I’m good at research and writing but terrible at graphics. In the “old days” of blogging and affiliate marketing, that didn’t really matter because sites were all about content due mainly to download speeds. That has changed for a few reasons, including download speeds increasing and social media sites relying on the images included in posts. In addition to sites that focus completely on the images (like Pinterest and Instagram), other sites like Facebook and Twitter are increasingly become more graphic-oriented.

What’s a graphic-challenged girl to do?

I’ve tried a lot of different programs and still use a combination of them. I use Adobe Photoshop for some things and Snagit is one of the best software investments I have ever made. But I’m not a pro at either one, and I don’t have the time to spend creating perfect graphics.

On the flip side, I see the graphics that other bloggers are using and know that I have to keep up. Plus, if I don’t have the right graphics in the right dimensions in each post, it isn’t going to show up in the Facebook newsfeed the way that I want it to.

After hearing some other bloggers talking about PicMonkey, I decided to give it a shot. They have a free version and a paid version. After one day of using the free version, I decided to spring for the paid version of $33 for a year. (You can also pay monthly for $4.99 if you want to try it out short-term). The paid version (or “Royale” as they call it) doesn’t have ads and has a lot more effects, overlays, etc. I also just like supporting a company that I am going to be using to make money.

What Does PicMonkey Do?

A lot. So much that I know I am not even touching a small part of what you can do. But the basics are that you can Edit photos (crop, rotate, exposure, resize, sharpen, etc), Touch up (blemishes, airbrush, teeth whiten, etc), Design (banners, infographics, cards, invitations, etc), and Collage.

I spend most of my time using the Edit and Collage Tools. I find the Collage Tool in particular very helpful to create 560×292 graphics for my posts that look great on both Facebook and Google+. I spend no more than 10 minutes on each one and sometimes as little as 5.

Some Examples

Here are a few of the images that I created using PicMonkey that took me 5-10 minutes each.

The first one was for Sunshine Rewards for a sale on zulily. I quickly grabbed product images from the merchant site and made a collage out of them for purposes of appearing in the Facebook newsfeed.

This next one was from a trip that I took with my kids to the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not Museum. Ripley’s gave us the tickets, so I wanted to be sure to post some great pictures of the fun that we had. This particular collage was done with Pinterest in mind.

This is an example of the Edit Tool used to simply grab a picture and add some text to it. Tommy Hilfiger sponsored the contest for us so I just used the image of the product that they gave me. I like using the “fade” tool on the background of the text to make sure that you can still see the whole image.

This last one is a collage of images that I took of The California Wine Club Pacific Northwest Series. It does triple duty as a nice post image, good for the Facebook newsfeed, and okay for Pinterest. In 5 minutes I was able to pull together the main elements of the wine club into one image plus give it a nice label. I also added our URL to the bottom.

As I said, I am not big on graphics. My goal 95% of the time is not to create graphics that become viral sensations. When you write as many posts as I do in a week, the graphics are just meant to support the posts. At less than 10 minutes each, I think these do the job. When I need something more “official,” I find someone I can pay to do it completely.

Oh! They also have really simple tutorial videos. You can actually check those out before you even sign up to see if they will teach you to do the things that you want to do.

Have you ever tried PicMonkey? Do you use the free version or the paid version? What aspects of it do you like the most?

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I am tired of having to explain myself to affiliate managers when I don’t want to join their programs. Ironically, I am typing this post while sitting right next to an affiliate manager, my mom Cindy Ballard. She’s tired of hearing me complain, so I’m going to express myself in a blog post.

In any given day I receive between 5 and 20 emails from merchants, affiliate managers, and OPMs asking me to add their programs to my site. I rank these in a certain priority order before I even respond:

  • Merchants I absolutely know I want based on brand reputation
  • Recommendations from people I really trust or who I will add anything for without question (like my mom)
  • Merchants I check out and decide that I want based on products, commissions, and the look of their site
  • Recommendations from people I know but only casually and who may not really have my best interests at stake
  • “Cold call” emails from people I don’t know at all but seem to have looked at my site
  • Spammy emails from people I don’t know who have never even looked at my site.

