I'm not going to take you back to my childhood or thrill you with tales from the heady days of college circa 1992. This history begins in 2004, when I first took a serious (or semi-serious) look at making money with online businesses. Prior to 2004, I held a number of average jobs, learned some average skills and generally did little different than most people. I was computer proficient (in fact, I'd been building my own computers since 1999), skilled in Photoshop, and had gone to school for video game design and programming in 2002-2003. So, I had that going for me.
I discovered that after graduating from Full Sail, with no help from the school's so-called career placement services, that I didn't really want to join a game design company as a beta tester for minimum wage. Plus, I wanted to design, not code, and I'll be damned if there's a job waiting for everyone who wants to be the one writing the game bibles. No, game development wasn't for me after all, but fortunately, the off-curriculum training I got in Photoshop led me to try my hand at designing t-shirts (and other merchandise) in the online Print-on-Demand industry.
I hooked up with CafePress.com in April and spent the bulk of 2004 learning how to design and effectively market my designs. By the end of the year, I was earning about $500 a month.
I [re]discovered affiliate marketing in 2005. My previous experience with affiliate marketing was astonishingly bad. Five years or so prior, I had the brilliant idea that if I put links to Amazon and CDNow on my cheap, ugly, worthless (trust me, they were) Tripod and Geocities pages, I'd make easy money. Turns out, not so much. Having no education, no resources to turn to and little interest, I dropped it and moved on to other things (namely, the whole game development fiasco).
Debbie Carney became the Affiliate Manager for CafePress.com in late 2005, and she and I became fast friends. I was very active in the community (I don't recall now if I was yet a moderator or if that came later), and she was very, very bullish on the new affiliate program. She was dedicated to teaching as many shopkeepers (that's CafePress-speak for “t-shirt sellers”) about effective affiliate marketing as she could.
Unfortunately, my enthusiasm for affiliate marketing didn't extend past the CafePress program. I learned how to link to other CafePress designers, how to avoid leaks on my shop pages, and generally how to be a good sort-of-merchant (CafePress is the real merchant, you see – the designers are like… sub-merchants… if that makes sense).
It was in 2005 that someone in the CafePress forums said “You know, this stuff is all so complicated, someone should write a book!” – to which I replied, “okay, I'll do it.” The writing of Success with CafePress.com began (don't look for it now, this story ends tragically).
The book was released early in 2006 to mediocre fanfare and almost no support from CafePress themselves – despite the fact that they were the ones printing and shipping the book (on-demand, naturally). The book was an officially sanctioned guide to working with the company, and the text was approved and signed off on by the company. I was really expecting more support. This was the beginning of what would ultimately lead to my severing all ties with CafePress and all but two people who were involved with CafePress.
The book sales were decent, all things considered, and I sold a few hundred copies. Considering the size of the shopkeeper base (a few thousand people, despite the company's public claims at that time), I thought it was a moderate success. Unfortunately, as with any book written about a website, it quickly started to become outdated. During the time I spent writing, my merchandise sales started to slip. What was once around $500 a month started heading down – by the end of the year, it was under a hundred.
What happened with CafePress, the final nail in the coffin, is a blur. I've spent the last three years putting it behind me, so I'm afraid I can't go into great detail about it (and frankly, I got so sick of telling the story I'm tempted just to leave it here and move on). The bottom line about CafePress is this: they began making changes in 2006 and early 2007 that led to a shift in management – resulting in changes to the marketplace, the affiliate program (bye, Deb), the referral program and the volume bonuses – which led to a certain Vice-President of Marketing lying to me, which led to righteous anger on my part, which led to me severing all ties with them. It's a little… simplistic… when I put it like that, but that's as far as I'm willing to go here. The important thing to take away from this tale is that my income during this time fell to zero. That's right, zero. Three years, very little to show for it.
I was, however, still really into the idea of publishing a book. I came up with the idea of publishing a book of funny spam emails and subject lines, and thus, The Big Book of Spam was born. Don't look for this book, either; this story ends tragically, too. (Okay, you can see it here.) I spent the remainder of 2007 and much of 2008 working on the first volume of the book as well as the companion website (which is now defunct).
Also in 2007, I connected with Imagekind, which had just hired Debbie Carney to be their affiliate manager! I had little interest in creating art to sell, I was simply there to – hopefully – do another book (possibly titled Success with Imagekind). Well, management at Imagekind was receptive to the idea, and they were quite a bit looser than CafePress had been as far as editorial control over what I was writing. But the project was doomed to failure after it became apparent that the company was a little too loose. Management made some horrendous decisions (bye, Deb), never even pretended to consult their artists in matters that affected them, and the company was eventually bought by… /sigh… CafePress. As the ship was sinking, I wrote a letter to the company that explained I'd be bowing out of the book writing project.
I had owned danielmclark.com since 2002. I had previously owned daniel-clark.com, but I hated the hyphen, so I let it go and picked up the domain with my middle initial in it. I didn't do anything but use it for email for several years, and I guess I posted a few things to it, but I scrapped the whole thing in 2007 and turned it into the blog you're reading now.
