As a small business, most of us don’t possess the resources or money to develop and execute a content strategy that satisfies our business goals and users’ needs day in and day out. Instead, we feel the constant pressure to maximize the benefits of everything we do. We need to stretch every dollar and every resource, sometimes sacrificing quality and execution along the way. For many, our business and life depend on it.

So how do you reach new audiences, expand your search presence, acquire local backlinks, capture more leads, increase referral traffic, build your social following, cultivate a local audience, and improve your bottom line without spending a dime?

Co-produce content with other businesses in your community.

In this guide, I’ll show you how to amplify your content by strategically selecting local businesses in your community with whom you can co-create, share resources, and leverage each other’s audiences.

The good news? You literally don’t need to spend any money co-producing content with your neighbors. With a little preparation and ingenuity, you can give your content proverbial “wings.”

Let’s get started.

Step #1: Decide what you want to promote!

Every time you develop a piece of content, whether co-producing with local businesses or creating your own, always ask yourself, “How does this content support my visitors’ needs and satisfy my business goals?” All great content starts with a goal and the user in mind.

When deciding what you want to promote with your co-produced content, you can take one of two routes:

1. Broad

If you just want to create awareness within your community for your medical practice, and not any specific procedure, treatment or product, then your job just got easier.  You can co-create any piece of content to help you achieve your goal, just as long as the co-produced content demonstrates your knowledge and expertise.

2. Specific

If your goal is to create awareness or drive consultations for a new treatment, co-producing content with local businesses will present a few challenges, but nothing you can’t overcome.

For example, it’s easier for a medical practice to reach out to a fitness center and create a six-chapter guide on “Tips For Aging Gracefully” then it is to create a guide that promotes your new CoolSculpting machine.

When co-producing content to promote a product or service rather than the business in general, many make the mistake of sounding too much like a sales pitch. Even though your intention is to promote a service or product, you still need to add value to your audience as well as the audience of the business helping you co-create.

Since it’s harder to co-create content that promotes a service, I’m going to use this article to show you how to pull it off. And since I mentioned CoolSculpting, let’s pretend we’re an aesthetic medical practice that just bought a new CoolSculpting machine, and we need more stubborn fat walking through the door.

Step #2: Develop the theme and scope of your content

Your primary goal when coproducing content with different businesses is to create awareness for your brand and your service(s) by adding value to someone else’s audience.

Unlike traditional cross-promotion where two businesses split the cost and real estate of print brochures or sales flyers, coproducing content goes above and beyond shared resources. Co-created content communicates with a tangential audience without selling, and delivers information that either makes the customers more intelligent, entertains them or builds an emotional connection.

Theme

In order to succeed, your theme needs to:

•   Identify with the other businesses’ services and expertise
•   Add value to all audiences involved, not just yours
•   Entertain (humor never fails)
•   Offer participating businesses the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and expertise without needing to pitch their product or service.

Incorporate a mix of interesting insights, humor, entertainment, facts, and location relevant information (i.e. tips, insights, inspiration that only work in your city).  You can be as creative as you want with your theme provided that your content adds value.

In our case, since we need to create awareness for our shiny oscillating CoolSculpting machine, let’s run with the “Freeze the Fat” theme.

Scope

Let the theme of your content inform the scope of the project. For example, exploring a more serious, factual piece of content will require more detail than a brief guide on different ways you can lose weight by staying cold.

Since we’re reaching out to multiple local businesses to help contribute, it makes sense to develop a something more robust, like a comprehensive guide or eBook.

TIP: To make things simple, I like to assign one chapter (individual article) to each business involved.  So in our case, we’re going to reach out to four different businesses, giving us a total of five chapters (including ours). Each article will operate as a stand-alone post for a blog, and as a chapter in the guide (more on this later).

Outside of writing the other business’s chapters, you will design the guide, establish editorial guidelines, and manage the entire production and communication of the project.  It’s your job to make the process as easy as possible for all participating parties.

Once you determine your theme and the scope of the project, you can create a working title.  For ours, we’ll go with, “The Science and Art Of Freezing The Fat… Literally.” 

Step #3: Choosing your co-producers (and do your homework)

Once you establish your theme and the scope of your project (i.e. how many business/chapters you want to include), select the businesses that fit that theme and the audience you are trying to reach.

Our theme explores burning fat by utilizing cold temperatures. More broadly, our theme explores an altnerative method to weight-loss. So from here I can define the core industries related to losing weight:

  • Healthy food
  • Fitness (personal trainers)
  • Nutrition and Diet
  • Exercise/workout
  • Workout gyms
  • Aesthetic centers (that’s us)

It wouldn’t make sense to reach out to the local Hot Yoga facility, even though we share the same mission of improved health and weight loss, for obvious reasons.

