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How to Get Corporate Sponsorship for a Small Business

by | November 17, 2023

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As a small business, you’re eager to make a big splash. However, you recognize your limitations, especially in terms of budget. With a sponsor on your side, you feel like your business could fulfill more of its goals for the upcoming quarter or year. Yet you’re clueless about obtaining sponsorship. How do you do it as a small business?

Here’s how a small business can obtain corporate sponsors:

  • Know what you need
  • Understand your audience
  • Prospect for sponsors
  • Compile assets and activations
  • Value assets
  • Write your sponsorship proposal
  • Initiate contact for a discovery session
  • Plan follow-up meetings
  • Negotiate the terms of the deal
  • Produce a fulfillment report

Navigating a sponsorship program as a first-time sponsorship seeker can be difficult, but with my surefire tips and advice in this guide, you’ll be well on your way to securing your first sponsor! 

Small Business Corporate Sponsorship Guide – Follow These Steps 

Know What You Need

Sponsorship seekers come to me from a myriad of industries, but I always tell them to start their respective sponsorship programs the same way. That is, you must begin with clear-cut goals.

I know, this seems so simple, but you’d be surprised how sponsorship seekers can sometimes overcomplicate it.

If you’re asking for a large sum of money, you might have reservations about presenting that figure upfront to a potential corporate sponsor. I can understand where maybe that’s a bit daunting, but you have to get over those reservations fast.

If you need $20,000, then you must say that. The only exception is if you plan to work with several sponsors. Then you don’t need $20 grand from them all, but a cut of the cash.

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Sponsors though are not ATMs, and that’s something I can’t stress enough, especially in your position as a first-time small business sponsorship seeker. 

If the sponsor gives you money, they’re going to wonder what it will be used for. You need to be able to disclose this information. It’s okay if you don’t know what every last cent would be allocated towards, but you want to have a general idea.

Speaking of general ideas, this first phase of your corporate sponsorship program is when I advise my clients to begin thinking–even very loosely at this stage–of what you can offer a sponsor. 

I know, as a small business, you might feel like you have nothing of use for the sponsor, but I can assure you that isn’t true. In fact, I’m about to get to exactly what your most valuable asset is in just a moment…

Understand Your Audience

That’s right, it’s your audience! No, I’m not kidding. 

As a small business, your audience is not much, but in this case, that’s okay. It will make what you’re about to do a lot easier. 

You see, you have to go through your audience and organize them into very specific segments or niches. The reason? It all goes back to the classic marketing saying that the riches are in the niches.

In other words, a small segment of very specific people is more valuable than a larger segment of generalized people.

By niching down your audience, you can make any audience group look more appealing, even if your audience isn’t particularly large.

My tried and true method for collecting audience data is through issuing a survey. You can do this by email, which makes it convenient. 

In the survey, you want to learn about your audience in a way that you never have before. You want more than their address and their marital status, although that information is important too. You need to know about the brands they like, the media they consume, and where their loyalties lie.

This post will help you put together an audience survey. 

You might worry that because your audience is small that you’ll get hardly any responses. You have several ways to prevent this issue. 

For one, I always recommend providing an incentive such as a prize to inspire people to take time out of their busy lives to do the survey. Your prize can be small, but if it’s valuable, then it will hit the mark.

I also suggest adding a statement or disclaimer that all information in the survey will remain anonymous and that you’re not selling the customer’s data. That will put reluctant customers more at ease.

To niche down your audience requires you to explore each segment to the fullest. As an example, rather than just split your audience by city or town, you can divide them by neighborhood or borough.

It may seem like pointless busywork at times, but I promise you that sponsors eat up this kind of segmented audience data like it’s candy.

Why? The corporate sponsor can very clearly tell whether your audience members would be interested in their products and services. 

Prospect for Sponsors

It’s hard to know what your sponsors want when you’re not even sure who those prospective sponsors are. This next phase of your small business sponsorship program will help you find the corporations that you’re going to target.

There’s an art to prospecting for sponsors. You don’t just do an online search and select the names that seem the most lucrative or popular. That kind of method ensures that you get a very low response rate, which is enough to discourage first-time sponsorship seekers, sometimes permanently.

I have a method of prospecting that will make it all make sense for you. All you have to do is sit down and draw four circles.

Each circle in the main circle should get smaller and smaller. Technically, they’re concentric, but hey, this isn’t a math or science lesson.

Then number your circles one through four, with the broadest circle #1, the second broadest #2, and so on. 

Now, for each circle, you’ll have corporate sponsorship prospects that are either warmer or colder. You know, like playing a game of Marco Polo.

The first circle–which also happens to be the biggest–includes your warmest prospects. Remember that audience survey you did recently? You should have had your audience identify their favorite brands and companies. 

Every brand listed goes into the first circle. Pay special attention to the brands that multiple audience members mentioned. Those are very valuable. 

