Last spring I found myself out of a full time job and decided to work on building up my blog network over seeking more full time or client work. The network was doing well with Adsense and private ad sales were also coming through but I felt to truly profit I needed to seek my own sponsors. So I sat down and made a list of potential candidates. As I researched businesses and made lists, one place continued to stare out at me. It was a web content site similar to one that helped me get my start as a freelance writer ten years ago. As my blog network was geared towards freelance writers, I thought we had something to offer each other.
I already had a good relationship with this brand. They contacted me periodically to post jobs for ads and our exchanges were always pleasant. When I sent a proposal to my contact, he was more than receptive. A couple of months of negotiations ensued, but now they’re a proud sponsor and I’m happy to to provide a spot for them to advertise.
Here are a few things I learned about choosing sponsorship as a result of this partnership:
- It pays to have a thoughtful proposal in place to send to potential sponsors. Your sponsors (and their attorneys and advisers) will want to know demographics and statistics. They need to know if their ad is a good for your community. It’s not enough to send a letter. A proposal with actual facts and figures is necessary. Also, what can you do for them? Maybe advertising isn’t enough? Maybe they’ll want more in the way of promotion or sign ups.
- Make sure you don’t compromise the integrity of your community and blog, not to mention your own integrity. For example, my potential sponsor wanted me to write several posts each month about what it is like to work for them. I refused as that’s just spammy. We agreed on one initial post announcing our sponsorship and my personal experience with the program, plus an honest review of a conference they were putting together in the fall. Also, my contract doesn’t pay me for sign ups or new members, only advertising. I wanted writers to be able to make their own decisions, if I was paid per click or sign up I’d probably try harder influence their decision whether or not to write for this sponsor and that’s not what I wanted.
- Make sure they know you’re going to be honest. Fortunately I didn’t have to negotiate this one. During my first conference call with reps from my potential sponsor they insisted I was honest about my experience with them and didn’t want me to paint a rosy picture simply because they are paying to advertise on my blog. Knowing I can give an honest review and speak my mind makes them an ideal sponsor, in my book. If a potential sponsor won’t let you be honest, even if there are some negative points, walk. The last thing you want is to compromise your integrity.
- Add in a few points of your own – One thing I wanted was the ability to have first shot at breaking any news. This company has offered several programs of interest to their vast writing community and for me to give this news first (before even the sponsor posted the news on their own site) gave me first shot at traffic and discussion.
- The sponsorship can go beyond ads – You can get more than advertising dollars from a sponsor. Many bloggers seek sponsors to help defray the cost of conferences, gadgets, web hosting and more. Make sure the sponsor is also getting something of value. For example, if they covering your conference costs offer to wear their shirt and hand out their flyers. I will be wearing my sponsor’s shirt at SXSW as they will be helping to defray my costs.
- Always, always be transparent – Be honest about your sponsorship from the very beginning. There’s no way of getting around it. Let your community know you accepted a sponsor and why you did so. There will still be a bunch who accuse you of being a shill, but at least you know there’s no mistake about what you’re doing.
Here are a few things to consider before seeking sponsorship:
- People will think you’re a sell out – It’s going to happen. You can fight it or get over it. Some competitors may even lead the torch and pitchfork bridgade in trying to discredit you. However, it’s your community that truly matters. Keep them in mind and you’ll find the majority of them are very accepting, understanding and encouraging. As long as you’re upfront about it they’ll continue to trust you.
- People will think you’re just a paid mouthpiece – This is difficult. I can’t talk about my sponsor without some writing me off as a paid mouthpiece. Even though I’m encouraged by my sponsor to be honest about my experience and relationship with them, a handful still believe otherwise. For example, my sponsor doesn’t require me to speak about them anywhere but on my blog. However, when I join a discussion on another blog or forum answering questions about the company, there are always those who call me out as a paid mouthpiece. Nothing I can do to stop that, so I won’t. Be prepared to encounter folks wishing to debate and discredit. Engage, don’t engage, the choice is yours.
- Ads clutter up a blog – My blog network is heavily monetized which can be unattractive. I’m developing a some products to help bring in a more passive income so I won’t have to have a bunch of ads, but until then there’s no choice. Not unless I want to go back to client and full time work again. If you’re seeking sponsorship make sure you’re ready to handle the ads.
The benefits of sponsorship:
- The money – Need I say more?
- The relationships – I don’t have sponsor, I made some lifetime friends.
- Getting involved with another community – I enjoy participating in the sponsor’s forum when I can and they’ve invited me to guest blog from time to time. This is my favorite part of the sponsorship. My sponsor also invited me to Southern California to attend their conference and I can honestly say it was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.
- Other perks: My sponsor has offered to help defray the cost of conference attendance, and in return I’ll wear their shirt. Anyone who attends conferences knows they can run a several thousand dollars to attend, so I gladly take them up on this offer.
- Traffic: My sponsor and I enjoy some cross traffic and link love.
- Other sponsors: Other advertisers sought me out after my partnership with my sponsor. I turned down several as a conflict of interest, but enjoyed partnerships with many. One competitor even wanted me to sit on their board of advisers! I said no,but it was a nice offer.
Having this sponsorship has honestly been one of the best experiences of my blogging career. I made new friends, developed important relationships and learned to truly value my loyal community. Though they’re not my highest paying advertiser by any means, this sponsor and the people who work for them are some of the nicest people I’ve encountered…ever. That makes this relationship more valuable than money.
Did you seek sponsorship for your blog? Are you seeking sponsorship? If so, please share your experiences. How do you feel about blog advertising in particular?
Deb Ng is Founder of the Freelance Writing Jobs blog network. If you liked this post, check out her 40 Lessons Learned Over 5 Years of Blogging.