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How to Evaluate Collaboration and Affiliate Offers

Heidi Thorne is an author and business speaker specializing in sales and marketing topics for coaches, consultants, and solopreneurs.

Not all collaboration offers are created equal. Learn how to evaluate which ones are right for you.

Not all collaboration offers are created equal. Learn how to evaluate which ones are right for you.

Can Collaborations Be Productive?

An author friend on social media asked for my opinion on a collaboration offer she received. It was aligned with the work and content she does. However, she just didn’t like this sponsor’s approach.

When I receive these types of offers, I ignore most of them. Some of them are just not legit. Others just want too much. And some are just not a good fit.

Let’s discuss how to evaluate collaboration opportunities because some of them are more trouble than they’re worth. Here’s what you need to consider.

What Is a Collaboration or Affiliate Agreement?

A collaboration is an agreement between a sponsor and an influencer who has the attention of a sponsor’s ideal audience. The influencer agrees to promote the sponsor on social media, blogs, podcasts, videos, emails, etc. In exchange for these promotions, the sponsor compensates the influencer with free products or services, cash, or other perks.

An affiliate agreement is like a collaboration, except that influencers are only compensated when a verified sale is made through special tracking links. Affiliate compensation is usually referred to as a commission and may be either a flat rate or a percentage of the sale.

Do not confuse collaborations or affiliate deals with joint ventures, even though I’ve encountered some people who loosely—and incorrectly—refer to these arrangements in that way. Joint ventures are more complex and create a business entity or even a partnership. If someone approaches you saying they want to do a joint venture, sometimes referred to as a JV, call a business lawyer. You’ll need one for that type of deal.

Is It Aligned With You and Your Brand?

Does the product or service to be promoted align with your brand and message? Would you be proud to be a partner of this person or organization? Would you be proud to offer this product as your own?

I was approached by a fashion brand of leggings on Instagram to see if I’d be interested in collaborating. Did they not look at my Instagram feed which is full of headshot photos and videos of me talking about self-publishing and business, along with occasional posts about my silly dogs? What about my feed says I’d be interested in showing off leggings? Plus, I don’t currently wear leggings. A totally misaligned offer.

Can You Be an Authentic Representative of this Sponsor?

Would you be willing to pay for the product if it wasn’t offered to you for free? Do you currently use this product or service or something like it? If not, are you willing to start using it? If you do use something similar already, but not this one, are you willing to switch providers in order to collaborate with this partner and be truthful with your audience?

Because I’m an active reviewer on Amazon for books on communication, business, self-improvement, and motivation, I get a number of offers to read new books and review them. It is very, very rare that I accept any of these offers.

Aside from the fact that I just don’t want to spend hours of my time reading and writing a review for a book, I wouldn’t choose for myself; many of the suggested books are just a bit outside my area of reading interest and expertise. So I’m not going to read a book just because I might get it for free. I concentrate on doing authentic reviews for books I’ve personally chosen and purchased.

What Do You Get? What Do They Want?

What does the partner expect you to do to earn a commission or other compensation? What is the partner offering in terms of compensation and support? Is it enough?

When social media and mobile marketing were new, I was approached by a couple of groups to offer my clients mobile marketing solutions in exchange for a commission. But the problem was that these weren’t ideal solutions for my clients. They turned out to be difficult for clients to use and difficult for me to use and sell, too.

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In this case, the money just wasn’t enough to make this work, and it was too much work for me. I would have had to invest heavily in switching my business to concentrate on this type of marketing which was getting more and more complex as the industry matured.

Aside from these difficulties, these partners basically just told me to promote the services. What does that mean? How many tweets, posts, videos, or articles was I supposed to create? How often and for what time period would I be doing these promotional posts? How would my efforts be monitored?

Other difficult affiliate programs I’ve tried are ClickBank and Commission Junction. In theory, they’re great. They offer you a choice of products and services to promote on your website, social media, or email. You’re offered a commission for completed sales that use your affiliate link. Seems pretty straightforward, right? Not really.

If you don’t have a groundswell of traffic coming to your site or posts or opening your emails—translation: thousands—the numbers just don’t work. Remember that only a few percent of website visitors or followers will ever buy anything from you. And building traffic is hard! Whatever compensation you’d get from these arrangements would pale in comparison to the investment you’ll have to make in building that traffic.

I also found the building and maintenance of links to be quite a project. These programs are often automated. So if a sponsor suddenly drops their offer, your links are dead, which can harm your site’s ranking and user experience (UX).

But the biggest issue for me was that I wouldn’t be proud to offer many of the available affiliate products and services. And that’s unacceptable.

