The Mobidea Crew spoke with Affiliate Summit’s Co-Founder, one of the affiliate marketing industry’s most important voices! We sat down and interviewed Shawn Collins.
Shawn is also the Co-Editor-in-Chief of FeedFront Magazine and he’s the proud Founder of GeekCast.fm, an awesome marketing podcast network. If you tune in, you’ll get to listen to his weekly show: This is Affiliate Marketing.
In this extensive interview, the master talks about why he decided to create Affiliate Summit, the challenges he faced as a young entrepreneur, and the vision he has for the future of the business!
If you’re not the video kind, you can start reading and discovering a whole lotta new info about the creator of Affiliate Summit!
1) Shawn Collins – Introduce Yourself
My name is Shawn Collins. I’ve been an affiliate marketer since 1997. I’ve got into both the affiliate and the affiliate manager side. Back then, I first worked for a company called Medsite which was trying to emulate what Amazon was doing but they were doing it with medical books.
I had to teach myself how to be an affiliate manager. There weren’t really any blogs, or podcasts or any kind of guides at all at the time. I then spent about 10 years working as an affiliate manager.
I’ve been an affiliate since 97 and in 2003 I co-founded the Affiliate Summit conference and trade show with my partner Missy Ward.
2) What makes you excited about organizing Affiliate Summit?
The fact that the conference is a labor of love. We started out without ever intending it to be our main source of income. It was just meant to be a side project and over the years I had to stop doing other things. I guess I stopped in 2008. I stopped being an affiliate manager.
I just didn’t have any time left between the multiple Affiliate Summits each year and our magazine Feedfront that we put out four times a year. And just all the promotion and the organizing.
There just wasn’t time for anything more. It’s so fun to see people come together in each conference. A lot of people refer to the event as a business family reunion.
It’s just a neat experience to be there with people who truly like to work with each other. I love being a person who’s able to bring it all together.
3) Who created Affiliate Summit?
We just went to see an event for the industry. There were things we didn’t like about it so we gave some recommendations to the person who was running it and he didn’t take kindly to our recommendations and sort of brushed us off. Back in 2003, I just gave her a call sort of out of the blue and said “what do you think of us trying to run a conference?”
We had a chat about it and shortly after that we registered affiliatesummit.com and we got started. We had our first event in November of 2003 and had dozens and dozens of them since then around the world. It was really just born out of frustration…we were trying to help somebody else with their event.
They didn’t want the help so we figured we would do it ourselves. We didn’t have any experience of running events and so, on paper, it didn’t make sense. We didn’t have any money to invest. It was really just us trying to do our best.
We created an event that was really focused on us. We kinda felt bored of other people’s conferences. That’s why we figured we’d organize a conference we’d all enjoy attending. That’s when it all started.
4) How do you choose the spot and speakers?
Years ago we were concerned. Maybe we had tunnel vision about how we were organizing the event as far as location, speakers and that sort of thing. That’s why we decided to democratize the whole thing…so we have a vote after people submit all their proposals for speaking.
We have a public vote and a vote on our advisory board which is made up of many dozens of people in the industry and all sides of it…so people vote for the sessions and that’s how they’re picked. The same thing goes for our locations.
We ask for feedback after each conference and then that feedback is tallied for which location the conference should be in. Dating back to 2005 in the West of the United States it has always been in Las Vegas. It wins by a landslide. It has jumped around a bit in the East side of the United States.
In addition to New York City – where it has been most of the times – it has been to Boston, Philadelphia, Orlando, Miami. For the most part, New York is by far the winner of each year.
We’ve just decided to crowd-source the whole thing and have speakers and locations and things that people want…and so we give it to them.
5) How do you organize such a big event?
I guess that goes back to the wisdom of the crowds. We rely on our advisory board and our attendees to tell us what they want. Then, we do our best to deliver that. It’s really just trying to satisfy our customers as much as possible.
6) What has changed since the 1st edition?
Back when we started, we didn’t have any experience at all running an event. We were clueless. It was sort of a nerve-wracking thing. We just made it up as we went along and we called in favors for our friends so as to get them to speak and help us to give out badges and every single detail of it.
Over time, we’ve really come up with a lot of processes to do things and we’ve staffed up. We have five people working for us now.
