It was 1992, and I’d been operating my ballroom dance instruction business for less than a year. I wasn’t actually starving, but times were tight. My car was very old and had no air conditioning. (In South Florida, where I live, this is a big deal.) And my diet consisted of lots of hot dogs and macaroni and cheese.

I desperately needed to bring in some new customers, but I had virtually no money to invest in marketing. I needed all the meager profits the business was generating just to survive.

Fortunately, I found a solution that allowed me to increase my revenues by more than 25 percent within 30 days. I call it the “Piggyback Method,” because you climb on the back of another business to find new customers.

In my case, I took advantage of the fact that couples who are planning to get married frequently want to take dance lessons so they’ll look good on the dance floor at their wedding. So I contacted some large bridal shops and offered them a 20 percent commission on any business I got as a result of referrals from them.

The shops allowed me to set up a booth at some of their bridal shows. They also allowed me to set up displays with flyers in their stores. These flyers included a discount coupon that was marked with a different code for each shop. That way, I could tell where each new referral came from.

This same approach can work for many different businesses. The idea is to hook up with other businesses that attract the kind of customers you’re looking for, but sell non-competing products or services.

Here are some of the basics for making “piggyback” deals:

Step 1: Search out and identify businesses with a customer base that would likely be interested in your product or service.

To find potential piggyback partners, you’re going to have to do a little legwork (or phone work). If you are a masseuse, for instance, you might contact local gyms, sportswear shops, and beauty salons. If you are a party planner, you could contact paper goods stores, local bands, and event venues.

Step 2: Do some research to determine the right person to contact at each of those businesses.

Usually, the best way to find out who you need to talk to in order to make a piggyback deal is to make a phone call and ask for the name of the person in charge of marketing. Depending on the industry you’re in, you might also be able find the name you’re looking for in a trade directory.

In my experience, it is easier to sell the idea of a piggyback venture if you are willing to speak to these people personally (by phone or by setting up a meeting). But if you’re not comfortable doing that, a letter or e-mail will work. The important thing is to direct your inquiry to a specific person.

Step 3: Create a detailed plan for getting the referrals.

When I promoted my ballroom dance lessons at bridal shows, I set up a TV and VCR that played a looping video showing me dancing with a partner, both of us dressed in formal wear. The video got people’s attention. And when they stopped to get a closer look, I handed them my flyer and answered any questions they had. As for the flyers displayed in the bridal shops, I’d drop by once a week to replenish the supply.

This arrangement required almost no work on the part of the businesses I was piggybacking with – and that’s exactly what you should aim for.

Let’s say you have a pest control service. You want to piggyback with a landscaper, and you’d like him to include your flyers with his billing statements. If you tell him that you’ll e-mail him a pdf file of your flyer so he can print it out and then have his people staple them to the bills… that probably won’t sound very attractive. On the other hand, if you offer to drop by his office with a stack of printed flyers and staple them to the statements yourself, he’ll be much more likely to agree to your deal.

It should sound like there’s almost no downside for the other business. All they have to do is give you access to their customer base, and substantial extra profits will fall into their lap.

Step 4: Draft a formal proposal that makes financial sense for both sides.

Before you can come up with proposal, you’ve got to figure out how much of a commission you can afford pay your piggyback partner – and you’ve got to make it worthwhile for them. In the case of my ballroom dance business, I gave the bridal shops 20 percent. (Had I offered them 50 cents per referral, they obviously wouldn’t have been interested.) At the time, I was charging $50 an hour for a lesson. But, though I earned only $40 for each one-hour lesson that came from their referrals, it was still profitable for me.

Even when times are tough, you can still build a thriving business without investing a lot of capital. The “Piggy Back Method” is just one of many low (or zero) cost ways to do it.

[Ed. Note: In the current economy, finding ways to stretch your marketing dollar is not just smart – it’s a necessity. You can get more of Paul Lawrence’s strategies for making money with little to no capital in his “Cheapskate Marketing” program. Get the details here.

For more marketing strategies that can add millions to your company’s bottom line, pick up a copy of Michael Masterson and MaryEllen Tribby’s brand-new book, Changing the Channel.]

Paul Lawrence

Paul Lawrence is an entrepreneur who has made his living starting and running a series of profitable businesses. One day while cleaning his mother’s pool for a few extra bucks, it dawned on Paul that he could perhaps start his own pool cleaning business. He carefully employed all the marketing techniques that he had learned in school and designed his first flyer. Immediately the business took off and within a week, Paul had his own little business. He quickly expanded, hired employees and then eventually sold it some relatives who made well over $250,000 in the next year before they eventually sold it for a six figure profit.
After finishing college, Paul did a brief stint in a management program for a national rental company, but he quickly realized that he was much happier running his own show. Paul left the rental company and launched one of the most financially successful independent ballroom dance instruction companies in the state of Florida where he received quite a bit of media attention for his revolutionary business practices that included front page features in the Life Style section of the Sun Sentinel, features in the Miami Herald, Boca News, Center Stage Entertainment and many others. With that business running profitably, Paul started several other businesses either individually or as partnerships that included a million dollar video production company, a mortgage brokerage, a home maintenance business, several mail order companies, a business consulting service among others.With a love of movies, Paul began to work at breaking into Hollywood as a screenwriter where he’s beaten the odds by becoming a produced writer. He is a credited writer for the film CRUEL WORLD, starring Jaime Presley and Eddie Furlong and has signed a development deal for a national television series with one of the world’s largest producers of television and films among his half a dozen sales and options of movie scripts he wrote. Paul is the creator of the Quick & Easy Microbusiness program.