This is a story based in fact but for these purposes is fictionalized. I’ll have some advice after story time.
Battle lines have been drawn. A command has been handed down. I have to comply or be banished. It’s not military combat though. It’s not just a bad dream either. This is the life of a pro staffer caught in a bad enlistment in an imaginary war. How the hell did I get here?
Flashback Six Months
A new company has seen my hard work. I've been blogging, making videos, fishing in tournaments and several of the companies I buy products from have reached out to ask me if I‘d be interested in being on their fishing team. I grew up watching my fishing heroes have strong affiliations. This is kind of like that. Right? Sure. Close enough. I accept. Now this new company is asking too. I tell Misty Kayaks that I am also working with Brand 12, Company 14 and JumpUp Lures. I ask if that’s a problem and they say no. Some of them sent me a document that lists some expectations. Some didn't. Whatever. I just want to fish.
Three months into it things are going well. I've shown lots of people my gear I bought at Company 14. I’ve also helped quite a few people discover JumpUp Lures and Brand 12. Lots of people are buying Misty Kayaks that I’ve recommended. I’m getting phone calls, emails, messages, comments and tons of inquiries about the blogs and videos I’ve been working on. Life is good.
Back to Present Day
Misty Kayaks has a problem. No one is really sure where it came from (or at least fessing up to it) but it has lead to a demand. Anyone associated with Misty Kayaks must terminate any existing relationships with Company 14. Company 14 sells kayaks but not Misty Kayaks. They don’t make kayaks like Misty but this is somehow a problem. You have friends at both places but this decision has to be made. And quickly.
Regardless of my ability to discern what company can best serve the customer, regardless of my tireless work to help both companies, one of them is demanding a decision be made. One of them is happy for me to be me and promote the sport so many love.
I’m beginning to understand why so many people have given up on company affiliations. These imaginary wars that one company wages while the other is content with being inclusive rather than exclusive is mind numbing and universally cyclical. I can hear the Beastie Boys’ “Sabotage” blaring even though the stereo isn’t even on. Maybe I’ll just quit it all.
How Can You Avoid This?
That works for some people but others like the affiliations, love to promote products they are passionate about and don’t miss an opportunity to tell folks about a product or company doing a good job.
Have Very Clear Conversations and Get it In Writing
Your agreement is only good in court if it’s in writing. With signatures. Gentlemen’s agreements are only good as long as both parties keep the original agreement. And both remain gentlemen. Sometimes that doesn’t work out. When conditions change, you might be put in a bad situation. Be prepared.
Analyze the ROI
Return On Investment is something lots of pro staffers fail to calculate. Think about the time you are investing in blogs, videos, boat shows, speaking and tournaments. Think about the money you spend traveling, eating out and preparing for activities that you are not reimbursed for. Add all that up. Now look at your discount that has been realized. (If you bought $100 worth of stuff for $75, your realized discount is $25).If your expenses are greater than your realized discount, your ROI is negative. That means you are losing money to do all this work. For some folks that’s ok because they are that passionate. The only other way to offset negative ROI is by adding additional income from the company. Even then, it will rarely offset the expenses. Still worth it?
More Than Money Benefits
Some companies can offer something other than money or discounts. They can offer you exposure, a platform and mentoring. To really make a name for yourself you have to treat your name as a brand. You have to grow it the right way, you have to be your biggest critic and biggest advocate at the same time. Having a mentor and a developed, proven platform to work from to build you is important. Ask any company you deal with if they offer any such opportunities.
Interview Potential Suitors
You have a lot to offer. Don’t give it away for free. Get what you feel is a fair return for your work. Ask them lots of questions and ask suitors to be specific and then expect it in writing. Ask what the availability to work on projects you are passionate about is. Ask about any conflict of interest companies. Ask what the possibility of advancement is.
Have an Exit Strategy
If everything goes south, make sure you can walk away. Don’t dump hours investing in a company’s success without developing YOUR brand. Everyone has a brand, most just call it character and reputation. When you look back, is your name yours or are you so entrenched people don’t know the real you. If a company asks you to change who you are yet offers nothing for the change, walk away. Scratch that. Run.
Business is Business.
Real friends understand choices have to be made and no one situation fits everyone. Real friends also care more about you than your affiliations. Several of my good fishing friends rep for different companies. It doesn’t matter. It’s about the sport and we each make our own path. Business is business. Real friends understand the choices.
Companies that put tight restrictions on their team are not interested in you growing as much as they are in growing themselves. Find a company that is interested in you the person, the whole package and not just your promotional abilities. Sometimes circumstances change, a company starts a one sided, imaginary war that most people are unaware is even happening and there is fall out. It’s unfortunate but it happens. In those times, you need to have a clear picture of what you want, what your plans are and the best path to get there. Blaze your trail. Some companies will walk with you but none will do it for you. Find a partner, not a boss.