The Dog Shit Littered Road To Affiliate Success
Building An Affiliate Business With $0 Investment
Investing For The Future With Affiliate Marketing

The Dog Shit Littered Road To Affiliate Success

This is a guest post by James Agate. James writes a blog about SEO, operates a few sites of his own and runs an SEO consulting firm that works with affiliates (amongst other clients).

The road to success is littered with dog shit. Affiliate marketing is no exception.

In my mind there are two kinds of affiliates. The ones that do a few things really well (develop a specialism) and earn themselves decent money in the process and then the other kind; that try too many things and end up earning mediocre amounts.

You’ve probably seen both kinds of affiliates at work.

There’s the super skinny sites that operate the manure model… this is an affiliate or website owner that has outsourced or just written piss poor content and sandwiched it between multiple horse shit offers in the hope that someone might actually feel sorry for them and click that ad and make a purchase. They are also the kind that merrily spend their AdWords balance sending people to a homepage or pay little attention to the commissions versus the CPC.

Then there’s the other kind that clearly understand how the business works and where they fit in the customer purchasing process. The fact that it is so easy to become an affiliate is part of the reason why so many affiliates have shoes caked in dog shit. People assume because it’s free and affiliate networks promise big payouts that all it takes is for you to whack up some vaguely relevant content and people will happily buy using your links.

In the immortal words of Daniel Craig in Layer Cake – “It doesn’t fucking work like that.

What some affiliates forget are the underlying principles of running a successful business. You can ‘con’ a customer and turn a quid or you can look after them and enjoy lifetime customer value. I know which one I’d rather do.

Tip 1 – Encourage loyalty

We affiliates spend time, money and effort acquiring customers so we owe it to ourselves to try and retain them.

Think about it in money terms; if you spend £0.20 per click on a PPC campaign and you convert a £5 offer at say 5% you are going to hit profit if you buy 100 clicks. But what about if you took each of those 5 ‘customers’ and as well as the initial commission you managed to retain say 3 of them. You could then promote multiple other related offers to those 3 retained users and next time you need not spend that £0.20 buying them, they know you, trust you and you know what kinds of offers they like.

I can certainly do more of this and if I am honest, I haven’t cracked the loyalty thing quite yet on all of my sites but I’m getting there one pre-pop, email grabbing offer at a time.

Tip 2 – Don’t spread yourself too thin

This isn’t just a tip for affiliate marketing but more of an online business tip in general. ‘Real businesses’ make carefully considered investments in projects based on the likely risks and returns, weighing up the pros and cons in a rational fashion. Since you’re running an online business, you should do the same.

I’m not saying you need a committee or to embark on a complex journey of planning, research and feedback but having a solid grasp on the following is key to your success: who you are targeting, the problem you are solving, the business model you are going to use, how much is it going to take to get this thing off the ground, how much time will you need to commit in the first instance and on-going (and do you have that time), what is the likely return and how long will it take for you to see a return (and can you wait that long).

I’m pretty sure it’s the unwritten rule of internet business that you shouldn’t buy another domain or start another project until you’ve covered the setup costs of your last project or at least got a solid plan in place that is going to get you there.

The late, great creative director Paul Arden said that people are always looking for the next opportunity, forgetting that the project they have right in front of them IS the opportunity.

Tip 3 – Add value

Some people like to dress up the affiliate marketing business as a complex beast. The fact is that if you want to make big fat juicy commissions then you had better capture that customer right at the sweet spot – when they are at the info seeking or comparing alternatives stages in the buying process.

You can entice them by adding something of real value. There’s a reason why the likes of MoneySupermarket.com are so successful and that’s because they focus on providing real value to the end user. If your site makes the life of the user easier, solves a problem or is generally useful then they will be more than happy to oblige and click your affiliate link.

I try to build sites that are genuinely useful or solve a problem. I have a site that helps people out of redundancy and a site that helps people start a business as well as a few others. I’ve started websites in all sorts of niches like broadband, mobile phones and life insurance without truly thinking how I was going to make it work and what I actually brought to the party.

I’d be lying if I said that my sites were all about the user because I don’t run a charity and I try to ensure everything I do at least in some way contributes to my bank balance but I like to give my sites the appearance of being user focused.

Tip 4 – Don’t chase the money

I once blew a month’s money in two days chasing life insurance commission. Think you’ve got deep pockets? Not compared to these guys. They can afford to drop £30 a click because they either A) have more money than sense B) they are backed up by some mega rich brand that ‘needs’ to be present on that term or C) a combination of the 2.

