ET-1 Making Money Online w/ Zac Johnson
Blogging, Affiliate Marketing & More
In the premier episode of Entrepreneur Talk I chatted with Zac Johnson of ZacJohnson.com and Blogging.org.
Zac is someone who I’ve seen over the years of being an online entrepreneur every time I wandered down the road of thinking about affiliate marketing. He’s be doing it since he was in high school and the early days of the Amazon affiliate program, which was basically the dawn of making money online.
I never actually got into doing affiliate marketing but I know lots and lots of people do really well with it. You have to treat it like a business, like anything else you want to be successful at, but I can say for sure I have two clients who work in that realm, one who is doing six figures and one who is doing eight figures (!!) in sales.
So yeah, it can be big. And according to Zac, you can get started just fine with $500-$1000- which is a very doable amount for just about anyone to work with. And if even if that sounds like too much, you can start with less.
Despite his longstanding experience and success I found him to be a very humble and approachable guy who was willing to share his advice and experience with me. I also found out he lives a stone’s throw from most of my wife’s family in New Jersey.
Not that it means anything but somehow connecting with people on a personal level always seems to make the interviews a little more open and informal than when it’s strictly business.
If you would like to make $100 for referring someone to our bookkeeping service, go here.
If you think you could potentially refer a lot of people to us (or more than one or two, anyway) check out our affiliates page.
Our itunes link for Entrepreneur Talk Podcast
Our Stitcher link for Entrepreneur Talk Podcast
Listen right here:
Matt: Let me start by saying “Welcome to the podcast, Zac Johnson!” I appreciate you taking the time to be here. I’ve seen your name on the Internet and on online business stuff for years and years now so I’m glad that I get the chance to finally connect with you. I’ve seen your site, www.zacjohnson.com, and I just found out you also have blogging.org, which is awesome. Like I do with all my guests, I’d like to kinda just ask you to kinda kick it off on how you got started. I know you started really young as an entrepreneur. What was that journey like and what motivated you to do your own thing?
Zac: Thanks a lot, Matt, for having me and I’m really excited to be here. So, I first started when I was in high school, around the age of 15 – 16, the Internet was really kinda starting to grow. This was around ’95 or ’96 and I always got the entrepreneur mentality. Even before the Internet, I was always selling cans and candies in school to kids and I always just had that mentality. Fortunately, the Internet came around. And I said, “There is gonna be a way to make money with this.” And I was creating free websites using AOL.com. – Their free member pages and if you remember back then, there were also sites like Geocities and Tripods. I was creating all these free sites and then I actually figured out how to create banners for my sites as well and get sites to link back to me and whatnot. And, AOL had a chat room called the web diner and you could actually go there and talk to other website owners. So, they saw that I was making banners for people. And they said, “Hey! Can you make me a banner?” and I said, “yeah, sure. I can make you a banner. Just send me a dollar on the mail.” And I was like, getting a few dollar bills here and there but some people weren’t sending it to me and this is way before like anything like PayPal was created. So, that’s how I really started making my first dollars online. And then, I kinda grew into affiliate marketing where I was building up my own websites and the concept of affiliate marketing is basically referring someone to another website where they can buy something or complete a task and you’ll get a commission for referring that person to the website. And the good example of that is Amazon.com, so that’s what really where things really started to grow while I was in high school still. I was doing around 6 figures with amazon by creating websites, driving traffic to them. People were signing up for stuff and I was really just a middle man so I don’t have to really hold to inventory or anything. That’s just kept growing and scaling over time and that’s pretty much what I’m still doing today. But now, instead of focusing on sending leads to other people now, I’m kinda the authority in that space for teaching others how to do the same.
Matt: So, you’ve gone from being an affiliate marketer to more of a teacher of affiliate marketing?
Zac: Yeah, definitely. It was one of the best decisions I made and that was in 2007 when I created www.zacjohnson.com. I said, “I’m really gonna put myself out there and help people learn on how to do the same thing by creating free tutorials on my site and sharing my story and just really walking people through the process.” People have been able to generate millions of dollars which I would then earn a small percentage from different ad networks and whatnot. But, it’s proven to work time and time again when people just walk through the steps and actually have dedication to make this work.
Matt: Well, right. Like any business, you’ve got to actually devote yourself to taking the time to do it and I’m sure you’re a big advocate of not expecting billions overnight?
