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    CityGuard's Avatar
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    Smile Affiliate Interview Series: Heather Gartland | topboss

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    4 dogs, 6 parrots, 60 portals – meet Team Topboss!

    Real name: Heather Gartland
    City currently residing in: Johannesburg, South Africa
    Age: 40
    Favorite food: Lasagna
    One book everyone must read: Screw It, Let’s Do It, by Sir Richard Branson
    Gaming sites: www.topbossgroup.com, www.hollywoodslots.co.za, www.flushfever.co.za, www.casinosontheweb.net, and others


    You're one of the real veterans in the industry. How long have you been working in online gaming? What keeps you in it (besides the money! <GRIN>)?
    Right up front I need to mention that I have not done this alone – my husband, Andy, has been right beside me from the very beginning and we actually started our very first website together. I am just the big mouth on the GPWA!! Therefore there will be a number of times that I mention him in this interview and refer to “we” instead of “me” as I cannot take all the credit alone. He just keeps a much lower profile than I do, but is actually the driving force behind Topboss Group. We also have a team of great people working for us and each and every one of them contributes to our success.

    It’s kind of scary to be called one of the veterans in this industry, but I guess it’s correct because we have been in this industry since 1999. Our story is probably one of those typical rags to riches stories. I was working as a Credit Manager for a Bank and my husband had his own plumbing business (previously he was a Senior Officer in the Fire Department, which is where his heart still lies). In a nutshell – we didn’t manage our money the way we should and found ourselves in deep financial debt and had our electricity cut off for 6 months. This was our turning point, because we got pretty sick of sitting in the dark and boiling water on a gas stove just to have a bath, so we realized that we had to find a way to make additional income. Our initial idea was an adult board game that we designed and our plan was to market it over theInternet. At the time we had absolutely no clue how the Internet worked and we just thought that it was a matter of putting up our game on a website, visitors would just automatically flock there, and we would get thousands of orders. The term “SEO” meant nothing to us – we didn’t even know what it stood for!!!

    Having no electricity was our first problem so we made a deal with our neighbor and hooked up a cable to his electricity box purely so we could run our computer. Night after night we sat in the dark looking for pictures for our game and kept coming across casino ads. Before long our focus shifted from our game idea to casinos and our fist site, topboss.co.za, was born. It literally consisted of a few banners slapped up initially as we didn’t even know how to center them on the page. We sat up every night until 2am working on our website and then getting up at 6am to go to work.

    With regards to your question about what keeps us in it – I am not going to answer that because it will become obvious when I answer the rest of the questions …

    Besides the UIGEA, how has the industry changed since you first started?
    I could write a book about that one but firstly – the only casinos that we could find to promote were Slotland, Grand Banks, and Black Widow Casino. We searched high and low for Bingo Lounges and could only find BingoGala and a Bingo site called iBingo, which didn’t accept affiliates. We also approached Referback but they wouldn’t accept our application because we were from South Africa. Remind me to have a chat to Cobus about this next time I see him…. We then found Piggs Peak and Silver Sands in South Africa and started promoting them. This was where our real money came from. I think we were Silver Sands Casino’s first affiliates, and in those days we used to meet regularly with management and have a cup of coffee with them at their offices and also with Piggs Peak, who operated from a tiny little house with a handful of staff (remember Money Mechanic …).

    There were so few gambling related websites on the Internet that our sites were a page rank 5 and appeared in the top 100,000 with ease (Oh, how I wish those days were back). Some of the affiliate programs were only offering 10% commission and you either took it or didn’t promote them. 25% to 35% commission rates were unheard of.

    With regards to the UIGEA – I think this is the most ridiculous act that the U.S. Government has ever passed and felt desperately sorry for our fellow affiliates in the industry when it came about, because of the effect it had on families in terms of loss of income. Whilst we took a knock on our side too, we were lucky because by this time we were more reliant on our South African income, which has always been our biggest market.

    One thing people may not know about you is that you've spent some time trying to develop a payment processing solution. What's the status of that project?
    Smarteller – This is one of our big disappointments that cost a lot of time and money and has unfortunately been put on the back burner for now. It all started when the UIGEA came about and payment processors were dropping USA players like flies. We had decided to try and find a solution which would give them another option. As I worked in a bank, I had a few contacts and we were introduced to a bank in Mauritius called SBM. We had a few meetings with them in Johannesburg and Mauritius (nothing beats lying on a beach discussing business).

