In this month’s issue of our Affiliate Spotlight series, we are very happy to share with you an interview with Adam Connell, a successful entrepreneur, marketing director at UK Linkology and the founder of Blogging Wizard.
Victoria Galperina: Please tell our readers a bit about yourself (maybe something not mentioned on your BloggingWizard "About" page).
Adam Connell: Hey, Adam Connell here.
I’m from the West Midlands, here in the UK. I started playing the guitar at the age of 13 and later went on to study Music Technology, and graduated with a degree that I haven’t really used.
While at university, I worked on a music marketing project which landed me an opportunity to consult on a web design project with David Lowe. He’s the guy who does a lot of the jingles for BBC News.
The truth is that this was just the beginning. I launched my own record label (more on that later), as well as a couple of blogs that highlighted just what was possible as an internet marketer.
All of this helped me land a job with a marketing agency here in the UK where I worked my way up to the position of Operations Manager. And to share what I was learning, I launched Blogging Wizard in 2012.
My blog has changed a lot over the years – right now it’s a platform to share actionable strategies to help bloggers to accelerate the growth of their blogs.
Eventually, I built up Blogging Wizard to the point where I could leave my job and focus 100% on building my own business.
I was fortunate enough to return to the agency (UK Linkology) as a shareholder last year.
Today I’ll be talking to you about my successes, my failures, our sales funnel at UK Linkology, along with a bunch of other things to help you get ahead online.
VG: How would you describe your typical work day?
AC: Despite which project or tasks I’m working on, I try to stick to a routine that is geared around helping me stay focused and productive.
Here’s my routine:
I exercise as soon as I get up, and follow that with 10-15 minutes of meditation, then have breakfast.
After breakfast, I work straight through to lunch, but I take short breaks every 30 minutes to help me stay focused and reduce eyestrain (this is known as the Pomodoro technique).
I won’t check emails til later – these can be a huge distraction, and they’re typically based on what other people want/need me to do, rather than what I need to do.
For lunch, I have something light – usually a salad. Then work through to 5 p.m., still taking short breaks every 30 minutes.
I usually check emails at 4 p.m., so I can stay focused on what I need to get done and by setting a time to finish work, it’s more of a motivation to keep up the pace. I typically get more work done by capping my time than I would if I just worked till whatever time I wanted.
The thing about work is that it tends to expand and by spending twice as much time on something doesn’t always mean you’ll get twice as much done.
VG: What would you say is your biggest success to date?
AC: There are two in particular; one would be considered the biggest success purely because of visibility, and other because of revenue.
My first marketing success came out of complete failure:
Back in college, I got the idea of launching my own online record label – I found out how easy it was to set up, but I knew nothing about marketing at the time, and I didn’t know much about building websites.
The idea was simple:
Create an online record label to promote the cheesy electro I was producing, and some other songs my friends were working on. And hopefully get paid.
So I did some research, learned some basic HTML and built a website. Bought hosting and a domain, then got shockingly thin marketing plan together.
We ended up selling one album (ouch), so when taking costs such as hosting into account, we made a loss. And we never did get paid for that one album, because we didn’t get past a payment threshold on the platform we used.
We had about 3-4 releases at that point, so after speaking to the artists, we went ahead and re-launched as a netlabel (essentially all our music was free).
After 12 months of very little marketing we had reached 500,000 people, and to this date we’ve had over 2.5 million downloads. Before closing down the label, we had 60 or so releases from artists all over the world.
But… financially I wasn’t any better off and the hosting was still costing me money.
So why do I consider this one of my biggest successes?
When I first came up with the idea, I had no idea of what was actually possible with internet marketing.
I had no idea about affiliate marketing, product creation or the fact people really could make money.
This experience was a real eye-opener, because it taught me the power of free content.
And ultimately, not making any money wasn’t an issue because if this didn’t happen, I wouldn’t be where I am now. It changed how I think and what I wanted to do (or at least, it started to).
