"I teach people in the sports and fitness industry how to land endorsement deals with awesome companies that pay them to do what they love."
My name is Ashley Juge and I am former Texas’ Strongest Woman and the founder and co-owner of Muscle Pirate, LLC. My story didn’t originate in fitness, though - I actually cut my teeth in the golf industry as V.P. of BRUTE Golf, a designer and manufacturer of the best forged beta-titanium drivers in the world.
Our drivers were featured on the Golf Channel multiple times.
PGA tour winners played them.
Celebrity clients bought drivers from me directly.
I was personally responsible for endorsement deals with athletes all over the globe - even baseball mega legend Jose Canseco.
When the pandemic shut the world down in early 2020, I facilitated the sale of the golf company to an international buyer and my partner Joshua and I went full-send into the fitness industry with Muscle Pirate. Since then, I’ve handled the responsibility of sponsorships and partnerships with countless fitness events, expos and athletes in a variety of athletic disciplines.
I’ve also negotiated partnerships with a multitude of charities and organizations over the years to raise money for special causes including
- Make A Wish
- St. Jude
- Food banks
- Animal shelters
- Homeless initiatives
- Veteran services
- Sports teams
- Scholarship foundations
...and many others!
If anyone knows a thing or two about sponsorships, how they work and how to get them (and keep them!), I’m your girl.
How excellent would it be to make a great living simply by doing what you love?
If you’re serious about obtaining endorsements with your favorite brands and companies, I can show you how to not only make yourself an important asset, but to fully excel in a world where so many treat sponsorships as a “flavor of the day” deal and subsequently fail again and again to create long-lasting and lucrative partnerships.
You may email me by filling out this short email form.
You may also contact me directly at:
I work with individuals 1-on-1 to help them grow their own personal brand, and get lucrative sponsorships, partnerships and endorsement deals. Shoot me an email to discuss the current problems you face, and how I would be able to help you solve them.
I work with companies 1-on-1 to help them train their current talent, and/or acquire new talent all with the goal of creating a greater ROI. Shoot me an email to discuss the current problems you face, and how I would be able to help you solve them.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Section 1 - What Is a Sponsorship?
Section 2 - Social Media Matters
Section 3 - Identifying Your Big Three
Section 4 - Identifying Potential Sponsors
Section 5 - How To Approach Potential Sponsors
Before we dive in, it is important for me to tell you that although I speak directly to athletes here, everything that I am relating to you stands true for any field that you may be involved in. Whether you are a chef looking for a kitchenware partnership, a bladesmith wanting to hammer out a power tool deal or a stay-at-home mom blogger hoping to work with a particular brand that’s made your world easier to manage, the information in this ebook applies to you. Read through it, then come back for round two and begin making notes on how you can put what’s on these pages into practice in your life. You’ll find very quickly that you will have built a much more solid, realistic and effective plan for how to get the sponsorships of your dreams. So let’s do this!
WHAT IS A SPONSORSHIP?
If you’ve been involved in any sport for more than five minutes, chances are that you’ve heard talk about wanting a sponsorship. If you become good enough, you can get a sponsorship. If you win, sponsors will want you. If this, then sponsors. It never really matters who the sponsors are in the scenario - if you perform well enough, they’ll be knocking down your door, handing you money to use their products. Right?
Well… no. And for good reason. Misunderstanding what a sponsorship or endorsement deal is tends to be the first place where things go awry. Most see it as a reward for their hard work and accomplishments - it’s a one and done, cause-and-effect situation. I did that, so now a brand will want to give me this. A finite, limited exchange (and way of thinking) centered around simply giving someone “free” money and/or product.
IN REALITY, A SPONSORSHIP DEAL IS A BUSINESS CONTRACT.
It is meant to provide ongoing value to both parties involved, as opposed to “rewarding” an individual or athlete for something they have already accomplished. With that being said, chances are that you’ve been going about the business of doing business all wrong. Hoping to simply be noticed and rewarded - or worse, expecting to be noticed and rewarded - are surefire ways to stay lost in an endless ocean of people and personalities vying for attention at all hours, day and night, 365 days a year.
If, however, you are able to articulate that which makes you an asset to a brand or company and can demonstrate the measurable, mutual benefits that a partnership would provide for both parties, then you will most certainly thrust yourself head and shoulders above the non-stop “sponsor me!” hubbub. That, my friend, is a humongous advantage and one that I want to help you accomplish.