    They were very keen on our proposal, but it was a first for them as they had never operated an ewallet system. They had experience with credit cards and debit cards but this was a whole new ball game for them and they had to obtain approval from Visa and use a 3rd party processor. We only discovered recently that the 3rd party involved was ePassporte . To cut a long story short – there was loads of red tape to get through, approval from Visa, etc., etc. All was going according to plan and then the delays started. First it was 6 months, then it was 12 months, and so on. Our hands were tied as we had to rely on SBM and ePassporte. In the end we lost our patience with them and told them to go fly a kite because we could see that nothing was materializing and we firmly believed that they used our proposal for their own benefit and cut us out of the deal.

    We still own the trademark, websites, content, etc., so all is not lost. When we have the time – we plan to follow through with our original plan … but with a different bank.

    The lessons we learned from this are not to believe everything you are told and don’t be too trusting as some people have ulterior motives. Luckily it didn’t affect any of our relationships with the affiliate programs because we were very cautious and had decided not to approach them until everything was up and running and thoroughly tested.

    According to your GPWA profile, working as an affiliate is a part-time job for you. What's your full-time job? And what skills have you been able to port over from that job to your work as a portal webmaster?
    I was a credit manager for a listed company called Sasfin Bank until May 2008. I finally realized that I could no longer juggle two jobs and my heart is in the online casino industry. It is a move I should have done years ago, but just could never bring myself to leave the bank as I had a great job there and my bosses were wonderful people.

    Three years ago we opened our own offices for Topboss and have an excellent team of people but it was pretty silly reporting to other people at the bank, when in fact Andy and I had our own staff reporting to us.

    I owe a lot of my general business knowledge to the CEO of the bank I worked for, as he taught me to look beyond the box and explore areas that others hadn’t explored before. He was probably referring to banking areas but nevertheless he was aware of our little business on the side and always supported me and gave me very good advice.

    Some affiliates focus on building one or two sites and making them as deep as possible. You've chosen a slightly different strategy by building 60 sites. What's the thought process behind this approach?
    On this point I have to lay the blame totally on Andy’s shoulders as he is a domainaholic and cannot resist registering domains. It’s a big joke in the office – because we keep threatening to block his access to all domain registration tools!! But seriously, we haven’t regretted the decision to have so many portals. The problem of course is keeping them all up to date and adding new content, but somehow we manage to achieve this, and one of our strategies is by not adding daily and weekly promotions which need to be removed on time. The minimum term a promotion needs to run for us to add it is 2 months. A pet hatred is when the casinos change their bonuses too often – because this means a lot of work for us. I guess there are pros and cons to having numerous sites as opposed to one big site and many would disagree, but we prefer to have lots of rods in the fire in case some of our sites take a dive in the Google rankings. We also like to offer a broad range of sites – e.g., we have South African sites catering specifically to South African players, U.K. sites, Poker sites, Bingo sites, etc. We have tried to cover most of the areas but steer away from sports betting as we have no knowledge in that arena.

    You also have a fun Halloween theme to one of your sites. Why did you create that site? Are you pleased with the way it's turned out? Is there anything you'd like to change about it?
    Here is another one of Andy’s doings. He loves designing logos, banners and playing around with animation and he wanted to do something different from the normal type of casino portal – hence Topboss U.K. was born.

    One of the tips you've offered on the GPWA forums is to write content for the people reading it, not for the search engines. Why is this important?
    I feel very strongly about this particular point. The way I see it is that it is all well and good being in the top positions on the search engines but once someone appears on your site, the content needs to be interesting enough to keep them there and make them want to return. If there is just a whole bunch of words designed for the search engines they aren’t going to stick around. The trick is to keep both the search engines and the readers happy.

    How is marketing to South Africans different from marketing to Europeans and Americans?
    It is quite difficult to market to South Africans as we are very limited in the amount of search engines, pay per click engines, etc., that are available and the major casinos in South Africa have already taken up the best advertising spots on the bigger search engines. On the positive side, we generally find that South African players are very loyal and are not bonus hunters and rarely do chargebacks, so once you get a new player they normally stick around. We still have some regular players that opened their accounts in 2001.

    There is also a lot less competition in the market from an affiliate point of view, but this is changing daily as more and more South African affiliates are getting into the industry along with overseas affiliates promoting the Rand versions of the various casinos.

