Melissa Forziat is a Southern California-based marketing speaker, consultant, and author. She works with small business owners to develop and execute strategic marketing plans and with business organizations to train their trainers in small business marketing.

One of my favorite suggestions for small businesses on a budget looking to maximize their reach and attract new customers is to cross-market with other businesses. No matter what size your business or your audience is, chances are there is another business out there that would love to be your ally so you can help each other grow.  Probably many!  But, what are your options?  How can you collaborate?  Let’s talk about 5 ways to cross-market with other businesses.

One of the important things to remember about cross-marketing is that it is not about forming a legal partnership.  You can do partnership marketing without creating a joint venture or in some other way legally tying the businesses together.  Cross-marketing is usually an informal, nimble solution to band together with another business so you can both help each other.

At the core of cross-marketing is the relationship itself.  The best partners often have a common target market, some alignment of values, and a willingness to advocate for each other’s products or services.  If you develop a strong relationship with another business, you could try numerous methods of cross-marketing over the years.  If you are both open to being creative, you can find new angles to collaborate over time that will help you stay ahead of shifts in the marketplace.

With a partner business, your cross-marketing methods may start simple at first as you build trust.  Eventually, you could go for more complex ways to support each other. 

Here are five ideas to get you started!

Feature each other in a newsletter

A newsletter is a great place to spotlight a partner business.  You can do it as a human interest story or a rotating community feature.  You can share a special offer from your partner business or not.  The goal here is to introduce your partner to your subscribers, and ideally you can plant a link to their website in the feature so you can get a sense of how many people actually click through.  If your partner does the same for you, chances are you are getting quite a lot more reach than you otherwise would have!

Engage with each other on social media

Another basic way to support a fellow business is to regularly engage with their content on social media.  Liking/reacting to and commenting on their posts consistently – without pitching your own services, but simply asking good questions or being an obviously-attentive community member – helps drive reach for your partner, and it also leaves evidence for anyone else who visits the page that your partner’s business has the interest of its followers.  Your partner can do the same for you, and this is as simple as carving out a few minutes a week to check out the most recent posts.

Provide a back link on each other’s website

If you have a resources page or another page on your website where you can recommend other businesses you know and trust, this is as easy as putting the name, link, and perhaps logo of your partner business on your page.  You might even put a short synopsis of what the business does.  If your partner can do the same, this is cross-marketing with the least time spent overall.  Now, the people who visit either website can discover this relationship.

Showcase leave behinds

If you have a physical location, one option that may be available to you is to grab a stack of postcards, rack cards, business cards, or flyers from your partner business and display them at your location.  Some businesses will even mark their leave behind (often with a sticker) with a special discount for new customers from their partner.  If you don’t have physical space for a stack of leave behinds, you can make verbal referrals.  We can all make verbal referrals! (So, really, this is a bonus 6th way to cross-market.)

Co-host an event

An option like this is more complicated and may require more brainstorming together, but the forms and possibilities are endless for you to creatively engage your respective communities.  An event could be an online campaign to drive traffic to each other’s offers.  It could be a community event you co-host at a physical location where you share the workload and invite your audiences equally. [Lander Chamber comment: like Business After Hours!] It could be a scavenger hunt or passport challenge to try to drive new customers to your businesses through an experiential activity that requires them to complete a number of pre-determined steps.  You might even get other community businesses involved in something like this, because events allow for all kinds of opportunities to weave in new partners.

Whatever marketing you do, you can probably do it better with a friend.  So, be proactive and look for other businesses that you can cross-market with along the way!