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
Melting in Dubai at Adsimilis Meetup 2014
2
“Deeply Insolvent” Banners Broker to Surrender Assets
3
The Scaling Fallacy: Life As An Affiliate Whack-a-Moler

Melting in Dubai at Adsimilis Meetup 2014

September was a busy month.

I’ve just got back from the Adsimilis Dubai Meetup, which was bookended by two weeks in monsoon-lashed Krabi and Phuket.

A bunch of social commitments (or as I only half-jokingly refer to them: “going outside”) meant that by the time I reached Dubai, my campaigns weren’t so much suffering from banner blindness, but paralysed from the neck down by weeks of neglect.

The churn in this industry is absolutely insane.

Alas, I’m back in the trenches. Energised and motivated. Ready to tap in to brand new traffic sources.

I have to admit, meeting other affiliates is a great cure for a lost mojo.

It works in two ways.

First, we’re an industrious bunch. It is both enlightening and inspiring (and sometimes terrifying) to hear what other affiliates are working on.

Second, it’s nice to not be the biggest scumbag in the room.

Seriously.

If your guilty conscious ever needs a pick-me-up, find the nearest circle of affiliates, plaster them with alcohol and then ask: “So, what’s the shadiest shit you’ve ever run?”

I met one affiliate in Barcelona who had been engaged in marketing practices that can only be described as the ‘wrong side of borderline’. Those practices lead to his house being raided in the early hours by a SWAT team.

A fucking SWAT team!

More memorable than the confession itself was the sheer acceptance among the rest of us in the circle that, oh well, shit happens.

Followed by the inevitable, “So… are you still running the offer?”

(I’m glad to say he wasn’t.)

Besides the tales of insanity, it’s reassuring to get an idea of where the industry is heading.

Large scale meetups provide a nice general consensus of what works today, what is likely to work tomorrow, and more ‘what stopped working yesterday’ than you could ever hope to digest. A bit like a trip to the Warrior Forum.

The Adsimilis Dubai meetup was a great mix of affiliates: some just starting their journeys, others who have creamed several million in cold profit already.

There’s one concept that I think nearly everybody walked away agreeing:

Affiliate Marketing… is Dirrrrrty

Five years ago, ask an affiliate what he did for a living and he’d give you a blank stare.

“Well, um, I don’t actually like know, but it’s called affiliate marketing and it’s pretty sweet. Gotta run though bro, hookers waiting.”

Next year, ask the same question, and you’re likely to receive this canny slice of positioning:

“I’m a director at a performance marketing agency.”

There is a clear shift.

Nearly every affiliate I spoke to in Dubai was wrestling with the same dilemma:

How can we take this ugly twisted cousin of advertising — affiliate marketing — and rebrand it in to something that gives us greater opportunities moving forward?

Those megalomania days where affiliates took pride in loathing the status quo — the corporate desk monkeys — are no more. We’d rather pass through the wider advertising community undetected as mere ‘parts’ of respectable, 9-5 agencies. You know, guys who just might be up to something a little more honourable than lead scalping.

This can only be a good thing.

After all, if you want to build relationships with advertisers, you have to play the advertiser’s game.

And that means creating a perception that you are an agency built to last. Not just a lone wolf chancing his luck in his underpants.

Some takeaways from Dubai:

1. If you’re going to waste time on any social network, make it LinkedIn; network mercilessly.

Set up a company profile and fill it with recommendations from anybody who has ever worked for you.

Want to distort outside perspectives? Set up fake employee profiles.

There’s no doubt that scale matters at the negotiation table. The appearance of a full agency will get your foot in the door of the Advertiser’s World.

2. Refer to yourself as a “Director of Marketing” instead of CEO, President, etc.

Better to be a relevant department head than Top Dog with his fingers in too many pies.

3. Go one step better:

Actually build an agency.

Thoughts on Dubai

This was my first time in Dubai.

I’m still not sure what to make of the place.

As a committed Englishman, the concept of not being able to drink outside of hotels and restaurants — or indeed to be seen drunk in public — is, dare I say it, a trifle fucking troubling.

I struggle to see how a city can ‘meet in the middle’ with Western tourism ideals and still enforce the many punishable social offences that it does.

