Collaboration is often the only way for start-ups to begin scaling and expanding their reach. With budgets tight for many small business owners, collaborating with other companies is a great way to access new projects, customers and markets.
Collaboration offers the opportunity to learn from others and benefit from bringing new skills into your business without employing someone. It can also be lonely being an entrepreneur, so it’s great to work with others – collaboration can help keep you motivated and productive.
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10 ways to master collaboration
1. Join a business support group
Becoming a member of a business support group, professional association or trade body is a great way to meet other businesses and form collaborations. Many founders prefer to do business with people who are part of the same community. So by joining one, and being an active member, you’ll likely find other entrepreneurs interested in working with you. Most groups offer events, online directories and other opportunities to make connections. Here’s a useful list of small business associations to help get you started.
2. Run a joint event
Joining up with another business to run an event is a good way to reach a wider audience. It could be an event that educates or inspires your customers, a product launch or even a party. Look at sharing costs and promoting it widely, allowing you to hold a much bigger event for less cost than you could alone.
3. Skills swap
Swapping skills can be highly valuable and cost-effective for start-ups on a budget. A designer, for example, could provide a logo to a social media expert in return for advice on digital marketing. A photographer could arrange a free photoshoot for another business owner in return for them being able to use the images on their marketing leaflets.
4. Cross-promotion and co-branding
Look for complementary brands that might be interested in co-branding.
Joining forces to cross-promote each other’s products or services can be a powerful way to build awareness and break into new markets. A jewellery company, for example, could partner with a fashion brand, or an accountant could join up with a marketing firm to refer clients to each other.
You could promote each other’s products or create a specific event or service that brings the two brands together. A good example of co-branding is Red Bull’s partnership with GoPro. The energy drinks firm and camera company created the Stratos event, which saw Australian skydiver Felix Baumgartner jump from a helium balloon 24 miles above the earth.
5. Run a competition
Joining up with another brand to run a competition in which you both give something away as a prize is a good way to generate interest in your business. You’ll reach new people as the other brand will share your business with their customers and followers.
Use social media to promote the competition and encourage entrants to take actions such as joining your email list or following you on social media. Services like Rafflecopter and Woobox are useful tools for running online competitions.
6. Find a mentor
Many experienced entrepreneurs are willing to work with new business owners to share their advice and expertise. It’s a good idea to find someone who has experience building a business in your sector.
Before you go about finding a mentor, think about why you want one. Is it someone to act as a sounding board, listen to you talk through your challenges and help you work out solutions? Or do you want a more action-orientated mentor to tell you how to run your business? Those are two different things and will lead to different mentors.
Once you know why you want one, seek out people you think would be willing to help. Attend business events, use social media and ask friends and family for recommendations. You can also join business groups to meet more experienced entrepreneurs. If you successfully apply for a Start Up Loan, it includes 12 months of free mentoring.
7. Social media influencers
A very modern way of collaborating is working with social media influencers. At one end of the scale are celebrities who have millions of followers on platforms like Instagram. At the other end are micro-influencers who may only have a few thousand followers but enjoy strong engagement with a specific group of people.
This tactic works particularly well for product businesses. You can either pay influencers to promote your business or give them free products in return for a review or a mention. There are advertising rules around using influencers to ensure people aren’t misled. But if you find the right influencer who has a strong following within your target market, it can generate many sales.
8. Joint bids for work
If you’re a service business that tenders for contracts, submitting a joint bid with another business can give you access to bigger customers that you couldn’t serve on your own. This may require a formal joint venture. You might also want an arrangement in which one business acts as the main contractor and the other as a sub-contractor. Consult a lawyer for advice.
9. Rent space and pop-up
Many start-ups begin to scale when they realise it’s time to move from working at home to an external office. As pandemic restrictions are easing, hybrid working – spending some time working from home and some time in an office – is also a trend for start-ups.
Workspaces can be expensive, so one way to reduce the costs is to rent space from another business. It could be a few desks in their office or space in their retail store. Some shops also offer other small businesses the chance to rent shelves within their store to sell their products.
Temporary pop-up shops can be a powerful way to reach customers, so you could join forces with other brands to run one. Pop-ups are also a useful way to test trading in a physical environment before committing to your own full-time retail store. Landlords are increasingly more open to small businesses renting their properties for short periods to run pop-ups.
Running referral programmes is a good way to generate sales. You can either work with other businesses to send potential new customers your way in return for a fee or incentivise existing customers to do so. You can reward customers with promotions such as gift vouchers or discounts on future purchases.
There are several ways to set up referrals. At its most basic, one business can refer customers to another business in exchange for a fee or share of any revenue that customer subsequently spends. More structured referral programmes – known as affiliate schemes or affiliate networks – thrive online. Large organisations such as Amazon or affiliate networks such as Awin pay a fee to websites that refer customers who subsequently buy products and services.
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