Hi, I’m Finch.

A 26 year old high school dropout (slash academic failure) who makes a lot of money from the Internet.
This blog shows how I do it, and how you can too.

1
Dude, Where’s My Margin?
2
My 2 Weeks in Bangkok and Hua Hin
3
Your Daily Schedule vs. The World’s Greatest Achievers

Dude, Where’s My Margin?

Feeling the squeeze?

Ever get the impression that your affiliate campaigns are having to work twice as hard for half the profits?

If you work in any of the major verticals — dating, gaming, adult, apps, etc etc — on any of the major traffic sources — Google, Facebook, POF, BuzzCity, Decisive, Exoclick — you have surely seen the effects of an explosion in competition, and the rising costs that it entails.

There is a swelling crowd of hungry affiliate marketers, and most of them are armed with the same weapons:

  • The same banners
  • same landing pages
  • same offers
  • same payouts
  • same budgets
  • same bidding strategies
  • same traffic sources
  • and all of the same advice.

Is it any wonder that you can’t get profitable when your entire business can be reverse engineered and replicated in 20 minutes?

Because it can be replicated so easily, it is replicated.

Which leads us to a situation where most of the major traffic platforms are now battlegrounds in a race to the bottom.

Affiliates bid against each other, rapidly driving up click costs, until they can stomach the loss of margin no longer.

He who cries first is forced to take his ball and look for a new traffic source where the battle has yet to reach the savage dying stages.

So what can you do about it?

First, understand the insanity:

There are websites where the exact same banner is shown when you refresh the page. You’d think this is the same advertiser, but it isn’t.

Further investigation shows that the duplicate banners are linked to an identical landing page promoting the same offer. In some cases, the offer is provided by the same affiliate network.

The only way to distinguish between these two campaigns?

They have two unique domains — because they are run by two competing affiliates.

In an industry obsessed with healthy margins, we forget what damage this level playing field does to the cost of traffic.

It rises continually.

Cloning a business model isn’t necessarily a bad strategy, and neither is cloning a campaign. But most business models take months or years to replicate successfully.

An affiliate campaign takes 20 minutes.

Now imagine that you conjure some serious creative juices.

You produce the most stunning banner ever to leave Photoshop. It gets clicked harder and faster than any other creative in Digital History. Imagine you pair it to the freshest and bestselling landing page in your niche.

Now what?

You make money, we hope.

As you start to make money, you can afford to bid more than your competition.

Slowly your winning campaign rises to the top of the stack.

You’re scaling! The world is your oyster!

Until…

One sleep later: every other affiliate in your vertical has noticed that he’s getting less impressions than he received 24 hours ago. He goes to see who’s taking them. He sees your work.

“This looks effective.”

So he copies you, and an entire industry follows suit.

The greatest work of your career is rehashed, ripped, and reuploaded faster than you can say “Hands Off, Wank Biscuit”.

This is a big problem, particularly for those affiliates who misunderstand what constitutes a competitive advantage.

A banner is not an advantage. Banners are copied every minute.

Neither is a landing page.

A business built around the percentage points you are capable of extracting from Photoshop or JQuery is doomed to fail — because there are simply too many marketers ready and waiting to View Source on your innovation.

You can’t hide the creative element of a well scaled campaign.

We’ve got proxies in every corner of the world.

There are a number of spy tools that exist to ‘out’ your work before you’ve had time to celebrate it over breakfast.

Whatever you can get to work, somebody else can too.

(Arbitrage marketers are the most agile in the world.)

And therefore, if you want to regain your margins, the creative process is the wrong place to look.

The solution is to unlock an advantage that is difficult to replicate.

And here are the main areas you should choose to focus on:

1. Wholesale traffic

Imagine trying to run a grocery store if you had to buy your stock from Tesco at retail prices.

It sounds like an uphill struggle, but that is exactly what affiliates try to do.

We buy nicely geo-targeted traffic at the premium rate. We then rely on our creative approach to squeeze profit where a brand advertiser revels in waste.

(If he grew any smarter, we’d be doomed.)

The industry is dominated by self-serve platforms. These charge a premium for their convenience.

They are great if you get there first. But it’s amazing how quickly costs will rise on an auction platform if just a single competitor enters your market.

The good news?

It is possible to buy traffic in bulk.

You can cut out Tesco and go straight to the supplier.

When you find a campaign that is profitable on Placement X, you should be thinking about getting that placement all to yourself. The way to do this is by approaching the site owner and making an offer he can’t refuse.

You need to offer a better deal than he’ll get with a traditional network.

A useful carrot is to offer upfront payment for months in advance.

Better yet, target websites that fit your market perfectly whilst being monetized poorly.

