How to grow your network through collaboration

There is so much value in collaborating. See why it's a must-do for every entrepreneur!

Collaborations are the simplest and more genuine marketing method, in my opinion. By partnering up with another business, you are tapping into their network and sharing yours. Here are some ideas you can use for collaborating with another brand.

First, what is collaboration? In the small business sense, it's teaming up with other businesses/bloggers with similar target markets and swapping expertise and marketing power. It could be as simple as exchanging shout outs on social media or it could be collaborating on a new product together. The point is that you are working together to achieve the same goal and both benefiting in one way or another from the collaboration. 

Choose the right collaborators

Before you begin, let's talk about choosing the right partner.  Approach businesses that have the same target market as you and are from a different networking circle. The collaboration should feel natural and not forced. For example if you are a fitness blogger and you collaborate with a water bottle company, it makes sense! They benefit by being recommended by a reputable fitness expert and you benefit by reaching their network with similar interests. If you are a wedding photographer, teaming up with a cake artist, florist or calligrapher is perfect! Choose companies that are able to offer an equal amount of marketing power. I don't mean "likes" on Instagram necessarily but check out their websites and see if their brand calibre is up to par wth yours. Don't shy away from someone who does the same work as you. A photographer pairing with another photographer might seem like too much overlap, but focus on finding complimentary niches and work together to make something brilliant.

It's super important that you lay out the agreement clearly in a contract. There is nothing worse than if they don't hold up their end of the bargain. Make sure deadlines and detailed lists of expectations are in place. Always list out important details you want included in their content when they post the final result. By having all of this in writing it keeps you both accountable to deliver.

The bottom line is that this relationship is important and should be thought of as more than just a one time thing. Since you have the same target markets, they will likely be able to refer clients/readers to you and visa versa. Nurture these relationships and you will be pleased to see what comes from them. Don't be afraid to reach out the next time you come across a brand that you think would fit well with yours.

Here are my ideas for collaborations!

1. Guest blog posts

Now that you have selected a great collaborator consider swapping blog posts on each others' blogs. Since you are an expert in one realm and they are in another but your target markets have the same interests, your readers will benefit from more diversified content and you will benefit from SEO friendly linkbacks and new content on your blog. Don't forget to include a writer's bio complete with your website and a call to action so readers are compelled to click your link and learn more.

You don't necessarily have to swap blog posts. You could also just pitch an idea for a popular blog and participate as a guest contributor. Make sure you are getting one benefit from the blogger and include link backs to your own blog whenever possible. Side note, pitching is an art of its own. Here are some great tips for getting your pitch accepted!

2. Swap Interviews or Spotlights

A popular topic for newsletters is interviewing or spotlighting someone in your industry. Interviews give readers a snapshot of the people you work with, that inspire you and you learn from. It's a great opportunity to show that "community" is very important to you and supporting entrepreneurs is how you live your life - which is what you are asking potential clients to do too.  When selecting questions to ask, keep in mind your readers and what they would likely ask or could benefit from. A great start is asking for tips on the subject your interviewee is an expert in. Or even better asking them how they are able to use your services or products in their work or daily lives.  Everyone appreciates an opportunity to share! In return and if applicable, ask your collaborator to send out a newsletter spotlighting you and your business and do the same for them it's a win-win situation. 

 the talented shay cochrane creates beautiful flat lays for CLIENTS like emily ley and her simplified planner. photo via emilyley.com

the talented shay cochrane creates beautiful flat lays for CLIENTS like emily ley and her simplified planner. photo via emilyley.com

A great example of interviews as collaboration is Shay Cochrane - girl boss extraordinaire and photographer. This month's newsletter included a quick 3 question interview with Emily Ley - of The Simplified Planner, who is her friend and client. Emily offers her tips for narrowing down your product line. I wish I could link to it but guess you have to sign up for Shay's newsletter! It's well worth it, she always provides lots of great tips and freebies. The newsletter interviews are common in her mail outs which I think is a fabulous example of collaboration. Emily gets a shout out and Shay gets beneficial content for her readers. 

3. Collaborate on a new product

Take the collaboration one step further by working together on developing a new idea or product. For example, recently Saffron Avenue - a well know calligrapher and branding expert (SO beautiful!) collaborated with Salted Ink a brand developer and website designer. You might think that their clientele might over lap a bit but when they came together to create some new designs for The Brand Bar - pre-made one of a kind brand kits - the results were stunning! It is a beautiful example of #communityovercompetition. 