    In an ideal world, how would you divide the efforts you put into your site? What percentage would go to marketing, updating content, managing your books and other tasks (please list the tasks, include a % and an explanation)?
    In an ideal world 30% would go to marketing, 50% would go to updating content, 10% would be managing the books and 10% for other stuff – but unfortunately in the real world it is not like that – I spend a lot of time removing casinos that have closed down, checking for broken links when casinos have changed tracking links without notifying their affiliates, checking reciprocal links, deleting spam, and answering emails. It doesn’t leave much time for updating content, which should be one of the most important aspects in my opinion.

    How long did it take for you to start earning money?
    Believe it or not, we didn’t make a cent for two years, which seems extreme, but bear in mind that in those days there were no forums like the GPWA where we could learn from other webmasters and we had no knowledge of computers let alone Web site design. We just plodded along and knew that eventually someone somewhere would play. We got excited every time we got a hit on our Web site, so you can imagine the feeling when we got an actual download!

    Our motivation came when we received our first check from Bingogala for the huge sum of $14.99. We never did cash it because the bank charges were more than the check itself, but this is when we realized that we really could make money … the rest is history….

    What do you wish you knew when you got started in the industry that you know now?
    Aside from wishing that we had registered the domain casino.com? LOL. Web site design knowledge – or should I say the lack of it – has been our biggest stumbling block.

    We also regret starting off with FrontPage as we have recently moved over to Dreamweaver and can now see why everyone raves about it, but we have to learn a whole new software program all over again.



    If you had to pick 5 keys to success as an affiliate, what would they be and why?
    • Dedication and hard work are the most important factors.
    • Be dedicated and believe in yourself.
    • Be honest and do things the right way. Don’t go in for any underhanded dealings, black hat techniques, etc. From the very beginning we made a decision to do everything above board in all aspects and we have never looked back. We even pay taxes and vat!!!!
    • Learn from your mistakes.
    • Have a positive outlook in life – it works wonders.
    What traits do you look for in an affiliate manager? How about in an affiliate program?
    The most important factor I look for in an affiliate manager is how quickly he or she responds to e-mails. With regards to the affiliate program, the most important things to me are how quickly do they pay, do they have a wide range of up to date marketing materials, and do they keep their Web site up to date. Those who used to promote Sureturn may recall how their front page in 2008 was still referring to new games that were launched in 2004!

    That’s a big put off to me. The next important factor is to keep affiliates informed by way of email or a newsletter if there is going to be maintenance, changing of tracking links, etc.

    What does your family think about your work as an affiliate? And as an admitted workaholic, what tips can you offer your fellow GPWA members on balancing work and family?
    It’s a bit difficult giving tips on this one as I don’t do a very good job of managing my own family life and work as I am a workaholic, sorry to say. Luckily Andy and I work side by side so we are still together all the time and the two older kids are basically already out of the house as one has his own apartment and the other one spends most of his time at his girlfriend’s house. My daughter is a teenager so also spends a lot of time with friends. However, we do make a point of taking the whole family out to breakfast or dinner at least once a week to catch up on all the news and yesterday we took my daughter and her friend on a helicopter ride which was enjoyed by all of us. We also take some time out at least once a month and book into Sun City for a few days. A few months ago we took all our kids and their girlfriends to New Zealand on holiday with us so a lot of quality time was spent together as a family. On a normal day when the kids are at home they tend to conglomerate in the study and we just talk while I type on the computer. Remember that women are pretty good at multitasking!!!

    In addition to a husband and kids, you have six parrots and four dogs. How do the dogs and the parrots get along? For that matter, how do the humans and the animals get along?
    I have been an animal lover all of my life, and so are Andy and the kids, so from that point of view we all get along with the dogs and parrots. Andy is not too fond of my cockatoo, Pooky (the one on my shoulder in the photo), as he has a loud screech and is therefore always being threatened with being turned into parrot pie.

    Our menagerie consists of Sheena and Benson, two old German Shepherds that we have had since they were pups; Dobey, our Boerebull (a South African breed similar to a bull mastiff); and Dinky, who is our baby. She is a miniature dachshund that rules the household.

    Our parrots are Pooky, a white cockatoo; Baloo, a blue and gold macaw; Frikkie and Mona, male and female green amazons; and two African greys, Google and Beebee.All six parrots speak, but the African greys speak the most: Google refuses point blank to swear, but Beebee has the mouth of a sailor on him and we have to keep him away when visitors come, as he swears so much that it gets a bit embarrassing.