Research which of the major ad networks are known to be stingy with their payments — and target their publisher-base relentlessly with better offers.

If you see Google AdSense on a target’s website, pounce accordingly.

No webmaster who relies on AdSense should be able to refuse the type of deal that a smart affiliate can offer.

2. Exclusive offers

AKA networking, schmoozing and getting a jump on the gravy train before it leaves the station.

The best time to promote an affiliate offer is when nobody else has access to it.

While it’s optimistic to expect a one-to-one relationship with the merchant (unless you’re packing some serious volume), it’s certainly possible to promote offers before they land on your favourite CPA networks.

Often this comes with sacrifice: slower payments, greater risk of getting burnt, the chore of dealing with a real-life, living, breathing, usually fucking sleeping accounting department.

By the time a CPA offer has risen to the top of your network’s ‘hottest offers’ chart, rest assured: some other affiliate has taken the pie.

You may still be able to feed off scraps if you run fast enough, but the train has left the station.

Make it your responsibility to stay connected in your niche. Attend the networking events, store the business cards if you truly absolutely have to.

Use LinkedIn to target companies that might not necessarily have an affiliate program but do have a product that you know how to sell well.

Your competition can’t promote an offer that they don’t have access to.

3. Investing in Technology and Infrastructure

If there’s one thing you shouldn’t skimp on, it’s technology.

Every day I see mobile marketers trying to make a living using double meta refreshes on servers that are barely wired to load a LiveJournal without creaking.

It’s like turning up at St Andrews with a bag full of hockey sticks.

By technology, I mean investments like:

  • Servers
  • Tracking solutions
  • Spying tools
  • Automation tools
  • Redirect configurations
  • Local Content Delivery Networks (CDNs)
  • Productivity software (keep it simple, avoid productivity porn.)
  • High quality scripts for geotargeting, countdowns, etc
  • List building capabilities
  • Your own choice of hardware

By infrastructure:

  • Tax-efficient corporation setup (for the love of Satan’s Balls, stop running traffic under your personal name!)
  • VAT registration (you think your rivals pay 20% on their traffic?)
  • Access to high quality information
  • Native translators
  • Outsourcing teams
  • Payment terms and credit
  • Privacy settings to cover your trail
  • A setup that lets you work on the move

Most affiliates skimp on both technology and infrastructure.

You shouldn’t if you care about your margins.

4. Attritional Bidding

There are several ways to win the war on self-serve traffic sources.

If you have money in the bank, you can grind out the smaller fish by accepting a skinnier margin. This advantage snowballs if you can drive enough volume to demand a higher payout.

Some of the biggest businesses in the world operate on wafer thin margins (1-10%), but they make up for it in volume. They leverage economies of scale against the competition to literally choke them out of the market.

Similarly, you can focus on high quality traffic at the expense of short term profits.

If you deliver good leads, you can outmanoeuvre the competition through pay bumps and familiarity with the vertical’s underlying economy.

Knowledge of what ultimately sells is priceless in a way that knowledge of how to turn a quick 200% ROI usually isn’t.

The third option is to be more efficient.

Affiliates waste ad dollars every day by failing to set rules and redirects for their campaigns.

Just because you’re bidding on prime American traffic doesn’t mean that you’ll actually get it.

Analyse where your traffic is coming from.

Use a filter to deal with mobile traffic, and another to redirect traffic from outside your geo.

You can choose to monetise it with an alternate campaign, or simply sell the impressions back to an ad exchange.

5. Unfashionable Traffic

When a newbie logs in to TrafficJunky and buys a 300×250 banner for the whole of America, I can tell him with sad-eye certainty that he will not be making money in my lifetime.

Because his campaign is simply too fashionable.

It’s too fucking obvious.

You do not get profitable trying to conquer rush hour traffic with a bicycle and a $20 budget.

What is unfashionable traffic?

It’s traffic that you don’t hear publicised on blogs, forums or in network roundup emails. You’ll never hear me talking about it, or anybody who actually relies on it.

It’s traffic that still has healthy margins because the competition either doesn’t know how to monetise it, doesn’t know where to find it, or doesn’t have the technology to deal with it.

All of these burdens create a wall that protects the traffic from inflated costs.

Facebook is a good example of unfashionable traffic.

Yep, Facebook. Unfashionable.

There is still huge money to be made on Facebook, but in order to do so you need advanced technology to cloak your creatives, and you need a healthy bank balance to spend thousands on accounts that might disappear overnight.

To the newbie gazing in from the cold, that’s unfashionable traffic.

It comes with strings attached, headaches to nurse, problems to solve.

The newbie would rather move along to the next platform where the barrier to entry is less severe. The only problem is that he’s not alone.

The platforms with less friction are invariably meeting grounds for an industry full of disillusioned souls all trying to find their margins without having to put in the groundwork.

