Leaving behind your 9-to-5 job. Creating a six-figure passive income. Buying a home on an island that overlooks the ocean. Being able to work from anywhere in the world. Sounds like a dream come true, doesn’t it?
For Jill Stanton and her husband, Josh, this is reality.
The Stantons are successful affiliate marketers, which they blog about at Screw the Nine to Five. Aside from building affiliate websites, they’ve expanded their business into other areas as well.
In this interview, Jill gives us a ton of advice on everything from how to select a niche when you’re starting an affiliate site to the key resources she’s used for ranking these sites on Google. In addition, she shares her inspiring journey and the challenges she and Josh have faced along the way.
Jill, I’m a big fan of Screw the Nine to Five. On some level, that image of being able to leave a traditional job behind resonates with everyone, even though many never act on it. How and when did you and Josh decide to leave your jobs behind to travel the world and run your own business?
We technically haven’t had a typical 9-to-5 job in ages. The last time I stepped foot in a corporate office setting, I was 22, more than a decade ago.
I just always knew it wasn’t my kind of scene, and Josh felt the same way. Actually, he’s never had an office job. He did an internship with two other marketers when he was 21, and after that he was off to the races. He teamed up with a buddy, and they created a software business and then moved into information products.
I had a different experience: I was a nighttime bartender for nearly 10 years. At the same time, I was involved in hosting a few web TV shows, which I eventually grew tired of. I decided to start a social media management business for restaurants.
Eventually, Josh and I started feeling disenchanted with our businesses. One day, we decided to test out starting a business together. We figured if we had a business together then at least we could travel and take our business with us.
We began by setting up a skincare review site and using affiliate marketing to monetize it. In the beginning it was difficult. The learning curve was steep, and I think I ugly — I cried nearly every week for the first two months. But as we continued working on it and experienced a few failures (and learned many powerful lessons), we began to see money coming in.
I’m not going to lie: That was the best feeling because it reinforced the fact that we were on the right track.
From there, we just kept at it. We continued to build new sites, learn from our mistakes, and hired help when we needed it.
These days, we have over 30 affiliate sites that make a full-time income for us, yet we haven’t worked on them in nearly a year. They just continue to make income passively, which allows us to focus on Screw the Nine to Five, as well as Josh’s newest project: setting up a drop shipping store.
What have been your greatest successes so far?
- Our first big success came when we were able to buy a condo overlooking the ocean on a tiny island in Thailand, Koh Tao. That was a pretty rad moment.
- Our second big success was surpassing our goal of making $15,000 a month — we ended up hitting $16,892.04. It was a surreal feeling because we had been dreaming of reaching that mark for nearly a year, so when we finally did it, we almost didn’t believe it.
- Finally, our third biggest success was creating a premium training program. We teach our students how to build the same kind of affiliate sites we have, through over-the-shoulder training videos. A bunch of our students are starting to see their first sales coming in, so that’s always exciting to see them so encouraged by the process.
I’m sure there were times when your entrepreneurial journey was challenging and maybe even a bit nerve-racking. What was the biggest challenge you’ve faced, and how did you overcome it?
Oh my gosh, challenging is an understatement.
Our biggest challenge has been figuring out a healthy balance between our businesses and marriage. When you work with your significant other, things can get a little … sticky, shall we say?
So our greatest challenge has been implementing a system that not only plays to our individual strengths, but also allows us to divide up our roles and focus only on our respective sides of the business.
For example, I run Screw the Nine to Five, whereas Josh handles the businesses we have in the background. This lets us teach the different monetization models throughout our content — and have the proof to back it up.
If you were talking to someone who is brand new to building affiliate sites, what would be your initial approach to picking a niche and product to promote? In other words, what do you look for when you’re first building an affiliate site?
First, figure out what niche you want to enter. A good way of doing this is to use the “wake-up-sweaty test,” which we learned about from Ash Ambirge over at The Middle Finger Project.
Her wake-up-sweaty test is way to determine if the niche you’re thinking of entering actually solves a pain point:
- A niche like acne passes the test because someone may feel so stressed out or insecure about their acne that they wake up sweaty worrying about their next breakout or what people may think of them.
- Something like cleaning products doesn’t exactly keep people up at night, though, so it might not be the best niche to enter.
Once you’ve figured out which niche you are going to target, you have to determine whether or not there are products within that niche that have affiliate programs. A simple way of doing that is to do a Google search for [your niche] “affiliate”.
From there you have to figure out whether or not anyone is even searching for this product of yours. There are a few ways of doing this. We use Long Tail Pro, but you can also use Google’s Keyword Planner.
Once you have found a product that has some good search volume and not a lot of competition, you need to set up a website. From there it’s all about creating content and driving links. When it comes to affiliate sites, your product review is typically your most profitable page. If you don’t know how to write one, check out How to Write a Product Review That Converts.
And then you bring it on home by driving links to your website to ratchet up the search traffic and ultimately outrank your competition and make those sweet, sweet dollar bills.
As someone who has experimented with affiliate marketing for several years now, I know that things have changed significantly over the years — especially with what it takes to rank a site on Google. How have things changed for you guys? What do you do now with regard to affiliate marketing that is totally different from your approach even a year ago?
Hands down the biggest game-changer for us has been learning how to build our own private blog network. That is the single biggest strategy that is in large part responsible for our business going from four figures a month to five, and we can’t speak highly enough of creating your own.
Just be sure you do it properly and aren’t too reckless with your link building; otherwise you run the risk of getting penalized.