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!

VN:F [1.9.18_1163]
Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
VN:F [1.9.18_1163]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

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.


VN:F [1.9.18_1163]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.18_1163]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

Vemma FTC Action and Affiliate Marketing

vemma-affiliate-marketingThe FTC announced today that the United States District Court for the District of Arizona granted a temporary restraining order against Vemma for allegedly operating an unlawful pyramid scheme. Those of us in the affiliate marketing industry were understandably concerned given that Vemma announced in 2014 that it was moving from a multilevel marketing (MLM) business model to an affiliate marketing business model.

In fact, Vemma launched an aggressive rebranding of sorts to associate themselves with affiliate marketing, including attending Affiliate Summit and even joining the Performance Marketing Association.

However, what Vemma did was mainly a change in terminology and not in actual business practices. The changes that they made didn’t take them out of the MLM business. They wanted to be “less like Amway and more like Amazon.” And yet the focus of the business was still on recruiting new sellers, not on selling the product.

The Difference Between Vemma and Performance Based Marketing

When we talk about “affiliate marketing” at Affiliate Summit or the PMA or ABestWeb, we are talking about performance based marketing. I, as an affiliate, put up a link on my blog or Facebook page or Twitter. I only get paid if someone buys something through that link. I don’t buy anything myself to join the program. I don’t recruit other people to sell anything. It’s a simple referral transaction in which I am paid for referring a product.

Conversely, the Vemma business model first required “affiliates” to buy an “affiliate pack” at around $500. They were then told to sign up for an “auto-delivery” every month of around $150 to ensure that they always met their monthly minimum of sales. After that, the “affiliates” would then start recruiting other people to duplicate the exact same system. “Affiliates” were incentivized with bonuses to bring other people in under them as quickly as possible and were encouraged to give out free samples to get people to sign up under them rather than buy the products from them.

Vemma didn’t care if any products actually got sold and “affiliates” didn’t make money based on product sales. They made money based on 1) buying products themselves whether they wanted them or not, and 2) convincing other people to sign up under them and also buy products whether they wanted them or not. Internal documents showed that the majority of “affiliates” were actually losing money based on what they were investing each month compared to what they were making in compensation for sales.

Vemma Took Advantage of “Affiliate Marketing”

In my opinion, Vemma understood that it was losing out on potential customers by being dubbed an “MLM” and decided that because Affiliate Marketing is a growing, lucrative business, they should change what they call their business model. They ingratiated themselves into the affiliate industry in attempt to see how they could take all of the GREAT things about what we do (unlimited earning potential, growing number of participants, increasing reputation among big brands, etc) and twist it around for their own needs.

They attempted to use our terminology to avoid being classified as an “illegal pyramid” under Section 5(a) of the FTC Act, 15 U.S.C. § 45(a). But the FTC wasn’t buying it. Because the compensation was based on “recruitment of new participants, not on the retail sale of products or services,” Vemma was indeed an illegal pyramid.

This whole situation is unfortunate in many ways. First, a lot of people invested a lot of money in the hopes of living “the dream” of this great Vemma business. Second, once again affiliate marketing is getting a bad rap for something that isn’t really even affiliate marketing. And third, Vemma missed an opportunity to run a true affiliate program that would have allowed people to make honest money introducing their product to the public. If they truly believed that they had a great product that people would want to buy, they wouldn’t need to run their business the way that they did to make it profitable.

Which Companies Are Next?

Reading the documents in this case, I have to wonder who the FTC might target next. While companies like Tupperware and Mary Kay have been around for a long time and have survived because of the way that they are structured to encourage product sales, what will become of all of the newer companies selling essential oils, mascara, and diet shakes? What about affiliate marketing “gurus” who are selling their 10 step plans that guarantee you will earn passive income by investing in their courses? Hopefully we can continue to educate the public about how to do affiliate marketing the right way and continue to distance ourselves from the companies and practices that are deceptive to the public and focused more on people at the top making money than people at the bottom being treated fairly.

VN:F [1.9.18_1163]
Rating: 5.0/5 (2 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.18_1163]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

Affiliate Summit Drops Price of VIP Pass


I just heard that Affiliate Summit has lowered the price of their VIP passes for Affiliate Summit West by $300 through October 23. I didn’t even believe it until I went to the site myself and checked out all of the pass types and read the fine print. You can now get a VIP pass for $579 if you get the newly discounted Early Bird price.

I have only ever attended one Affiliate Summit where I didn’t have a VIP pass–my first. And it was essentially because I didn’t know any better and the conference was so different back then. Yes, I often get a free pass for being a speaker or being on the Advisory Board. But even when I take employees with me, I always buy them the VIP pass. Why?

