“Getting laid off was the best thing that ever happened to me.” If you ever speak with Pat Flynn about leaving his day job behind and getting started on the internet, you're sure to hear those words.
Pat turned his attention to earning a full-time income online in 2008 after the recession hit the architecture industry and he found himself facing redundancy. Five years on, Pat is a successful affiliate marketer across multiple niches, markets his own products and regularly speaks at internet marketing seminars and events across the United States.
From his websites in the architecture, internet marketing and security guard training niches, two mini sites and his blog, Pat made a gross income of $61,777 in January. More than $51,000 of that was from affiliate commissions.
After expenses of about $5,500, his net income for the month was $56,238.
Pat's first pay check earned online came after placed Google AdSense ads on GreenExamAcademy.com, a blog he had created to help him study for his LEED exams in architecture.
“All of a sudden I'm laid off and then I start again inspired by people who already had their own online businesses and I said, ‘Hey, maybe I can turn this site into a business',” he said.
Over the years, Pat has added products into the mix (both affiliate and his own). The site now earns several thousand dollars a month from product sales alone.
Pat (pictured, RIGHT) also earns a useful income from SecurityGuardTrainingHQ.com – a site which began as a project to create a website on a topic he knew hardly anything about. To make the site successful, Pat says he put himself in the shoes of people looking to train as a security guard so he could better meet their needs.
“I put myself in the shoes of someone who was trying to figure out how to become a security guard which really helped me because I understood right away when I found this niche that there was a lot of misinformation which I created a solution for,” he said.
Pat insists that helping people is critical to success as an affiliate. He emphasizes the fact that it's important to provide people with the information they are looking for, and that doing so can change lives in addition to bringing you a pay check. And that, he says, is what it should all be about.
It's an element of affiliate marketing that Pat is clearly passionate about. “The money's cool, but just hearing people tell me that I've changed their lives that they can now spend more time with their kids… I mean that's why I do what I do, the money is just a by-product of that.”
As he built his business online, Pat documented his journey on his blog, SmartPassiveIncome.com, and although he never intended to monetize it he now makes a strong affiliate income from the site by sharing the tools he uses with his followers. Pat is all about building relationships with his followers, not only on his blog but across all his niches, and he believes this is a big part of his success.
His emphasis on relationships has led him to expand his reach to social media and beyond – he has a huge following on Facebook and Twitter, produces regular podcasts, makes use of YouTube and has a mailing list with almost 60,000 subscribers.
Importantly, though, he never uses social media to promote direct links to affiliate products.
“My primary goal with social media and even with my email lists is to build a stronger relationship with people,” he says. “The better relationship you have with people, the less pitching you have to do.”
Instead, Pat uses social media and his newsletters to promote links to blog posts or podcasts which then link to products.
In his own words, Pat was an open book during our interview and happily shared detailed accounts of some of what he believes are the secrets to his success. The following interview has been edited – Pat had so much information he was willing to share with us that we couldn't fit it all in.
Full Audio Recording
To hear everything Pat had to say during our interview you can RIGHT-click and download the full recording here (80MB, mp3)
Thank you very much for speaking with me today. Would you mind starting off by telling me a little bit about yourself and what you do?
Sure, my name is Pat Flynn and I'm from California. I just turned 30 actually, it was pretty crazy. And I have all the joy and the pleasure to just work from home and be here with my family which is really what the most important thing is.
Now when people ask me “What do you do?” I kind of have a problem sometimes because I do so many different things, my answer's different every time. Sometimes I'll tell them I blog; sometimes I tell people I own multiple online businesses; sometimes I'm a podcast host. I mean, I do many things. Most people know me from SmartPassiveIncome.com, which is a site that I created to show people how I'm building different businesses online. I don't sell anything on the site, it's not like you have to sign up to get information on how to do all that stuff, it's just purely free information that's out there.
What I do is I use myself as a test dummy and I try to create these different businesses online. I report how they work, what I did good, what I did bad and just share everything so that people can understand where they're coming from and what to do if they were to try something like that on their own.
The reason I started this site was because I was coming from the architecture industry and I got laid off. Then I built a site based on some knowledge that I knew from the architecture industry that just exploded and took off and really changed my life.
I look back and I say that that layoff was the best thing that ever happened to me. If I wasn't laid off I wouldn't know this sort of online business marketing world existed. It really was life changing.
I'm trying through my site, through my podcasts and my YouTube channel and SmartPassiveIncome.com to share as much as I can with people; to open their eyes to what's available. In addition to that I have a bunch of different websites, I'll name just a few.
One of them is that architecture site I mentioned. There I teach people how to pass an exam in the architecture industry called the LEED exam, which is an exam about green buildings, sustainable design and things like that. And that has been up for four years now. It's been consistently earning an income every single month.
