Jeremy Palmer knew he had the entrepreneurial spirit. He just hadn’t found the right thing to let it soar.
He knew there was more to life than his mid-level job at a small financial services company. As a Web developer, in 2002 he launched website MeetYourMatch.com in hopes that it could generate a little extra cash for his wife and two kids in Utah and give him an outlet to pursue his independent business ideas.
He sold things on eBay. He sold some of his possessions just to get his affiliate sites off the ground. He wasn’t exactly sure of what he was doing. That was 2001. Fast forward to his current life as an affiliate marketer and he would say his wings are no longer clipped – in fact, in 2005 he made $1 million in commissions.
He will be the first to say that he had never envisioned this life for he and his family. In the beginning, he worked part time at night and on weekends on a dating site but it wasn’t making much money. He loved building websites but didn’t see a lot of cash in assembling other people’s sites. His original dating site went up in 2002, a time when dating on the Internet was just about to explode and Palmer felt like he had a killer domain name – with MeetYourMatch.com. “I was naive to think I could compete with Yahoo personals,” he says. “It was a great failure for me.”
Meanwhile, his wife had a good career in the financial services industry – had her own office and at one point was the breadwinner for the family. The company he was doing Web design for had an affiliate program through Commission Junction – but he wasn’t involved in that part of the business. The guy who ran it, though, started to tell him the numbers. Some of these people were making up to six figures a month. “So I threw up some links on my site,” he says, and in six months he was matching his salary in commissions.
He had finally touched that entrepreneurial magic and he dove into it head first. Today Palmer has a network of more than 100 websites (he doesn’t even know the exact number), an e-book on how he made it and is Commission Junction’s 2005 Horizon Award Winner and a Yahoo Search Marketing Ambassador. His domains include FreeBudgetingSoftware.com, DatingSiteCritic.com, CreditRepairGuy.org and, of course, the site for his e-book: QuitYourDayJob.com (see page 44).
How does he do it with so many sites? The key, he says, is to work with templates that need very little manual tweaking. He has 50 dating sites that are virtually the same – they are just targeted by geography. But, Palmer says, it’s not about how many websites you have or following a more-is-more philosophy. “Each page should do just one thing,” he says. “You don’t want to overwhelm the customer with choices. You know, like when you go to call Dell and the first thing you hear is 30 options to direct your call. It takes you forever or you hang up before you get an answer.”
The other main reason Palmer claims he’s successful is because he goes the extra yard to reach out to the merchants. It satisfies his social nature, he says. He typically spends a few hours a day just talking to the merchant reps.
“I have their cell phone numbers and they have mine.” He says that just talking to people is crucial to getting help and getting what you want from a merchant. Sometimes Palmer will fly out to see the merchant or the company will send someone to meet with him. Of course, Palmer admits merchants don’t do this for everyone, but, then again, he makes six figure commissions – that puts him in the upper stratosphere of earners. It’s no wonder merchants will roll out the red carpet for him, especially when 80 percent of most merchant’s affiliates are not earning enough to register a blip.
He says being a big earner just takes hard work. His day really isn’t much different from most affiliates. Typically, Palmer starts his day by viewing his stats on CJ, LinkShare, etc. Then, he logs into Google AdWords to check on his costs. “I do have some spreadsheet systems that I made up to make it easier on myself and this way I can make bidding decisions based on that and see where my ROI from the previous day was.” All of this, he says, is a way of tailoring your existing sites to make them better. “It is far easier to improve on existing websites than to launch a brand new site.”
He’s always looking for ways to improve things. “I probably differ from most in that I will build a website around a merchant’s product and services instead of just throwing a link on my site – then throw a couple of hundred keywords at it.”
Once traffic looks promising, he will expand. It could take few days to a few weeks to see if it is worth it. He claims that he’s got more patience than most affiliates and he believes that’s what helps him to see if ROI kicks in and to wait for the results.
Palmer then spends the rest of his work time building relationships – over chat, email or by phone talking to the merchants. It’s his favorite part of the job.
“You want to know the dirty little secret of affiliate marketing?” he says conspiratorially. “I gained 30 pounds because you don’t get a lot of exercise just sitting, building websites.” He says it took a lot of hard work and sacrifice. He says he sold a favorite – and very expensive – racing bike and some of his personal gadgets – a road bike, Palm Pilot and cell phone – to get the business started.
