12 Drummers Drumming!

Wow! It’s the last day of the 12 Days of Branding! If you missed any of the series thus far, you can find them here. In today’s installment we look at how to use collaborations to build a strong brand.

When you think of drummers drumming, what comes to mind?

A marching band? The drum section of the symphony? A circle of naked men around a campfire? (Yep. I went there. Sorry.)

The point is, we’re not talking about a drum solo. We’re discussing drummers working together. Beating their drums in community. You might even call it a tribe.

In the business world, we call these kinds of collaborations “joint ventures,” “strategic alliances,” “professional associations” and yes, sometimes even “tribes.”  Some are more formal (e.g. legally bound) than others. But they all have a common purpose that binds them together. What kind of collaborations are good for brand building purposes? Let me count the ways…

12 Types of Collaborations that Build Brands

1. Blog Tribes. You may also know these as “blog alliances.”  The idea is simple (and not necessarily easy): find other serious, quality bloggers with strong brands of their own, who write for the same target audience that you do. Commit to sharing and commenting on each other’s blog posts. As you work together, your individual brands help support and give credibility to your brand. Blog tribes are structured in many different ways. Some loosely, some more formally. And some (via tools like Triberr) utilize technology to make the sharing easier. The blog tribe I work with is a fabulous bunch of writers who work together as “carnies” in our monthly Word Carnivals. (Note: new carney blood is always good. Check out what we’re looking for.)

2. Masterminds. These groups are powerful alliances between peers. The purpose is to help support and enlighten each other on the road to success. However, it’s much more than a support group for like-minded people. Mastermind groups bring together individuals who share the same goals and dreams and work together to achieve them. Some of the Word Carnival bloggers decided to work together even more closely, so we formed a mastermind group we call the Blog Posse. We “meet” twice monthly by phone and have a private Facebook Group where we share each other’s posts, ask for help with business and personal challenges, and provide ongoing encouragement and support to each other. I love this group because it gives me my own Board of Advisors to keep me on track with my business goals, and more. For more on masterminds, check out Meet and Grow Rich, by Vitale and Hibbler.

3. Marketing Cooperatives. These bring together a group of businesses that all have a common thread: a location, an industry, or a target market. The group pools its resources (usually money) to leverage the power of the whole. For example, you might not be able to afford a good radio advertising campaign on your own, but if the entire shopping center pitches in, you’d have enough to buy some decent spots that promoted everyone. Here’s a great article on how to create a marketing cooperative.

4. Sponsorships. These involve a trade of money or other resources in exchange for exposure. If you live on Planet Earth, you already know how these work. The idea is to sponsor something (usually an event) that will get you some exposure to the folks who attend the event. By the way, if you’d like to see how these work without spending any money, I’m currently looking for additional sponsors for my Tastiest Small Biz Brand Award.

5. Staff Collaborations. If you’re lucky enough to have an official team of paid staff, be sure that everyone is on the same page about the brand. This is especially true for the front line folks who come in contact with your customers. Each interaction with the customer is a chance to build the brand. So hire the right people, train them, and keep them inspired and loyal.

6. Product/Service Collaborations. Build a new product with one or more partners. You can innovate something new and awesome when you bring together different types of expertise. These types of collaborations are usually termed Joint Ventures (and usually involve lawyers and contracts). They can be tricky, but when they work — pow! If you’re a service provider, consider working with one or more partners. If you do web design, you might work with someone who does copy writing on the same project. When you find other service providers who rock what they do, hold onto those relationships! It could be mutually beneficial for you to band together to offer all-in-one or bundled options. In the past, we might have called this “subcontracting.” These can also be formal (with contracts) or informal and work more as referral partnerships.

7. Virtual Teams. When you start to grow your business, don’t wait to hire outside help. You might not be ready for a full-fledged employee, but you should definitely get a virtual assistant if you find yourself being less responsive to existing customers. This is probably one of THE most important things you’ll need to do to create a solid brand: especially if you want to maintain your reputation! I’ve literally seen dozens of people lose valuable clients because they failed to get help when things started to get busy. And VAs aren’t the only types of virtual team members you’ll need. Don’t forget a bookkeeper, an IT professional, a CPA, an attorney, and of course a marketing expert. Depending on your business type and model, you’ll need to collaborate with a myriad of professionals until you’re big enough to hire them permanently. Failing to find and work with the right support, can be disastrous to your brand.

8. Referral Partnerships. Groups like BNI and other networks have been doing this for years, but you can also create your own. Start by making a list of every type of service or product that your ideal customer might want or need (start with those just related to your industry, and then work out in concentric circles until you feel like you’ve captured everything). Search out and build relationships with those types of businesses. Start slowly, and over time (as you feel confident referring the business), you can work on more elaborate or formal ways to exchange leads, or even monetize them (pay commissions). One great example of how to do this is by using Gift Certificates: You create a gift certificate for something of real value in your business (worth at least $100 or more). It can’t be $100 off. It needs to be for something totally FREE. Your referral partner does the same. You exchange an equal amount of gift certificates with each other and then pass them on to the appropriate customers. You could further incentivize each other by offering a commission if that person becomes a long time customer. Basically, anytime you work together to share leads — in any format — you’ve got a referral partnership. If you’re looking to do something really big (like a product launch), and you aren’t connected to the A-list crowd, you might want to consider working with a JV broker.

9. Your Local Community. Every business — even those online — exists in a community. Your community benefits from your existence. If you’re locally based, it’s easier to see how this works (especially if you collect and pay taxes). But even if your small business serves the entire planet, there is still a real-life community that benefits from having you there. Get involved and give back. You might consider this an in-kind sponsorship (where you donate your products or services to a nonprofit). Or you might just pitch in and help with a project and call it networking.

10. Your Virtual Community. Whether you build one yourself, or participate in someone else’s, there’s at least one or two forums or online groups that could use your expertise. Think about the community of music lovers — some might argue they benefit from the existence of iTunes. The idea here is to enlist them as partners in all areas of your brand building. How? By getting involved! Join a special interest group and participate. Be a giver of advice and information, but also seek out advice and information from the other members. If your community has an official umbrella, be sure to weave your association with them into your marketing (even if it’s just on your About page). You’ll both benefit from that exposure.

11. Your Customers. Involve your clients in all aspects of your business, but especially product development and promotion. Seek out their advice on what improvements might be made to your product or how you deliver it (services are products, too). And make it easy for them to help promote you to their friends and colleagues. But don’t forget about customer to customer collaboration! Build opportunities into your business for your customers to work together and you’ll be on your way to building a community!

12. Your Prospects. Every time you connect with a potential customer, you have the chance to create an experience that will cement your brand in the prospect’s mind. Treat each prospect in a way that shows them what it’s like to do business with you — even if they don’t choose you as their vendor, they’ll still remember how you made them feel. And if you surprise them in a good way, they’ll probably tell a few of their friends or colleagues about how fabulous you are. The key with all of these, is to find collaborators with strong brands of their own.

Their brand + your brand (must) = Awesomeness3 

How do you like to collaborate? What projects have you worked on with other small business folks? Share your successes or challenges in a comment and let’s collaborate on this conversation!

Image Credit: Evan Bench