044: Getting Started with Affiliate Marketing with Justine Grey

Welcome to episode 44 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast! This week, Bjork talks with Justine Grey about how low-traffic bloggers can make an income through affiliate marketing.

Last week, Bjork interviewed Tieghan Gerard from the popular blog Half Baked Harvest about her inspiring photography, inventive recipes, and the drive that keeps her moving forward. To go listen to that episode, click here.

Getting Started with Affiliate Marketing

Many bloggers wonder how they can make an income from their blog when they don’t have a lot of traffic. As we all know, ads pay per impression (or click), and sometimes it takes a lot of impressions to get the dollars to add up.

However, bloggers with lower traffic numbers still can make money with their blogs. How? With affiliate marketing! By sharing the products they love with their readers, smaller bloggers are able to earn commissions on those products and start earning an income sooner.

Justine Grey is an affiliate marketing guru, and she is here today to tell us all about the world of affiliate marketing.

In this episode, Justine shares:

  • How she ended up making affiliate marketing her career
  • What affiliate marketing is and how it can be used to monetize your blog
  • What an affiliate cookie is and how long it’s valid
  • Why being an affiliate isn’t about selling products
  • How you can be a better, more successful affiliate
  • How to get a better rate for your affiliate sales
  • What you should pay affiliates for your own products
  • Whether or not you should use a large network like ShareASale for your affiliate network
  • Why you shouldn’t automatically add all affiliates that apply

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Bjork Ostrom: Welcome to episode number 44 of the Food Blogger Pro podcast. Hey there everybody, Bjork Ostrom here, I’m coming to you straight from the thriving Metropolis of saint Paul Minnesota with another Food Blogger Pro episode. Today we’re talking with Justine Grey and Justine is an expert in the field of affiliate marketing. I’m guessing that when you hear that term affiliate marketing you have kind of a general of what it is or may be you do a lot of affiliate marketing on your blog or website.

We’re going to really dive deep into that and talk about some of the specifics. Not only the specifics on the publisher side and we’re going to talk about what that means if you’re a publisher and how you can implement some tips and tricks for increasing your earnings and being smart about affiliate marketing from the publisher side but we’re also going to talk about affiliate marketing from the merchant side.

One of the things that I love about this conversation around affiliate marketing from the merchant side is that if you do this right and if you do it well, it means that you don’t always have to be at a point where your blog or your website has a ton of traffic. You can partner with and find other people that have a lot of traffic and leverage their audience into helping to grow your site and then paying them a commission as a merchant for whatever it is that you have, that Ebook or a course or a product that you’re selling.

I think it will really be a helpful interview to open your eyes up a little bit to all of the different ways that you can be implementing this idea of affiliate marketing and Justine is a great person to have on. She has a ton of experience with really big sites like Shopify and FreshBooks and sites that really lean into this idea of affiliate marketing. She has a lot of experience and she’s a wonderful individual as well. I can’t wait to introduce you to Justine Grey from justinegrey.com. Without further ado let’s jump in, Justine welcome to the podcast.

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Justine Grey: Thank you for having me. Excited to be here.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, super excited to talk to you. Before we started the call I was just talking about how this is something that I just enjoy talking about. Like it’s interesting conversation for me, so it would be good to dive into this. One of the things that I love about this is I feel like this is going to be one of those topics where people are like, “Oh I understand affiliate marketing” but then once you get in there, you’re like, “Oh my gosh.” There’s so much to cover and there’s so many little nooks and crannies of the industry, so I’m excited to dive into it.

Before we do, I want to hear a little bit about your story and we were chatting before again and you said, “How did you get into the tech side of things and interested in that.” I was like “Well, I started at a nonprofit” and you were like, “Yeah you know, now that you have a similar story but it’s not necessarily something you got into right away.” I’m interested to hear affiliate marketing, how did you get into it?

Justine Grey: Yeah. I think I wanted to be an entrepreneur basically my whole life but I never really knew what that looked like and what that would be. It wasn’t until I was working a day job and I got pregnant with my first child that I realized how much I didn’t want to go back to that job once the baby was born. I started looking into ways of how can I do this entrepreneur thing?

I started my first business and that was actually selling scrap booking supplies on eBay and then eventually changed into selling jewelry products. That was mainly on Etsy but I also started doing it wholesale as well. What happened was, I started writing to other sellers on the Etsy forums and on my little blog about how I was getting my products into retail stores and people started asking me questions constantly. I would get private messages all the time from other sellers who are like, “How are you doing that? I really want to do this too.”

That is where I started taking the blogging part more seriously. I just started thinking, “Okay, well, how can I help these people” because it was so easy for me but it’s not easy for everyone. I just started sharing tips on how I’m doing things, marketing my business and it took off from there. Affiliate marketing was a way that I could monetize that content because I didn’t have the traffic. I needed to sell ad space for example.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure. To make sure I’m understanding this right, so you had started doing physical products, it was jewelry and you had said that it was also scrap booking supplies. Were you still doing that after or was that just like the first entry into doing it?

Justine Grey: That was like my entry into online business but I sound like I wasn’t going to make a lot of money that way and so I thought and also it was time consuming buying the supplies and it just didn’t feel like my own thing. I wanted to make my own stuff. That’s when I, it took like a bunch of Youtube tutorials on how to make jewelry and was like I’m going to do this business now and I jumped into that.

Bjork Ostrom: Then from that you started this blog, so what I’m curious about is, was the blog about that actual product or was it about what you were doing to help sell the product. Was it like kind of a behind the scenes blog talking about, “Hey, here’s how I run my store and here are the tips that I have”, or was it more of like, “Here’s some jewelry” and talking about what that looks like or and how you made it? Which stance did you take with the blog?