First: To me, some of the best networking opportunities take place over the casual meals, drinks, and snack breaks. You will meet a certain number of people in the Exhibit Hall and Meet Market. You’ll exchange business cards and maybe follow up later. But it’s in those more casual, laid-back meals that you really talk to people and understand their business and get to know each other. The VIP pass includes the Sunday Snack Break (which people never take advantage of enough but should!), plus breakfast and lunch on Monday and Tuesday.

Second: I want to be able to attend any sessions that look good to me and take advantage of the different one-on-one and small group opportunities that are usually available only for VIP pass holders. You never know from one conference to the next if these opportunities will be the ones where you learn the most the fastest, but they usually are. You will get access to every single session plus the videos afterward.

Third: If you are a first time attendee, the Newcomer Program is like getting asked to the Homecoming Dance. It’s your chance to be paired up with someone who can introduce you to other people and help you learn the ropes so that you will make the most of the conference. I hear so many people say that the conference is “overwhelming,” and it is. But if you don’t take advantage of the Newcomer Program, you are missing out on your best chance to not only meet an industry veteran but have someone give you all of the small details you need to know both before and during the conference.

I don’t think I have ever written a blog post so blatantly “advertising” Affiliate Summit before, but I couldn’t help it when I saw this price break. I don’t know if they will ever do this again (I’m sure it depends how it works out this time), so I’m just going to tell you this:

If you have always wanted to attend Affiliate Summit and have a way of getting there in January in Las Vegas, this is the pass you need to get and the time that you need to get it.

If you do a search on my blog, you will see me talking about Affiliate Summit ALL THE TIME. What I learned, what I taught others, what I hope to get out of the next one, who I met, how my business changed. Even when I’m not “selling it,” I’m selling it. I feel strongly in always attending myself and recommending it to new people.

So there it is…this crazy price break. Head over to the Affiliate Summit site and see if it’s something you want to do in January. And if you end up deciding to go, let me know and I will see you there!

VN:F [1.9.18_1163]
Rating: 0.0/5 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.18_1163]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)

New Guidance on “Contractors” Impacts Affiliate Marketers


Lately there has been a lot of talk regarding the distinction between employees and independent contractors when it comes to services like Uber and Lyft. However, the guidance being handed down could very well impact the way that many affiliates and OPMs are managing their businesses.

New Guidance on Employees Versus Contractors

On July 15, 2015, Administrator David Weil issued a Department of Labor’s (DOL) Administrator’s Interpretation of the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The 15 page document speaks specifically to the misclassification of employees as independent contractors. The main concern of the DOL is that “some employees may be intentionally misclassified as a means to cut costs and avoid compliance with labor laws.”

The DOL has historically defined “employ” as “to suffer or permit to work” and uses a more recently adopted “economic realities test.” That test uses the following factors, which are analyzed against each other with no single one being determinative.

(A) the extent to which the work performed is an integral part of the employer’s business;
(B) the worker’s opportunity for profit or loss depending on his or her managerial skill;
(C) the extent of the relative investments of the employer and the worker;
(D) whether the work performed requires special skills and initiative;
(E) the permanency of the relationship; and
(F) the degree of control exercised or retained by the employer.

One of the most important paragraphs in the document explains that the label that the employer uses or the agreement between the employer and the worker are NOT determinative. It’s not enough for the employer and the employee to just agree as part of their contract or negotiation that the worker is an independent contractor. The factors in the economic realities test will still prevail.

Another paragraph that is particularly important in our industry describes the element of “degree of control.” Simply having workers who are free to work from home and set their own hours with little supervision does NOT make them independent contractors. The control factor has to be weighed against the other factors.

The document concludes by blatantly summarizing that “most workers are employees under the FLSA’s broad definitions.”

How It Impacts Affiliate Marketing

It’s no secret that the many people in our industry work in a consulting or contract capacity quite frequently. There are quite a few instances that would actually fall under the “independent contractor” status such as guest writers, graphic designers, programmers, and social media or SEO experts.

However, those lines might very easily be crossed if the person doing the work is either working exclusively for one company, is performing work that is integral to the company, or the company is relationship has the signs of permanency (perhaps the giving of executive titles or listing the workers on the employer website).

What’s the difference how you classify workers if both of you are fine with it? Apparently quite a bit. There are major differences in the assessment and collection of taxes, unemployment, overtime policies, and minimum wages.

Right now it does not look like online marketing is being closely scrutinized for labor violations of this type, but as our industry continues to grow, it’s likely that we will become a bigger part of the discussion.

If you are employing people in any way, it’s a good idea to evaluate your relationships and determine whether people you consider to be contractors might actually be employees. 

VN:F [1.9.18_1163]
Rating: 5.0/5 (1 vote cast)
VN:F [1.9.18_1163]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)