Let’s imagine that you are a hairstylist. You want to teach others how to do hair styling and so you already have a website for your online courses. Everything's going well, except that you're spending a lot of money on products for hair styling lessons.
Growing your online course business can be quite a challenge. That is why entrepreneurs have a trick up their sleeve to finance their business: sponsorships. A sponsorship is a win-win partnership that you make with a larger company. A sponsor can offer you money or products in exchange for advertising.
Sponsorship is a business decision, not a donation. - Ron Seaver (Source)
Ideally, you're in the growth part of your business. You already are consistent in what you do and have published a few courses already.
So let’s get this out of the way: sponsors are more likely to work with you if your work is already good. That is why most influencers are approached by company representatives. But that doesn’t mean that you can't take initiative and reach out to companies, especially if you are at the beginning.
Read more: An introduction to influencer marketing
You will also need to think out of the box. Teaching personal finance courses? Then you might partner with a personal finance app developer. Need to edit your video lessons? Find a sponsor that does video editing software. Everything that is relevant for what you do can be taken into consideration.
The ultimate guide to attracting a sponsor for your online business
Whether you are approached by a company or you decide to reach out, here’s how to build a win-win relationship with a sponsor.
Find a compatible company
To find a sponsor, you will want to first make a list of companies. It is important to do your research and choose companies that reflect your own goals and purpose. For example, it doesn’t make sense for a cosmetics company to sponsor a website about brewing your own beer. Look for a similar target audience, mission and approach to doing business.
Needless to say, integrity is very important. You have to be a customer before you advertise any product. People need to trust you as an instructor. Why would they do that if you are being dishonest about the products that you like?
Tip: if you want the “bigger fish”, they will want to see that you’ve collaborated with others before. For example, for your first course, you might want to work short term for free. This shows the company a sample of what you can do for them marketing-wise. Then, use this as a stepping stone to show bigger corporations that you’ve already worked with others before and can offer value to them as well.
It’s all about them
Instructors need to find novel ways to advertise their courses. When it comes to securing a sponsorship, you need to make your proposal about the sponsors, and much less about you. Company representatives are busy, goal-oriented people and receive many requests daily.
To “lure” them in, you need to differentiate yourself from other online businesses. Show them that you understand their way of doing things before asking for what you want. For example, it helps to know how they managed to grow their company, how they do marketing, and what are their goals.
Tip: even when you are talking about yourself, explain how your goals align with theirs. For example, if you have an audience of 5,000 learners, so they can hit their goal of reaching thousands of people for the launch of their new product.
Write a great business proposal
Some people find this to be an intimidating step, especially if they are at the beginning. I’d say that it is the most important step, but it’s not that hard to do since you already have most of the information at hand. For example, you might already have a marketing plan in place, you know your story, and you know your products. All you need to do is to present these elements in a nice way. Here is how:
Your marketing plan: what is your target audience? How many learners do you have and how many followers on social media? Include numbers, statistics, and other details that would be relevant to show how well your businesses’ audience aligns with theirs.
Your story: what makes you unique? Why should they sponsor you and not another small business? For example, let’s say that an instructor helps young aspiring hairdressers become better at what they do with an online course that is efficient and offers a lot of value for their money.
A description of your platform and courses: what exactly you are teaching? How many learners you currently have? How do you plan to grow your business?
Offer value to sponsors
Simply asking for things won’t get you far. You can offer sponsors real value in the form of product placement, giveaways, reviews, or ads.
For product placement, you can use their products to demonstrate certain techniques. It is a great way to get the tools you need instead of investing your own money.
Giveaways are great since you can give products for free to learners. For example, they can enter the giveaway when they buy a course, subscribe to your newsletter, follow you on social media etc. You can also ask for discount codes that learners can use to buy their own products.
The bottom line is that sponsors want to see exactly how you can help them with brand awareness, sales, and other goals.
Plan for long term
If you have a bit of experience with this, you know that corporations do have the money to invest in these kind of deals. That is why you need to ask for an appropriate amount of money and/or sample products.
Since learners already trust you as an instructor, your recommendations are already very valuable to them. Companies know that almost half of consumers depend on influencer recommendations. You don’t ask for $100 when they can give you $10,000 or more.
Tip: even if you are successful in securing new partnerships, the enthusiasm will wear off if you need to find a new sponsor every few months or so. Try to propose longer partnerships, that last for six months or ideally, one year.
Getting in touch with companies
If you have enough (good) content out you might be approached by someone and start negotiating. Make sure you are ready to present a proposal for prospective sponsors.
However, before this happens, you need to make sure that you are easy to reach. Do you attend industry events? Are you following and engaging with the right people on social media? Is your contact info easy to find? Let’s say you are writing a guest post for another instructor’s blog. Do you include your Twitter handle or email in the bio?
You’d be surprised how hard it is for representatives to find some people. They won't bother to search the entire internet for your contact info so make sure it is easy to find.
If attracting sponsors takes too long, you might want to contact them directly. Try reaching out to their marketing department or see if there is a sponsorship page on their website.
Tip: don’t be pushy, but do send follow-up emails if they don’t answer at first. Many emails get overlooked because the representatives are busy and forget to check everything.
Finding a sponsor is not as hard as it seems. If you are already in the online course business you can offer more than you think. Since your business is all about attracting an audience that is focused on a niche — whether it is personal development, cooking or hair styling — you already have a strong foundation. Don’t sell yourself short and try to secure a longer partnership.
In the end, the biggest word of advice is to show them that you are offering something of value and have a concrete plan of how you are going to do so.