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How to Make it in Affiliate Marketing

how to make it in affiliate marketing

The Following is a guest contribution from Charles Ngo.  You can visit his site at The Blog of Charles Ngo

I get asked on a daily basis by people on how to break into this industry. I don’t blame them; I love affiliate marketing. She took me to places I thought I’d never see, and gave me a passion to pursue when I was just drifting through life.

I’ve seen hundreds of people try to make it in this industry, and only a few handful can turn it into a career, and even fewer stay. These are some of the lessons I’ve learned the past few years; lessons I wish someone told me when I first started.

Get Rid of the Excuses

It really sucks to see people make excuses before they even start.

  • I don’t know anything programming or making graphics
  • I have a job & kids, I’m too busy
  • I can’t concentrate on anything

I’ve seen people from all sorts of background succeed: people that didn’t graduate high school, 15 year olds, guys with 5 kids and a full-time job, people living in 3rd world countries, etc. Keep in mind that guys have succeeded who were in a way worse position than you.

Don’t complain about a problem. Work on finding a solution.

I thought I couldn’t do it because I had a full-time job, but I had to make it work somehow. I worked 9am-5pm, I rushed home, ate dinner…then it was time for my 7pm-2am affiliate marketing shift. I moved apartments right next to my job so I could save 1.5 hours a day from traffic.

Can’t design graphics? Neither can I. Go to Fiverr or oDesk and get them made for $5.

You have an amazing opportunity. Look at all those suckers that got the entrepreneurial soul sucked out of them by multi-leveling marketing. I’ve been spending the past 2 years living Asia. There are guys there that are working 16 hours a day for $.50 an account, and they’re going to do that for the rest of their lives. Your advantage is you know about one of fastest growing industries in the world.

If you want something bad enough you’ll find a way. People don’t wanna hold themselves accountable if they fail, so they look for something to place the blame on. I had a guy tell me he would’ve made it too if he started around the same time I did. I smiled, nodded, and thought to myself, “what a fucking loser.”

Failing and Losing Money

A lot of people arent built for this industry because they have low pain thresholds. It hurts too much to try something and fail, and it hurts too much to lose a few hundreds dollars trying something out.

Think about what happens in the real world. I see people graduate with $50k+ in student loan debt and end up working at Starbucks. What about the people that start restaurants? They get a 6-figure bank loan, they’re unprofitable for a few years (if they ever do see profit), and routinely work 16 hour days.

It doesn’t make sense to me when someone loses a few hundred bucks on a campaign, and they quit. So many guys started with just a few hundred dollars and turned it into 7 figures in a short time. When I lose money, I just view it as collecting data. It does get easier over time. I remember the first few hundred I lost I started thinking about what I could’ve bought with that money and questioning if I really wanted to do this.

It Only Takes One Campaign

No ones keeping score of how many times you failed.

I started in 2008. I spent 6 months, lost $5,000, failed at 15 campaigns before I finally found my winner. That first winning campaign is the catalyst and tipping point for your success.

When you feel like giving up, just know that you’re one campaign away from achieving everything you want.

Take Action & Be Relentless

I feel what makes affiliate marketing hard to learn is there’s no set blueprint to follow, and the failures hurt more than normal.

Brazilian Jiujitsu is one of my hobbies. My coaches are more than willing to teach me everything they know. I can pay for lessons. I can buy books and videos where world champions tell you their secrets & strategies. The blueprint for success is to basically just keep coming to class and training more.

With affiliate marketing no one’s going to tell you anything. You’re not going to learn much from forums, e-books, or blogs. No one’s going to give away too much information to help create their own competition, at least not for free. Yet people will spend years & money hoping to find that magic bullet that doesn’t exist.

Being able to make money with a campaign is a skill. With all skills it takes practice. Launch a campaign, learn from it, repeat. Over and over and over and over until you make money. That’s what everyone did. You will learn more spending $500 on a campaign than paying for any course.

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst,” said Henri Cartier-Bresson. That’s how it works with affiliate marketing. Your first campaigns will suck and lose money. But everyone that has been successful in this industry has gone through that point.

Wanna succeed faster? Then fail twice as fast.

