The biggest barrier that holds back athletes from marketing themselves and getting sponsors is their mindset.
The first thing that athletes ask is ‘what do they need to share online to get sponsored?’ or ‘what do I write in my sponsorship proposal?’.
Before getting to those steps, it’s important to adjust the way you see yourself as an athlete and how you think about the companies you are approaching will determine your success.
There are some critical psychological barriers that athletes need to overcome so that they will able to create the right online marketing to facilitate sponsorship. With the right mindset, most of the questions regarding sponsorship tend to dissipate.
Why are you shy?
The most frequent excuse I hear a lot of athletes say when I ask why they don't market themself as athletes is that they don’t want to ‘show off’ or seem self-centered. Some even say that ‘there is no one interested in what they are doing’. On one hand, I completely understand why some athletes might think that way. On the other hand, this "shy" mindset is depricating when it comes time for athletes to find sponsors for their athletic career. When you don't market yourself as an athlete online, you are missing on a great opportunity to connect with thousands of people who are ready to support you. Below are some mental shifts that can help you get over your "shyness" and start marketing yourself as an athlete and get sponsored.
Build an online resume
Sharing your athletic journey online is the same way professionals build up their resume. If a professional doesn’t want to put their skills on a resume they will not get the job they want. Professional, to a certain degree, do not want to boast or show off but in order to get hired they have to learn to promote themselves.
Just like a professional looking to get hired, athletes need to get over their shyness and learn how to promote themselves. Making the right mental shift to get sponsored is to think of yourself as a professional and sharing content online is like adding another skill you added on your resume. Part of being a sponsored athlete is being professional, which means to do and to act in a way that might feel weird at first but is critical to your goal.
This is something that I struggled with and continue to struggle with so I know it is easier said than done. But this is simply the shift that athletes have make. It is part of maturing and the sooner you make the shift the easier it will be.
Action items : Setting up a Facebook Page, Instagram and Twitter and start sharing your athletic journey is something critical for you to get sponsored. Once you have these channels, people start recognizing you as an athlete. A Facebook Page separates your personal life with your athletic life. Also, it helps other people recognize you as a source of knowledge. It is this recognition that causes them to like or follow you. Your next step is to actually become a source of knowledge.
I know for some people the goal of getting sponsored and becoming a more professional athlete is not sufficient to start online marketing. Below I have two selfless reason that can motivate you to get active in promoting yourself as an athlete.
1) Increase the exposure and visibility of your sport
One of the best reasons to get active on social media is that you will be actively increasing the awareness about your sport. We have to face the reality that many amateur sports around the world are seriously lacking exposure on TV and media. You can help change that. By becoming active online, you will be able to reach many people and expose them to your sport. You will be helping grow the community not just for yourself but also for your sport. The fans that you helped gain will be connected to your sport through you. Trust me, every amateur sport can use some help with exposure. Being a source of exposure for your sport has tremendous benefits. One of them is that increasing the popularity of your sport is increasing your own popularity.
2) Inspire the next generation
Once you start acquiring a base of followers, your influence will grow. Although this can be intimidating for some athletes, you should view this as a very positive and natural way. You have earned this pressure with the hard work you put into your sport. With your social media presence you now have the ability to influence your community in a positive way. On one hand you will be promote health and fitness - which in today’s world, there isn’t enough of. Secondly, you will pave the way for the next generation of athletes. By telling your story to these young athletes online not only will you be inspiring them but you could become a role model for them. Soon enough they will be looking to you for guidance in their athletic journey. You have a chance to not only help yourself gain exposure, funding and support but you could have an incredible impact on many athletes.
If creating an image for yourself on social media is not enticing, try to imagine you are mentoring a younger athlete or you are promoting your sport. Having these two things in mind has helped me overcome the barrier of not being too self centered and showing off.
Action items : Start listing topics that you wish you read about when you were younger and starting your athletic career. Also try to keep track of questions you get asked by younger athletes. These are the questions that you want to answer. This is also incredibly rewarding as you will be making an impact on many athletes to come.
The biggest psychological barrier that prevents athletes from reaching out to sponsors is their feeling of self-worth. A lot of athletes tell us that they don’t feel like they are good enough to get sponsored.
The reality is that the majority of sponsorship is not result based. The reason we have the correlation of results with sponsorship is that we see in the media or on TV the superstars with their sponsored gear. However, that type of sponsorship is only a meniscus percentage of all the sponsorship that happens in the world. There are many reasons to this such as there are only a handful amount of athletes that can provide such exposure to company and there are only a handful of companies that can afford such exposure. The majority of the population of athletes are in the level of grassroots to elite and the same with companies - the majority of companies are small to medium sized businesses.