My second biggest success:
A few years later I landed an entry level job at a marketing agency (it’s the same one I’m a company director for now). I worked my way up to operations manager and began working on the launch of a new service.
Because I was working at a busy agency, and still being responsible for some delivery of client work, as well as managing a team meant I had very limited time available to market the service.
So I allocated a few days each month to focus 100% on the marketing.
At the time, we’d just launched a new website so we needed to start building awareness & driving traffic.
I identified the blogs and websites our targeted customers would read, and my goal was simple – get featured on those websites.
I started off with a guest blogging campaign and landed some opportunities to write for industry websites such as Search Engine Journal.
While guest blogging, I also wrote most of the posts for our blog.
Within 4-6 months of blogging and contributing to industry blogs, I was able to grow the service into a 6 figure/year business.
The odd thing is that the sites I was writing for didn’t refer that much traffic due to the volume of articles they published. But the traffic we did get was extremely engaged and the articles I wrote connected well with the new service.
VG: To what do you attribute your success? What are the five key elements for starting and running a successful business?
AC: The odd thing is that, despite being involved in a few different businesses, I still don’t see myself as a business person.
I run my own business so I can create a particular lifestyle. I’m a maker at heart and love working on projects that solve specific problems for people. So, I don’t chase money, although I’ve found that I earn more by working to create a lifestyle that gives me a lot of freedom.
There are a few things that have stuck with me; that have had a major impact:
- Failure isn’t the end – Sometimes you have to fail in order to learn. I don’t see failure as a bad thing, I see it as part of the process of becoming successful.
- The learning never stops – Knowledge is power, and you should always look to expand your horizons and stay on a learning curve.
- Narrow your focus – When you enter a competitive market, you can either choose to compete on a broader scale, or you can narrow your focus and dramatically reduce your competition. By narrowing your focus, you can work at establishing yourself as an expert in your field.
- Adapt fast – Things can change fast, so you have to be able to adapt and be looking out for when you may need to adjust your strategy or even your business model. Evaluating and working to avert risks is a big part of this. For example, if sales of your flagship product is reliant on any third parties, that’s a risk that needs to be addressed.
Get the right people on board – You can’t do everything yourself but initially you may have to. But the great thing is that when you have the budget to hire staff, you can start off working with freelancers instead of hiring full time staff. This will make the process easier for you and minimize financial risk. Just be sure to properly vet any freelancers before hiring them.
VG: How do you go about marketing your business? What has been your most successful form of marketing?
AC: I’m in the middle of overhauling Blogging Wizard, so I’ll talk through how we do things at my agency (UK Linkology):
Out of all of the marketing channels I’ve used, SEO has had the biggest impact.
I’m sure you’ve probably seen some of those blog posts proclaiming that SEO is dead. Well I can tell you for sure that it’s very much alive.
The reality is that SEO is just one piece of the puzzle, and marketing takes a cohesive strategy to work.
We have two primary goals:
- Generate direct enquiries for the services we offer
- Drive more people into the top of our funnel
At the very top of our funnel, we use SEO, social media and email to drive people to our blog.
We have a bunch of opt-in forms that offer category-specific lead magnets, so that anyone reading our blog will be offered something that’s relevant in some way to what they’re reading at the time.
Side note: Before overhauling our list building strategy, we had generic site-wide opt-in forms. Since switching to category-specific lead magnets we’ve increased conversions 200-300%.
We then use emails to our list, and lead magnets to direct people to our service pages.
This set up is a work in progress – so we’ll keep making tweaks as we go.
VG: What's your take on affiliate marketing? Has it helped your business in any way?
AC: Affiliate marketing has helped a lot. Passive income is always good because it makes it easier to step off the hamster wheel (so to speak).
It’s given me breathing room, so I can devote time to long-term/business critical tasks such as growing my agency etc.
