Starting From Scratch

May 12, 2010 Steve

Redundancy can bring about a whole myriad of emotions from across the spectrum; everything from anxiety at the prospect of having to find a new job (especially if you’re out of practice), to relief or excitement at the opportunities that can unfold.  You’re going to have time on your hands, and if you’re lucky, the redundancy package may be enough to give some people the impetus to go it alone and have a crack at that new business idea.  When Marc wrote in a while ago, he was facing this exact dilemma and wanted to know what some of the docs would do if they had to start over from scratch …

“Dear Affiliate Doctors.

Up until a week ago I worked for a large video game company as one of their senior programmers until they decided that they were going to make half of their staff “at risk” of redundancy.  This means that after a 30-day consultation period I will find out if I am actually redundant but it’s pretty much a foregone conclusion that I will lose my job at the start of March [editor’s note: Marc has since lost his job].  For the past 15 years I’ve worked in the video games industry and this will be the third time I’ve lost my job in the past 10 years, whilst also avoiding losing it twice in that time.  It’s not an industry to be in if you want job security!  I have a wife and two young children, and I’m a bit fed up of the constant threat of job loss and the industry’s expectation that its staff will work ridiculous hours.

As I will be getting four months of pay in addition to a redundancy package, I’m thinking that it might be time to leave this badly managed industry behind and take the plunge into starting my own affiliate-based business.  I’ve been dabbling with affiliate marketing for the past year or two and had some mixed results with the minimal time I’ve put into it.  This experience has been the creation of a few niche mini-sites, PPC to some of those sites and direct-to-Amazon PPC (when it was allowed).

So on to my question …  With the money I will be paid, I should have at least enough to keep my mortgage and bills paid for 6 to 12 months.  However, I’m mindful that I might have to get a job at some point within that time period to make sure we keep the roof over our heads if any circumstances should change.  I’d like to focus 100% of my energy on creating a sustainable business, but my problem is that I’m not sure where to focus that energy so that I make the most of my free time.

If the Affiliate Doctors were in my position, what would they suggest I do in order to start creating a long-term affiliate business?  I appreciate that six months might be a bit quick to start to become a so-called “Super Affiliate”, but any pointers in the right direction for not needing a normal job will be much appreciated.

As I’m a programmer by day, I have all of the necessary skills for web development, and this is something I enjoy and think I’m good at.  I have created a web application engine for price comparison from data feeds and this will probably take around another month to be totally finished.  Is it worth focusing on this or is the price comparison market far too competitive for a newbie?

I know that “if you had to start from scratch, how would you do it?” isn’t an easy question to answer, but I’m going to kick myself in a year from now if I don’t at least attempt to get a business started now that I have the chance.

Thanks in advance for your help.


Here’s what Mark Boyd and Elaine had to say …

Mark B

Hi Marc, sorry to hear about the redundancy, but one good thing to come of it is that you can push yourself to make a success of your affiliate business. Many don’t have that drive, and therefore fail, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing you losing your job.

OK, in a nutshell you’ve asked what I would do if I were in your shoes. Well, let’s just identify what sort of shoes you’re standing in before we move on…

– You’ve got some money to outlay to jumpstart an affiliate business
– You’ve got experience in affiliate marketing in general, website building and PPC
– You’ve got programming experience (having worked as a senior programmer)

So, basically, you’re wearing £500 black Italian leather shoes! You’ve got all the things that I didn’t have when I started out. The things that I do have now (not quite to the same extent as you, my programming sucks) five years down the line. So instead of telling you what I’d do if I were in your shoes, I’ll tell you what I’m doing, in um… my own shoes!

When I started in affiliate marketing, I started with just one site, dedicated to matched betting (recently sold this site to allow me to focus on my damn thesis, and I am still a little touchy about the whole thing, so let’s not mention this again!) and that was all that I focussed on. As time progressed I moved into the mini sites market and created hundreds of mini sites, with greatly differing results. I’m now at the stage where I’m going to move back to the larger sites (I’ll still make mini sites, I can’t help myself), and I’m doing so with my PPC shoes on. I’m lucky enough to have access to enough money to invest in making excellent sites and also to pump into a PPC budget for each site. So my focus recently has been on finding relatively generic sites that I can create, and then focus on PPC’ing specific sections of the sites that I know will convert well based on my mini sites experience.

For example (completely hypothetical), if I’d had a bunch of mini sites selling golf equipment that did particularly well, I’d be looking to create a generic site about all things golf, and then PPC the sections that are likely to convert effectively.

