Wednesday, 21 December 2011
I read an excellent article on Mashable from Lance Ulanoff yesterday on 20 life lessons we can learn from the late Steve Jobs. Whilst reading them they sounded like they could be attributed to small and medium sized affiliate marketing activities so here's my take on the 20 life lessons. I've had to crowbar a couple of suggestions to fit but overall I think you'll get the picture!
The original context says that when Steve wanted something he went and got it as directly as possible.
In affiliate marketing trends change rapidly. All of a sudden we're apparently now known as performance marketers in a performance marketing industry. The amount of large scale, well backed firms (predominantly in London) has exploded and the industry is rapidly changing into something with a more professional image.
Commercial trends change too. The recession and global economic crisis appears to be having an impact and you don't have to look too far to hear of another retailer having problems.
The moral here is that if you have an idea, run with it before it's too late. That's not to say you should launch something earlier than necessary but if you're waiting for a better time then maybe that's a flawed idea.
Make Your Own Reality
The original context says that Steve would change things he didn't like ensuring he was in control of his own destiny.
The same is true here. The only person that has a direct control over your life is you. If you are running a portfolio of sites in a niche you cannot stand then change it, or change how you approach them.
If you are not happy with something, or the way you run something then investigate ways to change it.
Control Everything You Can
In affiliate marketing there's a lot that cannot be directly controlled. Generally you can't change the tracking unless there's a choice of networks the merchant is available through.You cannot control how the program is run, the de-duplication process, the transparency nor the commission rates.
You can't control the search engines directly though you can help influence them through SEO and following best practises.
You can control your website and your business. You have the freedom to work with a wide range of merchants from iconic high street brands to internet-only sites. You can't necessarily control your commission rate but you can tinker with conversion rate optimisation to get the best results.
It's easy to blame merchants and to get frustrated but who you promote and how you promote them is largely down to you.
Own Your Mistakes
If Steve made mistakes he'd admit to them.
If we make mistakes we'll generally try to find others to blame. Sure there are times that the merchant or network get things wrong and nine times out of ten they admit to it and apologise for them but affiliates get things wrong too. By accepting you've made a mistake you can grow and move on. Realising you've made a mistake can be more difficult as it is easier to blame others than realise it's us who is at fault.
Steve knew what he could and couldn't do.
For a long time I've tried to do everything and as a result I've neglected some sites, not worked on some relationships and suffered in some aspects as a result. Last month I delved into the world of outsourcing and have started to see some positive progress as a result. It has financial consequences which hurt right now but as Hardeep Sohal from CJ said so eloquently, "long tail will never deliver immediate returns, it’s an investment".
At some stage you need to realise that it's impossible for you to do everything (and do everything well enough) to grow your affiliate business and to remain resilient. At the beginning you pretty much have to be everything to everyone - a coder, a designer, a copywriter, an SEO boffin, a boss and a whole host of corporate related roles. Eventually as you business grows you have to decide whether it is more cost effective to outsource various activities to ensure you can remain focussed on the bigger picture.
The corporate scale affiliates have departments of specialists. The more successful smaller affiliates learned to outsource a long time ago. Some of us have only just been able to afford to outsource on a decent scale ;-)
It's ultimately about being able to focus on your strengths whilst maintaining progress with the tasks you find more mundane, repetitive or mediocre.
Leave the Door Open for the Fantastic
This one relates to Jobs' spirituality and beliefs.
In affiliate marketing it can be interpreted in a number of ways. I reckon there's something bigger and better out there. I dream that one day I will have a site that a corporate giant or investor will want to buy for a small fortune. I believe that one day I will crack the code and develop a site that just makes sense, and that gets noticed by key players in that industry.
I believe this lesson refers to the bigger picture and that our destiny could be painted in any number of ways. Something I work on today could make me very successful in the future but it depends on a number of factors! Having no beliefs and no dreams means you are just working and have no passion to drive things forward.
Don't Hold Back
Steve was renowned for being frank.
In affiliate marketing there are plenty of things that change, some things change far too often and many changes are for the worse from an affiliate marketers perspective. the problem is that if no one says what they feel then nothing gets changed. There's a group of affiliates known for their "grumpy" attitudes but not every grumble is pointless.
If there's something that affiliates aren't happy about generally there are two responses. Some sit back and say nothing, accepting that change is not always positive news but there's nothing they can do about it. The other group vent their anger and outrage, challenging the change and the reasons for it.
