Should You Do A Joint Venture?

Joint Venture

“Dear Naomi and Dave,

I have a question. Everyone (well, but you that is) is raving about JV’s (joint ventures).

I’m not sure it’s something I’d like to explore – it doesn’t speak to me and I don’t like to be bombarded by 25 people all telling me what their good friend is up to this time.

It kinda makes me wanna puke.

But maybe there is something to say for JV’s, I don’t know. I do get that joint efforts can generate more leads and sales. It’s just the WAY I see people do it that makes me dislike it.

I have the impression you don’t do the JV thing in your launches, and I would like to hear your take on it:

Do you do JV’s?

If yes, why?

It not, why not?

I would love to hear what you think about it, and what your view is on how effective it really is.

If you’ve answered this question already, please let me know and I’ll look it up on one of the recordings.

Thank you!”

Naomi’s Answer!

Good question! We talk about this a lot in Office Hours and Q&A sessions, but I don’t think we’ve ever really addressed the issue publicly.

First, for the new, let’s do a definition of terms.

“JV” is a muddy word that most purveyors of not so fine Internet marketing products use in a very vague and mixed up way, usually to confuse you enough that you’ll buy their webinars.

JV stands for joint venture. Venture means project, and joint, to my mind, means equal involvement.

It’s like joint custody. Each party’s role is different, but ideally, the workload and credit are shared. (It works out that way with joint ventures about as often as it does with joint custody, but that’s neither here nor there.)

So a joint venture could be a coauthored book, a cotaught class, or Ben and Jerry’s getting together with the local hot pretzel magnate to make hot pretzels covered in Cherry Garcia. Or something like that.

An affiliate relationship, on the other hand, is a partnership in which Person A makes a product and Person B (and possibly C and D and E and F) sell that product to their own audiences for a portion of the selling price. Basically, it’s commission sales on a (hopefully) very large stage. When the letter writer refers to being “bombarded by 25 people all telling me what their good friend is up to this time”, she is referring to affiliate marketing.

Most people in the industry use the terms interchangeably because affiliate marketing has become a dirty word since the Federal Trade Commission made it illegal to lie. The good guys ran away terrified, and the bad guys kept doing the same Bad Guy Stuff they were always doing, just calling it JV.

To my mind, joint ventures are to affiliate marketing what joint custody is to a playdate.

We’ll start with actual joint ventures.

I have been involved in three joint venture projects, and was seriously invested in the planning stages of two more before they fell apart.

  1. I taught two classes, in 2008 and 2009, with a coach named Havi Brooks. She later took her business in another direction and went silent. (Literally. She went on a silence retreat for many months and I don’t know if she ever stopped.) Our brands are not exactly aligned at this point. :)
  2. In 2009, I taught a class with Sonia Simone around the time she was getting closely involved with what would later become Copyblogger Media. (I believe she’s now the CMO.) There are more than a few people who consider aligning with Copyblogger to be synonymous with a brief trip to the Dark Side. I have no problem with the good people at Copyblogger, but our brands are not exactly aligned at this point. :)
  3. Dave, who I will discuss momentarily.
  4. Someone who I was very personally and professionally associated with and I were working on a charity project. It ended in relationship catastrophe and abandonment of the project. It damn near broke my heart. I’m not over it.
  5. Shortly thereafter, someone who used to work here and I were working on a publishing project outside of the industry. It ended in relationship catastrophe and abandonment of the project. It put the nail in the coffin. No more JVs.

But let’s talk about the one JV that truly worked, and that’s my relationship with Dave.

A long, long time ago – before Groupon, before Pinterest, even before Twitter – Dave and I coauthored a book called How To Launch The **** Out Of Your Ebook. Shortly thereafter, we made an audio program together called Upsell 101.

(The now mythic story of this process involved a conversation that went something like this. “That page gets a lot of traffic. We really need an upsell.” “What do you want to do an upsell on?” [extended silence on both sides] “Well, we’ve got an ebook about ebooks. You wanna make an upsell about upsells?” “Uh… why not?”)

Our relationship had always been very good and I trusted him with everything.

After a while, Dave started getting quite successful and – yup, I’ll go ahead and say it – greedy. I didn’t love who he was hanging out with, to be honest. He started making professional alliances that I felt were sleazy. We are not in an industry that can handle sleazy looking alliances. I thought it was bad for his brand and I told him so.

