Relationships and Adaptation Led to 10 Successful Years

sunshinerewards-collageThis month my company Sunshine Rewards celebrates 10 years in business. Although I have been in affiliate marketing longer than that, for some reason this milestone is the one that is most important to me. It’s meant weathering a lot of storms and building partnerships that are the foundation of everything I do.

When we started SR, my husband Kevin and I were armed with some technical skills, a little knowledge about affiliate marketing, and a desire to create something that would get us out of the $100K debt we found ourselves in between college and law school loans, building a house, and having 2 kids in the first 4 years of our marriage. We knew that if we wanted to really change our lives, we had to do something BIG. This is how we did it.

The Start of Something Big

On January 10, 2006, we registered www.sunshinerewards.com. We bought a cheap starter script and Kevin spent every evening and weekend hour rewriting things to make it our own. The logo was made in Paint or something like that. Our goal was to make a simple site where we could put up affiliate links and share the revenue with our friends who used them: Here’s how the site looked (this is really embarrassing):

sunshinerewards-1 [Read more…]

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Affiliate Cheats: Finding Merchants and Offers

finding-merchantsAt least once a week I get an email from someone asking me if I know what network a merchant or offer is on. Sometimes it is because I am running the offer or working with the merchant. More often it is because I am seen as the keeper of all secret affiliate marketing information.

I always answer the question but my real secret is that I use various cheats to get the answer. I used to go into every network and search by keyword but I got smarter because sometimes finding the information is like looking for a needle in a haystack. Today I’m going to share my cheats with you!

Three Ways To Find an Offer or Affiliate Link

1. Check the merchant footer: This is the easiest route and the one I try first when someone sends me a merchant link. I just click the link and look for something about the affiliate program in the footer. More than half the time I find it.

findprogram1These tend to be your most affiliate-friendly merchants and those pages often tell you not only where the program is but who manages it and other information about the program.

So what about the other half the time when the merchant doesn’t give the information away directly on their site? [Read more…]

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Last Minute Tips for #ASW16

asw16If you are like me, you probably spent the last 3 months in a blur of Halloween costumes, Black Friday promotions, and too many cookies. January seemed so far away. The good news is that you made it through Q4. The bad news is that we are already almost a week into January and you are probably not yet ready for Affiliate Summit.

Here are some last minute ideas to help you get ready if you are planning on attending. Even if you are not attending, some of these tips will come in handy.

1. Check your stock of business cards. Worst-case scenario you can use Staples Copy & Print service to get some made same day. They don’t have to be fancy, but you need to have business cards. I am always amazed at the people who come without business cards and then try to write their info on someone else’s card or use plain paper.

2. Binge watch “Making a Murderer” on Netflix. If you don’t have Netflix, at least check out some of the bazillion articles written about the show. It’s the hot topic right now. People will be talking about it in casual conversations when they don’t have anything else to talk about. You want to at least be able to be a part of the arguments. [Read more…]

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Why You Need an Affiliate Manager (And It Can’t Be Me)

Affiliate Manager RecommendationsI get a fair number of affiliate marketing consulting inquiries as a result of my blog, but I have to turn away over 90% of them because I know I’m not the best person for the job. Sometimes they just don’t need to be spending any money on a consultant yet because they are not far enough in their process, and I tell them that. Most of the time, however, it is because they need a specialist on the opposite side of affiliate marketing from me. They need an Affiliate Manager or an Outsourced Program Manager (OPM).

What Does An OPM Know That I Don’t?

Essentially everyone in the industry has the same basic knowledge of affiliate marketing. We should all be able to explain to you things like: what networks are, the key players, flat rate versus percentage commission, cookie length, coupon sites, cash back sites, content sites, CPM/CPL/CPA/CPS, text links and banner ads, widgets, auto-updating banners, deep linking, conversion rates, reversals, etc. Those are the basics that affiliates and affiliate managers should all understand.

But when it comes down to very specific knowledge about program management, OPMs know things that I am not qualified to answer. For example:

  • How much does it cost to launch a program with X network?
  • Should you launch a program on more than one network?
  • Who are the top affiliates in various niches?
  • How long will it be before you can expect sales?
  • Who will make the banners you need for your program?
  • How do you upload your datafeed to the network? What format should it be?
  • How do you get your program featured with a certain network?
  • What kind of attribution levels should your program use?

Of course I have opinions on things like which network does certain things better than another or whether a merchant should work with coupon sites. In all fairness, though, those things are going to be very dependent upon the specific merchant.

How Should You Pick an Affiliate Manager or OPM?

If you want to hire someone in-house to manage your affiliate program and have direct control over them at all times, you need an affiliate manager. They may have other social media or ecommerce responsibilities as well, but you want them to have enough time to dedicate to understanding affiliate marketing and managing the program that they can do a good job with it and not just “set it and forget it.”

Otherwise, if any of the following fits you, you want to hire an OPM:

  • You don’t want or can’t afford a full-time employee.
  • You have an in-house employee with other responsibilities who needs someone with more experience to act as a consultant on the program.
  • You want someone to launch the program quickly and need them to leverage their existing affiliate relationships to do that.
  • You are a small company and want to manage the program yourself but don’t know enough about affiliate marketing to do it effectively.