What's nice is I hardly do any work on it. The information is out there, it's already set up the way people can buy a study guide or buy a practise exam is all automated so I don't even have to put in more than one or two hours of work in a month. I do sell my own products, I sell products as an affiliate as well on the site.
I have another site, SecurityGuardTrainingHQ.com, which I built publicly on the blog. That site has been live for about three years and it's consistently making $2,500 to $3,000 USD per month now, primarily from AdSense. So I'm pretty much all over the place.
Blog Began With A Non-Business Motive
With your architectural blog, how did you begin to monetize that? Did you start off with your own products or did you start off with the affiliate marketing side of things?
Actually it's an interesting story about how the site, GreenExamAcademy.com, came about. I built it originally to help me keep track of my notes for this exam whilst studying for it. I found that putting my notes online was the best way to give myself the best chance of passing this exam. It was very memorization based. The organization structure of a blog allowed me to organize the notes in a way that was easily accessible.
I traveled a lot so it was really easy to just study from this website and also share those notes with a couple of my co-workers. I never even planned for this to take off and to turn it into a business.
So I passed the exam, the site was there and I didn't even touch it for a few months. Then all of a sudden I learned I'm laid off and then I start again inspired by people who already had their own online businesses and I said, “Hey, maybe I can turn this site into a business.” Little did I know once I had put some stats, like Google Analytics, on the site, thousands of people around the world were already using that site to pass this exam.
So that's what I started to monetize it. My first step was just to use Google AdSense because I'd heard that was the easiest. I did see after I'd installed AdSense on my site in a couple of places, a few dollars here and there that first day … That doesn't sound like much money but it was really life changing to know that I was actually earning income from this site.
It wasn't like any other normal site, what I would typically have thought about when it comes to internet marketing and online business. Typically I thought that this space was very scammy and particularly snake oily and things like that. But I was actually providing information to help people and they were paying me back in return.
$8,000 In Sales First Month
At first through advertising and then I created a product of my own, an ebook that I sold. It took about a month and a half to create that book and when I sold it after the first month I made almost $8,000 USD in that first month, which was incredible.
Now I just want to make sure that people understand that my site was up for maybe two years at this point, building an audience, and I was pouring content into the site every day for one or two years. So it wasn't an overnight success as much as it may sound like it after that first month of creating that ebook. Then my income started to grow and grow and grow.
Then I introduced affiliate marketing after that, learning that there were other products in this industry that were really helpful, products I'd used myself before that I couldn't create myself. For example, practice exams, online exam simulators, stuff like that. I hooked up with those companies and started to promote their products as an affiliate and earn a commission at the same time.
Okay, great. Let me just ask you, you set AdSense up and saw a few dollars coming in, how did that feel?
It was incredible. I mean I know I can find that amount of money in my car or in my couch but just to see that amount of money online, even if it's a few dollars, it's just an amazing, fulfilling feeling. I had to pinch myself and I still pinch myself because my income has grown from $3 a day to now $50,000 a month from all these different businesses I have and different means of monetization. It's just so incredible.
And beyond the money I think what is most important and sort of a reflection of that is the thank-yous that I get from people. I always get thank-you notes and emails from people for getting them the information they needed, the fast track to help pass that exam. I continue to get those letters from all the different sites I own.
So I think what it comes down to and my whole core strategy for affiliate marketing is trying to understand how I can help people first. The money and the earnings, whether it's products of your own or products as an affiliate, the earnings are the by-product of how helpful you can be to your audience.
And so you think that is quite a key element? Being able to help people, being able to give them information in answer to a question that they're asking?
Yes, absolutely. It's trying to figure out first who your target audience is. If you have a website obviously you know who your target audience that you want to help out is. Then understanding what it is you want to help them achieve, what is their ultimate goal when they come to your site. What do they really want in the long run. What is their goal. Then understanding what that goal is and then the steps it might take to get there – what is their path?
And then along that path they're going to have information to help them understand what's going on; you're going to have products. Sometimes those products are free, sometimes they're paid for. Sometimes they're products of your own. Sometimes they're products that you maybe can't create yourself but that would help them on their journey.
So it really starts with your audience's goal, then their path and the products, services and tools that they need to get there.
A lot of people make the mistake of starting out with a product that has a really attractive commission and then trying to get their audience to kind of bite on that product or buy into that product but really it's all about the journey. Then introducing or injecting products, services and tools that will help them along their journey.
You're an affiliate across multiple niches. Can you give me a quick rundown of what niches you're doing affiliate marketing in at the moment?
Sure, as I mentioned, we're doing GreenExamAcademy.com, which is a little tiny niche in the LEED exam market and I'm an affiliate for a couple of other companies that create other study guides for that niche, and also I'm an affiliate in the security guard training industry.
I hooked up with a couple of companies that do online training to help people in different states in the US become a security guard. There's certain tests they have to take, certain information they have to learn in order to get a license to become a security guard, in some of the states. So I hooked up with a couple of companies there and I promote their product as an affiliate on that site as a solution to help people achieve that goal, as I was talking about earlier.