The Big Book of Spam went on sale, and sold about ten copies. It was pathetic. I saw the traffic coming to the site, I saw the people click right on out without buying – without even downloading the free preview eBook that I made available. It was quite possibly the most gut-wrenching thing I'd done to that point. It was an abject failure. If I had had just one download of that free eBook, if I had had just one purchase that wasn't made by a friend or family member, I would have found the encouragement to double-down and keep it going. After several months of nothing, I shut it down.
During this time, I was starting to get back into affiliate marketing. I attended Affiliate Summit West 2008 in Las Vegas – both my first time attending Summit and my first time visiting Vegas. Later in the year, I attended Affiliate Summit East 2008, in Boston. I learned a lot at those two events, and they were worthwhile, but if you've been keeping my income levels in the back of your head so far, you may have already realized: I ain't making any money at this point. CafePress dried up, Imagekind never materialized, The Big Book of Spam failed. Two trips, totaling probably four grand in expenses… I didn't even come close to making that money back – in 2008, at least. Education always pays off eventually.
All the while, I kept up with blogging here at Daniel M. Clark .com. Not a huge output, and to this point, the blog hasn't made me any money. A few bucks here and there. Nothing noteworthy.
On December 22nd, I co-founded Geek Dads @ Home with Sam Harrelson and Joe Magennis.
This was an interesting year. I call 2009 my Low Period. I was depressed – not clinically depressed, not “woe is me, I can't get out of bed” depressed, but I felt like nothing I was doing was working. I continued to blog – sporadically – and tried to launch several websites, with little success (most notably, Kids and Comics, which I've just recently shut down in preparation for a relaunch later this year).
I didn't attend either Affiliate Summit in 2009. I missed Vegas because my son had just been born a few weeks prior and I couldn't leave my wife home alone to take care of both him and our three-year-old for a week. I missed New York in the fall because money was tight and I just couldn't swing it.
I did attend my second Think Tank event, put on by ShareASale, in October. That would be the only event I'd attend in 2009.
Geek Dads @ Home rolled right along throughout 2009. The original trio was joined by Scott Jangro for several months, but by the end of the run, we had lost both Sam and Scott (Sam to his teaching career, Scott to his businesses). Joe and I decided to keep the show going as a duo. We produced 43 episodes by the end of the year, which is when we killed it off. Sammy Hagar once said in an interview that things in his solo career were going so well, he was having so much success, that it only made sense to give it all up to join Van Halen in 1985. I'll always remember that interview and that point of view.
I entered 2010 feeling inexplicably enthusiastic and optimistic. I had came up with an idea for the podcast – a rebranding that I felt would serve to open up the show and make it more appealing to the masses. Geek Dads Weekly would be the new name. I ran it by Joe, and we decided to take the plunge. It was risky – we had more than 40 episodes under the old name, and we'd essentially be starting over. But we felt it was a good idea and decided to run with it. In April, we added a third co-host to the show, Drew Bennett from BenSpark.com.
I attended Affiliate Summit West in Las Vegas in January, and had the most amazing time I've ever had on one of these trips. Everything clicked – I made some valuable contacts, promoted the podcast, gained sponsors for the show (more on this in a moment) and networked with people that I respect and whose company I cherish. I spoke on the GeekCast.fm Live! panel with Debbie Carney, Vinny O'Hare and Jason Rubacky, moderated by Lisa Picarille. I participated in the Affiliate Showcase, which was a tremendous opportunity.
In February my proposal to write an article for FeedFront magazine was accepted, and I was published in issue 10. My article, The Work-at-Home Dad: Finding Balance appeared on page 4.
In May, my proposal for a second FeedFront article was accepted. I will be published in issue 11, which performs double-duty as the conference program at Affiliate Summit East 2010. My article is titled Grow Your Audience Through Podcasting, which, coincidentally 😉 goes right along with the panel that I'm speaking on – Podcasting 101.
In May, I launched Daniel Destroys, my video series parodying old cartoons, beginning with the Super Friends. It's been a lot of fun, and I plan to expand that project in interesting (and financially rewarding) ways.
In June, I began writing for Examiner.com. This will be an interesting case study.
So, that's where I stand as of the day of this writing – June 13th, 2010. I'll update this page every few months with a synopsis of what I've done. Those that know me may pick up on the fact that I've left some things out of my story – the drama surrounding a certain affiliate marketing forum owner and my banishment from his kingdom, the drama surrounding another affiliate marketing forum and the emotional issues that particular owner had, and the whole story of my time with CafePress. Those stories aren't important in the grand scheme of things, and I prefer not to spent my time dwelling on them. Onward and upward.
You may have noticed that I didn't talk a lot about my income in the nearly 2,000 words I've written so far. That's because there hasn't been much. I did well with CafePress, but I have not been able to repeat that level of success since then. My various web properties have generated a few hundred dollars here and there, but it's been very sporadic. I intend to change that – and I intend to share with you how I do it. After six years of doing it alone, keeping most everything to myself and earning an amount I'm not happy with, I'm doing a 180 and changing the way I do things. If you sign up for my newsletter, RSS feed or simply check in with the blog periodically, you'll be able to track my progress and possibly repeat some of the success I achieve (while hopefully avoiding the mistakes that I'll be making).
Who knows… if things work out the way I intend, maybe we'll all be wearing money skirts. Maybe.
~Daniel, June 13th, 2010.