My Experience with Affiliate Summit West 2015 #ASW15
Join me on my report about my crazy adventure with Affiliate Summit in Las Vegas. For those that know me, I lean heavily towards being introverted but force myself to do things outside of my comfort zone to grow as a person. Usually, this means taking that unknown number phone call or going to a concert with humongous crowds.
One day in mid-December, I received an email from SiteGround (a web hosting company) asking for people to apply to win one of 3 Affiliate Summit passes by replying to their email. I’ve entered these types of things in the past and always lose, so whatever, it’s worth a shot. I write a quick email explaining how I just spent four months completely overhauling Top Five Advisor and I explained how a ticket to ASW would open the doors to network with some of the best in the industry. My third paragraph simply said “A ticket would change my life.” I sent that email on December 19th just after midnight and headed to bed.
That morning, I had an email telling me that I was selected as one of their winners and to reply within 24 hours to confirm I’ll be able to attend! WHAT!?! No, that can’t possibly be right, I DO NOT WIN THESE THINGS. I was freaking out, my hands started to shake, holy crap, I won!?! What have I gotten myself into here?
I hop on my phone, ask my wife in a text message if she can put in for some vacation time at her work because apparently I’m throwing myself to the wolves on January 18th – 20th. I had confirmation that she will be able to get time off to watch our 4 year old while I attend this event. Well crap, that was my last chance at an excuse to not go, apparently *I* am the only excuse left. Screw that, I won’t hold myself back anymore, I’m going! I quickly fire off an email to SiteGround that everything is cleared, I can and will attend and provided my details.
They registered me with a Networking Plus badge which gave me access to a few sessions, the exhibit hall, meet market and keynotes. This is really happening, I’m going to an event full of my peers in Affiliate Marketing with over 5,500 people in attendance, yeah, cool, what doesn’t kill me will make me stronger, that’s what they say. Let’s do this!
Preparing and Planning for Affiliate Summit
I immediately started researching how to prepare myself for this event. I read several guides into this older guide by Adam Riemer, this guide by Tricia Meyer, and finally, the official Affiliate Summit blog with several posts including this, this and this were very helpful.
I still had about a month to wrap my head around this event while continuing my latest project, a WordPress training series including WordPress training videos on YouTube. I ordered my business cards, did some clothing and shoes shopping and of course, I bought my business cards:
— Scott Buehler (@TygrScott) January 12, 2015
Most importantly, as soon as I knew I was attending, I started hotel room shopping. The best deal was the Paris Hotel that was pre-planned by Affiliate Summit, however, that was already booked solid. I started researching nearby hotels and managed to find a king suite at the Flamingo hotel, which was just 3 hotels away on the same side of Las Vegas Boulevard and it was also the cheapest room I could find (a few days later, that and most surrounding hotels were booked solid too). I certainly didn’t need a suite, after all, I just needed a few square feet to curl up into a ball and cry.
A couple weeks before the event, I started taking the advice of the guides linked above, business cards ordered, business card holders ordered and I took to social media hard and started hitting that #ASW15 hashtag like there’s no tomorrow. I make several announcements that I’m headed to the event from my @TopFiveAwards Twitter profile (business dealings) and my @TygrScott profile (attract fellow affiliates). I hit Google+, LinkedIn, Facebook and more. I’m headed to the event, let’s meetup I said as if I’m some sort of extrovert. I’m already torturing myself, let’s take this all the way to maximum anxiety.
At one point, I randomly reached out to Shawn Collins saying I was looking forward to ASW not expecting a reply. Not only did he reply, we had a small conversation. Check it out. This is when I announced my wife decided to come to the event to do a little shopping and to hang out with me for meals since meals were not included with the Networking Plus level (this worked out to my benefit, more on that later).
With over 20 meetups scheduled in my pre-planning, bags packed, Google Calendar updated with all the events I wanted to attend along with all meetup appointments marked in bright red (so I don’t leave people hanging), I’m ready.
I came up with a battle plan and goals about a day before leaving. Taking in all the advice I learned, I decided on the following rules for myself:
- I will only use my phone for the Google Calendar, calling my wife to meet up for meals and, if needed, to call/text my scheduled appointments.