ANY BRAND OR COMPANY THAT YOU SEEK TO GAIN A SPONSORSHIP WITH IS A FOR-PROFIT BUSINESS.
They are not interested in simply handing out “free” products just because they believe in you and your capabilities (more on that later!). They are looking for someone who is able to showcase their brand to a large target audience in such a way that it translates to sales. That’s right: a company wants to work with someone that they can use to generate/ increase sales. Think about it: when you approach a company and ask them to sponsor you, you are asking them to invest their time, products, resources and energy with you. What is your plan to make their investment worthwhile? If your answer isn’t a detailed response on how you can boost sales for that brand, you are wasting their time - and yours.
When I worked in the golf industry, I was vice president of a company that designed and manufactured high-end golf clubs. As such, I personally addressed all sponsorship requests and over the years we received thousands of messages and emails from hopeful men and women all over the world who wanted a sponsorship. 99% of the time, that simply meant that they wanted me to send them free golf clubs. Quite often, the person asking had never even used our clubs before but they were passionate about wanting the product, insisting that it would definitely make them a better player and were persistent in contacting me about it. The problem: these individuals were asking a company to invest hundreds and even thousands of dollars into them without any thought as to how to benefit or create value for said company. They really just wanted free golf clubs. Even worse were those individuals who emailed and messaged demanding free product and a sponsored athlete spot… yet with no wins or titles to their name and definitely no plan to create a return for the business.
And no, I’m not kidding - you’d be amazed at how many people really do that! Some messages were so outrageously rude and just plain wrong that I still have screenshots of them to this day. Try walking into a company’s headquarters and telling the VP or CEO that while they don’t know you and you aren’t actually planning to do any work for them, they should hire and pay you handsomely anyway. Let me know how it goes.
Speaking of which, no matter what field you are in, I implore you to approach seeking sponsorship and endorsement deals the same way you would if interviewing for your dream job. While you will not be an employee in the traditional sense, you are looking to partner with this brand which means you need to have a clear understanding of what you aim to gain from this partnership and what you are capable of offering them in return. A sponsorship is a partnership, a business deal, a professional relationship. Treat it as such before you ever even contact your prospective partner(s) and maintain that mindset throughout.
A SPONSORSHIP DEAL IS ALSO EXCLUSIVE.
Yes, that means someone is going to be left out. And by “someone,” I am referring to any and all competing brands and companies. For example, let’s say you’re an athlete and are able to sign a footwear contract with Nike. In that contract I can guarantee they are going to require you to wear Nike shoes and *only* Nike shoes, especially in every social media post, at any events you attend, etc. If you were to showcase a pair of Under Armour sneakers in an Instagram photo, that would be a direct violation of contract and while some companies might issue you a warning, it would be grounds for removing you as a sponsored athlete immediately.
I had to terminate a golf sponsorship based on an athlete’s failure to grasp exclusivity. We provided him with a number of our top-of-the-line, custom fit drivers built to his personal specs so that he would have more than enough to compete and practice with. When I stumbled across a social media post of his featuring a driver from one of our main competitors, I took the time to get in touch and explain why that could not happen again. He agreed, removed the post and assured me that the clubs we sent were performing perfectly. All was well. Until it happened again soon after.
Now, I try to give people the benefit of the doubt. No one is flawless. But as we are all adults here, “Oh, my bad!” is not an excuse for consistently violating a contract. As the sponsor, I was left with no choice but to revoke the sponsorship because the athlete knowingly chose to showcase a competitor’s product repeatedly. The athlete was upset and claimed he now felt unsupported and quite frankly, I felt he should hurry along before the door hit him on the way out. He wasted not only my time and energy, but also that of my business partner and thousands of dollars of our products and resources. The athlete effectively proved himself to be a liability and a drain for our company as opposed to the asset that he believed himself to be. Because of this, I would never consider extending any sort of sponsorship deal to him in the future - golf or otherwise - nor can I in good conscience recommend him to fellow companies or business owners.
I truly cannot emphasize the importance of appreciating and respecting contract exclusivity. As a sponsored individual, you should be constantly seeking out ways to create value for your partners. That is what they pay or otherwise compensate you for. When you choose to showcase competing brands, you devalue yourself in the eyes of a sponsor. Not only do you demonstrate that you cannot be relied upon as a representative, but you also show that you’ll put in effort for another brand for free. So why should your current sponsor maintain their relationship with you? And yes, this applies to ALL competing brands, even the business your friend started and you just want to help them out. You signed a contract and you are expected to uphold your end, period.
