I’m not often impressed by people. I like a lot of people. I think a lot of people are cool. But it’s rare that I see someone who impresses me on both a business and personal level. Missy Ward is one of those people.

missy wardI think part of me identifies with Missy because we’re both successful women in a male dominated field who haven’t changed ourselves to fit what people expect of us.

She matches my redneck with her beach chick.

My Jeans and cowboy boots are as much my wardobe staples as her sexy clothing and shoes are hers. She sees my beer and raises me her wine. We both have – and fundraise for – charitable causes close to our hearts (though she kicks my ass on the totals.)

But Missy sets a new bar for women in the affiliate industry. Behind her tan and huge smile, she’s smart (despite being a Jets fan), driven, savvy and will turn hard core in an instant if pushed to it in business. If I can accomplish half of what she has as a business women so far during the entire span of my career? It will have been a hell of a career. I feel even luckier to call her a friend.

Interview with Missy Ward

Rae: I look up to very few people in this industry, but you are definitely one of them. Can you tell us how you got started in the affiliate marketing industry?

Missy: I’d like to say that there was something that drew me to it initially, but to be quite honest, I was forced to learn it if I wanted to keep my job. :) I was the VP of Marketing for Global Travel and I was basically told that I needed to launch an affiliate program to generate leads and sales, so I learned how to do it using the trial by fire method.

I figured the best way to start would be to become an affiliate of some of the most successful programs that were already in existence and then work my way backwards to learn the intricacies of managing a program. I started a few sites and before I knew it I was making money with my little experiment, and I actually liked what I was doing. I’ve been an affiliate ever since and have also been an affiliate manager for both merchants and networks.

Rae: Your name is obviously synonymous with Affiliate Summit, but I know you have a ton of other ventures. Care to share what they are?

Missy: Yeah, I do keep myself busy, huh? I’m the co-founder of Geekcast, Velocity NYC Press and AffStat; the Co-Editor-in-Chief of FeedFront Magazine; the Co-Publisher of ReveNews; VP of Operations for Money Minded Moms and founder of Affiliate Marketers Give Back. For a list of some of my other ventures, you can check out my personal blog at MissyWard.com.

Rae: Considering how much success you’ve had in the industry, what are your thoughts on the topic of the “disadvantages” of women in tech as portrayed by articles like this one in Inc Magazine? Do you feel being a women has in any way “hindered” your career in the affiliate marketing space?

Missy: When I read that article the other day, I sat back and really gave it some thought. I then realized that I didn’t know a single woman in my industry that I could point to, that would say that their gender played a role in their success or failure in business. As far as I’m concerned there is no such thing as a glass ceiling, only potential issues better suited to be addressed in a mirror.

Rae: People seem to like to title blog posts with “[insert topic here] is dead!” and affiliate marketing is no exception. We both know it’s alive and well, but where do you see it heading and how do you see it evolving over the next five years?

Missy: People always crack me up with their silly linkbait “… is Dead” posts. Listen.. every industry is cyclical. What works today, doesn’t work tomorrow. There is opportunity everywhere in affiliate marketing if you’re willing to put the effort in and stay abreast of new technologies, new traffic sources and pay attention to what people are buying. If I had more bandwidth, I’d be all over mobile and leveraging shop-and-share technology and other social media marketing avenues. But that’s just me.

Rae: If you could give an aspiring affiliate only two pieces of advice for achieving affiliate success, what would they be?

Missy: Tip 1: Don’t expect to be an overnight success. Make sure that it’s something you really want to do because it takes a lot of creativity, hard work and persistence.

Tip 2: Learn when to let go of bad ideas. No matter how passionate you are about an idea, you’ve got to test it to see if it’s a good one. If there ever is a point where you’re not making money from the idea, move on to the next one. Don’t take it personal.

Rae: If you could give a successful affiliate only two pieces of advice for keeping themselves in balance, what would they be?

Missy: I think that “balance” can mean different things to different people at different points in their career. :) It’s really a matter of knowing what’s important to you and setting your priorities to achieve it. I also think that it’s important to surround yourself with like-minded people not only from a career-success strategy, but for the sake of balance too. Affiliate marketers can easily fall into the lone-wolf trap so having a network of people to bounce ideas off of, or even take a break from tedious work is really helpful.

Rae: Who do you admire in this industry and why?

Missy: Man, I have a ton of people that I admire in this industry. I guess it’s because we’re a bunch of hard-working underdogs, if you will. You’re a classic example Rae. So is my business partner, Shawn Collins. He has to be one of the hardest working people I know.

A few others that come to mind immediately are Connie Berg of Flamingo World. She was broke and wound up creating a coupon business out of necessity. Today she’s got herself a *very* lucrative business and a ton of offshoots from that original brand.

Brian Littleton, the CEO of ShareASale is also someone that I look up to. He runs a very clean affiliate network, putting his affiliates first over short-term financial gains. I could go on and on. I consider myself very fortunate to be surrounded by such smart, determined and industrious people.

