Do you think sponsorships are only for nonprofits or big names and huge companies with a massive following and years of experience in their industry? Then think again. Even if you’re just starting out and looking to hold an event, if you have an interested audience then you can find sponsors to help you defray the expenses involved with such an undertaking.
Squash the myths that are holding you back. You can go after the big companies, you can land the big bucks, and you can keep them coming back year after year. By building a relationship with them that blends cohesively with your intended audience and giving them the incentive to support you financially, you can be successful at landing big sponsorships whether it’s your first time at it or not.
Linda Hollander knows how to attract big sponsors both for herself and her clients. Her thoughtful and compelling strategies for landing big names and big dollars are sure to help skyrocket your next business venture.
Rich: Linda Hollander has been featured by Inc. Magazine as the leading expert on corporate sponsorships. She’s the author of the book, Corporate Sponsorships In 3 Easy Steps: Get Funding From Sponsors Even If You’re Just Starting Out. She’s also the CEO of Sponsor Concierge and the Sponsor Secrets Seminar. Her sponsors include Microsoft, Wells Fargo, Dun and Bradstreet, Epson, Citibank, FedEx, American Airlines, Staples, Health Nut, Marriott, Wal Mart, Bank of America and IBM.
She has over 20 years of experience as a small business owner, and she’s the only person to be featured on both Entrepreneur and Female Entrepreneur magazines in the same month. She has also been on NBC, ABC, CBS, Fox Television, Bloomberg Radio and Remarkable Women. Linda, welcome to the show.
Linda: Great to be here, thank you so much.
Rich: Now let’s just start with how did you actually get into sponsorships in the first place?
Linda: Hey, you gotta know that. Ok, so I actually got into the sponsorships because I wanted to do an event. I wanted to do a women’s small business expo because after starting my business I was able to really have a great life. I was able to talk to people and coach them on how to do business, how to do sales, how to do marketing, and was able to travel the world.
I want to back up a little bit because before I started my business I was not in a good place. I was really worse than broke, I was in a lot of debt, I was living in a rent controlled apartment, and every time I went down to the mailbox my hand would shake opening that mailbox – and everybody can probably guess why – because there were bills there that I could never ever afford to pay. And I was even working at the time, but what I did was I wasn’t making enough money at my jobs so I borrowed from credit cards. So I got myself into a really bad financial situation.
And in my personal life I was in a relationship with an abusive man. So starting my business really got me out of all that. I was able to fire my boss, I was able to dump the abusive boyfriend, and it was great. So my best friend and I created a business and we turned it into a multi million dollar business. And I wanted to show other women how to do the same thing. So I said I’ve got to do this event, the Women’s Small Business Expo.
But doing an event is not a cheap experience, it’s very cost intensive. So you know that because you do great events, too, so I wondered how do I fund this great thing that I need to do, this mission and this passion that I have. And I came up with corporate sponsors because I looked around at other events and I said what are these magical things called “sponsors”, and I researched it. And working from my kitchen table as a micro business of 1 person – I’m sharing the kitchen table with the cat – and doing that I got Bank of America, IBM and I got WalMart as my very first sponsors.
So after that, people said how the heck are you doing this, I thought you needed to be a big business and have experience. I had no experience, I had never done an event in my life, and they thought I needed a big following, too, and I had no fanbase at the time. I put my parents on my email list, I put my brother in law – I would have put the cat if I could – and I still got these great sponsors, and I’ve basically done it for 16 years. So now what I do full time is teach people how to do that, how to get corporate sponsors even if you’re just starting out.
Rich: That’s fantastic and super exciting. I know that a lot of people listening to this podcast are always looking to – and I know the word is overused – monetize whatever they’re doing. And I’m sure a lot of them when they hear the idea of getting a sponsor, they’re like, “Ok, that would be awesome, but why would a company sponsor me? Don’t I have to be a nonprofit?” What do you say when somebody says that to you?
Linda: I am so glad you asked me that, Rich, because that is one of the biggest myths floating out there about corporate sponsorships is that you have to be a nonprofit. I have always been a for profit business, I work with for profit companies to help them get sponsors. So you do not have to be a nonprofit. But what I do suggest is that you have a charitable partner, you have a charity that you donate part of the proceeds to from whatever you do, whether it be your book, your event, your speaking, your business, your nonprofit, your magazine, your show. There’s a whole lot of things that can be sponsored.
Now let’s take that second question – because I get that every day – people call me and they ask why would a company sponsor little, old me. What the heck do I have to offer a sponsor to get this funding. So the number one thing that you have is called influence. You have influence, and in building your business or whatever you’re getting sponsored, you’re going to have even more influence. And I want you to think of a time when you recommended a product or service to somebody and they took advantage of that product or service. That is all sponsorship is on steroids. The definition of sponsorship is, “connecting a company to people who buy things”. So if you know people who buy things, you can get sponsors.
