This month my company Sunshine Rewards celebrates 10 years in business. Although I have been in affiliate marketing longer than that, for some reason this milestone is the one that is most important to me. It’s meant weathering a lot of storms and building partnerships that are the foundation of everything I do.
When we started SR, my husband Kevin and I were armed with some technical skills, a little knowledge about affiliate marketing, and a desire to create something that would get us out of the $100K debt we found ourselves in between college and law school loans, building a house, and having 2 kids in the first 4 years of our marriage. We knew that if we wanted to really change our lives, we had to do something BIG. This is how we did it.
The Start of Something Big
On January 10, 2006, we registered www.sunshinerewards.com. We bought a cheap starter script and Kevin spent every evening and weekend hour rewriting things to make it our own. The logo was made in Paint or something like that. Our goal was to make a simple site where we could put up affiliate links and share the revenue with our friends who used them: Here’s how the site looked (this is really embarrassing):
Over the next 4 days we sent the link to a few family members to sign up and test things out for us. On the 5th day, I posted it in a Disney forum to see if anyone was interested in joining. We promised Disney Dollars and Gift Cards for cashouts. Our first real member signed up (and is still with us today!). Hundreds more followed. Five days after we registered the domain and started the site! Membership took off faster than we could imagine and we were frantically updating the site to make it more user friendly and add more options. It quickly changed to this:
That first month we grossed $1753 and were thrilled. We continued spending all of our free time on the site our revenue was double that just 3 months later. After quitting my full-time job, focusing on the site full-time, and attending Affiliate Summit in June, we saw our monthly gross exceeding $35,000. It was more than we had ever dreamed of frankly hard to wrap our brains around.
What Goes Up Must Come Down
In a lot of ways, it really was too good to be true. Our membership was growing quickly and we were adding new merchants to the site by the dozens every day. Over the next few years we experimented with different types of revenue streams for the site including playing games, watching videos, and paid clicks. We offered cash back shopping, daily surveys, and paid emails. We were (and still are) always on the lookout for fun things for our members that would also make us money.
But then things started crashing. With the proliferation of GPT (Get Paid To) sites, there was a LOT of fraud. CPA networks and merchants started kicking every loyalty and rewards site out because they couldn’t separate the good from the bad and we weren’t worth the risk. Our revenue fell in half. We had to find new ways to keep our members and generate revenue. We cut ties with a lot of partners and lost a lot of revenue by changing up how we dealt with paid offers and surveys.
We experienced so many highs and so many lows. We worried about bigger cash back sites pushing us out of business. We panicked when we got kicked out of the Google Affiliate Network for a dumb mistake and lost hundreds of our merchants. The Disney Store stopped selling Disney Dollars! Indiana started talking about a Nexus Tax that could have killed us. Greenfield put us on the naughty list for what our members will forever call “SurveyGate.” Merchants filed bankruptcy and didn’t pay their commissions. Google changed their algorithms like I change mascaras. For every step forward we made, it seems like something was pushing us backward. But we found a way through everything by adapting and making the best of bad situations.
The next 5 or so years really focused on building relationships in all different directions. The most important of those were:
- Members: We got to know them and what they wanted. We talked to them in the forum, on Facebook, and in person. Every day we worked to prove to them that they weren’t just numbers to us and that they are the heart of our business.
- Merchants: Finding good merchants to partner with is more than just getting good commissions. It’s about finding brands that we are happy to present to our members and deals that they won’t get anywhere else.
- Affiliate managers and OPMs: I don’t think we would be where we are today if we didn’t have great relationships with people who see SR as more than just a cash back site. They understand our mission and why we are different and what value we can provide to them.
- SR Supporters: These are the people who may not shop through us or work with us in any way but still support whatever we do. They Like our Facebook posts and Retweet our big announcements. They help connect us to others in the affiliate industry. It’s not about the money in any way but rather the underlying guidance and support they give our efforts.
This is the site that people saw for the majority of this middle years–give or take a little tinkering each quarter:
Finally Finding Ourselves
It took until recently, but we finally settled into a business that we could be proud of and that would still be profitable for us. That meant making decisions like keeping an old logo because we love our brand as well as changing our focus from offers and clicks to shopping and surveys. Last year we did overhaul the site to make it more modern and mobile responsive:
We’ve figured out our niche among all of the other coupon, reward, loyalty, survey, offer, and deal sites out there. We don’t try to be everything to everyone. We listen to our members, stay on top of industry news, and stay nimble so that we can adapt to changes.
I considered ending this post with what I see as the future for Sunshine Rewards but the reality is that I still don’t know. For right now I am going to be grateful that it has given me the opportunity to:
- Learn the affiliate marketing industry backwards and forwards
- Build relationships with people around the world
- Make a full-time income working my own hours
- Spend so much time with my family that sometimes they forget I even have a “real job”
- Live my life so that I don’t dread Mondays or hate the thought of working
Thanks to all of you who have been a part of this journey and if you want, go read about how we are actually Celebrating 10 Years with our members!