Zac: Yeah, exactly. That’s why so many people fell. It’s so easy to start a website. It cost literally $10 to register a domain for a whole year and maybe $5 – $10 for hosting each month. Some people will start a website, just start throwing content out there and expect to make thousands of dollars within a few days and that is absolutely not the case. I’ve been doing this for nearly 20 years now and just along with my success stories that are out there, there are kind of failures that people don’t realize or hear about, the endless hours of working on contents. It’s the same with any type of business. There’s a majority of people that are finding success and there’s another 10,000 people behind each one of them that has already failed.
Matt: Would you say it’s something anybody can do if they’ve got the right education? Or is there more to it than that? Do they need a certain mindset or certain skillset? What are the qualifications to be successful? What do you think?
Zac: Yeah, I would say it’s all about the dedication, mindset and education. Whether that be college or not, that really comes secondhand from what I’ve seen in the internet and affiliate marketing space because anybody can go online and find out how to do this stuff. There are millions of tutorials. You don’t really need to pay money to learn this stuff because there’s so much information out there and then you learn from your mistakes and you put I through. So, I like to put it comparison to you go to school for 4 years in college and you’re looking at potentially $50,000 – $100,000, and that debt you’re gonna have afterwards but if you put that same amount of time into creating your own business online, you won’t have all that debt built up and you could have possibly be making money with an established business. Of course, college is for a different mindset of people. Entrepreneurs are different in themselves. But, I would never say that, to find success online you need to have a formal education.
Matt: How about on start-up capital? What do you think the safe amount to start with? Obviously, you can do everything, with $0 and use the library computer and have absolutely no out of pocket cost. It can be done that way. But, if you got some set aside, you can invest some money in it, what do you think would be sort of a reasonable amount of start-up fine to expect and use your “education funds” to kind of learn and figure out how to do what you’re trying to do. Hopefully, at the end of that investment, you’ve got at least to where you can break even or have a few successes?
Zac: Yeah, definitely. I think $500 – $1000 is more than enough to get started with a solid website because you can download WordPress, set-up hosting and everything and that’s really gonna cost you not much at all. Then, whatever else money you have, that should be focused on content promotion because anybody can create content but having the right tools and software, and that’s often you gonna find online that’s recommended. Most of that stuff is usually on a monthly basis, so you’re only looking at maybe $10 – $50 a month for somebody’s services to help you with outreach and social media management and creating content. But it’s all about really having a tight niche focus that you can see. How you gonna make money with this? Who your audience is? Starting up very small, you can actually start doing Google ad words advertising and Facebook advertising for $1 – $3 per day. That’s only about $100 per month if you’re spending $3 per day. In that first month, you should have enough data to figure out what’s working and what’s not. Then, once you’ve found what keywords are working and where you were able to make money, you can skill that up in time. There’s no reason why anybody should be afraid to start a business online. It doesn’t have like thousands of dollars, it really only cost the time and effort you’re gonna put into it. But if you have money, you can definitely excel at a much faster pace.
Matt: So, once you’ve kinds set up, would you say most of the funds that you are spending are then going to buying traffic and sending traffic to your different offers and testing? Was that where the bulk of the funds were spent?
Zac: Definitely, you would want to spend as much as money as you can on advertising once you can master the process because there’s over 300 million blogs in the world today. We’re approaching the billion mark on how many websites, active websites on the internet. If you don’t spend money on advertising, you’re really gonna fall in that mix. If the amount of time it takes you to grow and get out of that substance of what billion sites are out there, it would take so long that it really does a huge difference between once you start spending money and you find that traffic source and know how to make money with it. You’ll just find that your business increases month after month after month. Because once you know your audience, you can just spend more money and keep testing and tweaking that. It’s almost automated once you do that, because there are so many platforms out there. Let’s say, you’re getting traffic to your website, you’re paying for Google ad words to rank in the search results for whatever keyword. Someone then comes to your website and you can have a pixel place on your site so that every time someone comes to your site and they leave and they don’t take action, you can actually have another ad campaign running within Facebook so that when they go back to Facebook, they might see an advertising that says “hey! We noticed that you came to our website but you didn’t complete your form. Click here and then you’ll get $20 off of your next purchase.” It’s all about mastering that lead generation process. Knowing how to get people to your site and not getting them to take action necessarily for the first time, you can follow up with them on another traffic source, an advertising method another way.