The reality is that if you are suitably rich, you can jump on a yacht, float a few meters off the coastline and commit just about any debauchery under the sun, all while remaining completely untouched by the law.

That, I find a little too pick and choosey for my liking.

But that’s not to take away from the immense standards of service, and general all-round friendliness.

Dubai is painfully hot in September, as I discovered on my first day:

Dubai Lessons

Thankfully Adsimilis laid on a coach to get us around the city.

I had an early flight so I didn’t descend on any Dubai nightclubs, but the restaurants and happy hours were great fun.

And more importantly, the people first class.

NUI: Networking Under The Influence

Read too many forums and you could be forgiven for tarring the affiliate community as a cold bunch.

Yet in person, there’s a sense of camaraderie and mutual respect that rarely translates online.

I guess networking is just a million times easier face-to-face.

That’s not to say you can’t make a prat out of yourself.

On the first night, whilst sipping Carlsberg in the merciless desert heat, the discussion turned to Voluum and ZeroPark.

I turned to a guy I hadn’t spoken to before and asked, “So, Voluum… you use it at all?”

(Note to single affiliates: A cracking chat-up line. Yours free of charge to abuse over the weekend.)

Said chap smiled in confusion, and pulled out his business card:

“Bartlomiej Dawidow
CTO and Founder of Voluum.”

Cue howls of laughter as I stood there, copping the flak, thinking “Well there goes my bloody discount.”

I also met Robert Gryn, CEO of CodeWise who took great enjoyment in asking repeatedly why I was crying over dinner. I wasn’t. I was sweating.

Fucking Dubai.

For the first three years of my affiliate career, I never took meetups seriously. And that was a big mistake.

While the speeches at this event were a good rallying call to action; inspirational even; it’s the one-on-one conversation with fellow pros that pays for your plane ticket.

When the booze kicks in, so does sincerity in the shit that falls out of our mouths.

The truth is that you can learn more from a drunk affiliate than you’ll ever learn from a lifetime of readings blogs like this*.

*Unless the writer is drunk, careless or stupid.

Thanks Adsimilis

adsimilis-meetup-dubai
(Photo jacked from Ian Fernando’s blog where you can read his write-up of the trip. There’s also a post by KJ Rocker)

It’s always a pleasure to catch up with the Adsimilis crew.

Cheers for keeping us all fed, watered and safely insulated from the wrath of Shariah Law.

Special thanks to Sean for smuggling a mini-bottle of Champers in to my ‘party bag’, which I promptly and rather indiscreetly popped against the hotel fucking ceiling, no less. And to Eleah for tranquillising me with Scotch before my panel.

London Adtech is just around the corner.

If you haven’t been before, I suggest you keep it that way.

Unless, of course, you enjoy the sterile wasteland of middle management blabber and beaming rent-a-pitches; most of whom think ‘performance marketing’ stands for who can shove the most coke in their face whilst still talking coherently about whatever marketing buzzword has captured the press pen and/or Twitter.

What’s that you say?

It’s all about ‘earned media’ now, is it?

Earn my balls, you gobshite.

Now that’s not to knock AdTech itself.

I’ve heard great things about the NYC show. But if you want to get value for your time in London, skip the show, avoid the snootiness, and head straight for dinner.

If anybody is in town and wants to meet up for a pint before or after, hit me up.

Otherwise, see you in Vegas at Affiliate Summit West!

“Deeply Insolvent” Banners Broker to Surrender Assets

It looks like justice is finally catching up with Chris Smith, Rajiv Dixit and the men behind Banners Broker.

Two years ago, I wrote a series of posts exposing Banners Broker, a so-called ‘online advertising broker’, as a sordid ponzi scheme.

I received all kinds of threats, smears and public verbal bashings.

You can read the 2000+ comments from these posts to see just how personal it got:

This week, liquidators obtained a court order to seize all assets owned by Banners Broker International (BBIL), and to force its owners to reveal the whereabouts of money taken from affiliates.

Court papers labelled BBIL “deeply insolvent”, but that hasn’t stopped many affiliates clinging to hope of payment on the company’s official Facebook page.

The Banners Broker website remains ‘temporarily closed’.

bb-closed

BBIL has been granted continued use of telephone numbers, facsimile numbers, Internet addresses and domain names providing all payments are made at the normal price. The website will stay physically online for now (despite being closed), but a host of other BB services including: all computer software, communication services, banking services, reservation systems, credit card processors, payroll services, and armoured car services (lol) are now restrained by the court order.

