Updated: May 8
Regardless of your business nature or industry, I can tell you off the bat that collaborations are the fastest way to help you grow your community. Whether you are running solo or own a small business, or even working for an MNC brand, you will need to ace your collaboration game to gain a spot in the current market. And no, collaborations are so much more than influencers and paid endorsements. What makes my following tips so valuable is because this is how I've done all my collaborations for free.
⬇️ Hear the full episode or read the full script below. ⬇️
Firstly, you need to understand that collaboration is when different entities work together to achieve a goal. This means your collaborator is not working for you, nor are you working for them. The relationship is mutual, and both parties have a stake in the results. This is what almost 99% of brands don’t realize. They always tackle collaborations with money, driving only towards a goal that they are interested in. If the other party isn’t getting anything except for money out of it, it is normal for them to treat you merely as a business partner, which is a waste to any collaborations.
What are B2B collaborations?
B2B collaborations can be a powerful way to achieve business goals and reach new audiences. To successfully pitch and execute these collaborations, it's important to define your goals, choose the right partner, prepare a clear proposal, initiate the conversation, negotiate the terms, address legal issues, and execute the collaboration plan.
If you want to tackle collaborations and grow your community, you want them to treat you as an ally. You want to present others with something that they have been looking for, so they are much more open to sharing their resources and assets with you at no cost.
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1. You need to recognize and clearly explain what your value proposition is
No one is interested in what you offer; people are only interested in what value you add. How is your business filling a specific need with your product or service? What is the specific added benefit, and what makes you different from your competitors in the market? This is key in driving a brand to success, let alone pitching for a collaboration. You must be confident and clear about what you can offer to the table.
Stop yourself from boasting potentials and estimations. Be factual and let your collaborator be their own judge. Your authenticity here is crucial because again, you want them to be your ally, not just a one-off business partner.
2. Do your research before pitching any B2B collaborations
You can’t just go and pitch any brand or individual to become your collaborator, you need to pick someone that matches. By that, it does not mean to pick someone within your industry. As a matter of fact, don’t ever pick someone in the same industry. Not only because they most likely would see you as a competitor, but because you’re not extending your reach outside of what you’re capable of reaching on your own. You want to surprise your audience and theirs by joining forces with someone that isn’t an obvious choice but can still interest your audience.
For example, if you are a local brewer, don’t go straight to a restaurant and ask for collaboration; consider reaching out to the art community or the local comedian groups. Sponsor their events and ask them to try out your products. Not only are you reaching a completely different audience, they can potentially help extend your reach to bars, restaurants, or companies that they perform or exhibit at, as they are not a stand-alone shop, but rather a bunch of agents running around and growing themselves.
3. Don’t aim too high
This is the same for pitching influencers. I never recommend pitching macro influencers for any brand. If they have the budget, I’d rather they go for celebrities instead. The reason is because of the mutuality I have mentioned before. Big influencers can reach any brands, but your brand can’t reach any influencers, so why make that an obvious fact and be turned down?
The smart and effective way is to pitch someone with strong engagement rates. Micro and nano influencers are perfect. They have a smaller pool of following but are powerful in driving their fans. The idea goes while you pitch other brands or businesses. If you’re a local florist looking for new exposure, you wouldn’t go straight to Chanel or Louis Vuitton, would you? You would, however, have a great shot at pitching a rising new brand on Instagram. You can offer them free flowers as a gift with purchase for their Valentine’s Day campaign, for example.
4. Don’t pitch pitch
What I mean here is you can’t skip a formal email or DM. Don’t just go up with a "hey", but don’t pitch as though you’re looking for a business. The tone and manner you give off in the first message can change the whole collaboration. If you went hardcore pitching, the other person would naturally assume there is a monetary return. Instead, if you professionally showcased your interest in working with them, they would want to find out more.
5. Every piece of your online content counts!
If a brand was to reach out to you, what is the first thing you would do? You would google them! This is why all of your content matters.
If you have a decent looking website and a regularly updated Facebook page, chances are they would pay more attention to you. If you happen to have a professional-looking website and great content on your Facebook page? You would find that you’re no longer the one reaching out, but they are also looking for ways to grow their business through you. Note that I did not mention the following or engagement here. You do not need thousands and millions of followers for people to pay attention to you; you just need to be very prepared.