There wasn’t anything wrong with my website, my keyword research or my ad writing skills. I simply didn’t have the budget to sustain that pesky pilot phase of every PPC campaign. Even if I had got there I probably wouldn’t have had the cash flow to support the demands of the campaign. Painful, but I’m glad I realised that fairly quickly otherwise I might have actually wiped myself out.

Look for gems. Niches or affiliate offers that are underserved or underrepresented or at the very least have good opportunities in i.e. some good keywords are low competition, low cost so at least give you a look in. They are still out there, the other day I found a whole niche with really decent search volume and on several of the bigger keywords, parked pages were actually ranking in the top 5!

If you are going to target a competitive market then you had better have a good USP.

Tip 5 – Relax

As any affiliate will tell you, there’s nothing worse than to sit there hitting refresh every 2 minutes wondering why your AdWords balance is going down but your affiliate network balance isn’t going up. Behaving like this will do little more than turn you into a nervous wreck.

Be thorough in your planning, spot-on in your execution and then to a certain degree you have to trust your instinct and let the thing run its course. You want to look at bigger patterns i.e. daily, weekly, monthly.

I’d like to think I have developed this mentality because I’ve got balls of steel but in actual fact I have just come to realise that worrying about a campaign is quite damaging to not only your health but also your bank balance. You may pause or delete a campaign before it has been given a chance to hit profitability or before at the very least it has been given the chance to show you where the profits might lie.

Giving up on a website too soon is also another crime that I have committed. When you kick off a project you have all the enthusiasm in the world, this tends to fade as it becomes increasingly clear that it’s not as easy as you imagined. Stick with it because if you truly believe in something then you will get there eventually. That annoying man that’s obsessed with “re-inventing the vacuum cleaner” spent nearly a decade on his idea before earning any real money from it.

A word of warning however, don’t let things go too far. Be clear in your own mind how much you are prepared to commit before you write the project/site/campaign off as a lost cause.

To sum up

You know just how easy it is to start life as an affiliate. If it cost you £1000 to join each program I guarantee you wouldn’t take it so fucking lightly and that’s the point. You need to focus on how you are going to turn this website/campaign/idea into the money tree your parents told you never existed – that’s the secret to avoiding the queue outside the job centre. As Finch would say, affiliate marketing really isn’t a piss in the park.

I’ve learned all this the hard way because I reeked of dog shit when I started life as an affiliate. I adopted the scatter gun approach. I started as many sites as I could, as quickly and cheaply as possible and then prayed my bollocks off that one might make me some money – yes I even had one dedicated to compost!

I escaped the dog shit by realising there was a problem and making steps to correct that (washing my shoes, selling domains, closing down websites and focusing on core projects), you can do the same, it’s never too late.

I learned the wrong way to be an affiliate and you’d be surprised how doing the wrong thing can actually be the better way of learning how to do it properly. A man that makes no mistakes makes nothing and all that. I like to tell people it was one big experiment when in actual fact it was good ol’ fashioned naivety.

Recommended This Week:

  • Be sure to check out James’s blog, SkyRocket SEO. I stumbled across it several weeks ago and was impressed by the content. Plenty of takeaway tips to sink your teeth in to. You can also follow him on Twitter. Cheers for the guest post, James.

  • I’d also like to say a major thanks to everybody who has purchased my Premium Posts so far. I’ve been genuinely flattered by the feedback and sheer number of sales. It’s nice to know that so many of you are willing to pay for my balls my grand wisdom. Plentyoffish advertisers, read this for more info.

Building An Affiliate Business With $0 Investment

That’s right, I’m sniffing for linkbait again.

When I use the term “Super Affiliate”, what image springs to your mind? Is it the picture of a top baller, sprawled across a sunbed, dripping Armani, and occasionally snapping his fingers to make more dollars fall from the sky?

Is it the eternally vivid image of Shoemoney wedged between a flock of scantily clad wenches at the Playboy Mansion?

Part of the reason why most marketers will never get close to that super affiliate lifestyle is because they’re looking at it from the wrong angle. They only see the rewards, and never the groundwork that the smug bastard covered to build his platform to brag from.

Behind most successful “super affiliates” is a sound business plan. One of the things I hear quite often from new marketers is the complaint that they don’t have the money to invest, or the freedom to spend enough money to attain this super affiliate state of luxury. Have you taken the time to look at the background of most top affiliates? The only shared quality is a desire to be successful.

Some people start with $10000 to invest. Maybe they’ve tucked away their savings and prepared mentally (or read a shit ton of blogs) to get started like a virgin mountaineer would at the foot of K2. To achieve something out of nothing. To reach the summit with knowledge in their head of what lays ahead, but no real experience of handling it. These are the marketers you probably hate if you’re built in the same mould that I was.

