London based internet marketer Rob Cornish never wanted to be a sit on the beach kind of guy, but he yearned for a lifestyle that a nine-to-five job would never provide.
It was this desire that, in 2010, led him to start his own business in affiliate marketing.
With a good job in the financial services sector, Rob had a comfortable income and enjoyed what he did, but he wanted the flexibility of being his own boss. After researching his options he found the low start up cost and work anywhere aspect of an internet business was appealing, so he dived head first into the world of affiliate marketing.
However, during our interview, Rob was quick to point out that success did not come overnight. After eight months of little success, he realised that he needed to change his approach to traffic generation. He made a fresh start that made the most of his knowledge and interests in the stock trading niche, and started his blog, GainHigherGround.com, to document his journey. The rest, as they say, is history.
Fast forward to 2012 and Rob earns a six-figure income through a mix of affiliate marketing and promoting his own products. With an email list, membership site and a successful blog, Rob still regularly promotes affiliate products. His success has landed him frequent gigs speaking at affiliate and internet marketing events in the UK and he encourages and welcomes those starting out in online business to get in touch if they feel he might be able to help them on their path to success.
It was around the time that Rob changed his business approach that he decided to try his hand at product creation and he developed a product designed to teach people about the stock market.
Although Rob has found great success through developing his own products, he still regularly sells products as an affiliate. He is clearly passionate about what he does and genuinely cares about giving his email list subscribers information they can implement in their own businesses and affiliate marketing ventures.
Reading his blog, Rob's connection with his subscribers and followers is obvious, with every post attracting a large number of comments, all of which he personally replies to. No doubt many of these followers are also subscribers to Rob's email list – a marketing tool he says is an essential part of every affiliate marketer's business approach.
During our chat, Rob attributed a great deal of his success to his email list, and was quick to emphasize the importance of building an email list if you're an affiliate marketer. “If you've got an internet business… having a list is gold,” he said. “Once you've got a list you can actually control the traffic because you can mail your list and send them a link to anywhere you like. You can send them to a blog, a sales page, an affiliate offer, a squeeze page etc. So the benefits of having a list are absolutely massive.”
Rob admits that learning about marketing was a huge learning curve, having previously thought “marketing people just made slide presentations”. He learned all he could about marketing and now employs a range of tactics to drive traffic to his websites and make sales of both affiliate products and his own products.
One recent month's expenses and income
It's clear Rob's marketing tactics are working for him. On his blog, Rob recently published a monthly breakdown of his expenses and income:
During a chat over Skype, Rob gladly shared his story with me, as well as his biggest tips on traffic generation, niche marketing and how to find products that put money in the bank.
Can you start off perhaps by telling me a bit about yourself and what you do
I have done many jobs in the past but I ended up working in financial services as an investment manager, and in early 2010 I started getting really interested in starting my own business. I zeroed in on the internet business model mainly because I just saw a lot of leverage there.
I liked the possibility of lifestyle benefits of being location independent and working when you want, and the start-up costs were really low which was really appealing to me.
I got really, really confused, and for about 8 months I didn't get anywhere. I didn't make any money at all, and then I had some small success with a few niche sites.
Then I focussed in on the stock trading niche, and I developed an information product teaching people about the stock market and that came out in May 2011. That did really well, so I proved to myself I could do it and actually make money at this and provide value to customers out there. At the same time, I started my blog, GainHigherGround.com, which was just really a personal diary and I didn't do anything in terms of making money with that for a good eight months.
Then I launched a membership site and then this year I've done other products and gone on from there really.
So you tried your hand at affiliate marketing straight up?
Yeah, I kind of began like that, and also AdSense sites as well. You basically display Google ads on your sites and when people click on them you get paid, so that was one of the early models I looked at. I moved away from that, so most of my income now comes from a split of two things. One is from creating my own products, and the other is affiliate income from promoting other people's products.
Was it the change to creating your own products that led to money in the bank for you?
Initially yes, because the first big success I had was in the stock market niche, and that was where I saw most of my success and that was from my own product. Then I started building lists and so on, and then that enables you to market not only products that you create, but also affiliate products.