Whether you want an Affiliate Manager or an OPM, here are some questions to ask to find the right one:

  • Do they fit your budget? (I’ve heard these can range from $500 a month to $10K or more)
  • How long is the contract? (less than 6 months won’t likely give them a chance to really launch it)
  • Do they only work with one network? (not every network is best for every merchant)
  • Are they managing any conflicting programs such as a competitor to you?
  • Do they have experience in your niche?
  • How do they find the affiliates that they recruit?
  • Do they attend conferences and will they represent you there?
  • How much experience do the people who manage the program day-t0-day have? (not just the owner of the company)
  • What is the ratio of the number of employees to the number of programs managed?
  • What exactly is included in the monthly rate including reporting, recruiting, approvals, loading creatives to the networks, newsletters, etc?
  • Are their top affiliates coupon/deal sites or content sites or a mixture of both?
  • To what extent will they allow trademark bidding on your name and how does that fit with your current strategies?
  • Are they a member of the Performance Marketing Association?

As you can see, it’s not sufficient just to be good at affiliate marketing to be an affiliate manager. Even knowing a LOT about affiliate programs doesn’t give someone all of the tools and experience that they need to manage a program. It’s a different mindset completely and requires someone who does it on a daily basis to really do it effectively.

Which OPMs Do I Recommend?

I get asked for OPM recommendations on a daily basis and I always struggle with it. After 10 years in the business, I have worked with a LOT of different OPMs (including my mom!). I don’t recommend based on who pays me for referrals (although some do) or who I “like” better (because my mom would always have to win, right?). Instead, I ask questions about the merchant, try to ascertain a little about their personalities and their budget, and check out their site.

Based on those things, I ask myself who I think would do the best job with that particular merchant. Do they already have a similar merchant or have they had a similar merchant in the past? Do they work with sites that I think have the same target demographic as this merchant? As an affiliate, do I feel like they do a good job of keeping me informed about programs, being fair with cookies and commissions, and helping me be successful?

For that reason, I don’t tend to recommend the same people every time. I have a little list in my head and I work my way down it until something works or the merchant decides that program management isn’t actually right for them right now anyway. So I’m not going to publish any kind of list because it wouldn’t really do anyone any good (and would probably just get people mad at me if I forget to put them on it).

If you have a site and are looking for affiliate management and have read everything in this post and still want a recommendation, please reach out to me! Tell me a little about your company and your site and I will check it out and give you 3 or 4 OPMs that I think might be a good fit for you. If you are an OPM, feel free to drop your link in the comments so other people can check out your site and so I don’t forget to think about you the next time I make a recommendation!

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Why I Still Walk for Breast Cancer Awareness

Avon Walk to End Breast Cancer

I’ve seen a lot of posts in my Facebook feed this month about “pinkwashing” and why Breast Cancer Awareness month is a farce. I take the time to read all of them because I don’t want to be one of those people who just buries my head in sand and ignores anyone who disagrees with me. But after doing a 10 mile training walk on the treadmill today, I felt like I couldn’t be quiet anymore about why *I* will be doing the Avon 39 Walk to End Breast Cancer next week.

The first time that I signed up for the walk, I did it for very simple reasons. Both of my grandmothers had breast cancer. I had many friends, neighbors, and colleagues who fought breast cancer along with an aunt and a cousin. I felt so impacted by the sheer volume of people around me who had faced it. I wanted to do something to honor all of them and it seemed like the money and awareness that I could raise would be a way of doing that.

That first walk changed everything.

In the course of my fundraising, people came out of the woodwork telling me their stories. A neighbor who was only my age and had undergone a double mastectomy and I didn’t even know it. A friend whose mother died of breast cancer the year before. It seemed like by putting it out there that I was doing the walk, people felt more comfortable talking to me about breast cancer. Many of them thanked me for doing it and asked me to carry their names or the names of their loved ones during my walk, and I did.

During the walk itself, I saw so many survivors. I was humbled to see women who were just completing chemo walking faster than I was. I learned that my teammates were all walking for very personal reasons, too. Talking to Shawn and knowing why he wears the hat that he wears reminds me at every mile how important it is to him. Seeing Vanessa‘s mom, a breast cancer survivor herself, waiting and waving at the Finish Line brought the whole walk into perspective.

And then there’s the money.

A lot is said about how much of the “funds” raised by pink campaigns actually goes to research and the people who need it. I don’t doubt for one minute that many companies use it mainly for PR, and I hate that the NFL gives so little compared to what it looks like they are giving. Attending the opening and closing ceremonies of the Avon Walk as well as their website tells me exactly where that money is going. Hearing people from God’s Love We Deliver, You Can Thrive!, and the NYU Cancer Center talk about how they are using the money they are getting makes me wish I had raised even more.

It’s Not Just Me

For every story out there about someone who hates Breast Cancer Walks, there is another story about someone who is inspired by them. Today I came across this post Why I Quit the Avon Walk, and it was NOT at all what I expected. It’s the story of Michelle Ward and how important the walk was to her 6 months after chemo. The post is from 2012 and in it she vows to continue doing the walk each year. I skimmed through her site to see if she is walking this year. I found 2 things: Michelle’s fundraising page for this year (having raised over $7K so far and walking again with her mom, BFF, and another friend) and a blog post by Michelle from October 7 of this year saying that the breast cancer has reoccurred (My Begrudging Life Lessons).

I hope somehow in that sea of people in New York this weekend that I find Team Awesome and can tell them that I read about Michelle and am praying for her. She posted “I personally feel strong when I share what I’m going through and get messages of kindness and support back.” I intend to find any way that I can to let her know that she has the support of a totally unknown blogger in Indiana.

I probably haven’t changed your mind about whether you will walk a walk like this yourself or even give money to mine. But I hope that I have at least shared a different perspective from what you are seeing on social media. My heart breaks for the women who feel like “pink” and “October” are a slap in the face for what they have been through. I hope that they will understand that the rest of us are just trying to do what we can in the ways that we know how to give our time and money to a cause we ALL believe in.

 

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