Justine Grey: Well because I was really new at jewelry making and it wasn’t something that I would say I was amazing at but I could create a finished product. I was focusing more on the business side of things. It was actually called the etsybusiness.com and later changed to handmade marketer because I would say it was like, you can’t use your name. Basically it was all about how to market a handmade business. I focused in on the jewelry niche but I definitely had people falling along who had other kinds of hemi products as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. At that point, I’m guessing with Etsy, I don’t know Etsy very well but that there’s lots of different tricks that you can use to build your account and get noticed in different ways that you can do grassroots advertising or paid for advertising. Was affiliate marketing one of those things? Like could you give affiliates a percentage of your sales with Etsy?

Justine Grey: Well back then you couldn’t. This was in 2009. At the time they didn’t have, I don’t believe they had Etsy affiliate program that they do now. You couldn’t do that. Also, the problem with handmade business and affiliate marketing is, if you don’t have the inventory, if you don’t have enough inventory you’re not going to be able to do an affiliate program because affiliates don’t want to be capped, if that makes sense. If they promote your product and they send you 50 sales and you can’t fulfill 50 sales, that’s bad business.

Bjork Ostrom: Right, because they’re sending traffic and people are coming but then there’s nothing to purchase.

Justine Grey: Exactly right, or even if you have only 3 products and you make them once the order comes through. I actually didn’t look into the affiliate program side of things back then. Where I was starting to get into affiliate marketing was when I was creating content and teaching people how to do things and it naturally, products would come up because of the different tools that I was using.

That’s where I was like, “Hey I’m using this tool, they have an affiliate program, I’ve heard about affiliate marketing and how I can earn a profit if somebody buys this thing I’m recommending, maybe I’ll focus on my time here and write a tutorial on the tool” and things like that. That’s where I started to get more serious about it.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. For those that maybe wouldn’t be as familiar, do you have an example of a tool or a service that when you were writing your blog about building an Etsy store or handmade crafts right, not necessarily specifically Etsy but probably. You were saying, “Hey, here’s one of the tools that I use.” Can you talk through an example of what that might be?

Justine Grey: Absolutely. Yes I mean some tools don’t have affiliates program so you want to showcase all of them. You don’t want to just pick ones that are affiliate related because you want to make money. Some of them would have been things like I used to use, a tool called Project Wonderful to do ads. I don’t think that had an affiliate program. Then other people in my similar niche I guess they had info products. An Ebook on how to get your products into retail stores or an Ebook on marketing your handmade business through ads.

I would sell, I would ask for an affiliate copy of that, if what I would purchase it myself and use it and then once I reviewed it, I would throw up that information on my site so people could see it. I’d also use like a banner maybe in my newsletter with like, “Hey, really cool product you should check out.” Yeah, people click it and they purchase it, I would earn a commission.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. That’s a little bit of a teaser, a little bit of an intro into what affiliate marketing is and one thing I always wanted try and do is lay the foundation for the conversation. I’m guessing most people have for sure heard of this idea of affiliate marketing. Most people probably have kind of a rough understanding of what it is but like I said in beginning if we can really get into it a little bit deeper so people have a better understanding. Can you just from a very high level, what is affiliate marketing, how does it work? I’d just be curious to hear your explanation in a very basic level of what it is and how it works.

Justine Grey: Yeah, sure. I think the best way for myself to describe it would be I would tell someone like, imagine a squad of like savvy bloggers promoting your products and promoting them to their own audience. If those people send you sales, you just go ahead and give them a commission in return basically for their efforts. It’s a really win win situation where you don’t have to do as much marketing because you have these people out there promoting your product and your brand. When they send a sale or a lead or they do an action of some sort that’s when you compensate them.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Like you said it’s a win win because they’re getting a commission whenever they send a sale and for you it’s you get a sale which is like, it’s great because you’re using or they’re using their captive audience and hopefully it’s something that they really like and appreciate and are interested in and they’re promoting that and it could potentially be a win win win right? Like the people that purchase it, it’s really helpful to them. We would say the publisher, is that the term that you would use, the blogger or the publisher?

Justine Grey: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay, kind of this universal term of publisher because like you said it could be an email newsletter or maybe it’s not as common but everyone else can see it in a podcast, it would come up. The other side of it, that I think is interesting is this merchant side of it as well. That would be the person that actually creates the content. In your case what you’re saying is you were the publisher side, is that right?

Justine Grey: Yeah, that’s where I started out. I think that’s how a lot of people would get into it is if you have some content of some sort whether it’s on social media site or a blog or an email newsletter or even a podcast, you can definitely promote products and earn commissions through either any of those things.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. One of the things that this might not be like super exciting to talk about but I think it’s important, again on the foundational side of things, is to talk about the different factors that go into affiliate marketing. What I’m referring here is the one that I think we usually think of is like how much do you earn? What is your commission? Then there’s lots of other factors like, and you would know more of these than I would but for instance like the cookie. How long does the cookie last? Can you talk about in affiliate marketing some of the important concepts that are both publishers’ and merchants’ need to understand?

Justine Grey: Absolutely. I think there’s a lot … A lot of questions you really need to ask yourself on the publisher side before you join any of the affiliate programs. For example like you said what’s the cookie. A cookie is basically a window of time when your affiliate link is valid.

For example if a company says you have 45 a day cookie window, that means that if somebody clicks on your affiliate link for 45 days, unless they click a new affiliate link, for 45 days that person is going to have it in their system that you are their affiliate and if they end up purchasing within that window you’ll get the commission.

Now, people like Amazon have really short cookie windows. Then companies like FreshBooks for example will have longer window. It really depends on the type of product and industry but it’s definitely something you want to look at because for me a short cookie windows is a bit of a gamble. You’re putting a lot of investment into that and so you really have to have a higher amount of traffic or a lot of people clicking on the those links for it to be valid if the window is very short.

Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that you said is if somebody, unless they click on another link. Can you explain what you mean by that?

