Nov 22 2011

How to Make Money With Affiliate Posts Without Being Sleazy


Carlos Portocarrero

Sleazy guy taking money

Freelance writers are always looking to balance two things: writing something good and getting paid for it. It can be a tough line to straddle, but that’s always the goal.

Writing an affiliate post is the most direct way to provide value and get paid…as long as it’s done right.

What is an Affiliate Post?

An affiliate post is an article or blog post that includes links to products or services. If someone clicks on those links and buys a product or opens an account, the writer gets paid directly.

Are Affiliate Posts Sleazy?

Yes and no. What keeps an affiliate post from being sleazy? A few things:
  • It’s filled with useful information
  • It’s on a respected site
  • The author clearly calls out the links as affiliate links

If the links weren’t identified as affiliates, then it’s a little sketch. If the article lived on thebestcreditcardsintheworldbaby.biz, didn’t identify the affiliate links as such, and had no useful information, then that would fall under the classification of sleazy.

That’s the main reason why there is some debate about affiliate posts. Can you really trust a person’s opinion when he/she is getting paid if people sign up?

There is one easy way to tell…and it’s also the secret to a successful affiliate post.

Is the Content Awesome?

That’s it—that’s the secret ingredient. If you didn’t know anything about travel-reward cards and you read the Wisebread post, you would come away with some great options and some serious knowledge.

The secret to a good affiliate post is to make it so good, so detailed, and so useful that people won’t mind clicking on your affiliate links. In fact, they’ll gladly click on them because you’ve given them so much useful information.

Want an example? Check out this post from Ramit on his favorite checking account. Even if you don’t know him, the post is packed with helpful information that you can use to make a decision. And he also identifies his link as affiliates.

Where do you Get Affiliate Links?

First you need to join any of the affiliate programs out there. The big ones are Linkshare (affiliate link), Commission Junction, and Google Affiliates. Amazon Associates pays you if you link to a product and someone winds up buying something (just make sure your state is still eligible).

Once you’ve joined, you need to find a product or service you want to write about. Ideally, you pick something you’re passionate or knowledgable about. But you can also pick something you don’t know anything about (as long as you’re willing to learn)—it doesn’t matter.

What matters is that you give readers valuable information. If you do that, your post has a good shot at succeeding.

The Checklist

Here is what you need to know in order to write a great affiliate post that will make you some money:
  • Join an affiliate program (again, the big ones are Linkshare (affiliate link), Commission Junction, Google Affiliates, and Amazon Associates.
  • Find a product or service you want to write about and become an expert on it.
  • Create a fantastic, useful article that helps readers learn more about that product or service.
  • Identify your links as affiliate links.
  • Publish it on a respected online site (could be your site or a guest post somewhere else).
  • Stay up on the comments to answer any additional questions readers might have.

If you’ve created something truly useful for readers, they will have no problem rewarding you buy clicking on your affiliate links if they want to sign up for a service or buy a product.

Image by CarbonNYC


Nov 14 2011

Reality vs. Theory: How a Financial Pro Lost His House


Carlos Portocarrero

The New York Times has a great article we can all learn a lesson from. In How a Financial Pro Lost His House, financial adviser Carl Richards tells the story of how he got caught up in the go-go enthusiasm of the mortgage bubble and wound up buying more house than he could afford.

It’s an honest, introspective look at the types of feelings that were swirling around during those times. It’s easy to look  back and say the people that over-bought were stupid and deserve any hardships they encountered later on. But it overlooks one key element of decision making: our emotions. In my review of Jonah Lehrer’s book, How We Decide, it was pretty clear how our emotions can railroad our decision making.

Did Richards deserve to go through the turmoil and anxiety he went through? Sure, maybe he did. But the image of him standing in the dark looking back at his family in the house he couldn’t afford, wondering if he would ever get through it all…it’s hard to be so cold.