“People buy into the hype and hope. I want to retire by the time I’m 30. So, in the beginning I was doing 20-hour days and still do some of those sometimes.” The reason so many affiliates don’t turn over the big numbers, according to Palmer, is because they are unwilling to do the tough work. He says you have to put in the labor on optimizing your site and making it eye-catching. He’s constantly experimenting – putting up a site and throwing a few hundred keywords at it to see if it can bring numbers. It’s fun for him.
Palmer proudly states he still has no employees on his payroll. His wife doesn’t receive a paycheck, although he can count on her to give him advice on design and the content. “She’s kind of my quality assurance person and will say she doesn’t like a graphic or will brainstorm on keywords.” Sometimes she even reads his emails before he sends them to make sure he’s being coherent.
He keeps an office about 10 minutes from home but goes in when he needs to concentrate on something or make important calls – otherwise he’s pretty content working from the home office. Plus, they live near a great park and ball field where he loves to take his two kids, who are 5 and 3 years old.
“I can spend all day there.” Currently, he does a kind of week on, week off. Works on the sites for a week and then spends a week riding his bike, going to the park, reading business books and magazines – Forbes or Fortune. “I can read those like some would read Harry Potter.”
It sounds idyllic and it is, but the journey wasn’t without emotional bumps. The hardest decisions he and his wife made about quitting their day jobs was what to do about his wife’s career. She had been a full-time worker since she was 16 years old, Palmer says, and changing to a stay-at home mom was jarring. It was a big step for her to quit her job but the decision was made easier by the fact that the income from the affiliate sites mandated they convert to full-time affiliates.
“The sites were growing so much,” Palmer says, “that the only thing holding them back was our time investment. So, we had to spend more time.”
Quitting their jobs was the no-brainer – it was clear on paper that the commissions were paying way more than their day jobs.
Equally unsettling was what to do with their success.
“Some guys get a little cash and they go out and buy a Mercedes or a new house,” he says. But in the end, quality of life won out. As a born and raised Utahan, Palmer is definitely very family-oriented just as they teach in the Mormon church, even though Palmer says they don’t go to temple as much as he did when he was young. But the luxury of having more free time now allows him to get more involved in the kids’ extracurricular activities like sports and gymnastics.
While Palmer did upgrade his home and put the kids in private school, he and his wife thought pretty rationally about what to do about their new-found wealth. They kind of played a spinning globe game – if we could live anywhere, where would it be? They thought Austin, Texas, looked attractive and the San Francisco Bay Area certainly was a consideration. But in the end they decided to stay right where they were in a suburb of Salt Lake City. They knew it to be family-friendly and the pace of life was perfect for them.
Things have been so idyllic, in fact, that Palmer decided to share his secrets. His recently available e-book, High Performance Affiliate Marketing, pretty much recounts how he did it and with the right elbow grease, anyone can do it.
He says the book is practical and not one of those “get-rich” books. “I basically wrote it because I think there was a need for it,” he says. Most of the books on the market, he adds, seem so dated even when they are only a year or two old. “I wanted to know if my knowledge was transferable. I led this internship with five other affiliates and they are doing Ok. I just sat down with them for five hours and two of them have quit their day jobs.” He says one even worked for NASA, surely a dream job for many, and yet this guy gave it all up to become an affiliate.
One of the unique things about the book – available at QuitYourDayJob.com – is that when you buy it you get all the updates for free in perpetuity. As Palmer adds revisions to the book as the markets dictate, all buyers get those revisions too.
Why essentially give away his secrets? “I think the Internet is a big place,” he says, “and lots of people wonder why I give the secrets away but I believe in karma. Since if I give something to the community I will benefit from it.” He even offers a free support forum for the book so that if readers have questions, they just email him directly to his personal email account.
“As an affiliate I just build websites and go over numbers,” he says. “But I really enjoy the face-to-face, so that’s why I reach out to the merchants. And as I operate on an island over here, the book feeds my social needs.”
While he said he wants to retire at 30, his version of retirement would be to only work a few hours a day. “I’ve always had the entrepreneurial spirit,” he says proudly. “You know, I had worked at a huge call center here and was answering tech support calls for Microsoft. By the end of my stay there I was overseeing 80 employees but was really turned off by the red tape of big companies. I said I would only work for small companies from then on, where I could make an impact. You see, there is always a ceiling and I figured if I worked for myself, there would be no ceiling.”