Content collaboration

The partnership play: How to grow your audience by borrowing someone else’s

by | Jun 20, 2024

Anyone who’s ever tried growing a following from scratch has experienced that feeling of speaking into the void.

You commit to building a brand, pick a platform, and start pumping out written, audio, or video content, hoping (maybe even praying) that the right people will find it and discover all the insightful, brilliant awesomeness that are you.

And then…they don’t. But it’s not because you don’t have anything meaningful to say. If you’re creating content for a blog, a podcast, or social media, it’s because you are competing with (literally) billions of people for attention.

My name is Renee Frojo, and I build storytelling & content systems for founder-led startups & small businesses with a clear purpose. And I’m here to tell you (or perhaps remind you) that you never have to do this alone—nor should you.

Leveraging other people’s platforms is the golden ticket to skyrocketing your own. Why? Because they already have the trust, attention, and influence of the people you’re trying to reach.

This is the fourth article in our co-author series where I co-write with other super-smart marketing pros. Previous articles in this series include Brooke Sellas on parasocial relationships, Lauren Dennis on audio and copywriting, and Erin Braford on why personal content is vital for businesses.

Why borrowing is better than building (or buying).

You only have three options to drive more traffic to your business through an online audience:

  1. You can build it.
  2. You can borrow it. 
  3. Or you can buy it.

If you have access to capital, you could try buying attention and traffic through paid ads. But some companies end up wasting a lot of money in the process as they figure out what works. Buying to accelerate your growth is something you can consider after the foundation has been built. Or—for the purpose of this argument—borrowed.

Renee’s audience-building journey.

My first attempt at building an audience was as a fresh-out-of-college journalist. Thanks to the rise of Twitter and the fall of print media advertising, staff writers were told we had to build personal brands to help drive more traffic to the newspaper.

That one was easy. I was already in a little position of influence. People wanted to get my attention so that I would give them publicity. So, they pretended to agree with what I had to say on Twitter. This, in turn, gave me a false sense of confidence that I was good at building an audience. (I was not—yet.)

Renee Frojo working from a laptop
Image courtesy of Renee Frojo

But, what it did teach me was the art of engaging and following up with my subject-matter experts to distribute our joint article to their audiences. It was a partnership play in its own way.

My first true attempt at building an audience from scratch without the backing of an established media company started when I launched a food blog. I published weekly and distributed that content on Instagram and Pinterest. My goal was to grow a following so that I could drive more traffic to my blog and monetize through sponsorships, ads, and affiliate links.

I created so much content. I invested in learning food photography and joined all the groups and communities teaching people how to grow and monetize a food blog. In the first four months, I saw growth at the pace of a turtle race.

Because I’m impatient (and didn’t have the funds to invest in ads), I decided to try a different approach. I reached out to every single blogger I could find who had a following that was double my own and pitched collaborative content ideas.

And that did it. I grew my following to 10,000 engaged food enthusiasts in 6 months. Because if the Queen of gluten-free baked goods wanted to hang out with me on a Facebook Live, then I must be worth trusting. (Or at least checking out.)

Since I now mostly work with small businesses and startups that are building audiences from scratch, borrowing is my go-to approach for getting attention.

Ultimately, the benefit of borrowing someone else’s audience is that your name becomes associated with a brand that already has established trust. That means you can get a cut of their brand authority as you work to build your own.

Jeff’s experience borrowing audiences in podcasting.

When it comes to podcasting, I like approaching the topic of borrowed audiences from two angles:

  1. Gaining access to other people’s audiences.
  2. Building authority through association.

When you guest on other people’s podcasts, you get instant access to an audience that hasn’t heard of you yet. If you play your cards well, this can help you direct their attention to your own brand and content.

I’ve experienced some of this success first-hand. Back in 2019, I was featured on an episode of the Matt Report. During the episode, both Matt and I encouraged the listeners to check out my personal podcast. The results? My monthly listenership doubled the month after the interview. I also had a prospect reach out to me specifically because he heard me on that podcast. We closed a deal with his company within a few weeks.

While I can’t contribute 100% of the growth to this specific guest appearance, I’ve seen similar scenarios play out for the clients we serve at Come Alive and other businesses.

Being seen—or, in this case, heard—with higher-profile guests also helps you build authority through association. One of the key factors in building trust is demonstrating credibility, and when you work alone, it takes years of consistency to show you can meet your audience’s needs. However, inviting the right guests to your podcast sends a signal to your audience, instantly boosting your credibility.

Recording At the Brink
Jeff Large recording At The Brink

For example, when we worked on the At the Brink podcast, we covered stories about the threat of nuclear weapons. The team was able to secure guests, including historians, congressmen, and even the 42nd President of the United States. These high-profile guests lent their authority to the podcast, contributing to its success.

Of course, building authority through association is less relevant if your credibility is already well-established.

Four steps for borrowing audiences.

Here’s the thing: every brand and every company needs to create more content. There’s never enough.

So, if you come to the table with good ideas on how they can fill a spot on their calendar, you’re in. But how?

There are a few ways to borrow an audience. You can hope to get a mention or earn a feature. Or, you can lead the effort. Either way, it all comes down to doing your research and giving more than you ask for.

1. Do your research.

Start by making a list of all the people and things that have the attention of your target audience. Study those people or brands and find opportunities to fill holes in their content. Then, come up with a list of ideas that would benefit both of you in a collaboration.

