I’m sitting in the airport in Las Vegas, waiting for my red-eye back home, after spending the last 2+ days at Microconf 2014, The Conference for Self-Funded Startups.
I received a call from Mozy’s affiliate manager that they will be shutting down the Mozy affiliate program. This seems to be in direct opposition of what everyone else is doing (starting or promoting their programs) and a big advantage to the other cloud backup programs in the industry.
If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably heard that one of the posts from the Wine Club Group that we wrote last year recently “went viral.” Tricia wrote all about what we learned and got out of this event, but I’m going to talk about how we survived (and didn’t even know it was happening).
While Lindsey at ShareASale covered “10 To-Do’s Before Affiliate Summit West,” and Shawn Collins wrote the book on “How to Get the Most Out of Attending a Conference,” I wanted to cover some of the more non-conventional conference tips.
I have an envelope which sits in a lock box in my house. It’s pretty plain, except on the front is the date when it was sealed, and the words “Open When I Die.”
Pretty gruesome, I know. But it’s going to happen, sometime.
Let me give some background: I live with my wife and 3 kids. I’m fortunate enough to bring in enough income that my wife can focus on the home & family. I also take care of all of the bills. So I bring the money in, and I control the money going out. If I died, my wife would have a hard time figuring out all of our various accounts, bills, who gets what, when, and what’s coming in. Let’s complicate things with the fact that I own a company. There’s a lot to take care of, beyond what a traditional Will covers.
Of course, we have a Will, which takes care of things such as who gets what, who takes care of the kids, when they get money from their trusts… but that doesn’t answer questions like:
- How do you get into my computer & my various accounts?
- Where’s the money?
- What debts do we have?
- What money is coming in?
- What investments do we have?
So years ago, I created a document that started answering these questions. It’s written in Word and saved as a PDF, stored on a USB thumbdrive in another lock box, then printed out and stored in a sealed envelope in the first lock box.
I update the document twice a year (you’d be surprised how much can change in 6 months), and when I last updated it, many people wanted to know what was in it (sans details). So I tried to wipe out any personal info, and I sent out a PDF to some people. Here’s what it contains:
Who To Call
I have 3 people to call to help take care of things. One is a friend of the family who’s known me since the day I was born. He’s also an excellent accountant and has some history of my own finances, so he gets to figure out the money. (sorry)
Next is my sys admin. He’ll be needed to get into any accounts that may need to be accessed. I use LastPass for password management, and 2-factor authentication in many accounts, so not only is my LastPass password in there, which unlocks everything else, but instructions how to access my phone (the pin, or pattern, etc) is also in there.
Finally, I list someone who can help liquidate my affiliate sites and my business. If you know me at all on a personal level, it should be no surprise to find out that person is Tricia Meyer. Because of our Mastermind Group and business partnership with our Wine Club Reviews site, she’ll know how to sell things off.
I list where various documents and other valuables (in my eyes) are stored: life insurance, Will, Ricky Henderson rookie card (my favorite baseball player, and a childhood dream of owning this card). And this document (in paper and electronic format).
A summary of the Will, where it’s located and the filing information. Same with my Power of Attorney.
Life Insurance Policies
What policies we have, with whom, for how much, policy numbers, and expiration dates. (Note to self: add insurance agent contact info)
Contact information about our lawyer.
Information about how to get into Microsoft Money (I need to switch to Quicken someday!), our bank (account numbers and passwords – for some reason I don’t store my banking password in LastPass), answers to my security questions (logging in from a different computer means having to answer security questions), and details on our various savings accounts.
It’s something we talk about, but let’s be honest: at the time a funeral needs to be planned, will the requests be remembered? I know I won’t remember what Laura wants. This is a section that I’m still building out.
So far I sound like I’m all business, and I have been. But I left a few sentence, personal message to Laura at the end of this document.
Is this secure?
