As a small business owner, you’ve got a leg up on faceless corporations, because you’re a real person with a great brand story and people want to work with you. From customers who prefer to spend their hard-earned cash shopping small to other business owners in your industry or town, this is an advantage you should leverage any time you can.
One of the best ways to do that is by working with other brands. Small business collaboration can be a serious boost to your bottom line when done right. Whether you work with other local businesses or run a cross promotion with business owners in your industry, collaboration is a great opportunity to grow your reach.
Ahead, learn about collaboration ideas by diving into the stories of other business owners who ran four very different, and very successful, collaborations.
How to collaborate with other businesses
Like-minded business owners can team up on campaigns to create joint promotional newsletters or run giveaways—just two of many ways you can work with other brands. These four founders used collabs to help find a larger audience and engage existing customers.
1. Work together on “traditional” promotion
When the retailers on Mill Street in Almonte, Ontario—a small town just outside of Ottawa—wanted to get more foot traffic, they knew that, individually, traditional promotion like a magazine ad was way out of reach. So they turned to other local businesses to supercharge their efforts.
Their small businesses, which include Cheerfully Made Goods, Kentfield Kids, and a range of other utterly charming small businesses, didn’t have the budget to make a hefty investment in traditional advertising.
Through small business collaboration, 10 of Almonte’s merchants contribute monthly for a collective page in a regional food magazine. “Instead of it costing us a thousand bucks, we each pay $80 a month,” says Emily Arbour, owner of Cheerfully Made Goods. “We don’t necessarily get our own ad, but it’s for Almonte. If the town’s busy, then we all benefit, including me.”
Plus, there’s no need to limit your promotional collabs to just the stuff you couldn’t pay for on your own. “We often promote each other,” Emily says. “If I’m having a workshop but I also know that Tin Barn is having a sale, it will always be at the bottom of my email. We do that type of thing for one another.”
🏬 Success Story: Community is at the heart of this small town's commercial success
Emily Arbour paired up with other local business owners to bolster main street's appeal. 👉 Read Emily's story
- The next time you’re looking at a promotional opportunity that seems just out of reach, think about who else in your small business community might also benefit. There are many local business owners who would love to work with like-minded owners who share the same values and ideals.
- Working together can drive growth for not just your business, but the community as a whole—and that’s good for everyone.
2. Share space to make retail a reality
Retail collaborations aren’t just about cutting costs. Done right, collaborating on retail space can actually help you grow your business. Just ask Gareth Davies, proprietor of Ottawa’s Maker House.
His store, which stocks local, hand-crafted home goods on a trendy neighborhood’s main street, started as a pop-up. When it came time to commit to a full-time, multi-year lease, he knew he wanted a bit of backup.
“We started as a pop-up shop in this space, since it was bigger than we ever could have committed to out of the gate as a new retail store,” says Gareth. “When it came time to pony up and pay a full market rate for a three- to five-year lease, I looked at partnerships I built in the pop-up phase to see who might be interested in sharing the space.”
Luckily, partnerships had also been looking at him—specifically, Brad Campeau, the founder of Brew Donkey. Brew Donkey runs local tours that highlight Ottawa’s thriving craft beer scene, and when Brad saw the Maker House space, he knew it might be a match made in heaven.
“He was trying to grow to more of a Main Street presence, instead of having tours meet in a nondescript building that was way off Main Street—still urban, but hard to find,” Gareth shared of his talks with Brad. “So he approached me to make sure he was on my radar, because he knew that the pop-up thing would end eventually.”
Since they were already acquainted (as Gareth puts it, Ottawa is essentially a “small big town”) the partnership was a no-brainer.
“We pretty much knew right away it was going to be a good fit, and then we ended up building this perfect little space at the front of the store that looks like a bar, that you would walk up to and order swag. It’s like a bar meets a merch table.”
Gareth credits the significant overlap in target audiences for the partnership’s continued success. It turns out, people who want to support local in their beverage selection are also interested in supporting local in their shopping, and vice versa.
“Beer is part of the retail formula that is probably under-tapped,” Gareth says, making sure to note the well-placed pun. “But it’s true. Every month, we host parties and social nights where you’re in here, you’re in the space, you might be shopping and looking at things, but you’re also here to meet up with friends and taste craft beer samples from a local brewery.”
Another example of collaboration is shown here in this giveaway co-sponsored by Maker House and Heritage Bee Co.
- Partnerships like this one give both businesses the opportunity to get their brand in front of new and highly targeted audiences. Finding the right partner is critical to a symbiotic relationship: ensure your audiences overlap so you can both raise awareness beyond your current network.
- The cost of physical space, especially in a prime location, isn’t an expense some small businesses can absorb all on their own. Collaborations make retail a viable option for businesses of all sizes.
3. Launch an epic, niche gift guide
With prime gift-giving season on the horizon, it’s no surprise that gift guides are on your radar—but when one group of small business owners started thinking about them, they didn’t jump straight to pitching their products to other people’s guides.
They made their own instead.
“The vintage market is definitely a niche market,” shares JayDee Mahs, owner of Third Shift Vintage.
When she’s not scouring vintage stores for new finds, JayDee collaborates with a team of six other vintage store business owners across the US and coordinates their group efforts via a Slack channel. When it came time for promotional ideas, they all noted one thing was missing.