I started SmartPassiveIncome with no intention of ever making any money or maybe thinking that it would only make a few dollars here or there and mainly focussing on my other businesses. But now the site has grown so much, I currently have over 60,000 subscribers and an email list which is almost as big, and 60,000 Twitter followers – it's just exploded. Then as a result of helping people figure out what they can do to create an online business or a side income or something like that, you know, just simply recommending certain things to help them get there has skyrocketed my affiliate income like crazy!
For instance, I make quite a bit from the hosting company that I promote because obviously people who want to get online are going to need some sort of hosting and domain solution. So, I have a number of different strategies that I'm sure we'll get into later about how I've been able to make so much just from that one particular product that I promote. It's just incredible.
Any sort of business that I try to create, if there's tools and services in there that I'm using, and that's a really big rule for me too – I actually use the products I promote as an affiliate. Because I want to make sure that that is the right fit for my audience, that it's something that's actually helpful. I would never recommend something that I've never used before because you're putting your brand at risk when you do that. I would never risk my reputation or my brand doing that. Because, yes maybe they'll use that product and it doesn't work, they can get mad at the company that owns that product but they're going to be even more angry at you for recommending that product. The trust that they had with you is no longer there.
So essentially the things you're promoting as an affiliate … they're areas that you've fallen into as a result of the work that you're doing?
Yes absolutely. It's all stuff that I've used because I'm on my path and I've just shared that path and those those tools, services and products with other people.
Responding To A Challenge
You sparked my interest saying that you have a website about security training, how did you get into that? It's a long way from architecture.
Absolutely. I mean, I'm not a security guard. But my mom is, at a mall a couple of miles away from my house.
The catalyst behind what started this niche was that I was challenged to build a niche site in an area that I didn't know much about. The idea being that you don't have to have complete passion for what you're talking about online to succeed. But you still need that passion which comes from being able to organize information for people, to help them achieve something.
So my energy was not to become an expert on security guard training but to pull in all the information out there about security guard training and organize that information for people who were trying to become a security guard.
But going back even further, how did I even think of this niche in the first place? It wasn't because of my mom, it was because of doing keyword research using keyword research tools such as … there's the Google AdWords keyword tool, which is free, but there's also tools such as Market Samurai or Longtail Pro which enable you to click keywords in, push a couple of buttons and it'll tell you how many people are searching for those keywords and it will show you all related words, keywords related to those you put in. It'll tell you how many people are searching those on a daily basis and tell you how popular that particular niche or keyword is.
It'll show you how competitive the top 10 spots are in Google for that keyword. So, are those 10 sites really powerful and authoritative, in which case it'd be really difficult to enter that niche and get on the first page of Google where all the traffic is. Or, is there not that much great information out there about it or sites that don't really perform as well as they should in the first page on Google?
I found that for the keyword “security guard training”, the first 10 spots in Google were very low quality sites. So I knew that I could bring something new, something better to the table. It only took about 90 days to get to a front page of Google and start to earn, $1,000, $2,000, $3,000 a month primarily through Google AdSense in this security guard niche. It's just so incredible how that happened and just shows that you don't need to be extreme.
You know, a lot of people, when they're trying to get online they look at what they do in their daily lives and they try to find a passion or a hobby and try to turn that into a business. Well you don't have to. It doesn't have to be that way. You just have to find a hole in some market somewhere using any sort of tactic. My tactic was keyword research and then filling in that hole and providing a solution.
Seven Seven Seven Strategy
So how did you get to security? Was it something you pulled off the top of your head?
No. That's a good question. There's this exercise that I teach when I'm helping people to find a niche. I call it the seven seven seven strategy. Seven is an arbitrary number, I just like that number.
Basically what you can do is you can write down your seven passions, seven problems and seven fears. So passions, problems and fears, seven of each. So you'll have a total of 21 things that are probably going to be of some interest to you and more than likely will be of interest to other people.
And passions, and more specifically problems and fears, they're specifically what people are looking for solutions for.
One of the problems that I found was police training. My mom was interested in becoming a cop. She didn't know where to start. So I just randomly put that in there under a problem. I put “police training” into Market Samurai and I found that that particular keyword was very competitive. There's a lot of places online that have really good websites for police training, but there were a lot of related keywords that popped up too. One of those related keywords was “security guard training” and I saw that had a significant amount of searches so I just dug deeper and found there wasn't a large amount of competition out there and so that's when I decided to tackle that niche.
So backtracking here a little bit, you said that helping people has been critical to being an affiliate. Do you think the diversity of niches you work across has made a contribution to that as well or do you think that's perhaps not quite as relevant?