Rae: If someone wanted to make a “mark” on the affiliate marketing industry and help promote the good within it, how would you suggest they get involved in a way that can actually make an impact by helping the industry as a whole and/or new affiliates?

Missy: I always encourage the Pay-it-Forward route and consider mentoring a new affiliate or two. Helping those starting out by giving them advice from past experiences has to be one of the most rewarding things one can do. In addition, being able to teach a new affiliate “best-practices”, will help our industry progress as a whole. Another way to help would be to proactively participate in the industry’s fight against Affiliate Tax in their home state. To find out more on ways to help out there, they can visit the Performance Marketing Association’s website.

Rae: Considering your reach and notoriety, I’m sure you also get to deal with the occasional “hater.” Any advice for dealing with negative people along the way for folks who plan to become more actively – and publicly – involved in the community?

Missy: I haven’t had many, but there have been a few. Oddly enough, they were from people that I’d never even met before. I remember one that accused me of being a “baby-eater”. That was kind of funny to me because if they knew me, they’d have known that I’ve been a vegetarian for 25+ years ;-) But seriously, I separate haters into two groups – Group A: the haters that are negative just to get attention and Group B: the haters that offer up critiques and suggestions. I laugh off the folks in Group A because I gave up trying to get everyone to “like me” back in high school. Those haters will never get me, so I focus on the ones that do. I take the comments of the people in Group B seriously because so many of the great suggestions that have helped grow my business have come from this group. Even if I can’t make that hater’s wish come true, addressing their concerns can help diffuse the situation and on that rare occasion, turn that hater to a fan.

Rae: The Affiliate Summit Expo Hall and Meet Market is undoubtedly the most packed (with both exhibitors and attendees) expo hall I’ve ever witnessed in the “non-adult” sector of Internet marketing. How do you guys manage to consistently sell out expo space at lightning speed?

Missy: What’s interesting about our show is that we spend very little money advertising it….maybe a couple of hundred bucks in Google each month. Heck, we don’t even have a sales force calling people to get companies to exhibit or sponsor.

I blame our growth on our attendees themselves. :) We’ve listened to what they have had to say and have tried to provide them with the experience that they’re looking for. In return, they’ve been our brand ambassadors and have helped the show grow for eight consecutive years.

Rae: So what’s next for Affiliate Summit? Are you content with where you are or is there a next level after the immense success it has already achieved?

Missy: Content? Nah. I don’t know how to operate in neutral. Neither does Shawn, my business partner. So yes, we have plans to grow Affiliate Summit much larger than the 4600+ attendees that were at Affiliate Summit West 2011. That being said, we’ve just launched some new initiatives to help build and strengthen the affiliate marketing community with our new Affiliate Summit Meetup Groups around the country and our new forum, both of which are free.

Rae: You are undoubtedly one of the most charitable individuals I’ve ever had the pleasure to know. Can you tell us a little bit about your charity efforts and why you are as devoted to giving back to the world as you are?

Missy: I consider myself very fortunate at this point in my life. I have a great family, I am financially comfortable and I’ve made thousands of friends and contacts in an industry that I love.

missy and team on the avon BC walkI felt that I shouldn’t waste the position that I’ve found myself in, so I created Affiliate Marketers Give Back.

Its goal is two-fold; to raise money to support Breast Cancer research, treatment, awareness and community programs through combined efforts within the Affiliate Marketing Industry and also provide an outlet for people to help themselves by uplifting others in a ways that another piña colada-filled vacation, more “stuff” or a beefier resume couldn’t possibly begin to do.

To date, we’ve raised over $250,000 which has been donated to Susan G. Komen for the Cure, Avon Walk for Breast Cancer and the National Breast Cancer Foundation.

Rae: You seriously are one of the most creative fundraisers I’ve seen. Your latest venture is Signorina. Can you tell us where you got the idea and how it helps raise money for Breast Cancer?

Missy: Well anyone that knows me, knows that I’m a total wine-geek and I’m on my way to becoming a Master Sommelier – albeit, slowly. One of my favorite things is to share the wine knowledge that I’ve accumulated with friends and get to introduce them to wines they might enjoy. So I decided that I’d couple my two favorite passions together and create a wine that I’d be proud to stick my name on and use it as a way to help fight breast cancer. So, I created Signorina Wine to do just that.

It’s a 2008 burgundy-style blend with all grapes sourced from some fantastic vineyards in Napa and there are only 100 bottles of it in in existence. Anyone that makes a $100 donation to my 2011 Avon Walk for Breast Cancer gets a bottle of it shipped to them for free. I’ve sold about 70 bottles in the last couple of weeks so far. It’s really exciting to see people posting their pictures and tweeting about how much they’ve enjoyed it.

Is Pinterest part of your marketing plan?

Check out my recent case study that shows how I generated 234,000+ pins (and counting) to a site with only 45 posts. I give you all the details (with specifics) here.