We get several requests a month for sponsorships, 'partnerships' and donations for various things - charity fundraisers, local raffles, blogger meet-ups, press launches. Some of them are small requests like a few macarons for goody bags and some of them are quite extravagant such as catering an event for 500 guests.
Whether it is for charity or for 'exposure' we just cannot say yes to all of them. We're a small business and can only concentrate our efforts on very few selected causes close to our hearts for example Action for Children and Macmillan Cancer Support. We also choose to donate directly by paying out of our proceeds or by sponsoring friends raising funds by undertaking a challenge.
I am however getting tired of requests to sponsor private events with the promise of 'exposure' to 'high net worth individuals'. Umm...why do we need to sponsor that? Other than the reality that "exposure" is possibly one of the most over-exposed words used to entice small businesses to dish out freebies, it is not sustainable, nor is it a proven concept. The ROI comes nowhere near other forms of gaining exposure such as fostering relations with industry peers, press, customers and social media followers.
We haven't got an endless pit of macarons, so I'd rather sponsor a loyal customer with a thank you stash of macarons rather than drop macarons into 500 goody bags for a fancy soiree for 'high net worth individuals' where the sponsored gin cocktails and prosecco will be free-flowing and the macarons will most likely be wolfed down in a drunken furore in the Uber Lux home and be all forgotten well before the hangover kicks in the next day.
Now that that rant is off my chest, there are some sponsorship opportunities worth considering. Here are my top criteria to consider when deciding to sponsor:
Quality: The idea is to gain GOOD QUALITY exposure to a target group you otherwise would find hard to reach. There is very little business sense in giving away anything where you're not going to be the centre of attention. To become the centre of attention you have to be giving away something that will COMMAND that attention. And that's not going to happen with just one macaron. It's well worth holding out to make a big splash as opposed to spreading yourself thin and competing for your audience's attention.
In the summer I sponsored a dessert table with a three-tiered cake, our fabulous mini-cakes, macarons and marshmallows for Emily Quinton and Catherine Frawley's food photography workshop, two people I follow and admire on Instagram. I already had a familiarity with Catherine through Instagram and had been following Emily for ages and knew it was going to lead to brilliant photos. I even wanted to attend the workshop myself but sadly couldn't make it.
It just so happened that a buyer from Selfridges attended that workshop and tried our stuff and we struck up a rapport through social media since then. Et voila, some months later we are stocked at one of the best food halls in the country.
Go with your Gut: This is so easy that it's often overlooked. In the beginning I was blown away by receiving blanket emails from big brand names promising exposure for freebies. Almost EACH time the request was extremely cold, dull, generic and cut-n-paste, but I was excited by 'association' and the promise of the golden land of exposure and gave in. EACH time the sponsorship yielded very little. Unless the brand is willing to actively be your cheerleader, there is no point. And if the email from the onset wasn't personal, then there is very little to suggest they're into you for anything other than getting the freebies they think they need.
Link Juice & SEO: In this digital age Google is your best friend. If you're a small business with an online presence you will need to get savvy with improving your SEO efforts constantly, like all the freakin' time. Whenever a sponsorship opportunity comes knocking that seems plausibly interesting I check if there will be any online exposure and link to the website and weigh up the cost of our sponsorship against the gains from the prospective incoming link. When Kat from Rock n Roll Bride suggested goody bag sponsorship for her Blogcademy workshop in London it was a no-brainer for me. With her engaged (hah...see what I did there?) and relevant audience it was worth the expense.
Blog Fodder: This again ties in with SEO. Again, if you're a small business you need to blog. Not just so Google finds you, but also to show your customers you're active and fresh. It instills confidence and like anything, the more you do it the easier it gets. Finding blog fodder can be hard (how much can I rabbit on about macarons eh?!) and sometimes I sponsor photo shoots simply because I think it will be exciting and something I'd be proud to show off on our own blog. I recently collaborated on a cool industrial-style wedding photo shoot with wedding planner Katrina Otter and cannot wait to show off the photos when they come out! Here's a sneaky peek at the cake-swag!
Relations: Sometimes it's not all about what you get out of it right then and there. It's about nurturing a relationship and just being nice! For us as a small business word of mouth is still our BEST method of marketing. So even if there is no exposure, no audience, no ROI, if you get on and have a great relation it's worth working with people you like as they will be your BEST CHEERLEADERS and you will be remembered.
I may not know all wedding planners, bloggers, editors etc but the ones I do know and get along with I'm able to sustain a real relationship with and that's actually really enjoyable more than anything.
So moral of the story is not Sponsor Small but Sponsor Smart.