By Dan Foley, CEO and Co-Founder of Tailored Ink

Marketing a new business can be a scary thing. You’re like a writer staring at that blank sheet of paper thinking, “Oh man, where do I start?” I’ve been there. When we started our marketing agency four years ago, the biggest question was, ironically, “How do we market ourselves?”

The fear is real. You need to build brand awareness, acquire social media followers and convince businesses to come on as clients. It’s easy once you have some traction. After all, awareness begets awareness, followers beget followers and clients beget clients -- but if you don’t have any awareness, followers or clients, how can you possibly start? In short, how do you start your marketing from zero?

Here’s the trick: Don’t. Starting from zero rarely worked in the brick-and-mortar era, and it doesn’t work in the digital age. Instead, the secret is symbiosis.

How can you attain marketing symbiosis?

In nature, sea anemones and hermit crabs are a perfect example of symbiosis. The anemones attach themselves to the crab and eat the crab’s leftovers. The crab protects them, but they protect the crab as well, using barbed tentacles to fight off predators.

When it comes to marketing, you need to do the same thing.

It’s easiest to think about this using a brick-and-mortar example. Picture this: You’re selling a brand-new beverage made from dragon fruit called “Druit” (just bear with me). But you have no customers and no suppliers.

So, you do what any enterprising fruit juice vendor would and set up a stand at Trader Joe’s or Whole Foods. You start handing out free samples of Druit with a big smile on your face. Like the sea anemones, you’re feeding off of a bigger creature’s leftovers. The stores benefit a bit from having free samples for their customers, but you’re the big winner because you’re getting brand awareness for a brand that previously had zero exposure.

How does that work in the digital marketing space? Think about it: Other brands out there in cyberspace have hundreds, thousands or even millions of devoted fans. Those are the followers you need to grow your business. Why not act like an anemone and snag some of these followers off other brands’ social media accounts? It costs those brands nothing, and they lose nothing, while you have everything to gain.

But how do you do it?

Step 1: Identify complementary brands.

Do not try to steal competitors’ customers using this method. All’s fair in love and war, but this may very well backfire. Instead, stick to what I call “complementary” brands. Complementary brands are brands that have similar interests but are not direct competition to your brand. Complementary brands naturally carry, feature, use, review, wear, help or leverage brands like yours.

Using our Druit example, complementary brands could include health food stores, juicing influencers or even brands that explore East Asian fruits. Any of these could be interested in your product.

Step 2: Highlight these complementary brands through your social channels.

Modern marketing is all about being useful, and not just for your customers. If you make yourself useful to other brands, they’ll promote you and your brand as well.

The easiest way to do this is with money (of course). But let’s assume you don’t have the money to pay off a bunch of influencers and advertisers. How else could you leverage a pre-existing audience?

One great way is to highlight another brand on your company blog. For instance, there’s a juicing influencer who likes to explore new, exotic juice flavors. You write a piece on how they’ve helped numerous people discover the benefits of juicing.

Step 3: Share this with complementary brands.

You’ve got a great blog post about a juice icon with millions of followers, but no one’s read it. Now what? Simple: Tweet it at the influencer and say, “Keep up the good work.” They just might share that to their millions of followers and say, “Thanks for the shout out, Druit #druitjuice4lyfe.”

You see what just happened? You just got your brand name out in front of millions of people, for the cost of writing a blog post.

Reap the rewards.

Do this over and over again. You’re helping out other brands by promoting them, and they’re doing the same for you. But they’re doing so much more for you than you could ever do for them.

Sure, not everyone will respond in kind. And sure, you won’t instantly have a million followers. But this way, you’re leveraging channels of millions, and you don’t have to start at zero.

Dan Foley is the CEO and Co-Founder of Tailored Ink, a boutique copywriting and marketing firm based in New York City.