For the last 5 years I have been a full-time affiliate marketer.
I’ve launched thousands of campaigns, designed hundreds of landing pages and written thousands of advertisements.
Overall, things have gone very well.
But it hasn’t all been perfect. I’ve crashed servers, sent traffic to the wrong urls, been banned from traffic sources and trusted the wrong people more than once.
I’ve made my fair share of mistakes. And I’ve learned from every one.
So for anyone interested in the online ad game, I’m going to share a little bit of what I’ve learned so far.
- Work hard. There is a story told by salesmen that online marketing is easy. This is false. You have to work very hard at it. In the beginning I rarely slept, my social life fell apart. Everyone said I was working too much. But they didn’t see what I saw – the huge opportunity. I was willing to sacrifice all of my time to accomplish the goal. And it worked. Remember, you’re working for yourself now so work hard without regret because when it pays off the payoff will be your own.
- Save your money. You are going to be funding your campaigns out of your pocket. So you’ll need cash. If you have a 9–5 job save every cent you make to invest in campaigns. Don’t buy dinners, don’t buy clothes, don’t buy anything. Invest it all on your first campaign. I saved every cent I made for a year before I went full time and used it to withstand thousands of dollars in losses on my first campaign. We all lose money at first, so be sure you save up a pile of cash big enough to play the game. Consider it your tuition.
- Exercise and eat right. You’re going to spend 8–20 hours a day sitting in front of your computer. This could go on for months or years. If you don’t implement some sort of nutrition and regular exercise routine you will get fat and your body will fall apart. My body turned to mush during my first year because all I did was sit in front of the computer and work. Luckily a friend introduced me to a personal trainer and he got me back into shape and taught me how to eat. Work out 2–3 times per week to keep your body from falling apart. Doing this will help you work better, feel better and think more clearly.
- Don’t trust everyone. Watch out for slime balls. Especially if you do well. If you make a bunch of money keep your mouth shut about it. It’s not your enemies you have to worry about. You know they hate you. It’s your friends you have watch out for. Jealousy can make your best friend hate you and try to take you down. It’s sad but true. Watch your back.
- Don’t work with small, shady affiliate networks. Over the years many affiliates have been ripped off by shady little affiliate networks that run out of people’s bedrooms. You will get emails from them and they’ll approach you at conferences. They will make promises. Don’t work with any of them. There are well-funded and well respected affiliate networks out there. Their reputations are gold. Work with them and only them. The smaller guys will try to entice you with promises and increased payouts. Beware.
- Focus on one campaign and one traffic source. There are a lot of traffic sources and offers. Don’t get distracted. Pick (1) one traffic source and (1) one offer and become a master at it. I started with one campaign on one traffic source and ran it by itself for the first 6–12 months. I dominated on that single campaign. Find a traffic source with huge volume potential and an offer that can handle it and focus all of your energy on it.
- Be original. You can make money by stealing landing pages and ads from other people. We all do it from time to time. But your biggest profits will come from your original ideas. If you steal, steal to learn and then innovate. If you really want make something happen, invent a new campaign style from scratch. The last time I did this I was able to run for several months before anyone caught on. Then hundreds of affiliates copied it and it was ruined. But it was a good run. Remember, there is no better way to get high ROI than to create an original idea.
- Play it like a game. If you’re a gamer, throw your gaming console in the trash and play affiliate marketing instead or just go to Armchair Empire and get a better one. My first year in affiliate marketing, maybe even the first 2 years I didn’t realize I was making money. Campaigns were a game and profits were points. When it finally hit me that the points were money I couldn’t believe it. I was just playing a game.
- Find a group of friends / Mastermind. Find 1 or more people you can talk with and share ideas on a regular basis. I spent my first 4 months in the business completely alone. Then I went to Affiliate Summit West in 2009 and met 3–4 guys. Each one of us had a different set of knowledge and we taught each other everything we knew. You will learn 10x faster that way. Find a few friends and share everything you know, there is plenty of opportunity for everyone.
“No Two Minds Ever Come Together Without, Thereby, Creating A Third, Invisible, Intangible Force Which May Be Likened To A Third Mind.” – Think and Grow Rich a book I highly suggest you read.
