How Long Does Affiliate Marketing Take To Scale?

When starting a new affiliate program, one of the most common questions we hear from prospective clients is, “how long does my affiliate program take to scale,” or, “How much revenue can I forecast out of this channel in XY Months?” 

It makes sense. You’re putting in time, effort, resources, and energy to grow and nurture a nascent marketing channel for your business. Other marketing channels have a clear input and output path. If I put in $100 for ad spend, I should expect $200 in returns. 

Unfortunately, we need to be the bearer of bad news: With Affiliate Marketing, there is no single answer or magic forecasting method to determine how fast, and how much revenue affiliates can deliver in a given time period. Any company or provider guaranteeing results should make you want to run for the hills. 

Based on our experience, you should expect it to take roughly 6-12 months after your program launches to see some solid progress and movement.  After 12 months, you should start to see things continue to grow and stabilize, at which point you can start to create somewhat reliable forecasts. 

When we tell prospective customers about this commitment, they are often surprised. In fact, we do not work with clients on less than a year engagements due to this very fact. 

There are literally hundreds, if not thousands, of factors that go into creating and building a successful affiliate program. This is why if you are not committed to hiring an experienced affiliate manager internally, you should consider an experienced OPM (Outsourced Program Management) like ClickThere.

At ClickThere we like lame metaphors and we have a good one:

You can think of forecasting and scaling affiliate programs like planting a seed in a garden. During the first few weeks, it is a bit of a guessing game. But with the right soil, careful planning, and constant care, the seed will eventually break the surface and start to grow into a flower. After it matures, in a great nurturing environment, it will be able to pollinate and turn into multiple flowers. 

Wow…that was bad. But hopefully, you get the point.  The first few months of the seed growing are akin to getting your affiliate program up and running. After it starts to grow it still needs careful attention, at which point it can start to bloom into something amazing. 

Now you’re probably wondering, how the heck did you come up with 6 to 12 months? Here is what a typical program timeline looks like:

Months 1-3: Program Launch/Initial Reach outs

After your affiliate program launches (hopefully on an affiliate network like Impact or CJ), you need to recruit affiliates into your program – duh! Some folks will apply immediately, but typically these affiliates are coupon and loyalty websites which offer little value for a new program. 

During this time you’ll want to be crafting and sending, calling, begging, and convincing both medium and large affiliates to join your program. (Pro Tip: You should have identified a list of targets before your launch to compress the time required to grow the program). 

Quite honestly, the big affiliates are constantly bombarded with custom deals and offers, so unless you’re willing to spend significant dollars to gain market share quickly, these sites will take some time to convince.

At ClickThere, we also recruit “off-network,” to find more new affiliates. We use time-tested best practices to literally search on the interwebs for potential affiliates, and start a dialog with them. This is a very unique and time-consuming part of our business. If you’re considering an OPM, be sure to ask them how they recruit off-network. You’ll be amazed to find that many do not. 


Months 4-6: Affiliates Start Promoting…Sort of

Affiliates often appear lazy. While you spend 40 plus hours per week glued to your computer on your marketing campaigns, affiliates are typically doing the same with THEIR full-time jobs. 

Despite what you might see on YouTube from all the “gurus,” affiliates typically have other major time commitments. A moderate or small website doesn’t pay the bills and oftentimes is a passion project.  

Why are we telling you this? Because when you recruit affiliates into your program, the work is not over. They need to update their website, create reviews, write new email sequences, design new marketing collateral, etc, to promote your offer. This takes significant effort and persistence on both parties to complete. 

Months 6-12: Bring The Traffic!

The affiliates driving any sort of traffic will need guidance from you on the best ways to increase clicks and sales. They might need custom messaging or new placements. Perhaps they will need a unique and special offer or incentive. 

This is again where an experienced affiliate manager can help nurture individual affiliates to perform.

During this time, we typically see that if these bigger affiliates are getting close to profitable, they will begin to increase their efforts on their own to maximize earnings. 

Months 13+: Scale, Scale, Scale:

Wow that went fast! Year 1 has passed since your program has launched. 

The big affiliates with extremely high rankings or followers are hopefully pumped to be promoting, and at this point, you should start to be able to gauge with relative accuracy and confidence the amount of traffic and sales they bring each month. 

Smaller affiliates will have noticed, and likewise you’ll start to see long-tail affiliates start to make up a swath of your program too.

After affiliates begin to promote your offer, you’ll notice the 80/20 rule start to take effect. 20% of your affiliates will deliver 80% of your sales, however, that 20% will be significant. You can probably start to measure the impact of the affiliate program, and forecast it out.


Other Things To Keep In Mind:

As we previously mentioned, smaller affiliates usually have other commitments as well, so you should expect summer/holiday time slowdowns that coincide with the school year.  

Sales and special incentives can make a huge impact on your monthly performance, but be sure to limit them in order to maximize gains. Constantly having your offers in a promotion makes affiliates actually pull back on promotion during normal times. 

Lastly, there are no certainties with affiliates! 

Like the rest of your business, affiliates cannot be put into a silo. Market changes and factors will have an impact on program performance. New competitors will jump in and offer higher commissions. Your website team might roll out a new change that kills conversions and angers your affiliates. Facebook bans products. These are all daily realities in the world of affiliate marketing. 

Hopefully this helps explain our stance on how to forecast growth for affiliate marketing. Looking for some help? Give us a shout. We can help see if your affiliate program is on the right track or might need some more help in the garden. Sorry, we couldn’t resist.  


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