Why “Easy, Profitable And Sustainable” Will Never Exist

The Affiliate Marketing business thrives around the belief that three qualities – easy, profitable and sustainable – are just waiting to be uncovered. Look at the average bizopp sales letter and you’ll see it summed up in a nutshell.

“How I Earn $6904/Week On My Laptop With One Simple Secret Trick!”

Such a title ticks the three boxes that matter most to a sucker on the verge of quitting his day job to chase said dream.

Is it easy? Have you not seen how well I mine on Runescape? All Internet be easy to me.
Is it profitable? $6904/week…fuck, tell the kids we’re moving to Hawaii.
Is it sustainable? The guy’s Clickbank stats just keep rising. This time next year, we’ll be trillionaires Rodders!

Sarcasm may be dripping off this page, but make no mistake, this is the naive attitude that drives many an ebook launch.

In my opinion, only two of those qualities can ever exist in tandem. You can have an affiliate campaign that is easy and sustainable, but it won’t be very profitable. Or you can be driving huge profits for the long-term future, but it won’t be particularly easy.

Then you have the most dangerous combination in our industry.

Easy and profitable…but absolutely not sustainable.

This could be applied to a Plentyoffish campaign that peaks and perishes in the space of a weekend, but there’s nothing spectacularly dangerous about that. More importantly, it could be applied to a number of darker marketing practices that many of us are now familiar with.

The fake blog is a great example of easy and profitable, because it pinpoints the reason why sustainability can never follow.

Our challenge, as affiliates, is to come up with new and inventive ways to reach the skeptic mind. The flog was mighty successful in blurring the lines between advertising and believable testimonial. Many would argue, myself included, that it was far too successful. If an advertising practice becomes so commonplace that any half arsed marketer can spin a profit from it, you can be sure that it won’t be long until that practice becomes the most detested in the industry.

Did anybody expect such a profitable marketing trap to stay viable after affiliate marketers rushed to abandon conventional landing pages in favour of it? Every legitimate business with a weight loss product to sell was going to react unfavourably to a bunch of cowboy affiliates stealing their market share. That’s your first problem. The second problem is the customer.

When one customer feels ripped off, not many people are going to pay attention. When thousands of customers feel ripped off, reputations start to suffer. In the space of a few months, the snowball effect of broken trust amplified by relentless affiliate campaigns had driven a successful marketing ploy to the precipice where it had to fail.

The flog itself, controversial as it was, needn’t have crashed and burned as emphatically as it did. The marketing logic behind it was sound but ultimately too easy to execute, and too open to abuse from the affiliates who based their businesses around it.

Zero barrier to entry + very easy + very profitable = definitely NOT sustainable. Anybody with a grasp of basic economics should be able to work that much out.

I’m not trying to provide an obituary of the flog here, but rather a simple explanation of why “get rich quick” tactics will never be sustainable. They may exist, but they typically involve the bending of rules in such a way that the associated risk is never going to lead to the stress-free life in a hammock that you were promised in the stock photos.

If an easy moneymaking ploy becomes too profitable, it will draw attention from a) The customers and b) The competition. At this point, the ethics of the ploy will be called in to question. This is where they normally disintegrate. But even if your ethics are sound, the competition will soon catch on and copy. With increased competition comes less profitability – or simply a much tougher time making money.

Easy, profitable and sustainable affiliate marketing campaigns are never going to be published in an ebook or handed to strangers who haven’t busted their balls in pursuit of the same knowledge. It would be foolish to believe they even exist.

So you have to ask yourself: “What am I going to focus my business on?”

Easy and sustainable… without the lucrative rewards of more ambitious projects?
Sustainable and profitable… with a receding hairline from the stress of finding the magic formula?
Easy and profitable… and I’ll worry about the future when my luck runs out.

It’s pretty obvious which category most affiliates fall in to. But is that through choice or a complete disregard to the sustainability of the marketing they practice? Who knows, who cares.

For the rest of us, the challenge isn’t simply to be profitable. But to be so profitable that we can afford Wayne Rooney’s hair surgeon after finding that magic formula.

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About the author

Finch
Finch

A 29 year old high school dropout (slash academic failure) who sold his soul to make money from the Internet. This blog follows the successes, fuck-ups and ball gags of my career in affiliate marketing.

