Well, it's been a while.
Just when you thought the world couldn't dive into a more farcical state, I made up my mind to blog again.
There are a few reasons why I wanted to check in after 4 years of AWOL.
The first, and probably most important, was removing my surgically repaired hairline from the damn homepage.
I mean, if you want to leave a blog, you probably don't want your enduring legacy to be a graphic image of 24 hours after a hair transplant, right?
Fun fact: After 10 years of writing about affiliate marketing, that one post (and the interest it received) resulted in my entire website being rated as a "Hair & Beauty Blog" by SEO tools.
My main competitor in the bio space is a website called Hair Transplant Diary.
So there is this.
The main reason I wanted to post is because I'm currently isolated from the world in National Lockdown, I don't have any of my usual hobbies and a searing itch to commit lots of fucks and shits for WordPress.
If you read this blog a few years ago and were wondering what's next after affiliate marketing, the answer will likely disappoint you.
But here it is anyway.
What I have done
First, life changes.
The last time I posted it was August 3rd, 2017.
I lived in Thailand and was recovering from my second vanity surgery, the first being LASIK eye surgery in 2016.
I look back on those days through seriously pink glasses.
Not everything was perfect in Bangkok, but it was definitely the most exciting years of my life.
If you haven't had a chance to live abroad, my advice is simple: do it while you still can. I love my life now, but the energy of Bangkok has completely changed me.
It broke me out of the world of the British suburbs and destroyed my comfort zone along the way.
It changed my entire perception of what a productive lifestyle looks like.
I met a lot of great people from completely different walks of life in Bangkok.
I can best describe it when in the UK I'm more interested in people who share the same hobbies and interests.
We may not have much in common, but we like to do the same things.
In Bangkok I learned and grew from people who had led completely different lives. You may not share hobbies, but you share the same spirit.
When I live abroad there is a camaraderie among expats and a "go-get" spirit that I just don't see in the UK.
Life is pleasant here.
It's great and fine, but it's convenient.
My three and a half years in Thailand culminated in a wedding on Koh Samui beach.
We had close friends and family with us, many of whom took the opportunity to explore Southeast Asia on their own vacations.
We took her on a sunset cruise the night before and then celebrated our wedding on the beach with cocktails, wine and a couple of stray dogs.
Just Thailand, as they say.
Getting married in Thailand was a tough decision if so many of our loved ones couldn't make the trip. But it was a chance for us to share the lifestyle we loved.
I have fond memories of Thailand and this was the highlight.
Just a few weeks earlier, my wife and I had taken a long trip through Thailand to the small town of Pai.
This experience of trekking through the mountains was our last big "adventure" before we returned home.
After two sips of wine, we're still talking about it.
Back to the UK
We moved back to the UK a month after the wedding.
Neither of us felt particularly attached to one place, and our friends and family had dispersed to different parts of the country.
To decide where we wanted to go, we basically put a pin into a map.
We picked Bucks as a good balance between two of our favorite spots – London and Oxford.
Since we settled in Bucks, we've bought a home and slowly started rebuilding our social circles.
There is no doubt that life in the UK is “easier”.
For one thing, they all speak English.
Sounds silly – but you won't appreciate the basics of your own culture until you're starved of them.
Become a dad
By far the biggest change in life since my last post.
My daughter was born in December 2019 and has pervaded my life with a ferocity that would make the new strain of Covid blush.
Everything has changed.
I don't want to talk about the rites of transition to the father because it can sound offensive to those who don't have (or don't want to) children.
Parents can all too easily develop a superiority complex believing they know better when they don't.
But I'll say that the process changed me.
Getting to know each other rewired my entire reward circuit.
There are times when I miss some of the "freedoms" that came easier before parenting, but … not really.
They are two separate realities – and their world is the one I want to live in.
What I've been working on
Life may change, but the grind remains the same.
OK, the work gear.
"4 years. What the hell were you working on, Finch?"
Well, for a perspective …
This page started as an affiliate blog in the days of the Wild West in 2009.
Back then, blogging was insane and the entire affiliate industry could be brought together in a single Vegas showroom.
Affiliate marketing has changed so much that I don't even feel qualified to talk about it anymore.
Blogging is dead.
All of the popular affiliate bloggers of the time have moved on to other things: ecommerce, crypto, advice, retirement … whatever.
There is certainly not one of us left who offers anything practical or actionable in relation to the industry that I remember.
Before I even stopped blogging, I made these concerns clear.
Crash and Burn Marketing
The affiliate advertising campaigns I used to run offered instant returns but required near constant maintenance.
Launch ads on Monday, check stats on Tuesday, make profitable by Wednesday, then put out fires for the rest of the week.
That was life.
It was a high risk, high return business model that worked great for several years … but like everyone else, I saw the writing on the wall.
On numerous occasions my campaigns went from thousands to thousands each day. Over the years the cycle became shorter and more pronounced.
Most of the time, the success resembled a familiar pattern: BOOM, followed by a slow pitter patter of eroding gain.
And the BOOM was lucky.
You could start a successful campaign and the future would look bright. Sometimes very rosy.
But I could never get over the fact that we were still just affiliates – consumption experts with a short-term interest in growing sales for someone else's business.
Once the genie was out of the bottle – the marketing sizzle – anyone could repeat the success. And that's exactly what happened.
We quickly learned the dangers of an unjustifiable moat.
As the industry became more competitive and mainstream advertisers caught up, it became increasingly difficult to navigate the space without resorting to … the dark arts.
Camouflage, bait and switches, burner accounts …
That's not to say that these tactics weren't commonplace to begin with, but they have turned into unfair competitive advantages. And in many cases … necessary.
