Let’s do a little mental exercise. Picture in your mind the vision of a successful CEO, entrepreneur, or business owner. What do you see? What words would you use to describe him or her?

If you’re like most people, you’ll probably think of some words like these:

  • Powerful
  • Tough
  • Smart
  • Calculating
  • Rich
  • Innovative
  • Leader
  • Donald Trump-ish
  • Financially savvy
  • Experienced
  • Driven
  • Fearless
  • A little crazy

But there’s one other defining characteristic that propels people to high level success in just about any field. It’s not strength, or smarts, or even the ability to solve problems.

Successful people value relationships, and excel at building and maintaining them.

We’ve talked quite a bit on this blog about the importance of your relationship with your audience, from the folks who opt in to your email list for the very first time to the frequent customers who keep coming back for more products.

Today, let’s talk about another important relationship you should be developing. That’s a relationship with your partners – the people and businesses who are vital in helping you reach new audiences.

First, what makes someone a partner?

Let’s separate them into two categories:

#1 Paid Partners

Partners who promote your product in exchange for money. These are typically called “Affiliates.”

Affiliates can be bloggers who write a post about your product, driving interest and traffic by endorsing you to their audience. They can also be podcasters, websites, or other online entities who are giving your product a big thumbs up to their audience.

Affiliates must disclose that they’re being compensated by you, in accordance with the guidelines established by the FTC. (Familiarize yourself with those guidelines here.) They utilize tracking links and unique codes so that it’s easy to track when their audience purchases one of your products. Affiliates receive a percentage of those sales, so the more they promote you → the more sales you get → the more money the affiliate makes.

Relationship tip!

This might be a money-for-services agreement, but don’t make the mistake of treating it like “just business.” Treat your affiliates like members of the team. Keeping them happy is important for your long-term success.

#2 Reciprocal Partners

Partners who promote your product for something other than money.

Reciprocal partners are usually bloggers whose editorial policy prohibits them from accepting compensation to endorse a product. They can also be “Good Samaritans” who promote you out of the goodness of their heart, without asking anything in return. In reality, they can be just about anyone who is willing to promote you without payment.

Many reciprocal partners will ask you to guest blog. No, guest blogging isn’t a chore! It’s an opportunity to get your expertise in front of fresh eyes. (Remember to include a link to your website at the end of your post and drive traffic to your site.)

In exchange, your partner gets the clout of having an expert appear on their blog. And, when you tell your readers to check out your guest post, you’ll drive additional traffic to your partner’s site. Tit for tat.

Relationship tip!

Since money doesn’t enter into this agreement, it’s even more important that you work to provide your reciprocal partners with value. Talk to them to find out what they really need from you. Offer to go above and beyond. Treat their audience and their platform with respect. Do all this, and they’ll keep asking you back for more.

How do you find a mutually beneficial partnership?

There are – and we’re not exaggerating – about a billion ways to find yourself some partners-for-life. Thanks to the power of the internet, you’re only limited by your imagination. The key is to seek out people, bloggers and companies that will find value in you and your product.

Think about your product as part of a vertical. What other people in your vertical will benefit from working with you? What types of people does it make sense for you to start a relationship with?

Let’s say you’re a diamond miner. (Conflict-free, of course.)

It wouldn’t make sense to partner with other diamond miners, because they’re your direct competition. And it wouldn’t make sense to partner with a company that specializes in something completely different, like landscaping equipment. But you can seek out partnerships with shippers, gem distributors, jewel cutters and jewelry retail stores.

When you’re looking for partners, give each prospect the Ice Cream Test. Would working with this person be like selling ice cream in the Arctic tundra – completely ridiculous – or like selling ice cream at the beach – a perfect fit?

That’s not to say you shouldn’t be creative in your hunt for the perfect partner! Be specific in what you’re looking for, but not exclusive. You may be surprised at the communities that might be perfect for your product that you haven’t thought of yet.

One of our favorite examples of this is the infamous legend of “Diapers and Beer.” A retail chain noticed a correlation in sales of diapers and beer on Saturday nights, as young fathers sent out to pick up diapers decided to pick up a case of beer, too.

The moral of the story? Put your primary focus on partners with relevant audiences, but don’t be afraid to think outside the box.

