Updated: Feb 21, 2019
I am very fortunate to have a lovely team of sponsors and supporters. I am often asked for tips on obtaining sponsorship. Whilst I am no expert, I can give some useful tips.
Generally for an amateur like myself the likelihood of finding a financial sponsor is very slim (unless it's a family member). Most support will come in the form of products or discounted products. Provided that these are things you use, this can create big savings!
I often read posts online, and have been approached for advice by people who (may be very successful in what they do) have approached companies asking for support yet are continually turned down. There is a couple of reasons for this! Firstly, money is tight and many companies don't have any budget for sponsors but more importantly, it is often the way the approach is made. Too often it is made by listing the success or ambitions of the rider and what they need but forgetting the key point: What can you do for the sponsor?
What can you offer?
If you are looking for a sponsor you need to sell your services to the potential sponsor. What can you offer in return for their support? Unless you are competing on the world stage, you are unlikely to get rewarded for just being successful! So what can you offer?
Social Media - Have a good website / social media links / presence that can help market the company and spread the word about their products. Don't underestimate the power of social media. (Offer statistics or followers / website hits etc)
Advertising space - i.e. wearing of branded clothing, saddle cloths, rugs and lorry / trailer. Be careful here, there are rules with regard to having advertising on a lorry / trailer that can bring you into commercial transport rules. Also BE have rules that anyone advertising on saddle cloths must be members of BE
Photo Opportunities - A chance to get professional images of products / services.
Blogs / Written Updates - Regular updates for sponsors newsletters or websites.
Leafleting - Putting leaflets on lorries or giving them to people at events
Product Testing - Testing and feedback of services or products for companies
Ambassador - Be an ambassador for your sponsor. This means if you are sponsored by a clothing sponsor then you take every opportunity to wear it, be photographed in it and promote it. You can talk knowledgeably about your sponsor and their products.
I personally don't sell success. I don't promise red rosettes or competing at high profile events. I sell the journey, the fact that people follow me through the highs and lows and that whatever happens whether I or my horses are injured, there will be a continual output of interesting content. I never want to go to an event to find hard ground, yet feel I must run the horse because my sponsor expects it. Saying that, the fact that I go out competing and get myself seen attracts my followers ... so there does need to be a balance!
Find your Unique Selling Point
A lot of people can offer all or much of the above so what makes you stand out? You need to find a USP (Unique Selling Point) For me I have several that I promote to sponsors but everyone needs to identify and push their own. Mine is the traffic I generate through my social media and website for my course pictures, the fact that I have won awards that recognize my high calibre social media skills and the fact that I am an amateur with limited facilities living in a remote area for the sport, so I can show hard work and dedication.
For someone else it may be the type of horse they ride i.e. retrained racehorses or a certain type of native pony. It could be that they or their horse has recovered from a serious injury. Whatever it is make sure it is interesting and makes you stand out.
Who to approach
I learnt early on when approaching sponsors it is not good to use a blanket approach. Target your efforts at companies and products that you really want to be sponsored by. This makes it far easier to be a great ambassador and really enthusiastic about the company or product! A local company may take more interest in a local rider so look at what is on your doorstep.
Be sure that you are happy with what you get from your sponsor. I approached one company I was really keen on and they offered me sponsorship. In return for writing regular blogs, using my social media links and a few other things - they offered me a 5% discount. This would have worked out as a maximum value of £20 a year for me so I turned them down. I did also consider the promotion it would have given me but in the end decided it wasn't worth the time and commitment I would have given it.
Remember if you are lucky enough to have more than one sponsor you need to ensure that they compliment each other and don't clash in services or products that they offer.
How to make that initial approach
Be innovate, and make yourself noticed! One year I sent out a CD with a Shoestring Label on and a presentation that automatically ran when it was put in the computer. The presentation had about 10 slides and a bit of video giving a brief overview of me and what I could do for my sponsor. I had a huge amount of feedback from this and even those that had no sponsorship budget were impressed. I felt at least it put me on their radar. Now vlogs and videos that show your personality are all the rage, if you can be original and do it well then that's a great way of getting the message across.
If you are writing then try and find out specific names and tailor it to the company you are approaching. If you already use their products say so and why you find them good. Also, are there any specific ways you can help a particular company? I try to keep any initial approach fairly brief and refer them for more information to my website / social media which they can follow up if interested.
Be professional, make sure any correspondence has been proof read and contains no spelling mistakes and good grammar. Where possible include accurate statistics on number of followers, website hits and interactions.
Building the relationship
Once you have successfully secured a sponsor, then build on this. Make sure you keep them up to date with your activities and feedback on the services / products you have been using. Where possible try and show how you have become invaluable to their marketing and have been show casing their products. Make sure you deliver any promises and keep in touch, quite often more mutually beneficial opportunities can arise.
It is a pet hate of mine that sponsored riders are not always genuine and this comes across. I have turned a number off on social media. For example one season such and such had a saddle that was the best thing ever, the service was great, it made a huge difference in the horses way of going etc etc. The next season we hear exactly the same only it's a different make. Over the years I have turned down a number of sponsorship opportunities as I don't truly love the brand or company and therefore it is not fair on them, myself or shoestring followers to promote it.
It is popular now for companies to run competitions on Facebook / Websites / Twitter to give sponsorship opportunities. By doing this the company is getting publicity during the process itself as well as hopefully a selection of riders applying for the sponsorship / product support. Therefore it is a good idea to keep an eye on websites and social media for such opportunities. When they arise read very carefully what they are looking for. Some focus on success, others on what you can offer them and some for commitment and over coming adversity. Make sure you tailor your response to their requirements, take your time making any submission and ensure it is properly proof read for mistakes. A good first impression is key!