Were there any big mistakes you made when you got into affiliate marketing, and how do you think that has influenced the business that you have today?
Like with most people starting out, I looked to Google for my traffic, so I was all about trying to please Google. I set up these niche sites in 2010 and really worked on building links to them and doing SEO and the results were quite low for the effort I put in. I ended up learning more about traffic generation and moving away from that, and then building lists using other traffic generation methods.
So when you started diversifying your approach what kind of change did you see in your traffic and results?
Huge, Kate. It was really big. I was just getting small amounts of visits. I had one site which was getting initially up to about 150 to 200 visits a day, so nothing particularly big at all. And even that seemed to take a long, long time to get going and I think it's even worse now with the subsequent Google updates and so on with Penguin and Panda. But when I moved away from that and moved into other traffic strategies the change was just huge. It was a big change.
What kind of change are we talking? Can you give me some figures?
In terms of the money generated, as I said, for the first eight months I really didn't make anything and I started in April 2010. Today, since then, I've probably in total, gross sales generated online I'm over $400,000 now… That is gross sales, so that doesn't include splits with joint ventures or paying affiliates, or any information product has some refunds so you've got to take that into account. There's taxes and all the rest of it.
In terms of traffic I have got several projects on the go, but one of the strategies is to have my own affiliates promoting my own products and from that I've probably had about 30,000 visits generated by affiliates so far this year in 2012 and obviously we're not finished with the year yet. That's only one part of what I do, but if you compare that with the 100 to 150 visits a day, which is what I was getting when I was doing the Google stuff, the change is phenomenal.
Yeah, absolutely. So you've taken your background in the financial sector and you've used that to drive your internet business forward. Were there any other key skills that you found you had to develop to foster that success?
I have had a long-term interest in the stock market and that was my first big product, but there's many other things. I mean, just learning about marketing. I didn't really understand that it's an immense area and there are so many skills that you can learn to get better at it. And it's a very creative process as well.
I really didn't have any of those skills, so I've learned from watching others, from books, from training courses I've purchased. And marketing includes creating compelling videos, writing sales copy, but also traffic generation as well.
Do you have any real, favorite, go-to techniques in terms of marketing … what you've found you needed to do to succeed?
Yeah, I suppose… it's really just getting stuck in and learning, and I think the one tip I'd give people is don't always believe what you're told or what people are telling you, but actually look at what they are doing.
For example, you might get an email from someone who is talking about generating traffic with Google or publishing Kindle books or how to market using Twitter, but look at actually how they are making money and how they are doing their marketing. Because quite often the case is they might be talking about these different subjects, but actually their business might be based on joint ventures, for example.
So it's always good to have a look at it from the other angle, and I think that's how you rise up the food chain from being a consumer of marketing information to being a producer of it and really understanding how the business works.
You mentioned the importance of list building. Exactly why is that just so important for people who are getting into affiliate marketing?
That's an absolutely great question Kate. Basically, if you've got an internet business, there are some areas where you won't build a list, but for the vast majority of cases having a list is absolute gold.
If you imagine what I was doing when I started out, I was having people visit my site and hoping they would buy something. But of course very, very few people land on a site and buy something straight away.
So a great thing to do is if you can capture those people on to an email list then you've got the opportunity of not only building trust with them so they're more likely to buy, but even whether they buy or not you've still got them on your list so you can make sales further down the line, and even once you've made a sale they're still on your list so you can actually make repeat sales.
If you talk to people with really substantial businesses they'll tell you that repeat business is actually a very, very important portion of their total sales, usually, in the vast majority of cases.
The other thing I'll say in terms of list building is to me it's the closest thing you can get to cash on demand. I don't really like that phrase because it sounds a bit hypey, but what I mean by cash on demand is that people with lists can literally sit down at their computer, they can type an email and promote a product. Now that process might take 10 minutes. So I did this in the week and made quite a bit of money from that.
Once you've got a list you can actually control the traffic because you can mail your list and send them a link to anywhere you like. You can send them to a blog, a sales page, an affiliate offer, a squeeze page etc.
