Last week, in “Just say No to the Newspaper", you were challenged to rethink your views on the effectiveness of traditional advertising for small business.
This post is part of a series on advertising for today's small buisness. I'll be highlighting responsive, low cost alternatives that will
expand your market
find true fans for your start-up
and make the most ofevery dollar you spend
These alternative methods have produced results in my own ventures- or those of my close colleagues- and all cost under $2,500.
Note: If you are an artist, entrepreneur, or small business with insight to share- email me at email@example.com. I’d love to hear what has worked to make you successful!
What do you think advertising is?
Most new business owners miss out on great advertising opportunities because they aren’t thinking about what advertising actually is.
Advertising is a part of marketing and branding as a whole that envelopes anything providing reach into a market.
Simply put: if you’re doing something and it increases awareness of your business- it’s advertising.
Erase for a moment your thoughts of print, half-off coupons, and windshield fliers. Think of every interaction you’ve had that has brought someone to your business. That’s advertising. Now think of every interaction that someone else has had that has brought someone to your business. That’s also advertising.
Anytime you reach to a market- it’s advertising.
The old marketing phrase “word of mouth is the best form of advertising” is cliche. However, it rings true when it challenges us to think beyond the box of a print ad and consider every interaction that has brought a client to our business. If you can retrain yourself to think of all reach as a form of advertising, you will have tapped the powerful underlying truth that has made thousands of small businesses thrive without a single dollar spent on traditional advertising.
The Best Free Advertising
Collaboration is the most powerful form of advertising you can leverage as a small business. When done well, it can connect you to more customers than you will ever need. It’s also brand enhancing, giving you reach without a reputation for being salesy or cheap. Best of all for those start-up shoe-string budgets- it’s free.
Collaboration works equally well for brick and mortars focused on a geographically localized market as it does for artists and ecommerce based businesses. It’s focus is different than networking. The goal of collaboration being to create mutually beneficial opportunities for both you and your collaborators to reach into each other’s market.
In networking, the goal is to advance your own brand, reputation, or position by connecting with industry players ahead of you in the game. Collaboration is about create alliances between equals, banding together to advance together.
While creating an effective collaboration strategy doesn’t need to cost money, it does cost time. To prevent burnout and still use this method effectively, collaboration needs to be a part of a balanced overarching brand and marketing strategy.
Before starting this process, evaluate how much time you have and what your time is worth. Just like determining the ROI of a traditional or social media ad campaign, you should have a clear expectation of what outcome you expect from using collaboration as advertising. By keeping track of the “dollar worth” of your time, and the return it brings, you can make adjustments to your strategy to find what has the best return on your time. As with any practice, the more you see its success the more likely you are to stick with it.
Whether you are starting from scratch as an unknown in your market, or are a successful small business looking to deepen your market share, there’s no better time than now to start creating collaborative opportunities. Investing in collaboration produces results in compounding return.
If you’ve never used collaboration as part of your advertising outreach, start small. Expect it to take 2-3 months to begin establishing a strong base. As you grow your partnership base and create consistent collaborative opportunities, the “cost” of pursuing collaboration lessens in proportion to the return.
Finding Your People
One of the best aspects of collaboration is it’s non-salesy, genuine approach to creating connection in your community. Reaching out to others to create opportunities for collaboration taps the Power of Gifting. Focusing on your willingness to give potential partners access to your market, as well as gifting them a genuine reason for them to reconnect with their own, creates a dually beneficial relationship.
Collaboration creates an association between you and your partner from the view of your market. Be wise and choose partnerships and opportunities that don’t violate the trust of your current market or distract from your brand. Collaboration should not only expand your market reach, but strengthen your brand.
Here's how to start brainstorming a list of great collaborators for your venture:
1. Look to Your Market
One of the strengths of collaboration allowing your business to access crossover markets that might not otherwise be accessed by direct word of mouth. Before zeroing in on potential partnerships that are great for this purpose, you must know what those secondary markets are in your own business.
Make a list describing in broad terms what your current customer base is and weight them into either your target or secondary market. Not sure what a target market is? Learn more here.
For Maeva’s Coffee, our market looks like this:
Most businesses outside the food and beverage industry will have a more focused list. In most cases, you’ll discover your business has one of two primary people types who make up 75% of your existing customer base with a few profiles that encompass your other clientele. This is similar to the principle put forth by Italian mathematician Pareto, who posited that eighty percent of results come from twenty percent of a group that engages with it.
The more narrow your target market is, the more likely you already have a strong, organic word-of-mouth advertising connection happening in that market. To make the most of collaboration, look for opportunities focused on your secondary market.
2. Find Partners with Market Overlap
Choose a market from your list and start looking for blogs, podcasts, neighborhood associations, non-profits, and other businesses whose target market overlaps with a section of your own market analysis.
Make sure you’re approaching markets that have access to your business, especially if your business a brick and mortar. For instance, Maeva’s is a non-corporate, non-franchise coffee house with a single location so I focus on partners who have reach within our own geographic concentration.
