The driving force behind Fortune Palace? Make it convert better!
Real name: Andy Follin
City currently residing in: St Helens, Lancashire, England
Favorite food: Lamb and ginger Balti. I’ll often go to Bradford (120-mile round trip) just to get one!
One book everyone must read: The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho – despite its apparent simplicity, I only really appreciated it as I got older.
Sites: At the moment, just Fortune Palace (fortunepalace.co.uk) but I’m about to launch a Kalooki (Rummy) site (kalookiplayers.co.uk) in the next few weeks.
How long have you been working in the online gaming industry?
Since October 2006 (about the time of UIGEA!).
What first drew you to the business?
Although I’ve been self-employed for over 15 years, I wanted a business that was more of an asset, one that could generate income over and above the time I spent on it. I was checking out a few options when I saw someone pitching an idea on Dragon’s Den. It was some sort of Pub Poker League, but with an online presence. Sounds strange now, but I couldn’t believe that a Web site owner could get 25% of money lost at an online casino just by referring players. I had to try it for myself!
Rumor has it that you like to gamble? What are your favorite betting activities?
I’m worried that you’ve heard that rumor! Yes, I like to gamble, but it’s mostly betting on the horses. My brother (who helps me out on the site) is a big horse fan and he spends hours poring over stats looking for trends. He’s the archetypal ‘status’ better – he does it for kudos, not just for profit. I’m purely for profit! The bets are always ante-post, so a lot of them lose weeks in advance, but the ones that come up are massive. For example, we had the last two Grand National winners at odds of 200-1 and 100-1, months before the race. Comply or Die went off at 7-1 joint favorite, so we did quite well there!
Online, I like the slightly more obscure games like Tri-card Poker and Caribbean Hold‘em. My favorite, though, is Sic Bo. It’s a very easy way to lose money, but I just like the feel of it. It’s also a great game for trying out betting systems and strategies, which is what attracted us to casino gambling in the first place. I’m not a great fan of slots – I find them too repetitive – and I prefer to play poker with friends.
Is there one bet you wish you had back? And if so, what was it?
None, to be honest. The nature of ante-post betting means that you’re always risking bets, so you have to accept a certain amount of losses. Without the risk, there’s no big payoff.
If I were superstitious, I’d take back the bet on Saints (my hometown Rugby League team) to win last year’s Grand Final as I’m sure my ‘lumping on’ caused them to get beat!
You were a vocal coach for 10 years. What were the best and worst parts of that job?
The best part of teaching is knowing that you make a difference in people’s lives. Over the years I’ve seen pupils go on to have careers in music, succeed in their ambitions to be the lead in their local am-dram show, or just enjoy the process of gaining a skill. The worst part is that it can get a little repetitive. I can generally assess people quickly and explain what needs to be done, but getting them there can sometimes be a bit of a slog! With singing, people have a lot of habits and preconceived ideas. If they’re wrong, it can be a long process of stepping backwards before you can start to make any real progress. Unlike the piano or violin, a voice is a very personal thing – it’s literally part of the pupil – so any criticism can be taken to heart.
I’ve just finished performing after 20 years (part time, then full time). Being an opera singer is a little like being an athlete – you have to be in top physical shape at all times. I sing at a professional level too infrequently now to warrant that level of dedication, so I’ve decided to stop. But I never regret singing. I had some great times and I met my wife that way – our eyes met across the stage of the Gaiety Theatre in Dublin…but that’s another story!
When no one’s listening, I’ll more than likely be singing a very poor version of ‘Hamburg Song’ by Keane. I love that song, but it’s a great example of what I tell my pupils – you can always improve your technique but a voice like Tom Chaplin’s is a rare and unique gift.
You're currently holding down a full-time job while you grow your affiliate business to the point where you can start working on it full time. What kind of work do you do? And what skills do you bring from that job to your work as an affiliate?
I’m still working as a vocal coach. The plan is that as the Web sites start to generate more income, they can replace the teaching, one hour at a time. Teaching one-to-one is mainly about psychology – understanding how each person thinks and takes things on board, then using that knowledge to help and encourage them to do what they need to do. If I could work with each visitor to my site in the same way, I’d be rich by now! It’s impossible to ‘speak’ to each visitor in a precisely appropriate way, but I always keep in mind the user profiles I drew up when first designing the site. If I can attract those visitors, the site will do its job.
Between your full-time job, a wife, two young kids, and your affiliate business, you must be stretched pretty thin for time. How do you manage to get all of your work done and still spend time with the family? And what time management tips can you offer your fellow GPWA members?
With great difficulty! I’d like to say that I always get it right, but things can sometimes get squashed. Generally, I work late at night and early in the morning. When there’s a lot of work to be done on the site, I’ll work weekends too, but I try to ring-fence essential family time. Really, though, there’s never enough time to get everything done. It’s relatively easy to justify a chunk of time on inserting new casinos etc, but harder to explain the peripheral stuff like article writing, forum posting and general research – the everyday necessary things that have no immediate reward.
So my tip is to treat the work as a long-term project – divide the work into (a) essential, time-critical things, (b) things to do as soon as time permits and (c) things you’ll do if you ever get the chance.
And for married affiliates and those with families, always remember who you really work for – you can always start again with a new Web site, but you can never get back or redo those first few years with your kids. No amount of money can ever be worth losing those.
How old are your kids? What does your family think about your side business?