Are there any list building techniques you'd be able to share with us?
Oh yeah, lots of them! We'll take this maybe from the basics. The first thing is to realise that there are two ways of building a list. The first way is through a squeeze page and the second way is through a sales page. A squeeze page is a one-page website where you advertise a free gift in return for people signing up to your list. So I'm sure we've all been to these websites where you go and there might be say, a free ebook. So that's the first way of having an on-ramp where people can enter your business model.
The second way is to actually sell a product. If you're doing affiliate marketing it's a great idea to consider creating small simple products that you can sell because the advantage there is that you can get other people to promote those products for you so they will drive the traffic, so you have your own affiliates and what happens is when people buy your product they will be put on to your mailing list, so you're actually getting proven buyers, customers, on to your list.
And then the key thing is what we've just talked about there is called the front end of your business.
The front end is where people actually join your mailing list, but the back end is where most of the money is made, and that's where you can do further email marketing and you can build trust with people by blogging, by sending them free reports, by sending them a resource list, other free information – a newsletter, for example, but also from time to time you can promote products to them as well, which of course is where the money is made.
Okay, and then that goes back to what we were discussing a bit earlier then?
Yeah, I guess so! So we look at the traffic methods, one of which is Google of course. I'm not a big fan of Google, but there are other things you can do… You can do solo ads. This is a paid strategy. You can pay someone else with a list to promote your squeeze page – there are various opportunities online to do that. It's a very, very quick way to get people on to your list and into your sales funnel.
Once you've built a small list you can do something called ad swaps, which is where basically if you have a list I could promote your squeeze page and you could promote my squeeze page, and basically people can voluntarily opt in to each of our squeeze pages and basically we swap a few of our subscribers.
Another great way is looking at forums, so if you find forums you can put a link in your signature so every post you make in a forum is a link back to your squeeze page. Some people in the forum will click and go through to your squeeze page and sign up.
You can also look to forums for advertising possibilities. Many forums have promotional areas in them. You can also buy text links or banner ads in those forums.
A great one that I've used a lot is something called content syndication. It sounds a bit technical, but really you just get your content out there in places on the internet where it's exposed to your target audience.
So an example would be guest posting. What you can do is you write a 500 or 600 word article and you get it published on other websites that have a lot of traffic. When those people see your article, if they like it they can click a link which will go back again to your squeeze page and sign up to your list. I've had some great success doing that. After I did the stock market stuff that's one way I built my personal blog, through guest posting.
Another thing to do is create products. I don't mean a huge membership site, I mean maybe a couple of videos you've recorded, or an audio interview you've done with an expert, that's a great product, or an ebook. Once you've got those products you can look to syndicate that and a great strategy that I've done is to offer it to other marketers who have products of their own as a bonus. To get the bonus people will need to sign up at my squeeze page. And there are many other traffic strategies as well, but those are some of the ones you can use to get started.
I'd like to go back to niches for a second if that's okay. You mentioned that when you started out you were affiliate marketing across a few different niches. Now, if somebody is wanting to go into niche marketing, what sort of things should they be looking at if they're trying to identify a niche. Does it comes from passion or should be looking purely for low competition and potential profit? Is there something there that people should really be focussing on?
Yeah, there's three things I think that are good to remember here. And like anything you learn, it can be so confusing with internet marketing, but there is actually a process to everything and if you follow the steps you can get really good results.
The first thing is, do you need to be passionate? Now, there's a difference of opinion on this. My opinion is no you don't need to be passionate. However, what you need to be is interested because you want to build a business that has longevity and is potentially a lifetime business rather than just a flash in the pan.
The next test is you need to judge the audience size. You can do that quite easily just looking for the number of searches in Google… Go to the Google keyword tool and just compare your different ideas, put them in a spreadsheet and gauge the interest.
And then after you've established something that you're interested in and that you have a good audience size, the final test is profitability. It's quite easy to get into niches which you're interested in, have a good audience size but have very low profitability.
