All Inclusive Marketing (AIM) began in Prevailer Sarah Bundy’s living room. The marketing maven and her husband Iain took care of their clients and their young children together, and were rewarded as they watched both their business and their kids grow inch by inch. Now, nine years later, the company is well on its way to becoming the go-to agency for affiliate marketing. It wasn’t long ago that Sarah herself wasn’t exactly sure what an affiliate was; in 2004 she was promoted to lead the affiliate marketing division at Clearly Contacts and had to figure out the new space on the fly. Persevering, Sarah excelled in her role before burnout made her hit pause; after traveling the world, she returned to work and made her first foray into entrepreneurship. Unfortunately the wrong business partner complicated things and forced her to abandon the company; pregnant and exhausted – but not broken – this resilient woman started over once again, launching AIM with her husband at her side and skyrocketing them both to success.
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Tell me about your company, All Inclusive Marketing.
All Inclusive Marketing, or AIM, is a full-service performance marketing company, which is basically an affiliate management company. We specialize in affiliate program launches and migrations, growth strategies, consultations and full-service program management.
And what exactly is affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing is similar to partner marketing; basically our job is to find very well-suited strategic partners for our clients, who then go and promote to their audiences in exchange for a commission. It works nicely for any company or brand looking to build their reach or engage and convert new and existing customers, and it’s great because clients pay on a performance basis only. Rather than paying upfront for advertising that you’re not sure will work to drive market share or sales, affiliate marketing lets a client track every click in the consumer acquisition shopping journey. A commission or flat fee is paid to the affiliate only when the final desired action takes place, such as a completed sale, a form fill, or a download. The majority of our clients today are either retail and e-commerce merchants or travel and hospitality brands.
How do you support your clients?
Our job is to basically help them reach, engage and convert their buyers and their partners online; those partners are known as affiliates and can come in many forms, including someone who blogs about a particular niche like travel or fashion or food. We partner with bloggers, with YouTube personalities, and with major coupon and loyalty websites – cashback websites like studentbeans.com for example, the largest student incentives site in the world – they have millions of users. And we also partner with high tech companies; we’ve got some affiliates who work with AI – artificial intelligence – to help drive up conversions and sales for our clients. All of these relationships are based entirely on performance, so once an affiliate drives a sale, then they earn revenue from it. It’s a really low-cost, low-risk model for our clients.
Would you say this is an established marketing strategy?
Affiliate marketing has been kind of under the radar for years; it’s only recently, in the last couple of years or so, that it’s started to explode. We focus on e-commerce and travel and hospitality because the e-commerce market is a trillion-dollar industry globally, as is the travel and hospitality vertical, but so far there aren’t really any leaders in those two categories in the affiliate marketing space.
So that’s your focus with AIM then - stepping up as a leader in e-commerce and travel/hospitality?
Yes, that’s been the goal since 2009 when we launched. We’ve been focusing on becoming the go-to-market leader for affiliate marketing solutions and program management for those two verticals.
What kind of clients do you work with?
Typically our clients are companies that range from three-to-five-million dollars in sales revenue all the way up to billion-dollar clients. Like I said, they’re all in e-commerce or hospitality; there are a few subscription-based services and a couple of marketplaces – companies like rover.com – anything that focuses on B2C (business to consumer).
How do you match clients with affiliates and what’s a typical result?
Every client is a little bit different. We customize all of our affiliate program approaches to what’s going to make sense to that particular client, so in a way, you can consider us a custom bespoke agency; we don’t cookie cutter solution anything. Some clients have luxury brands that they don’t want to discount; they don’t want to offer coupons or dilute the value proposition of their product. Instead they might want to work with a fashion review site or a social influencer, like an Instagrammer. Other clients, because of the industry they’re in – let’s say it’s electronics – they are less worried about the brand equity and more concerned about driving high-volume transactions. In cases like those a coupon or discount placement might be a really appropriate fit. We look at what it is the client is trying to accomplish from a brand perspective and a multi-channel marketing perspective, and also at the corporate overall objective. Is their objective to drive market share up? Is it to drive new customer acquisitions more so than returning customer transactions? If so, we’ll usually partner with different types of affiliates in order to get to where they want to be.
Do you have a specific example of a client that affiliate marketing has worked really well for?
In 2018 alone we were up for three International Performance Marketing Awards including Best Performance Marketing Campaign or Strategy for the Garage and Dynamite brands, Best Social Influencer Campaign or Strategy for Platejoy and a Global Excellence Award for iStock by Getty Images – which we won.
Impressive! With such success, why don’t people know more about affiliate marketing?