But shouldn’t that excite you?

You don’t have to follow them.

The upside to monetizing unfashionable traffic is that it gives you a massive advantage in times of industry crippling saturation.

If you run the hottest campaigns on the biggest self-serve platforms with the same creatives as the next guy, you can’t possibly expect to be making money forever.

You’d do well to make money, period.

Newbie affiliates, I’ll be honest with you:

You will not survive unless you build some walls around your business.

Building those walls means embracing the challenges that fill lazy marketers with dread.

It means pushing out of your comfort zone; creating a structural edge in your business that allows you to outbid the competition regardless of whether they copy your banners and landing pages.

That’s not to say that affiliate marketing is dead.

Only that arbitrage for fools might as well be.

My 2 Weeks in Bangkok and Hua Hin

Want to feel energised, more productive and ready to take on the world?

Take a holiday.

My advice: Go to Thailand.

I am freshly returned from a 2 week hiatus spent lolloping on beaches, soaking in the blistering heat of a subtropical summer at the peak of its powers.

Some random observations:

Jesus Christ, it’s hot

Thailand in April is hot with a capital HOT.

I should have remembered this from living there.

Given zero chance to acclimatise by London’s damp fart of a spring, I can tell you that 38 degree heat is a recipe for an extremely sweaty afternoon.

On the hottest day I had to stop my routine of reading by the pool because I couldn’t control the amount of sweat that was dripping in to my eyes.

Hot.

I’m pretty sure you’d find more salt on my sun lounger than in the entire Gulf of Thailand by the time I’d dragged my scorched carcass back to the pool.

Hot, hot, hot.

I miss it already.

Westerners and their Thai brides

I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a guy moving to Thailand, retiring, meeting the cliche ‘Thai bride’, and starting a new chapter in his life.

I can see how and why it happens.

What I find distasteful is that for so many Westerners, this type of romance isn’t built on reality.

It’s a power trip.

Many times I would catch sight of a Brit treating his Thai wife or girlfriend as if she were sub-species. Just because you can exert that control and get away with it, doesn’t mean you should.

Thankfully there’s a younger generation of expats in Thailand who aren’t committed to fantasies of domestic totalitarianism straight from the 1930s.

But for the crustaceans who are… good luck if you ever run out of money.

Mental breaks from work

It’s amazing how the mind slows down when you disconnect physically from your work space.

I don’t mean to take a walk, or go to the pub. But to eject yourself completely from anywhere that resembles work or its associated habits.

By spending entire days away from the computer, you get a fresh perspective.

I often find that it takes this distance to allow myself to drop projects that are going nowhere, or to align my focus on those which actually mean something to me.

Reading fiction instead of non-fiction helps.

Escapism is the best distraction.

Japanese tourists and cameras

I swear to God, what is up with Japanese tourists and their infatuation with taking pictures?

In Hua Hin, one couple would sit in silence for breakfast, occasionally taking bites but mostly interested in snapping each other.

Constantly.

From every angle.

In eerie still silence.

Who needs to talk, or take in the stunning views, when you can just sit there vacantly taking pictures to live through when the experience has already gone?

I really don’t get it.

One of the group even stopped to watch me make a cup of coffee on my balcony, presumably because I was only wearing my boxers.

Normally if I caught this, I’d challenge them, “Why don’t you take a picture? It’ll last longer.”

Pretty fucking irrelevant if they already are.

Shameless!

Songkran public target number one

You’ve got to admire how the Thais celebrate their New Year (Songkran).

Bangkok turns in to a gigantic water fight with water guns, buckets and even fire hoses.

In possibly my favourite moment of the entire holiday, my girlfriend and I were wandering towards Emporium when a nervous, smiling Thai officer approached us with a tin of what looked like Quality Street chocolates.

We were already completely soaked through, so we knew the drill.

I ducked my head and winced.

“Sorry, sorry!” he pleaded, before walking straight past, tottering up to my girlfriend, and slowly pouring a full tin of water straight down her top.

It was one of the politest pre-meditated street assaults I’ve ever seen.

It got me thinking though.

What if you were visiting Thailand for the first time and you didn’t know what Songkran was?

How do you react when a Thai wanders in your direction, blasts you with a SuperSoaker, and carries on walking without taking his eyes off his phone?

I’d probably get back on the plane.

Old people and flying

If you are over 75, with a dodgy bladder, and extremely bad hearing… I’m sorry, but I don’t want to sit behind you on a 14 hour flight.

Old lady: “We’ve been flying for 9 hours.”

Her husband, shouting profusely, clearly deaf as a door mat: “I know. I’ve pissed myself twice.”