    They all get on pretty well with the dogs – except Pooky and Dinky, who chase each other around the garden, both barking. (Pooky imitates Dinky’s bark.)

    The pets are so used to seeing us at the computer that they generally sit underneath it or in their baskets, which are in the study. If the parrots make a racket, we just pop them on our shoulders and carry on working!

    You've mentioned in the forums that you enjoy gambling. What are your favorite games at a live casino? What are your favorite games online? Is there any crossover? Why do you think there is (or isn't)?
    Feature Slots are my favorite – both offline and online. My current favorite online games are Hitman and Tomb Raider and I enjoy Frog Prince at land casinos. I also enjoy a flutter on the video poker machines now and again – Aces and Faces Power Poker has been quite generous to me. I have started to find that there are a lot of the same games both online and offline now – especially when one looks at the WagerWorks software, which can be found in many land based casinos under the IOG label.

    What prompted you to join the GPWA? And how has it helped you so far?
    I stumbled upon it quite by chance quite a few years ago and it has been an invaluable source of information for me in every aspect and I have met a lot of fellow webmasters.

    How does the recent decision by South Africa to create a regulated environment for online gambling affect your business?
    This is very good news for us because it has now opened the doors for more overseas operators to offer the rand currency option, which gives us a broader spectrum of casinos to promote to South African players. The regulations should also weed out the seedy operators and hopefully remove the undesirable stigma associated with online gambling.

    If you could change one thing about the online gaming industry, what would it be, and why?
    The removal of free bonuses. I believe that if free bonuses were removed from all casinos across the board, everyone would be on a level playing field and there would be no such thing as bonus abusers causing headaches for the casinos and affiliate programs.

    If someone were visiting you in South Africa, what's the one place you would definitely take them to see? And why?
    Sun City. This is my favorite local destination because there is so much to offer in one place. The casino is the main attraction but there are loads of things for kids to do– game viewing, water sports, shows, restaurants, shops – you name it, and Sun City has it.

    What's your favorite vacation spot? And why?
    New Zealand. We used to live in New Zealand and still have very fond memories of the scenery, beaches, and fishing. We are fortunate enough to own a small holiday home there, so we make an effort to go at least once a year.

    If you could have one "super power," what would it be? And why?
    The power to read people’s minds and know what they are thinking. I would probably be in for a huge shock and have no friends left – but it would be fun for a week or two.

    If you were going to choose any five people, living or dead, to go on a gambling holiday with you, who would they be? And why?


    Aside from my family and pets, it would have to be:
    • Larry Page and Sergie Brin so that I could irritate them so much that they would eventually give me the Google algorithm!!!
    • Sir Richard Branson, as I have always admired him for his achievements and his ability to ensure that he is always having fun while making money.
    • The guy who sits in the slot machine and switches on the “Don’t Pay” button as soon as you start winning. If he is gambling with me, then my husband could win lots of money while I am away.
    • MacGyver – To tamper with the slot machines to ensure they pay out.
    • Calvin Ayre – To ensure we get the best treatment at every casino we visit.
    And finally, what are three things that nobody knows about you?
    Now that would be telling … and then there would be nothing left that nobody knows about me.

    OK. Just one thing….When I lived in New Zealand I caused a traffic jam by freeing a whole bunch of cows that were on their way to the abattoir. I was traveling behind the truck and waited until the driver pulled into a petrol station to fill up and then I sneaked up to the back of the truck and pulled up the latch to let them free. In hindsight it was a pretty dumb thing to do, but they just looked so sad that I figured maybe one or two would be able to escape and be saved from the slaughterhouse!!
    I have left the industry and earned a law degree at Indiana University Bloomington, Maurer School of Law. Here are ways to stay in touch with me:
    > Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/StevenCorfman
    > LinkedIn: http://www.linkedin.com/in/stevencorfman
    > Skype: StevenCorfman
    > Phone: +1 617 785 9324

    Inquiries intended for an administrator or staff member can be directed to Anthony Telesca through the forum (username Anthony) or to the general contact address manager AT gpwa DOT org.

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  3. #2
    Decker's Avatar
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    Great Interview Heather
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    Oh my god!! This was a great interview. I simply loved it. Heather what an amazing interview. From start to finish!! I gotta read it again it was so good!