Rich: I may know a couple people who buy things. So you had mentioned connecting to a charitable organization or something like that. Is there a magical number or percentage that you should consider donating to get the attention or interest of certain sponsors, or does it really depend?
Linda: The industry standard for charitable donations from even big companies like Ben and Jerry’s – who kind of wear it on their sleeve – is, you’re not going to believe this, 1.5%. They donate 1.5% of their net proceeds – and the net proceeds is after expenses – to their charitable partner. Now you could go bigger, you could donate 5%-10%, but start small. I work with a lot of clients who have these really big hearts and they want to donate everything to their charity and I don’t recommend that because in your business you have to make something called a profit. So I recommend starting small with your charitable nations, and you can get bigger over time.
And you know, charities want a couple of things. Everybody thinks it’s all about the money with the nonprofits, but they also want exposure. So you could give a nonprofit exposure, too.
Rich: Interesting. Alright, so one of the things you and I talked about before was when I was looking for sponsors for Agents Of Change, is you said that you can certainly get sponsors for an event, but you actually prefer to go bigger than that. Can you talk about some of the things that we might get sponsored?
Linda: Yeah. Ok, let’s talk about the events first and then I’ll go to the other kinds of things that can be sponsored. So if you are doing an event, I don’t recommend event sponsorship. I started out doing that and said I could make a whole lot more money if I get sponsored for the whole year for all the events that I do. And the events that you do include podcasts like this one. They include virtual trainings, they include email marketing, they include social media, blogging, all the touchpoints that you have with your core consumers and your audience. So even if you do events, I want you to get sponsorship for the whole year for your brand.
So let’s talk about the kinds of things that can get sponsored. First of all I work with speakers, because speakers have a platform, and remember, sponsorship is connecting a company to people who can buy their stuff. So you can do that as a speaker. I work with authors because your book gives you access to an audience. I work with people who do magazines, I work with people who do shows, podcasts, bloggers, people who have traditional businesses, event producers, and I also work with nonprofits. And the real savvy nonprofits that you’ll see out there like Susan G. Komen, have absolutely mastered the art of corporate sponsorship, because one corporate sponsor is worth thousands and thousands of donors. So those are the kinds of things that can get sponsored.
And then the last thing that can get sponsored is put under the projects, basically. I work with documentary filmmakers and sometimes parents. As a parent if your child is on a sports team or a theater group, they call on the parents to help them get sponsors for that. So anything that I say can be used for your child also.
Rich: Alright, that makes a lot of sense. So how do we then find the right sponsor for our event or platform?
Linda: The way to find your sponsor, there’s a couple of different ways, but I want you to remember that demographics are destiny. And that’s what I did when I was selling the Women’s Small Business Expo. I sold sponsors for my first event, so I sold them on the concept, because that demographic of women business owners is so strong. Women are starting businesses at twice the rate of men. Women make or influence over 85% of the purchasing decisions in America. So I sold them on that. It’s a $10.5 trillion dollar market, women in America spend more than five countries combined.
So I kind of did some research on my demographic and presented that to my prospective sponsors, and that’s what I want you to do. Find out everything that you can about your demographic or your audience or your community, because that’s what you’re selling to sponsors. So that’s really what it’s all about. So think of the daily lifestyle of that person in your demographic. They get up in the morning and they brush their teeth and they wash their hair and they get into a car and they have a bank that they go to and they use credit cards and buy insurance. So those are also categories of possible sponsors. Insurance, banks, credit cards, personal care items, automobiles. So just think of the daily life of that person that is your target audience or community, and you’ll come up with some companies that can be your prospective sponsors.
Rich: Alright, that’s a good approach. So once we know who we’re going to go after, what’s the process like? Let’s say that for Agents Of Change I’ve identified some companies and organizations that I think would be a good fit, do I just knock on their door, is there a procedure that I should take, do I need to find out who I speak to, what goes on there?
Linda: Well first of all I want you to get a proposal ready, because the proposal is the most important but the least understood document out there in sponsorships. And don’t worry about how you’re going to get that proposal, but get that proposal ready. Now when your proposal is ready, then you can approach your sponsors.
My company likes the low tech tool of the telephone, because sponsorship is a relationship business, and really having conversations builds relationships and builds rapport. And that’s how I’ve gotten a lot of my sponsors, that’s how my company gets sponsors for for clients, we just kind of call and talk to them. And of course you want to make an appointment, you don’t want to just walk in, but you could walk in just to get the name maybe of a sponsor of a local bank or something. That may be a way to go.