This probably harks back to the lessons Make Your Own Reality and Control Everything You Can in that if you aren't happy YOU need to do whatever is necessary to control your own destiny. Perhaps that's switching merchants, perhaps that's switching networks or perhaps it is joining in a debate to question the reasoning for the change. Regardless, sometimes venting your frustrations and feelings can be a good thing.
Similarly, the lesson Own Your Mistakes also suggests that sometimes the reason you are frustrated or angry can be from your own doing.
Surround Yourself with Brilliance
This one relates closely to the Know Yourself lesson in that as Steve knew what he could and couldn't do, he surrounded himself with experts in their own field.
On a micro scale, this doesn't mean hiring the best (the chances are that you couldn't even if you wanted) to but it does mean that you should network with key industry experts and successful affiliates. Learn from them, and be willing to learn, and try to emulate their success. They often will have wise words shared through blogs and social networks as well as in conferences that may resonate with you.
If you surround yourself with successful affiliates then that can be motivation enough to become more successful and more driven. It sometimes is also a source of jealousy and frustration that can appear to hinder at times but is generally helpful in spurring you on.
Build a Team of A Players
Steve was insistent on building a team of great employees, and expected great things of them.
Whilst small affiliates may not have the capacity to employ a team, this lesson can be applied to both the Know Yourself and Surround Yourself with Brilliance lessons.
When outsourcing you need to find key people who you can trust and who you can rely upon. If you have to hold their hand and tidy up after them then perhaps they are not the best choice as outsourcing is supposed to save you time, freeing it up to focus on something else. You need to find great people who can do great things for you.
The same goes for networking with other successful affiliates. Whilst you've probably heard of Mr A or Miss B they may not be able to impart as much knowledge as you would hope if they work in completely different niches to you. For instance, if you've found some great successful affiliates in telecoms and broadband but your niche is clothing then whilst there may be some lessons to be learned, the information, tips and suggestions may not be all that relevant to you.
Steve was legendary and certainly a unique individual.
Don't be afraid to be yourself. It's very easy to mould yourself into something your not in order to be more appealing. Generally those who are successful are good at being themselves. They don't try to pander to anyone (at least not in public) and they aren't afraid to be themselves.
Steve was a very persuasive man and he could find ways to get employees to deliver excellence.
In affiliate marketing you sometimes need to fight your corner. Earlier in the year I received a commission cut as part of "economic" reasons. Then in November I was cheekily asked to justify why I deserved a seasonal commission bump (to a tier still lower than the original). It's difficult to be persuasive when your angry but I managed to convey the two and secured the temporary increase.
Sometimes it's the way in which you deal with your merchants that means you can be more persuasive on certain aspects. In terms of your website visitors you can be more persuasive in terms of getting them to purchase which harks back to conversion rate optimisation.
Show Others the Way
Steve helped make Apple what it is today and his lessons and philosophy will go on to inspire many in the future. His 2005 Stanford Commencement Address is full of inspirational gems.
The lesson here is that in doing what you do, you learn tips, tricks, secrets and unique ways of doing things. Whilst there are some things no one would share (competitive advantage secrets) there are little nuggets of information that would really help someone else. By sharing information with others you can start to learn from others. The saying "sharing is caring" really does apply here and by helping others you can learn new things and make new contacts.
As you grow more successful you yourself become idolised by new affiliates who crave to learn from you and want to become the next you.
Trust Your Instincts
This is a simple one. Go with your gut instincts.
There have been plenty of occasions when I need to make a decision and very quickly I learned to trust my gut instincts. If something feels wrong then it more than likely is. Similarly, some things just feel so right.
Another self explanatory one but a worthwhile point nevertheless. Generally in life, the greater the risk, the better the reward. The flip side of that is that the greater the risk, the greater the penalties if it goes wrong.
Sometimes you have to take a gamble in affiliate marketing (perhaps Trusting Your Instincts) in order to move forward. Every decision you make is a gamble. Should you do this or should you do that?
If you never take risks then you'll have a very safe life but you minimise the opportunity to make great rewards too.
Follow Great with Great
In recent times Apple have always successively launched a better version of the iPod, the iPad, the iPhone and the other range of products. Whilst there may have been disappointment with the volume of improvements in the successive versions, there has never been a product branded as "disappointing".