10 Comments

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  • I frequently think about the differences/similarities of people who market legit silicon-valley style web products, and the type of stuff most affiliates market (e.g. stuff they’d never use themselves or recommend to their families, unless they hate them).

    I think this post really defines the difference better than I’ve ever been able to before. Silicon-valley style web products focus on sustainable and profitable. With that said, I know someone who has a $7mm/year lead-gen empire covering all the major affiliate verticals, so I suppose it can be done in AM as well.

    Regardless there is a similarity between all business models that go down the sustainable and profitable route

    #1. They require serious investment. Most likely you will not hit “sustainable and profitable” paydirt as a 1 person team. Most likely you will not be able to do it without at least $50K of capital within your first year. I know there is a serious media buyer that just laughed at that number, but he doesn’t represent the majority of affiliates. For most affiliates, $50k is still a lot of fucking money. Also, depending on how far you’re trying to go and how quickly you intend to get there, you’ll likely need a LOT more money than that.

    #2. They require a serious product. Whether your product is your site (in the lead gen empire model) or some kind of SaaS, it can’t suck and you have to have a team of people working to improve it. In the direct response world, Billy Mays was very good at putting his name behind products that wouldn’t be total shit & could actually develop bonafide, respected brands. That’s why his name sold nearly everything he touched.

    #3. Profitable and sustainable requires some serious marketing knowhow. It is not the land of the noob. You will not get their by copying ads that others are running on FB. As a matter of fact, you won’t get there if you think that’s a good thing to spend your time on, period. True marketers, worthy of $XXX,XXX jobs at large companies/agencies (keyword: worthy, personality differences aside) are the ones capable of achieving this. Unlike certain aspects of internet marketing where you can “hack it,” there is no “hacking it” in achieving sustainable profitability – it requires a person while a 360 degree understanding of what it means to market a product.

    In short, I think “Profitable and Sustainable” is the realm of bonafide entrepreneurs. Thank you for helping me finally wrap my head around this. I shit you not, this is something that I think about every 1-2 days.

  • I agree with your definitions there.

    And I’d also agree that it is possible to develop a profitable and sustainable business solely around affiliate marketing. Many networks are a tribute to that. But it certainly doesn’t meet the criteria of being easy for some dude stargazing at his office desk.

    For affiliate marketing to be profitable and sustainable, it all comes back to developing valuable assets that stand on their own two feet. Either in your affiliate sites, or if you’re a network, by developing the kind of service that affiliates and advertisers are both going to enjoy.

  • Agreed. I remember diorex (not sure if this guy is still alive or what) writing that he has ~100 people working for him that just test test test ads all the time. This is a sustainable business model. Im not sure I understand why these people wouldn’t just steal his campaigns and go work for themselves, but apparently it can be done. If you have a fleet of fisherman, your bounty no longer depends on you personally fishing.

  • @Alex

    I know a guy who started out in affiliate marketing in 2006 or so, he hired 20 guys to just join affiliate networks and do 95% brand bidding all day. He paid them a small bonus based on what they made and gave them great benefits, some cool holidays, cool computers/macbooks etc. But he made £1 million profit in year one. I would never in a million years imagine that hiring 10 guys to do that kind of thing would have resulted in them staying put and making millions for their employer rather than just doing it for themselves. But they did. Now he runs a web company with 150+ employees doing 100 million+ in revenue a year, all started from hiring a few guys to join networks and buy brand terms on Adwords.

  • Great post man.
    It all comes down to money. People put out products to make it and people put out money to buy the products to make it. One big cycle.

    In my eyes, I would go with sustainable and profitable. Having a sustainable and profitable business is the ultimate goal and once you put in your time and hard work, you’ll figure out how to make it easier.

  • I have to agree, it is all about determination and thinking long term and sustainable, not making a quick buck. When I began building valuable websites my income increased.

  • You know what would be really good content Finch? Focusing specifically on how to take AM skills, relationships, and experience and turn it into a real viable long term business. A lot of people become CPA advertisers or start networks, but not everyone does (you for example) and your thoughts on what you have done to diversify and create other kinds of value would be really enjoyable to read.

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