After you define the core industries relevant to your theme, then you can choose the businesses within them. However, do your homework first. Only select business that demonstrate the following:

  • Strong social following
  • Active/consistent on social media
  • Engagement from followers on social media (moderate to high)
  • Email Newsletter/subscriber base
  • Managed Blog

The goal of this project is to create awareness for our new CoolSculpting treatment, so we want to work with the businesses with the most reach.

Following those guidelines, these are the business I found:

Healthy food: Pressed Juicery (costa mesa)

  • Their specialty is frozen vegan yogurt (double win!)
  • 58K Facebook followers (they’re a SoCal chain, so don’t expect this many followers for your typical local business)
  • Weekly Email Newsletter
  • Active engagement on FB: HIGH
  • Strong followings on Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest

Fitness:  InMotionOC (Irvine)

  • Specialize in aquatic therapy (cold water) and private personal training
  • 1,600 FB followers
  • Email Newsletter
  • Blog
  • Active engagement on FB: moderate

Nutrition and Diet: The 12-Costa Mesa

  • Specialize in nutrition, education, and lifestyle transformation through diet and exercise
  • 1,112 FB followers
  • Active on social media
  • 65 positive reviews on FB
  • Email Newsletter
  • Blog

Fitness centers: CrossFit Costa Mesa

  • Specialize in CrossFit training from beginner to pro
  • 2,300 FB followers
  • 1,228 Instagram followers
  • Active FB engagement and activity
  • 300+ members
  • Email Newsletter
  • Blog workout tips

If the business passes the social enagagment test, manages their blog and publishes an email newsletter, your last determining factor, and most important, is whether or not you and that business share the same values and commitment to your customers:

  •  Reviews: check the sentiment of reviews on Google Plus, Yelp, FB, and any relevant niche review directories
  • Ask your employees: Sit down with your team and ask them if they can vet the reputation of any local businesses you’re considering.
  • Judgment:  Trust your instincts. You know what it’s like to treat your patients well, so look for those same qualities in your partnering businesses. Remember, your audience is watching, so aviod businesses with poor reputations in the community.

Step #4: Develop topics

Once you select the businesses that fit your demographic (or the demographic you wish to penetrate), develop topics for each chapter and business.

Remember, this entire process is about you eliminating as many steps in the process as possible so the odds of getting buy-in increase.  For this to work, you’ll need to do the lion share of work.

Choosing titles

Rather than outlining the entire article (you still want to give the other businesses creative freedom), only choose titles for chapters.

To make this work, each topic you choose must align perfectly with its accompanying business’s line of work or expertise.

My favorite, and most successful, way to develop click-worthy titles is by looking at Inc.com for inspiration. Sites like Inc.com, Buzzfeed.com, and Mashable.com pay copywriters lots of money to develop titles that encourage clicks. So rather than reinvent the wheel, just borrow their titles and change them to fit your theme.

Let’s just take a look at their homepage and run through some exercises:

  • “4 Must-Watch TED Talks On Creativity in Business” becomes “4 Ice-Cold Exercises For Losing Weight.”
  • “Why Rand Paul’s Flat Tax Is a Bad Idea” becomes  “Why Working Out In The Heat is a Bad Idea.”
  • “How A Family’s Business Fraud Almost Killed Mardi Gras” becomes “How Michael Phelps and NASA Defied Nutrition By Staying Cold.”

Pro Tip: If you really want to discover more share-worhty titles and topics, sign up for a free Buzzsumo.com account. Buzzsumo allows you to search by topics and websites for the most shared blog posts, and will help you identify what content is trending.

You can even take it a step further and research influencers with giant social followings in case you want to @tag them on social media in hopes they share your content.

For our example, I used a combination of Inc.com, Buzzsumo, personal ingenuity and humor to develop my topics:

  1. Aesthetic Center (that’s us): “The Science Of Being Cool”
  2. Pressed Juicery: “9 Chillingly Healthy Super Foods”
  3. InMotion OC: “17 Fat-Freezing Workouts in Costa Mesa”
  4. The 12-Costa Mesa:  “Cold Water Fish: Phelps & NASA Defy Nutrition”
  5. Crossfit Costa Mesa: “23 Insane Freeze-Frame Shots of People Losing Weight”

Each topic offers each business the opportunity to demonstrate knowledge and expertise in their particular industries without needing to pitch their products or services. 

And though CrossFit Costa Mesa will only be sharing 23 of their favorite “freeze-frame” photos of people working out (seen below), we’ll let them add a caption to each photo that details the workout and its benefits.

More importantly, each article helps demonstrate and validate the science behind CoolSculpting in a subtle, engaging way. When reader’s finish this guide, you can bet they’ll believe in the power of fat freezing.

Step #5: Design the cover and call-to-action graphic (even you non-designers)

I recently wrote a blog post on “Design Tools for the Non-Designer In Your Practice.” So don’t fret if you can’t design, neither can I.