- I will not use social media.
- I will not browse the web.
- I will take phone calls that weren’t event-related.
- I will not “dump” my business cards around. If you wanted my card, you had to “earn it” by talking to me.
- Every business card I collect will be from the result of actually meeting/talking to that person.
Let the Torture Commence – Let’s Do This Thing!
My wife and I hop in the car and drive to Las Vegas, a short 2 1/2 hour drive for us. As I see Las Vegas in the distance, the anxiety builds. I’m definitely feeling freaked out and excited at the same time. I keep telling myself that this event could change my life, it could be pointless, who knows? All I know is, my hands and legs are starting to shake more and more as I get closer and closer to the Flamingo Rd exit.
I grab my messenger bag, walk with my wife to the Paris hotel, find where the Affiliate Summit is located, we wait in line, get my badge and exit the check in area. My wife gives me a few words of encouragement, we kiss and off she goes to shop leaving me to venture my way through my first ever conference.
Awkward. I have several acquaintances that I’ve talked to on the phone and email, however, I have no friends attending this thing. As I observe the crowd, I realize that this event is literally reunion time for most. Hundreds of people all around me saying “Hey XXXX! It’s been way too long since we’ve seen each other! How’ve you been man <handshake>.” What have I gotten myself into here? Whatever, there’s orientation in 10 minutes, I’ll just go find the ballroom and take a seat.
Anxiety Level: 9/10
First Up – ASW First Timer Orientation
I arrive 10 minutes early to a surprisingly relatively-empty ballroom. I immediately learned my first lesson, people take advantage of every second at these events. By the time it started, the room was packed and by the time Shawn Collins took to the mic, most empty seats were being filled.
Shawn provides us all with etiquette along with helpful advice and tips during this event. My favorite part was when he was telling us guys how to deal with the placement of the badge on women we want to connect with. As it turns out, the placement is just below the breast line and if you walk up to a girl THEN go looking for a name, she’ll get the wrong impression. The way he explained it was absolutely hilarious.
Introducing awkward moment number 1: Shawn goes into how important it is to network and gives us several minutes to introduce ourselves to our neighbors in the audience. I failed hard. Everyone around me started talking and I only introduce myself to one person and talk for about 10 seconds. Damnit. <shrug>. Another lesson learned, do not hesitate.
Anxiety Level: 6/10
Affiliate Program Showcase – I Start Learning How to Network
Well, the orientation was cool, let’s check out the showcase. It was a room filled with circular tables with people sitting there waiting to talk. By this time, I’m starting to get a little more comfortable and walk around each row checking out what people are offering. I introduce myself to 10 people and learn about their produces/services from social media tools to an electronic vaporizer solution.
This was when I first started passing out my business cards after sitting down at several tables.
Anxiety Level: 7/10
First Event: 20 Digital Marketing Strategies
For me, the event covered the basics and I didn’t learn much by attending. However, it did give me an hour to decompress and evaluate my decision to attend this summit in the first place. I’m feeling pretty good after the hour goes by and I tell myself I’m starting to get a handle on networking.
Anxiety Level: 4/10
The Meet Market
As you may notice, I’m feeling pretty good by now. Getting comfortable, starting to network, all is good. I walk into this Meet Market and I’m absolutely overwhelmed. I’m a guy who uses swears when talking to others but I don’t swear much online, but I’m making an exception here:
Holy shit! If I go to hell, it will be where I’m surrounded by a massive crowd with no escape. Meet Market, you are my hell on Earth.
I’m a bigger guy and this room was absolute packed with people. Getting around to all the booths was a damn nightmare. I forced myself to stay and introduce myself to the booths but I’ve never been more uncomfortable in my life. You’ve got lines at each booth at least 3 deep and a tiny pathway to walk but this pathway was blocked by people networking and other network attendees working the crowd to pitch their programs.