Matt: Interesting. So, how do you think this would translate to some of our more traditional, breaking more clients, we’ve already got small business or are thinking about starting business that are online but want to take advantage of some of this content marketing and some of the traffic and leaves sources they can generate from online. How do you think that would translate to a more traditional business or an offline business? Is it worth the time and effort it takes to do this to train generate leads for those types of businesses?
Zac: It is definitely worth the time and effort because if you’re not doing it, you’re competition definitely is. Let’s say you have a pizza restaurant because that’s really focused and generalized. I see a lot of these restaurants always trying to get fans on Facebook and whatnot. But, at the end of the day, that’s really pointless and it doesn’t matter at all because if you post an update on Facebook, only a small percentage of that audience is actually going to see it. Most of these people don’t even realize that building that is really just helping Facebook grow their company. A better way to do this is get people to become a fan but than to set up a highly targeted ad campaign to that audience. Obviously, if somebody goes to a pizza restaurant, they become a fan of that place, they are already existing costumer. If you create that ad that displays within Facebook that says “We appreciate you as a customer. It’s 10% off of your coupon or purchase.” You can actually have them print that out or whatever, you can see that people who actually come into your store and provide these to you because they want that discount and because they are previous shoppers. Since you’re not dealing with an online lead generation company like internet companies are, you’re a retail business that’s in a local area, that’s one of the best ways to track it because you may have a thousand people on your Facebook page but how many of them are actually resulting in new sales when you’re not tracking it?
Matt: Yeah, it makes sense. What about, just to take kind of a selfish slant here, for somebody like us where we’ve got a bookkeeping service where there is potentially tens of thousands of potential customers who use QuickBooks online. We can reach service nationally. But, looking at Google ad words, for example, there are few searches for people looking for service. It just doesn’t tend to be the kind of thing that people search for online. What would be another way that we could potentially reach out and target some of these users and get our information in front of them so they can potentially choose us as a service provider? Is that again content marketing? Would it makes sense for us to set up some kind of an affiliate program ourselves? What would be some strategies that we could use in your experience that might generate some good leads for us?
Zach: I think a good route to go with this would be the content creation route and that would be finding what your audience is searching for in the first place. They might be looking for how to pay taxes when you’re a one man company because every day someone is starting a business for the first time and they are searching for all of the stuff that they have no idea for. If they can end up on your website as one of the resources for that information, then you can actually provide them a pop-up that says “can we help you in additional way? Let us send you our free pdf of the top 50 most asked questions for starting a new business.” And then “how you can outsource your payroll?” and all the other things that you might handle for your business. You won’t have to pay for Google ad words or Facebook advertising with this method. But, you would have to focus on getting your site to rank higher on the search results for these individual terms. There are other methods you can use such as writing “Ten quick tips for QuickBooks that most people don’t know about” and then you might get QuickBooks to share that article with their audience and other resources will reference back to your website. It’s all about finding who your audience is and what your audience is looking for online and getting in front of them to try and turn them into a lead.
Matt: Gotcha. That makes sense and that sort of the approach we’ve tried. There’s no shortage of things you can work on and write about and market to and it’s just a matter of finding the time of the day. To that point I guess, do you have people that help you? Do you use virtual assistants? Do you use other services that help you kinda go beyond that help you kinda go beyond what you can do on your own day with your own hours?
Zac: Yes, I’ve written a thousand of articles over the past 8 years and if it says that it is written by me, it is actually written by me. But, I also have other people that write for some of my other sites as well. That’s because the amount of content that needs to continually come out depending on what your audience is looking for, like you said, you can simply do it all yourself. What I like to do is focus on making sure the quality that I do create is extremely high and something that I can continually promote over time because a lot of people think of they’re gonna start a website or blog, they need to create content every single day and that’s absolutely the last that you want to do. You want to create one great article maybe once per week or once per month. But to be able to promote that article effectively, that’s what you would want to do. You don’t want to focus on the content creation; you want to focus on the content promotion. There’s so many different ways to promote your content. You can turn into a info graphic. You can make it a free pdf. You can turn it into a slideshow. Put on to SlideShare. There’s so many ways that you can promote it and at the same time, all of that is bringing you incoming back links to your websites and helping you rank higher on the search results. Passing through your competition.