We’ve got the staff plus the two of us that handle things and then we outsource to an army of people when we arrive in the city for security and for registrations; for room monitors…the whole thing…so we hire a big team of people for those several days. It’s just a lot more organized at this point. We didn’t even have a payment process for the first one.
We didn’t have money for anything so we literally went to “Staples” and got some stickers for name tags. As for the payment processing, I just used my personal PayPal account back. I manually sent out confirmation emails. It was a very stitch-together, do-it-yourself kind of environment. Over the years, we just learned how to do it better.
7) What’s your vision for the event’s future?
It’s hard to say where it’s gonna go because we rely on what the people want. We’re constantly adding and removing, changing things based on the feedback we get.
We’re gonna go wherever direction the attendees and the advisory board ask us to go in.
8) Tell us about your journey!
It’s more than 35 years now combined for Missy and I. Almost 20 years for me alone. When I got started it was back in 97 and I was newly married, I had just gotten a house and I was working in magazine publishing and not really making enough money…and had the house payments, the car payments, was still paying off student loans…
It was a struggle. I needed to find another source of income and I just came across the Amazon affiliate program. I don’t recall where I would have seen that at first.
I decided I wanted to create a website and see what I could do there so I took a tutorial and I had an HTML on AOL and just taught myself how to create sites and just started there.
My very first site was hosted so it was like a subdomain on AOL. It was just a site for things to do in New York City.
Back then, it was a very primitive experience to be an affiliate. Amazon was the one company I was promoting and they didn’t have online reporting or real-time reporting…anything resembling it…you got an email once every quarter with all the clicks and sales you had.
I went an entire quarter without selling anything because I was working blindly. Then I went another quarter without making any money and then finally started selling some things and figuring things out…just did a lot of testing. I just made progress from there but it was a long grind at first.
I didn’t make money for a long time. I think a lot of people may get the impression that it’s a “get rich quick” kind of thing. It’s not, by far. It’s get rich slow or get rich never.
Years ago I created a site “extramoneyanswer.com” which was sort of in a book format, I guess about a dozen or so chapters…it just goes to the whole process of how to create a content site and it gives the warning that this is a place…it’s the answer to get extra money…it’s something that may complement your income but the majority of people will never survive strictly on their affiliate income.
9) If you were a newbie, how would you start in the biz?
I would go into a vertical that interested me. I always recommend people not to go for whatever the biggest, hottest thing is but to go with what you think is interesting.
I’ve made the mistake of trying to chase trends and I would always end up doing a lot of work and abandoning the project after a couple of months. I was just exhausted because I didn’t like the topic.
I can’t go out there and talk about fishing or sowing or something…things that I don’t care about. So I create content and things that I’m passionate about and I would suggest people do the same. That’s a great way to stay engaged with it and also you have a voice of authority and know what you’re talking about. Go with something you care about.
It might not be the biggest niche but figure out some unique way to approach it and you can be the unique person that’s talking about whatever that thing is.
10) Evolution of affiliate marketing
It’s changed tremendously since I’ve been involved with it. It’s gotten a lot more formalized; a lot easier. Back when we were just writing in HTML it was just not very scalable to create sites but now with WordPress it’s so easy and so approachable for anybody to break in there and give it a try. It’s relatively cheap, too.
You can just get a hosting plan for as little as 5 something dollars a month maybe and a domain for 10 bucks and that’s all you really need to get started with it so it’s a modest investment. It’s really more your time and creativity that will take you somewhere.
As far as predictions, I find that when I look back at articles where I made predictions in the past I’m no good at it so I’m gonna skip making predictions.
11) Most important affiliate marketing skills
I’d say that “affiliate marketer” is a very broad term. It’s really a digital marketer; it’s someone who’s using any kind of different methods to market online, whether it be SEO, social media, email, paid search, etc.
There are so many different ways. Some affiliate marketers use all these different skill sets; some of them are focused just on paid search or something.
There isn’t really one kind of affiliate out there. I’ve always been into content creation and so it’s sort of SEO. It’s not deliberate SEO. I write what I think is quality content that’s unique and it just automatically has the keywords that make sense because I’m writing thinking of whatever that topic is about.
I think the skill set is crucial but the central thing is patience. You need to have patience. You have to work in isolation for a while before you see success. You have to just go out there and do it and just believe in your project and stick with it until you can make it happen.
12) What should newbies take into account?