Let’s take a look at some quotes:

I have a friend who is going through a tough time financially. He has a high income, but is burdened by debt from a few real estate deals that went south. He continues to take fairly expensive ski trips. That would seem irresponsible in his situation, and maybe they are.

But I now realize that it is not that simple. Maybe those trips are keeping the guy alive, or saving his marriage or keeping him sane enough to work.

I have another good friend who borrowed against his house to pay for a therapist. Unless you were walking in his shoes you might think that was stupid, but it saved his life and changed his career. It ended up being one of the best investments he ever made.

The process of making financial decisions is about more than building a spreadsheet to calculate the answer, because life rarely fits cleanly into a spreadsheet. Our decisions often appear irrational until we understand the whole story.

This reminds me of my post on how financial responsibility can ruin your life. There are certain times in life where the best financial decision isn’t always the right decision for yourself. For example, if you want to have a baby and it’s your last shot, you should do it even if the math doesn’t quite add up.

You better come up with a solution to make it work, but I don’t believe you should sacrifice these types of “living life” experiences in the name of “financial responsibility.”

Then Richards goes on:

But it’s not that simple. At times I’m absolutely clear about what makes sense. Then ordinary life choices arise, and things can get cloudy. Should our children play sports that cost money? What kind of family vacation is O.K.? How much is enough?

These are issues we all battle with on a daily basis. I like that Richards isn’t hiding behind his title as a financial adviser and is telling it like it is. It may not be pretty, but at least he’s being realistic instead of just spouting off all the different financial maxims people “should” be adhering to in an ideal world.

We don’t live in an ideal world.

 


Nov 4 2011

Does T-Mobile Have the Best Plan Ever?


Carlos Portocarrero

Tmobile Store

Picking a cell phone carrier isn’t easy. Today’s ads have so much fine print it’s hard to tell what you’re agreeing to when you sign a two-year agreement.

But each carrier has its own features that make it unique.

Let’s take a look at each one to see how they stack up.

Sprint: Unlimited Data

Sprint is currently hanging its hat on three things:

  • They have the iPhone
  • They’ll give you unlimited data (competitors either charge for more usage or throttle your speed)
  • They have fewer customers and less congestion on the network

One thing about unlimited data: the average person doesn’t need more than 2GB, which is what other carriers offer, so I don’t know how valuable it is in the real world.

I know very few people on Sprint but they seem to be happy with their service and with their phone selection. As usual, make sure to check their coverage map.

Verizon: Service

Verizon has gotten a reputation for having great customer service and top-notch coverage. They too carry the iPhone and a host of high-end Android phones.

The downside of having great coverage and so many customers is that congestion becomes an issue and download speeds become affected. That’s the theory anyway—I haven’t met anyone on Verizon complain about this.

A few weeks ago Amazon had a crazy $0.01 sale of all Verizon smart phones, including the $299 Bionic. Other carriers have these types of deals too, but this most recent one was pretty tempting.

It’s always good to check a coverage map before making the switch, though talking to people and using a real phone is always the best way to test this stuff.

AT&T: Oops

A year ago before the iPhone 4 came to Verizon, AT&T always hung its hat on one thing: they were the only carrier with the iPhone.

Once that changed, AT&T had a hard time pitching customers on why they were a good option, especially after Consumer Reports rated them dead last in their rankings.

Ouch.

I used to be on AT&T but my phone only worked if I hung out of my apartment window, so I had to switch.

T-Mobile: Value

Ah, to be the value player is always a double-edged sword. People equate cheap with bad, and that’s what T-Mobile is trying to fight, especially since now they are the only major carrier without the iPhone.

They’re in the middle of a massive ad campaign promoting their new value plans. Dubbed “The Best Plan Ever,” it gives you unlimited talk, text, and data (you get throttled down to a slower speed after 2GB) for just $59.99. If you’re on a family plan with at least two lines, it comes down to $49.99.

Check out this handy chart Apple put together for their iPhone 4S page—it shows what T-Mobile’s competitors are offering. The numbers show T-Mobile is muchcheaper.