Yes, it always comes down to helping people. I mean, even though I'm not a security guard, I know that I'm organizing information in a way that is actually helpful to people. Now, how do I know that I'm actually helping people? I have a job board on the site, it's connected through an API with indeed.com, which is one of the largest sites here in the US or maybe the world, I'm not sure. But I have a job board on there where people can click through and search for jobs in security in their location. I get a commission from indeed.com every time someone contacts a potential employer or sets up a job or something.
That job board is one of the most visited pages on the website … So that right there shows how this information is not just sitting there doing nothing, people are using this information to help them get jobs.
I also get emails from people who maybe need a little more information or a little more help and I usually refer them to their state's website for that information about security guard training in that particular state.
With GreenExamAcademy, that was a niche that I was a part of, I was from that market, so I built a solution for my earlier self if that makes sense. I knew I was being helpful because I was a part of that market myself and also I get confirmation from people through thank-you notes. And from people buying the products and not asking for refunds, that's how I know I'm being helpful there, too.
And also from SmartPassiveIncome, which is very open forum kind of website, open comments and stuff, people really appreciate the information I put out there and I get emails from people; actually hand written letters from people saying ‘Thank you' or ‘You've changed my life' or ‘You've opened my eyes to this and that'. The other day I got an email from someone who said he was finally able to quit his 9 to 5 job because he started a couple of websites about some stuff he was interested in based on stuff I've done on my site. That's just so cool.
I suppose being able to spend time with your family is what life's all about really, so that must be amazing too.
Yes. I'm a parent of two and I work from home. I feel so blessed to be able to work from home. I can't imagine not being here with my kids all day. I don't know how people do it. So to be able to enable people to do that and be with their kids is so cool.
One Product Promoted Many Different Ways
I know from the income breakdown on your blog that you made more than $22,000 from BlueHost. Just from one product, that's amazing!
Yes. I mean it's jumped up pretty high in the last year. There's a few reasons for that. Bluehost is the domain company I was talking about earlier. I don't want to name drop … but since you asked … I am making over $20,000 a month from Bluehost which is from commission whenever someone signs up through links that are on my site.
I have a number of different ways that people go through my particular affiliate link on my website. The top performing areas of my site that help promote Bluehost are the following:
The number one, by far, is the resources page on SmartPassiveIncome … a whole lot of tools that I use a recommend. People find a solution there and buy it.
I get a lot of clicks and conversions through my “Getting Started” page. That's another great strategy I've employed that has skyrocketed my affiliate income.
Another thing I love to do which is a strategy I use for products I promote as an affiliate is what I like to call “revealing the mystery”.
When people promote their own products it's pretty common for people to go all out to promote their own products. Videos, what you're going to get, this and that. But when it comes to affiliate products people don't do that, because it's someone else's product.
I think I've been successful with these products I promote as an affiliate because I promote as if they are my own. I am a representative of that company by doing so and I take pride in the products that I promote because my name is on that now.
So what I do is I take high quality videos that walk people through how to use that product. Telling people sometimes what to look out for, what's wrong with it. Not just a really positive review but a really honest review of what they're going to get when they go to purchase. People will see what they're going to get before they're going to get it.
That's a big problem with affiliate marketing. They say, “Hey, this product is great, go click here and get it, this product is going to help.” But how do I know? What's it going to look like?
You know when people buy stuff online they're very reserved and very protective when they buy stuff so the best thing you can do is show them exactly what they're going to get. And if it's not something that they're looking for then great, they know that's not what they're looking for.
But if you can show them how easy it is, how it works, maybe what to look out for and also include some bonuses in there such as “Hey this part isn't going to be as good but this PDF file is going to walk you through this particular part of it,” that stuff goes a really, really long way.
I have a video which is called “How to build a blog in less than four minutes and write your first post”. That video has been up for three years on YouTube and it has over 62,000 views. At the end of that video I say, if you want to go through my affiliate link that'd be awesome, and I get a lot of conversions through there. It's multiple mediums, video and also text.
I also talk about Bluehost in my podcast as well. I mention it every once a while. For instance when I created that security guard site I mentioned Bluehost and dropped an affiliate link there too.
I'm always honest about my affiliate links, saying this is an affiliate link, I will get a commission if you click on it. And I find that by being honest and upfront about the fact that it is an affiliate link people want to click on it because they want to pay me back for all the great information that I've given them.
Unboxing The Mystery
You've mentioned that you use YouTube and videos. Do you think that the use of videos and multimedia is a technique that is under-used by most affiliate marketers and might help people achieve more?
Yes, YouTube is a fantastic strategy for a number of reasons.
One, people can actually see what they're going to get.
One of the most popular types of videos online … I call it unboxing the mystery, is because there's these channels and videos out there actually showing people opening and unboxing things like iPhones, unboxing new pieces of electronics, and they get millions of views. Why? Because people like to see what they're going to get before they get it. People want to know every little detail about a product before they spend the money for it.
So you want to do that with your affiliate marketing as well. If you create these really high quality videos, you are on YouTube, you are showing people what they're going to get before they get it.
