Fatten Profits with Online Sales Partners
By Eva Winger
Editor’s note: This story appears in our August 2009 edition.
The sound of a 53-foot tractor trailer beep-beeping as it backed up into the office driveway will forever resonate with inventor Diana York.
As York personally off-loaded her first delivery of Slow Cooker Mates, a three-chambered stainless steel cooker, her mind focused on accomplishments rather than the physical strain of lifting hundreds of 19-pound boxes.
Putting her hands and arms around each box confirmed that her invention was no longer a dream. York felt proud of surviving 18 challenging months developing a prototype, dealing with her Chinese factory and solving freight and shipping problems.
After finishing the tedious task of stacking one box on top of another, York took a deep breath and stood victorious, like an army general who just defeated the enemy.
“The neat columns of cases in my warehouse were like trophies to me,” says York. “They quickly justified all the effort I put into this project.”
However, York’s feeling of triumph as short-lived. She soon began to teeter towards a new-found anxiety – paying bills. She knew the real test of her dreams was selling 1,600 Slow Cooker Mates, which sat quietly, seemingly staring right back at her and patiently waiting for marching orders.
With no extra money to hire help, York had to rely on herself and her Web site to facilitate marketing, public relations and sales. But before York could embark on these initiatives, she had to put out yet another unsettling fire.
When York opened one of her Slow Mate Cookers in its retail box, she found three spelling mistakes in the packaging copy.
“I was in utter disbelief that in this day and age of spell check, my designer could make such a mistake,” says York.
After the initial shock tempered, York realized that she also was to blame. She could have caught the errors in a last read-over before approving the final box layout files that she sent to the Chinese factory.
Agreeing they both goofed, York and her designer agreed to share in the cost to fix the situation, which required either re-printing the boxes or using stickers to cover the mistakes. Both costs were high. They went with stickers.
“Four hundred boxes were going to cost $4,000 and one hundred stickers $200″ says York. “It was a no brainer.”
York assumed she and the designer would split the new sticker costs 50/50. She felt deflated to receive a bill from the designer, who only took off 20 percent of the bill for the stickers.
“At this point I had no more energy to squabble over money, so I decided to let it go,” says York, who was eager to officially launch her Slow Cooker Mate.
After putting the spelling issue to bed, York was free to continue re-designing her Web site to include ecommerce features like a shopping cart and an affiliate program.
“I already had a simple Web site established for the first-run 20 units that were supposed to be delivered before the holidays,” says York. “The Web site would have been quite effective if I received the order on time.”
York handed over all creative license to her Web designer, who proved her merit by creating a lay-out that was simple and easy to navigate. York’s only requirement was that the designer included motion images of the three ceramic compartments being placed into the stainless steel cooker.
“Since my product is more dynamic than the existing slow cookers on the market, it was crucial to demonstrate how the Slow Cooker Mate assembled,” she says.
Although pleased with the design of her Web site, York had yet to contend with the shopping cart, which functioned in its basic application, but did not allow for a customer to input discount codes or the ability to incorporate affiliate links.
To integrate both programs into her site, York hired Web designer Jill Caren of 2dogsdesign.com to remedy the incompatibility issues with Zencart, which also offers features such as multiple sales and discounts, ad banner controller, shipping and payment options and gift certificates.
New to affiliate marketing, York learned that this concept relies on a network of popular Web sites, such as blogs and shopping sites, which can drive and capitalize on the traffic via a simple link to other merchant sites.
“Think of affiliates as commission sales people,” says York. “They find the prospect and deliver it to the merchant, which then converts the prospect into a sale.”
Likening affiliates as part of her sales team, York joined ShareASale.com. It puts merchants and affiliates together, manages her program by making sure all affiliates get paid, and administers IRS reporting.
Although paying ShareASale.com the one-time fee of $500 and a percentage of commissions paid to the affiliate may look expensive to some small business owners, York contends that for her business, these services will take away tedious administrative record keeping and allow her more time to work on the most important thing – sales.
“Yes, looking at the fees at face value can look a bit much,” says York. “But when you look at the value of all the marketing, PR and sales you could potentially get through affiliate market, I believe this is a great bang for my buck.”
York already has been able to place Slow Cooker Mate Web site links on slowcooker.biz, couponcraze.com and couponsnapshot.com.
“Slow Cooker Mate sells itself,” says York. “I just need to get people to my Web site.”
Admitting she still has tons to learn, York cites ABestWeb.com where merchants and affiliates can discuss issues on a forum and get answers to many questions.
“I think it will be awhile before I wrap my mind around this affiliate marketing concept,” says York. “This is more complicated than it seems at first, but if I can figure it out, I see promising sales for me.”