Justine Grey: Yes. Let’s say there’s 2 blogs and so somebody clicks on your blog and their affiliate link is registered in their system and their system has been cookied, it’s what it’s called. Then, if they go to another blog and they click on the same program affiliate link, it override yours. Then the other affiliate will get that.

Bjork Ostrom: It actually kind of replaces your cookie. It’s the last click.

Justine Grey: Exactly.

Bjork Ostrom: I know within the affiliate world, I have a really good friend who works in the industry as well and everyone else I’ll talk to him about stuff that he was talking about one of the things that’s starting to change and programs are getting better at tracking. It’s like first credit cookie and then like dividing that up and I thought that was so interesting where, let’s say if you were the person that has the first click for the program, essentially you’ve introduced that person to the program whatever it would be FreshBooks for instance, but maybe you’re not the person that has the last click. It’s interesting he was talking about how that’s starting to change where there’s potential to start to divide the percentage of the click. Have you heard about that or is it so?

Justine Grey: Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s so interesting to me.

Justine Grey: I think it’s something that stuff going to evolve with time. Right now I would say the majority of programs at least the ones that I’ve worked with are last click. I think if they are doing first place orders splitting percentages they’re definitely going to say it in their terms. That’s another thing you definitely want to look at when you join a new program. It’s like what kind of … How can I promote them? Are there any things I can’t do. That’s another important piece of looking at when you’re signing up to a new program.

Bjork Ostrom: I think that stuff is, this is when we get into it and you realize there’s all these different variables. There’s this idea of your commission and that would be something that’s pretty straightforward. You get X% or maybe you get this dollar amount for any sale that you refer. Even within that, sometimes I would say and you would know better than I but maybe 95% of the time it’s usually based on the sale, right? Not necessarily a lead or, what would be the other options?

Justine Grey: There’s a bunch. One could be a lead. That’s, sometimes companies will have a free trial for example and so you actually don’t send them sales, you just send them these trials and so they might pay an actual trial instead of the sale because maybe they haven’t incorporated the sale component into the program yet. You’ll get $5 every time you get someone to sign up for a trial which is actually pretty easy because free trials are easier to convince people to do than going and buying a product.

Bjork Ostrom: Right, for sure. I think it’s important to point out because usually people will just think like, “Oh I got to get people to sign up for this or I have to have a sale occur here” but there’s often different end goals for an affiliate program. I think we usually think about commission. We have commission, we have the cookie life. Are there other things that people should be aware of in terms of different variables that exist with an affiliate program?

Justine Grey: I think the biggest … The other biggest piece I’d say would be what I mentioned before which is the promotional methods. What you want to make sure is that there’s nothing that you personally do in your business that’s going to be against the terms of this affiliate program. One example I can give you is, every year Marie Forleo has this really awesome thing called B-school that comes about. It’s a business school and it’s an online training program. She has a group of affiliates who promote her products.

A lot of times because the commission on that is so high, it’s a $1,000 or at least it’s 50% of the course which is a lot of money. People go all in to promote her. What they do is offer bonuses a lot of times from their own businesses. For example they’ll say I’m going to give away a $1,000 in bonuses of all my products and services if you purchase Marie Forleo business course through me. Now that’s actually something called incentivizing. A lot of times it’s against the terms of many standard affiliate programs.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. If I were to say, if you buy this from Amazon let’s say and then forward me the receipt then I’ll send you my tips for doing podcast or something like that.

Justine Grey: Exactly, or like Food Blogger Pro membership or something like that. Absolutely. That was something that, I find that’s the biggest one where incentivizing is dangerous because a lot of programs don’t accept it but it seems like a natural thing to do because if you have stuff that you can offer people in exchange for them taking an action, it’s a win win but it really depends on the program. That’s something to look out for for sure.

Bjork Ostrom: Now this is interesting and I feel like it’s good to lay the foundation there but that was a good lead into some of these tips and tricks that you can be doing with affiliate marketing and you talk about bonuses. I think that’s such a interesting thing. I see people do that with all different types of affiliate programs. It might be, like if you sign up for this course, let me know like you said and I’ll give you my course for free. Or I’ve seen people say, if you sign up for this certain host for this company I’ll help you set up your website.

I’m really interested in this broader category of advice or things that maybe people don’t normally think about as publishers. We’re talking to bloggers and content creators, for ways that they can be better affiliates. Ways that they can be not only for the company but also for themselves and it works both ways because the better you are for yourself the better you are for the company. What are some things that you think would be important for bloggers or content creators to implement that would help them do a better job of being an affiliate?

Justine Grey: I think the first thing is really just knowing that you need to put a little bit of your time into this just like any other business endeavor. Affiliate marketing, it is a lot of work in the sense that you do have to make time to promote these products in order to make a living from it or even make a little side income from it.

Whether that is content creation or just having the time to join a number of programs so that you have a diverse range of things that you can cover on your blog or site. You want to make sure that you put the time aside and you don’t just go into an a program, grab a link, throw up a banner and call it a day because it’s really hard to earn through affiliate marketing if you’re just going to do that.

Bjork Ostrom: Why is that? Why is that not effective?

Justine Grey: Well, I think it’s because of the traffic. If your site is, even if it’s established, a lot of times people don’t have mega traffic sites. You need to have super high traffic to be able to sell a lot of products through an affiliate banner on your site. If you don’t have that kind of traffic you’re going to have to invest in things like content creation and just getting really creative like making videos for example or doing a podcast and in the show notes having a link to that affiliate product that you mentioned on the podcast.

It’s things like that where there’s got to be a little bit of repetition. They might need to hear about this product 3 or 4 times before they go and buy it, so there is an investment piece there and your time and also be strategic about that product. I do an affiliate program, I’m not just going to do one post and then that’s it. I’m going to think about this product and how I can incorporate it into lots of different posts and pieces of content throughout a year and see how it does.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I think, well go ahead finish that thought.