Design used to be an elusive skill us non-designers only dreamed of acquiring. But thanks to technology, design tools for non-designers abound, and they even come with free templates.

It’s important to design the cover of your guide and the call-to-action (CTA) for two main reasons:

  1. You want the businesses to know that you’re serious and professional, and that the work required on their behalf is minimal.
  2. The cover and CTA will better help you explain the breadth of the guide and what your intentions are for it.

Cover

The cover should include:

  • Title
  • Logos of participating businesses

Here’s the cover I designed (in about 20 minutes using Canva) for our example, “The Art and Science of Freezing The Fat…Literally.”

CTA (call to action)

Rather than using a text link for visitors to click to download, use a graphic. A graphic is more appealing, and since it allows you to showcase the contents of the guide (e.g. the chapter titles), your click-through rate will go through the roof compared to a regular text link. Not to mention you can share the CTA graphic with your co-producers to use on their social feeds and blog posts.

Your CTA graphic needs to include:

  • The cover of the guide
  • Titles of chapters/articles
  • An emphasis on “Free”
  • A call to action: [Download Now]

Here is the CTA graphic I created (again with Canva) for our guide:

Step #6: Reach out to the businesses (in person)

Now that you’ve created your assets, picked your topics, and selected your businesses, it’s time to make contact with each business.

Since you’re a local business, play to your strengths. Rather than emailing each business, visit them in person. The value of personal interaction in today’s socially absent world is the quickest way to build trust. Don’t forget to bring the printed CTA and eBook cover with you. I was tempted to offer an email template script, but I changed my mind. Always visit the business in person!

Key points to highlight during your conversation:

  1. Who’s involved: Notify each business of all participating businesses, even if you haven’t reached out to them yet. You want to make sure each business is comfortable putting their name in the jar with all participating businesses. If one business backs out half way through and you decide to pull in a replacement, make sure you notify all parties.
  2. What’s involved: Communicate that you and your team will do the heavy lifting and that you’ve already begun by choosing blog topics and designing the cover. All they need to do is write the article and provide images to enhance the content. Make sure they know there’s no strings attached.  Also, let them know that if they want to develop their own topic they can, just as long as it fits with the theme.
  3. Share your “Submission Criteria” one-pager: The “Submission Criteria” one-pager is a brief outline of what you expect from contributing authors. It’s not meant to intimidate anyone, but it will help ensure content consistency. Not to worry, I created one for you to download here.
  4. What they will gain: Aside from an introduction to new audiences, it’s important to emphasize your primary objective: building relationships with other businesses in your community, especially ones that can mutually benefit from one another. It’s also important to explain how you plan to publish the guide and repurpose the individual chapters to maximize you asset in search and on social (more on this in a minute).

Step #7: Set deadlines

Always set a deadline. One week, one month, two months. It doesn’t matter when, you need one. Deadlines are great motivators, and they’ll keep the integrity of your project intact. Set your first deadline for 30 days out. This should give everyone enough time to draft his or her chapter.

A week before the deadline, shoot them a short and sweet email reminder:

Good afternoon {Jason},

Hope all is well. I’m looking forward to your post on {post title here}. Let me know if I can help in any way.

Talk soon.

Best,

Dr. Smith

Step #8: Finishing touches

After you receive the final drafts from each business, then you can complete the design of the PDF guide. Again, you can do this easily in Canva, and if you need help getting started, check out this blog here.

The final PDF should include:

  • The cover
  • A table of contents with each chapter
  • A final page with contact information and logos for each participating location
  • Any icons or additional graphics you want to include to spice up the presentation

Pro Tip: Download “The Dos and Dont’s of Acquiring Patient Reviews” for an example of a PDF made with Canva. This particular guide doesn’t include a TOC, but it includes a footer, a cover, and a final call-to-action page.

For your PDF, Just copy and past contents from individual articles, along with imagery, and viola!  If you do use Canva, which I strongly recommend (it’s free and made for non-designers), make sure to save your guide as a “high quality PDF” and not an image.

Step #9: Publish

The system for publishing each article/chapter will very slightly depending on how many authors or businesses you involve.

Two authors (you and one business)

If you only choose to coproduce a guide with one other business, publish only their articles on your blog. And they will publish only your articles on their blog. At the end of each blog (for both sites), include the CTA graphic to download the rest of the chapters.

Benefits:

  • Both businesses will rank their articles in search
  • Both businesses will receive the bonus of a local backlink from their guest post
  • Both businesses will acquire a relevant referral source of traffic
  • By posting only half of the guide on your blog, you encourage readers to download the other half in exchange for an email address. While not a hot lead, this is a micro-conversion, and provides an opportunity to make contact with a prospect via email when you send them their guide.

