In All the Stars, Kendrick Lamar raps:
Motherfucker, I don’t even like you
Corrupt a man’s heart with a gift
That’s how you find out who you dealin’ with
Kendrick has a great point – giving someone a gift lets you see what one truly stands for. After all, our politicians have legislated “legalized bribery.”
But there’s something a bit more devious to keep an eye out for…
One of the best pieces of advice I got was from my buddy John Berardi:
“I want to be friends with people purely from an ‘I like this person and they are really smart and want to hang out with them with zero financial implications’ perspective.'”
(I wrote about JB’s co-founder Phil and his generous impulses previously).
JB further expanded:
“Because, oftentimes, “professional” friendships lead us down that slippery slope of “just helping out a friend” when we know we would NEVER have otherwise — and for good reason — promoted that person’s thing.”
I’ve adopted this as a general outlook – it’s why I have my policy of being Switzerland.
Money corrupts; so can friendship.
The blurred line between personal and professional relationships
If there’s one thing I’m obsessed about, it’s my independence. You may already know that I legally changed my full name (the fact that I didn’t get to pick my own name was something I found absurd). It’s why I have my aforementioned policy page.
I see independence and freedom as synonymous with each other – my independence affords me the freedom to do what I want.
Here’s the issue: entrepreneurs love talking about freedom, but how free are they?
The Internets (especially the entrepreneur space) is rife with quid-pro-quo relationships.
Let’s consider two hypothetical people – Person X and Person Y, each with their own unique ‘make money online’ product.
At some point, Person X will go on-and-on about how amazing Person Y’s coaching business is. A few months later you’ll hear about Person Y talking about how you need to buy Person X’s course.
Affiliate deals are in place. Masterminds are supported. Quid-pro-quo is more the rule than the exception: come speak at my event and I’ll come speak at yours. Sell my product to your audience and I’ll sell your product to my audience.
Are both Person X and Y amazing, or are there financial considerations in play? Do they legitimately think someone else’s product is useful, or is it simply about the bottom line?
And it doesn’t even need to be duplicitous – is it just because Person Y is a friend of Person X? And Person X wants to support a friend (because that’s what buds do)?
But once the spigot has been turned, it’s hard to turn it off. The underlying motivations for people’s actions are no longer clear. Is it for the money? Is it the friendship? Is it the expectations of a return? A combination of all of those?
And again, it’s not even about explicit expectations; it’s human nature to want to help out those who help you and those who you like.
Lets say someone is an affiliate of yours and they help sell your product. And then down the line they do something shitty – it’s much harder to say anything. And you may read this and scoff and think “I’d have no problem calling them out”… but that’s simply just not how it works in the real world.
One you start mixing business with pleasure, the blurring of the lines can cause issues over autonomy.
Know your boundaries and create a policy around them
Here’s a pro-tip: instead of using the word “rule” use the word “policy.” For some reason, people really back off when they hear that word.
My policy is simple: no freebies. And I’ve explained why.
I’ve worked hard to ensure that everything I do (Examine.com, SJO.com, etc) are 100% independent. Think of what I do as Switzerland – I’m here doing my own shit, and I don’t really care what you’re up to.
Sure, I’ll listen to what you have to say, but I’ll make my own decision with the least amount of external considerations.
My policy is so strict that if you send me a book, I won’t even donate it. Nope, I’ll straight up recycle it.
I didn’t ask for it, so please don’t send me anything.
You might read that and think – “Damn, Sol is an anal asshole.”
And you know what? Damn right I am.
I do this because it makes my life easier. It helps me stay sane and maintain my freedom. With no exceptions, I don’t ever have to worry about upsetting a friend.
At the end of the day, I’m not living my life to your expectations. My decisions are for me, not for anyone else.
And the same should be true for you.
For example, a while ago I posted about my friend Elaine and her book. I did so because I wanted to. Elaine even offered to send me a copy, and I politely declined; my reasoning is if I like your work, I’ll support it. And so I did – I bought the book; it’s a no-brainer.
I don’t even give testimonials. I’ve had people I greatly admire and respect ask me for one, and I’ve simply explained my policy is no freebies, no testimonials, no nothing.
The upside of all of this is it simplifies my life. I don’t need to balance considerations when I hang out with people or invite them to dinner or to my Chocolate Chip Cookie Off; I’m hanging out with you because I like what you’re doing, not because I’m possibly angling for something.
Elaine’s book I mentioned? I gave it a review on Amazon (and I wasn’t lazy about it). But I did it because I felt like it, not because she was expecting it.
The trust that it creates between you and your audience cannot be beat.
Having a strict policy allows me freedom to be honest whenever I need to be.
If You Can’t Say No, You’re A Slave
Ryan Holiday wrote an excellent article titled If You Can’t Say No, You’re A Slave.
In it he breaks down how there are always people willing to do you a favor… with expectations that they get something back.
I’m self-aware of my drive to help people out, and by adopting a boundary between friendship and my professional life, it makes my life easier.
You need to be able to ask yourself: do you truly have the power to say no? “Owing” someone is not always just purely financial.
I’m not saying don’t build friendships (hell, that’s my entire ethos to networking); just be aware of how your own bias can get in the way.
I’m more peculiar than most – just find the right balance for you. And being aware of possible conflicts will make navigating it a lot easier.
Don’t let friendships lead you down a slippery slope to somewhere you don’t want to go.
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