In podcasting specifically, it’s easy to listen to their interviews and understand their preferred conversation topics. A quick search will show you if they have guested on other shows before, making it more likely for them to accept your invitation. And because it helps if you have already interviewed other people within their network, once you have a guest on board, you can ask for recommendations and introductions to other people you can partner with.

You can also use tools like SparkToro to get a list of individuals in the spaces you want to target.

2. Start giving out favors.

Give lots of favors, get lots of favors.

Chris Hutchins has talked about using this strategy before launching his podcast, which became a massive overnight success.

It went like this: He called up industry peers and people he admired and asked them to download everything they knew about building a podcast. He then wrote up his notes and delivered them back to his sources to use however they wanted—a valuable asset. For Chris, it was a simple thank you for their time.

When it came time for Chris to launch his new podcast, he asked these peers if they would mind giving it a shoutout on their channels. For Chris, they were happy to do it.

Give as much as possible to your community and network when building the foundation of your new platform. It can be in the form of resources, advice, or connections. When you’re ready to launch, you can ask for the small favor of giving you a shoutout in return.

3. Apply the 80/20 rule when first building.

For every 20% of your time spent publishing on your platform, spend 80% working on getting on someone else’s.

That means either being a guest on someone else’s podcast, guest posting on someone else’s blog, or making a guest appearance as an expert on their webinar, community, or membership program.

Companies that believe in the power of content tend to forget that guesting can lead to mind-breaking positive results. For example, MeetEdgar was able to accomplish several major milestones through podcasting:

  • 1.25 million site visitors
  • 100,000 email subscribers
  • $329,000+ in monthly recurring revenue

The funniest part? They did it all without launching a branded podcast of their own. They simply guested on 100 podcasts.

Again, keep in mind that everyone needs content. And thanks to AI, people are increasingly on the hunt for quality content. They’re looking for subject-matter experts to fill in the gaps.

4. Partner up.

Publishing on other people’s platforms or becoming a guest isn’t your only option for borrowing an audience to build your own. You can also partner up on projects.

Take this blog, for example! Jeff and I (Renee) are writing it in collaboration. It’s both an audience share and a joint effort to create.

Beyond this blog, I’m always reaching out to peers and partners who aren’t direct competitors but rather complimentary collaborators. I come up with ideas for collaboration and do the bulk of the work for organizing a partnership. All they need to do is show up.

For instance, I’ve done social video lives with paid ad specialists. They talked about how to run an ad, and I talked about how to do the creative content planning for it.

As another example, I recently reached out to a content marketer who works with large organizations. I work with small businesses and startups. I asked her if she was interested in promoting a joint webinar to our respective LinkedIn audiences about where content marketing strategies overlap between big businesses and small ones. She’s in.

The potential for collaboration is endless—especially when you take the lead.

And I know what you’re probably thinking: Collaborative content and pitching partners sounds extremely time-consuming. It is. But not any more time-consuming than creating endless amounts of content on your own channels and hoping enough of the right people will see or hear it.

And if you want to make sure your partners shine the spotlight on the content you help create, you can take inspiration from Jeff’s podcasting playbook: Ask up front and beforehand what you can do to make your content easy to share. In the podcasting world, this sometimes means providing graphics for social media, making sure you tag them, and other times, the guest has a marketing team you can work with.

Making things easy for your partner takes extra effort, but the results are worth it.

Group of people taking notes

So, how exactly do you pitch yourself for guest appearances and collaborations?

The most important thing to keep in mind for collaborations is that the audience always goes first.

They are the reason brands, personalities, and businesses create content. So, before you pitch yourself, make sure you understand the needs of your host’s target audience and how you can create value for them.

Once you achieve this clarity, you can follow these four steps for an effective pitch:

  1. Start by building a relationship with the person or brand you are pitching to. You can follow them on social media and meaningfully engage with their content, read up on their background or career, and join their newsletter if they have one. By getting on their radar through meaningful interactions, you’ll increase your chances of success.
  2. Come up with an idea or topic that resonates with your host’s target audience. Remember, the audience always goes first. If you pitch an idea that adds no value to their lives, you will only get rejected.
  3. Write a simple pitch email. People are busy, so use a straightforward subject line. Briefly explain the topic you want to cover for the collaboration, why it’s useful for the audience, and why you have the authority to discuss it. This first email should by no means be comprehensive. In fact, it should be pretty short. There will be plenty of opportunity to discuss the details once they say yes.
  4. If you don’t get an answer to your first email, follow up. Again, people are busy. The lack of an answer is not the same as a rejection, so follow up a couple of times or until you get a direct no.

Once your pitch becomes a reality, make sure you deliver actionable takeaways that only you can deliver, and sprinkle in your personality so that you can create a deeper connection with your host’s audience.

Wrapping up.

Even if you’re starting from scratch, remember that you never have to start from scratch.

Each appearance, guest post, and speaking engagement is an opportunity to get yourself in front of a new market and drive those eyeballs back to your own corner of the internet. Plus, collaboration is a great way to expose yourself to new perspectives, ideas, and trends.

Huge thanks to Renee Frojo for collaborating with me on this article!

Renee is an incredible storyteller and a talented strategist. She helps founder-led startups & small businesses create content marketing systems to encourage real connection and consistent engagement. She also publishes a great weekly newsletter that you can subscribe to here.

Jeff Large