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How to do more with less through local collaboration

Partnering up with other local small businesses could be a great way to get your company more exposure—and customers.

When you’re running a business, it can sometimes feel like it’s you against the world, especially when you’re facing larger competitors with more working capital. But the thing is, you aren’t alone—other local business owners share the same challenges and goals.

By teaming up, you can expand to other customer bases, reduce your overhead and get more out of your marketing, all while spending the same amount. In other words, local collaboration lets you do more with less. Here are some ways you can take advantage and partner up to collaborate with your neighbors.

1. Develop joint sales packages.

Think of your ideal customer and where they tend to shop. Could you connect with these other businesses for cross-sell opportunities? One strategy is to create packages where a customer buys a bundle of your products/services at a discounted price, like an HVAC company teams up with a plumber for joint upgrades. Or a florist, caterer and wine store offer a group package for parties.

These deals are a chance to think outside the box and work with seemingly unrelated businesses. For example, a spa and a pet grooming service could offer a special, where both the owner and their pet enjoy a day of care and pampering.

Another option is for collaborating businesses to offer shared discounts. If a customer shops at one store, they can show the receipt for a discount at others in the network.

2. Promote each other online.

Social media makes it easy to cross-promote with other businesses and get your brand in front of a larger audience. As you run your accounts, be sure to share content, announce sales or celebrate milestones from your partners, provided they do the same for you.Sign up to receive the latest business insightsJoinBy providing your e-mail address, you agree to receive the business insights newsletter from American Express. For more information about how we protect your privacy, please read our Privacy Statement.

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You could also market through each other’s email lists. First you run an ad through their email list and then they can run one through yours. Another option is to include mention of the other small businesses at the bottom of your marketing emails. Try writing something like: “Special thanks to our trusted local partners,” then list them out. If customers are happy with one business, they may trust their recommendation for other services.

3. Create group marketing materials.

Teaming up with multiple businesses can also let you develop more detailed marketing campaigns. For example, you could create a monthly newsletter for your community, where every small-business owner contributes a short article, graphic or interview.

You could also create a gift guide showing the products/services from collaborating businesses. To fine-tune even more, you could create guides with different themes—like the best gifts for those who like the outdoors, best gifts for new parents, etc. Then businesses can contribute their best products for each theme.

One business owner doesn’t necessarily have enough time or material to put these ideas together on their own, but they are a perfect fit for group collaboration.

4. Share space.

Rent is one of the highest fixed costs for business owners. Are you using every square foot you’re paying for? If not, try splitting the bill with another company to help your cash flow. You could charge them for storage in an unused space in your warehouse or backroom.

Think of your ideal customer and where they tend to shop. Could you connect with these other businesses for cross-sell opportunities?

Beyond that, you could also exchange retail space. The collaborating businesses could let you put up a small display of your products in their stores or a small ad with your logo by their registers. Then you do the same for your partners. That way you’ll all expand to multiple locations while still just paying for your one lease.

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5. Sponsor a charity, together.

Donating to a local youth sports team, charity or nonprofit is not only a kind thing to do, it also builds your exposure. But once again, you aren’t the only member of your community, so why not split the donation with other business owners?

Not only do you save money, you could pool your resources to reach an even larger audience. For example, joint-sponsor two youth sport teams with both your logos rather than you only sponsoring one on your own.

6. Advertise your local business district.

If your business depends on foot traffic, the more people coming through the better. Rather than running ads only for your store, you could promote your entire shopping district. By splitting the cost with the other local businesses, you could run more frequent ads and expand to different media sources, like TV and billboards. You can all benefit from the increased attention.

Another strategy is for all the neighboring business to host a special event. In my town, the local businesses hold a Halloween party where kids get candy and play games as they go from store to store. The kids have a ball and their parents discover stores they would never visit during their regular week.

At the end of the day, your number one priority will still be to promote and expand your own company. But you can make your investments go even further by finding the right collaborative solutions at the right time.