That being said, let’s talk about what a sponsorship is not.
You’re an obviously bright and intelligent individual, so I’m sure you have figured this part out by now. But just to drive the point home: A SPONSORSHIP DOES NOT MEAN YOU JUST GET “FREE” STUFF.
There is no such thing as “free.” Write that down. Those products that a company makes cost money to manufacture, even more money to advertise and market and who knows how much time and money to develop in the first place. They have employees and overhead costs. For a small business, these bills can be even more expensive. So even if you are not paying for the product, rest assured that someone else has been kind enough to cover the cost in your stead. No matter how successful you are in your given activity or field, it is a good idea to never expect - or demand - that a company just give you things. Again, there is no such thing as “free”. The sooner you genuinely understand that, the sooner you will be an exceptionally valuable individual to work with!
When I founded Muscle Pirate, we began by specializing in strongman-style sandbags and hurling bags. As with any business, we receive daily messages from a wide array of individuals requesting “free” product. While I do very much appreciate that someone would want to use our gear, we would be out of business in a flash if I shipped items at no charge to everyone who asked. Again, we are a for-profit business, not a charity. This was how we made a living, paid bills and put dinner on our table. And for Muscle Pirate, our sandbags and hurling bags were all hand-made by our own small crew. It was a time consuming task and was indeed more expensive for us than simply buying pre-made items from China but the quality was absolutely second to none. So when I received a message from a gentleman just a few months ago who wanted us to “sponsor” a strength competition by providing him with about a dozen of our heavy duty sandbags and hurling bags for “free,” one might imagine that I wasn’t joyfully sold on the idea. His reason for wanting such a large amount of product at no charge: he was hosting the show but didn’t want to spend money on the equipment required for it. That’s it. Not exactly a profitable proposition for a business, but that did not stop him from becoming offended and indignant when I politely declined. Would he have been so keen if someone had walked into his workplace and asked him to work for no pay, just because? I would wager not.
There are often times when an agreement guarantees you products from your sponsor that you are not required to personally pay for but remember, this is a partnership. Your sponsor is spending the time, money and resources to provide you with products in exchange for your work, time and effort showcasing it in creative ways and generating sales. Partnership, partnership, partnership.
A SPONSORSHIP IS NOT APPLIED ONLY WHEN YOU “FEEL LIKE IT.”
This is a full-time gig, my friend. I have sponsored a number of personalities over the years in golf and fitness. One problem that I have seen many times among athletes is the habit of disappearing when they perform poorly in a competition. This is a big no-no. As a sponsored individual, you are being compensated for representing your partners in the best light possible, at all times… even in the midst of losing. It’s easy to make posts, participate in interviews and talk about your sponsors when you win and everything is going well. But it requires real mental fortitude to do those things when you’ve been defeated. A champion mindset, which is something that any sponsor looks for and appreciates, means that you can experience a loss without being derailed. Choosing to go AWOL when you underperform and refusing to address a situation professionally is a major sign of weakness. It shows me as a sponsor that this individual does not mentally have what it takes to progress, especially at an elite level. He or she has no sense of how to find the opportunity to shine or grow outside of ideal circumstances.
I also witnessed athletes who had a poor habit of throwing tantrums on social media following a defeat, detailing how much of a failure they are, how they let everyone down, and generally pissing and moaning about how much they screwed up. This is not a way to endear yourself to anyone, especially to business partnerships. In fact, this kind of behavior is a faulty defense mechanism adopted by individuals who cannot handle criticism or critique. These folks feel that if they throw a fit about having failed, then no one else has a chance or reason to point out the failure. All that’s left is for others to offer words of comfort and encouragement to an agonized athlete. In doing this, you most assuredly are not representing your partners in a positive light - all you’re doing is highlighting the defeat and attaching your sponsors to it. And let’s be honest… you really just end up looking like a big baby. Don’t be a big baby.
