I’ll be honest, I’ve been struggling a fair bit lately to figure out where my line is drawn on a scale of ‘selling out to survive’ vs ‘only selling in line with core values’.

I’ll explain…

We’re a startup, still finding our feet, with me personally having regular ‘product market panics’ (wondering if what we’re selling is the right thing, at the right time, to the right people – I’m sure many of you will relate).

We essentially sell three things:

  • Our membership (which is frankly awesome at £9/mo)
  • Paid brand partnerships – helping brands reach you guys
  • Consulting – helping brands understand how not to get left behind in the trends & cultural expectations of the next generation

But it’s the brand partnerships that have been leaving me a little stumped lately because there are two things that I’m very aware of when pitching companies for this sponsorship product.

Firstly, on one end of the scale, we have big companies who are cash rich, have been around a while but are highly likely to be corporate and stale in the way they operate – a great opportunity for us to consult, but not the best brand to partner with as it may leave you guys uninspired as our valued community.

Alternatively there are more disruptive brands, who’s values and approach fit our more rebellious nature; brands who you – our community – would be more comfortable with & excited by butbecause these companies are venture backed, they’re more stringent on every penny they spend, meaning it’s harder to get budgets from them.

So that leaves me with a dilemma, who do I sell to? Do I sell out to the big brands who have the cash? Or do I sell smaller to the cooler disruptive brands you’ll all love?

The reality is we can’t really afford to be too choosy.

While membership helps pay our costs as a business, this just about covers our day to day running (we’d love more of you to be members as we know the product is great and it would help us deliver more impact on a global basis too – even offering your money back in the first month if you don’t agree). 

So we need these partners to sustain and grow. We can afford to be a little choosy and make sure that we’re working with the right partners for you but as a business we need to pay people too!

The reason I’m writing this is that you may end up/be/have been in this situation too and wonder what the right answer is…

I don’t think there is a right answer because I it’s subjective.

Some people make a lot of money selling guns and drugs. Some people make no money helping others all day, every day. Some people make a lot of money saving lives. Some people make little money doing nothing, out of choice. A lot of people fall somewhere in the middle.

It’s up to you who you sell to and how.

I use two ways of thinking that compliment each other to make the decision on who I sell to, how and why.

Disclaimer: This isn’t necessarily correct, because I’m not rich. But I’m happy(ish) so maybe it works. Who knows, I’d love to know your thoughts.

1. Love, Wealth, Fame

The first is a Venn Diagram of why I would want to work with a client. I use this mostly to decide if I want to work with an advisory client or not and used this a lot in my agency days too.

This reminds me that I should tick 2 of the boxes here if I’m going to decide to work with a client. The combinations being:

  • It will pay well and I’ll love doing it but it’s work that will likely go under the radar
  • I’ll love working on it and the work will likely be award winning or note-worthy in some way but won’t pay much/at all
  • It will pay well and probably be note-worthy & help drive future work, but I won’t enjoy it

There is a rare occasion where only one box will be ticked but it needs to be an extreme to make it worthwhile, i.e. It pays insanely well, an award is almost a dead cert, or it’s for your mum and you really can’t say no to her 🙄

The Sliding Scale 

Here is what I’m currently using for deciding our Brand Partners.

As you can see it incorporates the Venn diagram thinking while allowing me to identify where on the line a company might be, to help me understand how I’ll work with them.

If they’re to the left of the line, it should be fairly easily and enjoyable, therefore I might take the client on if there are wider benefits such as better community engagement, more growth of membership, higher value provided, etc (oh and ‘might’ being the operative word by the way – *prepares for influx of campaign suggestions that “I’ll love” but won’t pay* 😂).

If they’re to the right of the line they’ll need to pay well enough and be open to us delivering their message in a way that doesn’t alienate the brand. We’ll usually consult with these brands to advise them of the best way to reach an audience like ours so there’s an up-selling opportunity for me.

To round up… 

As ever, I don’t have the answers. If I did, I’d have every brand I love, paying me huge fees to reach our audience in ways that smash it every time.

We’re certainly better than the average at this and as you’ll see in our deck, we have the right approach.

I’m adamant about not selling our soul for a pay day, but frankly – unlike most other businesses will tell you publicly like this – we’ve all got to get by so if that needs to happen it will!

I hope in the mean time you’ll join us as a member to help us stay fussy about who we partner with, while providing you with kick-ass benefits! 😃

Until then though, we’ll keep you posted with new partners as they come on board.