- Go to conferences. This is how you network with the major industry players. If you have to choose, go to Affiliate Summit (don’t pay for or attend the actual conference, just network with people) or the A4D Meetup in San Diego (free). Ask your Skype friends and forum buddies to meet up with you. Force yourself to go to parties, introduce yourself and make a friend. All it takes is one. Having someone to bounce ideas off of will help you learn much faster.
- Meet your ad reps and affiliate managers in person. Want to be treated better by your ad reps and affiliate managers? Develop a real-world relationship with them and become friends. If a big opportunity comes up you’ll be their go-to guy, because you have a real relationship.
- Your introvert personality is a super power (tweet this). If you’re a socially awkward geek – that’s good. Someone who can spend weeks alone working has a major advantage over some douche-bag socialite that has to be out every night of the week. While they’re blowing cash on drinks, you’re launching campaigns and optimizing pages. Use your anti-social behavior to your advantage and crush your competition.
- Act Fast. If you see an opportunity – act fast. This industry changes quickly and an opportunity can appear and then disappear in a few weeks. For example: Years ago, Google Adwords loved affiliate marketers. Unlimited traffic, best in the world. Thank God I smashed it while I could because now Google hates affiliates and will ban your account immediately. Same with Facebook. If you see an opportunity – make it happen ASAP, or you could miss your shot.
- Take Breaks. I know I said to work your ass off before, but when I look back I see that I should have taken more breaks. I worked for a full 3 years without stopping and burned myself out completely. Looking back, a week off here and there would have been refreshing and allowed me to work better when I got home. If you make a nice chunk of change it’s ok to rest a bit. Just don’t be the guy that’s permanently on vacation or you could miss a lot of opportunities.
- Stay Humble. You can do very well in this business. And sometimes financial success can make you crazy, especially if you never had any real money before. You’ll see a lot of affiliates driving fancy cars, wearing Louis Vuitton and big diamond watches, they talk loudly at parties and brag about the money they’re pulling down. Those are the mid-level guys. They’re a dime a dozen. The real monsters, the guys you hear rumors about… they sit quietly at tables wearing flip flops and t-shirts. You won’t even know they’re there. Keep an eye out for them. That’s who you want to be.
- Take Risks. Some of your biggest rewards will come from taking the biggest risks. There are going to be times where you have to make a gut decision and hope to God it works. You have to be smart – but if you’re willing to take risks where others are not, you can make big plays with no one else on the field.
- Choose Your Mentors Wisely. There are a thousand online marketing gurus on the market. 99.9% of them are full of shit. If someone says they can help you do something, make sure they’ve done it themselves. If they haven’t done it successfully themselves, there’s no way in hell they’re going to be able to teach someone else.
- If they zig, you zag. The herd mentality in affiliate marketing makes me ill. Copying can definitely make you money, but by the time you steal the landing page the guy that started the trend has already made a killing and is on to the next thing. There was a period when every affiliate was advertising the same offer to Men 25+ on Facebook. They were making a killing and driving CPC costs through the roof. I took the same offer, rewrote it for women and ran a campaign to Women 25+. There was no competition so click costs were next to nothing. I dominated that demographic all by myself. If everyone is doing the same thing you can do it too, but you can also do the exact opposite and make huge returns.
- Have fun. Don’t forget to have fun with all of this. If you get too focused on making or losing money you’re in trouble. Test crazy ideas, be as creative as possible. Throw a funny ad into your campaign to see what happens. If it works, you’re a genius. If it flops, who cares – it was good for a laugh. Seeing how people respond to the images and words in advertisements is a hilarious, psychological experiment. Have fun with it.
And the last thing I want to share before I go is this:
20. It’s not too late. Everyone thinks that if they’d just started X years ago it would have been so much easier. When I started 5 years ago I thought the same thing. “In 2003 there was no such thing as a Google quality score! I wish I’d been there for that!” Now people think 2008-2009 were the “Glory Days” and it’s too hard now. That’s B.S.
Don’t worry about the past – focus on what’s working now and do your best to take advantage of it. Because 5 years from now, someone new is going to think you had it made.
And they will be right.