He got involved in some projects that seemed inappropriate. His take, adorable innocent that he is, was that these weren’t bad people, and that they were helping each other. My take, less innocent, was that they were going to take advantage of him and his near six figure mailing list, and his reputation was going to be permanently ruined by the association.

In September 2010, in preparation for his first industry conference, we spoke on the phone and he told me his networking plans. I just about threw up and said, verbatim, “Those people are f***ing sharks, Dave.”

Now, let me be clear. I love this guy. I loved him then, I love him now. We’re like yin yang twins, impossible to separate and seriously codependent. I would and have walked through some pretty fiery stuff for him.

But we honestly just about broke up over this. I take my professional associations pretty seriously, and Dave or no Dave, I was not going to be associated with that crowd. He could blithely and naively say, “They’re not bad people!” as much as he wanted, but he wasn’t going to do that with my name on his book.

We got together at the conference and he apologized for being an ass and we spent the rest of the conference hanging out and making development plans that did not involve sleeping with the enemy.

Had he been anything less than open minded to my highly controversial stance, and had I been anything less than utterly obsessed with him, that conversation would not have taken place. I would think he was a shark, he would think I was a prude, and you would not be reading his answer on this blog tomorrow.

My JV experiences have been… fine, I guess. All things considered. But for reasons that Dave will doubtless elaborate on tomorrow, I can’t really imagine getting involved in them again.

Now we’ll talk affiliate marketing.

Back in the day, I used to do a fair bit of it. Not as much as some, but enough that it accounted for a pretty significant line item on the annual income breakdown. It was all the rage back then.

(IttyBiz also used to have an affiliate program for its products and classes.)

With only one exception, I have never promoted for an affiliate and not felt vaguely dirty afterwards. Even for good products, even for good people, it just felt gross. Even when I used to promote Dave’s old stuff, I felt a whole lot better sending traffic out of the goodness of my heart than I felt sending traffic for money. (Eventually I just stopped promoting Dave’s stuff for money and sent my people for free. It felt better. When it comes to family, friends, and lovers, it’s just nicer to do it without expecting a check at the end.)

Incidentally, the exception was Mark McGuiness’ launch for the Creative Entrepreneur Roadmap. I felt good sending my people there. It is the only thing I have been an affiliate for in nearly five years.

I also canceled our own affiliate program in 2010. My colleagues (quite publicly) said I was insane. And by standard metrics, that’s probably true. I have left a lot of money on the table by not paying people to write blog posts saying nice stuff about us and our products. I don’t want to be the “good friend” who’s up to something new these days. So no, you’re not going to be seeing any $1000 commission skyscraper banners saying “Naomi and Dave saved my life!” any time soon. Not on my watch.

If someone has said something nice about IttyBiz in this decade, they were not compensated in any way.

So that’s me. Let’s take a look at a few others.

This week, I am talking to several clients. Here are snapshots of three of their situations.

Client A is doing brand recovery. She had been intimately connected with another business owner who went broke and insane. Most recent in a long string of brand damaging incidents is having promotions centred around the death of a close family member. My client is trying to extricate herself from the circus.

Client B is amicably breaking up with her project partner. The partner sees greener pastures. Unfortunately, my client brought the tech and writing, and the partner brought the marketing. My client is trying to salvage the brand since basically, the entire front end is moving out.

Client C is writing a book. He was cowriting it, but his coauthor got “sick” and can’t hold up her end of the bargain – either for writing or promotion. He has been publicly making excuses for her for months, but a huge amount of fuss has been made about the joint project. My client is now spending his time managing ghost writers and doing damage control with his list.

That’s just this week.

Here is my thought on JVs. Take from it what you will.

Some people are truly special. You work together perfectly, negotiations are seamless, and you can trust them with your life.

Some people seem truly special. You seem to work together perfectly, negotiations seem seamless, and it seems like you can trust them with your life.

As far as I can tell, it is impossible to differentiate between the two.

And to address your actual question? If you don’t want to do JVs, don’t do JVs.

(That’s my answer.  You can read Dave’s response here.)

About the author: Naomi Dunford started IttyBiz in 2006. In her free time, she likes to… ha! Free time. You’re adorable. Learn more about her here and catch up with her on Twitter or Facebook.