I forced myself to stay in there though and I worked my way through every row while picking and choosing who to talk to. I planned to stay there for 4 hours on my calendar but I only made it 90 minutes before I just had enough and had to get out of there. That moment came when I finished a row and rounded down to the last row of booths when I noticed that they had a big projection screen with the football game on. I’m a huge football fan but I have to say, having that setup there kind of pissed me off because it encouraged a lot of standers and they didn’t look like they were getting any networking in.
Looking back on it, I understand why it was there and what their goal was having it there as well. But from my point of view at the time, it just caused way more crowding in my mind. Also remember, my anxiety level was building, building and building more as I forced myself to stay.
Anxiety Level: 4,000/10
The Rest of Day 1
After feeling that the Meet Market chewed me up and spit me out, I call my wife and arrange to meet for lunch. We also take this time to check in to the Flamingo, get our luggage from the car, get settled and of course, watch the Patriots kick some butt with underinflated footballs.
I was invited to join SiteGround for dinner this evening as one of the winners of their Affiliate Summit giveaway. I had no idea what to expect but what happened that night was absolutely amazing.
We met at The Eiffel Tower Restaurant and I’m instantly star-struck. Who do I see walk in along with the SiteGround crew? Syed Balkhi of WPBeginner! It just got real. You can put me in a crowd of famous Hollywood stars and I wouldn’t give a crap but you put me in a room of people I’ve respected, admired and secretly learn from for years? Now I’m star-struck and geeking out.
Unfortunately, as we walk to our table, my wife and I are one of the last in the group and I hear Syed say “I want to sit here with you” and he takes his seat. That entire side of the table quickly filled in and I found a seat clear on the other end of the table. Dang it man.
After sitting, I see others walking around introducing themselves so I decide to join in on that as well (again, forcing myself to shake hands and network). I come to Syed and pat him on his back and say Syed, I know you man and continue introducing myself to the rest of the table.
As I finish, I’m at Syed’s end of the table and we had this awkward conversation where Syed said, “Hey, I know you.” and I said something to the effect of, “nah man, not likely” and he returns with something along the lines of we met each other before, where, again, I said nope, this was my first networking event. The conversation ended as I’m one of the last to be standing and take a seat.
My side of the table had the three winners, Will Tang of Going Awesome Places and Kerwin McKenzie, another travel guy. We spent over 3 hours at this dinner where we talked about all sorts of topics including Kerwin’s traveling adventures, SiteGround newest technologies they are soon to roll out, other hosts and all sorts of topics in-between.
The dinner was absolutely amazing. As a big fan of Chef Ramsey and his dramatic reality TV shows, my wife and I added Beef Wellington to our bucket list of things we absolutely had to try. Eiffel Tower Restaurant had it on the menu and my wife and I both order it. It. was. amazing!
On a side note: I ended up running into Kerwin several times afterwards where it finally became a joke about who was stalking who at the event.
At the end of the meal, I learned that the guy Syed wanted to sit next to was also an amazing marketer. It turned out to be David Henzel, co-founder of MaxCDN. After learning this because he came up in one of our conversations at the table, I really wanted to give him a proper introduction. Unfortunately, at the end of our meal after talking with Kerwin in private to give him my business card, Syed and David left.
A Quick Thank You
To SiteGround, thank you so much for including my wife and I to your dinner. Whether you realize it or not, your dinner was the turning point where I started to settle in to the Affiliate Summit and get comfortable with these types of events. Being included in with all of the awesome people of SiteGround and the marketing kingpins you had there really helped calm me down to where I started feeling more and more at “home” with my fellow affiliate marketing peers.[/content_band]
Anxiety Level: 3/10
Day 2 of Affiliate Summit Begins
I’m definitely feeling more comfortable. I’m nowhere near as anxious as I walk to the Paris hotel, in fact, I’m walking at a much faster clip because I’m excited to begin this day. I doubted it would get any better than being in the same room as Syed, but wow, was I wrong. Let’s get started.
Anxiety Level: 5/10
Event: Selecting Affiliate Programs
Starting the day off with a little coffee from the lounge, I head over to this event.
Once again, I didn’t really take much from the event because the focused in on niches that I am not involved with. I did learn a few tips about those niches (retail, travel blogging, etc) but it wasn’t something I could immediately use. Considering Shareasale was the premier sponsor of the Affiliate Summit, I thought they would have a speaker there that would talk more about choosing Internet Service and B2B type affiliate programs that Shareasale offers. Nope.
