There is no denying that in order to succeed at the top levels of sport, you need to take every advantage you can. And when you have limited resources you need to find ways to fill the gaps between what you have and what you need. This is where sponsorship plays a key role.
Sponsorship is a very tricky situation. It basically boils down to being able to offer a sponsor something of value in return for…. well, something of value. Sponsorship isn’t necessarily all about how good you are though – and you don’t have to be out winning races every weekend to get sponsored. But a combination of good results and some unique selling points can make potential sponsors see you in a different light.
I’m going to try and lay out what I think makes a good approach when it comes to seeking sponsorship.
There’s no point hating for sponsorship to just fall into your lap. It rarely happens unless you’re a remarkably talented rider. You have to go out there and hunt down what you want – and that means being organised. You should have list of the companies/products you want to work with and then set out to get in touch with them. It won’t be easy as for the most part you will be dealing with Customer Service departments, trying to get your name to the right people. With a bit of extra work, you can find out who those right people are and direct your enquiries to them directly. Just remember: they will likely be dealing with hundreds of other requests so it won’t always be easy to get a reply.
Make point of following up on a request a f ew weeks later if you haven’t heard back. If you still don’t get a reply at that point, chance are, you never will. Another thing I found amazing useful when looking for sponsors: I went to a bike trade show and met the reps from the brands I was interested in. It’s a lot easier to deal with a person when they can see you in person and you’re not just another email in their list.
And a great place to get started is you local bike shop. But make sure you’ve actually bought stuff there and they know who you are before you start asking for discounts and free stuff!
It’s very simple: be realistic about what you a re asking for. If you’ve never won a race in your life, you’re not going to just get handed a brand new race bike worth £5000. So start small and be realistic. I always ask if a company would consider offering me a discount of their products. In general, they are usually willing to sell you stuff at cost, which can amount to huge savings to you, and doesn’t cost them anything. They may offer to give you stuff for free which is a bonus of course! I work with a lot of companies that will give me a certain amount of product each year and then also give me a healthy discount on items I purchase after that.
This one is easy: if you’re a good rider, then your chances of getting any type of sponsorship go up dramatically. So concentrate on your results first and foremost. Companies like winners.
If you can win everything you enter, then all is not lost. If you can offer sponsors something they can’t find elsewhere, your market value will increase. For instance, if you’re an OK rider, but have a great back story, or ride across the country for charity every year, coach underprivileged kids, (or in my case, you’re a Paralympian) – anything about yourself that can help you stand out will be a bonus.
Be a Role Model
Be inspirational. Be a role model to others. Be Different. OK – easier said than done. Once again, I have an advantage here. I suffered hardship and loss of limb before bouncing back and winning World Championship titles. But I have also lost at the highest levels. I managed to pick myself back up and carry on. And am still going. It’s a compelling story. And companies like to be associated with people who can inspire others.
If you work with a sponsor, don’t then go out and try and get a conflicting sponsor. It’s basic. No conflicts of interest. If you want to part ways with a sponsor so you can work with another (conflicting) one, be upfront and tell them. Thank them and move on. If you stick with them and are loyal, chances are they will stick with you.
If you use a sponsor’s products or services – be honest about them. Both to the sponsor and to the public. Don’t tell the company their product is the best thing you’ve ever used, then turn around and tell the public it’s total crap. If it IS total crap – tell the sponsor FIRST. Give them HONEST feedback. The good and the bad. Many of the companies I work with want honest feedback about their products from the users, especially the ones that can really put it through it’s paces. They want to make their stuff better so if you have criticism, they want to hear it. And they will hold you in higher esteem if you are forthcoming. If a product is so bad you can’t use it, stop using it. it’s not a product you want to put your name to anyway!
Biggest complaint I hear from sponsors is riders who ask for stuff every year – and then never are heard from again until the next year. It makes them feel used. SO if someone sponsors you, keep in touch. Say thanks on a regular basis. Remember- they are doing YOU a favour. Not the other way around. And if they chose not to renew your sponsorship – say thanks for their support and move on.
Be a Promoter
It’s important that you actively promote the brands and products you use. But be smart about it. If you have a Twitter account – certainly tweet about the stuff you use, but make sure that your entire Twitter account isn’t just tweets promoting the stuff you use. Sometimes just posting a pic of your bike without mentioning the product specifically can do wonders. I get asked all the time about stuff on my bike and am always happy to say a good word about the items that were given to me by sponsors.
This goes for whether you are looking for sponsors or already have them. Don’t be fake. Don’t misrepresent yourself. Don’t try and be what you think they want you to be - just be yourself. Chances are that real person is far better than any fake persona you might try and pass off!
I have been blessed to work with some really great companies with great vision and who are willing to support a Paralympic rider. I have done what I can to return that good will. Not just through my results, but through my actions. And will continue to do so as long as I can!
So here’s to all the companies in the last year that have done their part to keep me on the road: 3T, ZipVit Sport, Fisher Outdoors (Look/Sram/Zipp/Tacx), Rotor, SRM UK, Bont, 4iii, Cat’s Tongues Towels, Recovery Pump, Pace Rehabilitation, Crispin Orthotics, USE, and Castelli Cafe UK!