My advice to anyone getting started would be:
- Focus on building an email list – If all SEO traffic, or even Facebook traffic dries up, you’ll still have your email list. But keep the focus on value & solving problems rather than blasting out loads of promotional offers. If you want to learn more about list building, check out this detailed guide I published over at Blogging Wizard
- It takes time to earn a decent amount of revenue – It’s a long term thing, but well worth it if you know what to promote and have a strategy to drive traffic to offers.
- Affiliate income can be unpredictable so try not to rely on it too much – Especially if most revenue is generated by search traffic. Although there are steps you can take to mitigate risk such as avoiding relying too much on individual programs. For example, Mad Mimi recently announced closure of their affiliate program, and I’m guessing some affiliates will be losing out a big slice of income. So it’s essential to weigh up the risks involved and try your best to mitigate them.
- Be picky about what you promote – Promote good products that you have confidence in, and solve your audience’s problems. If they don’t, there’s no point.
Only promote a product that you would recommend if you weren’t an affiliate.
VG: Excluding yours, what company or business do you admire the most?
AC: It’s got to be Buffer.
The transparency and company culture they have is amazing. And part of the reason why I admire them so much is because of how focused they are on providing a great experience for their customers.
Their support team has some of the nicest folks I’ve spoken to when trying to get support for a product.
VG: What three pieces of advice would you share with young bloggers who are just starting out?
AC: Difficult question – there’s a lot that young bloggers need to know, but the main three things that come to mind are:
1) Get clear on WHO you want to help and HOW you want to help them – Answer this – “I want to help _____ to _______.” You can put this on your about page to make it clear who your blog is for. For example, “I want to help solopreneurs to streamline their business.” Be as specific as possible.
2) Have a clear monetization strategy before you launch – I learned this the hard way in the video game niche. It’s insanely competitive, and we went too broad but the biggest challenge was generating revenue. We thought it’d be enough to write reviews of games and include some affiliate links, then use some display ads – BIG mistake. The truth is that we needed a better monetization strategy.
3) Give tactics enough time to work and ask yourself what you can do to improve your results – Building a successful blog takes time, it’s not an overnight thing.
I see a lot of bloggers immediately dismissing tactics that haven’t given immediate results.
Before dismissing a tactic that isn’t working, you need to ask yourself:
- Could this work if I give it more time?
- Or, will it require a different approach?
For example, guest blogging can be an effective strategy, or it can be a complete waste of time.
It’s all about how you approach it – sometimes small changes to your approach can have a huge impact.
4) Build your email list from day one – I mentioned this in a previous answer, but it’s important so I want to mention it again.
When I first started blogging, there was a lot of hype around social media and that’s where I focused my efforts.
It turns out that I listened to the wrong people and the point at which my blog really started to gain traction was after switching my focus to building an email list.
Email is far more effective at driving visitors back to your blog in comparison to social media, so it’s essential you start building your list from day one.
Put together a free download that your readers would want to sign up for and make it easy to download. Another thing to consider is how you prioritize different promotional strategies.
For example, I want to build a following on social media, but I know that email is more effective – so my blog is more geared around encouraging people to subscribe to my list. I still make my social profiles visible but they’re not as prominent.
And I use the welcome email that goes out to new email subscribers to encourage them to join me on Twitter & Facebook.
VG: What are your plans for the future? Where do you see yourself in the next five to ten years?
AC: I’m happy with how things are shaping up with Blogging Wizard, and UK Linkology, so my immediate focus is to keep growth on an upward curve.
In the short term, I want to complete the overhaul of Blogging Wizard and take a look at making improvements to my agencies funnel.
The truth is that I’m learning new things all the time, so there are plenty of tactics & tools I want to test out on both of these sites.
Then I’d like to work on a series of products that tie into the topics I cover on both blogs.
In the next five years or so, I want to start travelling. I’m not sure where to, but it’s something I’ve always wanted to do. There’s something very appealing about the digital nomad lifestyle.
Thank you for sharing your expertise with us, Adam!
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Do you have any questions for Robbie? Please feel free to leave them in the comments below.