Based on where they fall in my priority list, I decide how quickly to respond to the requests. My dream brands get emails within 5 minutes. Trusted friends in the business usually get a response within a few hours. From there it only goes downhill to the bottom of the list which usually sit in my inbox about a week until I just delete them because I don’t know what to say or how to say it.

But affiliate managers are persistent. They use tricks like “Please Respond” in the subject line or “Can we set up a meeting on Tuesday?” to try to get you engaged. I feel guilty when I get these because I know that I do not want to join the program. So I let the emails sit even longer until I get the followup “We recently reached out to you and you have not responded” email. Sometimes I even get voicemail messages reminding me of the emails that they just sent.

How do you say “no” without feeling like a jerk? Here are some of my favorite tips.

  • Thank them for “reaching out” or “connecting” or some other social business lingo.
  • Use the word “unfortunately” at least once (Unfortunately we are not accepting new merchants at this time, adding new links, etc.).
  • Be honest. If you just don’t have time to add the merchant, say that. Tell them to follow up with you in a month. If you don’t like the merchant, say that it isn’t a “good fit” for your audience. If the commission isn’t good enough, tell them it isn’t “competitive” with other merchants you already have listed.
  • Promise to keep the merchant in mind for any future opportunities that you might come across. You never know when either the merchant actually WILL work for your niche or the affiliate manager might have a different merchant that does work for you. Don’t burn bridges!
  • Make it quick. You don’t have to explain yourself. Just give them a couple of sentences of acknowledgement so that they can cross you off their list and move on to other affiliates that they are more likely to be successful with.

Sometimes you will still get responses where they try to convince you that you are wrong. If that is the case, cut your losses and just delete the email or respond firmly “no.” But most times they will thank you for even taking the time to respond. People tend to ignore a lot of email. If you are one of the few people who respond thoughtfully with even a sentence or two, the goodwill generated will outweigh the 60 seconds it took you to respond.

Affiliate managers, can you help us out here? Try not to make us feel guilty, especially when you are only trying to get us to join the program for numbers and not really because we can make any sales. That doesn’t really help either of us. Be honest with us about how something would actually be good for us if you really want us to join. Try not to sound like a used car salesman who just wants to make the sale regardless of whether it’s the right thing to do. Affiliate marketing is not just about sales, it’s about relationships. We don’t want to have to avoid you when we see you at conferences because we can’t look you in the eye.

How do you respond to the different types of requests that you get? Do you respond to every email or just delete most of them?

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When I first started adding affiliate marketing links to my site, I watched my numbers like a hawk. I could tell you every banner that was clicked through, how much money I had made that day, and how far I was from getting my first check. Of course, I was lucky if I was getting 1 sale a day and sometimes it took 3 months to hit a network minimum to get a payment!

Since then I have become more lax about watching when the money comes in. Even if I track my earnings regularly, I don’t always check important things like when a merchant last paid the network, when a network last paid me, and if all of the checks I DID receive were correct. That’s a big mistake. If affiliate marketing is your business, you need to treat it like one and be sure that you are receiving every penny that is owed to you. Here are some ways that you can ensure that you get what you deserve.

Choose Networks That Make Merchants Pre-Pay

Every network does their payment system a little bit different. Some invoice merchants at the end of the month and give them X amount of time to pay, which means you get it Y amount of time later. Other networks make the merchant put money into an account or put a credit card on file to cover the commissions at the time of the transaction. This is preferable!

I understand that merchants want to pay later. But for many reasons this causes problems for affiliates. As an incentive site, it is hard for me to wait for 90 days to pay out my members when they make purchases. Even as a non-incent site, you may be putting out money in advance for traffic or advertising that is hard to wait 90 days to get back (especially if you are a new company).

Even if you can afford to wait for the funds, you do not want to take the chance of getting burned by a company that goes out of business. We have seen numerous merchants file for bankruptcy. Affiliates become unsecured creditors under the Bankruptcy Code. This essentially means that we are about last on the list to see any money. Even if they end up paying pennies on the dollar to their creditors, the network will get their cut first. A lot of affiliates lost out when big brand names like Linen ‘n Things and Entertainment Book filed bankruptcy, and I am guessing that we won’t be seeing any money coming from Coldwater Creek for the sales we sent this month.