And because value is my biggest priority, I had to find out more about this plan.

Too Good to be True?

Of course, there’s a catch: T-Mobile’s “Best Plan Ever” doesn’t include any phone discounts. You can sign up for a  payment plan if you want to get a new phone and pay a little of it off every month, but you don’t get the massive phone discounts other carriers give you when you commit to two more years. You’ll have to pay retail—which can be upwards of $699.

T-Mobile won’t be waving a $499 phone in your face saying “Here, we’ll give this to you for $199 if you sign up for another two years.” That temptation is out the window.

Let’s take a look at the numbers and see what they say (using data from Apple’s comparison page):

Cell Phone Plan Savings

Those are really substantial savings.

When I figured all this out, I knew I had to get onto one of these plans. The more I delayed a new phone, the more money I would save. And since I enjoy finding phones for cheap, this plan is perfect for me [See Buying a New Smartphone Without Extending Your Contract].

The Downside

Of course, if you want an iPhone, you’re not going to get it on T-Mobile’s network. And if T-Mobile’s signal isn’t very good where you live or work, then it probably doesn’t make sense to switch.

If you really want the best value out there, these plans might be a good fit. As with any other carrier, make sure you find out beforehand how good the signal is at home and anywhere else you spend a lot of time.

Because if you can’t make any calls then all this talk about value goes out the window.


Oct 31 2011

Your Cable Bill is a Convenience Bill


Carlos Portocarrero

A month ago, I wrote Cable TV is Here to Stay…for Now. I had just finished doing a whole bunch of research on ways I could cut my cable and decided most people weren’t ready to make the jump.

There wasn’t (and still isn’t) a convenient, reliable way to kill your cable bill and replace all the functionality you get with cable (like DVR and not having to fiddle with a bunch of wires or remotes).

The Challenge

But after I wrote the post, I said to myself, “Carlos, you aren’t ‘most people,’ you’re a tech-savvy person willing to figure a way to make this work.”

The challenge was set: it would test my problem-solving skills, my research skills, and my tech skills. I was excited to come back and disprove my article and announce to the world how I had killed my cable and saved a bunch of money.

It didn’t go as planned.

I spent a bunch of time and money figuring out a way to replace cable with an antenna and my Internet connection, while while making it as convenient as possible so my wife would approve.

And I couldn’t do it.

I tried different setups, I altered strategies, I returned one product to test another one…none of it mattered.

In the end, I couldn’t get the channels I wanted with the reliability and quality that I get from cable.

If I would’ve been successful, I would’ve saved $564/year.

Cable=Convenience

And that’s when I realized I wasn’t paying $47/month for “cable.” I could replace cable and make it all work, but it wouldn’t be as convenient.

And that’s really what it comes down to: convenience.

So I’m here to reaffirm that cable cutting isn’t ready for the masses. The masses watch a lot of TV and they want the channels they want without interruption and on a DVR.
Cable cutting won’t be ready for primetime until someone comes out with one product that you plug into your TV and boom—you get everything you need in one, handy remote.

Of course, some of you can do that fairly easily if you don’t watch a lot of TV or don’t need a DVR. But for the average TV watcher that’s been spoiled by having a DVR, cable is still the best option.

What’s the Best Option?

There are pretty much three basic ways you can replace cable, and the most convenient is to get a TiVo Premiere or something like it. Plug an antenna into the back of it, and you’ve got all the major networks (if you’re lucky) and a built-in DVR.

Then you can use their Amazon Video on Demand channel to get the rest, along with Netflix and Hulu Plus.

It’s convenient, but it’ll cost you $20/month (or the $499 one-time fee) and if your antenna doesn’t bring in a good signal it won’t matter: you won’t be happy. Still, that’s the closest thing I could find to buying one box that does it all—and again your paying for convenience.

I’d love to hear from people who’ve made the switch, are happy with it, and what setup you’re using. Please share in the comments!

Image by Luke Wisley