Operations

How To Create A Two-Way Affiliate Network Bond

Jim Luff
Posted on March 22, 2016

Global affiliate networks such as Music Express, BostonCoach and Commonwealth Worldwide farm orders to small operators in small cities every day. Less frequently, local clients often ask small-fleet operators to provide transportation in another city.

Is this an easy process? Not always. Here’s how to create a two-way affiliate street:

Networks Might Decline Farm-In 
Some networks would like their small affiliates to reciprocate when the need for a farm-out arises and might be willing to assist. However, you may be surprised that some networks might turn down your order for a variety of reasons. For instance, while Music Express’ website proudly touts service in 650 cities, if your order isn’t in one of the four major cities where it maintains operations (Los Angeles, San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C.), it will not accept your order, says Perry Barin, affiliate manager of Music’s Los Angeles office.

Perry Barin, affiliate manager for Music Express in Los Angeles.
Perry Barin, affiliate manager for Music Express in Los Angeles.
Not only will they not take your order, they aren’t going to give you a referral for a small city either. “We have spent years building up our network of affiliates through trial and error,” Barin says. The company considers its affiliate network of operators to be proprietary information. Other networks welcome and encourage affiliates to use them for help since they maintain vast networks of affiliates in every city imaginable. Ask the networks you serve what their policy is and note it in an affiliate network file.

About Payments
Most networks such as LimoLink, BostonCoach and Music Express require affiliates to invoice them for services performed and have very stringent requirements on the submission window of final charges since they must in turn promptly charge their own client for the ride. If you miss the window of submission after numerous automated emails prompting the submission, you simply don’t get paid.

Music Express requests terms of Net 60 in order to invoice their clients, receive payments, and disburse payments to affiliates. They will reciprocate the process for any of their affiliates by invoicing for jobs they perform on behalf of the affiliate. Each of their four offices establishes an account in their independently operated accounting systems for all affiliates. When an affiliate calls to place an order, Music Express is ready to go.

Not so at Flyte Tyme Worldwide in Mahwah, N.J. Established affiliates who perform work for Flyte Tyme are expected to invoice Flyte Tyme, which also makes disbursements about 60 days after the date of service.

However, a completed credit application must be submitted, processed and approved in advance to be considered for invoicing of affiliate-submitted jobs, says Darylann Wright, affiliate manager for FlyteTyme.

In the absence of an established billing account, FlyteTyme’s policy requires the presentation of a credit card at the time of booking for a reservation to be accepted. This is why it is important to establish the financial terms in advance, without the pressure of a pending farm-out job if you prefer to use a particular network and want to be invoiced. Don’t wait to set this up. As you become an affiliate for a network, establish and learn the procedures of reverse farming and set up an account in advance.

 Tami Saccaccio, national affiliate director for Commonwealth Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation in Boston.
 Tami Saccaccio, national affiliate director for Commonwealth Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation in Boston.
How To Select A Network
Tami Saccoccio, national affiliate director for Commonwealth Worldwide Chauffeured Transportation in Boston, recommends only farming out jobs to a network that runs its own vehicles at your client’s destination. Otherwise, “You’ll end up paying more money and it’s double farming which can always lead to human error,” she says.

Barin also advises against double farming for the same reasons, where an affiliate accepts your farm-in order and farms the order out to another one of their affiliates. There are many networks with offices in large markets such as Los Angeles, Chicago and San Francisco offering multiple choices of which network to use. In San Francisco alone, Black Tie Transportation, Mosaic Global and Music Express all maintain offices in the area.

“Do your research by going to all the (limo) shows and interviewing (them) and get word of mouth referrals to find the great ones,” Saccoccio recommends. Another consideration is the reservations system used by the network. The process of sending the farm order to a network from livery system to livery system without involving human interaction is much more reliable since everything is in writing with less possibilities of a piece of data being omitted.

Saccoccio recommends asking potential networks to complete an application similar to an RFP to determine what software systems they use, and learn more about operational expectations ahead of time.

Develop Affiliate Manager Relationships
As Saccoccio recommends, attending industry trade shows allows you to meet face-to-face with affiliate managers. Be sure to mingle at networking events as this is where relationships are born. Affiliate managers are always on the lookout for quality affiliates. Barin points out that Music Express maintains affiliates in little towns such as Kalispell, Montana through connections with Show participants and word-of-mouth referrals from operators they interact with. Developing relationships with affiliate managers promotes two-way communication and can help with negotiating prices, instead of calling cold and asking an affiliate manager you’ve never met to drop their rates for you.

Spend time with the managers and learn where they maintain offices and whether or not they encourage affiliates to submit orders that will inevitably be double farmed to get the job done, or if they are only willing to provide services in markets where they maintain their fleets. In developing the relationship, remember you may be asked to adjust your rate on a one-time job in your city that might be part of a much larger road show requiring the network to adjust its price to land the job. You must be willing to give and take and work with the affiliate manager. That puts you in a better position to ask for the same consideration.

Who Do I Call With Orders?
Each network has its own protocol for placing orders. FlyteTyme, Music Express and Commonwealth affiliate managers say their reservationists are all properly trained to accept affiliate orders and none require affiliate-based orders to go directly through the affiliate manager.

“When an affiliate calls our main phone line and identifies themselves as an affiliate, their billing information is readily available once they have become an affiliate for us,” Barin says. Since most of us want to have that personal touch, a phone call to the affiliate manager to review an order is acceptable, but not necessary. However, making the phone call lets the affiliate manager know that your relationship is a two-way partnership and you not only perform work for the network, but also give back to the network when the need arises.

About Rates & Discounts
Networks always ask their affiliates to provide a discount below local market rates since they make their money by marking up the price charged by their affiliates. It’s only fair they do the same. Saccoccio recommends negotiating rates and discounts in advance and not as you are trying to book a ride for tomorrow.

“The standard discount is 10% depending on the volume (of business) you have in that market,” Saccoccio says. “The best way to negotiate rates is to ask for a rate sheet from the network, and if the 10% discount isn’t sufficient for you, then speak with the affiliate manager to negotiate a better rate without a discount. Big corporate accounts negotiate with networks all the time and affiliates, as business partners, shouldn’t be afraid to ask for the same consideration. The relationship has to be beneficial for both parties.”

The Network File
Maintaining a file with each network you serve can help guide your employees through the process of farming an order out to a network pipeline. Make sure you have the following information in the file:

  • An affiliate contract or application completed by the network
  • A current rate sheet updated annually 
  • W9 Tax ID information
  • Fleet information
  • Auto Liability Accord Certificate naming you as additionally insured
  • Worker’s Comp Accord Certificate
  • Agreed cancellation policy
  • Airport meet policy

Related Topics: affiliate networks, business growth, farm-in farm-out, How To

Jim Luff Contributing Editor
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