Christopher is 9 (and showing signs of real promise in his rugby) and Emily is nearly 2 (and showing signs of real attitude in her personality!). I always laugh with Catherine (my wife) when the site makes any money as she once described it as a ‘pie in the sky’ idea. She’s fully on board with the project now and she can see why I’m so committed to it. To be honest, she’d have to be – I couldn’t do this without her support. Going back to the time-management question, she’s the one who gets ‘squashed’ most. We’ve had many ‘interesting’ discussions about the amount of time I spend on my site, but we seem to have got the balance about right. Sometimes, it’s a matter of just shutting down the PC and pouring out two large Gins and Tonic – the casino reviews can wait until tomorrow! The rest of my family think it’s great, but are slightly incredulous that anyone can make money this way.
How far away are you from becoming a full-time affiliate?
I wish I knew! At the current rate of growth, it’ll be about another two years before I can even contemplate going full-time. The site made enough to pay the mortgage last month, which is a significant milestone, but it will have to do that consistently for six months before I trust it. Having said that, given the problems of the UIGEA and the lack of payment processors, the market must be at an all-time low, so anyone who can make money in the current climate will be in a good position when the U.S. market comes back on line, which it will, in some form or other. I’ll be a full-time affiliate webmaster one day – I enjoy this work too much to give it up.
In an ideal world, how would you divide the efforts you put into your site?
In an ideal world, the site would be converting like crazy, so I would put the time and effort into the areas I enjoy the most – article writing and SEO research. Assuming article writing comes under the marketing header, I’d spend 40% on marketing, 20% on research, 15% on updating content, 10% on keeping up with the industry news, 10% playing with Photoshop, 4% on Google Analytics and1% on bookkeeping (it’s boring!).
How long did it take for you to start earning money?
The site earned a decent chunk of money after only two months, but then almost nothing for another year. If you’ve read The Alchemist, you’ll understand why!
What's surprised you the most about the industry?
Initially, I thought the problem would be getting traffic to the casinos. I’m surprised at just how many clicks the site can generate.
What's surprised you the most about players?
How few of those clicks convert into players! I really don’t understand why anyone would go to an affiliate site, read a thorough, detailed and well-written casino review (ahem!), click through to the casino, download the software, open an account – and then never play! Why bother?
You've mentioned in the GPWA forums that you're currently redesigning your site. What's the driving force behind the redesign?
The driving force is to make it convert better! I’m always redesigning it, tweaking things and testing. I had a big redesign last summer when I went from the old dark (gold on black) site to the current black on white. That was a big decision to make – and a lot of work – but I don’t regret it. I know Fortune Palace doesn’t look like most sites, but I couldn’t fully commit to it if I wasn’t happy with the way it looked. At the moment, I’m caught between two stools. I’m not sure if the site doesn’t convert well or if I’m just not getting the right traffic. I’m sticking with the layout and content and now focusing more on getting the right pages indexed in the search engines. That side of the business fascinates me, and it’s where I’ll be spending most of my time in the coming months.
What advice would you offer someone who has just started in the industry?
Spend a lot of time on researching the market before you dive in. Make sure you’re designing a site that has an audience. You could have the world’s most beautiful, content-rich site, but if no one wants that information, you’re wasting your time.
If you had to pick 5 keys to success as an affiliate, what would they be and why?
1. An acute sense of what’s required in the market – see above;
2. Self-motivation – you’ll be working long hours without direct reward;
3. Design skills – although old, established sites can do well despite their appearance, I think new sites have to be visually striking in order to stand out in a crowded market;
4. Patience – Google seems to act in three-month cycles;
5. Persistence – as with anything in life, the race goes to the ones who finish, not the ones who start quickly.
What traits do you look for in an affiliate manager? How about in an affiliate program?
A sense that they care about the smaller affiliates. I need to feel that I can approach my manager with any problems and concerns and that they’ll give me their attention, despite the fact that I’m not yet earning them a fortune.
As for the programs themselves, I have to know that they record my stats correctly, don’t shave anything off my earnings and then pay me on time. I also like them to be flexible and open to my suggestions – within reason! Ultimately, this is a partnership, with benefits for all. If they don’t want to uphold their part of the deal, I’ll find someone who does.
What prompted you to join the GPWA? And how has it helped you so far?
I’d been a member on a number of forums before, so when I came across GPWA I realized it was different. Many forums are clearly set up for the benefit of the administrators/owners and their business associates. GPWA wasn’t like that. Things like the Seal of Approval program and the system of rewarding active posters show that it’s more of a community, and run for the benefit of all its members. I was also impressed by the quality of the posts – not just the usual self-promotion and congratulation, but some really erudite and informative articles. The information available in the private forums is an amazing free resource and I urge everyone to use it. I really feel at home at GPWA and have come into contact with many decent, ethical and hard-working webmasters through it. Having met Steven and Michael in London for CAP Euro this year, it’s clear that the GPWA ethos comes right from the top – they’re very friendly and helpful – and incredibly passionate about this industry!
If you could change one thing about the online gaming industry, what would it be, and why?
I’d allow adults – from all countries – to choose how and where they spend their leisure time and money.
What's your favorite vacation spot? And why?
For our honeymoon, we went to the very North of Scotland, to an old fisherman’s cottage that was quite literally at the end of the track. Beyond, there was only sea. No one around for miles, just untouched sands and clear, warm water. Completely silent, except for the lapping of the waves and the wind in the heather. If Heaven exists, it’ll be very similar to that.
What is your favorite movie? And why?
Jean de Florette and Manon des Sources, viewed as two halves of the same film. Why? Because it’s a great story, with an ending that ties all the threads together in an unexpected way.
If you could have one "super power," what would it be? And why?
The ability to fly. Imagine going from two dimensions to three. It would quite literally change your perspective on everything!
And finally, what are three things that nobody knows about you?
1. I can’t swim.
2. I ‘air conduct’ music when I’m alone in the house.
3. I want to discover a comet and have it named after me (I’m still looking!).