Life and Liberty by Colleen Kong-Savage

Someone asked me the other day what were the three things that gave me the confidence to leave my job in 2012. My initial response was being able to negotiate a severance package worth six years of existing living expenses. The severance was seriously the unexpected X Factor that I did not foresee happening when I was planning on one day leaving Corporate America. All I planned for was saving as much money as possible and building passive income streams.

But as I got to thinking a little more about my financial situation back in 2011/2012, I realized that it was really the POTENTIAL of generating a decent income stream online that got me really excited about pursuing online entrepreneurship full-time.

Back in the Fall of 2011, there were still a lot of direct advertising opportunities despite Google getting increasingly harsher in punishing those sites who sold one too many links. I didn’t want to live in fear of Financial Samurai getting punished, so I decided that I would no longer accept any direct advertisements, or do only a very few that would at least be relevant to some of the content on my site.

I decided to finally focus on affiliate advertising, which is way more congruent and a much safer way to earn income online. Before then, I was just too lazy to try, and I also didn’t really care about making money online as much since I had a job.


I gave affiliate marketing a try for one solid month. I spent hours testing out new products on various ad platforms that would fit with my existing content. It was a painful process because you have to apply to affiliate programs that might not necessarily let you in due to certain lead requirements. But once you get a couple good programs approved, then it’s relatively easy to identify your top 20 most visited posts, include your affiliate link and relevant copy, and wait.

After finally trying, affiliate income started trickling in. It was only several hundred dollars a month at first, but it was encouraging to see progress. I also felt much more excited and happier about my content because there weren’t any crappy sponsored posts or text link ads any more. There was no need to respond and negotiate with random e-mailers wanting to buy links. Getting burned was also never an issue anymore. I was now dealing with large advertisers on legitimate advertising platforms.


There’s a number of ways to make money online:




* Sponsored content

* Freelance writing

* Services

I would rank CPA (affiliate) first, and Services or Freelancing last out of the six due to scaleability and relative passiveness of income. I limit my consulting clients to three a month because it takes a lot of time, and is much more stressful than writing a good post that has a relevant affiliate link. I want to give my clients the best personal finance or severance advice possible, so I prepare like mad. I also feel a little bad charging my hourly rate, but the rate helps attract only the most serious because there is actually too much demand at a lower rate. It feels bad having to constantly turn people away.

CPA is great because it can latch on to a post that receives recurring search traffic. For example, Examples Of Good Resumes That Gets Jobs, is one of my most trafficked posts with 40,000 page views a month even though it was written four years ago. That post is a passive income machine! Once the initial effort is produced to write a fantastic Whale Post, then there’s a decent chance you can generate recurring revenue. Build your portfolio of affiliate capable posts, and you can generate a tremendous amount of income without much effort.


I’ve spent a lot of time finding good advertising networks to work with. Good advertising networks have the products you would like to use and highlight, and a representative who can help out when needed. Unfortunately, unless you are a huge site, your affiliate manager will likely never bother to contact you on a personal level to see if they can help. They just don’t have time for smaller folks.

I first became an affiliate of Personal Capital through FlexOffers in 2012. Things were going OK, but my affiliate manager dropped one too many balls when I asked for help (ignored my e-mails mostly). So after several months, I terminated the relationship because I got to know the affiliate manager of Personal Capital directly over e-mail. They asked me to directly join their own affiliate program via HasOffers, so I said “why not.”

Because I joined Personal Capital’s direct affiliate program, they’ve been able to share many more creatives (ad types) on my dashboard and give me insights into how I can better optimize my links. Furthermore, the CPA payout is higher as well. HasOffers is a much more intuitive system which gives me all the data I need to get the most out of my CPA links.

And given I was one of the first to sign up directly with Personal Capital’s affiliate program, I developed much closer relationships, which led me to meet the CEO, and ultimately land a part-time offer with them. In fact, Bill Harris (CEO) and the entire engineering and marketing team had a nice four hour boondoggle learning how to Dragon Boat race the other week.

When you are on a CJ, FlexOffers, Sharebuilder, etc… you are actually their sub-affiliate. All Personal Capital sees is FlexOffer’s entire clicks and conversions, not your’s specifically. That’s not optimal for you, the publisher, or the advertiser. Don’t get me wrong. CJ, FO, etc are great platforms, and provide the only way for many of us to become an affiliate to certain advertisers.

But if you can find an advertiser who offers their own direct affiliate program, then you might as well cut out the middle man, and go straight to the source for better communication and a higher payout. That was my conclusion, and it was the right choice after 2.5 years so far. Now if only some of my other favorite companies like Apple, Nike, and Head could have their own direct affiliate program, that would be so cool.

For those of you who write about retirement, wealth management, financial planning, financial advisors, 401k, IRA, cash flow management, budgeting, net worth tracking, and investments, I highly recommend signing up directly with Personal Capital’s affiliate program here. They are a digital wealth manager that has free online financial tools to help people track their net worth, save money in portfolio fees, and manage their cash flow. When you find a great product, it practically sells itself.

After you sign up, Michael the affiliate manager will touch base with you directly to make sure you have everything you need and confirm a market leading payout. I sit in the same room with him every Monday and Wednesday here in San Francisco and can throw in a good word if you let me know too. We’re both coming out to Fincon in New Orleans.


I’m under no illusion that everything online will come crashing down on me one day. This is the nature of the beast with Google monopolizing search. Make the most of your opportunities while they exist.

Of course we should actively be building our e-mail subscribers and our brands online to hedge against an impending disaster. But I truly believe that so long as you are writing original, meaty, helpful, and entertaining content, you’ll not only be safe from Google, but probably gain a great deal by their latest algorithmic changes.

If I didn’t take action during the winter of 2011 to seize the opportunity to sign up directly with Personal Capital’s affiliate program rather than be a sub-affiliate of theirs on FO, then I’m not sure I would have had the courage to leave my job when I did because the revenue has been so strong. It was the realization of the potential to make a handsome sum of money online through affiliate income that got me motivated to try.

You should develop a portfolio of relevant affiliate products just like you should be developing a portfolio of fantastic affiliate-compatible posts. It’s important to be diversified, just like with your investments. Always focus on writing the best content possible first. Once you gain the right targeted traffic, everything will work out fine if you then spend the time matching fantastic affiliate products with awesome posts.

Like many things, giving a good solid effort for a long enough period of time is more than half the battle. Are you ready to change the way you monetize your site? If not, let me introduce you to the Google Grim Reaper. Let’s hope he’s in a good mood.


I never thought I’d be able to quit my job in 2012 just three years after starting Financial Samurai. But by starting one financial crisis day in 2009, Financial Samurai actually makes more than my entire passive income total that took 15 years to build. If you enjoy writing, creating, connecting with people online, and enjoying more freedom, learn how you can set up a WordPress blog in 15 minutes like this one.

Leverage the 3+ billion internet users and build your brand online. There are professional bloggers now who make way more than bankers, doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs while having much more fun, much more freedom, and doing less work. Get started. You never know where the journey will take you!

Updated for 2018 and beyond. Personal Capital’s affiliate program continues to be one of the best in the personal finance space. I used to consult there from 2013-2015 and helped establish their program.