Now if you cannot reach your prospective sponsors by phone, an email introduction is the second best way to introduce yourself, and a lot of sponsors have told me off the record that sometimes they prefer an email introduction because they don’t want to be caught off guard with a phone call. So phone and email are really your best ways to introduce yourself to your sponsors.
Rich: So let’s talk about that sponsor proposal that you mentioned. What exactly goes into a sponsor proposal?
Linda: Ok, well the full sponsor proposal is 8-10 pages. What goes into it is a description of your property, because what you have to offer sponsors right now is called a “property”. The example is Rachael Ray – the celebrity chef – she is a property and she is sponsored by Nabisco. So your property could be the person, or your business, or your events, or your show, or your speaking, your book, your nonprofit, whatever you do. So you want to describe that to your sponsor.
You want to offer your sponsor benefits. You want to write down what are the benefits to the sponsor of funding you. So you want to have that and you want to write down the right compelling benefits. You want to write your marketing plan, because marketing is crucial because you can include the sponsors in on how you’re marketing and how you’re going to get the word out about what you do. If you have testimonials, you’ll put it in there.
And then the last thing – and here’s how we do sponsor proposals that’s way different than a lot of other people – is storytelling. You want to put in some really compelling storytelling. For instance, in my proposal I put that I was in the poverty trap, that I was in abusive relationships, you don’t want to have just your pretty bio. You want to kind of get vulnerable and make an emotional connection with your sponsors, you want to show them your humanity. So you’ll want to put your story, or you’ll want to put the story of somebody that you have helped through the business that you do. We’re all in different businesses but we’re all in the life changing business, and that’s what sponsors help you do is help you change people’s lives, because most of our big dreams cost money and it takes capital to really accomplish all those big dreams that we have and change lives.
Rich: Interesting.So one of the things I heard you say is testimonials. Now when you’re talking about testimonials, are you thinking about the testimonials of other sponsors, or are you thinking of testimonials of the people that we reach?
Linda: It’s all good. I would have testimonials of clients, if you do an event I would have testimonials from attendees, and I would have testimonials from other sponsors. For instance, Bank of America is one of my sponsors so I have testimonials from Bank of America in my sponsor proposal. So yeah, they love to see testimonials from other sponsors.
You know, I work with a lot of people who haven’t worked with a sponsor yet, so if you could get client testimonials, attendee testimonials, donor testimonials, whatever you can get is good to put in your proposal.
Rich: Alright. Now do we include pricing in this proposal?
Linda: Yes. The full proposal includes your sponsor fees, and your sponsor fees are a menu of prices. So for different levels of sponsorship they get different benefits. It’s kind of like at a restaurant, you order your appetizer, then you pay a little bit more for the entree, then a little bit more for the dessert, and a little bit more for the wine course. That’s kind of how sponsorship works. Most of my clients get potentially between $10,000 and $100,000 from each sponsor.
Linda: Now asking for too little money can actually hurt you in the sponsor game. This is a game, you’ve got to know the rules. So I get a lot of people, they send me their proposals, and they’re asking for $500 in sponsorship. Well this communicates that you really don’t have anything of value to offer your sponsor and it’s not worth their time. Because they’re going to have to get involved with this and spend their time on it, so we want you to ask for the big bucks, we want you to ask for a good amount of money.
Rich: Ok, alright, I’ll do that. Is there a magic number for the type of sponsorship you can have? Because I think on my sponsorship I have too many different levels, so is that confusing?
Linda: Yeah. In sales, the confused mind says no. So when you offer too many different levels, people get confused and they say no. So I would say 3-4 levels of participation as a sponsor is good.
Rich: Three to four, good to know. Is there a time period that I should be approaching sponsors if I do have a timed thing like an event?
Linda: Yeah. The more lead time you give the sponsor, the more successful you’re going to be with your sponsors, especially if you’re going for what’s called the “top tiered sponsors”, and those are some of the ones you mentioned in my introduction. So if you’re going for companies like that, there’s a pretty long lead time, and I always tell people to start approaching their sponsors 8-12 months before their event. Now, if you don’t have that kind of lead time you can still get it done, you’ll just approach more second tiered sponsors, which are kind of the up and coming brands. So instead of Wells Fargo and Bank of America and CitiBank, you could approach a local community bank or an emerging bank or an emerging player in that particular space. So the longer your lead time, the more successful you’re going to be with your sponsors.
Rich: Alright. Now one thing you mentioned in your book – which was great, by the way, I definitely recommend people pick it up if they found this interesting – is that you need to show the value of the community or audience that you bring together, buying habits and so on. How do you suggest that we get that kind of information?