On a positive note though, sitting down to the event helped me settle in to another day at Affiliate Summit.
Anxiety Level: 5/10
After this event, I grabbed another cup of coffee and took a quick peak of the Exhibit Hall.
Lunch with Jason Hong of InMotion Hosting
Jason and I have talked via email for years and years. We’ve worked together on several projects, he’s helped with advice on my sites and has remained one of my best business partners throughout the years. As an affiliate manager, he’s one of the best and really goes above and beyond.
When Jason found out I was going to ASW, he offered to take my wife and I out to lunch at the Mon Ami Gabi in the Paris hotel. This meetup was a no-brainer and I said heck yes, let’s do it!
This was an awesome experience finally getting the chance to meet with Jason. We talked about family, where we live, how he absolutely loved his job and most importantly, we talked strategy in regards to my websites and future projects I have planned in 2015.
To my fellow introverts: Let me tell you, I don’t care how you feel about having most of your conversations in email or text chats, when you meet in person, it’s a whole new level and in-depth conversation. In this instance, we discovered we were actually the same age and had a lot in common with each other.
I will now call Jason a friend. Amazing guy.
Another Thank You
To Jason: Man, you rock. Our lunch was one of the biggest highlights of the entire event for me. I looked forward to our meetup the most and the conversation far, FAR exceeded my expectations. Thank you so much for treating my wife and I to dinner. Next time I’m in California, I hope to meet with you again. That lunch was amazing.[/content_band]
After lunch, I part ways with my wife. Jason and I decide to walk together back to the conference center.
Anxiety Level: 1/10
The Exhibit Hall
As Jason and I enter the Exhibit Hall together, I made a comment to him that this is SOOOOOOO much better than the Meet Market from the day prior. The room is bigger, there’s FAR less crowding and I saw the potential for better networking with all the companies in attendance.
As we’re walking, Jason asks me to follow him to the InMotion Hosting booth where I was promptly introduced to the owner of InMotion Hosting, Sunil Saxena. Well, that caught me off-guard!! Hey Jason, how about a little heads up next time brother? LOL.
Anyway, Sunil asks me to sit down and have a chat on the couches they have inside their booth. Heck yeah man, absolutely! This is where I learned the how and why he founded the company, his goals at the time and a little bit of his history. We also talked more about strategy, where my goals are, what I should focus on and a few ideas. He thanked me personally for being a customer, a long-term affiliated partner and we parted ways due to an event he wanted to attend.
From there, I started working the Exhibit Hall. I walked down a little bit and had my first run-in with Kerwin from the SiteGround dinner. We had a little chat and he gave me a hard time for not understanding that SiteGround wanted me to create a paper airplane for a little competition thing they were having (I thought it was a drawing and dropped my half-folded paper in the bowl, haha). My anxiety was high as I was just starting to network in the hall so I didn’t quite understand what they asked me to do (I was still trying to calm all the voices in my head).
I worked the Exhibit Hall for a couple hours and met a ton of people. At this point, I had a scheduled meetup with Adam Reimer. He wanted to show me a new SEO tool that was sure to blow me away. Although he couldn’t get the Internet to work, we stood outside the Blogger’s Lounge and had a quick talk about what his product does. We agreed to get on the phone sometime after the event where he could walk me through this tool. I had no idea who this guy was and was surprised to find out he was a speaker at the event and a well-respected guy in the industry. Oops, guess I should have done a little research BEFORE and not AFTER meeting him. Haha.
After that, I worked the Exhibit Hall more until I started feeling exhausted and called my wife to plan our evening together.
Anxiety Level: 4/10 (surprising right?)
Day 3 – The Day Everything Changed
This morning as I prepare for Day 3, I’m feeling really good. I’m now used to being around so many people, I’ve got a lot of networking under my belt, introducing myself and my projects is easier, asking specific questions to vendors to see how what I do and what they do can come together in future projects and I’m just far more comfortable. This morning was good and I’m actually hurrying to get out the door to head back to ASW.
