Why “Strategic Relationships” Are Crap

I was listening to the Cat and Cloud podcast today and a topic was brought up around “strategic relationships.” They defined it as a business relationship, or a partnership based on skills or needs, not because of any sort of companionship or friendship. They were opposed to this concept. This is also paired with the GaryVee podcast I just listened to where he discusses “modern day business education.” Gary is constantly pushing the idea of giving your best stuff away for free, not expecting anything in return. In this podcast he talks about the moment you monetize your audience, they know it and it changes the relationship. He also preaches “radical candor,” because everyone benefits by knowing where you stand.

In the realm of business, my experience has been that business owners are inherently selfish. They only care about what makes them more money. I understand this, because the business is what pays them and that is how they buy food and pay rent. I get it. The issue is around engaging in a relationship with only the thought of what you can get out of it. That is not a relationship. That is using a human as a thing, which I am completely opposed to. I’m not a particularly worldly person, but in my limited experience, these relationships usually blew up and made everything worse.

Engaging in a relationship, business or personal, with the mind set of, “what can I get out of this,” is also short sighted. This approach is like burning the planks of wood to stay warm one night, just to realize you need them make your bridge. I once had a manager tell me not to take jobs because of the money, even though that is what I might need in my current situation. He said to stay true to what I loved and the money would come. The same is true in business relationships. All relationships take time and effort, and not a little self-sacrifice. Relationships is playing the long game. And just like marriage, business relationships have a honeymoon period and a test when the truth comes out.

Here’s an example from my own experience. I talked to a cross fit gym about setting my coffee cart up in the gym so people could buy coffee pre- and post-workout. She was all on board and excited about how that would differentiate her from other gyms. A few months later, I wanted to offer some cold brew jars. During this conversation I found out she was resenting me because she was not getting a 25% cut of my sales. Percentage of sales is not uncommon in these scenarios. The problem is, I thought she was being charitable and trying to help build local business, when secretly she just wanted more money. Needless to say, the relationship soured and we parted ways. This was very disappointing to me and the first tough lesson I learned about business relationships. See, the moment she wanted to “monetize” our relationship, it destroyed the foundation that the relationship was established on (charity). I knew, now, she didn’t care about me, and who wants to be in a relationship with someone when you know they don’t give a crap about you? (The answer, hopefully, is no one.)

Gary Vee talks about radical candor and I’m starting to buy into it. We all know everyone wants to make money in business. If that is important to someone in the relationship, it needs to be said upfront so it’s not dropped like a bomb on your unsuspecting partner.

So, then, how do we navigate these?

The easy question is to work with people you like. Now, I’m not saying you should partner with your drinking buddy who can’t even pay his rent. But I am saying, they should be like minded people who energize you every time you interact with them. Secondly, be upfront and honest. Yeah, it sucks a lot. I’m non-confrontational to the max, so I have a lot of anxiety around this. I can say from experience though, that the volume of pain in being direct at the start of the relationship is a very small fraction of the pain that comes from a soured relationship.

With that, I would like to thank Jared Truby and Chris Baca from Cat and Cloud for their insight, as well as Gary Vee for telling it like it is.

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