These Mistakes Cost Me Several Million Dollars

Written by Charles Ngo
Written by Charles Ngo

I love to daydream.
One of my most common daydreams is to imagine myself going back in time with all the knowledge I have now. How would life be different if I could go back to 2007?
That’s when I start reflecting on all the mistakes I’ve made in the industry. I’m not talking about the small mistakes like setting my tracking link wrong or setting a bid at $10 when it should’ve been $.10. Nope. Those mistakes only cost me 3 to 4 figures.
I’m talking about mistakes that might have cost me over $10,000,000—at least.
Read this post to find out what I learned along the way so you don’t have to make the same mistakes I did.

I didn’t have a team for a few years

I quit my job in August 2008, and I made my first $10,000 a day profit in November 2008. Things went from zero to 100 real quick. 
I was working 14 hours a day and getting burned out. I knew I couldn’t do this alone, and I needed to hire.
At 23-years-old, I had no clue how to hire people, and I had a fear. I was scared that if I hired someone, they’d take all my campaigns.
The best solution? How about I hire people I trusted? I was Frodo and went out looking for my fellowship. I hired friends, family, and old co-workers.
I taught people everything I knew. Within a few months, everything fell apart. People were running campaigns on the side. And the whole process caused me headaches and broken relationships.
It’s not that they weren’t trustworthy, but I didn’t understand the game the way I do now:

  1. I had no leverage.
  2. Everyone has a price. Could you trust your friend to hold $1,000 for you? Sure. Could you trust them to hold $1,000,000 for you? Maybe. Maybe not. My point is everyone has a price, and I overvalued loyalty. I’m a loyal person, and I assumed everyone had the same traits as I did.
  3. I didn’t make them earn it. The day they started, I gave them the keys to the kingdom. I didn’t make them work their way up.

This kept happening over and over again until I said, “No more.”
I decided that people couldn’t be trusted and I’d handle everything myself from then on.
I took my productivity to the next level. I hired virtual assistants. I handled everything myself because now I had trust issues.
For the next two years I was alone. I didn’t think anything was wrong because I was making 5-6 figures a month in profit. On top of that, being in my twenties, I still had endless energy.
I kept going through the same cycle: I’d burn out…take a weekend trip somewhere…and get right back to work.
Something changed around 2013. I noticed all my super affiliate friends were doing bigger numbers than me. Not only that, but they were working less! They had a life! How could this be?
They had teams.
That’s when I realized maybe it’s not that people can’t be trusted…maybe there’s something wrong with my process. Instead of blaming others, I realized that I was the problem.

  • I needed a better hiring process.
  • I needed more leverage.
  • I needed a better on-boarding process.
  • I needed to provide a better commission structure.

It’s easy to think, “I deserve almost all of the profits because I’m the one who started this. They should be grateful they even have a job.” But who would want to work for someone who thinks like that?
You have to create a system that’s a win/win for everyone involved.
I’m glad I figured it out now, but who knows how much more money I would’ve made if I had a solid team during those years.

Was moving to Asia a mistake?

By 2011, I needed a change.
The whole reason I got into this industry was so that I could travel the world. I found myself burnt out from working this hard, and I realized I hadn’t being out of the country yet. Nothing was stopping me at this point.
I thought, “Let’s go to Bangkok for 6 months, and see what happens.” Six months turned into 2+ years.
Living in Bangkok destroyed my motivation. I still had profitable campaigns, but they were nowhere near where they could’ve been.
It’s hard to work when your friends are telling you to go to FunkyVilla on a Tuesday night. It’s hard to keep working when a girl wants to come over at 1 o’clock in the afternoon. Your environment makes a huge impact on you.
There weren’t very many affiliate marketers in Bangkok in 2012, and I wasn’t going to conferences. My networking ability dwindled.
Do I regret living in Bangkok and Vietnam? Hell, no. I barely traveled before affiliate marketing. I got to visit 15+ countries. I gained new perspectives on life. How can you put a price on that?
Sure, I would’ve made more money if I stayed in America, but that experience made me a better and happier person.

I tried to be an advertiser

The grass is always greener on the other side.
Back in 2009-2010, it seemed as if every affiliate wanted to become a nutraceutical advertiser. I knew some of my friends were successful with it.
I mean, it made complete sense.
I knew how to buy traffic. Why don’t I own the offer as well? I’ll complete vertical integration and keep all the profits to myself. No affiliate networks taking commissions. No advertisers shaving or scrubbing me.
Then I started researching. I had NO IDEA how deep the rabbit hole was. Merchant processors, CRM’s, LEGAL ISSUES, etc.
For a few months, I was spending 16+ hours a day working. I was stressed out.
All in all, I sunk about $50,000 into the project before I decided to quit. The bigger loss was me not running campaigns during those few months.
Why did I quit?

  1.  The biggest reason is I realized I liked being an affiliate marketer. I made tons of money and had FREEDOM. I didn’t have a boss. I didn’t have customers.
  2. My heart wasn’t in it. I just wanted to do it because I felt like I was leaving money on the table. But deep down I didn’t have any passion for it.

The grass is not always greener on the other side—it’s just of a different shade.

I was too cheap with the things that mattered

My company was doing a few thousand dollars a day, and my accountant suggested he start doing bookkeeping for me.
My first question was, “How much?”
“$150 a month.”
I then told him I’d rather do it myself to save money.

  • I also insisted on hosting my 5-figure a day campaigns on a $60-a-month LiquidWeb VPS.
  • I paid my first few employees salaries only and no commission.
  • Whenever we outsourced, I insisted on hiring cheaper virtual assistants (Dude, they’re in the Philippines! They can live like kings for $5 an hour!)