Affiliate marketing has historically been overlooked; a lot of people don’t know it’s a good channel to drive sales revenue or traffic, or brand exposure, or engagement, or transactions on your customer acquisitions. But it can actually contribute to an average of about 10 to 30% of online sales for a company. A lot of people have heard of SEO – you know, Google ranking – maybe paid search campaigns, and Facebook advertising, but this is different. Rather than companies spending money advertising on those channels our job is to partner them with people who know how to target those avenues and spend their own money doing it; then these partners take the chance and the risk to market however they want, with whatever audiences and distribution channels align to program trends and services and the brand, in order to drive commission on transactions.
That's really intriguing. So how did you end up getting into affiliate marketing? Did it start with school?
I went to BCIT – the British Columbia Institute of Technology – to study Marketing Management and I majored in Tourism; at the time everybody had a bit of a chuckle at me. There were 300 students in the Marketing Management program and we could all choose which area of expertise we wanted to go into, like professional sales for example, and tourism was kind of the group people chuckled at. But I’ve had an affinity for travel my whole life, ever since I was a little kid. I’ve been to 27 countries so far, which seems very small to me, even though I know it’s big compared to what some people have been able to accomplish. I have such a long list of places I still want to visit with my kids and husband!
So my love of travel influenced me, which ended up being extremely beneficial in this agency because of my ability to speak to the nuances of the travel and hospitality sector. I think that one of the reasons AIM is leading in the travel and hospitality space today is because I had a tourism marketing background. While I was at BCIT I didn’t know that was going to happen obviously; I didn’t know I’d start an agency – I actually had no intention of being a business owner at the time.
So what inspired the marketing side?
I actually got into it because I was looking at my brother’s cool life and all the fun marketing things and events that he got to do. He studied Marketing Management in university and so I kind of followed in his footsteps. I actually ended up doing extremely well at BCIT after struggling my whole life at school – I was a terrible student, just awful. I managed to get into BCIT and I think I did well there because the way they taught was different; it was a very collaborative problem-solving type of fashion versus ‘here’s a textbook, write an exam, write an essay, and take this multiple choice test’ or whatever. I didn’t have to memorize anything – which I’m really bad at – and that’s historically how school was before. So it was my first experience building my own ideas and working with people on new concepts and actually being very entrepreneurial – and I kind of thrived at it.
Tell me more.
At the end of BCIT to graduate all 300 students in the Marketing Management program needed to do this directed study thing, a group project where we put forward an idea; we all had to present to a board of directors and some investors and sponsors and one project would be selected for the top award. For the project we had to create a sustainable business – basically come up with a business idea and create the marketing plan and finances around it, find out who the target audience was and how it would scale, and then pitch it like a real business. There were four of us in my group and we won.
What was your project?
It was basically the concept of creating culinary tourism in B.C., which later turned into EatBC, which kind of spun off into all these different things and was adapted by the provincial government. We actually all got job offers to execute it, but only one person in our group accepted – the other three of us took off. Because we won we were all offered other jobs though too; I ended up selecting to become a travel agent because again, I had an affinity for travel and dreamed about travelling the world.
How long were you a travel agent and what was that like?
I worked at Flight Centre for 13 months, and every month I was in the top 10 salespeople for all of Canada; I also won the customer service recognition award almost every month. I loved solving people’s problems and serving them better, faster or with a higher value of options than anybody else – it was like I found this competitive spirit that was around pleasing people. I loved seeing smiles on clients’ faces and knowing that they were happy and I could make them happy. I got really good at quickly understanding what it was they were trying to accomplish.
And this was your first customer service/sales job?
Actually, no. Part of why I’m getting long-winded – sorry – is because before I went to BCIT, the same thing happened at a teeny tiny startup that I worked at for six months that was called Coastal Contacts at the time. I was the sixth employee that they ever hired. I was part of the customer service department and was the top salesperson there; I had that same drive to delight people and solve their problems – it’s just inherently in me. That company sold for $430 million a couple of years ago as Clearly Contacts and became one of Canada’s biggest success stories. Roger Hardy, the founder and CEO of that company, actually found me working at a gym part time while I was saving up to go to school at BCIT.
What do you mean he found you?
I was working at the gym front desk and he was sitting there waiting for a buddy after playing basketball; he was watching me work and noticed that I knew every single patron by their first name, like ‘Hey Mike how’s your mom doing? How’s your workout been going? I saw you bench press X,Y, and Z.’ I’d always remember names and personal details about every person and I’d ask them about things so that I could enhance their time at the gym. I didn’t have a lot to give in that role, but I knew that if I could at least make them feel really welcome it would create a better experience. Roger Hardy sat there watching this one day and came up to me afterwards, and said ‘I really want you to come and work for my company instead.’ His company was literally across the street in a basement; it was an e-commerce startup – this was in 2000. I went because he seemed like a really cool guy, it sounded interesting, and he offered me a dollar an hour more than what I was getting paid at the gym, which I needed because I was paying my way through school. I worked there for six months before I left to go to BCIT full time.