“There aren’t a lot of websites that promote vintage as gifts,” says JayDee. “Our team brainstormed ways we could promote the items in our shops in a fun and interesting way—and the idea of gift guides was started.”
So how do they do it in practice?
“All seven of us contributed to the gift guide—from the design phase through to the production phase. We discussed the tools we would need to create the guide, the format we wanted to use, how the guide would be marketed (especially beyond the blog), and how we would track the success of the guide,” says JayDee. “Each of us contributed items to be featured, as well as the text that would be used to describe those items.”
For the final touches, one of their team members serves as an editor and draws on graphic design skills to bring the images and layout together.
“Now that we know the mechanics of putting together a gift guide and ways to successfully promote it, we are really looking forward to finishing the guides we are currently working on. These upcoming guides are going to be exciting and fun, and hopefully just as successful, or more, than last year,” says JayDee.
- Gift guides aren’t just for the busy holiday shopping season. Think about how you might collaborate with other brands on gift guides for any time of year, from back-to-school gifts to Mother’s Day collections.
- Free content ideas like gift guides are great ways to attain more reach. Guest post on the blogs or social accounts of other brands, and invite guest posting content on your own.
4. Create collaborative product lines
Rachelle Tessier’s small business, Project Pine Designs, makes beautiful handmade chalkboards, and a whole range of chalkboard-accented products: glassware, wall planters, and even gift tags. She does it all—except for chalkboard-lettering, which wasn’t an issue until she decided to add a new service to her business.
“I had been playing around with the idea of offering chalkboard rentals as another branch of the business, but I wanted there to be a value-add of being a one stop shop,” says Rachelle. “It can be easy to find a chalkboard on Kijiji or at a craft store, but I wanted to be able to offer the whole package with a locally made, hand-lettered chalkboard option for brides and businesses in Ottawa.”
As an involved member of her community, Rachelle knew that there were talented hand-letterers who had thriving local businesses doing exactly that. Instead of trying to do everything, she decided to support a fellow entrepreneur by bringing them into the fold.
Luckily, she’d been following Chalked by Mabz, a local hand-lettering service business run by Marie-Andree Brisson. Her services were the perfect fit to complement Rachelle’s new offering.
“Mabz’ flexibility and ability to whip up projects within the short rental time frame was exactly what I needed,” says Rachelle. “This has been our first year of collaboration, and I’d say we hit the ground running pretty quickly. Nearly every chalkboard rental I had this year has included the lettering element, and we’re both excited to see what next year’s wedding season has coming our way.”
And beyond just the success of the rental collaborations, Rachelle is quick to point out that there are far more benefits than simply a successful new product line.
“Financially, you are potentially doubling your base of clients, but also, by building each other up, it helps elevate the industry as a whole. Genuinely liking someone’s work and choosing to collaborate with them is a positive reflection of your businesses and brings in amazing referrals.”
- Find other brands who offer complementary products, services, and skills when looking for a partner on product development. Why do everything yourself when you can build relationships with other business owners who do it better?
10 quick collaboration ideas to get started
Ready to dabble in the world of partnerships and collaborations? Knowing how to collaborate with other businesses can feel daunting. As you meet other business owners, there are a number of low-lift collaboration ideas to test the waters. In addition to the ideas in the case studies above, try these tips for working better—together.
- Run a giveaway on social media.
- Create joint promotional newsletters.
- Host a pop-up market and invite the local business community.
- Partner with a local coffee shop or restaurant to feature or use your products.
- Co-host a block party for the local community.
- Guest post on a complementary brand’s social media accounts.
- Invite other brands to take over your social media presence.
- Collaborate on photo shoots to save money (for example, lend your jewelry to another. fashion brand’s shoot and you both benefit from the pics).
- Share the cost of paid advertising.
- Cross promote discounts with other small businesses.
Small business owners are better together
Go beyond networking and add collaborations to your product, sales, and marketing strategies. The most successful collaborations are those that offer benefits to all involved. Get together with complementary brands to bounce ideas, build relationships, and gain access to a new customer base. New businesses can become thriving businesses by combining forces.
Small business collaboration FAQ
How do you collaborate with other small businesses?
At the end of the day, small business collaboration is all about creating win-win relationships with other small businesses who serve similar audiences. You don’t have to have some massive partnership: reach out to other small business owners and try a small-scale business collaboration.
What’s the most popular small business collaboration strategy?
One of the easiest ways to collaborate with other businesses is through cross-promotion. As a business owner, you can partner with other businesses on paid and organic campaigns to reduce cost and increase reach. Local businesses can pool money on a traditional advertisement, and ecommerce brands can promote a joint social giveaway.
What are some of the benefits of small business collaboration?
There are many benefits of small business collaboration, including:
- Create win-win partnerships with like-minded business owners.
- Get exposure to a similar target market.
- Build trust and relationships in your industry.
- Quickly increase revenue through strategic joint partnerships.
- Develop better products by combining your assets with those of other small businesses.
What are some collaboration ideas for local business owners?
What are some collaboration ideas for local business owners?
Local business owners can bolster Main Street’s success by combining resources to reduce costs and reach wider audiences. Some ideas include:
- Hosting a pop-up market and inviting the local business community.
- Partnering with a local coffee shop or restaurant to feature or use your products.
- Co-hosting a block party for the local community.
- Collaborating on photo shoots to save money.
- Sharing the cost of paid advertising like billboards.
- Cross promoting discounts with other small businesses locally.