Despite having many talents that often thrust him to the forefront, Hazard is a modest man who typically shuns the spotlight.
For more than three years he’s been an extremely active and vocal member of several online affiliate marketing forums. While many of his closest industry friends often refer to him by one of his message board handles, he prefers not to give away his online identity publicly so that he can continue to voice his strong opinions about unethical practices without fear of repercussions.
But Hazard stresses that he’s not hiding behind the anonymity of the message boards and that he never says anything in those forums that he wouldn’t express face-to-face. Rather, the fear is that if the offending players in the space knew his real name and his websites, they might retaliate by using their technical know-how to attack his sites, which are his livelihood. Other affiliates say they worry about being physically harmed or having someone knock on their front door. He agrees that type of threat is within the realm of possibility.
Still, Hazard dismisses the notion that some message boards can be vicious at times. For him it’s been a wonderful community where he’s been able to develop some extremely close friendships – which are a very important component of doing business for him. Because he works from home – like many other affiliates – he’s somewhat isolated from the typical, everyday office interaction and considers the message boards his water cooler, albeit an online version.
He appreciates all the help and advice he’s often received – and given – as a huge factor in his continuing participation in these forums. The ability to log on and find answers about a merchant he’s promoting or thinking of promoting is priceless. Approaching the posters on these boards with a sense of humility and respect means that forum members will bend over backward to help you, Hazard says.
But it’s not like everyone is about to divulge all their secrets. He likens the amount of information that affiliates are willing to reveal to each other to the Seinfeld episode where two magicians are having dinner. However, in the popular TV show, the magicians spend the entire meal trying to one-up each other, and most affiliates, Hazard notes, are just the opposite – they don’t give out any information, including the most basic stuff – like the names of their websites. He laughs at that idea, calling it a very cool dynamic.
And he’s no different when it comes to disclosing specific information about his business. He operates approximately 30 to 40 websites that are in the retail space and focus primarily on apparel, but he’s hesitant to give out any more details. But when it comes to his latest site – CouponPouch.com – he’s not shy about talking it up.
The site launched in April and is his first venture into coupons. He always thought there was a large opportunity in that area – especially since he’s got some friends that are every coupon-intensive people, many of whom he describes as toting around a tickler file of coupons that weighs two pounds.
In order to spread the word about CouponPouch.com, Hazard is taking a multifaceted approach. There’s lots of local advertising in many parts of the United States. He’s using newspapers in each area to get the word out. He’s doing a lot of online and off-line promotion and focusing on viral advertising. He wants people to talk about his site and he thinks freebies and giveaway goodies (business cards, fridge magnets, hats, etc.) are a great way to do that.
Of course, there’s the Honda Element he drives around the central Florida area with the giant kangaroo on the side that’s hard to miss. He recently had the SUV professionally wrapped to display the CouponPouch.com logo. And if you spot his vehicle parked and stop by to say hello – he’ll give you a free gift. However, don’t try and pull him over on the road for the free gift. He’s a gung-ho marketer, but not at the expense of on-the-road safety.
None of these marketing ideas is random. Hazard says he lies awake at night thinking about these kinds of things. He’s got a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn’t. And he’s learned that means striving to be independent of any single source of traffic. Although natural traffic is free and he spends money on Yahoo and Google, he stresses that affiliates need to get smart and develop marketing strategies outside of the box.
He may lie awake at night, but he bounces out of bed each morning and can’t wait to get to his computer. Hazard loves his job because it allows him to use his creative side to think about ways to bring items to market. But he can also use his logical side to structure events to bring the creative vision to fruition. He says it is the most fulfilling job he can possibly imaging having – and it’s not about the money. Yes, he admits, we all need money and money is not a bad thing, but for Hazard, it’s the satisfaction of developing an idea and then walking it through to completion that is the real joy.
He loves that, armed only with creativity, personal drive and a computer, he has the ability to compete with multi-million-dollar corporations. “They have a website. I have a website. The playing field is much more level,” Hazard says. “I can’t go to the mall and build a Nordstroms and sell wares, but I can sit at the computer and create a website to sell wares.”
And not everything is a success. If something doesn’t work, he’ll shuck it and move on. He has lots of ideas and spends time cruising through the networks and looking at websites searching for new ideas and things that spark his creativity. He checks many of his new pay-per-click ideas using what he calls the $200 rule. That means he spends a day or two to set up a website or Web pages, sends some PPC advertising to it and when he’s spent $200 he evaluates whether it’s working or not. If not, he just puts it aside and moves on.
He may have an easy time turning off marketing campaigns that aren’t performing, but he admits that it’s not as easy for him to turn off work – especially since he works from a home office. He’s thought about renting an office nearby and trying to do the 9 to 5 thing, but knows that he’ll end up back in front of the computer at home in the evenings anyway, so he’d rather not waste the money.
Hazard has a love/hate relationship with his computer. “The computer is always there,” he laughs. He works about 60 hours a week and says that often he has trouble distinguishing what day it is.
