Collaboration Nation: This Expert Answers All Your Questions on an Essential Practice to Business Growth

It’s a brave new world out there, and brand collaborations have become almost essential to growing a new business or helping shine a fresh light on well-established brands. But where do you start? I sat down with Baily Hancock, an LA-based Collaboration Consultant, to get the 411 on how to get started and grow your business through collaboration.

Baily, you’re a Collaboration Consultant. Tell me more about what your job entails.

Depending on the day and client, I’m part business coach, marketing strategist, and entrepreneur therapist, but all with a collaboration lense. I teach entrepreneurs how to gain credibility through collaboration and grow their business with partnerships. I’m a firm believer in teaching a woman to fish rather than catching the fish for her, so I provide my clients with the tools, templates, and best practices to successfully leverage partnerships and collaborations in their business long after our time together is finished.

I attribute the growing popularity of collaborations and partnerships to the rise in women-founded businesses.

Women are natural collaborators; we have been since the dawn of time.

We’re seeing the traditional patriarchal way of doing business (aka, there’s only room for one at the top, being the “Alpha” in your industry, and other very masculine beliefs about success) begin to fade. With more and more women striking out on their own, the mindset is beginning to shift away from that mentality and toward a more collaborative, cooperative one.


What is the difference between collaborating, and a brand collaboration?

Collaborating is a way of life (at least it is for me) - it’s how you approach any issue, goal, or situation. When you combine forces with another individual, organization, or company, you’re able to amplify all of your voices, combine resources, and generally succeed faster together. A brand collaboration is one of many ways that you can team up with another company to achieve your goals together. You typically see brand collabs as a one-off activation that has a defined start and end date and clear objective.

For those new to collaborations, how do you recommend they get started?

Look to your inner circle for potential partners first. I see a lot of people try to go after a big fish right away, but that’s setting yourself up for failure. Start small and experiment –

Look for low-hanging fruit opportunities like doing an Instagram Live with someone you know and trust to test the waters.

You could do a guest blog post for each other’s newsletters, promote one another’s events or podcasts, or team up to do a webinar. Collaborations don’t have to be a huge deal, in fact, the best kinds are those that are simple to execute and don’t add a ton of work to your already-full plate.


Let’s talk about relationships, because we both know it’s ALL about relationships. For some, the outreach can be daunting and intimidating. What are your suggestions for building and maintaining a strong network?

I started referring to networking as “curating your community” a while back because people get so intimidated by the word “networking”. I get it - it feels cold, sterile, and transactional, when in reality it should be the exact opposite. By focusing instead on curating your community, the process of meeting new people and adding them to your circle begins to feel intentional and authentic rather than chaotic and cold.

My trick is to think of it this way - when you’re about to head into a social situation where you don’t know a ton of people, consider that your future old friend is in the room, and tonight is the night when you first met. That makes the process of introducing yourself to strangers so much more exciting!

“Is this my future old friend?” plays in your mind as you get to know each new person, rather than, “When can I get out of here, go home, and take off my bra?”

One of my favorite quotes about building and maintaining your network is from Emily Merrell, Founder of Six Degrees Society. When I interviewed her for my podcast, Emily told me the advice she gives people is to: “Build your network when you aren’t looking (for something), and tap it when you are.” I couldn’t agree more. My version of that is, “Make lots of deposits before you ever need to make a withdrawal.”

In other words, don’t only reach out to people in your network when you need something. Find ways to support the people in your community long before you have an “ask”. That could look like sharing articles they wrote on your LinkedIn profile, connecting them to someone you think they’d benefit from meeting, congratulating them when they get a promotion, or even sending them a brief email just to say hello.


How do you go from connection to collaborator? (a.k.a. business card to BFF)

If you’re interested in collaborating with someone in your community, the best way to approach them is to just reach out and start the conversation. Come prepared with at least one idea for how you’d like to collaborate, but be open to adjusting the idea once you learn more about what they’re focusing on as a business. The language I recommend my clients use when reaching out is something to the effect of: “I have a collaboration idea I’d love to run by you, but it’d be great to learn more about what you’re focusing on in the coming months as a business to see if there are other ways we might be able to support one another through collaboration.”

The most important thing you can do to increase the likelihood of someone saying “yes” to a collaboration is to approach them in a way that feels like you’re going to make their life easier by partnering with you.

Put yourself in their shoes, and lead with their goals in mind so the idea doesn’t feel like more work for them.

Of course, you must also make sure that it’s worth it for you as well, but when doing the initial outreach frame it in a way that doesn’t scare them off with an unformed, one-sided collaboration idea.


What are the most common goals for collaborations?

The number one goal most people have with collaborating is exposure for their product, service, event, or platform. That’s also the most effective way to leverage collaboration - by teaming up with a well-aligned brand, organization, or community, you’re able to gain immediate trust and credibility with their followers that simply doesn’t come from traditional means of promotion.

Other goals for collaborations are: hookups or opportunities for your community (discount codes, freebies, or access to your partner’s product/service/event/platform), and content (access to your partner’s knowledge and experience by having them guest blog post, be a guest on your podcast, speak on your panel, or teach a webinar or workshop).

What are some mistakes you caution your clients from making?

Don’t over-promise and under-deliver! Make sure you can actually come through with what you’ve promised to a partner; stiffing them on delivery is the quickest way to sour a relationship. Be clear about your goals and expectations from the get-go. Start small and with people you already know and trust rather than going after a big brand that you have no connection to and pitching a huge idea. Also, evaluate every collaboration after it ends so you can learn from them and do better going forward.


How can anyone use brand collaborations and partnerships to enhance their voice and reach?

When you collaborate with a well-aligned brand, it enables you to get in front of your target demographic in a way that feels much more authentic and engaging to the partner’s community. Even if they have a small following, those are all people who might not have ever heard of you and your business otherwise.

If you’re going to do a brand collaboration, make sure you’re prepared on your end to potentially welcome a bunch of new followers or customers to your community. This is where having a super clear CTA (call to action) comes in. Have a way for them to immediately connect with you and learn more about what you offer, so that they’re not just learning about you and then forgetting you exist tomorrow.

Don’t waste that valuable exposure by not having a way for them to immediately be looped into your community in some way.


To that end, how can you make sure to maintain your vision and voice during a collaboration?

Always stay true to your mission, vibe, and audience. If you’re creating a co-produced piece of content, event, or opportunity with a partner, make sure your individual brand still shines through.

Why is this your passion?

I truly believe that collaboration can save the world. When we come together to share our resources, ideas, and communities with one another, we are so much more powerful than when we do things on our own. There’s more than enough room for all of us, and even our biggest “competitors” have potential to be collaborators. We all have a unique way of doing what we do, and what resonates for one person won’t necessarily resonate with another.

Our survival as entrepreneurs and as a society as a whole depends upon our ability to join forces.

By ditching the scarcity mindset and adopting an abundance mindset, we can all succeed together. If I can enable even a small number of people to feel comfortable and confident doing that, my life will have purpose.

Photos by Courtney Paige Ray courtesy of Baily Hancock

Laura Youngkin

Laura Youngkin is an entertainment producer, contributor at Forbes, and the creator of The Brave Millennial, a movement to advance millennial women in the American workforce. She is passionate about building bridges between unlikely allies through storytelling and empathy.