You also get the search engine capabilities from that as well, not only from YouTube but also from Google because YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world … and a lot of YouTube videos show up in Google search, just regular Google search. So you get a lot of new traffic that way too. It's an amazing opportunity people are missing out on.
And you use quite a bit of other social media as well, don't you?
I do. I use Facebook and Twitter and also podcasting as well in my overall strategy. But I never sell on those platforms, I never straight up put affiliate links on there. I always indirectly use those platforms.
My primary goal with social media and even with my email lists … is to build a stronger relationship with people, because when it comes to affiliate marketing the most important thing is having a strong, trusting relationship with someone, which is where it all starts. Because the better relationship you have with people, the less pitching you have to do.
I'm going to use this example, an extreme example. If you have a really amazing relationship with someone, say like a spouse or something, someone you truly love, it doesn't take much pitching for them to get you to do something, right?
I used this example in a presentation once where my wife … I love her to death … and she was pregnant a few months ago. If she was to just wake up in the middle of the night and say “Hey, can you go to the store and get me a Snickers bar?” there's going to be no argument … But if it's a person I don't even know and they ask me to do something like that there's definitely no way that I would.
So really before even trying to be helpful, it's just understanding and building a relationship with people online. That's really, really what it comes down to.
And that's why videos are so good because people can see you and can hear you and strengthen that relationship. So when it comes to social media and also my email lists, I use that as relationship builders.
Like I say, I indirectly promote on those platforms. I don't put affiliate links on Facebook or Twitter, I don't put affiliate links in my emails. What I do is put affiliate links to blog posts or links to podcast episodes there which have the affiliate links.
In an email I might say, “Hey, I just published this post, this really high quality post that's going to show you how to do keyword research.” I don't mention Market Samurai or any of the tools that I use there, I just say this is what it's going to do, and “You're going to be able to find niches that you wouldn't have found otherwise by following these tips.”
And so they click on that link, it goes to a blog post and it becomes a really high quality article and maybe at one or two points during that article I will mention and put in an affiliate link. I'll also be honest and upfront that that is an affiliate link, but if they don't go through that affiliate link that particular post is going to be helpful.
I find it very interesting that you do email lists and don't put affiliate links in because that is what so many affiliate marketers do – they use their lists primarily to push affiliate links to make a sale. So that's quite a different strategy that you've taken there isn't it?
It is a very different strategy … it's not right or wrong, this is just how I do it. The internet marketing/blogging/entrepreneurship type of niche is very aggressive when it comes to pushing products. My take is just to … do the complete opposite. It has worked amazingly.
If you're in a different niche and you feel that your audience, when they sign up for your list, is okay with affiliate links in emails then by all means do that.
I know a guy whose name is Cliff Ravenscroft from Podcastanswerman.com. He tells you right up front before you sign up for the list, “Hey, I'm going to be promoting products to you but they're going to be great products, they'll be great deals on them, sign up if you want to.”
So right there he weeds out anybody who doesn't expect an affiliate link, and he promotes to his email list and he promotes all these great things like he just said. He gets an open rate of 90% which is ridiculous, but that's his strategy because he's setting the expectations for people when they get there.
Now for me I set the expectations that I'm not going to sell to you and that's kind of a way for me to draw in people in the niche I'm in and build a stronger relationship with them, which can then later indirectly lead to people wanting to pay me back either by going through my affiliate links or if I come out with a product later they would purchase it and things like that.
With AdSense, Test Extensively
Many affiliates struggle with AdSense. What do you think you doing differently that brings you success with AdSense?
I'm currently generating about $100 to $150 a day on AdSense, primarily through that security guard training site.
There are a few reasons… One, because I tested the heck out of it, I tested all the different colors, all the different placements, all the banner ad sizes, and that's something I think a lot of people don't really do. You've got to test, because just changing one color can make a huge difference.
The primary strategy is to match the color of the text link in your Google AdSense to the color of links that are normally on your site. So if you have blue links then your text links are going to be blue… so it becomes an action color for people.
Another strategy I like to use… my top performing banner is a large rectangle at the top of my posts with the text wrapped at the left-hand side of it. I know that because I've tested it.
Another reason the site does so well is just that it's a great niche for AdSense. There are a lot of companies promoting products that have a high click-through rate and a high cost per click. I often get $1 to $3 per click. A lot of people might get 5 cents per click.
It comes down to doing the proper research and due diligence and beforehand so that if you are going to use AdSense it's going to be profitable.
Have you tried other pay per click programs?
I tested one other one, called Media.net. That one worked okay but I think Google AdSense is still the primary one as far as pay per click goes.
You've already mentioned that you create your own products. Do you think that product creation is something affiliates should try to do alongside their affiliate marketing to generate more income?