 One of the beautiful examples of Salted Ink & Saffron Avenue's collaboration for The Brand Bar.

One of the beautiful examples of Salted Ink & Saffron Avenue's collaboration for The Brand Bar.

If you offer services you could advertise a package with another company that does something you can't do or do very well. Since Wordpress website design isn't my thing, maybe I offer a Wordpress package that includes everything and then bring in a collaborator to do the heavy lifting in the Wordpress design while I focus on branding & content development. Both of us would advertise this type of package on our websites and thus expand our marketing reach! I like that idea, any takers?

4. Styled Shoots

It's very difficult (and expensive) to have all the pieces in place for a successful promotional photoshoot. Photoshoots can be pricey if you are doing it all on your own. If you are in an industry where showing your talents through pictures or videos is part of the gig then a collaborative styled shoot is the way to go. It's putting all that creative genius together with other vendors for one beautiful result. As always, choose your collaborators carefully and make sure they understand your vision and their brand is in line with your core values. Create a mood board so that everyone is on the same page. 

 This freshly squeezed theme styled shoot brought together over a dozen businesses in a BEAUTIFUL COLLABORATION!   Planner:  Honey Lemon Events  // Photography:  Photography by Emma  // Location:  The Date Palm  // Candy:  Blossom & Bean  // Florals:  Tonic Bloom  // Cake:  Vanilla Bean Cakery  // Banner:  Best Day Ever Banners  // Tassel Garland and Confetti:  Genwoo  // Pinata:  Big Ass Pinatas  // Macarons:  Sugar Mama Events  // Cake Pops:  The Cakepop Kitchen  // Stroopwaffels:  Backpacker’s Bites .

This freshly squeezed theme styled shoot brought together over a dozen businesses in a BEAUTIFUL COLLABORATION! 

Planner: Honey Lemon Events // Photography: Photography by Emma // Location: The Date Palm // Candy: Blossom & Bean // Florals: Tonic Bloom // Cake: Vanilla Bean Cakery // Banner: Best Day Ever Banners // Tassel Garland and Confetti: Genwoo // Pinata: Big Ass Pinatas // Macarons: Sugar Mama Events // Cake Pops: The Cakepop Kitchen // Stroopwaffels: Backpacker’s Bites.

My friend at Honey Lemon Events in Toronto recently pulled off her first styled shoot by connecting with local vendors and styling a beautiful photoshoot with Photography by Emma (and a bit of styling help form yours truly). Brands were eager to hop on board to showcase their talents and the photos were stunning! What makes the shoot so valuable to businesses is that everyone agrees to give each participating brand credit when sharing the photos and everyone goes home with beautiful professional photos for their own use. 

5. Brand ambassadors

Brand ambassadors are public figures (or average Joes) that agree to wholeheartedly endorse your services or product. Again, select brand ambassadors wisely! Align yourself with influencers that make sense for your brand. Ensure they will agree to a contract that lays out all the requirements so neither of you are disappointed. Some influencers charge for the this type of relationship while others are happy to do it for free because they also agree your product/service aligns so well with their personal brand.

Influencers don't always come with a huge social media following. Last year, I did a brand ambassador program through my candy business. Those selected were excited to participate because it meant free candy! I made sure to be very selective when choosing my ambassadors by looking at their location, gender, age, ethnic background... because I wanted to mix up the different networks. I included an array of samples, small samples that they could give away to their friends and even included samples from other companies that aligned with my brand as a little surprise. I also included a written letter in the package with my company story, product information and tips for them to be an amazing brand ambassador. I wanted them to be excited when they opened the box! To say the least, the campaign was a success and I have stayed in touch with most of the ambassadors! They continue to be unofficial ambassadors even now. People still ask me every few months if I will be doing it again because it was like winning the candy lottery. Even though the aren't necessarily bloggers, they are influencers in their own circles. Check out the video of one of my brand ambassadors, Sundus A. unboxing her goodies.

In the end, collaboration is about building relationships with people who can help you extend your network. After one collaboration with a business or blogger, you learn a lot about them and it could be the beginning to a great friendship or mentorship. I have met many of my closest friends through collaborations because we inspire and value eachother as entrepreneurs and people. As small business owners, you will find that these relationships become a very important part of your operation. So take good care of them and choose wisely!