So, if I were you, I’d do the following:

– Create a list of generic sites you’d be interested in working on
– In the meantime, swot up on all things PPC, even if it’s just reading a couple of articles a day
– Identify the merchants related to each potential site, then analyse their conversion rates, commission rates, websites, etc etc to get a feel for how “worthy” they’d be of your promotion time
– Whittle the list down to just one site
– Hire a decent WordPress designer to make you a super sexy site that is geared up to convert from head to toe
– Invest your time/money in decent content, not only will this help your conversions, it will help your organic rankings
– Get cracking with your PPC campaigns, find out what works, and stick with it

Many people are scared by the horror stories of PPC. If you stick to a daily budget you can afford and utilise the matching options correctly, you’re not going to be in for any surprises. Start with just using exact match keywords (to do this, just put square brackets around the keyword when adding it to the campaign, so add [super duper high converting keyword]) and then when you’re more confident move onto broad matching, but only if you have a ridiculously long negative keyword list.
I wish you the best of luck, if you need any PPC help, feel free to give me a nudge!


Hello Marc, just go for it.

I think you’ll find that once you have the time to concentrate fully on Affiliate Marketing you will become more focussed, and it’s much easier to complete projects when you have days instead of a few stolen hours.

Allkids really took off when I decided to leave my part-time job at the Halifax!!
If I had to start again, and I could replace my brain with a more technical one, I’d combine a niche I’m interested in with a price comparison model – don’t give your visitors the chance to leave and go looking elsewhere.  And don’t forget to include some pure information pages, if it’s relevant – they’re great for pulling in visitors and getting your site known.

I’d also look at using data feeds, but, if it’s a small site, you’ll need to be able to create your own descriptions, to differentiate your site from the crowd – Google likes ‘different’ and SEO is important – combined with good original content.

My latest project is looking at the conversion rates on our sites and how we can improve them, so that’s something I wish I’d spent a bit more time on before embarking on any changes!

I’d also take the time to attend industry gatherings and get to know other folk – it’s not just about making deals and coming away with profitable ideas and networking with the topcats – I find it does concentrate the mind and does give your morale a boost when you’ve spent some time with like minded people.

You won’t need a fancy pants, all singing and dancing site – just something that’s easy to use and easy to look at, and something you can update easily to take advantage of any special offers etc.

P.S. don’t spend too much time reading and learning either – it’s all very fascinating, but sometimes you just gotta get on with it :)

Editor’s Note

Hi Marc.

Thanks for writing in and being so open about things – it’s certainly an opportunity/dilemma that faces most people several times in their working life. Hope this helps you to make a decision in moving forward, and as an added bonus, Kirsty did a great article on a similar question she received few weeks ago in the Ask Kirsty section (3 docs for the price of 2!).

Best of luck mate and let us know how you get on.

Have you found yourself in a similar position to Marc and been able to turn it to your advantage?

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6 Responses to “Starting From Scratch”

  1. Hey Mark and Elaine,

    Thanks so much for answering my questions.

    Mark – I’m currently exploring some more PPC advertising. I did have some reasonable success doing some straight to Amazon PPC last year until they stopped it so it’s definitely something I’m going to explore. Expect me to be giving you a shout for help (…once you’ve finished your exams of course!)

    Elaine – You’re right – just get on with it! I think I just needed a poke in the right direction from someone to say “yes, you’re starting in the right direction. Datafeeds is something I find really interesting, coming from my programming background. I’m just less comfortable with writing lots of content. I need to find a better balance between the two I think.

    I’ll let you know how I’m getting on in the next few months and hopefully I’ll be up where you are soon.

    Steve – Thanks for getting my question answered!


  2. Questions for Mark B: could you recommend a good WordPress designer who is good at doing affiliate sites? Thanks.

  3. Marc – Sure, feel free to give me a nudge anytime, you can contact me direct through my blog @

    Joe – I’ve used quite a few. Unfortunately the one I like the best is so good that he’s too busy to take on new clients :-( Have a look @ Dan’s work @ I like his stuff.

    I’m always on the look out for talented wp designers though, so if anyone has any recommendations I’m all ears :)

  4. Hi Marc

    Sorry to hear about your redundancy but after reading your questions and the great answers by the pros I was wondering if you might want to get in touch as I am a WordPress developer, run several price comparison sites and am creator of the WordPress price comparison plugin ?

    The main reason to get in touch is that with your links and background there might be something we can do together within the video games area.

    Look forward to hearing from you.

  5. Thanks Andy. I’ve sent you an email and look forward to speaking to you.

  6. Hi Marc,

    A little late to the blog post but feel free to give me a shout through my website, and I can put you in touch with a couple of good wordpress designers (if you haven’t already got one). From my experience you need to try a few out before you find a good one and its always good to have a few reserves :-)

    Let me know how you get on too :-)

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