It may appear in the form of an email, an inbox or a DM on social media. The message typically starts benignly enough, with a friendly introduction, a brief description, and then an amazing pitch about why you need to partner or do business with the sender. Some of these are scams; some are phishing expeditions; some are templates. But some may actually be legitimate opportunities to enter into a mutually beneficial relationship.

I have been approached enough in the last seven years that I now have a non-scientific and non-empirical approach for determining if I delete, mark as junk, block, reply, or partner. Because acronyms help us to remember important information, I call my system M.O.S: Mission, Opportunity, Social. M.O.S. is a simple and effective way to determine if partnering with someone is a good idea.

Mission alignment or mission adrift

Whether it is publicly stated, written down, or just carried in our hearts, we all tend to have a mission: something that guides our actions, decisions, and relationships. When vetting potential business partners, it is worth the time to conduct a little research. What is this person/company’s mission? Does it align with yours?

If you partner with someone whose mission conflicts with yours or leads to an area of either business or personal ambiguity, it will affect the partnership. For example, if your goal is to enter into a partnership for altruistic purposes and the other person is looking strictly at the bottom line, you will probably clash at some point. The key is avoiding that clash.

In his book Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t, Jim Collins uses the analogy of having the right people on your bus. He writes:

You are a bus driver. The bus, your company, is at a standstill, and it’s your job to get it going. You have to decide where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, and who’s going with you.

Leaders of companies that go from good to great start not with “where” but with “who.” They start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. And they stick with that discipline—first the people, then the direction—no matter how dire the circumstances.

If you are heading north and another passenger wants to head south, you will not reach the same destination. Someone will have to get off of the bus.

Opportunity or opportunist

The right opportunity can serve as a launching pad that introduces our work to new clients and presents us with new opportunities to grow and expand our business. Who does not want this?

The problem is that not all opportunities are the right ones or the right ones at the right time. Opportunists tend to prey on people who may be vulnerable or susceptible to the right words sprinkled with just a pinch of charisma. Even the most guarded and intelligent people can get caught in an opportunist’s net. As with most of the things on the list, it is important that you listen with your ears, process with your brain, and follow your gut.

Intuition is not given the credit that it deserves in the business world—perhaps because it is not quantifiable. There are typically flags that go up when dealing with an opportunist, and the largest one revolves around execution and follow-through. What is this person’s track record? Have they done for others what they claim that they will do for you?

Ask for data, documentation, referrals, recommendations. And most important, do due diligence. Of course, not everyone has a digital imprint, but most people do. Learn as much as you can, especially considering that business partnerships require the exchange of money, time, and precious resources.

Social media real or really real

I have a mercurial relationship with social media. On one hand, I love it, and I am thankful for how it has led to greater visibility for my work and my brand. On the other hand, the people who use it to create facades or veneers irk me.

Because of the nature of my work, I meet people who are literally from all walks of life. This has led to some amazing partnerships and some worthwhile partnerships. It has also taught me a valuable lesson about people who profess one thing on social media, but whose real lives are mismatched.

Let’s be honest: Anyone can create a fabulous life, or business, on social media. Some eye-catching photographs, eloquently worded posts, and dynamically shot video footage can give the impression of a time-tested, well-established business. But, is it really real?

In many instances, yes, it is. People have legitimate business and they simply use social media as a marketing tool to further expose their work. However, there are also people who use those social media businesses as virtual shells. When it comes to potentially partnering with someone you've met in a virtual space, I highly recommend that you don’t allow the fast pace of social media to prevent you from taking your time.

You may want to Google the person or start following them on social media, especially if they have a business page. Ask for a website address, but keep in mind that some legitimate businesses do not have them. Lastly, if you feel comfortable, coordinate a phone call or a virtual meeting (Zoom.com has a free option). Try to learn as much as you can. And again, trust your gut. If a partnership is worth it, the other person should understand why you are treating the opportunity as if it is a marathon and not a sprint.

This approach is not foolproof, but it has helped me save valuable time and energy when dealing with potential business partners and co-collaborators.