I’ve learned that in order to be a successful post-collegiate athlete it requires your full-time attention and effort. I knew when I was leaving Iowa State that I needed some sponsors to continue my running career. There were products that I was used to using that I would now have to pay for and frankly I needed money to put food on the table. Nothing was quite exciting for me as getting the first sponsor. It was not Nike or anything flashy, but I was officially a sponsored athlete.
The journey to earn my first sponsor wasn’t easy. Here are 3 steps I took and any athlete can use to earn their first sponsorship.
Drop Your Ego
A lot of athletes approach sponsors like hot shots. Here is the thing, if you were such a hot shot, sponsors would be knocking at your door begging you to take their money. Sponsors were NOT doing this for me, though I was an Olympian junior year of college, my senior season was not so hot. I was burnt out from the Olympics and from being an NCAA athlete for the past four years. My lack of performance meant that I would have to work a bit harder to get sponsors. I had to drop the ego and realize that in the eyes of many sponsors I was just not that valuable. Losing the ego allowed me to focus on the work that needed to be done. Nothing was going to be handed to me.
The first company I went after was actually a fish oil company. I did not want money, I wanted the free product. The reason being that fish oil is expensive. For my athletic success I knew how important it was but paying vast amounts of money for it was no longer an option. Immediately, I started working on a proposal, and I focused on one thing, what I could do for them. I did not make it about me, and how great I was, I made about how good they were and how I could help them be better.
I Had to Clean Up My Brand
Before sending in the proposal, I made sure to do one thing that a lot of people forget to do, and that was cleaning up my online brand. Any time you enter a new chapter in life, it is a good idea to go through your social media and clean up what is no longer relevant. Sometimes we post pictures that seemed like a good idea at the time.
I had to make sure that everything I did and said could be posted on a billboard with my name and not ruin me. I had so many funny and crude things I posted that I had to delete because I knew if any potential sponsor saw it, it would kill the deal right away and I apparently did not want that.
I took the proposal very seriously to become a sponsored athlete. I made sure it was proofread by multiple people. Even had my parent’s business friends give it a look. The goal was to make sure it came off as a sweet deal. That started by offering a certain amount of social media promotion. I also had a blog that got about 5000 visits per week from their target audience. I made sure that everything was done correctly before I handed it into them. The best lesson I got from this is that success lies in the preparation. It comes down to the work that you do when no one is watching, and you really get no credit for your action. I handed in the proposal knowing I had done everything I could.
I received an email back, and they were thrilled by my proposal. The marketing manager told me that most athletes ask for free stuff, but they offer nothing in return. They were impressed with how professional I was, and how much time I put into the proposal. It showed them how much I cared. I was rewarded with so much free product that I was able to give some to my family and friends. Definitely was not rich, but I was taken care of, I had what I needed. I was officially a sponsored athlete.
Not every proposal I made went smooth like this though. Part of being all business means being prepared to hear no and being resilient when you. The best thing you can do is bounce back and keep trying. If you keep doing everything you can on your end, you will eventually get the yes that you have been seeking.