How to Stabilize Your Affiliate Income

This is a guest post from Stefanie who is a member of the PPV Playbook forum. She has written a 7 part series in the forum on making a living as a freelance marketing consultant. This is a great way to not only stabilize your affiliate income, but also learn other skills which will help your own business.

Part One: Services You Can Offer & What You'll Need

Pretty much everyone would like to make some amount of money from home – whether to replace a day job, to pay down some debts, or just to supplement existing income. In pursuit of that often-elusive income from home, a lot of people consider freelance writing, web writing, MLM, or affiliate marketing – but surprisingly, not a whole lot of people consider marketing consulting.

Part of that may be that many people don’t even know it’s an option. I have a younger sister who works for a traditional ad agency in St. Louis, and she’s had several co-workers tell her that “it’s not possible to go freelance in marketing”. They tell her I’ll be broke and looking for a job in no time. I can’t help but laugh, considering that I’ve been enjoying a better salary and more leisure time than all of them…for several years now.

My goal, though, is not to hoard all the freelance marketing jobs. My time is limited and there are plenty to go around. My goal is to help people learn how to use their marketing skills to earn more income and gain more control over their lives.

Before we go too much further, let me say that this is not a speculative guide written by someone who doesn’t know what the heck she’s talking about. I’ve been doing online marketing in one form or another for almost 10 years (more than 15 if you count a brief incident when I was still in high school back around 1994-95). I started off around 2000-2001 by selling virtual currency in an online game called EverQuest. I didn’t really think about it at the time, but everything I was doing to grow that little mini business was some kind of online marketing. I didn’t exactly get rich off of it, but it was nice to have the extra spending money when you’re in college.

I graduated college in 2005 with a degree in Economics, but I knew all along that the kind of jobs my classmates would go into were not the kind of jobs that would make me happy. I turned down a few very enticing offers before deciding that I would freelance until I found something worthy of 40+ hours of each week.

After 6 months or so, I saw not one, but two jobs in online marketing pop up. I submitted my application for both, and both called me in for interviews. One seemed too corporate and I passed on their offer – but the other one was for a small, quirky company with very little knowledge about online marketing, so I went for it. I like being somewhere that I can make a difference.

Within a couple of years, I was growing very tired of the 40+ hour work week, and I despised the fact that I was driving huge profit growth while my salary increases were not much bigger than anyone else’s. Maybe I’m silly, but I like being rewarded for my achievements

I decided it was time to quit. Although I was earning a decent amount of income in ad revenue and affiliate sales (I owned quite a few small websites at the time), I wanted to add an extra dimension of stability to my income. That’s when I returned, once again, to freelance work.

I’ve been able to enjoy working from exciting places all over the country, tackling new projects on a regular basis, and dealing with clients all over the world. I’ve had several trips to industry shows paid for, and I get to use free software and check out free courses all the time. And of course, I get all of that while charging anywhere from $50-500/hour (one of the perks of freelance consulting is that you can lower or raise your rate depending on how much you think you’d enjoy the work).

The best part is that it’s surprisingly easy. If you have a head for marketing and halfway decent powers of persuasion, you’ll likely have no trouble getting started in your own freelance marketing business.

Is it possible to freelance marketing services?

YES! Like I said, I’ve earned a very comfortable income doing this for quite a while now. The problem is that a lot of people have watched movies about traditional advertising agencies, so they think of big client presentations, brainstorming sessions where people talk about getting in the mind of a running shoes buyer, and so on. They picture the kind of advertising that is rarely done by freelancers simply because those types of big companies generally prefer agencies.

So what’s available for freelancers? Plenty. Almost every business in existence would like more customers. Most businesses today either have or want a website. Almost everyone wants a good web presence. And the best part – very few entrepreneurs are capable marketers.

A few of the many types of jobs you can do as a freelance marketer…

•Search engine optimization (SEO) – Search engines have to go through billions of pages to deliver the most relevant results for a given search. If your site is the one they deem most relevant for a popular search, that can mean a HUGE amount of free visitors to your website. The problem is that the rules change often, and can be difficult for some people to understand and act on. So, whether a business wants to rank well for “NYC chinese restaurant” or “giant gag underpants”, they might want the help of an SEO expert.

•Pay-Per-Click Advertising (PPC) – Search engines like Google, Yahoo!, and MSN have advertising platforms that allow business owners to bid on different searches and have their ads appear in the sponsored area along the top and sides of search results. While pretty much anyone can set this up, it takes a certain amount of skill to know which keywords are likely to perform well, to design text ads that get the most clicks possible, and to analyze results for maximum performance and cost effectiveness.

•Copywriting – Compelling copy can make a huge different in whether people decide to buy what you’re selling. Whether you’re describing the luxurious features of a seaside resort or selling the cost-cutting features of a software program, good copy means more money for your clients.

•Social Media – Nearly every company wants at least a basic presence on Facebook, and many more want comprehensive coverage on sites like Squidoo, HubPages, MySpace, Digg, and beyond. A good social media expert can help companies identify “angles” for promoting themselves and avoid embarrassing public mistakes.

•Media Buying – Although many types of companies can benefit from media buys, it’s an especially popular service with e-commerce companies looking for direct sales or other companies looking for branding. A good consultant can help locate, negotiate, and analyze the purchase of advertising through both advertising networks and independent websites.

