Affiliate marketing, more easily understood by the term “referral marketing” has been a part of my life for longer than I knew it existed. I’ve skied professionally for the last 11 years, putting gear to the test in the most challenging of situations and recommending products that I LOVE (or maybe cautioning against products that I HATE) to friends, family, and fans. There are times when I know people take my recommendation and purchase a product. But a large majority of sales made from my recommendations were untracked and unnoticed by the brands I represented, lost in the ever-growing world of commerce.
I Was Doing Affiliate Marketing All Along, and Didn’t Know It
When I first went pro at age 17, I thought my job was simply to ski and try to become the best skier in the world. I didn’t stop to think about why companies were paying me to use their gear. It was how the industry worked, and it allowed me to live my dream, so why question it? But as years rolled on, and I was no longer the “young-up-and-comer,” sponsors became harder to find.
For most of my career I heard the line: “we just don’t have the budget…” I would work odd jobs to off-set the expenses of my ski career. That was when I started asking relevant questions and getting transformative answers.
It didn’t take long to realize that if I was trying to make a real living in a fringe sport like halfpipe skiing, I would have to position myself strategically to help companies sell their products. That was why I got paid. I wasn’t getting paid to be the best skier in the world (that, ironically, would’ve been easier), but to be the face of a brand, build authenticity in a largely inauthentic world, and to be part of the reason people wanted to buy skis, outerwear, goggles, helmets, boots, or gloves.
This shift in perspective led me to put more effort into developing my personal brand–the Jen Hudak brand–through my website, blog, and social media accounts. The spirit of my brand would be personal growth, perseverance, vulnerability, and courage. These principles propelled me forward and are threaded into almost everything that I write and strive to do.
Becoming an Ambassoador
Doing my job as an ambassador while accomplishing goals as a professional athlete meant I had to find companies my personal brand image aligned with. My mother (one to pick up litter in the streets and never to jay-walk) passed on her over-developed sense of responsibility and strong morals to me. I couldn’t possibly promote gear that I didn’t like.
I went seasons without certain category sponsors, passing on offers that didn’t feel right, so I could ski using products I believed in. Using excellent equipment helped my performance and allowed me to be an honest spokesperson for brands like Under Armour, Volkl, and POC Sports.
After a successful run of halfpipe competitions–two world-championship titles, five X-Games medals, and four national championships to my name–my career met with injuries, setbacks, and loss.
But the evolving world of social media and content blogging kept my career afloat. I was still a visible presence in the industry and an asset to my sponsors. In fact, last year I made the decision to retire from halfpipe skiing to focus on new areas of the sport. I had to reframe my life goals and point my compass in a new direction that would bring productivity and fulfillment.
I wanted to spend more time skiing and climbing big mountains, but my personal brand developed during my halfpipe years didn’t align with this new avenue. The traditional athlete-sponsor relationship wasn’t going to pay my bills any longer. I needed a career.
Finding a Network to Build My Brand On
As my job hunt ensued, my husband Chris told me about a company he had heard of–AvantLink, an affiliate marketing company based in our home town. We dug in and read every page of the AvantLink website over dinner. “Next generation affiliate-technology,” “Beyond the banner ad,” “Better tracking…” I began researching affiliate marketing and lit-up when I realized it was essentially a trackable version of what I’d done for the last 11 years! And so, I applied. I was excited to begin working for a company who could help passionate people earn an income doing what they love.
I’ve worked with AvantLink since November 2015, and what I’ve learned has been positively overwhelming. As a part of the new affiliate management department, I get to help content sites dial in their image and brand, while finding merchants that are a genuine fit for their passions. Content sites are an integral piece of the affiliate marketing puzzle because they can enhance merchant brand value and provide the authenticity that consumers desire.
Learn How to Earn an Income from Your Passion
If you’re like me, looking for a new way to supplement your passion, consider affiliate marketing! Here are my top 5 tips to get started.
Know your brand!
Know who you are and what you stand for. Understand your voice, your stance, and stay true to it. No, you won’t be loved by everyone, but those who love you will be loyal. They’ll come back to your site for inspiration, opinions, and direction because of your confidence and authenticity.
Just get started, there’s nothing to lose!
When I first started dabbling with this stuff it seemed really overwhelming. I had no idea where to begin. But as it turned out, there were video tutorials that walked me through each step of the process and allowed me to begin hosting ads and custom links on my site without changing much. Of course, there’s always more to learn and new opportunities to seize. But you don’t need to know it all to get started!
Remember that QUALITY is greater than QUANTITY
When you get started, it might be tempting to dive in and talk about everything all at once! But you must create quality content. With the huge volume of content on the web these days, you need to differentiate yourself in the way you create content.
The same goes for your merchant relationships. You don’t need to work with every brand in the network–only the brands that resonate with your values and feature products you stand behind and trust!
Don’t forget about Consistency!
This is an area where I can improve. But with a new full-time job, pursuing athletic goals, and finishing up my college education, I haven’t been posting as regularly as I would like. Generating enough content to keep your readers coming back for more is essential. Now, you don’t have to post every time you ski/bike/workout/cook a nice meal/use the toilet… but posting at least once a week keeps your audience attentive and lets them know you’re serious.
Affiliate Marketing is not just banner ads!
We’re all constantly inundated with advertisements on the internet. Don’t contribute to this problem by spamming your readers with too many ads. Custom links embedded in your content that directly link to products that you use and believe in can be much more powerful. The value comes from your authority, not the advertisements.