My parents raised me to be frugal. We’d save money by any means necessary. I had to unlearn this line of thinking because I just saw dollars, but I couldn’t calculate the value.
Being overly frugal cost me money.
Running on cheap VPS instead of a dedicated server meant my servers could crash overnight, and I’d lose thousands.
Spending time doing bookkeeping meant I wasn’t spending time running campaigns or finding time to relax.
Are there any areas in your life right now where if you spent more money, you could end up making more money?

I was too flashy with my lifestyle

If you remember from the Rise of Ngo, my 1995 Acura Legend broke down. It would cost more to fix it than to buy another car. I walked into a car dealership and was offered financing for a new BMW.
I said no. Deep down I knew the BMW wasn’t my dream car. I wanted a Nissan GT-R (it’s almost every Asian guy’s fantasy).
Once I made enough money, I decided, “To hell with it. I’ll just buy the car.” When you truly want something, you’ll find a way to justify it. “Well, buying this car will motivate me to work harder,” I thought.
I felt pressure because a lot of other super affiliates were getting nice cars. I didn’t come from a rich family, so I carried this chip on my shoulder. I wanted to show everyone that “I made it.”
Once you buy a $100,000 car, everything else in life needs to be upgraded. Now, I need a garage. How about I move to a nicer condo? Well, I can’t bring my low level IKEA furniture there, so let me see what’s at DesignWithinReach. If I’m on a date, I can’t take her to a cheap restaurant…she’ll think I’m a fake baller.
I moved to Buckhead, which is one of the most expensive neighborhoods of Atlanta.
Once I became flashy, the leeches came out. Money comes with its own set of problems.
The money wasn’t that much of an issue, and fortunately I still ended up saving enough. But it’s a thin line. What if my campaigns weren’t as solid as they were during the following few years?
Did I really need to upgrade my lifestyle that much? A $40,000 car would’ve been an upgrade at that point.
You can’t give a 24-year-old 7 figures and expect him not to be flashy. I just cringe when I think about how much money I would’ve made if I dumped it all in stocks/real estate in 2009 when the market was low.
It’s fine to upgrade your life. Just realize once you upgrade to a certain level, it’s hard to go back down. (My friends and I always joke: once you fly business class, you’re ruined for life).
There’s nothing wrong with nice cars. The key is to have your PRIORITIES in order. Buy assets first (fund your retirement, property, investments) and liabilities last (cars, vacations, bottles, etc.) .  
If you want to keep it simple, spend on what can help you make money. If it doesn’t help you make money, you don’t need to spend much money on it.

I should have launched the blog/AFFcelerator years earlier

Blogs have always played a big part in my development.
I discovered affiliate marketing through John Chow and Shoemoney. I learned a lot from NickyCakes and CDFNetworks.
I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for blogs. I told myself if I made it one day, I’d start an affiliate marketing blog. I’d make it the best in the world. Just as blogs helped me, I wanted to help others who followed in my footsteps.
But I didn’t launch until I was 4 years into my career.
There were two main reasons for that.
First, I thought it’d be a time black hole. I couldn’t justify the time spent writing the blog when I could launch a campaign instead.
But the bigger reason was fear. I was afraid no one would read the blog. I was afraid the content wouldn’t be good enough.
Last year, I was trying to figure out what the “next step” was in my affiliate marketing career. I’d been running campaigns for 7 years at this point and was more than ready for my next challenge.
I had no interest in being an advertiser or an affiliate network. Does the world really need another one?
Deep down I realized I wanted to teach. The market was wide open for it, and no one was in a better position than me.
But I still had fears.
I was afraid I would go on stage to pitch, and no one would buy. You know how awkward it would be to stand in front of 500+ people and hear crickets?
I was also afraid of being called a guru or a sellout. I’d been giving away free content for years and was the golden boy of the industry. How do you go from offering free advice to selling high-end workshops?
I’m glad I got over those limiting beliefs.
Yes, there have been a few haters as I anticipated, but I don’t really care.

“Haters don’t really hate you, they hate themselves; because you’re a reflection of what they wish to be” ― Yaira N

For each person that doesn’t like me, there are many, many more who do. They are my audience. And they are the ones for whom I’m giving up hours each week to write blog posts.
I’m doing something I love. I’m changing lives. And I’m taking care of my family. Despite how busy I am, I’m still writing free posts every single week. What’s there to hate?
Is there something you really want to do, but you’re worried about what others think? Fuck them. Do what makes you happy, and don’t worry about the backlash. Because you can’t make everyone happy. It’s impossible.
What can you learn from this? Your biggest enemy is yourself and your self-doubts. We’re all much, much more capable than we give ourselves credit for.

I should’ve hit things harder

How many of you have had campaigns in the past that you wish you worked harder on?
I’ve realized that affiliate marketing comes in waves. Eighty percent of your profit will come from 20% of your campaigns. Be able to identify what those big campaigns are, and hit them as hard as you can.
When you’re profiting and you have momentum…it’s not the time to chill. It’s time to conquer. It’s time to crush.

Don’t dwell on the past

I’ve talked a lot about all the mistakes I made, but don’t think for a second I’m full of regrets.
If I could go back…I wouldn’t.
Many of you want to follow my path. I’m just giving you a roadmap with all the potholes and warnings on it.
I like who I am. I like where I am. I wouldn’t change a thing.
Yes, I could’ve made a ton more money, but money’s not everything.
We all have a chance at a new life. It’s called tomorrow. Don’t waste energy and time thinking about the past. Let it go.
I want you to do an exercise and imagine where you’ll be 5 years from now. What WILL you regret?
The future and your destiny aren’t written yet.
I’ve shared with you some of my biggest mistakes. What are yours? Let me know in the comments below!

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                The posts published by Charles are prepared and analyzed, including the author’s own experience…

The posts published by Charles are prepared and analyzed, including the author’s own experience…

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