•Email Marketing – Helping a client build a mailing list and effectively correspond with customers can be extremely lucrative. Even though a lot of mailing providers charge just $20-30/month, there’s much more to it than physically sending out the emails. Businesses need people to help them grow their lists, create professional emails, and optimize for maximum results.

•Marketing Planning – Often, clients have a general idea about what to do, but they want someone to help them create a balanced plan for spending their marketing budget most effectively. If you’re well-versed in many areas of marketing, you could do very well specializing in planning.

•Marketing Training – Sometimes, it’s just not efficient to have an expert carry out all steps of marketing a business. Many tasks are simple, and require minimal training. A marketer who recognizes this can do very well just by training the staff of other companies to carry out marketing tasks.

•Marketing Audits – Often, clients want someone to step in and let them know if they’re headed in the right direction, but they’re not looking for someone to actually take over the work. In these cases, they look for someone who can look over everything they’re currently doing and give them pointers or corrections as needed.

With a little imagination, you can probably come up with even more services to offer. Pretty much any kind of marketing task that a business would need can be accomplished by a freelance consultant.

What do you need (personality and actual STUFF) to be a freelance marketer

Becoming a freelance marketing consultant is actually much easier than becoming a lot of things. You don’t need a special degree, you don’t need a huge amount of startup capital, and as long as you have access to basic office supplies and internet access, you probably won’t even need to buy any equipment.

That’s not to say that you’re going to have a ton of luck if you start going up to clients and saying, “Hey, I’m a high school dropout with access to the computer at my local library. Will you pay me $100/hour to do your marketing?” Remember, you’re in marketing now – it’s all about putting things in a good light and enhancing positives.

Your career as a freelance marketing consultant is going to be easier if you have a college degree of some sort, but it’s definitely not a requirement. Results matter more. If you have a degree, then by all means, include that information in your pitches and on your website if you decide to have one. If it’s from a prestigious college, mention it once by name (and only once…let’s not be obnoxious). If you didn’t go to college or didn’t finish college, just ignore the topic completely. There’s no need to apologize for something that doesn’t really matter. Just focus on experience and results instead.

You will need some amount of experience to get jobs, but that’s not nearly as bad as it sounds. The next section will cover a variety of different ways to build a portfolio, and you can also dig into your past jobs to find instances where you’ve been involved in marketing. For example, I worked in a bank in college, and you’d better believe that my first few clients heard all about how I presented customers with the benefits of different investment and deposit products in a way that improved the success rate, or how I coached other tellers on presenting products in the same ways. Part of being a marketer is about being creative and recognizing marketing opportunities in situations that aren’t necessarily “marketing jobs”.

As I said before, your equipment needs are going to be pretty basic. I’ve included a list of what I use below, and I’ve starred the items that I would consider absolutely essential. Remember, of course, that you don’t necessarily have to OWN every item. Reliable access is usually good enough for a beginner.

•Computer* – A laptop is handy if you work and travel frequently, but don’t run out and rack up your credit cards to buy one if you don’t have it and your lifestyle doesn’t absolutely dictate that you need it.

•Internet Access* – Not only do you need access, but you should have some form of backup access with a second provider. There’s nothing worse than carving out a block of time to work on something for a deadline, only to find out that your ISP is down for some reason.

•Printer / Scanner / Fax* – You don’t have to have both a scanner and a fax, but you should at least have one or the other – or a Kinko’s nearby. Although you can do a lot online, you’ll almost definitely have cases where you need to physically scan in a document and send it to someone’s fax number.

•Telephone* – Most clients will want to talk to you on the phone at least once. Skype can work, too, if your computer is on most of the time and you have some kind of solution for mobile access.

•Notebooks / Pens / Pencils* – This is just basic office stuff that you should always have around. You never know when you’ll need to write down an idea and you won’t want to wait for your computer to fire up (or when the power will go out and you’ll feel like laying out a project on paper).

•Data Backup* – An external hard drive can work, but I prefer Dropbox because it’s completely offsite (and free for the first 2 GB).

•Microsoft Office* – Although it’s possible to get by with OpenOffice, MSOffice products have made my life considerably easier. They run faster, all of the odd little features work exactly as you expect (like notations that people leave in long documents), and you don’t have to worry about files not opening up and looking exactly like you left them in OpenOffice. Given the time it has saved me, it was worth the minor investment.

•Software Specific to Your Specialization* – It’s hard to be too specific here (we’ll talk more about this later), but most types of marketing can be aided with the use of software. If there’s a software package that will allow you to be more efficient and better serve your clients, make it a priority to buy it early on. At the same time, don’t just buy everything in sight. Make sure it will truly help your business.

•Mobile Broadband – It’s not a necessity, but I do love being on long car trips and being able to get online through my laptop and get a bit of work done. It has also saved me quite a bit during the months that I travel, since I no longer need to pay for hotel wifi.

•Business Cards – If you do much face-to-face networking, you should have a set. I like Cards because you can make them really unique and people always want to talk about them.

•A Website – I used to have a website, but I shut it down years ago and I haven’t ever really felt like I needed it. In fact, for SEO clients it was almost a bad thing, since they expected my website to rank #1 for the search term “SEO”. I didn’t have time to worry about ranking for SEO – I was busy getting my clients to rank well. The same could be said of social media if they don’t see your site getting actively promoted.