On the flip side of that coin are those who seemingly vanish into thin air after a victory! Some do so because they deserve a break - perhaps they go on a well-earned vacation or somesuch. Others fall into an immediate rut because they didn’t set any major goals beyond that particular competition and now struggle with motivation and direction. Some call it “post-show blues.” No matter what the reason, going off the radar following a win is a BIG mistake! This is a moment when an athlete or individual should absolutely be showcasing themselves and their sponsor(s) to create maximum value for everyone involved. It is a massive opportunity to engage a larger audience and show them how your partners helped you to achieve this success - and why they should allow those partners to do the same for them. Believe me, a good sponsor wants to show you off in these moments as much as possible. Disappearing at the moment when the greatest focus is on you and your achievements is not only unprofessional and shortsighted but is a rather disrespectful disservice to those who have invested in you!
A SPONSORSHIP IS NOT THE SAME AS AN AMBASSADORSHIP.
It’s important to note the difference between a sponsored individual and a brand ambassador, particularly when it comes to social media. A plethora of companies utilize ambassadorship programs, which usually allows fans and customers to receive a discount on products (generally 10-20%) in exchange for putting the company’s social media handle and/or website in their “bio” and sharing the brand’s posts to their own audience. Ambassadors sometimes are offered additional perks such as earning a small percentage of any sale made using their individual discount code or being awarded product bundles based on their ability to generate sales for the company. However, unlike a sponsored individual, ambassadors are not contractually obligated to exclusivity, to make or share posts or brand information, nor are they expected or invited to represent the company at shows, events, etc. It often does not matter how many followers someone has, nor is the quality of their online content taken into serious consideration - it’s simply a way for brands spread their name very quickly, easily and without having to invest a large amount of money in advertising.
Most importantly, and hear me when I say this: A SPONSORSHIP IS NOT ABOUT YOU.
This one is tough to grasp; after all, aren’t you getting the sponsorship because of your skills and talent?
Yes and no.
You are worth sponsoring and investing in for a company only if they believe your skills and talent will provide value for their brand. Remember - they want to work with people that can generate and increase sales of their product. So while you may be able to bring attention to their company name, you must always be aware of the quality of attention you are garnering. You could win the title of the World’s Strongest Man and still find yourself struggling to create partnerships and remaining relatively unknown if you lack the qualities or personality that your favorite brands want to align themselves with.
One of the best examples (or worst, depending on your viewpoint) is golf legend Tiger Woods. By his early thirties, Woods had become arguably the most recognizable athlete on planet Earth. And when I say “most recognizable,” I mean that Tiger’s face was as widely recognized throughout the world as the traditional images of Santa Claus and Jesus Christ. According to Forbes, he was the first athlete to reach billionaire status with worldwide major brands investing millions of dollars in him like Nike, Buick, PepsiCo, AT&T, Tag Heuer and many others. EA Sports had a golf video game franchise built around Woods. He was such a force in the sport that some industry experts argued that other world-class players wouldn’t score as well when playing against him because everyone felt as if they were simply competing for second place. Many pedigreed courses even began lengthening their yardage in an attempt to eliminate some of the advantage of longer players, namely Woods, known as “Tiger-proofing.”
However, when news of his extramarital activities broke in November of 2009, Woods became a flashpoint subject for fans and therefore, sponsors. Millions of people around the globe that had loved and adored Tiger now felt disillusioned and betrayed - he was no longer the good-guy golfer phenom with the supportive, happy family and sterling reputation. He was the billionaire playboy athlete who used his incredible fame and wealth to engage in and cover up an array of illicit affairs while on the road. The scandal was worldwide news and unfortunately, no one believed his eventual apology. Major brands such as AT&T cut ties with Woods. PepsiCo put an end to their Gatorade deal with him. Accenture and Gillette also discontinued their endorsements. But it was not due to the affairs directly - these companies distanced themselves from Woods because of the image that he now represented in the eyes of the public. All of his otherworldly skill and his immense talent was not enough to override the fact that such a large portion of customers now assigned “cheater” to his identity and that is not a word that brands want to be associated with. His career has never fully recovered.
So remember, a sponsorship is based on the value that you can create for a company or brand. At the core, it’s not about you as an individual no matter how spectacular you are in your given field. You are the link between your partners and your audience - a sponsor depends on you to represent their brand and philosophy in the best possible light, at all times. This is also why it is important to ensure that you choose partnerships carefully; it’s much easier and more natural for you to show off a brand, company or lifestyle that you are truly excited and passionate about, and that meshes with your own identity.
Here is a quick recap:
A SPONSORSHIP DEAL IS A BUSINESS PARTNERSHIP & CONTRACT.
It is meant to provide ongoing value to both parties involved, as opposed to “rewarding” an individual or athlete for something they have already accomplished.
