always use the website owner's name. If you can't find the name, even by doing a whois search at DomainTools.com, say something like: “Sorry, I couldn't find your name,” to indicate that you tried. This is very important. You don't want your email to look like spam.
Describe some of the benefits of your affiliate program. If it's a downloadable product, give the affiliate a link to a review copy.
You want the affiliate to do something. Figure out exactly what this is and write a call to action. For example, “Click here to join the affiliate program.”
If you receive no reply, follow up briefly, and use another email address if you can find one. Filters may have swallowed your first email.
DON'T send bulk email addressed to “Dear website owner”. It's dumb, and it looks dumb.
Participate in forums
Take part in forums in your industry. Respond helpfully to questions. Demonstrate that you have a firm grasp of your industry.
On our affiliate forum, new affiliate merchants frequently make asses of themselves by spamming the forum. Tread carefully on affiliate forums. Every move you make online either builds your reputation or helps wreck it.
It's surprising how many affiliate merchants hire someone inexperienced to promote their program on forums, and that person doesn't even bother reading the forum's rules. That's dumb. Really dumb. Doing it gives affiliates a bad impression of your company.
ALWAYS read the forum rules or guidelines. You may be allowed to link to your site in your post, or more likely only in your signature file. Create an attention-getting signature file. Again, think like an affiliate. Say things which will attract affiliates, such as, “Excellent product, high commissions, good conversion rate, fast support.”
Search in Google for “affiliate forum” “affiliate forums” or “marketing forum”.
You can advertise on AdWords and pay-per-click search engines to attract affiliates, for example by using the phrase “yourproduct affiliate program” or “yourindustry affiliate program”. You may not get many visitors this way, but those you attract should be well targeted.
Two-tier affiliate program
In the Internet marketing industry, a two-tier affiliate program can be extremely effective in spreading the word. First, you lure an affiliate who's a key person in a key place. You want someone whose opinions are respected by other affiliates. That person recommends your program to his or her newsletter subscribers or list subscribers and earns, say, 10% of the commissions of the people who sign up because of the recommendation. THOSE people then tell other people…
Remind your existing affiliates that they can earn second-tier commissions.
Some savvy marketers pay key people in key places an above average commission. An excellent product combined with high commissions is a powerful persuader.
Look for people who are in your industry but are not direct competitors. Perhaps you can persuade them to promote your affiliate program while you promote their affiliate program. You should be able to arrange win-win deals.
Advertise for affiliates
Place advertisements in positions where affiliates are likely to see them, for example on affiliate forums, in affiliate newsletters, affiliate blogs, affiliate directories and affiliate networks. You can advertise on AssociatePrograms.com and in our newsletter. We have a Media Kit you can download for details.
When advertising, try to get inside the mind of the potential affiliate. Don't just send them to a sign-up form. SELL your affiliate program. Send them to a page which explains the benefits of your program. Tell them why it's so good.
Get listed in affiliate directories
Submit your program to affiliate directories. Because they have different rules and different requirements, this is tedious, time-consuming work. You can hire an affiliate announcement service to do this for you. It does a good job.
Your own affiliates
Once you have some affiliates, encourage them to send you more affiliates.
“Your own affiliates are a great resource. Do you reward them for sending you more affiliates? Even if you do not have a two-tier system, you can still give better commissions or bonuses to those affiliates who send you a quality affiliate,” says Brad Waller of EPage.
Start an outspoken, controversial blog
Create an attention-getting blog which attracts potential affiliates to your company. Don't have time? Hire someone to write the material for you.
Outsource affiliate recruiting
Hire a company to recuit affiliates for you. Be sure to look for testimonials. Partnerific has plenty of enthusiastic testimonials from satisfied clients.
UPDATE: How to recruit, motivate and manage your affiliates
Neil Durrant, Shawn Collins and Anik Singal have all written books or courses on how to create and run an affiliate program. However, those products are all now either out of date or off the market.
Now at last there's a really good, up-to-date course for affiliate managers which IS available.
It's Sales Army Secrets, in which highly successful affiliate merchant Jimmy D. Brown describes how to recruit, motivate and manage affiliates. It includes a description of 20 ways to recruit affiliates and a heap of really good tips on how to help and motivate them. It's superb value, written by a guy who is really good at this stuff. This is a MUST-HAVE book for all affiliate merchants.