When creating affiliate sites the next should always be better than the last. Occasionally I go back through sites and give them a new facelift and perhaps add new features so as to bring my websites in line with the latest ones I am creating.
Given each website is different and potentially in a different niche it may be difficult to compare "greatness" but you get the point.
Make Tough Decisions
Jobs may not have always been Mr Popular and that comes with having to make tough decisions.
At a micro level, we generally all make decisions each day but sometimes you need to take stock, identify your priorities and identify any weak points.The Panda update from Google killed off many affiliate marketing websites from the rankings and has got us all re-evaluating what it is that we offer to users and what we have to do to keep Google happy.
Beyond this you may have a site that is a drain on resources but doesn't bring much in. Sometimes you need to take the tough decision to sell off or close such sites down for the greater good. Like many affiliate marketers I take pride in my work and hate having to lose sites (and have regretted not giving up certain sites a long time ago) but sometimes I need to look at the greater good.
Some would argue you never had to close or sell sites but it depends on your own circumstances and beliefs. I would say everyone has a price and everyone has a finite amount of resources available to them to sustain a large portfolio of sites that constantly need attention.
Presentation Can Make a World of Difference
This kind of harks back to Follow Great with Great whereby the delivery of a website is the delivery of an experience. You build a site and work to get people onto it and then back off it, hopefully making some money along the way. But your website is not just about good content or good appearance, it's a bit of both. Some of the best looking websites out there have been meticulously designed but lack substance. Similarly, content heavy websites occasionally look dull and dreary (probably how this post is looking right now!).
In affiliate marketing presentation is key, and can affect your conversion rates. A great user experience together with unique content and beautiful typography can really set a site apart from fellow websites. Two websites could have identical content but appearance could differentiate the earnings of the two.
Find a Way to Balance Your Intensity
In a nutshell I read this as have a breather. The constant burden of working to ensure the money flows in each month is hard work in itself and every now and then you need a breather. A hobby, a holiday, a break. it doesn't matter but working 24/7/365 is not good for anyone - and probably not the lifestyle you evisaged when you first set out to be your own boss as a self employed affiliate marketer.
Live for Today
Another self explanatory lesson but very worthwhile remembering. Life is finite. Any of us could pop our clogs at any time and if that happened tomorrow, what would be your legacy? Would you be remembered for being passionate, helpful, informative, successful and talented? Would you be remembered for trying to realise a dream but becoming a slave to a monotonous work routine in a job you didn't like?
Remember to live for today and remember to enjoy what you are doing. It's helpful to have a plan B in case things don't pan out the way you hoped but if you can confidently state you're happy then surely that's the most important aspect?
Share Your Wisdom
Once you have achieved the ultimate goal and developed an affiliate business you can be proud of, share you stories and tales. I love reading about fellow affiliate marketers and the tales they have gone through. I love case study reports that explain why something has or has not worked. I love learning from other successful affiliates. And there are plenty of them too.
Affiliate marketing is a growing industry that is becoming more professional every day. Whilst there are niggles, issues and grievances with certain aspects of how the industry is morphing, one things is clear - it IS changing, and has been ever changing since I began oodles of years ago.
Who knows where the industry will go to and who knows whether the landscape will stay as it is? I'd like to speculate that the big boys will get bigger and stronger but may ultimately grow out of "affiliate marketing" as we know it, striking direct deals instead. I imagine us smaller affiliates will become a more endangered species but I think we will evolve and become a bit more innovative in light of all the great new technologies emerging. Just my 2p though!
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Great read !
I like the way you put in parallel what Steve- a genius one - and affiliate marketing.
This is a great list of resolutions for the new coming year.
Thank you Dave.
Written on Wednesday 21 December 2011 at 13:55:46 GMT (Permalink)
Great post David! Very detailed and insightful!
Taking and having control over all the aspects of your business is really important. It gets a bit more difficult when you increase the number of your websites and need assistants to maintain them and create new ones, because by introducing new people to the process you lose a bit of control with each person. This problem inclined me to find a solution and I did; I can recommend Monkey Monitor employee monitoring software to anyone with the same issue at hand.
Thanks for the great article, I enjoyed it a lot!
Written on Wednesday 21 March 2012 at 16:03:02 GMT (Permalink)
Thank you to all previous commenters.
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