ANY BRAND OR COMPANY THAT YOU SEEK TO GAIN A SPONSORSHIP WITH IS A FOR-PROFIT BUSINESS.
A company wants to work with someone who can generate and increase sales of their product. If you want a brand to invest their energy, time, finances and/or products with you, then you must have a plan for providing them a measurable return on that investment. Without that ROI, you are a drain on their resources.
A SPONSORSHIP DEAL MEANS EXCLUSIVITY.
Your sponsoring partner pays or otherwise compensates you to showcase their brand and products. When you choose to showcase competing brands, you devalue yourself in the eyes of a sponsor. Not only do you demonstrate that you cannot be relied upon as a representative, but you also show that you’ll put in effort for another brand *for free*!
A SPONSORSHIP DOES NOT MEAN YOU GET “FREE” STUFF.
There is no such thing as “free” product in business. Your sponsor is spending the time, money and resources to provide you with products and/or a paycheck in exchange for showcasing the brand and generating sales. They are not sending you goodie boxes or checks “just because” - you should always be creating new ways to get your partners in front of your growing audience.
A SPONSORSHIP IS NOT APPLIED ONLY WHEN YOU FEEL LIKE IT.
As a sponsored individual, you are being compensated for representing your partners in the best light possible, at all times… even in the midst of losing. Build and maintain a Champion Mindset no matter how you perform.
A SPONSORSHIP IS NOT THE SAME AS AN AMBASSADORSHIP.
An ambassadorship does not require a contract and individuals are not obligated to exclusively showcase a particular company. The main goal of an Ambassador program is to have as many people as possible talking about the company; it’s a “word of mouth” type of program as opposed to a focused partnership.
A SPONSORSHIP IS NOT ABOUT YOU.
A sponsorship is based on the value that you can create for a company or brand. At the core, it’s not about you as an individual no matter how spectacular you are in your given field. You are the link between your partners and your audience - a sponsor depends on you to represent their brand and philosophy in the best possible light, at all times.
The next section is dedicated to some notes about the role of social media in sponsorships. Is a huge social media presence the be-all-end-all way to land huge endorsement deals? No, but I will tell you that any time I receive a sponsorship request or proposal, the very first thing I do is check out that person’s social pages. Social media is the easiest and most widely accessible way to not only create a following for yourself, but to then introduce your sponsors to that audience. Don’t take it for granted! Learn how to utilize this powerful tool.
SOCIAL MEDIA MATTERS
Why is social media important? As I mentioned above, it is the fastest, cheapest and easiest way to reach a large number of people nearly instantaneously. You will be seen on social media by far more people daily than you can ever physically interact with! A sponsor will want to know and be shown that you have the ability to put their brand in front of a large and growing audience. Showing their name or products off at your local golf course, gym or just around town isn’t a good selling point; remember, their customers already do that after paying for those products! You need to be able to do much more than simply wear a hat or shirt.
Wondering which social media tool you should be using? You don’t need to have EVERY single type of social media network but you *do* need to have at least 1 that has a large and growing following. If you have accounts on multiple platforms, make sure they are all congruent, meaning that your name is the same on all of them. This will make you much easier to find and connect with! At the end of the day, use the platform that works the best for you and your content.
THREE THINGS SPONSORS LOOK FOR ON YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA
YOUR PROFILE NEEDS TO BE PUBLIC.
It is astounding how many sponsorship inquiries I have received over the years from folks who have private accounts! Why is this an issue? If your social media page is private, that means that none of your posts are showing up for anyone to see except for the people that you have already approved to follow you. Your private account posts are not searchable and they are definitely not shareable, which is a BIG deal for companies; they want to work with people who will showcase and share their brand and products as effectively as possible. If having a public account makes you uncomfortable, a sponsorship is not for you.
YOU NEED TO HAVE A GROWING AND ENGAGED FOLLOWING.
While it’s true that having a large social media following can really be an advantage in gaining sponsorships, it’s arguably more important to have a growing and engaged following. Anyone and their mom can buy followers and shoot up to 50k overnight. But if you contact me about a partnership and I see that you’ve got 50k followers but just a few thumbs-up emoji comments, a low percentage of “likes” and no shares, it’s clear that the accounts following you are fake and that does a sponsor no good. Fake accounts don’t make purchases from you or your sponsors, after all. If you post quality content on your public profile and consistently interact with your audience, you’ll steadily gain a following from real people who are genuinely interested in what you’ve got to say and share.
