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How to be Creative with Collaborations to Grow Your Business

For small business like Creatively Belle, the budget for advertising is very tiny as I simply don’t have the funds for things not to work. I also easily understand that getting my work out there is really important.

So like many small business owners I’ve figured out that collaborations with other business owners can make a huge difference. This has particularly come home to me with a display I’m using at market to show case my popular white lace imprint ceramic bird necklace.

I bought the top last year to display the long necklace at market and it has made the world of difference, showing customers how very easy it is to style the top and the necklace, it lets people see how they could make it work for themselves or as a perfect present.

The popular white bird long necklace by Creatively Belle as seen at The Rocks Markets

The popular white bird long necklace by Creatively Belle as seen at The Rocks Markets in Sydney

I only decided to the buy the top after my market friend, Cherry, asked to borrow the necklace for one of her displays. It sold for both of us, it was a real eye opener, particularly for me as I tend to have busier displays, liking the hunt through designs idea. This has made me realise how important it is to style a display.

It is a simple collaboration but it is profitable. I’ve more than tripled my sales of this necklace because of the presentation with the top. While my market friend has currently sold out of this design and is struggling to get the right fabric to make another run of them. But I’m still sending customers to her stall with the expectation that they’ll like her range – it is still working as a win/win.

8 Ways to Make Collaborations Work

I’m reminded every market just how important collaborations are for growing the business and it has set me thinking, what makes a good collaboration?

Here are 8 key considerations to make collaborations work:

1. Be really clear with each other about expectations, requirements and abilities.

2. Share information about the products/services and the businesses so each can appropriately answer questions about the other.

3.Cross promoting is very important so make sure you both understand what’s required and expected. For me this is a big thing, I believe in cross promoting and making it work for both involved.

4. Be ready to start with an experiment and take it further based on results and feedback. While this is a traditional approach it has recently been referred to as the lean startup methodology.

5. Look to the audience you both have, what are the cross overs, are there any clashes? Are you competitors? I’m friends with other jewellery makers at The Rocks Markets and we refer customers to each other regularly, for us it is about the visitors to our markets having a positive experience so they talk about it favourably with friends and family, we want people to come back and to recommend our market so the promoting of our direct competitors is something we do.

6. If you want to collaborate with bloggers think about what they need, not about what you must achieve. They need good quality content and cross promoting, so look after their needs.

7. Be willing to trade, as a market girl I’m completely use to trading, money of course is a form of trading but it’s not limited to this narrow view, trading can be as varied as we all are, consider trading via cross promoting on different social media platforms – you’re strong on instagram and I’m strong on Twitter so lets share our audiences, or maybe it’s interviews and blog stories, maybe it’s product for goodie bags – just think in terms of trading with each other and be clear about what the trade is.

8. Always make sure it is a win/win situation, both need to benefit and both need to feel that they are part of a win/win project.

What is Collaboration

Think broadly about what is a collaboration, it can be show casing products like what I’m doing at market, it can be show casing product through competitions and providing the blogger or publisher with sharable content, it can be working together on seminars and spreading the word about your businesses to a broader audience; it is only limited by your imagination.

Sponsorship can be a form of collaboration and sponsorship can be money or value in kind – again, a form of trading and usually around audiences. Often sponsorship relationships are more formalised but lessons from this can be easily transferred to collaborations.

When you need ideas to get you going just look around you and there’ll be loads of examples, some subtle, other’s are labelled as partners and sponsors. It’s a bit like the idea that recycling is a new concept when it really only skipped part of a western generation, they rest of the world has been reusing and recycling for centuries. Collaborations are everywhere and they are powerfully useful for small business.

Bringing Creativity into Your Collaboration

Many business owners fear that it is really hard to show what they do in a creative manner – that people perceive their services and products as anything but creative and interesting.

A simple solution to this is to bring some creativity into your collaborations. So for example you’re an accountant and your target audience are successful entrepreneurs who have grown a thriving business from scratch. You know that these clients value creativity and original ideas. You fear that they see accounting as boring and will be attracted to a firm that shows a bit of flare as well as doing a great job. So get involved with a creative business owner, work on a collaboration with her that will benefit both of you. She gets to show case her work to your clients and you are shown as supporting local artisans and bringing creativity into the daily lives of your busy clients. It can be as simple as that.

Of course, the details of the collaboration will often have a few more layers but the message remains, we can easily show what we appreciate and value by what we share.

If your accountant was talking with you about an interesting conversation they had with a local ceramist at an artisan market about their experience of current retail sales you’d think they were getting out doing some interesting things. If they had the conversation with you about working on a collaboration or sponsorship with a local ceramist to offer valued clients artisan gifts you’d be happily surprised that they’re doing something so different to all the other accountants out there.

While I’m of course the artisan ceramist jewellery maker is this scenario you can easily substitute other creative business owners and their treasures. And if you need ideas of different products and makers then just get along to where they sell their work at markets and fairs. Admittedly not all makers are business focused but many are. You’d be surprised at how many stall holders are the sole income providers for their households.

How to Get Started with Collaborations

My general philosophy with new projects is to get my ideas down on paper, put some structure to them and then start with the low hanging fruit so you can get some wins and experience under the belt.

So look at your own network and those who are obviously interested in collaborations and start the conversation going.

If you don’t know them but know that they work with collaborations and look interesting to you, connect first on social media and then continue reaching out to them. Obviously don’t stalk them, but start nurturing the relationship and see where it goes.

Keep in mind collaborations can be between businesses of different sizes. Cherry’s fashion business is much bigger than my business, she has a knack for fast fashion and I like artisan work, there’s a difference between our businesses. But that hasn’t stopped our collaboration working for both of us. I did buy the top but that’s because I want to use it at a range of my markets and fairs, not just the one that we do together.

Large companies can benefit enormously from working with small businesses. Of course you do you need to keep in mind that budgets are very different and it wouldn’t necessarily look any good for the small business to be seen to be sponsoring the large corporation (or government agency), particularly when you’re thinking in terms of credibility and authenticity.

So don’t be afraid of approaching a business when there’s a big size difference. Look for the win/win and be open to exploring different ideas.

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