The Craze Of Holidaze

Amin Mirza is nervous about the holidays.

“I’m not going anywhere,” says Mirza, an affiliate who started PhatDeal.com in his home this May. “I plan to stick by my computer.”

Mirza hasn’t experienced the holiday rush before, because this is his first year as a fledgling affiliate. Last year his family journeyed to California. But this year he wants to keep an eye on his business and so he isn’t taking any trips during the holiday season. He will stay firmly planted in Chicago.

Mirza isn’t alone. Even seasoned affiliate veterans worry about the last three months of the year and stay glued to their machines 24/7. Many forgo travel during October, November and December.

Yep, it’s that time of year again when online retail goes crazy. Most affiliates are fretting over how to get the biggest bucks from the mightiest merchants. The opportunity is enough to stress anyone out. “Three words,” answered an affiliate when asked about the holidays. “Sleep is overrated.”

Unfortunately, you can’t stay awake for three months straight. Whether you live by yourself or have a large family living in a crowded city apartment, the holidays present challenges and opportunities for affiliate marketing. But just because you work from home doesn’t mean you have to sacrifice the season. Yes, being self-disciplined is a challenge, especially during the holidays. Here are a few tips to keep in mind.

Don’t Take Your Work Home

“Working from home is tough!” says Dan King, founder of Career Planning and Management Inc. in Boston. “The mailman comes, the fridge calls. It’s hard to mesh, particularly if you have kids.” To be sure, your home may be where your office is, but that doesn’t mean you can’t compartmentalize. It’s difficult, but doable.

“We have this huge predicament,” says Julian Redwood, a life coach and counselor based in San Francisco who works with many entrepreneurs. He says his clients struggle to establish a structured schedule. “When you work for a company you have a lunch hour and a quitting time of 5 p.m. Self-employed people end up eating meals at their computers. Our computers suck us in, in an amazing way.”

But Redwood emphasizes that working- from-home stress is manageable. He suggests that people decide when they are going to work, when they are going to exercise, when they’ll have social time, when they’ll have time to just veg.

Philip Humbert, a personal success strategist in Oregon, agrees. He suggests that affiliates first get clear on their values. “I don’t wanna mess with dinner for money!” says Humbert, who is an Amazon affiliate. But he recognizes that other people might feel that it’s important to spend time away from family to generate revenue for the family.

Whatever you decide, first get clear with yourself, then inform the appropriate people in your life. That way, you manage everyone’s expectations. “Once you’ve decided how much time you are going to dedicate to your business and to your personal obligations, clearly communicate your decision,” advises Humbert. “Clarity is power.”

Other experts agree that communication is key. Those who decide to take 10 days off, for example, need to tell loved ones that the decision costs money but provides time. Likewise, those who decide to work through the season should describe the tradeoffs. “Explain to your kids that the vacation they went on last summer was paid for by your work,” says Michael Angier, president and founder of SuccessNet.org. “Don’t assume people understand; give them a vision of your business and enroll them in the dream.”

If you have kids in the house, keep your workspace sacred. Everyone should know that when you are at your desk, you are working and working for a reason.

After you make your decisions and spell out your priorities, stick to them. You might have to log on from your in-laws’. You might have to take a break to entertain if you stay at home. Either way, you can’t be at your machine all day. But try to make a little time to maintain your site.

Learn From History

You may feel overwhelmed because the holidays are starting earlier every year. “It used to be that consumers started shopping only four weeks before Christmas,” says Jupiter Research’s Patty Evans. But last year saw an expanding of the holiday season, a trend she believes will be repeated this year.

If consumers are shopping earlier this year, you’ve got to be ready to offer them the goods they want when they want them. That means you must do your retail research now. Think about which merchants you have had the best results from in the past. Generally, the companies that are doing well for you now will do well throughout the holiday season. Then see what they have planned for the end-of-the-year deals and closeouts. Look at what e-tailers have to offer, figure out what products are popular and heavily promoted.

Then, weed out the winners. Think about your audience and try to figure out what has appealed to them in the past and what might appeal to them this year. Then you can select the best stuff for your site. Figure out what the killer deals are. Don’t try to give space to every promotion. You have to pick and choose which babies you are going to nurture.

You can also give yourself a gift this year by learning from your own work history. Michael E. Gerber, author of The E-Myth, encourages people to document everything they do throughout the day – made this call, put up that link, did x, y, z – so they gain a clear perspective of how they really spend their time. You might be surprised at how you organize your day and might even retool how you organize your business.

Be An Ant, Not A Grasshopper

Luckily, you can prepare in advance. Remember the story about the ant who worked in the summer to prepare for the winter? Affiliates should be getting their holiday game plan figured out well in advance of the onslaught.