Yes, I think so, as long as you don't create a product that directly competes with another one and you promote both. I think it's okay to create a product that competes with a product that you may have promoted as an affiliate because you maybe know that you can do better, but I wouldn't promote them side by side.
You want to give people the one option that they should go to. So if it's not a product that you can create on your own, I would definitely go with an affiliate product.
I definitely think creating a product of your own is the best way to go when it comes to profits, because you're not splitting that commission and of course that product is your own so people are still in your brand and you can guide them where to go to your product rather than sending them off to someone else.
The thing is it takes a while to create those products, it can take time, it's scary because you're building a product and you don't exactly know how it's going to do until you go for it.
It's scary but the reward is worth the risk … You're basically just investing your time and it doesn't really cost that much to get these things set up.
Are there any basic rules people should follow if they want to create their own product?
It depends on your niche and what kind of products you're going to create. I would absolutely try to come at it by asking what would be most useful to your audience and in what media. Maybe your audience would benefit from seeing things so you would create a video course, for example. Maybe your audience from having a community and holding each other accountable where a forum would make sense, or some type of social network within a paid product would make sense. Or maybe it's just an ebook.
I think the most important thing is to understand who your audience is and what they want. I think a lot of people have this issue where they create a product that they THINK their audience is going to want to buy. Then they wonder, “Why isn't anyone buying it?”
So I would run surveys, really dive deep in the heads of your audience and your target audience and your competitors and their audiences to see what people are looking for.
How many unique hits per month do you get to your site?
SmartPassiveIncome.com is getting maybe 100,000 unique hits per month, SecurityGuardTrainingHQ is getting maybe 20,000 to 30,000 uniques per month. GreenExamAcademy is probably around the same right now.
It's a significant amount but I think you don't necessarily need a tonne of traffic, you just need good, high quality traffic. I think that's the most important thing to consider. Really thinking about where you're traffic is coming from if you're running promotions or something like that, or running promotions on other sites and making sure that site has a target audience which is in line with whatever it is that you have to offer. Traffic is important but conversions are important as well so don't forget about that.
How important is marketing when it comes to getting the traffic that you need and the right kind of traffic?
Bloggers spend about 80% of their time writing content and about 20% of their time promoting content. Whereas I think it should be the other way around, or it at least should be done in a more efficient way, at least as far as the promotion is concerned.
If you write amazing stuff no one's going to find it unless you do a little bit of promotion.
Most people will put a link on Twitter, Facebook and say “Oh, now I'm done,” but I think you have to take it a little bit further and step outside the box.
If you really think that article should be read and that there's a particular audience for that article that you write or whatever you particularly offer on your site, then it's your job to get that in front of people who are influencers or wherever that target audience exists. There should be no reason not to do that.
You can't just expect to write something and then magically all these people are going to come to you. Something has to happen where it finally reaches a tipping point where then you start to get that viral asset, but that's not going to happen unless you do some marketing after that.
The Best Strategy
Okay, so purely traffic generation here, do you have one set of go-to methods that you like to use or do you have a set of strategies?
Well, really the best strategy is just to write epic content which is stuff that you just can't find anywhere else, that is just way over the top. I call it the full frontal, which is revealing as much information as possible because that is going to turn heads and draw people's attention.
That's the kind of stuff that will get shared automatically and you don't even have to ask for it to be shared because it's just so amazing … it just takes off.
One example I have – there's a shortcut for it – you can go to Podcastingtutorial.com. I did a six-video course which I had for free on a blog post where I show people exactly how to make a podcast from start to finish.
It's a really high quality video, it's full of information, you know 3,000 words in that post, six videos and it's just spreading like crazy. Very little work was needed to do that because it was such high quality, epic content that it just worked on its own.
But I got it in front of the right people, the people who had audiences. I think it was Michael Hyatt, who has something like 300,000 subscribers. He found that post and he said “I'm glad that Pat printed this so I don't have to,” and he shared that on Twitter and got a tonne of traffic to that particular post as well.
That can only happen if it's extremely useful.
Another cool thing about that is that at the end of that video series, I had a little blurb where I say if you want to learn more about podcasting, if this isn't enough, if you need some handholding go to Podcastingatoz.com – hook up with Cliff Ravenscraft, he's the one who helped me set up my podcasts. Sign up for his course. Then I get a little affiliate commission if people go through there.[Pat is using URL forwarding to redirect traffic from his own domain Podcastingatoz.com, to a page on Cliff's domain, via an affiliate link. This is very useful in videos, interviews and anywhere your audience is listening to your words. Most domain registrars make this easy to do.]
What percentage of your earnings – obviously it does change – is affiliate income?
I would say it's about 70%. In the beginning it was zero and it kind of just organically changed and mostly it's because of what's going on with SmartPassiveIncome and the fact that I don't have my own products yet and I can't create my own hosting company. So I have to promote these things. Well, I don't have to but I'm happy to, and people are happy to go through my affiliate links.
