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Every small business wants to reach new customers, right?

But have you thought about how working together with other businesses can help you to reach those new customers?

When budgets are tight and time even tighter, it’s so easy to get frustrated by your marketing options. Believe me you’re not alone — 35 percent of SMEs say that sales and marketing is their biggest growth barrier.

But over a two year period I’ve seen entrepreneurial brands I know reach 3 million new customers — not by paying for PR or buying advertising — but by partnering up together instead.

When there is no budget for marketing, the way to reach new customers is to work with other brands with those customers and strike up something collaborative to suit you both.

That is Collaborative Marketing at play.

Collaboration Marketing is when you partner with another business so that resources and marketing muscle can be shared. It works best when you have similar target customers (but of course you’re non-competing).

Collaborative Marketing isn’t another marketing channel or tactic. It is an approach. A way of thinking about all your marketing to see if you can reach new customers by doing an activity with a partner brand, or make an existing activity have more of a punch by partnering up.

The savvy entrepreneurial brands doing this are running events together, running special offers and competitions for each other, even creating new products together.

To get you partnering your way to new customers, here are 4 juicy collaborative ideas:

Cross-promote each other via email

Let’s start with perhaps the easiest to implement idea, and since you’ve got an email database, one of the most effective.  It taps into one of your strongest assets — your ability to promote a special offer on your product or service.

Once you find a suitable partner who is interested in collaborating, create a special offer that is just for their customers. Have your partner do the same, and then agree on a series of communication channels to spread the word.

You promote your partner’s offer and they promote yours — ideally you’d include an email newsletter about the offer plus a few weeks worth of social media support.

Suddenly you’ve reached all these new customers and your customers will have the added bonus of getting a special offer that they’re likely to be interested in too. To see how Uber and Hotel Tonight did this simple email marketing exchange, have a read here.

Run an event together

Do you need to get face-to-face with your customers? Or own a business that sells to other businesses? Then this is a good one for you. Simply set up a co-created event and invite existing customers from both your businesses, so each of you get to meet new customers.

Once again, this only works if you’ve matched up with a business that has the right sort of customers, and doesn’t compete with you. If you have an accountancy firm — why not co-host networking drinks with a financial advisor firm to meet each other’s customers?

Similarly, if you have a jewellery brand or boutique, host a trunk event with a bag brand and invite both of your customers. That’s two very specific examples — but it’s an easy idea to replicate specific to your business.

Do social media giveaways

The other asset that most small businesses have in abundance is their product. Now I’m not saying this is free — but it is an asset and for the right opportunity you can give it away in return for the right sort of marketing exposure.

Unbeknown to many, bigger entrepreneurial brands (often those who’ve been the little guy themselves) are really supportive of working with smaller brands. You just need to pitch it right.

Bigger brands often don’t have a problem with audience size, but they do often hunger for great audience engagement. As a result, I’ve seen many young businesses give away one or two of their products so that those bigger brands can run a competition with the product as a prize. The bigger brand gets to run an engaging competition that keeps their followers happy, and the smaller brand gets to reach all of those customers!

Dip a toe into retail

Expanding an online business into physical retail space can be a scary experience — mainly due to the costs involved. Creating a Pop-up shop can be a great way to test the water — but even these can be expensive. So why not find some complementary brands and do one together?

By doing a shared pop-up shop, the costs would be split between you, the environment can be co-curated, and you can take turns running the shop too. Furthermore, as a collaborative effort, all the businesses involved promote the shop via their newsletters, social media, and PR so each brand reaches lots of new customers too.

See how three start-up fashion brands did it here.

About the author: Christina is a marketing specialist, business strategist, as well as an all round make-stuff-happen type. She spent much of her career managing and growing FMCG brands worth in excess of £100 million, and then turned her hand to young start-up brands, and has never looked back since. Her mission is to revolutionise marketing for start-ups and she has founded or co-founded businesses to do just that – from The Nurture Network, that provides part-time marketing managers on-demand, to Brand Gathering – an online platform to help brands partner up, to the social tool Openr that drive traffic from social sharing.