Kim Rowley: The Marketing Mama

Rowley is a successful affiliate marketer who runs 50 websites and also has her hands full raising four kids. Still, she found time to design her own house from the ground up and manages to shuttle between Nebraska and Denver to see her boyfriend every other weekend.

She has an easygoing manner, and carries the enthusiasm of someone just a few years out of high school even though she’s 34 and has been through a tumultuous seven years, which included a divorce.

Rowley says she didn’t have the best of childhoods. Her parents were also divorced. At the time it was scandalous for the tiny town of Pierce, Neb., (population about 1,700), which she describes as “very fl at.” She graduated in a class of 50 and she says that living in a very small town has its good aspects and bad. Her plan was to leave as soon as possible. She wanted to become a commercial artist, maybe make TV commercials, maybe light out on the promise of a track scholarship. But then at 17 years old, she got pregnant, subsequently married and stayed in Pierce.

Her oldest son, Taylor, is now 16. She has twin daughters, Macy and Mallory – who were preemies weighing 2 pounds each at birth – are 13. Her youngest son, Tatym, is 4. Taylor and Macy have been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), something they inherited from their father, says Rowley. It makes for a busy household and Rowley says driving them more than two hours away to the doctor in Omaha can be trying. While OCD can be controlled with medicine, Rowley says she still gets great pleasure from raising her kids and designed a nice “bonus room” in her new house where her daughter can “rock her head,” her way of making sense of the day. The oldest can drive the younger ones to summer sports activities now and Rowley’s sister often helps out.

She says she feels more stable without her ex-husband, who she said liked to spend money a bit too much. “He basically remarried soon after our divorce was final,” she says. She learned his “mood swings” were OCD after the kids were diagnosed. He was a pilot by hobby and the plane she bought him went with him when he faded from town.

She says she’s the talk of the town, but not because people are peeking over the fence at her private life. In the time she’s been an affiliate marketer, she designed from scratch and built a brand new 4,000-square-foot house on what the neighbors call “snob hill.” She drew out the design on graph paper and turned it over to contractors to come up with a budget and then construct the home. She says she wants to do it again because there were so many things she wants to improve on already. While she designed an office for herself, she realizes now that it isn’t big enough because that’s where everyone tends to congregate.

A DIY Attitude

This speaks to her do-it-yourself attitude in nearly everything she does. In the beginning of her affiliate career she knew nothing of online marketing. One night in one of her first experiences with the Internet she typed “html” into Yahoo and, bam, a whole new world opened up. She taught herself HTML when she was a physician’s assistant in the local doctor’s office. She chased a college degree in business administration at night and completed it after nine years. Her first site was on Tripod.

PreemieTwins.com was her first affiliate site. As an avid coupon clipper, she started with coupons on her own sites and then realized she could actually get paid for doing it. At first, she says, it was still a hobby while working at the doctor’s office. Then in 1999 she started getting checks. Since 2001, she has supported herself solely off her affiliate sites. One of her first programs was with Staples, who at the time was with Be-Free. She thought it was win-win because customers get the savings and she gets the commissions. From there she signed up for a whole bunch – Amazon.com, LinkShare’s More.com drugstore and others. Now-defunct e-currency site Flooz.com once named her “best affiliate.”

Now some of her sites include AllBabyDeals.com, CoffeeAffiliate-Blog.com, EnterOnlineSweeps.com, FreeCameraPrints.com, Florist-Village.com, FreePregnancyCalculator.com, OneDayOnlyDeals.com, RxSaver.net, TopLineWatches.com and WorkInMyPajamas.com. She founded Shoeaholics Anonymous and launched a deal site at House- ForKim.com when she was building her new house.

Most of her sites are blogs, with frequent updates written by Rowley and her two aunts. Her older son chips in by swapping coupon codes and adding links to her ShoppingBookmarks.com. She’s trying to get him to learn to code in PHP so he can teach it to her. She says he is more technically inclined and wants to design computer games eventually. She’d like to get her boyfriend to work for her as well. She says she always has fresh ideas for new things and keeps a pen and paper by her bed to jot down brainstorms in the middle of the night, like an idea for a blog or a new domain name.

