I recently had the privilege of an exclusive interview with Shawn Collins the founder of Affiliate Summit. Shawn has touched so many people in this industry and his work continues to set the bar for leadership and influence in productive and ethical affiliate marketing practices.
Shawn blogs daily on affiliate marketing at Affiliate Tip. He has been quoted in numerous publications, including Entrepreneur Magazine, Internet Retailer, Inc. Magazine, the New York Times, and the Wall Street Journal.
1. Shawn, Please Introduce Yourself to RahulDigital Readers?
Hello Rahul – my name is Shawn Collins and I have been working in affiliate marketing since 1997 when I joined the Amazon affiliate program and also started up at MedBookStore.com to run their affiliate program. I have been an affiliate ever since and I spent a decade running affiliate programs in-house at a couple of companies and then as an outsourced affiliate manager. When I started there were no resources to learn how to do things in affiliate marketing. So I came up with my own methods to recruit and manage affiliates. I got a side gig writing for ClickZ.com about affiliate marketing, and while there I was noticed by Que Publishing, who gave me a book deal to write about running an affiliate program. In 2003 I was chatting with Missy Ward, who I’d met at an affiliate marketing cruise, and we talked about creating a better conference for the industry. At the time, we barely knew each other, but we had the common goal of growing the industry. That year we registered AffiliateSummit.com and it grew into the biggest affiliate marketing event in the world – currently, it takes place each year in Amsterdam, Las Vegas, New York City, and Singapore.
2. When and How Did You Get into Affiliate Marketing?
I was working in magazine publishing and newly married in 1997 when I came across the Amazon affiliate program. I wasn’t making much money, had some debt, and my wife at the time and I wanted to get a house and start a family. I basically became an affiliate out of desperation to earn more money on the side to pay the bills. It was slow going at first, but eventually, I figured it out and I’ve been an affiliate non-stop ever since. I was underemployed at the time and looking for something better, which led me to apply to MedBookStore.com, despite the fact that I’d never taken a marketing class in college. I managed to talk my way into the job with some language I’d learned from the Amazon affiliate program and haven’t looked back.
3. What Makes You Excited About Organizing Affiliate Summit?
Affiliate Summit was created to give the industry an event that was more fun, interactive, and useful. We have always read through all of the feedback and made changes from show to show to reflect what people liked and didn’t like. It’s literally the people’s conference. The way it looked five or ten years ago doesn’t resemble how it is now – so many big and small details have changed to provide the best experience and ROI to the attendees, and it’s an exciting challenge to us to continually evolve and improve.
4. How Do You Organize Such a Big Event?
When we started and for years after it was just the two of us, and that was really hard. Neither of us had experience running events or funds, so we had to figure out the most efficient ways to do things as we bootstrapped the company. Over time we hired employees to help scale, but we kept it small for a long time and outsourced lots of things. As time passed we realized there were things we just couldn’t do on our own, such as international expansion, so we ended up selling the company to Clarion Events in 2017. This enables Affiliate Summit to beef up the staff and move into countries and continents we could only dream of – it’s been an exciting ride and it’s so fulfilling to see the brand grow.
5. Which Are Your Marketing Strategies to Grow Your Traffic?
We never tried to take shortcuts. Everything we did was the slow and right way – completely white hat to build success in the longterm. We wrote quality, unique content, podcasted, posted videos of our educational sessions, ran meetups, spoke at other events, and pretty much did everything we could think of to make the tent bigger in affiliate marketing. We relied on organically growing our following with email, Twitter, and Facebook to drive traffic, too.
6. What Tools Do You Use To Help You Run Your Business?
All of us worked from home, so we focused on using the cloud to operate the business. Our email was through G Suite (Gmail), our files were in DropBox, we posted our videos to YouTube and Vimeo, and podcasts through Libsyn. Our sites were created on WordPress, and we ran our email list through Aweber. I liked Hootsuite to manage social accounts and scheduling posts.
7. Which Influencers and Thought Leaders You Look up to When It Comes to Affiliate Marketing?
The first book I ever read about affiliate marketing was by Declan Dunn and he’s been somebody I’ve learned from ever since the 90s. Also, James Martell (RIP) was groundbreaking in so much he did with podcasting and courses. Finally, Ken Evoy was an early inspiration and mentor.
8. What Are Your Favorite Websites, Blogs on Affiliate Marketing?
It’s been quite a while since I regularly read any blogs or sites about affiliate marketing. I find it a lot more useful to follow lots of innovators and affiliate networks on Twitter to earn the latest news, tools, and tips. Also, I go to as many events as possible to see smart people speak on affiliate marketing to learn from them.
9. What’s Your Favorite Social Network – Instagram, Facebook, Linkedin or Twitter?
Instagram is my favorite. Facebook and Twitter have so much polarization and fighting about things and it’s exhausting. I really don’t get LinkedIn – I haven’t looked for a job in nearly two decades and don’t see a whole lot more use at LinkedIn. But with Instagram, I like seeing snapshots of peoples lives.
In many ways Shawn is one of my personal heroes in the industry. He’s worked hard to bring a positive name to the industry through free resources to help those around him.