6. How are you helping them?
Yes, this whole collaboration game is not about them helping you - it is about how you are helping them. If you’re approaching an influencer, do not send a DM and say they’re amazing and you want them to help share your brand. Try saying you appreciate their content, and it happens that you are representing this brand. You see that their highest engaged photos are their daily essentials shots, and you want to send your brand over to see what they think. Emphasize that they don’t have to do a post, but you would highly appreciate a story, and you would love to send a gift over if they feel comfortable with it.
At the end of the day, you can expect four different outcomes:
They ignore you, which is great learning because that means they’re not interested in your product or service, so you can just move on.
They reply and say no thank you, which is also fine, because then you can reply no problem and note that this influencer most likely needs to be paid for collaborations.
They reply and say they will require a fee, which you can decline, or ask for a quotation and therefore learn how much they are charging the brands they have featured on their account.
They accept and say they would love that, and now you have a new ally!
Note that it’s not important if they post or not the first time around, it is more important for you to start growing your network from there.
A great example I can give you is a restaurant collaboration I have done before. I wanted to host a small event but I did not have the budget to rent a nice space. Instead of looking for sponsors, I starting thinking from the point of view of a restaurant owner. When would possibly be the time that they are open to give out their space for free? The obvious answer I derived was during their downtime when they find it difficult to acquire customers themselves. So I started pitching very fancy restaurants in Central, Hong Kong and offered to help them fill their slowest night in the week, which was Wednesday. In exchange, I would need the space for free for 4 to 5 hours. And guess what? I ended up with a rooftop bar for free. They even offered discounted drinks for our attendees while I collected all of the ticket money. It was a win-win for both of us, and the collaboration was a success. We both shared the event on our social media platform and got the extra reach as well.
7. Use every asset as your bargaining power
You should be discussing everything with your collaborator so that they also feel comfortable on the collaboration. However, don’t ever get pushed over so much that you end up doing all the work. The magic in collaboration is when both parties are willing to share their assets, in order to achieve more reach, and ultimately, drive more potential leads. You should be using your social media platform presence, website, EDM, contact list, blogs, article writing skills, photography-skills, and anything you feel comfortable in providing, as your chip to get the collaboration.
Slap their logo on material and ask if they can share it too. Write a blog about your upcoming collaborations and ask them if they can backlink your site. Print out stickers and ask if they can hand them out at their front desk. If it is an influencer, ask for their testimony on the product or service through a personal DM, and later ask them if you can make that into a quote post mentioning them. Utilize the relationship in a way that does not feel like you are draining your collaborator, but you are building something for both parties.
8. Grow with your collaborators
This sets a good collaboration apart from just regular paid sponsorships or endorsements. A good collaboration allows you to feed off each other’s energy and grow together. If we went back to the local brewery and comedian example, your relationship with the individual or organization shouldn’t stop after the first show. After sponsoring them on their first night, they might invite you to join their next performance, where you meet the restaurant owner there and together host another event. Then, other communities who learn about your collaboration may ask if you’re interested in more.
One of the best replies I have ever received was from a micro KOL that I have worked with. After our collaboration, she started growing and was featured as an up-and-coming influencer in the market. She happily shared the coverage with me and said, “you didn’t pick the wrong influencer!”
This is how a business grows both online and offline. Incorporate online elements in offline events, and incorporate offline elements in online collaborations. What I have done before is having a photobooth collaborator set up at my event, where they offer their service for free in trade for free exposure, and we both get the contacts from these people for our EDM databases so we can follow up with them afterward online.
At the end of the day, collaborations should be meaningful and fun. They connect you to the community, and you get to learn from your fellow business owners. The events I have hosted and the influencer campaigns I have done are my proudest moments. Not only did they generate the most genuine feedbacks, but they were also the most powerful in extending my reach both offline and online.
So, if you wish to learn tips and tricks on content marketing, keep yourself posted for my next podcast episode, or visit me at joycetsangcontentmarketing.com, where I have written explanations of different online strategies, blog posts, and uploaded free downloadables for you to try and kickstart your own content.
Until then, I am Joyce Tsang, a content marketer here for entrepreneurs.
Still have questions? Simply book a free 30-minute diagnosis session with me and have all your concerns be cleared on spot!