Drowning in Opportunity

I find the biggest problem is not a lack of opportunity, but actually too many opportunities. You’re running one campaign, and then an affiliate manager tells you about this “hot” campaign. A friend from back in the day wants you to invest in his latest hustle. You’re halfway through launching a campaign, but you quit because another one looks like it’s more potential.

You can’t keep throwing shit at the wall and hope something sticks. The majority of campaigns lose money initially. You run some split tests, collect data, and keep making adjustments until you’re profitable. That’s how it works.

You need to set a plan and stick with it

  • Choose a Traffic Source (ex. Facebook or PlentyofFish)
  • Choose a vertical (ex. Dating or Gaming)
  • Set a budget, time frame, and goal (ex. $2000, Launch 10 campaigns in 30 days, hope 3 are profitable)
  • With each campaign, keep a journal of what you learned.
  • Set specific goals. “Tomorrow I’m launching 5 ads and hoping one gets above a .15 CTR”

Stick to your plan and learn to say no.

Who’s in Your Circle?

You’re the equivalent of the 5 friends you’re closest to. Choose friends that are themselves living at the edge, facing their fears, and pushing themselves far beyond their comfort zones. Constantly give value to people without any ulterior motives.

In this industry learn to recognize the people that know their stuff and you can trust. Nurture your relationships. Make friends with other affiliates and learn from each other. There’s enough money to go around.

You also gotta watch out for the toxic people

  • Negative people that discourage you. Fact is, some people can’t compete and they know it. It’s easier to bring you down than to bring themselves up. Cut them out of your lives.
  • People that are trying to fuck you over. There are guys out there who make their living scamming people whether it’s creating offers and not paying, or selling Facebook ad accounts and not delivering. The key to reducing risk is to get recommendations from trusted friends. Also use some common sense. Run with affiliate networks that have a proven track record instead of a 18 year old affiliate still living in his mom’s basement.
  • Cockroaches. When you start having some success, people will start showing up. It’s like how lottery winners have everyone trying to be their best friend all of a sudden. They will try to take advantage of you. Whether it’s asking to borrow money (and never paying back), or trying to steal secrets about your work. Just remember who your real friends are, the ones that have been with you from get go.

“I’m All In”

This is what I told myself over and over. Once I decided to get into affilaite marketing, I was going to give it everything I had: my money, my time, and all my energy. Nothing else in my life mattered.

I sold everything I didn’t need on Craigslist. I cooked every meal and rarely ate out. Every dollar I saved meant I could buy a few more clicks to my campaigns. My car died on day on the highway. The bank approved me on a $50,000 car loan, but I ended up getting a very cheap car. As much as I wanted a nice car, I knew I didn’t earn it yet. I’ll buy it when I can pay it cash.

I spent Saturday nights setting up Facebook campaigns instead of going to the club. Instead of playing Xbox, I researched keywords.

Half-ass effort gets half-ass results.

An Obsession with Learning

If you’re not learning, you’re dying. I’ve read a few hundred business books the past decade. The other week I wanted to learn about the science behind motivation. It amazes me that for $10 and a few hours, I learned what it took the author a decade to research. I wouldn’t even be where I am right now if I didn’t read Rich Dad, Poor Dad in high school and the 4 hour Work Week.

Ask questions, network with people smarter than you, get a mentor, form a mastermind, attend conferences, etc.

I also believe in learning everything about this industry as well. What’s the affiliate network’s margin on this offer? How does the advertiser make money on this offer? Are they running traffic internally?

Do you know everything about your demographic? Lets take the weight loss niche for example. I did focus groups with fat girls to see their reactions to my landing pages. I read weight loss forums. For ad copy inspiration I read weight loss magazines and watched infomercials.

Outlearn your competition.

Rigorous Testing

There’s always something to test; there’s always something to improve.

Traffic sources, angles, offers, images, headlines, landing page styles, landing page copies, the colors of buttons, pop ups, countdown timers, bidding prices, web hosts, etc. Being able to optimize properly means you’ll always be able to make money. You don’t need to jump on the latest trends or hot offers.

Being able to make more than the competition on the same offer means you can outbid them for more traffic, you can still be profitable if the offer payout decreases, you can run traffic on places with high CPC’s, & you can survive months after they’re long gone.

