How to Get Sponsored with Molly Hurford
Many of us start sports because we love them. We love the personal challenge, the community, and the sense of identity. Over time, you end up building more community and maybe you even decide to start racing. With racing, comes extra equipment needs and expenses. Some of us even have the dream of one day getting on a podium or becoming a Professional. How do you get a little or maybe even a lot of support on your way? Brand partnerships are a common way to do it.
To make matters more interesting, the lines between “professional athlete” or “aspiring professional athlete” and social media influencer are getting blurred. Social media influencers can make money with a few posts and some influencers have extended partnerships.
Racers are required to have a social presence these days, but being a sponsored racer has more commitments involved than social media influencer.
Molly Hurford is the author of The Athlete’s Guide to Sponsorship and creator of the Prokit ecourse. She shared her expertise on my podcast and I wanted to share some of her best tips in this article. I also have managed myself as a professional athlete, writing my own proposals and managing my own sponsorships. Between the two of us, we answered a lot of the questions you have.
Here is the podcast we recorded for the long version (The Sonya Looney Show)
How do you get sponsored?
Ask: “What can I bring to the table?” It might be writing, making videos, social media, podcasts, or something else. What makes you unique? You want to ask yourself “how can I bring value to the brand?” and “how can I bring value to my audience?”
You need to expect to create your own content. Even most professional athletes do not walk around with their own photographer. Get prepared to wear lots of hats- photographer, understand basic digital marketing, how to talk to brand, blogging, being an athlete, how to use the different social platforms and more. You basically need to be your own marketing agency.
Learn how to be professional with proposals and reaching out to brands. This topic is covered in detail in Molly’s book. It goes without saying, but you would be surprised how many people go about sending emails.
Where do I start?
Molly recommends “The first thing you should start doing is keep doing what you’re doing. Keep racing and collecting these results while putting your best foot forward on social media and at races. Basically, act like a professional before you’re a professional.
In this day and age, you have to be your own personal brand. Decide how you want to contribute to your community, start creating storylines and content around it, and use your race and training experience to add depth.
Once you build your community and can add value to them, you can start adding value to sponsors.
Best Practices for Sponsorships
Make it easy for your sponsors.
Molly says “the more you want to be mentioned in any journalism, you have to provide the content.” Same goes for you sponsors. “Making photos that are super shareable and making sure every brand that is sponsoring you is being supported is key because little sponsors can turn into big sponsors.”
Try before you buy.
Make sure you actually use the product before reaching out to a brand.
A brand wants to know that you actually care about the product. Molly said, “One of the sponsorship managers said he just wants to know that people at least kind of give a crap about the product because so often people are just asking for stuff not because they like that particular brand, but because they want to get sponsored to have to look beyond this idea of like getting sponsored to working with brands that you genuinely love.”.
Think Big Picture but Start Small.
Molly suggests starting local and going to a brand or bike shop. What value can you provide? An example she gave is partnering with your bike shop and offering beginner shop rides or doing a talk.
Molly says, “The local shops still have a sales rep who works for the company who could eventually be talking to the sponsorship coordinator for the bigger company. I think people really dismiss these smaller local level sponsorships as like not as cool as getting the big brand, but they are one hundred percent. The easier way to start thinking about getting to that big brand in a few years.”
Think of yourself as an employee of the company.
You are an extension of the brand’s sales and marketing team. Everything you say reflects back on them. That means if you are a jerk to someone on the trail, you are being a jerk while at the same time representing a company. This has been taken very seriously and in 2020, there were some serious implications for certain professional riders in the tense political climate where they said something and lost their sponsorship.
To keep things light, think of it as the things you do and say matter because now it’s not just you on the trail, it’s you and all the companies you’re aligned with.
Be prepared to hear a lot of “no’s.”
No one said this is easy, but it’s about committing to the long-term vision. Build community, build great content, share your journey, be professional and you’ll hear some “yes’s” too. I can personally tell you as someone who has been a self-managed athlete since 2013 that I hear WAY more no’s than yes’s. It’s hard not to take it personally, but I just got back to the trenches and keep working. I don’t race to get sponsors. I race because I like the personal challenge, it makes me a better person, and it allows me to help others be better too. And hopefully I can weave sponsorships in that journey.
How to ask for money
Molly advises that you first create a budget so you can be very specific when asking for what you need. She also says, “if you’re going to ask for money, you also have to ask what the brand needs from you in order to justify you becoming a line item. Asking what it is that they would find value in is key: is it that you’re posting to your five thousand followers? Is it that you’re doing a video for your five thousand followers? Is it that you’re hosting an event? Is it that you’re going to start writing a small blog for one of the many cycling publications out there? “
In her course and book, she has scripts on how to write a proper email, what to put on a resume and more.
Working with sponsors is like any new skill. It takes practice and experience to improve. It takes courage to put yourself out there but as my husband says to me, “Have the courage to believe you are worth it.”
For an article I wrote on how to be brave, check it out! And if you want some of my best tips on mountain biking, mindset, and nutrition sent to your inbox once a week, get in on my newsletter (and get a free confidence worksheet)!