If you currently have an extremely low follower count, perhaps hold off on approaching a company about a sponsorship for just a bit. Take the opportunity to build that up first. Instagram, for example, generally only shows your posts to less than 10% of the people who follow you. That means that if you have 350 followers, only around 35 of them are actually being shown your content on their feed - and that’s if you get the full 10%! If your content does well with those people, the algorithm will push it out to more viewers. If it isn’t interesting enough, it’ll die quickly.
Note: If someone actually engages with your post by liking, commenting and/or sharing, they are more likely to see you on their feed again. This is why it is so important to build a following that is constantly growing and engaging with you! Quality, consistent content reaches more people, plain and simple. This leads us to the third point…
YOUR POSTS NEED TO BE UPGRADED.
One of the biggest mistakes I see people making on their own pages is neglecting the quality of the content that they create and post! Badly cropped or totally uncropped photos and videos, poor lighting, a dirty camera lens, blurry and unfocused images, never showing your own face, overly bizarre filters - seriously, delete the animal face filters from your phone - and insane face tuning are just a few of the blunders that can hurt your opportunity for a partnership. Remember, social media is how you broadcast yourself to the world so potential sponsors are going to look at your pages to see how you’ll likewise broadcast their brand.
Think about some of the most well-known sponsored personalities out there. Go to their pages and look at what they post. What you will find is that these individuals not only post regularly, but they post quality images. You’re never left wondering what you were supposed to see or look at. Their images and videos are clear and properly cropped to fit the screen. They don’t have a lot of extraneous sound or interference in their audio and the content/message is always easily discernible. Make it consistent, make it interesting.
Lastly, get familiar with the photo features on your phone or editing apps! Learn to crop images and video to properly fit the platform you’re posting to (they’re not all the same). Play with the lighting, alter the saturation and definition if you need to. Stay away from dark, dreary and dirty looking filters, especially if you want to show off a product - it needs to stand out and look good! Most importantly, have fun and believe in what you’re broadcasting. No sponsor wants their brand or products to be associated with negative, low-quality content nor should you. Snapseed, InShot, YouCut and Pixlr are just a few excellent, free apps that are user friendly and can give you great editing options.
To be honest, this section can easily be expanded into an entire ebook all on its own, but maybe we’ll delve into that in the near future. For now, we must move on to something more important: you!
Go ahead and grab a notebook for this one.
IDENTIFYING YOUR BIG THREE
You mean my top three favorite brands, right?
This section is all about YOU, my friend. Here we will be digging into who you are, what your focus is and how you want to make the world around you feel - what I like to call the Big Three. What does this have to do with getting endorsement deals? Well… only everything.
Understanding your Big Three is the first step to identifying the kind of brands that you want to build partnerships with because if you understand yourself and your own goals, you’ll be able to seek out companies and organizations that have similar missions and philosophies. Have you ever been in a relationship and realized that you want totally different things than the person you’re with? It tends to cause a lot of discord, distance and irritation, doesn’t it? The same thing happens when you and a sponsor have opposite goals and desires… it just ends up sucking for everybody. So to avoid that, we identify our Big Three.
Grab that notebook and spend as much time on the questions below as you need. The more specific and thorough you are in your answers, the better. I highly advise that you don’t skip over this!
1. WHO ARE YOU?
What is your story? That is, what are the beliefs that you tell yourself about your own capabilities, talent, skill and value? Be open and honest here; you can’t lie to yourself, after all. You’ll know. Get another sheet or paper if you need more room.
Does that story need to change in order for you to move forward in life? Tony Robbins often speaks on this in his seminars (you can find a plethora of excellent videos on YouTube!). “If you change your story, you can change your life, your business, your relationships, your finances. It can change everything!” If your story is one of limitations, barriers and faults, it’s time to create a brand-new story and destroy the old one. This is an opportunity to acknowledge your skills, your talent, your strength and your commitment to allowing yourself to be the very best version of you, from here on out. Write it down and read it aloud (no, I’m not kidding. Read your new version aloud).
What do you want to be able to give others?
2. WHAT IS YOUR FOCUS?
What do you enjoy doing most? Is it fitness? Family? Painting? Photography? Food blogging? Your focus always dictates where and how you naturally prefer to invest your energy.
What do you want to be known for? Hint: it very likely has something to do with your previous answer. What’s the tie-in between the two?