In any given niche, 20% of the guys will make 80% of the profits. Rigorous testing will help you get in that 20%.

Where’s Your Money Going?

A common scenario I see is a guy hustling and finally getting a profitable campaign. Next thing you know his lifestyle increased by 10-fold: leasing new car, buying a new house, vacations, been had Louis Vuitton, etc.

Before you know it their main campaign dies out and they’re unable to resurrect it. Now with all these bills from an inflated lifestyle, they gotta go back to a 9-5 job. It’s like these guys score one touchdown and they spend the rest of the game doing their touchdown dance.

Affiliate marketing is very psychological. One important principle is what I call “money momentum.” Lets say you’re making $1k profit a day. If you test out a bunch of traffic sources and lose money, it doesn’t hurt too much because you’re still profiting overall. When money’s coming in, you can afford more risks. And some of those risks are going to pay off.

What if the same guy didn’t start launching new campaigns until his old ones die and he has no $ coming in? He’s going to get more emotional with the money loss.

When I launch a campaign, I’m going into a battle. What’s my weapons and allies? My laptop, my hosting, my virtual assistants, my lawyer, my accountant, my tools, etc. Spend money so you get the best. Come on man, don’t buying $400 belts when your campaign’s on a $10/month HostGator account. Frivolous purchases like travel, nice dinners, bottles, etc. comes after you get your money right. What matters more is what’s in your bank account, not impressing people you don’t even know.

Imitate, then Innovate

A great learning technique is Modeling, which is basically imitating success. When I wanted to improve at Starcraft 2, I copied some of the strategies of the Professional gamers since they have so much more experience than me. I also observed and asked, why did they do this and that?

A few years ago I started learning email list building. I didn’t know much about it, so I signed up for David Dangelo & Truthaboutabs newsletters. I looked at the tone of their voices, the writing style, how long the e-mails were, what the ratio of value/offer emails were, etc.

I’m not telling you to straight up jack someone’s ads and landing pages. I’m telling you to look at them for inspiration, and improve from there. If someone’s running an ad for a while, chances are they’re making money.

Once you understand the basics, then it’s time to get creative. Innovation pays. If you hit on an interesting angle, you have first movers advantage and can reap huge profits.

Adapt or Die

The industry is always changing. A year in our industry is like 3 years in another. Some landing pages that worked a few years ago, are now not compliant. Offers that were huge before, are now gone. It’s the nature of the business.

The most important thing you can do is a heavy focus on the fundamentals. At the end of the day, affiliate marketing is just combining an angle, with a traffic source, with an offer, and split testing until profitability. New media and offers will emerge, but the fundamentals will always remain the same.


Internet marketing is my craft – I dedicate everyday trying to improve my skills and knowledge. I don’t know where it’s going to be a few years, or a few decades from now. But if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.

This guest post is brought to you by The Blog of Charles Ngo

8 thoughts on “How to Make it in Affiliate Marketing

  1. 1st Article I have read all the way through in a very long time! Very refreshing & motivational.
    I am you, when you started. I am now ‘All In’…I have/had my own business for 12+yrs & did well from it….but business has dwindled & quite frankly I am bored of it.
    So, time for a change & time to get back to learning!
    I have the luxury of having saved when the good times were good….so now Mon-Fri 9-5 & I am loving it!

  2. You have described what is needed to succeed in affiliate marketing to the enth detail. The ideas you provide are the essential ingredients of a successful entrepreneur in this business. Well done!

  3. This is what I call quality!
    A nice read! Motivating. Especially for me since I just did a comeback into the affiliate industry.. 😉

  4. Thanks for that one… informative and inspiring. Straight talk. Reaffirms what we all know… if we think about it… I’m working, I’m working!

  5. Good article, except the end:
    “But if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.”

    I am still shocked on a daily basis how many incompetent most people are in the industry.

    For example, Jason from A4D recently published basic math on his blog, and became top ranked on affposts and affbuzz. Why does that basic stuff even need to be posted? It is almost implied stuff. This is not directed at Jason since he seems to be highly knowledgable, but it is for the countless people who made a big deal over it or even learned something from it.

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