I read a recent newsletter you put out about hitting rock bottom and remembering that as a key piece of 1.) what helped you grow 2.) what helped you sustain that growth. How many successful internet marketers do you know who have similar stories? How many do you know who became successful without first having hit rock bottom?
There was a couple key things in helping me grow.
I think a big key in growing was investing in myself - instead of wasting money on cars or excessive crap I did not need I purchased a lot of books and learning material. I also went to a lot of conferences to learn more about the industry. The only thing I was certain I could count on in life is that everything changes fast and what i was doing today was not going to work for very long. I still do a lot of this today and it helps me grow. Thats why you see me attend so many events a year.
I also surrounded myself with successful people. If you look around your circle of friends and you are the most successful... its time to change your friends.
Sustaining growth for me was leveraging my current position into bigger and better things. I started with 1 website in 2002ish that grew to be the biggest mobile community on the internet and learned how to monetize it. I shared my journey on a blog and built a pretty authoritative site in the "making money online" arena. I leveraged that into starting my own advertising network and growing it until we sold it. That got a lot of really big companies attention and they wanted to invest in us. I have leveraged lots of things to build a strong brand which we are leveraging into other things. Always be leveraging your position - thats the key to sustaining growth!
I think about every successful internet marketer has the same story. They usually start by hitting it big on a website or affiliate offer then leverage their position. I meet new "over night millionaires" all the time. But rarely do any of them leverage their position and go on to do anything else. Most are one hit wonders.
I think hitting rock bottom is a common thing you find with the people that leverage their position. They know what it feels like to have nothing and be hungry and they always want more.
I see you as one of the few internet marketers who routinely gets coverage in the likes of TechCrunch and other areas outside of our little bubble. And you were able to get Seth Godin to come speak at Elite Retreat. What are some of the keys that helped lead to that broad-based opportunity?
I have a interesting relationship with Mike Arrington (techcrunch owner). I used to mention him from time to time in blog posts and even poked fun at this name once saying it sounded like a-ringtone. I was stunned the first time I was mentioned on his site Techcrunch. I think it was the whole mybloglog fiasco. I have been to Mike Arrington's house a couple times to meet with his staff about some ideas I had for Techcrunch but did not even say hi to Mike. Then shortly after leaving Mike would email me like "what the hell why didnt you say hi". I dunno I am just not that guy. He looked busy and know he gets harassed a lot. I have a ton of respect for him... I mean he doesnt just own the most read blog on the internet... he owns the most read publication period.
In the end its all about connections and networking. Some of the Techcrunch staff writers were readers of shoemoney.com and would comment on my stuff every once in a while. They even syndicated some of my youtube content.
I was introduced originally to Seth Godin by Darin Rowse (problogger). Over the years Seth has been very awesome to me and it was truly a dream to have him speak at the Elite Retreat conference last month.
How much of your work day goes into doing the public stuff vs behind the scenes business development stuff vs working on conversion optimization vs working on new ideas?
I LOVE the public stuff. One of the hardest things in running my own business out of my house when I started was the lack of social interaction. I am a very social person and love to meet people. Biz dev has always somewhat naturally happened for me (as I am sure for you also Aaron). As you do things people notice and they want to be apart of what you are doing. As far as a split goes I would say it varies but I spend 10% of the time maintaining what I have 10% of the time on misc stuff and 80% of the time trying to make it grow.
You are very good at doing linkbait stuff to cause publicity, but doing it in a way that does not harm your credibility much. What are some of the secrets to doing that?
This is a great question. I am always amazed at how people say I am "linkbaiting". Here is the deal.... I have a blog... which contains my thoughts and ideas... and I am a pretty emotional and sometimes volatile person who is not afraid to express myself publicly. Everything I post is from my experiences.
The most linked page on my site is my check from Google for 133k for 1 month in sept 2005. Is that link bait?
The 2nd most linked page on my site is about how I used to be 400lbs and all the strugles that came with that. Is that link bait?
the 3rd most linked page on my site is about my addiction to MMO games like world of warcraft. Is that link bait?
I can tell you on the last 2 I was so super nervous about posting them I almost didn't.
I can only think of 1 time I intentionally did a linkbait post asking if George Bush was a great president or greatest president ever? Then I followed up 1 hour later with the amazing results.
I am not a news site trying to "break a story".
So how do I get a lot of links and maintain credibility.... man I dunno. I can barely complete a sentence yet I get credited for being a literary genius at times...
And, like the above question, you are very good at monetizing the audience of your website, but doing it in a way that does not harm your credibility much. How is that other people get flamed for monetizing every so slightly, but you are able to do it so aggressively without much blowback? Is it your brand positioning? Or?
I make no bones about who I am or what I do. I am not a starving artist. I am a capitalist pig. I am an affiliate marketer. People follow my blog because of my ability not only monetize but to do it in ways never before done. It is VERY challenging to monetize a audience who studies ways to make money on line. Its like selling ice to eskimoes or lap dances to strippers.
You are known in part for that AdSense check. If you were just starting out today would AdSense still be part of your strategy?
Absolutely. AdSense is a great place to start in monetizing a website. Its how I started. Its incredibly stupidly simple to implement and really for all the services Google provides they take a very small cut of the money you make. I still monetize some of our stuff with AdSense but its more of a last ditch effort to monetize.
If you got on the web today with nothing where would you start? Would you first try to create a distribution channel, start with an offer that worked, etc.?
