Have you ever met an affiliate, in real-life or online, and heard them say “I only got into this industry because I wanted enough money to go partying this weekend”?

The Internet attracts all types, so I wouldn’t be surprised if you have actually cross-paths with this guy. However, I’d bet the majority of affiliates get started because they’re interested in things like being self-employed, the very high (unlimited?) earning potential, the ability to work from anywhere they can find an Internet connection, controlling their own future, etc.

Unfortunately, way too many people jump into the affiliate space wanting all the benefits but approaching it with a mindset similar to the weekend partier described above. They expect things to be easy, they use their business as an ATM, and they are shocked when all the low-hanging fruit has been picked and they’re broke, working on resume’s again. On the other hand, every highly successful affiliate I’ve ever met shares two basic traits: they treat their affiliate marketing like a legitimate business and they very clearly understand that it takes a lot of hard work; there are no quick fixes. This is the affiliate marketing success mindset!

It goes even further than that. There’s a big difference between being an affiliate marketer who runs their campaigns like a business (a good idea) and a business owner who happens to be in the affiliate industry (a great idea!). The latter will be more likely to ride out the rough patches and slow times because they view every campaign as one piece of the bigger puzzle, and they generally have diversified their offers, networks, traffic sources, sites, and ad-copy enough to survive.

Running a successful business means having a vision of how you will be earning revenues next week, next month and next year then budgeting for the expenses that will drive those revenues. I’ll be the first to tell you that plans and forecasting in business rarely play out as expected, but they serve as a point of reference for when things do inevitably change.

In retail, businesses buy inventory 6 months to 18 months in advance. Nothing guarantees that what they’re buying will sell a year down the road, but an even more surefire path to failure would be if they bought Christmas stock in mid-November. Affiliate marketing is no different. Your competition is already planning their Christmas campaigns. Or even more relevant, they’re already planning for tax-season 2013, while you’re out trying to rise in the SERPs before April gets here, or buying Media at inflated prices. Identifying and preparing for campaign opportunities in the future gives you a lot of time to work on making them successful between now and then.

But business is not just about planning. Success, and even more importantly, sustainable success, requires that your business provides value. This means you’re not going to build a sustainable business by jumping on last months hot trend, ripping off someone else’s banners and running them in the same places. That’s where campaigns go to die (and, consequently, why our industry is a black hole of secrets). Innovation is key. The only way to be the one who finds the next hot thing is to get creative. There’s a lot of moving parts in affiliate marketing and at every turn there’s an opportunity to be creative: find a new traffic source, target an untapped demographic with an offer no one has tried before, or test some ad-copy or banner images that others haven’t tried. The possibilities are endless, but they all arrive at the same fork in the road: you can innovate and lead your business to where you want it to go, or you can follow the crowd and find yourself squeezed out of the industry in short time.

This all leads to the second requirement of success in affiliate marketing, that hard-work is the only way to achieve the success you want. You absolutely MUST break away from any notion that you’re just going to hit it big with a campaign and cash out. Hard work (and by extension, discipline), is required at every step and if you want to avoid burning out or developing a resentment for your new career path, you have to begin by understanding that it is part of the deal. Many affiliates lose their motivation quickly when the work starts to pile up, because they come in with mis-aligned expectations.