Anxiety Level: 1/10
Event: Driving Massive Traffic
This was the event I looked forward to the most. The event, obviously about driving traffic, is a strong interest of mine as I wrap my head around paid traffic, paid traffic solutions, tracking, landing pages and more. This event had it all.
This is partly why my anxiety level was non-existent this morning, it was less about anxiety and more about learning how to drive traffic. I was excited.
I enter the event room and sit at the third row and notice how few people are in attendance. I quickly think to myself, are you serious? This event should be packed with people standing because there is nowhere to sit! Without traffic, you are dead in the water! What is going on?
Then it happens.
I look over to my left and there sits a well-known super affiliate Greg Davis and his wife. Wait, what?!?!?! My heart starts racing. I’ve been watching every YouTube video I could find of this guy over the past year, I’ve watched how he marketed his “Affiliate Millionaires Event” and he’s just been a guy I’ve highly respected and wanted to learn from.
I was about to get up and introduce myself when a guy behind me introduces himself. Alright cool, who are you and what do you do? We start talking, he asks me if I am a super affiliate, I respond that I used to be before Google’s Penguin update wiped me out, I tell a bit of my story and this guy walking along that side joins us in conversation. He tells us how he wishes the event was the day prior and that after the event, he has to catch a flight within a couple hours. He also commented how there was less people there that day because people were flying out.
The event was nearing start and this guy heads up to the table. Wait, what?!? I didn’t even realize I was talking to one of the speakers of the event! Are you serious?!?
A Lesson Learned: Hey moron (talking to myself), when attending events, how about doing a little research about who is speaking? I felt like such a dumbass. Haha.
Anyway, as the event gets underway I notice who is speaking. I actually recognize the other three speakers there including JJ Alan, Ian Fernando and Derek Lester. Derek is another guy I’ve closely followed and a dude I highly respect as a traffic expert.
I quickly hop on my phone, snap several pictures, starting adding all of these guys as friends on Facebook and listen in to what they have to say.
I’m impressed about the 30 minute lecture they gave, a learned a little bit (I already knew most of it from my prior 6 months of studying about getting traffic) and listened to the Q&A. I used my phone to enter in a few notes about a couple sites I wasn’t aware of and started preparing for the end. At this point, I took a look behind me and noticed that the room was packed with people. Guess I was right, many people realize the power of getting traffic!
As the end nears, I remembered during my other two events I attended, that people would go up and talk to the speakers privately. I knew that this was my time to do this. Right after they close the session, I get up and start walking towards the front when I notice that Kerwin is at the front table! I joked with him that we were stalking each other and had a really nice conversation about the event. He mentioned how he didn’t understand a lot of the acronyms used by the speakers. I told him that I thought this event was the most important event of the entire Affiliate Summit, that I’ve been studying this topic for several months and I asked him to get in touch with me anytime and I’ll gladly help where I can. I asked Kerwin for his business card and parted ways.
After that, I noticed that the speakers were finally coming down from the stage. The first person I introduce myself to was Bryant Hussey. I told him a bit about my back story, told him I friended him on FB, handed him my business card and told him I REALLY want to have a talk with him in the future. I told him I knew he had a flight to catch so I hoped to talk with him at a later time when he isn’t pressed to make his flight.
After that, Derek is starting to walk by and I introduced myself and complimented him on the event. I told him my situation, told him about how much studying I’ve done, told him I friended him on Facebook and practically begged him to work with me. He told me about his prior experiences with having his income wiped out, knew where I’m coming from and agreed to talk with me in the near future.
WOW! I sincerely hope that comes true. My hands are shaking as I write this at the mere thought of this happening. That will likely be a life-changing connection.
After that, I look over to find Greg Davis but he ended up having several people surround him and left by the time I had a chance to introduce myself. I look back over, compliment the other speakers and finally started my exit.
Anxiety Level: 0/10
Back to the Exhibit Hall
I’m riding high now. I just some industry leaders on traffic-getting and my confidence is absolutely through the roof. I feel my legs shaking a little bit as I headed to the Exhibit Hall but it wasn’t for anxiety reasons, it was from pure excitement of what just happened to me in that traffic event. I’m now in cloud 9 and feeling absolutely euphoric.