That’s quite the experience; so after that and BCIT you were at Flight Centre - and then what happened?
At Flight Centre I was winning awards for sales and customer service, so they wanted me to open my own stores and train teams to do what I was doing. I had this big awesome career flash before my eyes: travelling the world with Flight Centre, opening stores in London and Australia and wherever else I could make it to, becoming district manager and ultimately making my way up to the executive team. But I was very young; this wasn’t long after I’d graduated from BCIT and as this conversation was happening with the head office at Flight Centre, Roger Hardy called me – he found me at Flight Centre three and a half years later – and said ‘Sarah, I need you back; I want you back at Clearly Contacts, please come back.’ I thanked him and told him it was awesome to hear from him but that I was super happy with the career path I was on. He wasn’t taking no for an answer; he said, ‘I need great leaders – I remember what you were like, please come back. What do you want?’
So what did you do?
Honestly I sat there thinking it was pretty cool, then I wrote a wish list of every single thing I could hope for and what I wanted in a career. I sent it to him and he said ‘done’ – we signed a contract and two weeks later I started again at Clearly Contacts as the Sales Manager of the Customer Service Department. I oversaw 56 reps at the time and within the first three months grew the sales division of the department by 26% – at the time this was already a multi-million dollar company, so that was significant in just three months. Because they felt I was very good at managing that team and driving sales, they asked me to lead the affiliate marketing program.
Just to be clear on the timeline, when was this?
This was in 2004; I was enthusiastic, but I was like ‘awesome, what’s an affiliate?’ They said it was a strategic partner who works on commission but they needed me to figure it out, so I took it on and managed the affiliate program with 1,000 affiliates. It was a brand new industry that I didn’t understand; I had no guidance, plus I had zero contacts in the space. I had to Google whatever I could to try to figure it out, have a lot of conversations with affiliates, and ask a lot of questions. I fell in love with the affiliate marketing space and how strategic it was, how creative it was, and how relationship-driven it was, but also how data and science had a place in it. I could mix all the things that I enjoyed into this one kind of marketing channel – and I’ve stayed in the space ever since.
Wow, sounds like a whirlwind. How did you go from there to starting your own business?
So after I worked at Coastal or Clearly Contacts for about three years managing their affiliate program my husband Iain and I got married and started talking about having a family. At the time we’d both been working since we were about 14 or 15 years old and neither of us had ever taken a break. We were working our way up the corporate ladder and we got burnt out; we came to realize that we needed to hit the reset button. We basically thought ‘let’s do this now before adding an extra layer of complication with kids’ and decided to take a year to explore the world. So we quit our jobs and sold everything we owned; whatever was left that we couldn’t sell we rented or gave away, and then we loaded some clothes into backpacks and went.
We spent about nine months backpacking around the world, staying in hostels and cool places that I can’t even describe – I can’t do it justice! We spent about three months in Africa – in Tanzania, in Zanzibar – and then three months in Europe going absolutely everywhere you could possibly imagine – with the exception of Greece and Portugal, which we missed – and then we spent a bunch of time in Australia, too.
And you launched All Inclusive Marketing when you got back from this epic trip?
Not exactly; as we were traveling in Africa one of the guys from Clearly’s marketing team contacted me asking if I’d be interested in starting a business together when I got back from my trip. I said ‘thanks, but no thanks’ because first of all, I didn’t know him very well, and secondly, I was only three months into my nine month trip and totally not in any kind of mindset to start a business. I didn’t want to talk about or think about work, I was purely having fun. He was super persistent though – he contacted me about three or four times, and finally I thought ‘you know what? Some things happen for a reason.’ I’m one of those people where if there’s an opportunity, and I get maybe three times to make a decision, I have to look at it – if I don’t it’ll be gone and it probably won’t follow me. Roger Hardy was also particularly persistent – he contacted me three times to get me to go back to Clearly. So I looked at this guy’s offer – I didn’t have anything to lose – and told him to let me do some research. I spent about two weeks in South Africa researching the affiliate marketing space, realizing there was a gigantic gap in the market, huge growth potential, and almost no competition yet from an agency perspective. And there was a need too; it was a growth industry. So I wrote a business plan and then when I came back from traveling we started our first company together.
Your first company? So this wasn’t AIM?