The point to take away is that regardless of your level of performance, you have something you can offer to a company and as a result you are more than deserving to get sponsored.
I’ve always believed that if you’ve been gifted with something, it is your obligation to pursue it to the fullest of your potential. You’ve embarked on an athletic journey, it is your obligation to pursue it to it’s fullest which means sharing it with others and getting funded to help you reach your potential.
Truly believing that you are deserving of sponsorship will free your mind from doubt and hesitation and give space for creative thinking and solution oriented behaviour.
The other reason athletes are hesitant to approach sponsors is they have a mindset of scarcity. They simply believe that there isn’t enough opportunities out there.
Scarcity is a dangerous mindset to have when it comes to sponsorship because it can create a crippling effect. The first reason for this is that it does not reflect the reality. Any belief that does not reflect the reality will prevent you from moving forward. Just to give you an idea of the abundance out there, Sponsorships and endorsements were worth a total of 17.2 Billion in North America and 43.2 Billion Globally. The reality is that there is hundreds of thousands of opportunities available for sponsorship. Simply think about the amount of companies out there who could benefit from marketing and branding help. Being in the marketing industry for many years, I know that nearly every company needs help in this field. The only challenge to is to reach all these companies in the right time, the problem is never ‘not enough sponsorship opportunities’.
The second reason that a scarcity mindset is crippling when it comes to your sponsorship is that it will prevent you from trying, experimenting and learning. If you believe that there are only a handful of sponsors available out there, you will immediately feel a sense of pressure. This sense of pressure will make you feel that your approach needs to be perfect.
This is very difficult as you need to have couple of trial and errors in order to perfect your pitch. Therefore, I’d highly recommend that adopt a mindset of abundance in your search of sponsor. Besides the fact that this mindset reflects the reality, it also has a liberating effect on your search for sponsors. You will be more free to be yourself and reach out to more companies/ corporations.
One of the reasons that athletes feel that they are not deserving of sponsorship and don’t see the abundance of opportunities is that they feel they cannot provide value.
Having confidence in your ability to provide value takes take and some practice. The important thing is to get started. Once you get one sponsor or company that is supporting you in any way, it is your job to find any way possible to help them reach their goals.
The most important thing here is communication. I will get a little bit more in depth later in this post regarding this point. However, it is important that you get up and personal with the company that you are working with. Find out what their goals are. Every company is different. I will give you some examples. Some companies are looking to grow their online presence. As a result, your help can be on social media. You can help them engage with their customers or you can even provide them with content to share. Other large corporations want to keep their employees inspired and motivated. As a result they’ll need you to give a speech or a company visit. Again, nothing to be intimidated from, it all requires practice.
Once you learn about one company, you can start applying your knowledge to other companies. This is an incredible strategy that has helped me as well as many other athletes who were getting started with social media. Once you figure how where your strengths are and how you could help other companies, you can leverage that information to attract other companies. This is the type of information that you will need to add to your sponsorship proposal and publicize on your website and social media.
Giving - sponsorship is personal as much as it is
Another important mindset shift is to start viewing sponsorships as relationships and partnerships. Your ability to maintain a relationship through honest and consistent communication is probably your biggest asset when dealing with companies.
Many athletes have an incredibly formal view of sponsorship that involve a strict contracts and guidelines. The reality is far from that. The reality is that sponsorships are consistent works in progress. Very often it involves building trust with individuals and companies. It also involves doing work for free for future compensation.
As a sponsored athlete, you should try to adapt a mindset of 'trying to help the company or corporation that you are dealing with as much as you can'. Furthermore, you should try to have this mindset even before getting sponsored. When you look at sponsorship as a way for you to provide value and help another organization you will become much more successful at getting sponsored. Try to act from this paradigm and notice how you will become much more attractive to sponsors.
Making the leap, the step towards getting sponsored
There is no magic formula in getting sponsored. However, the closest this to a foolproof method is taking action. I will borrow a quote from Sun Tzu: “Opportunities multiply as they are seized.” Sun Tzu, in his remarkable intelligence was correct even when it comes to sponsorships. Once you start to take concrete action, reaching out to sponsors and seizing opportunities, more doors will open up.
I will stop here, I think over information can also lead to inaction, so go ahead take a leap and discover for yourself.