Justine Grey: No, so I think that’s just something where I feel like new affiliate marketing people are really interested in doing it but not realizing there was that investment piece with your time. It’s so necessary.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, I think it’s like this … I think people forget that sometimes and it’s like you’re like, “Okay I’ve done the thing which is get the link and put it as a banner up on my website” but in order for it to really work it takes a lot of time and energy and an intentional thought behind that content creation if you are a blogger or a content creator.

I think that’s such an important point, is just the reality that it takes time and effort. We like to talk about it in the context of educators. Like you’re not selling something, what you’re doing is educating people on why whatever it is is a good tool. Oftentimes I think what will happen is people will be trying to solve a problem and essentially what you’re telling them is here is this problem that I had and here’s how I solved it as opposed to just a link in the sidebar.

Justine Grey: They’ll buy those right now.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, right. You can see how that’s so much less effective to have just a link versus educating somebody on how something was helpful for you or how you used a certain tool, so when they are going to that page or clicking on the link they have an idea of what it is and why they might use it and how it might help them.

One of the things that I’m also interested in is this idea of communicating with an affiliate program manager and this might be, for you it might be one of those eye roll things where you’re like, “Oh I have to deal with this stuff all the time” but I think it’s important for people to know that not all affiliate programs are set in stone in terms of those rates and those numbers. Let’s say that you would be, I don’t know if there’s an industry term for this but like somebody who’s a super affiliate.

Somebody who has a really, really engaged audience specifically overlapping with a certain merchant and they might be more valuable as a business partner than somebody just randomly signing up and potentially they could have, I don’t know if leverage is the right term or they could have the ability to come to affiliate program manager and say, “Would you be willing to pay me more or extend my cookie life” or something like that. Is that a common thing in the industry and what is your advice for people that are getting into it in terms of how they can have that conversation?

Justine Grey: Absolutely that’s a thing. I’ve been an affiliate manager as well, so part of the story … After I had that site I eventually joined a company called FreshBooks and I worked with them for about 3 1/2 years. At that company I started the affiliate program. That was something because I was an affiliate marketer and I really wanted to do something affiliate related but being an affiliate marketer for a company wasn’t as easy a thing to do as it was to start an affiliate program on the merchant side.

While I was an affiliate manager I would communicate a ton with affiliates and that was a big thing that would come up. We would get somebody who maybe became a higher volume so they’ll start sending a lot more sales to us. They have a lot of competition on those sites. For example they might want to promote different similar companies and so to get them to prioritize us we would say, “Hey, why don’t we give you a little bit more, instead of giving you that standard $100 per sale we could give you a little more if you want to prioritize us.”

I would say to our regular affiliates, Food Blogger affiliates, go out to the programs that you work with and just contact the affiliate men. Usually the email is on your affiliate program application email or on the web page that they have on their sites and just send them an emails and say like, “Hey, I think that I can send you tons of traffic, tons of sales, would you consider giving me X per sale instead of.” That’s absolutely a thing you can do. It’s sort of like the bank, you’re told by financial experts like, “Oh, call your credit card company and negotiate a better rate.” Well you absolutely can do that with affiliate marketing too.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah it’s so, I love stuff like that. I’ve done that before with 18T where we were calling and this didn’t work the last time I did it. Every one who was on our call would be like, “Is there any way we can get a lower rate.” Like I don’t even … It’s not even like I’m saying like you have to tell this elaborate story or sometimes it’s just asking.

I think that’s a little bit different with the affiliate side because you have to have some type of incentive or proof that it’s worth it for you to partner with me on a level beyond what an “average” affiliate would get. Would you recommend people have that conversation before or after? Because a lot of times we’ll get questions from people and they’ll say, “When do I do this and how do I do this” and sometimes they haven’t even had a sale come through yet.

Justine Grey: I think there’s no harm in asking ahead of time so like right away. Especially if you’re somebody who has a polished brand and maybe a track record of sales for other companies, then there’s no harm in saying, “Hey, my site gets X amount of traffic, I have a really engaged audience of X number of people. I have 10,000 subscribers on my email list” and whatever it is that you want to use as social proof and say I think I can send you guys a lot of business so, would you be open to giving this percent? There’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. You might need to use some information you have about your site to seal the deal. If they say no then maybe wait a little bit, get a few sales, show them that you have that volume and then ask again.

Bjork Ostrom: For sure. I think one of the things you can do as well is like what would it take to get to that certain point? What can I be doing to improve? What are the things that I can implement that would, essentially like do you have any ideas for me? I feel like that’s always a good question to ask as well.

Justine Grey: Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: I’m interested, we’ve talked about the publisher side of things. I think people generally understand that side even if they’re maybe not implementing it at a super high level but the general takeaway here is if you have a product that you’re representing or promoting as an affiliate to your audience the big, big takeaway that we want to get from this is you need to find out ways to wrap that promotion in value. You need to teach people about it, you need to educate them. It can’t just be a link in the side bar or a random link here or there. People have to, you have to be putting some value around that. I think that’s a really big takeaway.

One of the things I’m also interested to talk about and that I think is a really, it will potentially be kind of eye opening for people is the flip side and that is the merchant side. You have experience as an affiliate program manager for FreshBooks and Shopify both of which are 2 awesome companies that are very significant big companies but you don’t have to be a really big company in order to be a “merchant”. You can operate on a smaller level. Can you talk about that a little bit?

Justine Grey: Sure. Anyone who has a product could start an affiliate program. It’s really not … It sounds scary and if you start talking to somebody about it they might freak you out that. Really, it’s very simple to start one especially if you have say like Food bloggers for example digital products. If you sell a recipe book or you have a little course. Something like that is really easy to start an affiliate program for.

Bjork Ostrom: Can you talk about some of the specifics with that? What would that look like?

