Shawn Collins Interview covering his Online Businesses

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Shawn, you’ve been online for about 15 years and have been running your own websites for about 12 of those years. I’ve known you since about the year 2000 when you were the affiliate manager of Club Mom. Over time, you’ve been an affiliate, affiliate manager, expert author, speaker, consultant and blogger / video blogger. Additionally, you are a co-founder of the Affiliate Summit (the premiere affiliate marketing conference), the co-publisher and co-editor-in-chief of FeedFront Magazine, and the co-host on the Affiliate Thing online radio show. Since I always get this question, I want to see what your answer would be: “How do you do it all?”

I am very driven to provide for my family and I love what I do. All of my projects have creative elements that I really enjoy. So, I don’t really feel like I have a job – this stuff I do isn’t work. It’s fulfilling and fun and I wake up anxious to do it each day.

For anyone unfamiliar with and curious about affiliate programs, how do you describe what they are?

I think the easiest way is to say they are the Internet equivalent to folks that used to go around the neighborhood to sell Avon or host Tupperware parties. Just like they were commissioned salespeople, affiliates are getting paid to refer sales or leads to a company. The only thing that has changed is that the neighborhood is a lot bigger online, and affiliates have the potential to create a very successful career from their living room.

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Would you say it is easier or more difficult to be successful with affiliate programs today? Does it seem like there is more competition since it can be easier for people to get a website or blog set up these days?

I think it’s easier to get started with the tools available, but there is certainly more competition. That said, most people are lazy and impatient. If somebody is willing to invest their time and energy, as well as being patient during the process of growing an affiliate business, there is a lot of potential.

It’s always a good idea not to have all of your eggs in one basket, especially in this slow economy. In other words, it’s best to have many sources of income, especially residual. Even so, usually one source of income stands out as being the main source. Out of all of the projects you are involved in with your business, what seems to be the most profitable?

The Affiliate Summit conference is, by far, my main focus and the source for the majority of my income. There are many projects I do that revolve around Affiliate Summit and building the brand, such as FeedFront Magazine and GeekCast.fm (podcast network). Also, we are about to launch a book publishing imprint through Affiliate Summit.

So, while most of my eggs are on the one basket, I am constantly looking for ways to diversify.

One exciting thing about affiliate marketing is that the area hasn’t been impacted like many other industries from the recession. The reason there is that it’s one of the most efficient and least risky methods to market online. The last Affiliate Summit, in January 2009, was the biggest of all of the conferences since we started in 2003, and our next event (August 2009) is selling better than any previous conferences. With nearly three months to go, we have already sold all of the booths in our exhibit hall.

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Social networks are such a big part of everyday life for many people including those with an online business. What is your list of top five social networks that you use and how much time do you spend on each daily?

I have accounts everywhere, but there are only three that I visit with any regularity: Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

I go into Facebook less than 30 minutes a day to maintain my presence there with fan pages, events, groups, etc. and I pretty much just go to LinkedIn to accept connections.

Twitter is the only place where I concentrate a good amount of time. But it’s minutes at a time throughout the day. I monitor any reference to me or my companies through GetStatisfaction, TweetDeck and TweetLater and interact with those folks. I also have my RSS feeds from blogs feeding into my Twitter accounts, so it appears I am more active there than I am.

What are a few of your other favorite online tools?

My favorite is Gmail – I was using Outlook for many years and was resistant to switching, but I’ve been so happy to leave the burden of .pst files and relying on accessing the desktop where Outlook was based. Now I have so much more flexibility, as well as more space (I have a corporate Google Apps account – $50/year per person) and I can access all of my information easily from any computer.

I also like Jungle Disk a lot – it’s a remote backup service, so I have copies of all of my files and folders on the Amazon S3 servers, which I can access at any time. These are updated daily. It’s comforting to know that I could easily grab all my files if I lost my computer in a fire, flood, etc., or if the hard drive just got fried.

Lastly, WordPress (hosted on my server) has revolutionized the way I create new sites. It’s such a quick and easy process to build a new, sharp looking site, and I don’t have to worry about having FTP access to upload files. It’s another helpful tool for working anyplace, so I don’t have to be tethered to my desk.

shawn-collins-cory-bookerAffiliate Summit has now been around for about six years and is attended by affiliates, merchants, agencies, affiliate networks and even recently by Newark, NJ Mayor Cory Booker. When you co-founded it with Missy Ward, did you think it would grow to be so successful? How was the speech by Cory Booker received?

We started Affiliate Summit, because we wanted to provide an alternative to an existing conference, which we didn’t think was focused enough on the business of affiliate marketing – it was more about parties. At the time, it was a labor of love, and we figured it might supplement our full-time jobs. That was the case for the first two years, where it was just marginally profitable, but our persistence paid off and it started exploding.

Many people were skeptical in advance of Cory Booker’s keynote. But when he came and spoke, he had the crowd in the palm of his hand. He spoke for about an hour without notes and he is a great storyteller. He literally had many people in the crowd in tears with his inspiring message.

We have video and audio available of his speech and I recently posted links at http://blog.affiliatetip.com/archives/cory-booker-mayor-of-twitter/
- I listen to the speech fairly often.

What made you decide to create the FeedFront official magazine for Affiliate Summit? Why did you create an offline and online version? How do you deal with the costs of both?

shawn-collins-feedfrontPrior to working in Internet marketing in 1997, my jobs were in magazine publishing and I always liked to write, and I was looking for a way to incorporate that part of my passion.

We had been using a magazine publisher for several of our conference programs, and decided to start adding some content a year ago. The response was fantastic. Rather than a typical magazine where the articles are written by outsiders who research the topics, all of our content is from people in the industry – the real practitioners of the things we do each day.

So, we have more of a blog vibe than a conventional magazine. Also, we set a hard limit of 500 words per article, so they are jam packed with information and each one can be consumed in a short amount of time.

The reason for the offline and online versions was that we wanted to make it a physical magazine to send out to subscribers for free, but it was too expensive to mail outside of the U.S. So, we just started making a PDF of the magazine available to anybody outside the U.S. that wanted to read it. We also began putting it on Scribd.com recently, and it’s now available on the Kindle.

The costs for the print edition are offset by advertising, and the online version doesn’t really have any costs – we send a PDF to the printer to publish each issue, and we just use that same file (reduced to make it quicker to download) online.

On your Affiliate Thing online radio broadcast show and your Affiliate Tip blog, you bring to light problems and solutions for affiliates and merchants in the industry. Do you think affiliate programs will ever overtake traditional advertising methods?

Affiliate marketing continues to grow from year to year, while the traditional advertising model is shrinking. I think there is a great future for this business, because of the scalability, as well as the relatively low cost of entry and limited risk.

Do you have any new projects or upcoming events you’d like to highlight?

I mentioned a little earlier that there will be a new book publishing imprint soon. That is going to be called Velocity NYC Press (velocitynyc.com was my first domain back in the 1990’s), and the focus will be on helping online marketers get books published in their specialties. I am really excited about working with authors and helping them.

[ View Shawn's Official Video and Websites ]