The Ultimate Low-Budget High-Impact Marketing Plan for Startups

Low Budget High Impact Marketing Plan

When you are starting a boot-strapped business, money is tight. You usually don’t have a huge marketing or advertising budget – if at all. I’m often asked questions about cost effective marketing strategies that work. In this article, I’m going to share my ultimate low-budget high-impact marketing plan for startups.

But in all honesty, I believe all businesses should use it (no matter how big or how small). Large companies like Amazon, Godaddy, established car dealerships, and others use this marketing tactic.

It is called referral / affiliate marketing.

Affiliate marketing is a proven technique and I have successfully used it, time and time again. And yes, I still do in all of my online businesses.

How does it work?

Basically, you pay a commission to anyone who refer a new customer to you.

For example: At OptinMonster, we pay a 20% referral commission. If the person you referred bought a Pro plan ($199), then you will get $39.80 as a commission (see more details).

The percentage commission you give out really depends on your margins. Amazon starts their program at 4% and reward high-volume affiliates with better commissions.

Car dealerships usually give out anywhere between $100 – $500 in referral fees.

So now the question is why would someone refer customers to you? And more importantly, how will they find out about this program?

Affiliate Marketing vs Referral Marketing

To answer the first question, you have to understand the differences between affiliate marketing vs referral marketing.

While the general concept is the same, there is one key difference.

In referral marketing, the referrer usually knows the customer personally. Think close friends and family. The motivation here is usually altruistic.

For example: Your friend is looking for an accountant, so you recommend him to yours because they are good and honest. In return, your accountant may give you a $25 giftcard, but the financial reward wasn’t your primary motivation.

In affiliate marketing, the referrer doesn’t know each customer personally. This is someone who has your targeted audience. The motivation here is purely financial.

For example: You are looking to buy a good laptop. You landed on a PCMag review that’s comparing the top 10 laptops. You ended up choosing a Dell laptop from their list. In return, Dell will pay PCMag a commission.

Affiliate marketing is a multi-billion dollar industry. Basically there are people and companies who entirely rely on affiliate commissions for a living.

You don’t have to pay these people a salary. You only pay them, when they refer a sale.

Hopefully by now you have the answer to the first question.

This brings me to the second question: how will others find out about your affiliate program?

Affiliate Networks and Outreach

First of all, you need to have an affiliate program page on your site similar to like I have on OptinMonster or Envira Gallery.

Add this affiliate page on your site and let your existing customers / friends know about it.

After that, make a list of influencers and industry-experts who reach your target audience.

In your outreach email, ask them to try your product and offer them “monetary” benefits to promote it.

If you have a QUALITY product, then you’re already ahead of the game. The monetary benefit that comes with the affiliate program is just icing on the cake.

By doing this, you will save tons in marketing costs.

I almost never recommend having an independent affiliate program. Why? Because you don’t have the network effect.

I recommend joining a network like ShareASale or ImpactRadius because they already a large number of affiliate marketers in their database who’re looking to promote products.

Yes, you will pay to be part of the network, but you basically offload all the hassles of managing a self-hosted affiliate program.

On top of that, you’ll have tons of new prospects who will apply to your affiliate program.

I personally use ShareASale for my products because it is cost effective for startups and has all the tools you’ll need.

There’s a small setup fee, but there are no monthly fees after that. You only pay them when a transaction occurs. Their UI is outdated though.

Whereas on a platform like ImpactRadius, from what I understand you have monthly minimums.

This all sounds pretty good, so why aren’t mentors / business experts talking about this?

Mainly because a lot of them don’t understand the concept properly.

Why does Affiliate Marketing Have a Bad Reputation?

Being in the industry for over a decade, I have heard just about every reason why someone doesn’t want to do an affiliate program.

Here are some popular reasons:

It costs too much. You can acquire a customer for cheaper via pay-per-click ads.

Yes, this could be true. If you pay 30% commission on a $100 sale, your acquisition cost is $30. It’s very possible that you can spend $15 in Facebook ads to acquire a new customer.

But the reality is most startups don’t have the cash to scale pay-per-click ads. And there is also the cost of hiring a PPC expert or time involved managing the campaign yourself. If you don’t manage the PPC campaigns properly, you’ll ALWAYS lose money!

Whereas you only pay affiliates 45-60 days after the sale. So that’s always nice.

There is too much fraud in affiliate marketing.

Yes, there are tons of shady affiliates trying to earn a quick buck by utilizing scam techniques.

But you can combat that. Remember, you’re not paying affiliates until 45 – 60 days after the sale.

If there was a refund of transaction, then you can void the commission.

There are tons of good affiliate marketing platforms that automate this entire process at a very reasonable cost. Two that I mentioned above.

Affiliates create spammy sites and fake reviews which doesn’t reflect our brand

Ok so make your affiliate program invite-only and don’t invite spammers. Simple enough.


If you are just starting out and want to know a low-budget high-impact marketing plan for your startup, then there’s nothing better than affiliate marketing in my opinion.

I think of affiliates as having an army of sales people that you don’t pay a salary to. If they perform, you pay them. If not, then no harm, no foul.

I hope you will use this tip to grow your startup. You may also want to check out my 6 step guide to improving your domain authority and SEO.

If you liked this article, then please consider following me on Twitter (@syedbalkhi) and liking my Facebook page.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

8 thoughts on “The Ultimate Low-Budget High-Impact Marketing Plan for Startups

  1. Thanks Syed, I have had so far always a negative opinion about affiliate marketing. Your post has inspired me to think more about this possibility.

    How would you use affiliate marketing for customised perishable products that vary in price and are only available in a certain area? I’m talking about custom made cakes :-)

    • For custom orders, the best affiliates are existing customers. You can do a few different things:

      – Give them a credit towards next purchase (easy but not very attractive)
      – Give them a flat fee based on your margins

  2. I think you too easily dismiss the cons of affiliate marketing, Syed.

    Your BFF (and link exchange partner), Chris Lema, does nothing but “recommend” every single affiliate product out there, despite not using them (i.e. GoDaddy hosting, seriously?). Surely this only serves to encourage fraud, and is often illegal in countries like the US where the FCC requires a disclaimer of affiliate commissions whenever such (fake) “reviews” exist.

    The truth is that the WordPress community in particular is being overrun with fraudulent affiliate programs just as ClickBank was, and when influencers like yourself so easily dismiss these concerns, it does nothing but hurt the reputation and “open source” spirit of WordPress et al.

  3. > Affiliates create spammy sites and fake reviews which doesn’t reflect our brand

    I never understood this at all. Are businesses just letting any ol’ joe into their program? Please research your partners! Nailed it on the head as always Syed!

    • Yeah it really pisses me off when I hear excuses of this nature from people who have no idea what they’re talking about.

  4. As an affiliate marketer and a business that have an affiliate program what I will mention is that this doesn’t really work unless you have a competitive affiliate program.

    I see people in WordPress Themes space for example trying to promote their affiliate program however there are competitors that generate 3x+ in revenues, so even if you convince somebody to join your program, sooner or later they will go, unless you have the best or unique product by a really big margin compared with your competition .

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