No – we launched the company, which I won’t name, and I spent about 16 months working with him to build this business up, just the two of us. I was going to be front-facing, doing the affiliate marketing and he was going to be back-end finance and SEO and stuff like that, because that was his specialty.
Then Iain and I decided to start a family, and all of a sudden I’m pregnant, starting a business and a family only to realize that I chose the wrong business partner. We were completely value-misaligned and we got into some pretty big head-butting. Then we began fighting hard over the company, even trying to remove each other from it. It became so stressful; I worked something like 77 days in a row before we closed our first client and like I said, I was pregnant too. I would do 100 hour weeks easy; I slept three or four hours a night trying to get the whole thing to work, but unfortunately it turned into a big debacle over how the company should be run.
And how’d that resolve? Or did it?
Well, by the end of it we weren’t getting along and we realized we didn’t want to be business partners, but we were both trying to keep the company. I ended up in the hospital three times; my baby was in distress from the stress and exhaustion and by the third visit the doctor said to me ‘Look, you’re either going to lose your baby or your business,’ so the next day I sold the company to him for a dollar and I walked away.
That must’ve been difficult.
Yes, but that’s when I started All Inclusive Marketing. I started again from scratch, by myself in my living room under my own terms, even though I was six months pregnant. My intention was to just take care of my baby, be a great mom, and take immaculate care of a client or two and that’s exactly what I did. As a result of that immaculate care – clients love being taken care of that way – my existing clients sent me business and it snowballed from there.
How did you find the energy to start a new business?
There was no way I was just going to give up after over 15 months of working those hard hours and days; I couldn’t stop and walk away, I didn’t want to give up, and I thought nobody would hire a 6-month pregnant lady. I thought I basically had three months to try again, and if it didn’t work, I’d just have to have no income for a while and go back and get a job when I could. I didn’t have any benefits, and I had no maternity leave so when Kai was born I took three weeks off. Luckily I had one client I’d closed the week before he was born; when I closed that client, I said ‘I’m about to have a baby, so I need to take some days off but I will be back to take care of you soon, okay?’ So yeah, that happened.
How’d your client take that?
Our very first client was the most amazing, kind human being on the face of the planet – to this day we still call him Uncle Mitch. He was our client for three years, and there would be days where I’d be trying to take care of him and also take care of Kai – who’d be crying in the background – and he’d tell me to call him later and go look after my son. He sends my kids Christmas presents. Literally this one guy was everything to us for the first year and a half of our business.
Sounds like a great first client!
Absolutely. Now here we are, nine years later, a company of 30 people and our entire business to date has been referral business. We don’t spend any money on sales or marketing and we’ve broken into some of the most successful partnerships in our industry. New doors open and it’s like a completely different level. We have a strong value system that I believe allows that to happen; I’ve been very fortunate to have a team that believes in it the same way I do. We’re all striving towards the same thing, and it’s working.
I understand you're also a keynote speaker. What kind of content do you cover?
The talks that I’ve done have been around affiliate marketing innovations and best practices. I’ve also been asked a number of times to write a book, or to speak about startups, female-owned businesses or operational best practices. With AIM being in the top 100 fastest-growing companies in Canada in 2016 and also winning Best Company from Small Business BC out of 400,000 small businesses that same year the speaking requests are there. People want to learn about all these things that I just haven’t had the chance to speak about yet. I don’t really have a platform – other than my personal blog I guess – and I don’t even know what to say; I need to be given a specific focus or topic, like ‘Tell a story about grit or perseverance and how you overcame a challenge.’
Well perhaps that’s one of the things that will come next for you - more speaking opportunities or even a book. In closing, could you answer one last question - aside from your schooling, experience and determination, why do you think AIM has been so successful?
One of the reasons why AIM worked in the first 15 months is because my husband Iain left his career in the finance world to be a stay-at-home dad and help me run it. The two of us decided to grow AIM together about 15 minutes after I started it. That way we could both work from home and both be parents and build our future together. If he hadn’t done that it wouldn’t have been as successful, or it may not have been successful at all. Iain sacrificed a lot in his career; he’s a super hands-on dad, a fabulous business partner who’s aligned with my values and my biggest support system.
When we had our second baby – I took five days off that time – the two of us were juggling our babies and our business for about three years until we started to hire people to help us. I still work with Iain – he’s my business partner and best friend – and we run a family-owned business as a husband-wife tag team. Some people may think they could never work with their husband or that they’d totally kill their wife, but we’re proof that it can work. We’ve successfully done it, with children, starting from scratch – broke – and it’s been a phenomenal success for us and we’re continuing to grow. I want people to know it’s possible!