Well its that time of year again.  Holiday season sure, but its also that time that athletes should be talking to prospective sponsors for next season.  Though some sport specific companies will have probably already signed some of their athletes for next year, many “normal” or non-sport related businesses are just in the budget making process or will soon have next year’s budget and funds to draw from.

The process of approaching sponsors in your sport is fairly straight forward.  For example, if you’re a cyclist, you may have seen a brand’s rep around, or you may have a good relationship with you local bike shop that can help open up that dialogue.  Some businesses like K-Swiss and CycleOps even have applications available online, or at least have an email address for sponsorship proposals.
Where things get a little murkier is with often overlooked local businesses.  Your immediate geographic community can often be an untapped market of potential sponsors so long as you know how to engage local businesses and properly represent yourself.  Without exception, every business in your area has a vested interest in developing or reinforcing positive attitudes towards their brand, which means that every business in your area represents an opportunity worth your consideration about approaching.
Can’t make the connection and wondering why an oil company, or a dentist’s office, or well, whatever, might take an interest in you and your sport?  I’ll explain a few important pointers for pursuing these opportunities and then I think you’ll start to see the draw.
Be a Presence in Your Community

As an athlete you have the ability to share your skills and energy with others in the community.  I honestly believe that its the social responsibility of athletes to share their gifts with others, an in turn, help bring their society up.  This could take the form of running a local run club, coaching a local amateur team, speaking to children about the power of sport and the benefits of an active lifestyle, or just good old fashioned donating your time at the local soup kitchen.

What this demonstrates to sponsors is that you’re an individual ready and willing to be a positive contributor to your community, and in turn an ambassador of goodwill for the brands that are interested in you.  If you don’t have the time or resources time to give back to your community, why should any local sponsor be willing to devote time and resources to supporting you?

Learn to Talk Share Your Accomplishments and Inspire Others to do the Same

Professional athletes are great at this.  Ever watch a hockey game and see a player talk about themselves and what a great game they had?  No, they deliver concise, easy to understand answers and are generally pretty down to earth about their achievements.  Amateur athletes on the other hand usually either go into technical details that simply fly over the head of the formerly interested counterparty, or they downplay the accomplishment because they simply don’t really know what to say.

Don’t shy away from your accomplishments, and when someone asks about your sport, use the opportunity to bring it back to them.  If you’re an triathlete or marathoner, when someone inevitably says “I could never do that”.  Let them know what they can.  Every triathlete either themselves is a story of overcoming adversity, or knows of an inspiring story like Sister Madonna, or Rick and Dicky Hoyt.  Share those stories, and let others know that sweetness of success in sport is most often a function of hard work and dedication.
Coming across as humble, grateful, and eager to share your sport will garner you the respect and admiration of others.  A likeable guy or gal who is successful in their sport is far more likely to catch the attention of local businesses than someone who is their own biggest fan.

Network, Network, Network

People who are successful in their sport often fall into the trap of only associating with others who are directly involved with their sport.  That can mean they only talk to other athletes, coaches, and prospective sponsors.  In a city like Calgary, and in most cities, for every business that has sponsored a race or athlete, there are dozens of businesses that haven’t even considered the opportunities that sponsorship can provide.

Learn to get out of your comfort zone and whenever an opportunity arises to attend a silent auction, fundraiser, Christmas Party, Stampede Party, whatever, take the opportunity up.  Learn to network and make new connections with people you’ve never met before using local events that are completely unrelated to your sport, or sport at all.

Of course there is always the virtual world as well.  Media such as Twitter, and Facebook can help you engage and make connections with others that you normally wouldn’t interact with.  What I’m saying is start following local business and your local movers and shakers that may not have anything at all to do with your sport.

Once the relationship is established, think of things that you can offer those businesses.  Lead a run club for a small oil and gas company, donate coaching sessions to silent auctions, help lead group rides for charity events like the Ride to Conquer Cancer or the MS Bike Tour.  Events like these are full of people with something to offer your if you have something you’d like to offer them.

If the idea of breaking the ice with someone you’ve never met before is a little unnerving, consider courses like the Dale Carnegie Course, or ToastMasters to help make new connections and build your public speaking confidence.

That sums it up

Thats all for now, as always, if you ever have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or tweet at me.  I’m happy to help.