You do not always have a choice as an affiliate, but if you do have the choice, go with a merchant on a network where the funds are guaranteed to get to the network. Even if the network holds them for 30 days, at least you know you are going to get paid. My personal favorite for this is ShareASale because they are very transparent about the process and let you know if a merchant’s funding dips.

Watch When Merchants Pay the Network and You

If you end up going with a merchant on a network that does not require pre-payment, be sure that you are watching to see when a particular merchant’s money is being added to your account. Most networks will have a place in their system where you can see what each payment you receive represents.

Linkshare has an interesting report under “My Account” “Payment Info” “Advertiser Payments History.” You can see a chart of all of the merchants for which you have generated commissions and when they paid their invoices. Sometimes it can be a little bit alarming. For example, it is the end of May and 1800flowers has not yet paid its February invoice for some reason (although it paid March).

Hmmm…flowers…February…I’m guessing they owe a lot of affiliates a lot of money?

Impact Radius sends out an alert when a merchant owes you money and is behind in paying. At that point it is too late to do anything about the past money but at least you can decide it you want to continue promoting the merchant until they get caught up.

Also be sure that the network itself is sending you money when it is supposed to. I realized one time that Google had been sitting on my payments for 3 months because I didn’t have something tax-related updated in my account!

Stay Updated on Major Commission Drops

I know you receive 1000 newsletters a day, and many of us are guilty of not reading them all. But there are some that you NEED to be reading. Merchants are dropping commissions left and right. You may end up being lowered to 1% or even 0% in a program. Chances are good that the merchant isn’t going to call and leave a message on your home phone when they do it. Many of them are quietly slipping them by affiliates.

I like to keep bookmarked the thread “The Ever-Decreasing Commission Rate Downward Spiral” on ABW. You won’t see everything posted but most of the time people do tend to post the really egregious ones. It’s an okay backup if you happen to miss an email. The more of us who contribute to the thread, the more useful it will be.

As an affiliate, there is no one looking after your commissions except for you. You have to place a lot of trust in the networks with which you are working to make sure that they are looking out for your best interests, giving you the tools to watch your money, and creating some kind of accountability with the merchants.

Have you ever found yourself missing a chunk of affiliate revenue? What caused it? Were you able to get it back?

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As a part of Affiliate Marketers Give Back, I will be undertaking my second Avon Walk for Breast Cancer this October 18th and 19th in New York. I completed this walk back in 2012 and it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life for many reasons. I could use your support this year in a lot of different ways.

(Don’t want to read the whole post? You can jump to my Donation Page if that is the only thing you are looking for!)

Why I Walk

I posted the first time I did the walk about my two grandmothers. Grandma Emma is a breast cancer survivor. Grandma Rose, unfortunately, is not. Her breast cancer  was so advanced once detected that it spread to her lungs and other places. We lost her very quickly. I walked also for a handful–maybe 10?–of other people close to me whose lives had been touched by breast cancer.

As I prepared for that walk and word got around that I was doing it, I was shocked at the number of friends and family members who told me that they were breast cancer survivors. Cousins, co-workers, neighbors, Bunco group members, Zumba girls. I would say that the number of people I am walking for this year is probably more like 40 or 50.

As Vanessa and Shawn and I walked the last 13 miles on that Sunday in New York, trying to muster up as much energy and enthusiasm as we could while braving blisters and chaffing and muscle aches, I was inspired by all of the people around me. Men and women who fought breast cancer bravely were walking right along side us (and finishing before us!). They bore shirts with their pictures and held signs with their stories. It was impossible not to be forever touched by it.

I have two daughters and three nieces. I have a sister and a sister-in law. Statistically, one of us will be diagnosed with breast cancer. The thought of it being any one of those 7 literally brings me to tears. Will it be caught early? How invasive will it be? What can I do NOW to help??

How You Can Support Me

I’m asking for your support and I will take it any way that I can get it.

