From the March 2001 issue of Startups

While generally referred to as "Mom" by her two kids, Connie Berg is better known in the world of e-commerce as the Coupon Queen of Waseca, Minnesota. A veritable Web newbie just three years ago, Berg stands to make well over $1 million this year from FlamingoWorld, her information clearinghouse that tracks the latest in merchant sales and coupons on the Web.

"I run the entire operation from a spare bedroom in my home," says Berg, born and raised in Waseca, population 8,000-plus. "When it stops being fun, I'll quit."

Berg's secret? Every time a visitor to her site clicks on a merchant coupon or sales link and buys something, she gets a cut of the sale. And given that thousands of people regularly visit her site for the skinny on the latest Web shopping deals, it was only a matter of time--two and a half years, to be precise--before all those clicks and "cha-chings" made her a millionaire.

Moreover, Berg is not the only one raking in the green under various click-and-pay plans on the Web, commonly known as affiliate marketing. According to the U.S. Affiliate Marketing Coalition(USAMC), top performers in the industry like Berg earn as much as $86,000 in commissions in a single month-from a single affiliate program.

Indeed, in December alone, CyberRebate.compaid one of its affiliate marketers more than $86,000 for steering Web traffic its way, according to the USAMC. "Today's burgeoning affiliate marketing programs delight online merchants," says Jim Nail, an analyst with Forrester Researchand lead author of the Forrester report New Affiliate Marketing Models. Reporting that scores of online retailers gushed when, in his research, he asked about the potency of the marketing strategy, Nail predicts that by 2003, 21 percent of all online sales will be generated via affiliate marketing programs.

Wait...I Have To Work For It?

While the opportunity to pull in major bucks is heady, the reality is that most of the money in affiliate marketing is being made by only a small percentage of people, according to industry insiders. The reason: Unlike in the late '90s, when the ability to simply pronounce the word "dotcom" seemingly guaranteed a minimum of $20 million in venture capital, wild success as an affiliate marketer apparently requires something decidedly Old Millennium. Repeat after me: hard work.

Take Berg, for example. In her relentless pursuit to remain the Web's Coupon Queen, she thinks nothing of putting in 10-hour days, scouring the Web to find the latest and greatest merchant deals, rebates and coupons. On weekends, she takes it easy, only putting in six-hour days to ensure she'll never be dethroned.

Berg's advice to wanna-be affiliate marketers? It's all in the numbers. Promote your site to every living being on the planet, and then promote some more. For Berg, that's meant telling every person she meets about FlamingoWorld as well as convincing family, friends and merchants to become evangelists. She also runs banner ads through Linkexchange, has positioned her site in all the Web's major search engines and encourages every Net cruiser who visits her site to subscribe to her mailing list. She's even brought in traffic by sponsoring a rock festival. "For the type of site I have, mailing lists and word-of-mouth are the most effective and cost-efficient [tools]," Berg says. "I'm in this more for a hobby, so I don't want to do any kind of advertising that would actually cost me anything."

Some hobby. Not surprisingly, all Berg's promotional techniques are recommended in Daniel Gray's book, The Complete Guide to Associate and Affiliate Programs on the Net: Turning Clicks into Cash. In his primer, Gray warns aspiring affiliate marketers to avoid common mistakes, such as posting links to merchants that have nothing to do with the content of your site or loading up your site with so many affiliate links, the site has no intrinsic value.

It's also imperative to fully research a potential affiliate marketing program before signing on; a listing in an online directory doesn't necessarily mean an affiliate program is legitimate. Warns Gray, "Select carefully."

Money In Your Pocket

Of course, those of us with day jobs can still make a nice chunk of change in affiliate marketing without feeling compelled to march on Geek Pride Day. Take Daryl S. Clark, the CEO behind Emarketingman.com. After initially investing about 60 hours to design his site and create content, Clark says he now spends about four hours a week fussing with Emarketingman.com, which garners about $300 to $400 a month.

Specifically, he uses the time to add content, fight for better positioning on search engine returns and check on the money he's made. Says Clark, "For me, it's an easy way to make a car payment."

Adds Gray, himself a part-time affiliate marketer, "Sure beats getting a paper route."
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Joe Dysart, a software analyst and Internet business consultant, has written for more than 40 publications, including The New York Times and The Financial Times of London.