More than two authors (like in our “Freeze The Fat” example)

Most will advice you to avoid posting the same article on more than one site to avoid duplicate content issues, but I am going to suggest otherwise.

First, duplicate content is not a penalty. Google chooses to serve the most relevant result to users (usually the first site to publish the article), and will suppress any duplicates in rankings, but they won’t penalize your site for it.

Though only one website will rank for the article in theory (though I’ve seen multiple sites rank for duplicate posts), you still gain the advantage of a referral traffic source by posting the same articles on all sites.

For example, if I post Pressed Juicery’s chapter, “9 Chillingly Healthy Super Foods,” on my blog first, my site will rank for this article. However, if InMotionOC, Costa Mesa Crossfit, and The 12-Costa Mesa wanted to post the article, too, it would still benefit Pressed Juicery by sending referral traffic to their site.

So each participating business will only get one of the five articles to rank in search, but by posting each other’s guest posts, everyone stands to gain some referral traffic. And each site will still get backlinks from all four other sites, though I can’t promise how much of an impact the links from the three duplicated articles will provide.  But again, referral traffic is good enough.

Pro Tip: If you post an article that is already on someone else’s site, use the rel=“canonical” tag to give that site attribution.

<link rel=”canonical” href=”http://example.com/blog” />

Use the tag above and replace the example.com URL with the URL where the post originated.  At the very least, link back to the original blog post within the article.

Last, at the end of every post, don’t forget to add the CTA graphic to download the entire guide.

Print publishing

For about $8.00 each (front and back, coil bound, quality paper stock) you can print out the guides from a local print shop, too.  If you can afford it, print out 5-10 guides and deliver them to each business as a way of saying thanks!

Step #10: Publicize & Promote

If you build it, they will not come. I promise.

If you expect your content to support your users’ needs and satisfy your business goals, you need to publicize it.

I already mentioned how you can use your guide as a lead magnet by positioning it as a downloadable PDF in exchange for an email address, but let’s explore a few other options to promote your content:

  1. Email: Remember, we only chose businesses that publish an email newsletter to their audience. Encourage all participants to share your guide with their email list.
  2. Social: Leverage social media to promote your posts on FB, LinkedIn, Twitter, or any relevant social channel that your audience hangs out on.
  3. Lead page: Create a landing page using a service like Unbounce or Lead Pages, and drive traffic to them from social to capture leads.
  4. Repurpose: Repurpose your guide for different channels and different goals. Since you already created a PDF, you can upload the PDF and create a slideshow on SlideShare.com in seconds.
  5. Internal Promotion: Don’t forget to promote your guide internally and ask your employees to share it with their friends. Send out an email and provide them with a link to the articles, a link to the PDF, and a brief explanation of the guide and the participating businesses for those that don’t already know.
  6. Lead Magnet: A lead magnet is just and industry name for anything that you can use to capture a lead. We already discussed how you can “gate” your guide (only hand it offer it in exchange for an email address) to capture leads. If choose this route, remember that just because someone downlaoded this guide, it doesn’t make them a “hot” CoolSculpting lead. Also, if you don’t have a webmaster on staff, use Leadpages.net for you “lead boxes.” A lead box is a pop-up window with a form when your potential subscribers or “downloader” clicks on a link. It’s only $25/month and will take the hassle out of creating a lead capture form for all the new guides you’ll be creating. In fact, we use all the time…it looks like this.

However you choose to promote your content, always plan your promotion well in advance (before you hit publish). Which means determining the demographics you’ll target with social advertising, which channels you’ll utilize, and your process for promoting (workflow, timeline, etc.).

Conclusion

Co-producing content with other local businesses that share your same mission, values and audience will help you:

  • Build relationships with other local businesses that may even develop into more business down the road
  • Cultivate a local audience… the only one that matters
  • Scale your content strategy by developing incredible content without needing to write it all
  • Acquire organic local backlinks
  • Attract referral traffic (targeted referral traffic from audiences interested in your services, too)
  • Expand your social reach when your co-producers share your guide on their social feeds
  • Produce a chunk of content to use for email campaigns, lead magnets, social advertisements, social posts or repurposing
  • Emphasize shared values: Nothing elicits a sense of shared values like finding out your doctor is buddies with your favorite organic frozen yogurt shop.

Leverage the resources in your own backyard, like other local businesses, and use them to your advantage when pushing forward with your business goals and content projects. Your a small business, so embrace your “smallness,” and do the hard work of changing your neighborhood before you change the world.

 

What next?

•   Start co-producing content with your neighbors. In fact, share this article with them if you need help explaining your goals.

•   If you enjoyed this article, share it with your friends and colleagues (just don’t share it with your competition, because it works!)

Drew Leahy

Director Of Marketing

Incredible Marketing

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