Remaining BB disciples are being coaxed in to accessing the TalkingBB forum for the ‘full story’ of what’s happening.

Yes, the TalkingBB forum.

Or as I prefer to call it: Animal Farm.

An Orwellian hideout if ever there were such a thing.

To gain access, you must register, post once in a vetted forum, wait for approval, and then swear on your dog’s life not to emit the slightest whiff of negativity or face an instant lifetime ban.

I’ve seen some ‘ignorance is bliss’ circle jerks in my time, but this one takes the biscuit.

Anyway, if you want the real story on why Banners Broker is finished, look no further than the recent court orders.

You can view them here: Banners Broker in Liquidation

They are crystal clear and devoid of ‘trolling’, as court papers tend to be.

Highlights from the Court Orders

Seeing how there are still believers who refuse to accept that Banners Broker’s demise is anything less than Chris Smith ‘making a few changes to the website’…

Feed the Trolls

court-lies

…I thought I’d post some of The Best Bits from these latest orders.

Remember B-Believers: The court is not a troll.

Banners Broker Scam

If Banners Broker was to do something shady, like, I don’t know, completely lie about its sources of revenue or the nature of its clients… then this spells trouble.

Banners Broker Scam

Shiver me timbers. Accounting records? Contracts?

I guess we’re going to find out the truth about where all those affiliate payouts came from.

Banners Broker Scam

WANTED: Video recording.

If only to answer that burning question: is the real Chris Smith black or white?

Banners Broker Scam

And here is why the Banners Broker website is offline.

It’s the last remaining artefact of a company that has, for all intensive purposes, ceased to exist.

Disclaimers

I hate to have to include this, but there is an ongoing rumour that I have somehow profited from writing negatively about Banners Broker.

Some have even claimed I’m linked to a ‘troll list’ of former BB members now trying to claim back money by dragging the company’s name through the dirt.

Troll List

Let me be clear on this:

1. I have not pocketed a single penny from Banners Broker.

I have never been a Banners Broker member, affiliate, or investor.

My first exposure to Banners Broker came through a family member investing her money in it. I was immediately suspicious over whether her earnings could be sustained, or legally explained.

So I investigated the company — the online advertising sector is how I make my living, after all. I can see bullshit for bullshit — but what I found was worse than bullshit:

A shining turd of a ponzi scheme.

A scheme so far detached from how it said it made money that I simply had to blog about it.

2. Neither do I make money by blogging about Banners Broker.

I lose money.

Yes, it’s a waste of my time to be sitting here trumpeting about a bunch of fraudsters who will soon meet their comeuppance. But I do it anyway because I’ve had my name and character slandered by them.

Call it a pastime, if you will.

The second attack against me is that in an interview two years ago, I referred to myself as an Internet scumbag, and therefore cannot be trusted.

Seriously, I shit you not.

This quote has been immortalised in the BB Handbook of Responding to Criticism.

Q: “Hi Finch, tell us a little bit about yourself, where are you from, where do you live now?”

A: “Well, I’m a 24-year-old affiliate marketer, which I guess is interchangeable with Internet Scumbag.”

Banners Broker latched on to this quote and used it as their single line of defence against my 30,000+ words of arguments dissecting their dysfunctional, fraudulent business model.

When was the last time you heard a senior director of a respectable company rebuke public criticism by insisting “it’s okay, guys, don’t listen to Finch, he called himself an Internet Scumbag in 2012.”

Well, of course I did.

I’m British.

Self-deprecation is what we do best.

What these MLM guys don’t understand, and I’m talking to the ‘Oh here I am driving nowhere in my rented Mercedes whilst recording a YouTube video about my latest whack-job investment that you should definitely sign up to under my link’ is this: the joke is on them.

I may be a self-professed Internet scumbag, but at least I’m not in the throngs of a mid-life crisis, willingly selling my friends and family down the shitter for a 20% commission.

Now that’s a scumbag.

What’s Left?

Beyond the lunacy, there is genuine tragedy to the unravelling of Banners Broker.

And that tragedy is the many real lives that it has affected, and still affects to this day.