It’s the Law

Some years back, the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) in the United States stepped up its efforts to mandate social media influencer disclosures of their financial relationship with an advertiser, sponsor, collaboration, or affiliate partner. If an influencer gets compensation—whether that’s actual cash, free products, or other perks—they need to say so in their promotions.

On social media, people naturally talk about the products and services they use. So collaboration sponsors and advertisers want to tap into that already existing conversation. But since the lines between social conversation and promotions are often so blurry, you can understand why the FTC wants to protect consumers with alerts of compensated claims.

If your collaboration or affiliate sponsor does not specify how to disclose your relationship with them, it is your responsibility to disclose it anyway. I would also say that if they seem unaware of these requirements, that could be a red flag.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2020 Heidi Thorne


Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 08, 2021:

Donna, I couldn't agree more! As you mention this, one such person I follow comes to mind immediately. He has quality material, but he seems so focused on monetizing that it's uncomfortable.

Thanks for adding that angle to the conversation! Appreciate your support during the past year. Happy New Year!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 08, 2021:

Hi Mary! All of us who make a commitment to providing readers with quality content do get these offers. Like you, I evaluate each offer carefully before making any commitment. I, too, have assisted some people that I believed were genuine. But I don't always help in the way they ask if I don't think it serves me or them.

Thanks for sharing your experience! Happy New Year!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 08, 2021:

Hi Linda! Thanks for reading and kind comments, as always. Happy New Year!

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on January 06, 2021:

This is another interesting and useful article, Heidi. It includes some important things to think about, as always.

Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on January 01, 2021:

Heide, thank you for this article. She people ask me sometimes to advertise their products but because I have no clue as to how to price these, I just ignore it. I only entertain requests to post an article from people I know. There is one recently who asked me and I know I can help this person. i sensed his sincerity as he owns the company and doing what he could to market so I even sent him some suggestions. It is rare that I entertain this but when I think it will be helpful to my readers and that I can be of help to the person, I do.

Donna Herron from USA on January 01, 2021:

Hi Heidi - This is another interesting article. I would also add that if you accept too much affiliation offers, it may look to your readers or followers that you are "selling out" and willing to promote any product or business that approaches you. I think you can lose followers this way. I followed a blogger who seemed to accept a lot of promotional offers and I stopped visiting her blog because she was always selling things to her readers.

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 01, 2021:

Peggy, glad to see I'm not alone in not wanting to waste time reading books that aren't interesting!

Also, I have been seeing your articles. But by the time I get to them, the commenting is already turned off. So just know that I am checking them out and enjoying them.

Thank you so much for your support and conversation in the past year. Means a lot to me. Wishing you a Happy, Healthy & Safe New Year!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 01, 2021:

Flourish, so much more trouble than it's worth! I don't know if those YouTubers are "lucky" or just more aggressive with their outreach.

When I see so many sponsors on a video, podcast, or whatever, I have to wonder what the connection is, too. One of my favorite business authors had a toothbrush company as a sponsor for a while. Um, weird, especially for his work.

BTW, I have been seeing your playlist posts. But by the time I get to them, the commenting is already off. So just know that I am checking them out and enjoying as always. I guess HP is working on bringing the commenting back in 2021, according to one of their recent emails. So we'll look forward to our usual chatter when that gets fixed.

Anyway, I just want to thank you for your kind support and conversation all throughout the year. It means a lot to me. Wishing you a Happy, Safe & Healthy New Year!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 01, 2021:

Bill, you keep on celebrating or whatever you're doing. This can wait. Seriously.

Well, 2020 is finally in the rearview mirror. Let's have a great 2021. Thanks for always being there for me! Happy New Year!

Heidi Thorne (author) from Chicago Area on January 01, 2021:

Thanks, Ernest! Happy New Year!

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on January 01, 2021:

Hi Heidi,

I always enjoy reading your articles, and I look towards your expertise in evaluating the pros and cons of things. Like you, I would not be interested in reading books for free, only to then have to write reviews, if I did not like the subject matter. It would not be worth my time to do so. Thanks for another interesting article.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on January 01, 2021:

I'm sorry, but I'm on my way out the door and don't know when I'll get to this again. Just to play it safe, I'll wish you a very Happy New Year now. Thank you for your friendship!

FlourishAnyway from USA on December 31, 2020:

Seems like minimal payoff typically and more trouble than it’s worth. The point about alignment with your brand is critical and your leggings example really drove that home. A lot of YouTube influencers seem to be “lucky” with pitching products. Not sure how they do that. One recipe blogger I follow has so many sponsors that I sometimes wonder what the connection is.

Ernest Cheong from Melbourne, Australia on December 31, 2020:

Interesting read

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