It is my pleasure to share with you an interview with Zac Johnson, Founder and CEO of Blogging.org. Zac is a self-taught entrepreneur, who started making money online while he was in high school and propelled his career to become one of the World’s Top Super Affiliates, while also managing to teach and inspire people to succeed along the way. In this interview, he shares his story and what it takes to succeed with affiliate marketing.
Victoria Galperina: Hi Zac. Firstly, I would like to take a moment to thank you for sharing your success story with our community. To start off, could you please start by telling our blog readers a bit about yourself and what you do?
Zac Johnson: In short, I'm an entrepreneur who has been making money online for the past 20 years. I'm a one man company, have a beautiful wife named Reena and the coolest dog in the world named Foxy. I enjoy playing basketball, am extremely passionate about business and love helping others learn how to start making money online.
I started out as an affiliate marketer (and still am today), but decided to launch my own personal brand and blog in 2007 at ZacJohnson.com. By launching my own personal brand and blog, I was no longer limited to just running ad campaigns and only being a middle-man... now I truly am the business.
Best of all, I get to work from the comfort of my own home.
As a result of the blog I've been able to share my story, help others make money online and also grow my personal brand and exposure several times over... all while also allowing me to work on new and exciting projecting that I enjoy. I've also been known to interview some of the top branding experts in the world through my Rise of the Entrepreneur podcast.
VG: How old were you when you first started making money online? What was your first big break?
ZJ: I first started making money online while I was in high school. This was around 1995 and things started to really come together around 96-97. Two of my favorite posts to share with people are the one that includes images of some of my first checks from back in the late 90s, and a walkthrough of my journey in affiliate marketing. Back when checks were actually sent out in the mail and domain names cost $70 for two-year registrations through Network Solutions.
A lot has changed since then, but the business model is still the same. When I started making money online it was through a few different methods... many of which no longer exist. AllAdvantage (getting paid to surf online), pushing web hosting plans in AOL chat rooms (nice residual monthly income) and ultimately Amazon.com.
Things started to get serious when I created a celebrity resource site and referenced products on Amazon.com through my site. As an affiliate with Amazon.com, I was pushing six-figures in sales with them through my site ranking organically in the search results. I fortunately then came across CPA (cost per action) affiliate marketing offers and realized I could earn more without my audience needing to pull out their credit cards.
This was really the next big leg up for my business (while I was still in high school).
From here I would launch more sites, get into email marketing and also take a week off of school during my senior year to attend Commission Junction University 2000. My father and I flew across the country from NJ to CA to attend this conference and it was well worth it. This was my first internet conference and really showed me the importance of building in-person relationships and how business was done in "the internet world."
Everything that happened during those first few years of my business still plays a huge part in my business and work ethic today.
VG: Please describe your typical work day. How do you manage your time?
ZJ: I'm pretty laid back. I "get sh*t done," but I'm not crazy with schedules or time management.
Three days per week I will wake up 630 in the morning to play basketball. The days in between I usually wake up around 8. I'll start working around 10am and see what the day brings. My wife usually gets back from work around 7-8, so I will usually relax for the night around that time as well.
Daily tasks are email management, content creation for my site and the usual management of site growth, outreach and working with advertisers/partners. The cool thing about each day is that they are never identical and you never know what type of email or opportunity might come through next.
Since I'm the only person in the company, it's a laid back schedule and as long as I get everything done, it all works out.
VG: What role does affiliate marketing play in your overall marketing & monetization strategies?
ZJ: Affiliate marketing still plays a big role in my business, but not the same way it used to. In the past, affiliate marketing was around 99% of my income source... now it's much lower.
Instead of focusing on running my own campaigns, I would much rather create my own sites and teach others how to do the same. This works out especially well when you can combine them both – (i.e.: create a site or product around your own expertise).
I still run affiliate campaigns every once in a while, and also use affiliate marketing to promote my own sites and products. No matter how the industry changes, I'm pretty sure I will also use and be associated with affiliate marketing in one form or another.
VG: How much time do you invest in your affiliate marketing strategy now compared to when you first started?
ZJ: In the beginning, it was 100%.
I've always has a knack for creating content sites and getting free organic/social traffic vs. going after paid traffic. Both options are great, but I like to "create."
A perfect example of this would be a social network resource site I created back in 2006. Once I started working on the site and saw how it was quickly scaling in size, I was working on it non-stop! Even better... the site was 100% HTML (no WordPress/no database) and I was just pumping out new content pages like crazy. The site ended up with over 10,000 pages and earned more than $800,000 profit within four months.
You can see a screenshot of my $306,373.24 check below. This isn't to brag... it's to show what's possible when you actually put in the work to accomplish something. I'm sure a lot of people will read this article and think otherwise, but a screenshot like the one below might just be enough to inspire someone to take action and change their life in the process.
It's super rare when opportunities like this come around, but it was definitely awesome to experience.
Without the background I had in affiliate marketing, the site definitely would not have had the same success, as I knew what to test, tweak and improve upon.
