If you’ve ever had any dabblings in affiliate marketing, you know the name Rae Hoffman, and the site Sugarrae.com.
Rae’s an affiliate marketing guru. But that’s not all. She’s also a web marketing maestro, SEO specialist and oh, she does speaking gigs too. And she does it all with a fun, positive, action-packed attitude.
Rae makes it look easy, and that drives more than a few of us crazy with envy. Sure, she says “I’ve busted my ass to get here,” but come on. She must have some kind of knack to be able to do all that—and do it so well. Mustn’t she?
This week, I decided to find out. Just how the heck does Rae Hoffman do it?
Rae on Productivity
Rae, you do a lot of stuff. And you do it so well. What’s your secret?
Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee! Well, that and just knowing that to achieve my goals, certain things have to be done. There’s no room for excuses, for inaction or for letting a setback have an impact on the future.
You just have to get shit done.
Well, from the outside, it looks like you’re getting a lot of shit done. From blogs and affiliate sites, to consulting and speaking … yet when we emailed you for this interview, you answered right away. How do you even get through all your email, let alone prioritize the actual work you need (or want!) to do?
Ha! You actually caught me on an evening when I was catching up on my inbox while watching my football team lose. I am pretty busy, but I guess I’m used to it. I’ve always been the type of person who has to be doing twenty things at once. But, that doesn’t mean I don’t get overwhelmed at times.
2013 has actually been a year of consolidation for me behind the scenes — preparing to absolutely own things in 2014. I sat down early in the year and made some tough decisions on which projects would get my focus, now that it’s a bit more difficult than it used to be “in the old days” to manage and market my numerous affiliate sites.
We’re in the process of closing down my website publishing company, MFE Interactive. I loved those sites and loved what we built with that company, but both myself and my partner have had a lot change in our lives—and goals—since we started the company in 2006. It was simply time to move on.
Sugarrae still owns a lot more affiliate sites than I have time for, but I’m in the process of paring them down. I’ve sold some, shut some down, and have picked a few others to move forward with in the future (including a new one that I am creating behind the scenes now).
The Sugarrae site itself is going to have a lot more of my focus in the future whereas it’s always been a “back burner” site of mine in the past—believe it or not.
PushFire gets the bulk of my business attention these days and I really love where we’re heading with it. I’ve been accused more than once of having an addiction to building companies—an accusation I really have no defense for.
Also, I have an amazing partner in PushFire. He handles all of the PPC services as well as managing operations, which leaves me free to focus on my strengths in regards to SEO strategies as well as building and managing the company.
As far as prioritization goes, I have a huge cork board in my office. All of my main initiatives are on it and I use old fashioned pen and paper to tack up todo lists of things that need to get done to move them forward. It may not always happen seamlessly or on time, but I usually find a way to make it all happen. Archaic, I know, but it works for me.
When you fully commit to achieving something, your mind has an amazing way of ensuring it gets done.
Rae on Experience and Experimentation
That’s an interesting point. How important has a breadth of experience—of getting things done—been in getting good at what you do? Have you become more efficient as well as more capable over time?
Hands down, yes, experience is important.
I’ve been doing this for over 15 years now. Which means I’ve been able to learn each change as it happened—in bits and pieces—versus coming in ten years after the fact and having to learn it all at once.
And as with life, knowing the history of how the engines used to work, what they did to combat problems (and why) and improve the overall experience is extremely useful in helping you predict where they’ll be going long before they actually actively head in that direction.
I’m not saying you can’t enter the industry today and become amazing at what you do—not by a long shot. But I think that experience is a definite asset in this industry. As is having your own sites to test things and push limits with.
So experimentation is an important part of that experience?
Yes. I happily do things to small affiliate sites I own simply to see what happens to them as a result that I would never, ever do with a client site or one of my own flagship (high-earning or high-value) sites.
Without testing and experience, you’re left with theories and hypothesis. So, if you’re just getting into the industry, start a few of your own small sites to help you gain that experience instead of testing your theories out on sites that pay the mortgage (be it your own site or your client’s).