He springs out of bed around 6 a.m. and starts the day off with a big 16-oz. coffee, while he checks his stats from the previous day and scans the Internet for news. A self-admitted Yahoo pool addict, Hazard will usually get in a few games before getting to his real work in the morning. He also plays Yahoo pool in the late evenings when he’s wrapping up for the night.
His No. 1 piece of advice to affiliates is to stay physically active. He says he’s gained weight since becoming an affiliate three years ago and stresses that work-at-home affiliates need to force themselves to exercise and stay active. But at least he’s quit his 20-year smoking habit.
In an effort to kick back a little more, he just bought a fishing boat after not having owned one in eight years. For the avid bass fisherman it’s a wonderful way to relax. So is music. He recently attended a Willie Nelson concert and says it was a wonderful feeling to have a night unplugged, where he just sat back 40 feet from the stage in a small auditorium and drank a couple of Heinekens and listened to two and half hours of Willie.
The youngest of seven kids, Hazard loves music. He plays the drums and sings. He recently moved from belting out tunes from behind the drum kit to center stage where he now fronts The Quarter Mile Band. They play straight-up rock tunes – covers and about a dozen originals, half of which Hazard wrote. After an 18-month hiatus and some bad luck with a string of bass players, the band is now practicing once a week and working toward putting out a CD or getting their material out in MP3 format.
Still, it’s very difficult for him to turn his brain off. The wheels are always turning with ideas and he’s always looking for better ways to do things. He’s been like that as long as he can remember.
One way to improve things was to go to college. At 29 he quit his job selling Hondas near his hometown of Alexandria, La., and enrolled at LSU with the goal of becoming a certified public accountant.
Although he was making a good living selling cars, he hated the business. One of the reasons was that he’d often spend several weeks talking with a potential customer, only to return from a day off of fishing and find that customer had come in and bought a vehicle and that he’d lost that commission to another salesperson. There weren’t any ill feelings; he was just tired of being in commission-only sales and hustling people for a living.
But accounting didn’t suit him either. After just two semesters, Hazard decided that being a CPA wasn’t for him. He spoke with an adviser and took some aptitude tests that showed he had strong skills for becoming an attorney. Instead he decided to pursue a liberal arts degree with three minors – English (in his senior year he was the editor of the LSU newspaper); history; and speech/theater.
Four years later, with a degree in hand, he was ready to move out of the student mode, give up his part-time gig as a weekend disc jockey at a rock station in Alexandria and get back into the world of full-time employment.
So, he moved to Miami to direct at a theater in South Beach for the summer. He starved, had a great time and then went to work for a marketing company in Fort Lauderdale. That company immediately sent him to work on a project in New Orleans for three months. When he returned to south Florida he pitched his firm on an idea for a jobs site. The company passed and Hazard left to start SouthFloridaJobs.com on his own in 1998.
After visiting a friend in central Florida, he made the move there in the spring of 1999 and subsequently sold his company in the fall of that year. “I’m a Southern boy and I have to move north to get back to the South,” he says.
He began doing various freelance Web design projects and then started designing an e-commerce website for a merchant in Daytona Beach. That website competed with affiliates and Hazard says “those affiliates were kicking my butt and eating my lunch.” His relationship with that merchant ended and he was forced to look at affiliate marketing.
He calls that 2003 incident the single best thing that’s ever happened in his life.
Maybe that’s because he surpassed his original income goals. Hazard pays more in taxes now per month than he originally estimated he’d make in a month and now generates between $2 million and $4 million in sales annually. He was also was named as a charter member of CJ’s Performer program in 2005.
“My affiliate endeavors have proven better than my wildest dreams,” he says.
But a big part of those dreams for Hazard also included leaving behind the rat race and having complete and total control over everything in his business. However, there’s a downside to complete control, according to Hazard, who says that often there is nobody to question your decisions or say no to you, and it’s not uncommon to get tunnel vision.
That’s where friends and forums come in for feedback. And in the end, for Hazard it all comes down to doing the right thing and having good friends.
Savvy affiliates like Hazard often have a choice to make – work extra hard to develop new methods to make money or employ questionable tactics that in the short term will increase revenue. Hazard loathes those that opt for the latter, which he believes is the easy way. He credits his mom and dad with instilling a rock-solid sense of right and wrong in him. He says that at the end of the day, when he’s brushing his teeth and looking in the mirror, he enjoys knowing that what he’s accomplished was good and right.
Plus, he has like-minded friends that will call him on his actions. He gets together with a group of four to six friends in Orlando once a month to talk about the affiliate space. These folks are not direct competitors – there’s an affiliate manager and some other merchant affiliates (but they are all in different verticals). They openly share very sensitive business information.
It’s a relationship based on trust formed over the years, according to Hazard. In the end, he likes being a key piece of what he calls the happy triangle.
“If I did something that helped someone find a shoe and in the process generated a sale and the customer and merchant are happy, then I’m happy,” he says. “If I simply find ways to cheat the merchant and I end up with money and the customer is happy, but not the merchant, then that’s not a happy triangle.”