Occasionally, in our coffee business, I do reach out to partners beyond our locale- for example, we feature product from guest roasters who may be thousands of miles away. However, these partnerships are meant to build brand awareness, enhance industry education, and provide an elevated experience for existing clientele- not build our market as a whole.
3. List Focused Ideas for Each Potential Partnership
Ideas can range from article or audio content, to merchandising opportunities, events, or cross promotion. The opportunities you present to potential partners should play towards their strengths. Personalizing your ideas towards the very characteristics that attract you to working with them is a surefire way to collaborative success.
For instance, with Maeva’s Coffee, my current collaborative list looks like this:
1. Market: College Student/Dental School
Idea: Limited Release Seasonal Merch Design
2. Market: Female Home/PT Career
Partners: Honey+Clove Co.
Idea: Article Pitch
3. Market: White Collar Professional
Idea: Winter Palate Immersion Series
And it goes on. If you have an idea that you’ve never seen done in your area, as long as it fits the perimeter of strengthening your brand and reaching into a new market, don’t be afraid of pursuing it. Not all partnerships or opportunities will pan out, but creating a big “dream” list is the first step towards great relationships with area partners.
4. Make an "A" and "B" List to Start Focusing Your Time
Time matters. All entrepreneurs know that. Make a commitment to reach out to 2-3 potential collaborators a month and start getting things on the calendar.
If can be nerve wracking to approach someone with an idea and ask for a “yes”. This is doubly true if your community or industry doesn’t have an existing history of collaboration. Creating an environment of collaboration has to start somewhere- and usually that means with someone. Whenever I get nervous, I look to neighborhood building business rockstars like Lynne McDaniel, Chicago based vintage furniture dealer who revitalized an entire district in her city by fostering a network of businesses on her street.
My favorite take away from collaborative geniuses like Lynne? Don't Be A Stranger. Making time to know people will make collaboration a breeze. Show up to grand openings. Click through on local blogs. Make the time to show your support by leaving genuine comments or supportive clicks on social media. Set an example of support before you think of, or need, collaboration.
Of course, you can pitch to potential partners you don’t know, but taking a moment to build familiarity not only creates a healthy microeconomy in your community, it makes it easier to collaborate in the future.
My go-to method is reaching out by email or Facebook message. Approaching in-person is great, but if you’ve built familiarity, writing allows a potential partner to consider your ideas on their own schedule. I love my colleagues and small business partners, but knowing how crazy things can get in my own business, who knows what’s happening in theirs? Most community creators prefer written communication, especially if the idea is something that needs consideration.
Before I show you a sample of an email I just sent to the ladies who run Honey+Clove Co., remember that your communication, and idea for collaboration, should be:
Generous (always give more than you’re asking for!)
Unique and specific to their strengths
Great for both your market and your potential partner’s market
Here’s my message:
(No-Brainer Tip #1: Use their name! Talk to you potential partner as you would want to be approached)
I’ve been following your blog for a the last couple of months and I noticed your “Eats + Drinks” Section. The farmer’s market blackberry mojito? Heck. Yes.
(Before sending this email, I’ve met Stacey and her partners before. They’ve supported our business’ kickstarter, we’ve hosted them at our small market, I’ve bought cool pieces from their shop for our business’ decor. We’ve had a relationship that is internally supportive- now I want to extend the invitation for us to take that support into each other’s markets through collaboration. Also, their mojito recipe is genuinely tasty. Check it out.)
I don’t know how far out you are scheduling content, but I wanted to get your feedback on doing a guest post from Maeva’s in the fall.
At Maeva’s, we craft all of our flavored syrups from recipes I’ve developed. When the weather cools off, Pumpkin Spice is on everyone’s mind and I would love to share the recipe for our secret Maeva’s pumpkin spice latte syrup. It’s super tasty in dessert bars and baked into pancakes- I’d love to see how your readers decided to use it!
(Here’s where I’m offering to provide content that no one else has access to that I think their target market would really enjoy. When I share my shop recipes, they are usually covered by an NDA. Offering to release this popular content is something special, uncommon, and only something I can gift.)
Let me know what you think and when you have space in your posting schedule.
(This is me being considerate of the behind-the-scenes business commitments they have that I’m unaware of. I’m contacting them 6-8 weeks before this content would be at its most relevant so they have time to think about this opportunity on their own terms without feeling rushed)
Keep being awesome!
Collaboration remains my favorite free form of advertising. When done well, it becomes the perfect illustration of glorified community phrase "a rising tide floats all ships". In running The Milton Schoolhouse small business incubator, I truly believe that strengthening your own business while sincerely growing the microeconomy in your surrounding market works to create success in all definitions of the word. However, collaboration, like any form of outreach, should never make up the entirety of your strategy.
This article is part of a larger series on rethinking your advertising strategy as an artist, start-up, or small business. Subscribe to the RSS feed on the right or follow The Milton Schoolhouse to learn the how to use other non-traditional methods to create a successful advertising strategy for your small business.
Next, is it possible to be generous and still make a good return on investment? Absolutely! Learn how to turn your natural altruism into business growth the smart way by supporting good causes and local non-profits.