To further stress this point, to find success online you always need to be looking outward. It's easy to see a check like the one above a think anything less than that overnight is a failure -- but nothing happens overnight. Take a look at how just one banner ad spot from the mentioned site scaled over time. The first few months made less than $200 a month... then scaling to nearly $30,000 a month later on.
This is a business and it needs to be treated that way. Don't get discouraged by slow results.
Today, as mentioned in the previous answer, affiliate marketing is still an important focus... but more on a training, education and awareness factor. Individuals come to my sites to learn how to make money online. Affiliate and ad networks come because they want to reach that audience and gain more exposure. My job is to find the middle ground in-between and keep providing value in the process.
I would much rather teach an audience how to make money through my free tutorials and receive a commission on any recommended product or service, versus selling them something directly. There is already so much information and guidance out there already, it doesn't take a huge monetary commitment to get started. This model has worked out very well for me so far, as the blog has generated well over $5 million in new business to recommended site partners and advertisers.
VG: What are your top 3 pieces of advice to someone, who is just starting out with affiliate marketing?
ZJ: 1. This isn't easy
For every success story you see online, there are hundreds of failures that you never hear about. Don't think for a second you will find success overnight, if at all. In this game, it's you against the world!
2. Learn from your own experience, not others
I continually see people who are attempting to make money online and are trying to learn and consume as much information as they can. This is great... but this industry also changes fast. The only way you are going to learn how to do anything and get started, is to actually get started.
3. Start with a website or blog
One of the easiest ways to get started with making money online is through the use of a website or blog. This is also ideal for anyone that doesn't have money to spend in the beginning. However, if you are going to try and make money with a website, you need to know how to get started. It's in depth, but my free make money blogging guide covers all of this.
VG: Are there any niches that you favor more or companies you can recommend working with?
ZJ: I could write/talk about internet marketing and business all day, so anything in that space is always preferred. Outside of my own sites, I'm always contributing content to other outlets like AllBusiness, Forbes, Inc. Huffington Post and also doing interviews like this one. The more I get my name out there and brand myself, the more it makes sense for me to stay focused on niche markets I'm an expert at.
In reference to building out affiliate/lead-gen sites and campaigns, I like to focus on providing a service or solving a problem that an audience is looking for. This is the type of business model that you can actually be proud of, and even sell for several multiples later on. Try to create something real and not just make a quick buck off a campaign and jump to the next one.
VG: What was the toughest decision you had to make in your life? And what did you learn from it?
ZJ: I wouldn't say this was a decision, but it still makes for a good story.
I work out of my home office and we live in New Jersey. A few years ago Super Storm Sandy hit and everyone was making a big deal out of it – no one knew what to expect. We live on the water and have never had the streets flood or anything before this. Sandy hit and the water came up 10+ feet higher than usual.
Here is a picture from outside that next day.
So now what?... everything is destroyed and my home office is done as well.
The photo below is where I would run my business for the next year after Sandy hit, then we'd move back in again after the house was fixed... only to move back out again for the elevation to take place. As I write this now we are in a temporary apartment while the house is being elevated.
Long story short... four years later and we are still in the rebuilding process.
So what am I getting at... something like this can easily put everything into perspective of what's important and what isn't. A lot of people in this industry like to show off their fancy cars and throwing their money all around. At the end of the day it doesn't matter. Appreciate what you have (and realize it can all be gone in a second) and you will start to look at things different.
VG: Would you say that entrepreneurship is something that runs in your blood? Or is it something that can be learned?
ZJ: I know entrepreneurship is definitely in my blood. I was an buying and selling stuff in elementary school and always was thinking about new ways to make money and kept track of the world's top billionaires and crazy stuff like that! Fortunately for me, the internet came around at the perfect time. I didn't need to go off to college to spend the next four years figuring out what I wanted to do, I was already doing it.
At the same time, "business" can be taught. Most people are working jobs they hate anyway, so why not put in the work and effort to make some extra money running a business if you know how.
The difference between the two is passion. Everyone talks about it and it's pretty corny... but it's true for the people who are best at whatever it is they do.
VG: Is there anyone that you look up to, perhaps a mentor or a role model?
ZJ: I definitely wouldn't be where I am today without my awesome family and wife. They've always been the most amazing support team around me and helped mold me into who I am today.
I always hate when people choose someone like "Tony Robbins" or "Steve Jobs"... or anyone else they've never met. A mentor or role model should be someone of real importance.
If you've ever had the opportunity to run into me at a conference, you will have likely met my father as well. Ever since that first trip to California back in 2000, I've always had him coming to various events with me.
The picture below is the two of us from the Affiliate Force Cruise back in 2001.
VG: Where do you see yourself in the future?
ZJ: I'm pretty happy with where I am and the decisions I've made in life and business.
I often think what would it be like if I took a different path and hired employees and started a big company. Sure, it could have sold for millions of dollars or even went bankrupt... but at the end of the day, I'm responsible for my own success and failures and I wouldn't want it any other way.
Thank you for taking your time and sharing your story with us, Zac!
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