    Nice

    GFPC

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    Well done! I recall sitting on the floor at Barcelona Airport reading the print version. Super interview, keep up the good work!
    --
    "People who are unable to motivate themselves must be content with mediocrity." ~Andrew Carnegie~

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    Great interview Heather!

    It's definately one of the best that I've read since the series started. I've learned some great information and have a new perspective regarding having only two sites. I only wish I could consider the thought without having a nervous breakdown! LOL

    Kudos to you guys for doing such an awesome job!

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    Way to go Heather....

    We have a cat named Pooky...

    ...and once Nick sees this, at least he will know that Andy will be on his side when he wants to fly over there for Parrot dinner....LOL

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    Thanks for all the nice comments guys, they make me feel much better as its pretty difficult to admit in an interview that we had initially had financial problems due to mismanagement, and I rewrote it quite a few times as I didn't know whether I really wanted to reveal everything..but then I figured - what the hell - we are only human and make mistakes in life, but the true test in life is to be able to pick yourself up, dust off the knees and get back on track again, and I also thought that there are probably a few webmasters on this board who are in the same boat that we were in and maybe my frankness might make them realize that if they have faith in themselves, they too can achieve financial freedom...

    Rick, Your cat must be a wonderful cat and I would be more than happy for Nick and Andy to get together, but preferably not to discuss " Pooky Pie "!!!

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    Thank you very much for sharing. It's great to really know more about our fellow members. Great job!.. you seem like a great person.

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    Hey Top Boss,

    Your interview will really help some affiliates for sure, so your frankness was just great, it really goes to show what faith in ones self can do.

    You have shown what we can all all do! I hope many do!

    GFPC

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    Simply inspiring
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    Fantastic interview Heather!

    Proud to be a South African!

    Keep up the good work.

    Cass
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    Awesome that i see a post in this thread again after so long. Thanks for posting this as this post gives me inspiration to this day.

    I have so much respect for Heather and she is one of my favorite people in this industry and i am so proud of her.....

    If it were not for her i may not be in this industry any longer..

    I consider her a true true friend in this industry!!!




    Quote Originally Posted by cass View Post
    Fantastic interview Heather!

    Proud to be a South African!

    Keep up the good work.

    Cass
    www.cassaon-casino.com

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    This was my first time reading this thread and interview and Heather, you are amazing! You and your husband have my absolute total respect, even though i knew you both were angels that were there for me in the past, [and for buster my mastif, i can't believe you have a dog like my buster!! loll], but reading your story and how you began is freaking awesome. You helped my family when we were down, and now i see where your heart comes from, and i pray that someday i will be in the position to remember where i can from and help some other family when they are in need.

    PS...I want your parrots!! Omg, i am soo jealous...i visit pet stores [which i hate] just to keep the animals company and give them love, and i end up spending hours with the birds! lol....

    And your story about the cows ..is priceless...a woman after my own heart

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    Fantastic interview Heather...............

    I agree 100% with most of what you said in this very long and informational in depth interview and I hope in the near future to be coming to South Africa.

    Have a great week

    Keith
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    Wow 60 sites. Thats amazing. You should give yourself a pat on the back for sure. Great interview !
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    Completely meaningless if a thread is one, two, eight or hundreds years old.
    Some lights shines for eternity.
    Heather is not only a highly professional honest businesswoman.
    She is also an extremely friendly and helpful person.
    Heather will never let you down.
    A role model as a forum colleague, and I wish her every success.
    Today, tomorrow, for the next eight years and beyond, and I mean this very seriously.

    Leopold

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  30. #17
    Topboss is offline Private Member
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    Oh Wow - This interview was a blast from the past!!!

    And I am still here , plodding away after all these years.

    Leopold, Thank You so much for your kind words, but really not necessary.

    As far as I am concerned one should always help ones fellow man when one can.

    I believe in the philosophy of " Do Unto Others"

    However, you certainly did make my day waking up to a positive note such as this

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    Roulette Zeitung (9 February 2017)

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    allfreechips is offline Private Member
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    Ahh I thought it was new as well lol, either way its nice you get to see how much you mean to the industry as a top notch person..
    Allfreechips online casino guide offers online casino reviews from our members. Also our exclusive No Deposit casino bonuses are always up to date. See the latest slot machine reviews at Hotslot and exclusive no deposit casino bonuses as well with a good dose of daily online gambling news

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