When I get to the exhibit hall, I realize what my friend (who couldn’t make the event) told me about on day three. The hall is noticeably less busy, way fewer people walking around and I quickly realize that all of the booths I skipped over because they were so busy were now all walk-up and ready to network with.
In fact, because there were so few people there, I managed to talk with several founders of their companies and had some really nice conversations. I told many of the CPA networks the truth, I’m still learning this industry but look forward to working with them in the near future. For some, this is off-putting because they are looking for experienced established people, but for others, I really got the impression that they wanted to help me out after finding out about my 10 year history in affiliate marketing.
During my rounds, Jason Hong and I happened to cross each other’s path and he said “Scott! Did you check your Twitter?” and I’m like, uhh, no? (remember my “No social media” rule I mentioned above?). He said “well, you better check it!” So I do:
Winner of the Go Pro Camera is Scott Buhler! @TygrScott congratulations. Please come by our booth to pick up your prize!
— Jason Hong (@IMH_Affiliate) January 20, 2015
Just as I thought the day couldn’t get any better, I find out as I follow Jason to his booth that I just won a GoPro! Now that I look at the tweet, I’m reminded of why I didn’t use @ScottBuehler as my Twitter handle. Nobody get’s my last name right. LOL.
Anxiety Level: 0/10
What an event! It started off rough but it ended up being a complete game changer and I actually felt disappointed that it was all over. I expected to feel like “FINALLY, the nightmare has ended” but I ended up thinking “Damn, that went by way too fast and I wish I could have met more people!”
I did follow my rules about distracting myself a little too well. I only took 22 pictures but most of it was when I was with my wife and they were all my surroundings. The “Driving Massive Traffic” event was where most of my pictures were taken because it was full of people I highly respect and have watched for years. In that regard, I do apologize for not having many pictures of this event. Heck, the main picture of this post is grabbed from Jason Hong’s Twitter announcement because it wasn’t taken on my phone.
A Few Regrets
- After getting home, I started reviewing social media and realized that at one event, a guy I didn’t know, Zac Johnson, was a speaker at the “Rise of the Six Figure Blogger” event which I couldn’t attend due to my level of access. As it turns out, he was also at the dinner with SiteGround and I wish I could have connected with him. Dang it!
- I didn’t do my research about who the speakers were at the events. Had I done so, I could have better prepared myself for what the sub-topics of the event would be. Additionally, I probably would have shown up to that traffic event 30 minutes early in hopes of meeting these awesome guys before everyone else showed up. Missed opportunity there.
- Never got the chance to introduce myself to Shawn Collins. I saw him around the event at least 5 times, once in the bathroom (not gonna happen). He was either surrounded by people or I was rushing to make an appointment. It just never worked out.
I’m absolutely hooked on conferences. I’m now keeping my eye out for future events to attend. As I continue to recover from my devastating wipeout of 2013, I look forward to having enough money to attend more and more of these events.
I quickly learned that these events are all about the people and networking. Now I want to attend as many of these things as possible because you never know who you might run into and you never know if that person will have a major impact on your life.
My Seal of Approval
Whether you are new to conferences, new to affiliate marketing or you are the type that knows your industry and feel that there’s not much value in attending these things (like I did), I strongly encourage you to go. The value I got out of this Affiliate Summit event is mind-boggling and I look forward to following up with everyone I met in the near future.
Personally, I have never been more excited about my future than right now. The stuff I learned, the strategies shared with me and all the things I will learn when I reconnect with the people I met, I guarantee you, will drastically change all of the lives within my immediate family.
I can’t thank Shawn Collins and Missy Ward enough. This 5,000+ word blog post is the least I can do to show my appreciation for their event. Thank you, thank you, thank you to everyone I met and interacted with. Words just cannot share the massive amount of appreciation I have for what this event has and will do for my life.
If you are questioning whether to attend a future event, I implore you to go even if you don’t know anyone attending (which was my case). It just may change your life too.