Justine Grey: It depends where currently hosting those things. If for example you’re using a service like DPD, it’s digital product delivery you can actually create an affiliate program using them. You upload your Ebooks or your digital products to this site, I think it’s like $10 a month and you can do something on the back end to allow for affiliates to promote through different links.

It’s really simple to set up. they have really cool tutorials on their site. You could have your program launched basically in under a day. They’re obviously a lot but should go into it for example you want to have maybe creative materials for your affiliates to use like a banner or some ideas with content tips for example. The tech piece of it for a digital product company is really fast.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. Would that be similar to a service like, would DPD which is getdpd.com say that 5 times asked but would that be similar to like an eJunkie or Gumroad? Is that another …

Justine Grey: Absolutely. Now, I don’t know. I believe Gumroad it does work. I have to look into it a little bit more because a lot of people have been recently asking me about them and I know that there’s a couple marketers that I follow who use Gumroad but I don’t know that they have affiliate programs. That’s where I’m not sure if you can use it through them.

Bjork Ostrom: I think it just recently launched because we were looking into it and they didn’t have the option, it was like I was such a bummer to not have it because it’s such a slick tool and it looks really good but I think they just recently launched the affiliate program.

Justine Grey: That’s awesome. It’s as simple as uploading your products and then enabling a feature.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it, and enabling the feature meaning.

Justine Grey: Like the affiliate program feature, so allowing for affiliates to use a special link to send you sales.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it. Okay. There’s different elements that need to go into this, so if I’m taking on the role of merchant and you referenced a few of those and I want to make sure that we talk about each one of those. One of the things that you said was upload, I don’t know if you used this term but uploading creatives or banners. What is that process look like and do you have recommendations for how people can go about doing that? Design it on your own, do you go somewhere?

Justine Grey: Yeah, it really depends on where you’re at your business. If it’s really on and let’s see you design the graphics for the book, let’s say it’s a recipe book, you design the graphics yourself. If you’re comfortable creating your own graphics I would say you know you can use Kimber or Picmonkey to go and make your own banner. That’s totally okay and as long as they look professional or polished people aren’t going to be that picky about it in terms of wanting to promote you.

A lot of times too it’s your family or your customers who start out as your affiliates and so they’re already loving your products. If they see a banner that’s not like exactly the way they expected it’s not going to be a huge, it’s not going to be a deal breaker for them. Yes you absolutely can do it yourself.

You can also work with designers. You can find affordable ones on Etsy for example where they already have pre-made ads and you just work with them to tailor it a little bit more to your business. Those are the early stage options. Then obviously you can work with a professional designer if you need to but you actually don’t need a ton.

I actually have an affiliate banner sizes cheat sheet on my site, so also not you because there’s only 3 banners sizes that you need to start with. That’s actually really attractive for a merchant because if you’re new and you don’t have a lot of money you don’t have to go and make 50 banners, it’s just a few that you really need.

Bjork Ostrom: Right because if you get into it you’ll see maybe there’s like 20 different options and it’s overwhelming like “I got to make all these banners” but what I hear you saying is that maybe 80% of the time it’s only 20% or 10% of those banners that you actually need to create.

Justine Grey: Absolutely. Like a big company like people I’ve worked for, they’re going to have every banner possible and they’re going to have a banner set for every type of product or service they have. Whereas if you have the one product that you are promoting in yo that for their sites. Now if you add a second product into your program then you’re going to want me to create a new set of banners for that but you’re not going to have to go overboard and pay thousands of dollars to get that done.

Bjork Ostrom: Got it, cool. You upload the creatives and then the other thing that people will come into is this or the question that they’ll come across is this idea of paying people. Like all of the links and the functionality is built into these products, DPD, Gumroad, eJunkie, that they all take care of the tracking and stuff like that but then you have to make the decision how much do people get paid? What would you recommend and what are the different average commission percentages depending on the type of product?

Justine Grey: I think there are averages and then there are what I would recommend. It’s not to say that there’s anything wrong with the averages, I just find that they’re not as generous as they should be. For example with a digital product for me I would do 50%. I know it sounds like a lot but because it’s digital I mean you just, you can sell it over and over and you’re not losing money because you had to make this product or get it sourced from somewhere. I think you can be as generous as you can be for a digital product, I would do it, so 50%, even 40%, it’s really attractive. I had an example that I have seen there’s somebody I really like and I really want to promote her but her digital product commission was something like 10% and I just thought why?

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and you cast the numbers on that and it’s like, “Uh this, even if I am able to promote a lot of this, it’s not going to really add up in terms of.”

Justine Grey: Yeah, and it also just like there’s that kind of like degree factor and I just felt like you know what you should be more generous with people because it’s an instant download.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure.

Justine Grey: For something like that I would do 50%. Now if you have a course, something where you’re putting a lot of time and effort into for example you have a Facebook group as part of this course or you do live coaching calls then you don’t want to give away 50% because there is a lot more time and you in it, so I would do something more like 25%, 30%. Crunch your numbers and basically figure out what’s comfortable for you but it’s still generous.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah for sure, got it.

Justine Grey: Then these are products, different story. There’s the inventory and the cost of creating those products so I would say anywhere between 5 and 15% it would be fine. It’s, you want to make it attractive to affiliates but you also don’t want to lose money.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah. That makes sense and to provide some concrete examples, Amazon if you like is a great example of that where they have this sliding scale and I don’t know exactly what it is but it’s like 6 to 10% or something like that and 40% because it’s a physical product, it’s not like they have a huge margin on it and there’s a very real cost associated with the product as opposed to an Ebook and say for instance with Lindsay’s site pinch of yum shares an Ebook on food photography and we promote that through eJunkie and that’s like you said a 50% commission. Because it’s like hey, if somebody sends a sale along then it’s like that would never come before and it’s not like we have to ship anything out or head to the post office to drop it off. There’s no labor involved and there’s no actual physical product, it’s just the digital download.