Now move on to the second circle, which is your second-warmest group of corporate sponsorship prospects. This information also comes from your audience survey, as you should have asked which brands or companies have marketed to your customers within a recent time frame. 

You don’t want every company your audience mentions in the second circle, only the ones that keep coming up.

Now you’re onto the third group of prospects, which is colder. That’s because this group isn’t the result of audience research. Rather, it’s through your own research.

You want to sit down and look at the companies you identified in the second circle and then determine–based on that info–which brands would be interested in your audience.

The smallest circle includes the competitors of every single brand you’ve identified. These brands are colder still since they have even less of a direct connection with your audience, but they’re still viable. 

Now, I’m not recommending you take every prospect you identified through this method and mass-email them about sponsorship. That’s actually about the worst thing you can do. 

Instead, you want to start with your warmest prospects and research them one by one. What is their industry? What does their audience look like? What are their core values?

Even though a prospect can be warm, that doesn’t mean they’re necessarily a good fit. Discard any companies that don’t meet the above criteria. When you find a few that do, now it’s time to move on. 

Compile Assets and Activations

You know a decent amount about your current corporate prospect, enough that you can begin to think in greater specifics about what you can offer them. 

These items of value are your assets. You assign a monetary value to the assets (more on this momentarily), the sponsor chooses to purchase some assets (or maybe all), and you benefit the sponsor while receiving the funding you need.

Knowing what you do about the corporate sponsor, what can you sell them that would help with their problems? Let’s take a very simple problem to show you what I mean by example.

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In this example, your sponsorship prospect wants a better presence on social media, as theirs is lacking at current. If you have a good command of your social media audience, then you might sell them five promotional posts and maybe a guest post on your blog. 

Assets are not exclusively intangible like this, although that depends on the nature of the deal. For instance, if you’re an influencer, then most of your assets would be intangible and centered around social media like in my example. 

Physical assets can include building naming rights, event naming rights, and booth space at an event. 

Outside of your assets, you also need activations to sell to the sponsor. Activations utilize experiential marketing to make an impact at your event. I’ve shared countless activations on the blog that can inspire you. Here’s a list to get you started. 

To make a successful activation, you need several things: a.) a pain point of your corporate sponsor, b.) a pain point or need of your audience, and c.) a solid marketing budget. Your job is to marry A and B without exceeding C. 

I won’t lie; coming up with activation ideas that check all three boxes isn’t easy. Even if you’re the owner or CEO of your small business, please don’t feel like you have to be the only one working on activations. 

Get the rest of your company involved! Heck, get the sponsor involved. You’ll come up with much better activations that way. 

Value Assets

If you’re looking at the cereal aisle at your local grocery store, the prices for cereal are going to be vastly different even though all the products are the same. Some cereal is organic, so that’s more expensive. Other cereal is from a popular brand, so that drives up the price. The off-brand cereal is usually the cheapest.

Why in the world am I making you hungry by talking about cereal? Well, because your assets are going to have different values too even though they’re all assets. Hopefully, you don’t have many cheap off-brand assets to offer a sponsor, as those fetch the lowest price.

You know how cereal is priced, but what about assets? It’s not all that different. You want to look at market research to see what the current rate is for your services.

Let’s say, using the example from before, that you agree to a guest blogging arrangement with your corporate sponsor as part of your deal. How much money do guest posts usually go for? That’s your job to figure out. 

In your research, you might come across the asset menus of other competitors in your small business niche. It’s okay to look at their asset pricing and take inspiration from it. You can even use their prices to modify your own.

I always dissuade my clients from copying someone else’s work verbatim though. You didn’t do it in grade school, and you shouldn’t do it now. Sponsors, like your grade school teacher, will ask about how you crunched the numbers. You need some way to show your work! 

Write Your Sponsorship Proposal

You’ve valued your assets, so the hardest work is already behind you. The next plan of action is to write a sponsorship proposal.

As a small business owner, you’ve likely put together business proposals before, right? You outline the scope of the work, the costs, the estimated deadlines, etc. A sponsorship proposal is in that same vein.

The point of the sponsorship proposal is to detail your audience data and your assets, which you’ll organize into a menu. You can easily put together the menu using spreadsheet software. It doesn’t have to be complex.

How it looks is far less important than its contents. A custom assets menu is the best approach, and this will likely require you to tailor the contents with the corporate sponsor. 

I’m sure you’re wondering, how in the world do you write sponsorship proposals? I’m so glad you asked! My tried and true template has helped many first-time (and second-time, and maybe third-time) sponsorship seekers who have found themselves in your shoes. 

The template will tell you everything you need to know, so I recommend following it to a T. 

Like you didn’t write your business proposal in an afternoon, your sponsorship proposal might take several days to come together as well. I’d especially recommend taking your time on your assets menu and your audience data, which are the two pillars of the proposal. 