We need to balance absolute security (information only in my head) and convenience. The information itself only exists in two places: two different fire-safe lock boxes, which are bolted to different floors of our house, which itself is locked and has an alarm system, smack-dab in the middle of the Village in New York with more police officers per mile of road than any other municipality in all of New York State, surrounded by observant neighbors. I’m OK with this.
You can download the PDF for yourself. My version is 4 pages long, in outline format. I encourage you to create a document like this for yourself, especially if you have kids. And get a Will! Use a real lawyer, or check out LegalZoom.
Or you can live in denial, and have your loved ones curse you when you die.
Merchants often screw over their affiliates (see Got My Panties.com In A Bunch). Sometimes they know what they’re doing, and sometimes they just aren’t thinking clearly. Sometimes they play dumb, and sometimes they just really are dumb.
Last Thu, Nov 28, 2013 at 2:31 PM (for those of you not reading this the first week of December, 2013, last Thursday was Thanksgiving, and at 2:31 I was enjoying dinner at my Mom & Dad’s house), I received a commission change notice from Cellars Wine Club:
In case you think that table is useless and doesn’t tell you anything, you’re right. A few hours later:
So I emailed Cellars, but the person who put these rules into effect wasn’t in the office. I guess he, too, was having Thanksgiving dinner with his family. But someone else did get back to me:
This is just so our new customer targeted coupon codes can’t be combined with an affiliate commission.
After another email back & forth, I was finally told three codes which would be non-commissionable (but there’s 4, 0% commission actions listed). We had none of these on our wine club review site, so it wasn’t a big deal.
There on the landing page is one of the non-commissionable coupons!
So let’s review the process:
- We refer users to Cellars Wine Club, expecting a commission on the sale
- Cellars Wine Club displays their non-commissionable promo code, which the user applies
- The user makes a purchase
- We get $0 commission
I understand not wanting to pay a commission and apply a coupon to a sale, but then don’t show the coupon to the user if the affiliate cookie is set!
Now, going into the busiest shopping season, we’ll be referring customers to a merchant, and racking up $0 commissions.
That’s how to F*#! your Affiliates: Black Friday to Cyber Monday Edition.
This problem started days ago with some emails, and quickly escalated to the point of having to write this blog post for resolution. It’s a shame affiliates have so little power, but in situations like this, we cannot be ignored.
I personally reached out to every wine club affiliate and informed them of the situation, and others spoke up as well. This is the perfect situation where a niche affiliate community would have helped; if you’re a leader in a niche, I encourage you to start one now. When (not if) a merchant makes a wrong decision, accidentally or not, you’ll want your competition to help fight for what’s right.
LastPass is a password manager / service that requires you to only remember one password for all of your sites. I’ve been using it for years, but am surprised at how many of my colleagues have never heard of it, and either reuse the same password for many sites, or who save their passwords in their browser.
Why trust a third party with your passwords?
Well LastPass doesn’t really have access to your passwords. See, your information is encrypted before being sent to them, so the only time the plain-text password is available is after the encrypted information is downloaded to your device, and you enter your master password. Oh, and don’t forget your master password – if you do, you’ll lose the ability to decrypt your data completely!
LastPass has FREE browser extensions for Chrome, Firefox and IE, as well as apps for iOS and Android (apps are for Premium users: a whopping $12 / year). Once you save a site in one browser, it’s available everywhere else.
This was very useful for me on Thanksgiving, when I had to login to my ShareASale account from my phone, but didn’t know my password. Why don’t I know my ShareASale password? Because I only know my LastPass password! My ShareASale password may be something like 8cQwhdCQUIHBSt7 (but it’s not). LastPass has a secure password generator built-in, which takes care of generating secure passwords for me.
Besides passwords, LastPass can also save address profiles (easily fill in shipping information when shopping online, with different profiles for home, work, etc) and credit cards (I feel like storing my credit card information would allow me to checkout too quickly, and I’d be more likely to buy stuff I don’t need, so I don’t use this feature).
