It’s difficult to build a brand by yourself, especially as an up and coming workout or studio. Daphnie Yang, founder of self-described ‘indie workout’ HIIT IT!™, designed her workout in 2013 without her own studio space. The foundation was there, but the clients weren’t–yet. But when a casual conversation led to a partnership with Athleta, it completely changed the trajectory of her business.

Athleta had recently expanded its Flatiron store in New York City to host various community classes at least five times a week. Yang’s partnership with Athleta started out with her offering free classes at the space.  This allowed her to introduce the workout to 30 new clients she’d never met before. From there, her business and partnerships skyrocketed.

Yang’s first piece of advice for a successful partnership? Don’t be afraid to offer your services for free to get the word out.  

Yang explains, “If you look at HIIT IT! as a product, it’s the same thing as with granola bars or snacks; you have to give away some free stuff in order to grow.” She adds,  “When you are a small workout just starting out, you really need all the support you can get. An hour of the instructor’s time is nothing compared to all the rewards that come from that partnership.”

But how do you even get started partnering with another company? Yang says it’s simple: just ask. Many of her food and beverage partnerships began with an email. She found granola bars, yogurt brands or sports drink companies that she either heard about from fellow fitness insiders or stumbled upon herself, and reached out.

“I tell these companies I have an event happening and I’d love for you to sponsor it,” she says. “And it benefits everybody involved.”

Of course, Yang has a big name brand behind her in Athleta, which helps lock up partnerships. But the opportunity with that brand can be emulated, she says.

“Walk into your local sporting good store or big name brand store and ask an associate to speak with a manager,” she says. “Most people are going to be more than happy that you want to teach a free class either within their store or lead a running group that starts at their store.”

Each party has something to gain: the instructors earn publicity and legitimacy in the industry, companies gain spontaneous branding opportunities, and clients benefit from free goodies, which go a long way in boosting word of mouth.

Consider adding a social media element to the partnership to extend beyond just that first free class or event. Each of the 30 clients at one free class can expand to 60 people if every person tells just one friend. Couple that with social shares from a hashtag or other social media campaign, and suddenly you’ve gained a much larger audience you may not have had before, bolstered by name-brand recognition from your external partners.

Yang says every partnership has a different way of expanding your brand, while also adding to the community both instructors and companies are working to build.

“The partnerships create this sense of unity and empowerment for what clients and businesses want,” she says. “And I can feel it, too.”