Initiate Contact for a Discovery Session

Is your hand cramped from all the typing and mouse-clicking you’ve been doing lately? I get that. All your hard work is about to pay off though, as it’s finally time to initiate contact with the corporate sponsor. 

I usually recommend that my clients look for a contact in common at the sponsor company. You can use LinkedIn to see who’s who at the company. You don’t have to know the person directly. If your co-founder does or even one of your biggest (non-sponsorship) clients, that’s enough.

That said, since you’re a small business, your circle of contacts might be small as well. You’re working on expanding it all the time, but you’re not exactly there yet.

Cold-calling or emailing is never the greatest idea, and I think you can attest to that if you’ve ever gotten a cold call from a telemarketer when you’re in the middle of cooking dinner. If it’s your only option though, then so be it.

I always tell sponsorship seekers to use whatever communication method works for them, be that picking up the phone or sending an email. 

There are several things you should not say/do. You shouldn’t just ask for sponsorship outright. If that’s what you were going to do, then you wasted days or weeks of time following the steps to this point.

You also should not send your sponsorship proposal as an attachment or in the body of the email. In fact, my biggest piece of advice at this phase of your small business sponsorship program is to forget about your sponsorship proposal. Its time in the light will come, but only when the corporate sponsor says so.

Instead, when you finally get the sponsor on the line, ask them for a bit of their time, about an hour. You want to have a friendly conversation where you can better understand their business needs. I affectionately call this meeting the discovery session.

It’s not a sales meeting, so if you usually go into meetings with a salesy mindset, that’s something you’ll have to consciously work on. 

By the time you walk out of that meeting, you want to know what the sponsor’s problems are. Then you can determine whether you can solve those problems.

This requires asking thoughtful questions. Here is a post of mine that contains more than 35 thought-provoking discovery questions. 

Read through those and feel free to tweak any one of them to better suit your unique sponsorship situation. But don’t ask all 37 questions, as that would be ludicrous. Set aside no more than 10 questions. 

If you’re feeling nervous about meeting the corporate sponsor in person, this guide to the first meeting will help you ace it! 

Plan Follow-up Meetings

Here’s something you must also keep in mind before you hang up the phone or walk out of the sponsor’s office during the discovery session. Plan the next meeting when you two are still talking. 

Sponsorship decisions are sometimes made during the first meeting, but don’t feel bad if your deal requires a second meeting or even a third. Every sponsor works at a different pace. 

Yet for each meeting you continue to have with the sponsor to hammer down details, you need to have that next one on the horizon. This keeps the flow of things moving. After all, it only takes one unanswered email or voicemail for all your momentum to come to a screeching halt. 

Negotiate the Terms of the Deal

The corporate sponsor has agreed to partner with your small business! Woohoo! See? I told you that hard work would pay off. 

Now comes the time when legal agreements are made between you and the sponsor. I have a post about sponsorship contracts that you should definitely read before you proceed. After all, once you sign your name on the dotted line, that contract becomes legally binding. 

You want to be sure that all the terms you’re agreeing to are, well, agreeable. If the sponsor expects you to deliver certain outcomes and those outcomes are featured in the contract, then you’re legally on the line for them. 

You must have a lawyer if your small business doesn’t already. Your lawyer will be your biggest advocate during the sponsorship negotiation phase. They’ll look through the contract, suggest amendments or modifications, and help you understand what the other party wants changed as well. 

Only when both parties are pleased with the verbiage should they sign. 

Produce a Fulfillment Report

Per the deal you two signed, your sponsor produces what they promised, and you do the same. Whether the partnership pertained to an event or something else entirely, once the terms of the deal come to a close, it’s on you to sit down and write a follow-up report, also known as a fulfillment report.

As you probably could have guessed from the name, a fulfillment report is your proof that you fulfilled the promises detailed in your contractual agreement with the corporate sponsor. 

The best way to write the report is to begin with a chart listing all the promises and benefits of your sponsorship deal. Then go through each one and detail if you completed the benefit and how, such as the number of event attendees, the amount of website traffic, the number of leads generated, etc.

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This is your chance to show the sponsor unequivocally that you’re an ROI-generating machine and that their investment in you was very much a worthwhile one.

Use as much media to back up your points as you can. If yours was a physical event, for instance, then photos of the event hall, signage, booth space, and the activations in action are great to have handy. 

Then I recommend calling up the sponsor and having a follow-up meeting about the contents of your fulfillment report. Once they’ve had a chance to read it and digest it, ask the sponsor their thoughts, both good and bad. 

The sponsor might be thrilled, or they might have liked working with you but would like to change some things for next time. You can also ensure there is a next time by broaching the topic of sponsorship renewal through this meeting. 


Small businesses can score big with corporate sponsorship. This guide should get you off on the right foot so you can start landing more sponsorship deals and raise your stock.

If you struggle along the way, I highly recommend you check out my free training called How to Grow Your Sponsorship Program. It will surely help you overcome any stumbling blocks!