Justine Grey: Yeah, and I love what you said which is you would have gone nuts so otherwise this person your affiliate has gone above and beyond to convince their own people to come over and buy things. I think for them to get rewarded with a good commission is just, that makes it, that’s the part that’s going to make it win win win.

Bjork Ostrom: For tasty food photography or for that Ebook there’s maybe anywhere from and I’m just guessing here, I haven’t looked recently but maybe $600 or $1,000 of affiliate commissions that we pay out each month to affiliates and that’s just like stuff that wouldn’t probably wouldn’t come in otherwise. Just like you said I think that makes sense.

Then for Food Blogger Pro just for people that are listening to have an idea, we have an affiliate program but that’s, it’s actually a sliding scale. It starts at 20% and goes up to 40% depending on how many people, depending on the number of people that somebody refers. It’s like this built in incentive.

Justine Grey: It’s like a secured system.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, so we don’t necessarily have to have that conversation with people as they get to that super affiliate status, it just like automatically bumps them up to that. Just for people listening I feel it could be interesting to hear. One of the things that I wanted to talk about is how do you handle the payment side? You get this income coming in and then these people need to get paid, what does that look like?

Justine Grey: It really depends on the service that you use to host your program. When I’ve worked with large companies we use professional networks for example ShareAsale or commission junction. Those ones have bigger starting costs, 500 to 1,000 to 2,000 plus just to get in the door but the beauty of them is that they pay the affiliates for you. You deposit in amount into the system. I think you know because you use ShareAsale as well. You deposit the money into the system and then when those commissions start coming through they just automatically pay affiliates and they’ll let you know when you need to deposit more money. For things like that it’s super handy.

Other times for example with eJunkie when I use them for a digital product before, you have to do that slower old fashion way but they do have really good reporting features. You just download the report and then I would just send out Paypal amounts to my affiliates. When they sign up, they’re going to put in their Paypal email address and usually you specify your payment terms.

For example let’s say you don’t like doing payments that often you could say, you’re going to get paid out at a certain threshold like when you generate $100 in sales that’s when you’ll get your first payment. Maybe it lessens the amount of times you have to do this because if they sent a $6, if you have to pay them $6 it might get tedious to have to do that every month. There’s thresholds you can put in place.

Then there’s also like other things where you can even just have terms or it’s like it happens once a month and it’s only on paper. That way, it just keeps that organized for you so you don’t have to go and do other kinds of payment things for them.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, and disadvantage with that being that you have to remember right, so like if you’re somebody who is forgetful like to not pay your affiliates would be obviously not good business practice but advantage being that you don’t have to pay as much or like why does somebody like eJunkie or Gumroad, I don’t know for sure what or even DPD, I don’t know what that would be like. Why do you manually do it through them versus through a network they take care of it? What is the advantage with a network or not what is the advantage but like …

Justine Grey: Why do people choose one versus …

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah.

Justine Grey: I think it honestly comes down to cost. If you’re early on a new business and you just finished an Ebook for example, you might not have a lot of money to spend and so $500 to start with ShareASale that’s scary. I would say going to DIY route and trying a service DPD or eJunkie, you don’t have those starting costs. It’s a lot lower but there’s a bit more manual work involved when it comes to the payouts.

I think it’s really up to you and if you feel like your business is going to grow and that $500 investment it’s going to be worth it then I’d say go for ShareASale because the automated payments is super handy especially as you grow. Then also to migrate an affiliate program from one place to another is difficult. I’ve done migrations before and it’s not fun.

A lot of times these companies have rules in place. For example, they’ll say you can’t ask affiliates to rejoin your program through a newsletter for example. If you have your affiliate base and you want to send them an email through the network that you’re using, you can’t tell them “Hey, go join my new affiliate program over on this other place.”

Bjork Ostrom: It makes it hard to transition off of a certain …

Justine Grey: Transition of people. Exactly. It’s sort of like think of the long term picture, if you really feel like investing in your affiliate program is something that you want to do and you feel like in long term this is going to be a benefit to your business then I would invest if I could but if you want to start in the DIY route and go with a smaller company, there’s no issues there either. Maybe just having somebody like a virtual assistant or making sure you put a reminder in your calender every month.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, that’s what it is for me.

Justine Grey: It’s really, it’s not too hard, it’s just you want to make sure that affiliates feel confident, that this is a professional program and every affiliate has a story of a time they’ve gotten banned by a company and so you don’t want to be that company they were banned from.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, for sure.

Justine Grey: That’s how you get noticed, it’s like you know.

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’ll get out there if it happens for sure. Then the only other thing that I thought would be worth mentioning is like with networks. Sometimes is it common that every network will take a percentage of each affiliate amount or does that depend on the network?

Justine Grey: Yes. Most affiliate networks will and I mean these are the ones we’re talking about that are those higher costs to start with not the smaller ones like eJunkie for example. I think eJunkie does but it really depends on the service that you choose. You can find a lot of comparison kind of info graphic type things where it will tell you what the network charges are so that you can make your decision.

I would say it is very common and it’s usually like something like 15, I think it’s like 10–20%, something like that but it’s not of the sale, it’s of the affiliate commission. It’s actually a lot lower than you think. For example if you’re paying the affiliate $10 you might pay ShareASale $1 but that’s the 10% of the commission not of the sale. If it’s a $100 sale, you don’t have to pay 10% of that luckily.

Bjork Ostrom: Okay, got it. It depends the amount that you pay the network usually depends on the commission percentage that you set. Let’s say just to use easy numbers, if you said you had a $100 product and you paid a 50% commission that would mean the affiliate gets 50% or $50 and let’s say ShareAsale took 10% that would be $5 of that. You would make 45 and the network would make 5 and then the affiliate would make 50, got it.

