7 Easy Ways To Collaborate That Won't Eat Up Your Free Time

You don't have to bring on a partner or hire a consultant to get the benefits of collaboration.
September 13, 2011

Collaboration can be an effective way to expand your network, tackle challenges that are difficult to manage on your own, and learn from new experiences. But many small business owners are hesitant to put themselves out there because they're worried about the time commitment, resources needed and financial requirements.

While many small business collaborations are joint ventures or partnerships that are on a large scale and require a significant time commitment, it is possible to collaborate in a way that will bring you a number of benefits for very little time and energy.

In fact, if you and your potential collaborators can agree on a joint goal of expanding reach, generating leads and increasing awareness of your business, consistent collaborative efforts of any size can help you achieve your goal. To get you started, here are seven easy, everyday ways you can collaborate with a fellow entrepreneur to broaden your business horizons.

 1. Make an introduction

There may not be a quicker way to collaborate than offering to introduce two contacts who can benefit from being connected. When you're the one who connects people—your marketing copywriter and a colleague you met at an event, for example—you get to kick off the relationship, then step back and let them take it from there. This takes very little time and effort. And if the relationship is a success, both parties will always remember you were the matchmaker and possibly return the favor.

2. Cross-promote through social channels

If you're active on social networks, you have the ability to exchange tweets, shares and links with a colleague for some simple, low-key collaboration. For example, some of the best relationships I have on formed on Twitter started with simple retweets and replies. While it certainly helps if you have a large following, it's not necessary to have thousands of friends, fans and followers to effectively promote a relevant and useful product or service to your network.

3. Trade guest blog posts

Guest blogging is great for getting in front of new audiences, increasing your credibility and helping to establish yourself as an expert in your industry. Plus, it can provide some valuable SEO juice in the form of backlinks, which can make the effort a worthwhile long-term benefit. As long as the blog audiences are complementary, or at least relevant to both parties' expertise, guest blog posts can be an effective way to collaborate. A great example of this can be seen thought the posts Cindy Bates, vice president of Microsoft's US SMB Organization, provides for the Small Business Bonfire blog.

4. Conduct (or give) an interview

There is always someone who can benefit from your knowledge and experience, and interviews are a great way to share what you know. If you do podcasts or video interviews regularly, you can also feature your colleagues on your show as part a collaborative effort. Even if you don’t regularly do interviews, you can use a written interview as a blog post. Melinda Emerson (SmallBizLady) does this form of collaboration exceptionally well with her weekly #smallbizchat Twitter chats.

5. Join a brainstorming session

Brainstorming is often a solo process, but when you've taken it as far as you can and feel like you've hit the wall, one of the ways I like to get out of this rut is through a collaborative brainstorming session. Give each person involved a chance to take the floor and ask for input—this can be a valuable way to incorporate some new ideas and energy into your thought process.

6. Provide mutual marketing critiques

Many small businesses don't have marketing teams that manage copywriting, branding and development of materials. Business owners who do this alone often struggle to see the big picture because they are so close to the process. I often encourage entrepreneurs I mentor to team up with a colleague and trade marketing materials, copy and other collateral for mutual critique. It really helps them improve their own marketing strategies while helping a colleague do the same.

7. Swap special offers

You can partner up with a colleague who provides similar yet different products or services by swapping special discounts or offers for your respective audiences. This can help you generate new leads and potentially customers, while offering something of value that your own network can benefit from. When successful, this can be a great stepping-stone to larger and more rewarding collaborations.

Image credit: bluegum

OPEN Cardmember Alyssa Gregory is the Founder of the Small Business Bonfire, a community that provides small business help through networking, collaboration and information sharing.