Blogging and the Personal Touch

If you go to any of her sites, the blogs are breezy and conversational. There is certainly no hard-sell here and that’s probably why she sees the traffic she does. A typical ShoppingBookmarks.com blog entry goes something like: “On Sunday, I wanted to go to Sam’s Club in Sioux City to stock up on some staple items (you know, lasagna, pizza pockets, crab rangoons), so asked my sister if she wanted to ride along. Sure, as she wanted to go shopping at the mall for some clothes.

My oh my, did she dink around at every store. I did buy a few tops at Deb’s to wear to Miami next month, but I mostly sat around and waited for her.”

Her personal touch includes posting a photo of herself every Friday wearing a different T-shirt she got for free. She’s just as likely to detail the pregnancy progress of her cousin’s twins or tell you what she found when she Googled one of her favorite authors. Blogs on Eva Longoria’s flip-flops come to her as easily as the need to quote the words to Reba McEntire songs on her PreemieTwins.com blog. She’ll chronicle exactly what novels she reads, having recently discovered the joy of reading. “I was not a reader at all. I never even made it to the end of a newspaper article.” Now she reads what she calls “chick flick” books – Match Me If You Can; 4 Blondes; Mine Are Spectacular and Be Honest – You’re Not That Into Him Either, among other titles.

A year and half ago she met a guy who grew up nine miles away but now lives in Denver. They didn’t know each other growing up but met when he was back in town for a visit. Now they have a nearly virtual relationship – they IM most of the day, talk on the phone at night and every other weekend she meets him halfway to Denver. Sometimes she’ll drive three hours, and then take a one-hour flight to Denver. Long term, she says, the goal is to move perhaps to Denver. Or maybe he moves back here, she says. Her son has been looking at colleges in Denver, so you never know, she says.

A Daily Dose of Reality

Rowley says that even though she thinks she clocks in about 12 hours in front of her computer, the day is broken up by daily life with four kids. The day starts at about 6:30 in the morning. The kids get lunch money (unless they want to make their own lunch). In her small town there is one elementary school and one high school. When the kids are off to school, she checks email and stats and sometimes forgets to eat. If her stats reveal more visitors around a particular keyword, she’ll build a page around that keyword. She really likes naps, so there might be a short snooze in the middle of the day.

In the meantime, there is also her son’s football practice; soccer and volleyball for her daughters; and dance classes. Her regular commitments include the PTA Booster Club, volunteering at SCORE to give advice to small business owners in the next town over and this year she’s president of the Kiwanis Club.

As involved as she is in the community, Rowley says the majority of people in town still have a hard time grasping what she does. “Nobody really knows what I do,” she says. “Rumors include that I was doing porn in my basement.” Once or twice a week people will come up to her and say they want to do what she does. And then they interrogate her with a million questions. So she set up WorkInMyPajamas.com to tell people about affiliate marketing – such as where to post a press release, good hosting firms, how to use templates and other observations of the affiliate world. She also runs ShoppingKim.com to introduce readers to couponing. If that weren’t enough, she set up her boyfriend, Patrick, with a blog and is helping roll out Foster57.com, a blog network named after the town he grew up in with a population of 57.

Staying on top of it all is now second nature. “I do what I can to read up and I go to forums,” she says. Her favorites are ABestWeb and WebmasterWorld.com. And if she can give a little back from what she learns, all the better for the affiliate community at large. She loves to go to the Affiliate Summit conference and has been to every one, she says. “The networking is great there.” In fact, she’d like to do more traveling and dreams of having homes all over the world. “I’d like to see every country.” But she’s not necessarily dreaming of living the high life, sipping champagne by the shore. She says she’d like to do missionary work in a third-world country. When she worked in the doctor’s office, they would donate surplus medicines to the nuns and saw what a little help can do for the greater good.

She readily admits that she is not the best housekeeper in the world and says pretty plainly that she doesn’t really cook or clean, but is still dedicated to running a happy house through her hard work and making sure her kids get what they need. “I can’t see myself retiring,” she says, and really has a very long time before that would ever be an issue. She has way too many blogs to update – and that PHP won’t learn itself.