Justine Grey: Right, exactly. I think that’s the beauty of having an affiliate program is like it sounds like, “Oh crap now I’m only making $45” but at the same time you only have to pay them after you get your $100 hundred.

Bjork Ostrom: Especially like you said when it’s digital because there isn’t a cost associated with it in terms of making the actual product which makes a lot of sense. I’m interested just to clarify a little bit for those that are getting into this and getting started with it, can you talk about the network side of things.

You had talked about ShareASale, commission junction and there’s all of these different networks and what’s the advantage of one network over another network? When you’re first getting started do you join just one or would somebody join all of the networks? How do people approach that and what is the advantage? Other than the automation side of things are there other advantages with a network from the merchant side of things?

Justine Grey: Yes. It really depends on your business scores and where you think this is going to go. From my experience you want to start with just one network. Most affiliate programs only have the one, sometimes as they grow they’ll add in a second. The reason for that is because they’re looking to reach a different type of audience. I would say the biggest difference between the networks is just who they have as affiliates.

Kind of going back to the publisher side, when you are an affiliate you can join a company’s affiliate program through their site like if they post their own program. A lot of times they’re part of networks and so you’re actually joining a network for example ShareASale and then you can go and join a lot of different companies programs within that network.

Now you are a ShareASale affiliate and you’re an affiliate for all their affiliate programs within ShareASale so then as a merchant you’re looking to get those people who are in ShareASale for example or the base of people who are joint to commission junction. I think that’s, it’s really about the audience I would say, that’s just one.

Bjork Ostrom: I like to think of it kind of similar to like a social network right? There’s like Twitter and there’s Facebook and there’s Pinterest and some people are on Twitter and Pinterest and some people are on just Facebook and the idea of an affiliate network is similar where it’s like, it’s a network of affiliates both merchants and publishers.

One of the advantages as a merchant is that you get plugged in to a network and then you get people applying. They apply to be part of your program. That brings us to another interesting point is that you don’t necessarily want to let everybody be an affiliate for your program. Can you talk about why that is?

Justine Grey: It really has to do with fit. Most times when you have an affiliate program you don’t want to have something called auto-approve for everyone who applies gets in. There’s all kinds of different affiliate publishers. For example there’s the food blogger publishers which are a blogger, content creators, that’s one type of affiliate. Then there might be an affiliate who has a coupon blog and all their content is just coupons. They’ll join an affiliate program, they’ll grab the affiliate program companies coupon, stick it on their site and then move on to the next program.

Here’s the problem is that, if you’re a merchant who doesn’t offer coupons then you don’t want coupon affiliates working with you because you don’t have anything you can offer them. A lot of times they can actually cause some problems for your business because they’re promoting a coupon that doesn’t exist or they will stick your name up on their site anyway even though you’ve got no coupon for them. That’s a perfect example of like why you would want to have a manual approval process for your affiliate program and not just let any affiliate through the door.

Bjork Ostrom: The coupon thing is so interesting to me. We really learned about it with Food Blogger Pro, we’re part of a ShareASale and what happened is we opened our program and it’s like we had all these people applying right after the ban. I was like, “Yes, everybody wants to be an affiliate for food blogger pro.” Then you start to look at and it’s all of these coupon sites and what’s so fascinating is that it ties back to that first conversation, not first conversation but that earlier conversation we had about last click.

What happens is this shouldn’t be as exciting as it is to me but I feel like it’s such interesting internet marketing where like let’s say that somebody writes this great post highlighting Food blogger Pro, why they love it and what happens is that somebody will say, “Hey, I want to sign up for that.” They go through the process, they get to the end and they see the checkouts form and all the time happens.

You see this little space down it says coupon. What do we do? Open a new window and say Food Blogger Pro coupon or whatever it would be and then you find a coupon site retail me not or whatever, you click on that and then they have last click, so they get credit for it even though they really technically didn’t do anything to send that traffic and that’s why they’re always hidden behind that little like bent paper.

Justine Grey: Exactly, yes.

Bjork Ostrom: Because they’re getting the last click. I think that’s so fascinating. What we had to do is just like you said it’s go to that manual process of declining or approving. I think that’s a really big takeaway. What were you going to say?

Justine Grey: Oh I’m sure you’ve noticed that like you actually end up denying more affiliates than you approve. It’s scary but at the same time it’s like it’s scarier to have them coming in without having vetted them at all. I think the coupon thing is a huge issue and there’s lots of companies who use a lot. Host companies for example, they have tons of coupons that they offer their affiliates but those companies I’ve worked with like Shopify and FreshBooks coupons were not a thing and we can’t work with coupon affiliates.

Because about cannibalization where if somebody goes and look for a coupon code just before they check out that other affiliate loses out but it’s not just affiliates that lose out, it’s all about marketing channels, every single channel. If the person had clicked on banner on ad that we paid for, they’re going to get overwritten by that coupon. It can really hurt a company if that’s not something they want to do, then that’s why it’s very important definitely to have those application things in place.

Bjork Ostrom: One of the things that we’ve had to do now is Jasmine who helps out with some of our affiliate stuff, every once in a while she’ll just go through and see like Google and look back and say like are there people that are ranking for this and we do a DMCA take down request if there is somebody who is there and a lot of times it would be maybe like a Facebook page. We just had one of those come up recently.

The other thing that we did that has been kind of fun because it actually worked was that we created pages on our site for coupons and discounts. When somebody searches Food Blogger Pro coupon, the first result is a page that says coupons and discounts for Food Blogger Pro and it just takes you back to that and then it says here’s the coupons that we have available right now and it just kind of highlights those.

Justine Grey: That’s fantastic.

Bjork Ostrom: It’s such an interesting little. That’s what like the corners of affiliate marketing that stuff they don’t really realize and it’s just so fascinating to me that all of that stuff. I think it’s important takeaways for people. One of the things that I’d be interested to hear you talk about is, I would love for you to talk about what your strategy would maybe be for somebody who is just getting started with their blog.