There’s something comical about hearing an old couple bicker, oblivious to their incredible decibels, marbles long gone and replaced by wholly British arguments, like:

Why is my blanket wet? I want a dry one. No, not that one. I want a dry one, dunn’ae.”
“No YOU ask the lady. I don’t bloody know why it’s wet do I? I probably pissed myself over India.

But after 14 hours sat there, awoken at one point by a strange outburst of applause and hollers — Old Man’s reaction to the end of Phantom of the Opera — I did want to kill myself.

I flew Malaysia Airlines, by the way.

You could sense the palpable hearts in mouths every time the plane changed course on the tracker, especially in turbulence.

Can’t imagine how difficult it must have been for cabin crew in the days immediately following MH370.

‘Cuties’ on the BTS

Ever wondered what Nicky Cakes is up to these days?

Well, here he is, captioned as Justin Timberlake (Timbercakes?), appearing on a Facebook page titled ‘BTS CUTE GUYS’.

Timbercakes

Un-be-lievable.

I won’t lie. I did check the page to see if I’d made an appearance.

Not a god damn whisper.

So what happens when you go viral as a ‘BTS cute guy’?

This, apparently:

Timbercakes FB

I expect Cakes will be extending his visa.

Seduced by Thailand again

It’s difficult to leave Thailand.

Every time I visit, I question what ever convinced me to move back to London.

In reality, there were a number of factors. But it doesn’t stop the mind from wandering.

You think of the weather, the people, the food (God, the food), the beaches, the pace of life.

It doesn’t get any better.

Does it?

If you haven’t visited Thailand, I highly recommend it.

Pics from the trip

A collection of pics from Bangkok, Hua Hin and Samphram, April 2014:


Your Daily Schedule vs. The World’s Greatest Achievers

How does your daily schedule compare to those of history’s greatest achievers?

Info We Trust has gone all kinds of viral with this intriguing visual breakdown.

It spotlights the daily rituals of Charles Darwin, Sigmund Freud, Benjamin Franklin and several other legendary pioneers.

Whose schedule does yours resemble?

(Click for a larger version)
Creative routines of great achievers

Famously Creative

Charles Darwin excelled in short bursts, his primary work ticked off before noon. This was accompanied by a final surge of productivity as he lay awake in bed, presumably with a very frustrated wife at his side.

You can imagine the pillow talk.

Beethoven rose at 6am and prepared coffee with no less than 60 beans per cup — counted one by one for the perfect brew — then embarked on a gruelling eight hours of composing.

Mozart sauntered through the morning taking a full hour to get dressed. His greatest work came from just four hours of creative output: two in the morning, two before bed.

Random Thoughts:

What this poster reveals about creative routine:

There’s no such thing as a universal creative routine.

Our body clocks are unique.

Another busted myth is the affiliate belief that you must dedicate a life to the grind if you want to achieve big. It’s simply not true.

(At least it wasn’t in the 19th century…)

Some of the all-time greatest creative minds produced their magnum opus in short bursts of highly productive work.

Quality beats quantity.

And what’s this? Exercise?

For most of these legendary figures, exercise was a cornerstone of the day.

Dickens didn’t need the latest fitness DVD, or a gimmicky Insanity regime. He took a 3 hour shuffle through the London countryside, like a boss.

And he still found time to write the novels that your kids will one day study in school.

John Milton spent four hours pacing up and down his garden. Why? I don’t know. It sounds excessive. But I bet he wasn’t sourcing slush for Instagram.

What else do these great achievers have in common?

Most of them read.

Reading is a timeless hobby with a massive upside.

My view on reading is simple:

If you don’t do it, your mind becomes stale, and so will your ideas.

My Schedule

Here is my current routine:

8:00: Wake up, douse myself in petrol station coffee.
8:30: Eat breakfast and take dogs out.
9:00: Check morning stats, compile data, email affiliate managers.
9:30: Write.
10:30: Improve campaign related creatives.
11:30: Set up split tests, optimise, record data.
13:00: Lunch, coffee, fresh air, read.
16:00: Manage campaigns, minor creative work.
18:00: Take dogs out, read.
19:00: Dinner, badger girlfriend.
20:00: Any remaining work and emails.
21:30: Downtime, read, Lazy Spa, The Times on my iPad.
23:00: Sleep.

My only productive creative stints are 9:30 to 11:30, and a brief window in the late afternoon.

I probably average about three hours per day of quality work, and the rest of my time is spent in cruise control.

So, what does your schedule look like?

Are you grinding balls to the walls like Balzac? Or working hard and fast between trips to the snuff jar?

Note: Info We Trust credits the data used in the epic poster above to Mason Curren’s book, Daily Rituals. Both are worth checking out.

Copyright © 2014. Finch Media Ltd.