It's taken a while but my affiliate income is now a top earner percentagewise on my site and I think that's great. You know a lot of people view affiliate marketing as sort of a scammy way to do things but when you're actually helping people and they're seeking out ways to pay you back then everybody's happy and everybody's a winner.
How long has it taken you to get to that level of affiliate income?
I've spent three, four years now on the site so it does take a while to do that. But you know I am starting to generate an affiliate income on GreenExamAcademy.com and SecurityGuardTrainingHQ.com. And the SecurityGuardTrainingHQ.com that happened in a year and a half because I just hooked up with the right company. I've been ranking really well on Google because of the information I have on that site, and because these companies want to work with me to get in front of that traffic.
This thing that you say about affiliate marketing coming across as a bit scammy… a lot of people see it as “Wow this is a great way for me to get rich really quickly, have success and quit my day job.” Now what's the truth behind that? What do you think about that?
I feel that the method is easy to understand and the techniques are easy to be implemented right away, that's a truth. You find a company that has an affiliate program, or you hook up with them and they create one, you promote their products by them giving you a special link that has a cookie. You promote that product, you send traffic through it and boom you have an income.
It sounds easy but the hardest part is actually getting it to work and be successful because so many other things go along with it.
For example, breaking down those security barriers when it comes to people buying other people's stuff from your site. And also, just the fact that you have to build a really strong relationship with people and that's really what matters and what will skyrocket your income, but that's really what will take the longest.
So for GreenExamAcademy, before I launched my ebook … it was two years before that I was building a community, building trust with people, establishing myself as an authority and an expert in the space before I started earning an income.
The same with SmartPassiveIncome.com, for a year and a half I wasn't making any money from SmartPassiveIncome until people started to see the value, what I had to share information-wise and when I ran these experiments and shared tools and services that I used, it just – because I had that trust from people – it just worked on its own.
A lot of hard work and long hours?
Not necessarily long hours. I would say it's smart hours, being efficient with your time and how you build relationships with people, and in the content you write. A lot of people create content and spend time doing stuff that doesn't really matter, that doesn't really go anywhere.
Separate Personal Life and Business
Can you walk me through a typical day?
Nothing is set in stone, although I do have a schedule and it's really important for me to have a schedule because if I didn't have that my work/life balance would be skewed.
It happened for a while … where I would get interrupted … thinking about other stuff, personal stuff and I wouldn't do as much work as I should have, or I wasn't as focussed. I'd be having a conversation with my wife and in the back of my head I'd be thinking about my business. That's never a good thing.
So … I have an office space at home with a door, and I have office hours. When I'm in there that is my work time and unless there's an emergency when I'm in there I'm only focussed on work. Then once the work is over, I close the door and I'm purely on family or personal mode and I'm not thinking about my business. It took a little while to get to that point, but that's been really helpful, not just for work but also for my family.
A typical day is getting up in the morning, playing with my kids, having lunch. A let my wife sleep in a little bit. We all have lunch together, and then the kids go down for a nap … and then I get some work done, between 1pm and 3pm.
The kids wake up, we play some more, we do errands or whatever … So I've only done a little bit of work at this point.
I do most of my work in the evening, after the kids go down to sleep. That's when I've found I'm the most focussed and can get the most work done.
I am so blessed to be able to work from home and help take care of the family and be here for them… I was here for my son's first steps and my son's first words and I'll be here for the same with my daughter. It's just been really, really nice to be able to work from home. This is what I want to do.
We live in a modest house, so don't have fancy cars – we just bought a new van and that was probably our biggest purchase to date, just to hold the kids. We're not about living extravagantly. I do make a good amount of money but most of that money is being saved or being invested. My kids' college is already paid for, which amazing.
Is there anything else that's changed that wouldn't have been possible when you were working in an office job?
Yes, I've just been able to be more flexible with what I want to do. It's nice because if we want to go to SeaWorld one day we'll go to SeaWorld. I don't have a boss or deadlines normally that I have to meet, I can just take a break if I want to.
I do have a schedule but it's flexible and that's best for me. I imagine when the kids go to school it'll be really easy for me to just go and pick them up from school because I'm here at home and I can see them at that time. That's going to be really weird when they start going to school by the way.
Yes, it's just having the freedom to work out when I want to and having the freedom to stay healthy, which I think is really important too, for people who run their own businesses.
It's really easy to just fall off the wagon and get tired and sit in front of a computer all day so I'm making sure to stay healthy too which is hard to do when you're working a 9 to 5 job.
Mistakes Pat Made
Let's go back to the beginning of your online career. Is there anything that you would say to yourself now if you talked to the you who was just starting out, if that makes sense?
Yes, there's a few things… get started on this now, don't wait until you're laid off, which was the catalyst behind all this that introduced me to what was possible.
If I knew what was possible, and if I could go back in time to before I was laid off, I would just say get started on this now, I would make that much more money and I would've impacted so many more people's lives.