Promos won’t be spidered if you do it all at the last minute; point out numerous affiliates. They create shells of pages so they can be in the search engines. You can always fill in a particular deal as it happens or changes. This method works to let you relax during the fun season.

Pay attention to which merchants are offering bonuses. You might want to plug them in your email newsletter or do something to promote them. After all, they are offering you a nice incentive to do so.

Affiliates complain that the downside to holiday e-tailing is that merchants often put time limits on their deals. They might have something that is good “through the weekend” or good for “two days only.” Depending on what is going on in your offline life, you might not want to put the energy into the deal just to remove it a couple days later. If something is a hassle, skip it and pace yourself.

The top advice from affiliates Revenue talked with? Make lists. Prioritize. Work ahead. Have a to-do planner calendar. Write everything down. Commit to tasks that are mandatory. Then follow through.

Don’t Fly Solo

If you don’t have a busy social calendar, you can probably devote more time to improving your site and gaining on your competition. If you are feeling isolated, get connected.

If you are stressed and sick of staring at your own walls, take your laptop and cell phone and head to a coffee shop. It’s a great way to be around other people who are working for themselves or working through the holidays. If you are ahead workwise and moping because you are missing out on holiday office parties, throw a party for some colleagues or even volunteer at a soup kitchen and you’ll feel better.

You might also want to do a little online networking. Chat with online friends. You could learn something new or hear about a great new merchant or deal. And knowing that other affiliates are out there in the same boat can do a lot for your psyche. Check in with a friend and keep each other accountable for keeping work and personal commitments.

Set Up Boundaries

Many people feel compelled around the holidays to do too much. But affiliates cannot do it all or do it perfectly. Accept your limitations and focus on what you really want to do.

Many merchants increase affiliate contact during the holidays to announce special deals, offers and sales. Many affiliates who normally get one notice a month from a merchant, which is standard, get three or four around the holidays. So they need to be near their in-box to easily check on merchant’s notices and to switch out graphics and post links on specials. The payoff? Many affiliates say their businesses jump three or four times its norm during the holidays.

However, you still need to take time off. Redwood recommends stretching and yoga as stellar stress-busters.

“We have this misconception that if we work more, we’ll be more productive,” says Redwood. “You don’t have to set aside huge chunks of time. Even five minutes away from your desk every hour can go a long way toward sanity. Even three deep breaths away from a monitor can make a difference.”

“It’s hard to say no because we want to do it all,” says Redwood. “In our society, it’s hard to disappoint people. We feel like we have to show up to every party and bring the egg nog.” It is the season of giving, but you need to give to yourself, too.

Be Loving To Yourself

Expect that the one person who won’t be happy is yourself. You might think, “Oh, if I only had 20 minutes more…” You need to have self-discipline but you also need to hold yourself accountable and work only during the time that you’ve allotted.

All the life coaches interviewed emphasized that you need to take care of yourself and your health. Maintaining a healthy diet will do wonders. You’ll have a better immune system, you’ll handle stress better, you’ll have more energy.

“Watch out for sugar, alcohol and caffeine. Those things decrease our ability to deal,” says Redwood, who suggests moderation. “Tell yourself, ‘Tonight I’ll have one sweet thing, but no drinks!’ or ‘One drink, but no sweets.’ Sometimes you’ll want to go all out on everything. That’s OK every once in a while, but notice how your body handles it, listen and be aware.”

And don’t forget you are supposed to be enjoying life, too. So schedule time for shopping, wrapping gifts, decorating and sending out season’s greetings. Your personal life is more important than your business life sometimes.

“You can’t spend every waking moment on your business,” agrees Rickey Gold, a Chicago-based marketing specialist. “You still need a life of your own. Otherwise, you’ll burn out.”

But you can do bill paying or holiday shopping online, which will keep you close to your business. But at a certain point, the game is over.

“You have to do a lot of work before the onslaught,” suggests affiliate consultant Linda Woods. She knows a lot of affiliate managers who never leave their desks around the holidays. But she thinks that the affiliate managers themselves have an advantage, because they can plan in advance and then enjoy all the wonderful holiday festivities.

Merchants are incredibly busy around the holidays because they have fulfillment worries. “Affiliates don’t fulfill, they just drive traffic,” points out Woods. “So the really good affiliates decide in October which merchants they are going to promote and spend time getting Google rankings. Once the links are in place, which should be done by mid-November, they can sit back and work on optimizing.”

But affiliates, whether they are ahead of the game or working assiduously through the new year, need compassionate employers.

“Be a good and gentle boss to yourself,” says Humbert. “After all, what sort of Scrooge would expect you to work on the holiday? Why do that to yourself?”

DIANE ANDERSON is managing editor of Revenue.