Just last week, a post emerged on Facebook of a former affiliate who couldn’t handle the guilt of involving his family in Banners Broker.

He had encouraged them to set up accounts, with good intentions no doubt. But what are good intentions to a bunch of fraudsters riding high on those deposits? Those lifetime savings, plunged in to a program that is rigged to fail from the very beginning?

This man’s family lost all of their money, and he couldn’t live with the guilt.

Wracked with depression, he hung himself.

This is a terrible story, but a familiar ending to anybody who has witnessed the fallout of other pyramid schemes.

The lies they spread, the false hope they bring, the relentless incentives to involve your friends and family… it’s sickening. And of course, exquisitely executed. A perfect fraud.

Scams like Banners Broker ruin lives.

Even those ardently defending Banners Broker to this day… you know it. Deep down you know that as a ‘get rich quick’ scheme, it’s over.

If you have been affected by Banners Broker, I hope you do three things:

1. Check out this post on Tara Talks. A comprehensive guide to getting your money back. It’s not guaranteed to work given the “deeply insolvent” nature of what’s left of BBIL — but it’s better than nothing.

2. Learn for the future: if somebody promises you life-changing money for doing relatively little — it’s too good to be true.

3. Stop blaming others. The reason Banners Broker has failed you is because it was rigged to fail you from the very start. All ponzi schemes are. They feed the men at the top, the Chris Smiths and Raj Dixits of the world, whilst taking from the poor at the bottom.

Following the story of Banners Broker has been a real eye opener for me.

A descent in to some truly fucked-up minds, not least the havoc they can wreak on those who buy in to pipe dreams too easily.

I hope justice is served, and I’ll be following the Canadian court proceedings with interest.

The Scaling Fallacy: Life As An Affiliate Whack-a-Moler

Jack creates 10 campaigns in 10 countries on TrafficJunky:

Here are his morning stats:

Germany: +$45
France: +$10
Switzerland: -$5
Netherlands: +$20
United Kingdom: +$12
Australia: +$25
Canada: -$21
Belgium: +$42
Turkey: +$20
Sweden: -$10

JACK’S TOTAL PROFIT: $138

Bill creates 1 campaign in 1 country on TrafficJunky.

Germany: +$90

BILL’S TOTAL PROFIT: $90

Which affiliate would you rather be?

Come on, it’s a no-brainer.

Bill is in a much better position.

Let’s look at what each affiliate has to do in the morning:

Jack has to:

  • Check stats for 10 different campaigns.
  • Optimise creatives in 6 different languages.
  • Search for the best offers in 10 different countries.
  • Manage bids against hundreds of competitors.
  • Put out fires all day before he can work on any new campaigns.

Bill has to:

  • Check stats for 1 campaign.
  • Optimise creatives in a single language.
  • Track the best offer in a single geo.
  • Manage bids against a handful of strong competitors, and many more weak, distracted competitors (like Jack).
  • Find new sources to test his campaign.

Now imagine the two affiliates hear about an amazing new traffic source. We’ll call it Exoclick for the lols.

They both want to scale their campaigns to it.

Bill, having much more time on his hands, goes first.

He knows Germany inside out. He knows what works. Scaling is merely a case of busting open Voluum, tapping Duplicate, and changing the tokens:

His stats now look like this:

TrafficJunky

Germany: +$112

Exoclick

Germany: +$42

BILL’S TOTAL PROFIT: $154

Jack, on the other hand, is starting to sweat.

He can no longer make sense of his stats without spending 40 minutes staring at Excel.

He has 20 campaigns in 10 countries on 2 traffic sources.

And his stats look like this:

TrafficJunky

Germany: +$23
France: -$7
Switzerland: -$25
Netherlands: +$27
United Kingdom: +$3
Australia: -$14
Canada: -$28
Belgium: +$12
Turkey: +$25
Sweden: -$5

Exoclick

Germany: +$75
France: +$2
Switzerland: -$17
Netherlands: +$5
United Kingdom: -$88
Australia: +$20
Canada: +$10
Belgium: -$25
Turkey: +$13
Sweden: -$4

JACK’S TOTAL PROFIT: $2

Aw, shit.

Jack can only manage so many campaigns effectively.

Even then, it only takes one rogue offer (in this case, the UK) to wipe out his progress in the other markets.