First, I need donations to even be able to walk. Last time I received $5 donations from a LOT of people and those $5 donations ended up adding up a lot. I need to raise $1800 total in order to be able to walk (that doesn’t include the hotel and flights that I pay for separately). You can make donations quickly and easily online. If you donate and want me to walk for someone in particular for you, let me know who that is and I will add their name to the list that I will carry through the event.

Second, you can help me spread the word about the walk. The more people who read this post, the more people who are going to help me and help support the walk in general. Tweet the post. Share it on FB. I’m not above begging when it comes to something like this.

Third, when it comes time for the walk, keep an eye on us that weekend and cheer us on. Chances are pretty good that I am going to end up having to get a cortisone injection in my ankle to be able to pull off the whole 40 miles, but I am dedicated to completing it. The people who commented on pictures and texted me during those last 5-10 miles last time were what got me through it. For a little while the text messages were the only thing that kept me from wanting to just stop and wait for a bus to come by and get me. It really made that much of a difference!

The Education is Important

Yes, this walk is a fundraiser. And it raises a LOT of money for some great causes. But it is also about education. It’s about awareness. You might say to yourself “but people talk about breast cancer all the time.” There’s a reason for that. Every 13 minutes a life is lost to breast cancer. Early detection is so incredibly important–lifesaving. Events like the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer play a big part in that by educating people, paying for educational programs, and supporting educational programs financially. In addition, there is still the hope that funds raised will lead to a cure.

Can I count on you to support me in some way? Big or little, I can use all of it that I can get!

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This weekend I was watching the most recent Shark Tank because a couple who lives close to me was on their for their brownie baking pan company. Although that segment was cool, what really caught my attention was the pitch from the two women who founded the Foot Fairy App.

The premise of the app is that you can place your child’s food on your tablet and have it immediately tell you what size they are. You can then click through to Zappos to purchase shoes in that size. As soon as they said that, I suspected that they were monetizing the app via affiliate marketing. When asked by the Sharks how they were monetizing, they specifically said “affiliate marketing.”

Unfortunately for them, they apparently lost out on all of the revenue after they launched the app because their affiliate links were not tracking with Zappos. It sounded like they were directing customers to the Zappos app, which was not part of the Zappos affiliate program. Hopefully they now have that sorted out. I can’t understand how they sent potentially hundreds of thousands of dollars in sales without realizing that it was not tracking.

Always test the tracking of your affiliate links! Even if you are not making a purchase yourself, you should be watching your EPC in the first few days and comparing it to the EPC listed in the network. If you are sending a lot of clicks and making no sales, assume something is wrong and start some testing or reach out to the merchant to have them help you figure it out.

This whole situation brings up a great point about one of the big benefits of affiliate marketing. Foot Fairy was able to lend credence to their product by saying essentially that they are “working with Zappos.” Often smaller or little known affiliates can use their affiliate relationship with a big brand name to their advantage to help gain some legitimacy.

I had a couple of questions about their business model.  I hope that they will consider using shoe merchants besides Zappos. I would hate to be too tied to one particular merchant for my revenue because you never know what will happen with that merchant’s program (unless they are just aiming to have Zappos buy them out, which is a possibility). I also wonder if they are capturing user information to send a followup email to them after the sizing. I can imagine a lot of people getting the size but then not shopping on their tablet. Data suggests that customers are using multiple devices to browse before actually making a purchase.

Lastly, I am curious as to how they have gotten so far without doing any type of disclosure of their affiliate links. For example, their post about Wide Toddler Shoes specifically uses the words “We researched which brands offer wide shoe sizes for children. Here are our personal picks from each brand offering wide shoe sizes.” If that isn’t an endorsement, I don’t know what it is. It then goes on to list recommended products with direct links to Zappos and not a hint of disclosure to satisfy the FTC anywhere on the site. Maybe they need a copy of my “Affiliate Marketing and FTC” webinar? I’m surprised that Zappos didn’t catch this when they knew that their affiliates were going to be on national television talking about endorsing their products.

It was great to hear affiliate marketing mentioned in such a popular television show and as part of a legitimate business model. Maybe if Mark Cuban sees a great return on his investment in an affiliate company we will see him speaking at one of our conferences before too long! As an affiliate, does this get your mind spinning about what kind of app you could create that could be monetized through affiliate links?

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