Matt: So, it’s sort of a combination of creating quality content, working on the SCO for organic rankings and then buying traffic where appropriate to send traffic to landing pages and content, and people can get in exchange for emails and all that kind of stuff. It’s a holistic strategy I guess?
Zac: Definitely all intertwines with each other. What I mentioned earlier, whether you’re paying for traffic from Google or they are coming to your site organically, you can stood with all that same follow up advertising to Facebook advertising or contextual advertising on other websites. There’s so many ways to follow up with that audience once they leave your site. That’s actually cheaper and you’re going to see higher conversion rates. So, as long as you can focus on how to create that high quality content, and you know your audience is coming to it, and you know that you’re gonna keep seeing your ads once they leave your site, that’s one of the best ways to run your business online.
Matt: Well, that makes sense. People most likely to buy the people that have already shown some interests. Let’s say, if I was somebody that was thinking about being an entrepreneur but just not sure what I wanted to do to get started. I knew I wanted to have an online business because I like the idea of being able to work from anywhere and all that kind of stuff. But, I didn’t have any specific ideas what to target or I didn’t have a specific audience or hobby in mind. How you can help people kind of narrow down the focus of where to start? Because, to your point, there is so much free information out there. It can be kind of overwhelming and almost you get into the analysis paralysis mindset of there’s so many things I can do but I do nothing ‘coz I don’t know where to start. How do you help people sort of get that first thing going?
Zac: I like to tell people to stop learning from everybody else and to start learning from themselves because I find that so many people put in 3 months to 9 months of learning everything they can and by the time they do, they missed 9 months of actually learning from themselves. By then, a lot of things might have changed on the internet anyway. So, a lot of people like to say follow your passion and money would follow. Of course all the success stories would say that, but at most cases that’s not it. What you would need to do is find that niche mark that you’re gonna go into. That can be something that you are passionate about but you have to actually to break that down so it can be profitable. And, a good example of that is basketball. I’d love to play basketball. I love watching it on TV but the last thing I’m gonna do is create a website about my favorite sports team or where to get news and highlights because you are not gonna make money that way. ESPN is one of the only sites that can me money with this because they have the branding and the sponsorship and billions of pages used every month so they can sell advertising on the cheap. You can create a website where you’re saying “hey! This guy scored points last night.” Just being a reference. It’s very unlikely you’re ever gonna make money with that site or you will be able to compete. You want to niche that down. I’m not even talking about niching it down to an individual sports team or an individual player instead you want to stick with the contents of basketball but something that you could actually make money with. We can go to basketball skills training or maybe playing basketball. If you want to go a level deeper, you can focus on jump training. If you play basketball, you want to be able to jump higher and may be able to dunk. At the same time, you have that mentality that someone is going into a higher grade every year for school and it’s a whole audience that you can get into. So, how can you make money with this? You can actually build a resource site that says” 10 exercises to jump higher in the next 3 weeks” and you can go online and search for jump training affiliate programs. There’s lot of guides out there. You can promote people to a website and if they buy in, you may get 50 – 75% commission. And all you being the resource site. You can focus in on that audience; provide much valuable content as possible. You can do guest blogging on another websites. Create info graphics. Other stuff that’s bearable so that your site will eventually rank higher in the search results and right there that’s a bit of a model that anybody can get started. It’s just a matter of finding a niche. Seeing who the audience is. How you gonna monetize it and create better content than your competition.
Matt: So, it sounds like the place to start might me looking what affiliate programs are available and deciding which one appeals to you and working around your niche and your content around that because if you have a niche that you are in love with but there’s no program to promote, there’s no way to monetize it, then you are probably wasting your time?
Zac: Yeah, you definitely want to know as much as you can about whatever your promoting but if you don’t know anything about it and you know something is profitable, you can also outsource the process and hire people to write the content for you and you should be learning about it yourself so you know who you audience is. But either way, as long as you zone it down to know where your audience is, that it is monetizable, and if you work on the process on how to become an authority and rank your website, the business model works every time.
Matt: Well, that makes sense. Or at least it works more times than it doesn’t and you end up with a net positive?
Zac: Yeah, the business model works. It’s just a matter of if people are willing to put in time and effort to find out and continually split tester ad campaigns to make it profitable. Because there’s definitely a lot of competition out there but there’s always gonna be enough money to push these guys.
Matt: As far as your business, what are your kind of plans for you future? You mention back in 2007, you kind of pivoted away from being just a practitioner to moving on to becoming a teacher, an educator? Where do you go from here? What are your plans for the future?