Jack, like many affiliates, has chosen to stack the deck in somebody else’s favour. He needs everything to go right, or his model is inefficient.

Let me tell you:

In affiliate marketing, fucking rarely does something ever go right — let alone all of it.

Why is that?

Every market requires a complex understanding of conversion rates, clickthrough rates, and the dozens of metrics that wreak havoc on them. Even this may prove irrelevant if you fail to catch hot offers early on their upswing.

So how are you going to manage the above, MULTIPLIED BY TEN, when your attention is DIVIDED BY TEN? (Plus porn.)

There’s a pretty simple solution.

Look at what happens if Jack only runs campaigns in one country — Germany*.

The stats completely change.

His profits would be $98.
(And his ad spend considerably lower.)
*This is an example, not an endorsement for advertising in Germany.

The stats improve, but that is purely superficial. What we should really be interested in is what gives us the best chance of success and true ‘scaling’ going forward.

It’s the revitalising effect of removing so much deadwood that has the real impact.

Perhaps Jack’s morning to-do list would start to look more appealing.

No more staring glumly at the ‘Monday Headbanger’ with rows of campaigns disintegrating in puffs of smoke.

His blood pressure would drop, his sense of direction might return.

More of his working hours would be spent looking for opportunity rather than putting out fires day after day, every day, until there’s nothing left to save.

This is the price an affiliate pays for spreading himself too thin.

* * *

Volume is sacred in this industry.

It goes against instinct to start culling campaigns — especially those that are profitable — and it isn’t made any easier by the pines of your affiliate manager (“Revenue, revenue, revenue!”).

But remember: volume is irrelevant if it’s fractured across 20 offers in 10 countries.

You can’t leverage the sheer number of your campaigns. It’s your dominance in each individual market that counts.

On the flip side, achieving dominance in a single market is easier when you don’t have a desktop scattered with half-finished landing pages for every single nation in the EU.

Attacking a single country with brute force and finding something that works?

Now that is a scalable business plan.

Pussy-slapping 15 nations in to converting at a 10% ROI then screaming like a banshee as you realise Nation 16 lost the entire fucking lot with one dead offer?

Not so scalable, mon ami.

* * *

The lesson?

1. Spreading yourself too thin will cannibalise any profits you might have made.

2. Spreading yourself too thin will prevent you from scaling the campaigns that are actually worth scaling.

There is a balance, of course.

You do want to explore new markets. I can’t emphasise that enough.

Without exploring, you won’t find any profits period.

Newbie American affiliates who refuse to exit their home market are probably familiar with consistent big fat zeros. That’s because domestic arbitrage… is a bitch. There’s a long line of capitalist pigs that got to the table before you.

If you are going to flee in to foreign markets, any experiment should be carried out with a degree of control.

Foreign campaigns should be planned, not ripped with reckless abandon.

Do some calculations on the required CTR/CVR metrics before you even start.

(You’ll know if you’ve planned a campaign — you won’t have French translations in one tab, German in another, and a Turkey flag occupying Photoshop.)

You shouldn’t hesitate to scrap these campaigns if the profit achieved is barely worth a pot to piss in.

So you find a country somewhere close to the Russian border that produces a steady $10/profit per day.

Should you pursue it?

Should you fuck.

Maintaining a $10/day campaign is like pulling down your pants, cracking open your skull, and taking a hearty dump on the sacred membranes.

A complete waste of mental resources.

The only possible reason to focus on these campaigns is if you don’t have the capital to compete elsewhere.

And in that case, your objective should be to raze the marketplace, pillage whatever you can, then move on to richer pastures.

* * *

My advice:

(Yes, there is some here. Eventually. I put it at the end to confuse the undeserving bastards who didn’t make it this far.)

1. Pick a very small number of countries to operate it.

2. Ensure those countries have the same language so you can recycle creatives.

3. Kill any campaign that requires time to manage but can’t satisfy your income objectives — regardless of profitability.

4. Don’t scale at all until your existing campaigns have settled from peak ‘just-been-launched’ performance in to stable, reliable numbers. (Or you’ll be left with an empire of sand castles.)

5. Understand and respect the one metric that Voluum/CPVLab can’t calculate: opportunity cost.

Whatever you work on today, it comes at a price.

Copyright © 2014. Finch Media Ltd.