The Security Challenge is great in telling you at which sites you should update your passwords because they’re weak or shared with other sites.
LastPass also has secure notes, where you can attach files, too (something I haven’t used yet).
When a service is hacked into, LastPass will email you and prompt you to change your password at that site, as well as any other sites where you may have used the same password.
The reason I’m writing about LastPass is because there have been a few times in the past week where I wanted to share a login with someone, without giving them the full username & password. LastPass let’s you do this!
One thing I didn’t know LastPass had available is Multifactor Authentication. What this means is for someone to gain access to your account, they need to know your username, password and a token that’s generated by another device (I use Google Authenticator). The token changes every 60 seconds, so even if somebody figured out your password, they still wouldn’t be able to access your account. If you already have LastPass, I encourage you to set this up!
In short, LastPass is a free to nearly-free ($1 / month) service that makes your life easier and more secure. Just make sure you give yourself a couple hours to download it, as I’m sure your own security check will reveal lots of opportunities for improvement.
I know some of you have been doing this longer than I have, but a few years ago, nobody talked about what niche they were in. It was like if someone found out, they’d start a competing site and take away some of your market share. Yet these days, it seems that affiliates are more open to talking about their niches, and even collaborating with the competition.
Along with reviewing wine clubs, I also have a site (in desperate need of work) that promotes cloud backup services. When GAN shut down, CrashPlan‘s affiliate program also shut down, with promises that it would launch “soon.”
Well “soon” turned into weeks, then months, of excuses. Luckily, I knew a couple other cloud backup affiliates and we pooled our influence in this market to get results. It was a disorganized effort, but it worked.
I’ve also worked with other affiliates to identify tracking issues (affiliates typically know when tracking is down, before the merchants know), to coordinate efforts to remove toolbars and other spyware from the merchants’ affiliate programs, and have discussed Google SEO changes specific to our industry.
We now have a private group in which we can discuss the industry, and specifically the affiliate programs. While we’re all competitors, we also have a common goal.
Whatever niche you’re in, I encourage you to work with your competition. You’ll probably learn something, meet some nice people, and increase your earnings.
A Niche Affiliate Community is different from a Mastermind Group, which is used to enhance your overall business and success.
I was working with one of my new clients who set up her site on WordPress.com, which severely limited what I could do for her, so I recommended she signup for Bluehost. Bluehost offers ssh access and is only $4.95 / month, and I hear about a lot of affiliates who use it for their own sites. Awesome – that was my recommendation in my email.
Of course, if I’m recommending a hosting provider, I want my cut of the deal. So after logging into CJ, I got my Bluehost affiliate link and tested it out (I always test my links before sending them). Imagine my surprise when the price went from $4.95 / month (without an affiliate cookie set) to $6.99 / month with the cookie set!
Big surprise there! As affiliates, we explain to shoppers that buying through affiliate links doesn’t cost them any more than if they bought directly from the merchant. But, this isn’t the first time this has happened, either (FTD – affiliate links cost more – thanks Tricia for the tip).
This is where I excel as a human, and fail as a businessman. I didn’t use my affiliate link when referring my client to Bluehost. I’d rather them save a couple of bucks, than me make a $90 commission. What’s also interesting is that going Incognito in Chome and making sure cookies were cleared still showed me the higher rate, and this…
Disclosure on Merchant Site
Another thing that surprised me was a statement on the Bluehost website when I (the shopper) was tagged as an affiliate-referred visitor:
Since you landed on this page of our site, we want to let you know you visited one of our paid endorsers while researching your purchase.
We’ve talked about Affiliates needing to disclose their relationships, and we’ve talked about OPMs needing to enforce it, but this is the first time I’ve seen a merchant disclosing the relationship.
So bravo to Bluehost for disclosing the relationship with your affiliate, but shame on you for charging more when affiliate links are used![fmtcpod pod=”f9d2b73e482fd540beb85113a34a52d4″ sid=”ericnagel”]