Zac: So, I love teaching people how to make money online and I love creating known websites. I like to be behind the scenes and being control on what’s going on. So in 2007, I launched the www.zacjohnson.com and that’s been great for my brand. I help deliver leads to companies where people want to learn how to figure out how to make money online. I can redirect them different affiliate networks and I can create my own products and that’s been working well. So, I just recently launched blogging.org and the focus of that websites is to help anybody to start up with a website or blog of their own and it will recommend all the services that people need to go through and the 5 step process in picking a domain name and niche and setting up quality content on their site and being able to effectively promote it. Right now, I’m still sticking to the concept on helping others learn how to make money online because only 50% of the world’s population is online right now and while you may think different things are saturated, there is still a long way to go. So, whatever your resources and audiences right now, you are still only at the tipping point of it.
Matt: Yeah, never question there is always more opportunity out there. Every time something changes, a new opportunity has been opened. Something may have closed but something else undoubtedly has opened. One other question I wanted to ask you, I’ve noticed on your blog where you were talking about going to your first kind of big internet industry event and meeting people in person was a key part of your learning process, how important do you think that was overall? Is that something you recommend for other people to do to kind of get out there in person and meet people versus doing everything from behind the computer screen?
Zac: Yeah, it’s very important. I started making money online 1995, 1996. In 2000, while I was a senior in high school, I was making a good amount of money online. The first conference I went to was called Commission Junction University and my father and I flew across the country and went to the first conference and I was the youngest kid there but those companies like jackpot.com, CoolSavings, all these huge companies back in the day, and people that I met at that conference who are pretty much people that are talked to today and ever since I’ve been going to conferences, at least 2 – 3 of them per year, the relationship that you build with these people is massive and you can still create a successful business just being behind the computer and running everything but it is so much more effective to actually know these people and be able to network with them and get to that next level. So, if you’re just learning to get it all on your own, that works fine. But, if you already have somebody that you can bounce a question of, you’re gonna be so much better. Let’s say, someone wants to start a website for the first time. They’re gonna have to figure out how to get a domain name, where to register from and they are gonna define a web hosting company, which one is reliable, what do they need to figure out, should they pay for a year in advance, what’s the best way to save money, and this can take someone several days for the first time trying to figure out. But they have a mentor, like if they send me an email, I could just answer these questions for them within a minute’s time and save them all that time and they can get started on their way. So, the biggest difference in the world is actually have those people surrounding around you and putting yourself out there and especially if you want to be the voice and brand of whatever it is you are doing online. You don’t need to be the voice and the brand but building those relationships are gonna unlock opportunities that you would never have if you weren’t out there in the first place.
Matt: Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. I’m not a huge fan of networking. There’s a lot of situations that I don’t like standing up and speaking or whatever but going into a crowd, with people I don’t know and try to connect with them is not my favorite thing to do. But, I see your point. I think it’s huge. And I think connections you’ve made are really valuable so it’s worth kind of going out of your comfort zone and do it. I completely agree.
Zac: If you told me, I was doing these 20 years ago; I would say that I was never doing that. Because I was the same way. I would never try and bring attention to myself. I started this business in the first place because I would rather do something behind the scenes and not work at 9-5, I’ll be at the cashier and see people on the daily basis. So, to now see that it is flipped, I can speak in front of a room with hundreds of people and I’ve known authority online where people are visiting my website and blog any second of everyday. It’s quite amazing to see the difference of that is actually taken.
Matt: Now, that’s really awesome. Now, you have been successful in business but on a personal level too, there’s been a lot of benefits of being an entrepreneur and reaching a level you have. So with that, I undoubtfully appreciate you taking the time to speak with me. For the people who are listening, what’s the best way for them to get a hold of you or find out more or where should they go for more info?
Zac: Yes, thanks again, Matt, for having me on the show. I really appreciate it. Anybody who is looking for me, they can go to Google. Type in Zac Johnson. I pretty much dominate the first whole page. So whatever you click on, you’re gonna end up on one of my sites. And you can also go to zacjohnson.com or blogging.org.
Matt: Cool, I appreciate your time and I will be putting these links in the show notes. Thanks again for being on. I think it was some pretty great information and I really appreciate your time.
Zac: Excellent! I had a blast. Thanks again.