Today in our affiliate interview series, we have Shawn Collins with us. Most of the affiliate marketing community know him as the Co-Founder of the Affiliate Summit, leading affiliate marketing event.
Shawn has been in the affiliate game since 1997 and after almost two decades of experience in affiliate marketing, Shawn is THE person to talk to on all things affiliate marketing.
In addition to the Affiliate Summit, Shawn is the force behind GeekCast.fm, a podcast that covers affiliate marketing in detail.
Let’s start the interview!
Cloudways: Hi Shawn, Thanks for taking out time for this interview.
Starting with an interest in Journalism to becoming a Co-Founder of the biggest affiliate marketing event, what triggered your interest in affiliate marketing?
Shawn Collins: It was actually born out of desperation. I was newly married and trying to pay the bills with a magazine publishing job that was not cutting it. In 1997, I came across the Amazon affiliate program and started up my first affiliate site, which was about things to do in NYC. Shortly after I got a job with a medical book company who was trying to emulate Amazon and they wanted an affiliate program – I had no knowledge or experience, but a lot of drive, because I needed money.
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Cloudways: Can you describe the affiliate acquisition strategies that helped you achieve your first 1000 affiliates?
Shawn Collins: My strategies may be dated since I stopped running affiliate programs in 2008 to focus solely on the Affiliate Summit. However, the two strategies I used with the most success were to target affiliates with Google AdWords and send direct mail. With the latter, you had a good chance at a 100% open rate if you had a good list of targets. I would typically build a list based on domains that ranked well for a topic I was focusing on and then get their mailing address from WHOIS. This was a while ago and most people had their addresses public. With these direct mail pieces, I would create postcards that highlighted the 3-5 most important value propositions of an affiliate program and have a dedicated site to learn more about the program.
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Cloudways: What is the story behind The Affiliate Summit? How did this great idea come into existence?
Shawn Collins: My partner Missy Ward and I wanted to create a better event for the industry. There was a cruise conference, but it was more focused on parties than education, so we decided to start a conference based on what we would like to see and experience.
It did not deter us that we had zero experience in running events and no money. We had passion and ideas and that carried us from an initial investment of a domain name in Spring 2003.
Over time we focused on collecting feedback and improved based on what people liked and disliked. Sometimes the ideas didn’t make business sense but made people sense to us.
Cloudways: On-ground presence is important in affiliate marketing and thus Events and Meetups have now become an integral part of the marketing strategy. What is the role of the Affiliate Summit in this perspective?
Shawn Collins: Affiliate Summit is simply the biggest event worldwide for affiliate marketers. For anybody hoping to learn from the experts or network with the top networks, advertisers, and affiliates, there is no other event that comes close. In addition to two events in the US, we also have Affiliate Summits in Asia and Europe to bring the experience to people in regions who may not travel to the US.
Cloudways: What is the contribution and importance of “Affiliate Tip” for people interested in starting their career in affiliate marketing?
Shawn Collins: I started Affiliate Tip as a blog on affiliate marketing news around 15 years ago. For quite a while, I made a commitment to myself that I would blog daily and this lasted for 5-6 years. In addition to news on the industry, I have featured various affiliate marketing podcasts I’ve hosted, Affiliate Summit session videos. In the days before Quora, I used to answer questions on affiliate marketing on the site.
Cloudways: What are the key elements in approaching and converting potential affiliates?
Shawn Collins: The most important thing is proper targeting – too many affiliate programs use a shotgun approach where they try to recruit anybody who is an affiliate, instead of the affiliates who have a relevant audience. Aside from that, you need to have a product/service people want and that converts well.
Cloudways: What is one key thing that you want new entrants in Affiliate Marketing to do? And what is the one you want them to refrain from?
Shawn Collins: New affiliates need to be patient. Success will come slowly if it ever does – it takes work and knowledge to gain traction and build success in affiliate marketing. The good thing is that most people quit out of frustration. That leads me to what they should refrain from – quitting. Persistence is one of the strongest predictors of success in affiliate marketing.
Cloudways: What are your three tips for affiliate retention?
Shawn Collins: Above all else, affiliate managers need to be responsive to affiliates. Also, the basics for lots of affiliate programs are not common – having timely creatives and the links pointing to a good landing page. Also, the EPC must be competitive, because affiliates aren’t going to stick around for the greatest affiliate manager if the payout is not as good as other programs.
Cloudways: What’s your take on affiliate competitions. Did you ever run an affiliate competition?
Shawn Collins: I think competitions are typically just gimmicks – if they are based on most sales then most affiliates never have a chance. Instead, I would urge affiliate managers to create tiers of affiliate payouts based on the volume they can generate.
Cloudways: How do you see affiliate marketing in the hosting industry. What factors should one consider when selecting a hosting provider to promote?
Shawn Collins: I haven’t done a lot with hosting, but my focus would be for a company that had a competitive offer to customers and for affiliates, and that it would be a host I would personally use.
Cloudways: Let’s step away from work. What do you do to relax and unwind?
I really enjoy going for a walk or run in nature, as well as going to see live music. That really fuels me. I also like going to see movies and getting lost for a couple of hours.
Cloudways: With so much on plate to offer, what is the next milestone for Shawn?
Shawn Collins: I haven’t figured that out myself – it’s a work in progress at the moment.
Cloudways: Our readers would love to see your work station.
Shawn Collins: It’s not a lot to look at – a laptop on a coffee table. I don’t usually use a desktop and don’t have a dedicated office.
Cloudways: 5 people who inspired you in your career.
Missy Ward – my business partner
Mike Collins – my brother and entrepreneurial inspiration
Gary Collins – my father
James Marciano – one of the first affiliate marketers I met and a visionary
Jim Bouton – a former professional baseball player, author, and entrepreneur who we brought in for an early keynote at Affiliate Summit
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Usman is a Digital Marketer at Cloudways- A Managed Cloud Hosting Platform, where he looks after affiliate partnerships and helps digital nomads in generating passive income. He is a foodie by heart, who loves to explore new eateries around his vicinity.