3. HOW DO YOU WANT TO MAKE PEOPLE FEEL?
What do you want people to feel during and after being around you?
Are the images and videos that you broadcast representing this? What about the language that you use (especially with yourself)? Do any changes need to be made in this area?
If you are already sponsored, how does your sponsor’s brand or products help you feel that way? How can they help your audience feel that way?
*Self-Hack: Does there happen to be a color that you associate with the way you wish to make others feel? If there is, try working that color into your everyday life… even your social media posts! It can help you subconsciously stay on track and keep you and your content consistent.
Now that you have taken the time to really flesh out your Big Three, I recommend keeping what you wrote down and going over it regularly. If something changes, write that down, too. Make amendments when needed! We’re all human and we evolve as we grow. The trick is to evolve for the better!
Being solid on your Big Three here is going to be a huge help for you on the next step: figuring out which companies and brands are the best fit.
IDENTIFYING POTENTIAL SPONSORS
Once the idea of obtaining sponsorships popped into your mind, the most natural train of thought probably led to you begin imagining yourself sporting a logo or three, boxes being delivered to your door packed with goodies and products, and an ever-increasing ping of likes and messages coming from your phone. All fun thoughts! But who are the parties involved on the other end? Does it even matter?
One of the top mistakes that I see individuals make when they begin reaching out to companies and brands is that they reach out to everyone they can possibly think of. Some people will even Google “fitness brands,” for example, and simply go down the list, sending a half-baked message to the first company email they find for each brand name. Often, the thought is that if you cast a wide enough net, you’re sure to haul in at least something. The problem: this net has a lot of gaping holes and whatever it does manage to catch is usually garbage.
Being willing to tether yourself to any and every offer that is thrown in your direction is a huge indicator that you’re not looking at this as a true partnership or business contract. If you were, you would likely be (you SHOULD be) far pickier about the name, values and message that you’re attempting to tie yourself to. Remember, you requested to represent this company. You asked to work with the brand. This will not result in an enjoyable or fruitful partnership if you do not actually appreciate or agree with the products and/or ideals of the organization. Should this concept be a no-brainer? Yep. And yet I witness it again and again in athletics of all types.
I get it. It is exciting to feel like someone sees your potential, achievements and good qualities. It feels really good to feel recognized for your work, efforts, skill, craftsmanship, athleticism, etc. It’s a pretty easy little goof to fall into, but don’t settle for a brand that you aren’t crazy about. It won’t be worth much to you and it won’t take long for you to figure that out and begin wondering how to end the contract.
So before you even begin to pursue any partnerships at all, think about what your ideal sponsorship looks like. Get that notebook back out and take the time to write thoughtful answers to the following questions. You might even find that your answers evolve as you consider it more in depth and that’s fine. The final product will be a much clearer picture of what you want and therefore the kind of partnerships you should really be after.
RECOGNIZING BRANDS THAT FIT YOUR IDENTITY
IF YOU COULD WORK WITH ANY BRANDS OR COMPANIES, WHICH WOULD YOU CHOOSE AND WHY? Be specific. Try to name 10-15 brands and state what about them resonates with you (the more you list, the more you’ll end up thinking them through!). How are their products helpful to you? What do they represent?
WHAT WOULD THAT IDEAL SPONSORSHIP LOOK LIKE OR ENTAIL? Again, be specific! Write down what you want out of endorsement deals. How long are the contracts? Are you compensated with products, a paycheck, or both? Are demo shows or expos part of the picture? What kind of work do you want to do for these sponsors/partnerships? Flesh it all out.
A Note on Rejection:
I often receive messages from people who have become disheartened or even angered by the rejection they receive from some of the companies that they reach out to. One young lady contacted me amidst a whirlwind of fury and heartbreak recently after seeing a post I made about identifying potential sponsors - a company that she desperately wanted to work with turned her down because her physique did not fit the brand’s aesthetic. When I looked over her Instagram and the company in question, it was very clear that while she was indeed an athlete, she was severely overweight and this brand that she wanted to represent was centered around bodybuilding and high-level crossfit body types exhibiting power, performance and strength. Her own posts were extremely sporadic and tended to focus on her struggle with depression and injuries. As much as it upset her, the plain truth was that she was genuinely not a good fit for that company as a sponsored athlete. It stings, yes.
And ya know what? It happens.