That’s a great tip. But experimentation also takes time—often more time than the stuff we know and understand. Would you say you work hard, work smart, or work on things you’re passionate about?
All of the above.
I always say that one of the best compliments I ever received was from John Andrews when he said in a 2006 post, “I don’t believe Rae Hoffman is as much of a genius as she is hard worker”. Because I am a hard worker. Always have been, always will be.
My former business partner in MFE taught me a lot about working smart. Prior to getting involved with him I was very successful at what I did, but I did it all—I was a one (wo)man show.
Early on in our partnership, he told me I should read The E-Myth Revisited. That book changed my life in regards to how I thought about business, and my role within that business. I didn’t want to be the forever “lynchpin” to my companies. So I started combining working hard with working smart.
Delegation was not a task that came easy to me—and shelling out money for people to do things I could do myself was a bit of a mind shock. But I got used to it and seeing the benefits of it— on my time and my companies —made it easier to accept as my new norm.
In regards to passion, if you’d asked me ten years ago if I’d pick something (like an affiliate site niche) based on profitability or passion, I would have told you I can learn to become passionate about anything that makes me money. But as the game of being visible online gets harder and I’ve “grown up” a bit from a business perspective, my answer would be to find the nearest intersection of money and passion in your life.
I’m passionate about online marketing, about entrepreneurship, about making a difference in the world, and about my hobbies. Those are what I tend to focus my various business efforts on nowadays.
Find a passion that you can make profitable. Work hard to get it off the ground and then transition to working smart to keep it growing without continuing to put in a ridiculous amount of hours.
Speaking of ridiculous hours, obviously you don’t get to be a web marketing mogul without facing some challenges along the way. How did you stay focused and positive in the early days, when you were less experienced, and the industry was less mature?
Ha. I definitely wouldn’t call myself a “mogul” by any means. I simply do what I love to do—and I’ve busted my ass to put myself in the position where that is what I get to do each day.
A lot of my drive and focus came from my oldest son (he was actually how I fell into the industry). Giving him the best opportunities I could was always my driving force (he passed away this past November).
I think part of how I stayed focused back then is also due to the fact that I loved (and still love) the “game” of promoting sites online. Winning was a high, and losing was a challenge to be won.
The Early Days of Affiliate Marketing
For all of my early career, I was an affiliate. Back in the day, Google “danced,” which meant that every four to six weeks or so, they’d update their rankings. The search results bounced all around during the dance, but where you ended up was where you would stay until the next update.
You knew a dance had started when your IM windows started lighting up from colleagues, and it wasn’t uncommon for us to stay up through the night, constantly refreshing the results until we were confident the dance had ended.
If you had a top ranking, you could revel in knowing the revenue from your sites would be rock-solid for the next few weeks. If you got whacked, that was unfortunately how it was going to remain until the next dance. And then the game began—either maintaining or regaining your rankings—all while building new sites to increase your pieces playing the game.
It’s amazing how far Google’s algorithm has come when you think about it. Deciphering that algorithm is a game I love to play, plain and simple. The day that statement isn’t true will be the day I retire from playing it.
So passion mattered even way back then. Is it still your main motivator today? What keeps you on track?
Nowadays a big portion of my drive comes from living up to the examples my son set for me during his life.
The second thing is continually raising the bar. A long time ago, a colleague said to me one night at a conference “Never get comfortable with what you’ve achieved.” I’ve never forgotten those words.
Her Two Most Important Lessons
It’s amazing how those kinds of moments can stay with you. What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned that you can share with others who are facing the mammoth task of starting or growing their own online businesses?
I’d have to give two answers.
First, always have any business agreement—no matter how large, small, formal, informal or with “who”—in writing.
Second, you and you alone determine whether or not you’ll be successful in your business goals. There are no acceptable excuses in life. There’s only action and inaction—and your choice of which road you decide to take.
Photo courtesy of Rae Hoffman