Fair Weather Collaborators

In the world of business, particularly online, people love to “collaborate.” Almost as soon as you start playing the game, you’ll find your inbox full of requests. “Can we write a free guest post for your site?” “Want to be an affiliate for us?” “Let’s cross-promote on Instagram!”

As a beginner, the attention is flattering. It’s tempting to say yes to every one of these “opportunities.” Ask anyone who’s done so for half a year or more, however, and you’ll find them exhausted — and usually no further in advancing their true cause. What happened?

What happened is that these “win-wins” were never aligned with your goals in the first place. They were lopsided propositions, and every time you agreed, you gave a little more than you got. Those asks will never stop coming, by the way. You’ll just have to learn to ignore them.

The second kind of collaboration is slightly better but still stands on shaky ground. You work together on an ongoing basis, but there’s little trust and commitment, and definitely no sacrifice. Most affiliate marketing relationships fall into that category. It’s in the word: You’re “affiliated” — but nothing more.

Big brands have hundreds, sometimes thousands of affiliates, and if you do something they don’t like, they’re happy to swap your face for someone else’s on their homepage. If the main brand you’re promoting cuts the commission rate in half, what are you gonna do? Can you afford to stop promoting them altogether? Once again, in the long run, you’ll find most long-term collaborations to be somewhat one-sided.

The funny thing is that everyone goes into business in order to take risk. They don’t necessarily realize it, but by definition, that’s what you’re doing. People are happy to invest $10,000 of their life savings into a restaurant or take a big gamble on the person they choose to be their cofounder, but then as soon as operations start rolling, they dial back the very behavior that got them into business in the first place. “How can we get something for nothing? How can we make as much progress as possible while giving up as little as necessary?” The result is a lot of fair weather collaborations, and in the long run, those never work.

Of course, the problem will always be the problem: Do you really want to place a huge bet on an affiliate partner you barely know? The main reward for taking the risk of starting a business is that you get to take to take even more risk in how you choose to run it. It’s a feature of entrepreneurship more so than a bug. But only if you do decide to take those risks — where real trust, commitment, and sacrifice are required — can your collaborations become joint efforts of the third and only fruitful kind: equal, long-term partnerships where both parties benefit in same measure, and where the stakes are high for all involved should any one collaborator fail.

There’s one party for whom this is always true, by the way. It’s easy for them to get lost in a sea of potential partnerships — but your customers? Your audience? They’re always counting on you, and, ultimately, they’re the ones you should try your hardest not to disappoint.

Be careful what you say yes to, especially if it’s a win-win that seems too good to be true.