Let’s say they’re at the early stages, they’ve been doing it for a year maybe 2 years and they’re wanting to build this into a full time thing or maybe a part time thing that kind of supplements their income as maybe they stay home with kids or if they have a day job and they just want to supplement their income. How can they be using affiliate marketing potentially as a publisher as well as maybe as a merchant as they’re in this early stage of their blog? What are the smart things that they can be doing maybe at the point where they don’t have a lot of traffic but they’re kind of laying, building their castle so to speak? What advice would you have for people like that?

Justine Grey: I would say that it’s definitely not, there’s definitely no stage that you have to be in to get started with affiliate marketing. You can be like day one you can start and you can also start years in as you’ve already established your traffic. I would say the first things that you want to do is really invest in your content and incorporating affiliate into that content. Whether it’s creating … I personally create tutorial videos on Youtube and then I’ll put the affiliate link in the blog post underneath the video.

That’s just something that I find super fast and easy but also is helpful for people who are visual and want to see something in action. That’s one type of content and then you can also do a blog post or podcast. Whatever medium you want to use, you can incorporate affiliate into that. Just thinking about what your content calendar looks like and how you can slot in affiliate programs and products that you use but in an authentic way. Making sure that you personally use that product and love it.

I could never promote something that wasn’t good because you’ll lose trust with your audience if they go and try that thing and it sucks. Just making sure that the things that you’re promoting is something you personally will use and use or have used. Then also on the merchant side of things, if you have a digital product I would say start out small with one of those smaller services like eJunkie or DPD unless you have investment, money set aside for your business to invest in. Then I would say go to the ShareASale.

Starting out small and just approaching it from like a grassroots perspective where you get a few banners in for your affiliates, you get the program set up and then just go out and reach out to bloggers and say, “Hey, I have this Ebook that I think would be awesome on your site, would you consider promoting it in exchange for a 50% commission?” It’s such an attractive invitation in fact to other to other bloggers out there.

I think it’s also really good waiting for you to build your community and increase your traffic because now you’re making these connections with other bloggers and maybe they’re going to have an affiliate program that they want to start and they’re going to come to you for advice and then they’re going to want you to promote it. There’s a lot of feel good moments there. I would say …

Bjork Ostrom: Yeah, it’s authentic and genuine connections and networking. Cool. That’s great. I think this is all such important stuff as people think about, hey what are the different ways that I’m going to be building my thing online and affiliate marketing is such a big piece of that. It’s a piece that I like to geek out about because it’s very internet marketing in the greatest sense of the phrase because there’s so many cool things that you can do with it. Like we talked about at the beginning, if done right, it can be such a universal win for so many people. It’s I think only going to become more and more common as it gets, as content marketing and things like that. continue to advance.

Justine Grey: Absolutely.

Bjork Ostrom: Justine, we’re coming to the end here but I want to take a moment here to let you talk about some of the things that you’re working on. I know that you’re going through kind of a site update and you’re going to be pushing out some content about affiliate marketing. Can you talk about what that is and where people can follow along with what you’re doing and learn a little bit more about affiliate marketing?

Justine Grey: Yeah, absolutely. I recently left my full time job to go back into running my own business full time. I freelance for companies but I also am building up my own little online site again, that’s justinegrey.com. Basically the content that I’ll be covering are for affiliate marketers, so people who want to learn about how to incorporate affiliate links into their content. Then on the flip side how to start an affiliate program if you have digital or physical products. Definitely feel free to check it out. I actually have a really cool affiliate library where I have a ton of digital downloads that you can use like worksheets and video tutorials. People are free to go to that as well.

Bjork Ostrom: Awesome. Do you have a link to that? We’ll put in the show notes as well but just to share what that is.

Justine Grey: Yeah, it’s justinegrey.com/affiliate-library.

Bjork Ostrom: Cool, all right. We’ll include that in the show notes and link to your site as well.

Justine Grey: Thank you.

Bjork Ostrom: Justine, it’s awesome for you to be on the podcast and really fun to talk about all things affiliate.

Justine Grey: Thank you.

Bjork Ostrom: Thanks for coming on.

Justine Grey: Thanks for having me.

Bjork Ostrom: Bye.

Justine Grey: Bye bye.

Bjork Ostrom: That’s a wrap for episode number 44. If you want to check out the show notes for this, Justine mentioned a lot of awesome resources and tools and things like that, we’ll link to those. You can go to foodbloggerpro.com/44. Just enter in the number 44 and that will redirect you to the show notes for this podcast episode. One more really big thank you to Justine from justinegrey.com, that’s Grey with an E for coming on the podcast and sharing some insights and some tips and tricks on affiliate marketing.

We’re coming to the end here of the podcast but I wanted to do a quick plug here. As you know Food Blogger Pro is a podcast, so you probably know that if you’re listening to it but it’s also a membership site where we have people from all around the world that are starting, growing, building their food related website, their food blog. If you’re interested in being a member of Food Blogger Pro, we don’t have in Roman open yet but we’re getting close to the time when we’re going to be opening in Roman.

If you want to get on that waiting list you can go to foodbloggerpro.com, there will be a big button there that you can click and sign up to get on the waiting list. You still have some time left before we open those doors but you’ll start to hear us mention a little bit more if you want to get on that waiting list and be notified when we open the doors up to Food Blogger Pro for new membership sign ups.

Thanks so much for tuning in this week to the Food Blogger Pro pod cast. Appreciate you guys wherever you are all around the world. It’s so cool that we have this little community of people doing similar things and learning from others. We just, we feel really, both Lindsay and I feel really lucky to be a part of this community and to be involved with it. I appreciate you wherever you are and we will see you next week same time same place.

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