The day we ended all of our partnerships

One afternoon in 2009 I placed three phone calls. Each call was to a partner of Schedulefly. I cancelled all three partnerships within a few minutes. It felt great.

Early days, we weren’t sure what would work to help us get more customers. We decided to try a few partnerships. One partner was a guy in Canada who promised the moon but didn’t produce anything. Another was an office of a large food distributor. We even had to pay to be in that one-year program. It was such a disaster that we cancelled before the year was up. We would have been better offer burning the money and saving the time and energy I had put into it. The last one was a regional food distributor. That partnership was only a few months old on the day I made my calls, but we’ve never stuck with something for long if it wasn’t working or if we didn’t enjoy it, or both. Partnerships fell into both categories, so when we made the decision to wind them down, we did it without hesitation, without remorse.

Since then, lots of potential partners have requested to schedule calls with us. We quickly decline each opportunity. We won’t do another partnership. Some reasons…

1. Too much time – I spent a lot of time on those partnerships. I got on planes to fly places and conduct training sessions. I had a lot of conference calls. I put together tip sheets and marketing materials. It was a lot of work and took a lot of my focus, which kept me from focusing on other things that worked better and that I enjoyed.

2. Somebody else speaking for your brand – Partners speak for your product, your company, your brand. I don’t like that. How do I know what they are saying? Or how the are portraying us? If you care to your core about what your brand stands for, why would you entrust any communication about it to anybody but your team? My last business went through an acquisition. I couldn’t stand the way the people from the acquiring company spoke about our company, and they had every incentive to get it right! How can some group of people that have no connection with your business other than some executive they report up to telling them to try to sell your product to their customers be good at representing your brand? They can’t. I promise.

3. Referrals are best when natural and referrer has no skin in the game – If we pay people to tell their customers about Schedulefly, then is their recommendation an honest, unbiased recommendation? Of course not. It can’t be. End of story. We have grown through word of mouth all along, and it’s a natural, organic process. We don’t pay people to spread the word. Heck we don’t even ask people to spread the word. They do it for whatever reasons they do it, and that’s the only way to know a referral is honest and real.

I won’t dive into how complicated our business would be today if we had a bunch of partnerships. We might (I emphasize “might”) have more customers, but we’d also have a lot more headaches and I’d be spending most of every day managing them. Building a business is hard enough, but if you are in it for the long haul, be very careful before you consider any partnerships. If this post hasn’t convinced you to avoid them, read this one and this one.