I had zero cash to invest other than the leftovers from my monthly pay packet. I’d guess that many aspiring affiliate marketers are in the same boat. You want to make it, but you just can’t fathom a way to generate income out of so little. I think it’s perfectly possible to build an affiliate business with a lack of start-up investment, and I believe that because I managed it myself.

How do you get visitors to your site without money? How do you generate leads organically without having the spending power to use paid traffic?

Get your thief on, we’re going hunting for coupons.

It’s always perplexed me why so many affiliates fail to see the appeal of coupons. I don’t use them anymore, but I would never be sitting at home scratching my balls right now if I hadn’t sniffed them out and used them as my “risk free” assessment of paid traffic. If you can plug a $50 voucher in to your Google Adwords account, you have a very rare situation where it’s possible to make what I’d call a “return on virtual investment”.

I was lucky enough to stumble across a campaign that was making me 300% ROI on Google Adwords when I was getting started. With the money I had in my bank account, it simply wasn’t possible to spend more than $200/month without having to jump London’s Oyster barriers or steal my lunch from the back of a van. But with coupons, ANY money you make is a profit.

If you’re from the UK, and I can’t believe I’m about to recommend this…but fuck it. Get down to your local WHSmiths. Search for a magazine called .Net. Look inside and you should find a free voucher worth £40 on Google Adwords. Jack that shit and clear out the pile. By the time you get back from your lunch break, you should have an Adwords budget of £200. And it isn’t even your money. I did this and with a 300% ROI, I was technically making £800 from…zero.

I should use this opportunity to thank .Net magazine. The secret to Internet riches, quite clearly. Or a criminal record if it goes wrong.

I have my tongue in cheek, thank God. There are ways to get your hands on free advertising coupons without stealing. Check out both Digital Point and the Warrior Forum. You can probably buy a $75 voucher for 10 bucks from some dude with no better business idea than to steal them from WHSmiths (ahem).

The point is, when you have no money to invest, you have to be looking for opportunities like this to give yourself the launch pad to start spending your own money. It didn’t take me long to use coupons to get on to weekly payments and to generate enough revenue to be able to re-invest it in to my business. But obviously that wasn’t the only opportunity I saw along the way.

There are two free traffic sources, right under your nose, that have incredible potential for making money without investing a penny. Only the currency of your time. Those traffic sources are classified sites and Yahoo Answers. Now as I understand, it’s a lot harder to make money on Yahoo Answers these days. But do you see why it was an open gold mine?

People asking questions, people looking for specific solutions to their needs…Christ, if you’re in the business of lead gen, your eyes would water at how simple it could be to game the system in to huge profit at no expense of your own. There is easy money out there if you expand on Yahoo Answers and look further afield for similar opportunities.

Classified sites were an enormous boost for me when I was assembling my cash to invest in the early days. I’m not going to venture in to detail about how you make money on sites like Craigs List and Gumtree. But any straight thinking affiliate should be able to smell opportunity like Justin Dupre outside the gates of an all-girls Thai college.

There are many ways you can jump from having zero money to having $10000 in as little as a few months – without ever spending a penny of your own on paid traffic. But the most important leap of them all is that you realize this thinking can only ever be temporary. Once you’ve established money to invest, it’s important to shed your fear of spending it.

I doubt you’ll find a single super affiliate who hasn’t yet overcome that fear of spending money. It’s necessary to grow your business. Don’t get caught up by the fact that the gurus are dropping six figures a day on their favourite traffic sources. You will never compete with them from day one. It’s your job to scrap and hustle, to seek out opportunity, to establish your own business that gives you a chance to scale in time.

It’s a lot easier to operate CPA campaigns with enough money in the bank to be able to run on 20% ROI. The job gets easier in that respect. I like to use the mountain metaphor. If you try to catch up with the top guys at the summit, without building your base camps along the way, you’re probably going to get blown off the mountain altogether. To get to the summit, you have to grow your business in stages. And at each stage, you’re going to have to acclimatise to the new pressures and the new risks. Because the distance to fall gets a little greater every time.

It’s a slow process, and I could slap every guru out there who preaches otherwise. But even if you’re sitting at home with nothing. Zero, nada, a pint of water and Pot Noodle for lunch. All is not lost. There is opportunity EVERYWHERE for those who are willing to seek it out.

Need a larger slice of Finch?

I haven’t been posting much recently, that’s pretty obvious. I did take the time to do an interview over on Jonathan Volk’s blog though. You can check it out below.

