Now, a host of obstacles stand in our way. EU directives, market saturation and the recession itself are making it incredibly difficult for affiliates to make a decent living.
Two people had influenced me to become an affiliate - Malcolm Cowley, who I’ve unfortunately never had the chance to speak to or meet since, and Michael Anthony. I spoke to both of them over the phone when I was an affiliate manager back in 2004, and they both encouraged me to make the switch from agency employee to self-employed affiliate. A year later I did just that and it was the best decision I’ve ever made. The last 6 years have been better than I ever imagined.
Now though, it’s beginning to get tough...
Several people have referred to me as a ‘super affiliate’ over the years. I don’t think I have ever been one. At a recent a4uexpo talk I discovered that a super affiliate was defined as having 20+ employees and a real office. I work from home, on my own. I don’t want 20 staff and a ‘real office’. I always thought that being an affiliate was as much about the lifestyle as the money. But it seems these days that one-man-band affiliates are dwindling, overpowered by brands with huge marketing budgets – GoCompare and MoneySupermarket spring to mind. How is it possible for an affiliate to survive in this climate and against this level of competition?
The answer is quite obvious – they need to be able to change, and spot new opportunities quickly. Back when MSN launched its AdCenter paid search, I was one of the first advertisers on there. A friend of mine did even better by getting on the ‘beta’ list. Homeowner loan ads for a few pence per click at a time when Homeowner loan ads were costing up to £8 per click on Adwords – you can imagine the results. Facebook advertising has never worked out for me, but I’m sure it has for the earliest adopters. Affiliates need to stay one step ahead of the game in order to survive.
Maybe you’re expecting the old ‘work hard’ cliché next. It’s not strictly necessary. Some of the most successful affiliates I know don’t work very hard. It’s not about how many hours you put in, it’s about how good you are at spotting new opportunities and predicting technological advancements within the industry. Then it’s about how quickly you can grasp these opportunities, because it doesn’t take long for a niche to become saturated. Work yourself into the ground by all means, it might help, but I’ve always been taught the importance of a healthy work/life balance, and being an affiliate is one of the few occupations where you can really achieve that.
Diversify your income streams
Diversification is another key point. Being a full-time affiliate is not exactly a secure job. I have spent the past 6 years thinking ‘I’ll just enjoy this while it lasts, but soon I’ll have to get a real job’. This gives me the motivation to always have a plan B. The problem is that in affiliate marketing you often need a plan C or D too.
It’s crucial to focus more on what is making you money over everything else, but you should ignore a good back-up plan at your peril. Your biggest merchant could close their program this afternoon. If you have multiple income streams you are better placed to survive this kind of catastrophe.
Remove your reliance on Google
I’ve also learnt not to rely on Google for everything. Their recent Panda update destroyed some affiliate businesses overnight. Annoy them once and you can be banned, never to advertise on there again. PPC affiliates are reeling from the announcement that they are about to ditch their right hand side ads. So the big spenders occupy the top 3 slots and the rest of us are shoved down to the bottom of the page. It’s truly demoralising. The top right hand side ad used to convert better than the top slot. Not anymore. If you have to rely on Google for the majority of your income, and let’s face it many of us do, try to split the reliance between their different money-making arms – Adwords, Adsense and natural search.
In conclusion what you need most of all to survive as an affiliate is a keen eye for new opportunities. Exploit a niche until it becomes saturated and move on, or become the best in that niche and you’ll reap the rewards. It’s your choice, but always remember to have a back-up plan if it doesn’t work out. If all else fails, get a real job.