Don’t even get started with it if you think you’re gonna get rich quick. It’s just not a reality. Go into it if you’re looking with a long-term goal that you..I don’t know…if you wanna hit 50 bucks a month or 500 bucks a month. Work towards that, have patience and plan to stick it out. Don’t think you’re gonna make fortunes in a short period of time because it’s just not gonna happen.
13) Impact of social traffic
Social can be essential for some people. They might rely on sharing through Facebook and Twitter. Other people may just fail to find it useful, especially if they go for something like paid search.
It really depends on what type of affiliate you’re gonna be and whether you really rely on people to share you. To me, social is important; to other people, it’s not.
14) Is the increased competition something positive?
I’d say that – at the end of the day – the best content wins. Native advertising isn’t really a new or a different thing, it’s just a different way to describe it. I’ve always focused on text links in my content versus banner ads because banner ads don’t sell.
If I’m writing about domains and I link the word “domain” to Godaddy…someone might call that “native advertising”…for me, it’s been affiliate marketing for 20 years. I guess people just try to call things a different name every couple of years. Even so, it’s all affiliate marketing to me.
15) What’s Affiliate Tip?
Affiliate Tip is a blog I’ve been running since 2004 or so. I made this crazy challenge for myself a long time ago that I was gonna blog every single day of the week, every day of the year. I really did it, for many years. It had a nice frequency, and it was even gonna get indexed on Google but the content was really watered down.
I was really scraping for things to write about. Now I just post there once or twice a week. Maybe a maximum of five hours a week. I do a podcast called “This is Affiliate Marketing” at thisisaffiliatemarketing.com and I also post it to my blog. So that’s one post. Another post I do is just to add a tweet. It’s pretty limited now.
My focus is drawing people to the Affiliate Summit. Everything else is supplemental to that.
16) Did you create your blog to share educational content?
These days, my blog is an extension of Affiliate Summit. I have some Affiliate Summit content there. One of the big goals for Affiliate Summit is to provide free education for current or future affiliate marketers.
We have our magazine Feedfront. Anybody who’s in the United States can get a magazine subscription for free. It comes out four times a year. It’s all quality content; all original for people in the industry.
Also for our videos, for our sessions…we’ve been recording all of our sessions dating back to 2006. They become available (for free) on Youtube after about a year after they come out because at first they’re only available to the paying attendees.
We have several hundred hours of content for people who want to learn more about affiliate marketing but don’t have the means to go to Affiliate Summit. One of our goals is to focus on education.
17) Is there more investment in technology?
I guess there’s been innovation in the industry from the time I started. I’d say it’s never stopped. Things are always changing. I can’t really measure the amount of innovation from year to year because I don’t have access to what people are investing in.
Maybe I don’t see all of the different features that roll out but the networks seem to evolve constantly and that’s a great thing to see.
18) When’s the next edition of Affiliate Summit?
We’ll be in Las Vegas, Nevada, January 15th till the 17th. That’s three days. That’s a Sunday through a Tuesday. Tickets start at 249 dollars.
We have two different ticket types: the network pass gives you access to the exhibit hall, the meet market, the rev share round up, the keynotes.
We also have a VIP pass that’s geared more towards folks who want to attend sessions and have networking meals. For details on all of that, go to affiliatesummit.com.
19) What’s your opinion about Mobidea’s participation in Affiliate Summit?
Mobile has been a huge growth area at Affiliate Summit for many years so it’s wonderful to see you there. I love seeing so many mobile companies doubling down from year to year and along with that – if you look at our agenda currently and other past agendas – the attendees like it too. More and more of our content is focused on mobile so that’s a great thing to see.
20) What should a blog have to be considered major league?
That’s something else we also have a vote for: which blogs should be considered the best blogs. I’d say unique quality content is the key. It really boils down to that.
Hopefully, ya’ll found this useful! Have an awesome day! Thank you.
We at the Mobidea Academy know that you guys loved this interview with Affiliate Summit Co-Founder!
Shawn Collins is a huge deal for any affiliate marketer, especially for those of you who are only beginning your promising affiliate journey.
Thanks for being such a cool guy and for allowing us to showcase an important part of your life! You rock! It was an honor to interview you as part of our Mobidea Interview Series!
Keep on reading some awesome Mobidea Academy content and stay tuned for more cool interviews with inspiring industry experts!
João Aguiar - SEO Manager at Mobidea