But where do you find these mythical partners? The good news is, they’re human beings just like you and me, and they’re hanging out in all the same places you and I hang out. Here’s a magic little list that will get you on the right path.

Top 9 places to find partners (in no particular order…)

1. Amazon Best Sellers
Look for established experts who may be open to a partnership by perusing the Amazon Best Sellers list. Find the list that most closely relates to your area of expertise, and check out the top 10 (or top 100) authors…then Google their information, take a look at their blog or website to see if they might be a good match, and get in touch.

2. Simple Search
Google is a no-brainer for finding affiliates. Try a variety of searches, starting with these:

    • Affiliate marketing
    • Affiliate marketing programs
    • Affiliate partnership programs
    • Affiliate bloggers

Then add keywords relating to your niche. You’ll find thousands, if not millions, of helpful results to explore.

3. Google Blog Search
Most affiliates are bloggers, and it can be tricky to weed through general search results to find the right blogs. Fortunately, Google’s dedicated Blog Search makes it easy for you to find top bloggers. Just pop in a few keywords related to your area of expertise, and you’re on your way.

4. Conferences
Experts who speak at conferences are often bloggers with affiliate programs. Go online, search for conferences in your field, then dive into the presenter and panelist lists to find possible partners.

5. Associations
The same goes for trade associations, where you can find lists of people who are active in your field. Seek out relevant organizations and browse their websites to find their leadership, members and participants. Then, search for them online to see who’s actively blogging and who promotes other people’s products.

6. Your Network
Don’t forget to canvass the people in your personal and professional network for leads and suggestions. You probably know at least a handful of bloggers, and they would probably love to work with you! Plus, having a personal relationship already established goes a long way in creating a strong partnership.

7. Facebook Groups
Facebook is chock full of “Groups” of like-minded people discussing all sorts of topics. Use Facebook’s smart search to find groups in your niche, and join a few. You’ll begin to meet people who are passionate about the same things you are, and who may be interested in promoting on your behalf.

8. Twitter Lists
Once you’ve found a potential partner from any of the above suggestions, don’t stop there. Chances are, that person knows lots of other people who may also be great partner material. To find out who’s in their network, look at who they follow on Twitter!

9. Editorial
When you’re reading articles about your niche, take note of the writer’s name and their interview subjects. This is a perfect way to get a sense for who’s actively writing and promoting in your community. Most writers have a byline that’s linked to their website or email address, and many interview subjects also share that information. It’s simple to track them down and say “hi.”

Okay, so you have a list of amazing potential partners that you’ve pulled from every corner of the internet. Now what do you do? How do you start this relationship?

Research them.

Find out whatever you can about them through their blog, website, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and Instagram. Do a little bit of social stalking – we won’t tell anyone. There’s a handy tool called Rapportive that pulls up people’s public social info as you’re writing them an email, so you can reference all of their social channels in one easy spot.

Get introduced.

Nothing builds a foundation of trust quite like a personal referral. If you aren’t sure if you know anyone in common, use LinkedIn’s “degrees of separation” tool to find out.

Provide value.

If you want someone to partner with you for no money, you absolutely have to show them why it will be worth it. Even if it’s a paid affiliate relationship, you should still be prepared to show how a relationship with you will benefit them. Offering tiered products is a great way to show your partner that you have “something for everyone” in their audience, no matter their budget or level of expertise.

Make it about them.

This is key in any relationship. You can’t expect to email a partner with a pitch that’s all about you. Draw them in, explain how you’d like to help them. Be a human being, not a sales robot.

Respect the list.

Every partner weighs the pros and cons of giving you access to their audience and their email list. It’s their baby! Their reputation is at stake when they endorse you. If you treat your partners with respect and provide them a quality experience, they’ll trust you to do the same with their list.

Don’t be creepy.

If they aren’t interested, leave them alone. If they’re on the fence, find out why instead of strong-arming them. If you’ve found their address through your social stalking, don’t show up at their house uninvited. Play it smart.

Above all, be the person they will want to partner with. When you approach new partners, remember: you’re the President and CEO of You, Incorporated. And like any leader, the quality of your relationships will determine the extent of your success.

This kind of loyal, long-term commitment doesn’t happen overnight. You have to actively reach out, confidently promote yourself, and stick with your partners for the long haul.

It’s the golden rule of affiliate marketing: treat partners the way you want to be treated.

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