I go into detail about this on my membership site, but basically, use the Google keyword tool (you need to sign in for this) and look at the cost per click. If you see something that's 5 cents or 10 cents then it's not likely to be very profitable. If you see something for $1, $2 or upwards then people are spending some serious money on advertising there, so there's a 90% chance that it's pretty profitable. So, that's one test.
The other really good test is just to look for magazine publications in your niche, the reason being it costs a lot of money to produce a magazine. If you've got say three or four magazines in your chosen area then that's a great indication that that's profitable, and also there's actually an audience size.
Another good site to go to is Dummies.com. If you can find a Dummies guide related to your niche then that's a really good sign as well because those guys at Dummies do loads of market research before they launch a book so you're kind of piggybacking off their research, if you like.
So those are the three things. You need to be interested, you need a good audience size and you need the niche to be profitable.
What about finding products to promote? Do you have any good tips?
The first thing I look for is, is it a good product? I never promote anything I haven't reviewed or used myself, that I haven't actually seen. I'll check the product out and see if I think it's good. The reason you want to do that is because you really want to look after your subscribers and your audience. If you don't then they won't come back or you'll lose them and the biggest job is acquiring new customers, so once you get them you want to look after them.
The next thing is to look at the conversions on the product – the percentage number. If you can find a product that's converting. The average is 1% to 2%, but you can easily find products which will convert far higher than that. Let's say you find a product at 5%, that's probably pretty good.
The other thing I look at, and this is not always used in all niches, is something called earnings per click – that's the amount of money each visitor is worth when you send it to the sales page. It depends on the niche again but I generally look for EPCs or earnings per click above $1.[Note: Some affiliate networks, such as CommissionJunction, give “EPC” stats for earnings per 100 clicks. In such cases, to find out earnings per click, you have to divide by 100.]
Just going back to a bit more about you. Your life must have transformed amazingly since you started generating this type of income. How has your life changed?
Well, it's a funny one Kate, because I have a mixture of continuity income, where I get paid every month, from continuity programs such as my membership site, but also I've done quite a few product launches, okay, and I also promote affiliate products periodically.
And both of those things create spikes in income. It's very different to having a job where you'll get paid pretty much the same amount every month, you know, and maybe you'll get a bonus at Christmas if you're lucky.
Even though the total amount is very good, it's more than I need to live on and so on, it's actually quite spiky. My life is mainly focussed on smoothing that out and growing it.
But I will say in terms of lifestyle compared to having a job, I do love it. The really good things that I like are being able to go for a walk or go to the gym at 10 in the morning or two in the afternoon, or go to a movie at three o'clock in the afternoon when everyone else is at work. And when rush hour happens in the morning and evening I'm just at home. I never do rush hour because I just don't like it.
It's not so much that I want to sit on a beach, it's more that I really enjoy not being in the nine to five grind, that's the big thing for me.
Do you have anything else you'd like to say, perhaps to our readers who are starting out?
Well, just really that the thing is to look at what people are actually doing rather than what they're telling you. I think interviews are very revealing, so definitely listen to those, and just realise that it's an education. There's no real magic to this business, it's just getting stuck in and it is hard work, but it's great fun.
Stick with it and enjoy it. I think if you enjoy it then you'll have no problems maintaining your motivation levels.
If anyone would like to get in touch or think I could help them or anything like that you can go to GainHigherGround.com, and if you like you can join my mailing list at KickStartProfits.com. There's a contact form as well and I'm happy for people to get in touch if they'd like to.
- Rob says the process of making money online has three steps:
- Find a profitable niche
- Create a website
- Build an email list (by giving away something free)
- An email list is essential for affiliate marketers.
- When you have a list, you can control the traffic.
- Look beyond Google for your traffic. Try solo ads, ad swaps, forum posts and forum advertising.
- Making guest posts on blogs can be very powerful.
- Create a small product and offer it other marketers to use as a bonus.
- When choosing a niche, remember Rob's 3 factors.
- For full details on how to choose a profitable niche, plus training on product creation, traffic generation, and a lot more, join Rob's membership site.
- Don't just listen to what experts say. Study what they DO.