Start Before You Are Ready
If my post about embracing failure seemed like a strange bit of advice to you, wait until you hear this one. In sponsorship sales, I recommend you start before you’re ready. In other words, rather than have the plane fully built and then fly it, you build it as you go.
Before I get into this post, I do recommend you go back and read that article about failure with the great Seth Godin quote, which is “he who fails the most wins the most” because that will go hand-in-hand with what I want to talk about today.
You see, the reason you don’t build a fully-assembled plane and then wait to fly it is this. What if you mismeasured something or the schematics aren’t quite right? What if the plane is too heavy to fly or it doesn’t get enough lift?
When your plane is only partially built, it’s easy to undo your progress to that point, fix the issues, and then get back to flying. Now compare that to a plane that’s already built. You’re left with no choice but to start all over, which is a huge waste of time, manpower, money, and resources.
In sponsorship, when you’re on a strict schedule to find a financial or promotional partner for an event, you can’t rely on flying fully assembled plane after fully assembled plane. You just don’t have enough time.
I’ll share a case study about a client of mine who successfully built the plane before they flew so you can see how it works!
Case Study: Client Prioritized Sponsorship Program and Quickly Enters Five-Figure Sponsorship Negotiations
My case study involves a client of mine named Mallory. She went from barely courting sponsors to a five-figure sponsorship deal. Sponsorship sales are not her full-time job, as she works in another field. She also has a family and is an active member of her community. In other words, she doesn’t have all the time in the world, which I’m sure is also the case for a lot of you reading this.
When I first started working with her, Mallory told me that she wasn’t yet ready to talk to sponsors. She said she wanted to tweak her sponsorship program just a bit more before she proceeded.
This is very familiar rhetoric to me. Maybe you’ve even said the same thing yourself, that you’ll start on your sponsorship program after X happens or you do Y. You can fill in those blanks just about any way you want to. My favorite is “once I get more sponsorship sales, I’ll invest in my sponsorship program.”
Thinking this way is a failsafe, at least in your mind. By knowing what benefits you’ll get from investing in a sponsorship program, you can determine if the program is worth moving forward with.
The problem is that you can always come up with one more item to add to the preparation list before you’re ready to start your sponsorship program in earnest. You have an assets list, but you want it to be bigger. You did audience research, but you didn’t hear much from one particular segment, so maybe you should send out another survey.
Getting back to Mallory, the next day, she contacted me again. She sent me an email telling me that she’s finally ready to prioritize her sponsorship program using my Sponsorship Accelerator program. This three-month program includes templates, best practices, valuations, and personal coaching for onboarding anywhere from three to five sponsors.
Mallory had avoided doing an audience survey until she started the Sponsorship Accelerator. The reason? She thought she wouldn’t get any responses. About a week into the program, she finally realized that she couldn’t put off doing the survey any longer. She got more than 100 responses just 30 minutes after she sent the survey email to her audience, which surprised Mallory.
Oh, and not too long after, Mallory heard from her first sponsor.
Your target sponsors are keeping an eye out to see what work you’re doing (as well as what you’re not). This sponsor realized that Mallory was prioritizing her audience research and became interested. About two weeks into the Sponsorship Accelerator, Mallory had heard from her first sponsor because she built the plane as she was flying it.
The sponsorship deal isn’t complete as of this writing, but Mallory is currently negotiating for a sponsorship opportunity valued at $10,000 to $25,000. Not too shabby for someone who didn’t want to proceed with sponsorship just a few weeks before!
What Can We Learn from This Case Study?
There’s a James Russell Lowell quote that comes to mind when I think about my client Mallory. The quote is this: “All the beautiful sentiments in the world weigh less than a single lovely action.”
Let me put it to you even more clearly: fortune favors the bold. I know this sounds like a tagline from an action movie, but it’s an adage you should live by when pursuing sponsorship.
As I said before, it’s easy to make a never-ending list of sponsorship-related tasks to complete. You want to get the most value out of sponsorship, so you can begin thinking that everything about your sponsorship program has to be completely perfect before you can start.
Yet perfection is impossible. There comes a time when every painter puts down their brush and every writer puts down their pen and says, “this is done.” Isn’t it time you take that stance as well?
There’s a lot to be learned from Mallory’s example. She was, for a long time, just like you. She justified waiting weeks or months until she achieved whatever sponsorship goals would have made her program better.
I’m not sure what inspired Mallory to go from waiting to start her sponsorship program to jumping in head-first with my Sponsorship Accelerator. Maybe it was something I said on the phone that day, but literally overnight, she was all in.
Did she feel ready? No. Was she ready? Certainly not! Remember, at the time, Mallory hadn’t even done her audience research, which is one of the first steps of building a sponsorship program.
But she did things right. She went to the experts (our team here at the Sponsorship Collective) because she recognized she needed professional guidance. It paid off huge for her.
Now, I’m not advocating for diving in and jumping on the first mediocre sponsorship opportunity you can find. You didn’t put all the prior work into your sponsorship program for nothing, after all.
Instead, what I’m saying is this. You may never feel ready to pursue sponsorship in a meaningful way. Yet you have to recognize when you’re playing it too safe.
It’s comforting to stay in the safe zone. You’re not risking anything such as rejection or financial loss. You’re just slowly building towards something. If Mallory had continued to have that attitude, she would have missed out on $25,000.
Pursuing sponsorship before you’re ready is like when you were a kid learning to ride a bike and your parents finally took off the training wheels. It’s easy to get preoccupied with thoughts of “what if I fall?” What you have to think instead is “what if I have a smooth ride?”
Getting too caught up in the preparation stage of your sponsorship program can turn into a comfortable lull after a while. As you invest more time and money into the program, the fear of being rejected becomes stronger because it’d be such a loss.
Even if your sponsorship program isn’t 100 percent done, or even if it’s done but it’s not perfect, you have to know when to move on to the next step. If you need the impetus to make a move, just think of how many expensive opportunities have passed you by because you won’t dip your toes in the water.
If you’re ready to pursue your sponsorship program to the fullest now, you can start with my free on-demand training course called How to Grow Your Sponsorship Program. In the training, I identify three high-impact sponsorship areas that need your attention most. I also present a nine-part blueprint for growing a sponsorship program.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Chris Baylis is the President and CEO of The Sponsorship Collective and a self-confessed sponsorship geek.
After several years as a sponsor (that’s right, the one investing the money!) Chris decided to cross over to the sponsorship sales side where he has personally closed tens of millions of dollars in sponsorship deals. Chris has been on the front lines of multi-million dollar sponsorship agreements and has built and coached teams to do the same.
Chris now spends his time working with clients to value their assets and build strategies that drive sales. An accomplished speaker and international consultant, Chris has helped his clients raise millions in sponsorship dollars.