If you weren't ready to use them, you had no chance of keeping up.
We don't need a recap of the shit that went on and on, but I had no doubt that the walls were closed to "white hat" partners – or at least those who were not ready to operate at extraordinary economies of scale.
At what point was my theory – what is it about?
Might also completely change the business model from pursuing one that comes with the complexities of selling your own products but without actual ownership.
Anyone who read my last affiliate guide in 2017 would have felt self-hatred dripping on every page.
It was called "A Complete Guide to Affiliate Marketing" but it might as well have been titled "Things I Hate About My Job."
I knew then that the industry was evolving – for the common good – and if I wanted to keep a lifestyle business going, I had to build some competitive advantages that couldn't be outdone at night.
So that's what I did.
For about 4 years.
Replace arbitrage with asset building
I still work in affiliate marketing but I've said goodbye to paid advertising arbitrage.
Since I stopped blogging and left the game of arbitrage, I've enjoyed what is probably the most productive stint of my career.
And it all boils down to the basics of building assets – rather than rushing and burning from one partner offering to the next.
My job these days is all about publishing and monetization.
Creating websites, turning websites and Investing in predictable revenue streams.
While my 21 year old self was eager for instant gains, instant gains, instant success … the work I do these days is much more gradual, strategic and, as you can probably guess, less blogging worthwhile.
I have dozens of websites in my portfolio.
Some are very profitable, others tick well, and there are a good handful that stand as a virtual testimony to just how wrong a man armed with a GoDaddy account can be.
About 80% of the projects I've worked on over the years get abandoned.
Ghost ships. Digital fossils.
I laugh when I look at them today.
But you only need to win 1% of the time to be "successful" while you're productive and getting the shit out of your successes.
Anyway, I am much more invested in building these assets.
Every day I work on it feels like a step in the right direction. I can set clear goals for the week, month, and quarter that don't start:
"1) Do yourself with …"
Working with high stakes arbitrage clouded my judgment in ways I never really appreciated at the time.
Most importantly, it has obscured my underlying goal – to build a business that works for my lifestyle.
Instead of a lifestyle that works for my business.
In that sense, it went great.
There's only one problem …
A fucker ate a bat sandwich.
Working through the pandemic
No shit: Coronavirus has been tough for all of us.
Years ago, I bragged to friends about the idle joys of working from home.
No commuting, no crowded trains, no getting up early in the morning. Oh, such a paradise.
What is not to love
OK, I'll take it all back.
You win, office rats.
The last year has been mentally tough.
As a Briton writing this in a national lockdown for the foreseeable future, I am definitely reaching the highest pandemic fatigue.
There's this misguided idea that those of us who are used to working from home should be best prepared for a situation that calls for it.
Maybe, but anyone who works from home With Your tactical skills know how important it is to establish routines and rituals to break up the monotony.
For me, a good day at work means: a couple of hours of searching through the tasks I have planned, an hour of hitting balls in the snooker hall, and a bit of light reading a flat white in Caffe Nero.
A healthy mix of work, mental detox, and coffee beans.
Though I objectively dog shit at play, snooker is my number one mental escape.
It's one of the few activities that is so mentally strenuous that I may not be able to think about work or my inbox while playing it.
With the snooker clubs closed and the coffee shops only serving as a delivery service, I made a sad daily march to the Costa Express machine in my local Tesco.
If I'm lucky, I can talk to a stray cat along the way.
"All right, buddy? S’shit innit. Everything. At least you don't have to wear those damn masks …"
“Anyway, I'll see you tomorrow. At the same time, yes? "
There are a few things I learned about myself amid the pandemic:
- I am much more socially needy than I thought.
One of the dangers of a withdrawn career (working online) is that you have to regulate your social life yourself. I've done this multiple times in the past when I felt like I was slipping too far on the introverted scale.
For example when I suddenly started playing cricket in Bangkok.
Those were some good days.
All of my social activities are centered around sports.
Or beer … but we'll mainly say sports.
Forbidden sports detonated my social life.
Unlike my wife who goes to great lengths to enlarge her friends and family, video chatting is not a natural environment for me.
I'd rather start my PS4 controller on a virtual stranger in the Fifa Weekend League than face the weird calculation when it's my turn to say something on a video call.
I suppose that's how you talk to stray cats.
- Willpower is finite.
Without my usual ways to burn off steam, I'm much more dependent on vice to get through the week.
Caffeine, alcohol, Deliveroo to take away …
They call it.
It's probably on my face.
I will tip my hat on anyone who successfully navigates dry January.
You must be really crazy.
My wife and I joke from Sunday: "Are you looking forward to the big day?"
We're talking about Saturday.
Saturday has become the code for “Scheduled Date Night”, with at least two bottles of wine and a lot of bold talk of “… one day we will go on vacation again”.
- I'm too eager to wish for time.
I wished for time on numerous occasions.
- "Wake me up in March when this shit is over."
- "I'm looking forward to celebrating Christmas because it's a step closer to the vaccines that are here."
- "Don't worry, the weeks will go by faster in January."
I'm trying to catch myself because … is there a worse habit?
I can't think of any.
My daughter turned 1 last month.
Looking back over the year, it seems criminal to have ever wished for one of these weeks.
Those precious moments with her are worth more – much more – in the here and now than a teleport to a covid-free future where I'll probably be just as grumpy but a little older.
(Does it matter if my blog sidebar still says I'm 29?)
Ultimately, we all face the same dilemma.
How to make the most of a time that … is not optimal.
I'm not sure if chattering in this deserted corner of the web is considered time well spent, but that is exactly what seems to have happened right here.
Happy Covid Times, everyone.
See you in the next pandemic.