Stuff you never thought you needed to know about Finch Sells

Investing For The Future With Affiliate Marketing

It seems funny to think that I’ve only been a full-time affiliate marketer for six months – and I’m already planning what to do next. There will probably be a large number of you who think that jacking in the day job to work from home is the ultimate retirement. The chance to put your feet up, bust out the cocktails and wake up when the sun goes down.

The problem, of course, is that affiliate marketing happens to be one of the most volatile industries to be making a living in. At any point your campaigns could go to bust, your traffic source could eject you, or an inexplicable server downtime could cost you thousands of dollars. My ex girlfriend once told me that I’d been talking to her about affiliate marketing in my sleep. Besides bowing my head in shame at the obvious, I was quite shaken at how quickly this industry has enveloped my day-to-day thoughts, concerns and ambitions.

As much as I love what I do, I’m slightly paranoid about the long term prospects of it all. Can any of us honestly say that those $35 commissions are going to be there in 15 or 20 years time? The industry will evolve and so will the techniques that we use to reach the millions of users online. But that in itself is a constant challenge. No matter how much money you’re making today, the Internet is transforming at such a rate that you always have to be learning. Or you’ll get left behind.

Take the art of SEO as an example. I know guys who work every day on building long term websites that rank well in Google. If that’s not hanging your balls on the line, I don’t know what is. Your riches and fortunes are hinged on some Google suit deciding not to tweak the algorithm in somebody else’s favour. I would not want to be sitting there knowing that everything I have is prospering in a virtual universe that could change tomorrow and completely forget me.

I think enough affiliates have been banned from Google and Facebook for me to assume you already know the dangers of being a one traffic source wonder.

Affiliate marketing is a game of cat and mouse. The mouse being very rich, and the cat being a Warrior Forum sized stampede of nobodies. Every last one of them would enjoy your riches and it’s up to you to stay one step ahead. If you’re sitting at your desk and thinking it’ll only take one lucky break, one lucky campaign, to turn your life on its head – well, you’re wrong.

Try one lucky campaign, every week, for the rest of your working life.

That is the reality for marketers who intend to make hay forever as affiliates. Personally, I’m working hard now to provide greater opportunities for my future. I see affiliate marketing as the launch pad to something else, something better, something that doesn’t have a stinging acai aftertaste. If you’re not investing in your future, you’re setting up your eventual fall. Nobody’s luck lasts forever – especially for an affiliate.

Security is the word that springs to mind when I consider what I’m trying to achieve. And that’s ironic because most affiliates who’ve achieved great things have had to risk it all at some point. I think the mass banning of Adwords accounts back in the summer acted as my warning. Since then there hasn’t been a day where I haven’t forced myself to think several steps ahead.

It’s very easy to watch a successful campaign rake in several thousands of dollars. But you should assume that the offer caps tonight. What’s your next move? Say some Wickedfire dick has outed your campaign and the whole world can see what’s been making you money. Your work ethic needs to be such that they’re only talking about the weaker split test. If you’re constantly evolving and seeking out better results, you’ll find them before your competition catches you.

I had a couple of emails after my last post about “outing” successful Facebook techniques. It’s never my intention to harm anybody else’s campaigns, and it’s true that the tactics I talked about have been good to me over the last few months. But do you really think I’m so stupid to post how-to guides on what’s currently making me money? This is the big problem with affiliate marketing blogs and why you shouldn’t be reading them all day every day. By all means go ahead and teach a bum everything they know, but don’t teach them everything you know. Most affiliate bloggers are very good at that. In fact, they don’t teach shit to begin with.

What I’m trying to say is that to enjoy long term success as an affiliate, you simply have to learn as much today as you did yesterday. To do that, you need to be humble (under the surface), willing to learn from your mistakes and constantly seeking improvement.

If you check out my profile, you’ll see a quote that I believed in when I started this blog:

“Entrepreneurs live for a few years the way most people won’t so they can live the rest of their life like most people can’t.”

Maybe I’m still living those few years, but I don’t believe it anymore. If you truly have the dedication to achieve something, the desire to improve your business, you’ll never start working less. And that’s a good thing because determination, drive and commitment are qualities that some people will never dream of having until the sirens of failure are ringing in their ears.

You might work smartly. You might move away from the daily grind that contributes to so much stress – but will there ever be less work? Less on your mind? I don’t think so. When I look back and ask myself “when was the last time I had nothing to worry about?” I think my answer is when I was sitting at my day job. That’s the truth. If you take the solo road, you are going to carry a burden. You might not feel it through the good times, but it’s waiting to reveal itself to you when shit gets hairy.

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