The next thing is, I wasted a lot of time trying to figure everything out technically, especially when it came to building websites. I remember taking four hours to figure out how to move an image from one side of a page to the other.
I realized or I learned eventually that there were people who were out there who could actually do this for me, that I could hire people to do that for me through sites like odesk.com or elance.com, or I could hire my own virtual assistant and that has been an amazing experience for me.
I have two people who work for me right now who do web development and admin type stuff, stuff that I know how to do and don't really want to do so that I can spend my time doing bigger thinking stuff or spend my time building relationships with people which is what I need to be around because I can't outsource that but I can outsource my websites for example.
And the last thing on this is starting an email list sooner, that was something I waited to do. The email has been the number one way that I have been able to build a relationship with people and send massive amounts of traffic through to particular posts, again indirectly to posts that may have affiliate links and earn me a commission.
I waited I think it was a year and a half before I started my email list on GreenExamAcademy. So when I came out with new products like an audio guide or I found new products to promote as an affiliate, I didn't have those people's contacts, I didn't have an email list to send to, to immediately get an income from those affiliate products. That was a huge mistake.
I made the same mistake with SmartPassiveIncome, I waited a whole year before I started to build my email list. That was a massive mistake as well. I would have so many more subscribers now and deeper relationships with those people too.
Is there anything that you think an affiliate marketer needs to do, or any skills or qualities that they need to possess in order for them to be successful?
Yes, I think there's a number of things.
One is just to be likeable, and to be able to build a relationship with people. That's a tough skill to do. I think a lot of affiliate marketers before would kind of hide behind the scenes and just build a site that was helpful and not put themselves in it but I think now the more successful affiliate marketers are the ones who get to know who their audience is and get to build relationships with them. That has been extremely important for me and really successful for me as well.
Another skill is just taking information and shaping it in a way that your audience can understand. There's a lot of things that are hard to understand or products that you're promoting that your audience may not understand that would be a benefit to them. So skills with copywriting and creating videos, and being able to break things down into easy, consumable ways in a language that your audience can understand, that's really important as well.
Also just being smart with the conversions and the numbers and understanding that it's not just about the traffic but it's about the conversion as well. Being really diligent and conscious about what you're doing and what you could do to improve and split testing, testing things that's all really important skills that you don't necessarily need to learn right away but that you can learn and you should learn.
Don't Have Any Fear
Do you have any final words for those who might be just starting out?
Yes, just don't have any fear. Fear is great but you know you have to have confidence in yourself too. One of my favorite quotes is from Henry Ford, it's, “Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right.”
What that basically means is that if you don't think you can do something there's just no way you're going to be able to do it. If you think you can do it then you have a really good chance of being able to accomplish whatever it is because you're going to put in the effort because you know or you feel that you can do that. So being confident.
And also understanding that you're going to fail along the way too, you're not going to be able to be perfect. Nobody's perfect, I've got through many failures on my way to where I'm at now, but as long as you keep falling forward – that's one of my favorite expressions. You know you're going to fall on your face but if you fall forward you're going to be that much ahead and you can keep going. Just brush yourself off and learn from your mistakes and your failures and keep going.
That's one of the beauties about doing business online, affiliate marketing and online business, the risks or what is at stake is actually very low. Typically most people aren't working with millions of dollars and venture capital and all that. So there's not that much on the line so you can take these risks that can potentially be very rewarding for you and not have to worry quite as much.
So take risks, have no fear but be smart about it and also fall forward and learn from your mistakes.
Building relationships, trying to be helpful, and understanding who your audience is and what would help them get to their goal – that stuff shouldn't be new to people. But I think that deep down we know that's the right strategy.
Take what you've learned today or anywhere and actually implement it.
Really be concious about what you're doing and how you're treating your audience. That's the most important thing. Without your audience, you wouldn't have a business … So really focus on them and their needs.
- Put yourself in the shoes of your readers. You must provide information they are looking for.
- Helping people is vitally important to your success in affiliate marketing. Make that your core strategy.
- Ask yourself: “What is my audience's goal? What is their path?” Provide the products, services and tools they need to help them along their path.
- Use the products you promote to make sure they're right for your audience.
- Look beyond turning a passion or hobby into a business. Look for a spot where the competition isn't too strong.
- When looking for a new niche, start with the Seven Seven Seven Strategy – your passions, and especially problems and fears, 7 of each.
- Use keywords research tools such as Market Samurai to identify niches where the competition is weak.
- If it suits your niche, create a Resources page and a Getting Started Page.
- Create a video to “reveal the mystery” – show people the actual product. Unboxing the product works well, too.
- Videos strengthen your relationship with your audience.
- Building a strong relationship with your audience will skyrocket your income.
- Use newsletters and social media to build trust, not to blast out affiliate links. Link from them to truly useful content that contains your affiliate link.