To answer this question we need to briefly look into the expenses involved in (a) setting up and (b) running an affiliate program.
On the program setup stage, you will have to choose whether to go with an affiliate network (prices and comparison here), or an in-house affiliate program software (prices range between about $100 and $300). After that you will need to create banners, landing pages, and product datafeed (if you are marketing multiple SKUs, and not a service, or a subscription). Depending on your in-house capabilities you can either do these by yourself, or outsource this work to an external designer and coder. At the end of the day, your total setup costs will vary from $300-500 to $1,000-2,000. Contact me if you want me to suggest the most sensible and affordable plan for your particular business.
Once your program is set up, you need to decide how your affiliate program will be managed. No affiliate program can be run on an autopilot (see my “Autopilot Affiliate Program Management – A Recipe for Failure” article), and there are three ways of handling the management part: (a) manage it by yourself, (b) hire someone to manage it for you in-house, or (c) outsource your affiliate program’s management to a company like mine. In this post I will not go into the benefits of doing it one way or another. Let me only emphasize that between the above-quoted three options, you can definitely find one that fits any budget.
After that, you’re ready to fly! The rest of your expenses are all performance-based (you pay only when there is an order, or a lead), and this is the main beauty of the affiliate marketing channel.
Can small businesses afford affiliate marketing? Absolutely! Out of all known methods of online marketing, this one is among the most affordable ones, and, in my opinion, it yields the best ROI too.