I get that question a lot... The truth of the matter is I have no clue. I almost would like to be put in that position to see. It would be an interesting experiment to take on a new identity with zero money or reputation and try to make... say 5k in the first month without using any previous contacts or connections or properties. I would like to say I could easily do it. But only one way to find out.
I would create a lot of wordpress/blogger accounts as affiliate sites for various products and try to get some sales via free traffic. Then take that money and buy traffic to those sites.
I seriously would love a challenge like this if we could ever make it work.
What books would you suggest someone new to the web read right away? What books have been most important in helping to shape your success?
I highly recommend everything Seth Godin writes. The Dip helped me more then any other book I have ever read. All marketers are liars helped me understand why my blog was so successful (its a great story at the end of the day if you look at where I started to where I am now). Purple Cow taught me the value of being #1 in your industry and separating yourself from the pack.
I also recommend the 4 hour work week by tim ferris. Even though its 99% fluffy crap that book has 10 excellent takeaways for time management that can help anyone.
One of the biggest problem for creative entrepreneurs is spreading too thin working on too many projects. How do you prioritize opportunities?
My wife has a saying - Prioritize the potentially profitable projects. That is exactly what we do. I am running 6 companies here going on 20 employees. I dont have the luxory of working on "fun" projects. I am not working from my basement in my underwear with zero overhead anymore. I have to make thousands of dollars a day just to break even.
You created a Huskers quiz where people who scored high enough "won" a trial of NetFlix. What made you think of that strategy? How often do you come up with such ideas? How do you test out such ideas?
Really that is one of my hobbies. I love to find little stuff that can make a couple hundred dollars a day. Its not something I would devote company resources to but its fun to play around.
In the case of the husker football quiz it seemed pretty simple. In Nebraska all we have is the cornhuskers and people are die hard fans always debating stupid facts about former players. So making a site where people could test their knowledge to "win" something just made sense. Most people never know they can get a free subscription just by going to the site or that I get $30 if they sign up.
Affiliate marketing is a art. Its not a science. Its all about creativity and pushing boundaries.
Many affiliate networks are known for spying on their affiliates and cloning their accounts. How do you prevent that from happening?
There is nothing you can do to prevent it. I have seen it happen with my accounts a lot... the funny thing is they still can't do what I do.... even with all the data right in front of their face. I have had affiliate managers tell me they cloned my exact keyword campaign on Google adwords with same adcopy and everything and got 1/2 the earnings per click.
In the affiliate game lots of people clone each other's work, causing returns to race toward 0. What do you differently that allows you to see success after success with affiliate marketing?
Great follow up and glad you asked it since I almost went into this in the previous question.
First and formost testing. We spend 10-30k a day on ppc networks (and have for a long time). This testing gives you an education that you need to make it work. I can honestly give you my exact landing page and keywords/adcopy for something that is working for me right now and guarentee you can't make it work. You don't know what targeting we are doing... what kind of day parting... etc etc. Its not like it was 7 years ago.
This is why a lot of people are so bitter on forums. They spent a full day copying everybody elses shit and cant make it work so they whine. They dont want to actually do any real work testing stuff on their own or being creative.
Its the same reason why I could not give you my position as CEO/CMO for ShoeMoney Media Group, inc and think you could keep the company nearly as profitable even though you have access to everything I did.
What do you feel the biggest risks to your business are? What keeps you up at night?
I don't feel my business has any risks right now. We are very diversified. Between our web properties, subscription income, affiliate income, and new projects about to launch we have never been so stable. I also have put away enough money that our accountant says my wife and I could never work again and live the exact same life style. Most people would be very satisfied with that.
I say bullshit. I know it can all be gone tomorrow. Ive seen it happen to some good people.
I believe that a lot of blogs have been watered down over the past few years as a.) competition has increased and b.) the benefits of sharing information publicly (with people who will likely compete against us) has decreased. Based on that thought, here are a couple questions...
Do you see the recent rise of membership websites as being a cyclical trend until the next wave of people fighting for popularity start gaining it, or more of a longterm trend as free ad-based business models become less profitable due to a glut of inventory?
In general I see a lot of new fly by night people talking in theories and crap with no experience. They write huge long lengthy posts but don't ever have any numbers to back up what they are saying.
They study patents filled by companies and what that could possibly mean and all that stuff while guys like me and you are still in the trenches actually doing stuff and sharing our experiences a long the way.
The ShoeMoney answer is going to probably come off very egotistical but whatever. I do not believe we have any competition for what we do. In everything I have ever done whether it was build the largest mobile community, start my own conferences, build an advertising company, or writing a blog being very transparent about exactly what I do, I feel I have ZERO competition. I do my damnest to be #1 at whatever we do and we have a pretty good track record for achieving that goal. Shoemoney.com in 2009 will make 400% more then it did in 2007 when we first accepted advertising. We get over 50 inquiries a day for our advertising rates & we are sold out for all spots until Jan 2010. The most interesting part is the shoemoney.com blog is not a very significant portion of our company income. It just happened.
What blogs (and other websites) do you still find yourself reading religiously?
here I will give you exactly what is on my iPhone right now:
buddytv.com (various sections).
As you can see its a decent mix of internet marketing/seo and celebrity gossip ;)
Thanks for the interview!
Thanks for the great answers Jeremy. To learn more about Shoemoney, check out his blog. And if you want some great local SEM info, affiliate marketing info, and SEM tools you might want to give his tools project a try, as he currently has trials available for under $10!
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