after action review

What got you here won’t get you there

In the last 632 days of working for myself I’ve adopted a pattern that feels increasingly stagnant. So, in an effort to change things up I took a morning to sit down and candidly evaluated my situation.

Specifically, I asked four questions:

  1. What was expected to happen?
  2. What actually happened?
  3. What went well, and why?
  4. What can be improved, and how?

Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. -Albert Einstein

If you want different results you need to do things differently. Simple enough.

So I mined my own records and listened to the feedback of those who have to interact with me on both a business and personal level daily. These are my results:


What Was Expected to Happen

I set out to become a full-time affiliate marketer.

What actually happened

After some success with directory sites I began working for the very people that advertised on them, which led to local lead generation. Local Lead Generation, in turn, was far more profitable than working for a law firm so I left my 9-5.

This path played out:

Directory Sites → Local Lead Gen → Web development for small businesses (who had no web presence) → On-site SEO for SMB’s → On and Off-Site SEO for SMB’s.

So though I had begun with the intention of being an affiliate marketer, my business quickly spiraled into me, again, trading hours for dollars with client work- something I never set out to do.

The problem: If I wanted to trade hours for dollars I’d probably have better ROI going back to school and becoming an attorney or working for an SEO firm.

What Went Well, and Why

  • Learned more about business, mostly through failures and overextension, than in all the blog posts, books, or classwork I could have taken in a lifetime.
  • Learned a lot about organic search and in the course of not quite two years time developed a respectable network in both the affiliate marketing and SEO niches.
  • Accidentally fell into an online business niche that has only recently become hot – local lead generation. I was fortunate to have been one of the first movers in several verticals across multiple municipalities. Local Lead Generation is, still, to my mind, the low hanging fruit between affiliate marketing and SEO.

One of the “whys” in what went well has a lot to do with what I was wasting my non-billable time on: Twitter. As a tool, it has been invaluable to me for networking purposes and being on the “tip of the spear” for ever evolving search information. And if you are reading this there is a 65% statistical likelihood that you were referred through a twitter link.

That said, the timesuck factor Twitter and forums (Wickedfire, specifically) is also a big point of improvement- for obvious reasons:


My Hall of Shame profile

The other big “why” for the things that went right: I had no choice but to make them happen. Once you quit your job and cut off your biweekly paycheck, you’ll be pretty amazed at the gigs you won’t turn down if you’re hard up. I wasn’t afraid to throw everything at the wall and try anything to make it happen, but that also led to overextension and diminished time with my family and friends.

What can be improved, and how?

I wanted to build a business and ended up creating a self-directing job.

  1. Focus on one thing, and one thing only.
    • My success was mitigated because I was chasing every dollar, client, or opportunity that came my way- rather than focusing on the most profitable core business model. (Which, I still believe, is scaling an affiliate marketing business).
  2. Leverage and scale local lead generation to bolster cashflow required for ad spend.
  3. Increase efficiency by limiting wasted time on unprofitable tasks < cough, Twitter, cough >.

There was a great article today on DIYThemes that talks, specifically, about focus and deliberate practice on one medium at a time:

When you’re getting started, working on several projects sounds good. However, the odds are against you. Many more people fail at creating a profitable online business than succeed. If you want to be one of the few who do succeed, you’ll need that laser focus you develop when you have no other option. So, focus on one project at a time.

“It is never too late to be what you might have been.” – George Eliot

This was a pretty frank discussion of what I’ve done wrong, but I hope it helps you think about your own business interests.

Knowing and owning my mistakes helps every bit as much as the skills I’ve picked up while making them to chart a course in the right direction. If I want to be an affiliate marketer, I have to spend the preponderance of my time working on affiliate marketing and not with client work.

Know what you want, focus on one thing at a time and become obsessively good at it. The formula is timeless because it works.

“This is America. Pick a job and then become the person that does it.” -Bobbi Barrett, Mad Men (S2, E5)

  1. Joe Hall December 16, 2010 at 1:48 pm

    I wanted to build a business and ended up creating a self-directing job.

    Wow! Yeah, I can definitely understand this. Whats hard, is that most of the time, when you are self employed you are forced into short term goals to pay the bills. Service oriented work becomes all you do, because the demand is high and it pays the bills.

    I really like the product based business model. I am hoping to expand more into that in 2011. Clients are killing me! LOL

    • Amanda December 16, 2010 at 2:08 pm

      I agree that product-based business models seem to work more efficiently for ROI.

      Whenever you put a person in the mix, the pipeline to profit becomes exponentially more complicated. When you put several clients, support services (invoicing, collections, billings, etc.) in the mix…well, you know.

      Hence why I want to move away from what had been my forte (organic local lead generation) and into paid local lead generation that can be replicated and scaled across multiple cities as well as affiliate marketing (for the same reason).

  2. Mr Green December 16, 2010 at 1:54 pm

    Man keep up the good writing! Another enjoyable read.

  3. Dave Lawlor December 16, 2010 at 1:58 pm

    I also found that not chasing all clients significantly improved my work. Make sure you only take clients that are willing to pay exactly what you want. At the start I would take clients who wanted to low ball and I thought I needed the work so I agreed to get the gig. Big mistake. The cheaper clients were always more problematic and they always tried to expand the scope of the project. When I started charging more and sticking to those rates, I got higher quality clients that respected my time more.

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  5. Max December 16, 2010 at 5:29 pm

    I can relate. I’ve been though a very similar path in a similar amount of time.

    I also agree on the potential of a structured affiliate business – I’ve recently slowed down both client work and affiliate business-as-usual in order to refocus and plan my next few moves.

  6. Negbox December 16, 2010 at 10:44 pm

    Thanks for bringing into awareness these pitfalls – I bet I could fall into the money-for-time bear trap in the blink of an eye too.

  7. darren z January 13, 2011 at 11:06 am

    This is an interesting post, and honestly, after several years as an affiliate marketer I realize it’s the non-affiliate jobs that keep me going as an affiliate marketer.

    So many people set out to be full-time affiliate marketers only to discover it’s more difficult than anticipated because of the extreme monotony and work required (I’m still recovering from the shock of 16 hour days during the 2010 holiday shopping season, and I still haven’t received a commission payment). I believe “new affiliates” could be more successful if they viewed their affiliate marketing as a hobby rather than as a business as it reduces a lot of pressure and permits them to take on other non-affiliate jobs to help pay the bills. And I do believe in focusing on one project but I’m not sure full-time affiliate marketing should be that focus for most people – unless they have a huge trust fund or inheritance.

    And I know what you mean by stagnant patterns as I always find myself reviewing my previous tactics for something new, but it’s difficult to stay on track when you are the one-man-show who does everything.

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