Linda: Your best friend is Google.
Rich: So you’re not saying that we should survey our audience, per se, but if we understand who our audience is then we can Google those kind of facts?
Linda: Yes. Just Google it, it’s all over the place. I just Googled “women business owner statistics” and I pretty much compiled the buying habits. You kind of heard me rattle off some really compelling statistics about the women’s business market, so you do the same for whatever market you’re working with. Let’s say you’re working with parents, if you’re a parent all you do is buy stuff for your kid. Parents is a $3.9 trillion market. So it’s all over the internet, so just Google “statistics” and then put in the name of your particular demographic, and you’ll get a whole lot of rich information.
Now, there’s always best guess, because you work with clients and you kind of know what your clients are all about. So you can just kinda take your experience and also put it in the demographics section of your sponsor proposal.
Rich: Alright. What kind of feedback are sponsors looking for? I’m sure there’s some sort of ROI calculations going on on their ends, so how do we let them know what’s going on?
Linda: Ok, well we’re getting into right now something called “renewals”. And that’s a cool thing about sponsorship because sponsor funding is relational, so if they like working with you this year, they can fund you next year and the next year and the next year. And I had multi year contracts with CitiBank and FedEx, my clients have had multi year contracts with Verizon and Black and Decker, just to name a few. So you can do that.
Now the kind of feedback they’re looking for is called a “fulfillment report”. You want to give them a fulfillment report quarterly. Every few months you want to give them a report that’s just one sheet of paper and you just list what you’ve done for that sponsor, you kind of list again what your demographics are and the strength of your audience and things like that. But it’s really just communication and keeping that relationship going. And I know I’m talking a lot about relationships because that’s really where it’s at.
And I’ll give you an example. When I had American Airlines as my sponsor, I did a radio interview – kind of similar to this one – and then when I finished the interview I typed off an email to my sponsor and told them I just did an interview and mentioned their company. And they typed an email right back to me to thank me, and then they renewed, they were a multi year sponsor. So sometimes it’s just as informal as that, it’s just keeping your sponsor aware of what you’re doing for them.
Rich: Alright. Now you mentioned one already in terms of asking for too little money, what are some other big mistakes that entrepreneurs make when approaching sponsors, or when it comes to sponsorships in general?
Linda: A really good mistake is kind of not promising deliverables. Like they’ll say things that are really vague like “I can give you media opportunities”, but what does that mean? And in sponsorship you can also get media partners, and I’ve gotten $25,000 of radio advertising with a major station and not a penny came out of my pocket. So instead of saying I can give you media exposure, say, “Hey, I’ve got this radio station (or hometown business journal) with 100,000 listeners making over $100,000 a year”.
So get really specific with what you are promising your sponsor as a benefit, and then have the right compelling benefits. Most people think that just putting a logo up on a website is going to get them a million dollars in sponsorship, and that really doesn’t happen. So now what sponsors are looking for is they’re looking for engagement and connection to their core consumers. So if you can do contests and social media and press releases and things that the sponsor can connect with people, that’s a whole lot more valuable than just pasting a log up on a website.
Rich: Alright. This has been great and I again just wanted to say I enjoyed your book and I read it over a weekend and it was just very helpful in terms of getting my own thoughts around not just the Agents Of Change event, but also the whole year and maybe thinking about how to get sponsorships. And if you’re out there listening and you’ve got a podcast or some other platform that you can reach people at, I strongly recommend you pick up a copy of the book, we’ll have a link to it in the show notes.
Linda, will you share with us where else can we find you online?
Linda: Well my company is Sponsor Concierge, so you could go to sponsorconcierge.com. And can I give a gift to the listeners?
Rich: I think that would be appropriate.
Linda: So the gift I’m going to give to the listeners is if you go to sponsorconcierge.com, I’m going to gift you the #1 secret to getting corporate sponsors. So you just fill in your name and your information, and then I’m going to send you the #1 secret for getting corporate sponsors. And then if you would like to talk to me personally offline, I can go over what you do, we can go over valuations and strategy on how to be successful with your sponsors, you can email me at email@example.com.
Rich: This has been great. Linda, thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.
Linda: Thank you so much, it was wonderful.
- For more great tips on how to get big sponsors, check out Linda’s website (don’t forget to sign up for the free #1 tip she’s giving away!)
- Definitely check out Linda’s book – that Rich raved about – if you’re looking to amp up your sponsorship game.
- Linda would love to talk to you one on one if you would like more personal guidance with your sponsorship strategies. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- If you’re a small business looking to get more information and help with search, social and mobile marketing, then grab your tickets to the Agents Of Change Digital Marketing Conference coming in September.