The Journey to Become an Affiliate

Malcolm Lubliner contacted me in early November, just a month into my taking over the duties as editor of Revenue. He was looking to our magazine as a trusted source to give him some advice about getting started in the world of affiliate marketing. I was also in the process of trying to learn everything I could about this new market I would be covering. I responded to Malcolm’s email with a handful of links to sites that had information about affiliates that had been helpful for me as an editor and journalist trying to get up to speed on a new subject area. I also passed along some names of authors and books, some interesting articles I had encountered in my research and my sincere wishes of success.

I didn’t expect Malcolm to continue to correspond with me and update me on his progress, but I’m certainly glad he has. So I thought it might be interesting to keep tabs on Malcolm’s journey to become an affiliate – the problems, the progress, the successes and the lessons he’s learning along the way.

Malcolm Lubliner has been a commercial photographer for more than 30 years. Before that he was a painter. He’s a self-described “visual person” who didn’t find my advice of reading all the information he could find about affiliate marketing – then reading some more – all that helpful.

Malcolm wanted someone to just lay out the basics. He says everything he read about the world of affiliate marketing assumed a certain level of knowledge about the fundamentals that he readily admits he did not possess. “I just wanted someone to hold my hand for five minutes,” he says.

What he wanted was basic information about how to take his Web site and turn it into a sustainable online magazine about urban life and culture. Malcolm has owned the domain name for more than eight years and was originally using it as an online portfolio to showcase his work focusing on product, industrial, architectural and advertising photography.

Malcolm admits that a magazine covering urban issues is not a novel concept, but he believes that his unique perspective and passion are what could make the site a success. For the last three years he’s been focused on how to take this passion and make it a reality, but he wasn’t sure how to make enough money to support the magazine.

Although he doesn’t have a business plan mapped out, Malcolm has spent a lot of time thinking about this transition. One of his initial steps was to trademark the domain name. Meanwhile, he continued to be plagued by the thought that in order to support the magazine he needed to generate money.

Then about a year ago he saw something on TV. It was an advertisement for a book promoting affiliate marketing as a tool to make money. The book was The Super Affiliate Handbook: How I Made $436,797 Last Year Selling Other People’s Stuff Online by Rosalind Gardner.

“I had never heard about the concept before. I knew about pop-up ads on Web sites, but didn’t know much more than that,” he says. “I had no idea this was a viable way to make money.”

But, the book cost $75, and Malcolm thought that was a bit too pricey considering he was still a little skeptical about the concept. That’s when he made the decision to conduct his own research. He spent hours scouring the Internet, doing Google searches, and what he found is that “nobody tells you the nuts and bolts.”

His limited experience in marketing and advertising made it hard to figure out his first step. “I just don’t know where to put my foot down first,” he says. “No one puts all the steps down in real simple terms that you need to follow steps A through Z to get started.”

It was overwhelming for him to try to decipher the language and the jargon associated with affiliate marketing that he found on the Internet. “The world of affiliate marketing is all so mysterious,” Malcolm says. “It’s like learning a new language. At first glance just not knowing all the terminology made me very uncomfortable.”

Malcolm is perplexed by the lack of affordable consultants that can be hired to help small publishers sort through the process of starting an affiliate site.

“How come I can hire a computer guy to come over to my house and help fix my computer, but I can’t hire a consultant that is affordable to come in and help with this?” he asks. “Most of the consultants are guys looking for big bucks and work with big companies.”

In mid-November, Malcolm called Commission Junction to inquire about the networks’ affiliate programs. “I remembered their name from my research, and I think that book I never bought was authored by a woman who works there,” he says.

The phone call gave Malcolm some fundamental information about Commission Junction’s services and the basics of signing up to be an affiliate. He also feels that talking to a live person rather than just reading about these concepts clarified a lot of issues. He claims that the call made “it all seem so easy.”

He’s going to sign up as an affiliate within a month, but in the meantime he says there are three things he’s concentrating on – design, driving traffic and acquiring content. And to complicate matters, Malcolm would also like to figure out how to give a portion of any profits he might make to charity.

To date, he’s had some problems finding a Web site design that satisfies him visually and is likely to entice people to navigate the site and ultimately click on the affiliate links. He is also concerned about how to best promote the site. He knows that he needs to start driving traffic before he can expect to generate any revenue. To do that, he plans to advertise in mediums other than the Web. He also wants to try to connect with like-minded companies or individuals with “an altruistic interest” that may help drive traffic to his site. An email newsletter is also in the works to help promote the site to previous visitors, former clients and others who might be interested in his concept.

He is continuing to acquire content for the online pictorial publication. He’s trying to keep his costs down by getting people to submit content. He’s focused on trying to get travelers to submit photos and journals, as well as those that live in cities big and small to contribute their pictures and stories.

Malcolm has thought about creating links to travel sites or book publishers that have travel books. He’s also contemplating putting links for subscriptions to travel magazines on his site.

Ultimately, he believes letting his site evolve organically, rather than following a rigid business plan, will be more conducive to an artistic venture.

Malcolm spent the entire month of November gathering even more information about affiliate marketing and preparing to launch his site. By the beginning of 2005, he expects to be a full-fledged affiliate. In forthcoming issues of Revenue, we’ll keep you posted on Malcolm’s progress.

Lisa Picarille is the editor of Revenue.