You will not be a perfect fit for every company that you want to work with! Your general look, attitude, social media content, their own recruiting schedule, vision or budget… there are a number of reasons that a company may decline to work with you, especially when you’re only putting forth short-sighted requests. When a rejection hits you, remember that it is a chance to learn and improve and above all - IT’S NOT PERSONAL. They have the right to be picky when it comes to choosing individuals to represent their business… it is a business decision, after all. These companies have zero obligation to offer you a place on their sponsored team, nor are they required to change their products, philosophy, aesthetics or anything else to suit you. And even if you’re not a great fit right now, that doesn’t disqualify you for future consideration or partnership, so don’t stress over it. Besides, now you can focus on another brand that you would like to work with - the world has not ended! We simply move forward.
Understanding yourself and your own sense of purpose will go a LONG way in helping you to identify exciting potential partnerships. Remember, you’re striving to create long-term relationships and for that to be successful, you have to know who you are and what you want (just like any other relationship). There’s a reason we covered all that prior to this section! Upon examination, you may very well find that not every “ideal sponsor” really jives with your identity, what you want to be known for or how you want to make people feel. When that happens, always choose to stick with your Big Three. Don’t chase partnerships or sponsors that clash with your story, focus or how you want to impact others!
And now that you have spent time identifying yourself, your goals and have a clearer picture of what companies you would be excited to work with and why, the last section is about how to approach those companies. I’m not going to give you a template to fill in the blanks but I will show you how to stand out against all the other people asking for sponsorships. It’s going to be up to you to put it into practice but since you’ve made it this far, I have no doubt that you are going to absolutely crush it when you are ready!
HOW TO APPROACH POTENTIAL SPONSORS
The list of brands that you have the potential to work with is limited only by your own preferences and creativity. We know by this point that being a sponsored individual means that you have entered into a mutually beneficial business contract with a brand or company; they are willing to compensate you in return for your ability to showcase their product in such a way that translates to actual sales. Remember: the more sales that are generated from you and what you do, the more valuable of an asset you are! Providing a company an excellent return on their investment (sponsoring you) can give you the ability to negotiate an even better contract with them when your current one expires, if you so choose! I’m getting ahead of myself though - let’s look at how you should be prepared to approach businesses that you want to work with.
When someone reaches out to me for a sponsorship, what I need to know is:
Who the person is
What they do
How the individual plans to use those two points to create measurable brand awareness and sales for my company
The vast majority of people that I receive sponsorship requests and inquiries from - we’re talking at least 90% - completely miss the mark on that last point, usually neglecting it altogether. At best, someone will say something like, “I’ll wear your shirts and show off your brand every time I go to the gym and at every competition!” Now, you and I are friends by now so may I be completely honest? That kind of line is painfully lazy and feels to my mind the same way nails on a chalkboard might feel to your ears. It shows me that this person has no idea what they want to offer, let alone any idea of how to go about it. Besides, my customers who pay for my products already do that for me! Vague claims and a lack of a clear and targeted plan make it supremely easy for a potential sponsor to immediately reject your solicitation. It ends up sounding like you just want “free” stuff, like we discussed in the very beginning.
You don’t need to contact a company with a novel describing your best qualities or love for their products. What you do need is to provide them with a blueprint, so to speak, of specific ways that you in particular can create measurable value for their brand. A single page can be massively effective if you do it right. Introduce yourself, demonstrate knowledge of the company and its products (do your research!) and specify how you can increase their reach and impact in a particular area.
**This is when it is important to be able to offer analytics from your social media pages if you have a large, active following - exact numbers of your audience size and demographics, your reach, engagement etc can be super useful here. Remember, you’re asking this company to invest their time, energy and resources with you, so you need to be prepared to show them exactly what they’ll be getting in return.**
If you are confident in your answers to your Big Three and take the time to research and understand the brands that you desire to partner with, you will be able to find compelling and effective ways to bridge the gap between your potential sponsors and your own audience! Always keep in mind: your bottom line, main job as a sponsored athlete or individual is to generate sales with what you do. Think about this: you are essentially applying to be your sponsor’s wingman (or wingwoman)!
So with that, I am wishing you the VERY best of luck in pursuing the sponsorships of your dreams. I have full confidence that with this knowledge, you will be able to create not only a clearer vision for your own self, but will also be able to put forth sponsorship proposals that make your favorite brands pay attention to what you have to say and show them. Get to work and get to making those goals reality.