“How can I get sponsorship for my bicycle tour?” That’s probably the question we get asked most often. In this post I’ll share some of our experiences with sponsorship and offer a few tips on how to up your chances of attracting corporate support.
What kind of goodies can I expect from a bicycle tour sponsor?
It’s very unlikely that you can convince a company to give you cash, but you may end up with a lot of free stuff. Bicycle travelers regularly obtain miscellaneous gear and clothing. Big-ticket items such as a complete set of panniers, down sleeping bags, a therma-rest or a multi-fuel stove are harder to come by. A free bicycle is almost impossible to obtain, but you may be able to wrangle a steep discount.
Many companies will offer long-distance cyclists a “pro deal” giving you up to 50% off list items.
What will potential sponsors expect in return?
Some sort of recognition and soft marketing of their product. Most companies will want you to feature their logo prominently on your website. Some will ask you to “like” their Facebook page or provide photos of you in action using their product in some beautiful and exotic location. Reputable companies will not ask you to provide fraudulent product reviews.
Which companies should I target?
Most cycle tourists have better luck getting sponsorship from small local companies rather than major international sporting goods brands. Your chances of getting Patagonia or North Face on board are next to nil. As a starting point, take a look at companies that have a record of sponsoring cyclists.
What is the best way to get in touch with potential sponsors?
Few companies will have information on their website explaining how to go about getting sponsorship. After all, they’ve got to make it a little bit tough or risk an onslaught of freebie seekers.
An e-mail is probably the best way to initially contact a potential sponsor. I suggest taking the time to call a company and get a contact name rather than just firing off an email to email@example.com.
You’ll want to write something catchy in the subject line that will get you noticed. Yours doesn’t have to be the longest cycle tour in history, or the most demanding, but it should be unique in some way.
Stating that you want to you want to cycle from Alaska to Argentina to “experience new cultures and test your physical limits,“ just won’t cut it these days.
Riding bamboo bikes. Now that’s something that will grab attention.
What information should I include in my email sponsorship request?
Your initial e-mail shouldn’t be a detailed essay, just enough information so that some sympathetic soul will actually open it up and click on the link to your website to find out more.
There are two potential approaches to getting sponsors. You can try to convince a company of the benefits they’ll receive by sponsoring you cycle tour. That means you’ll need a slick website and brochure and the ability to talk coherently about product exposure and market penetration.
The other approach is to appeal to a company’s desire to help and support worthwhile causes. This means you’ll need to get people passionate about your project.
In either case, it’s important to get the name of a contact person. With a little persistence, you can usually land the name and email address of the person in charge of sponsorship just by calling the main number listed on the company website.
I’m not that creative or technically inclined. Is my bicycle touring website really important?
Absolutely. Your website is all potential sponsors have to judge you on. A catchy tagline will up your chances of being remembered. You need to convey who you are and what you’re setting out to accomplish in a matter of minutes, if not seconds. A well-crafted ABOUT page is particularly important.
What’s the next step?
It is highly unlikely that anyone will actually respond to your email.
You’ll need to follow-up. That’s the key, as any successful salesperson will tell you. Now that your email has been ignored, it’s time to start making more phone calls.
If you were lucky enough to obtain a contact name for the email, get in touch directly with that person. If not, you’ll have to call back the main number and explain your story all over again.
Once you get somebody on the line, introduce yourself (briefly) and ask if he’s received your email. Now’s the time for a fine-tuned 30 second pitch.
In our case, reaching an actual live human being results in eventual success only about 20% of the time. Often, it’s “sorry, great project but we can’t help.”
Is chasing after sponsorship worth the effort?
If you’ve got time on your hands and very few financial resources, yes. If you’re busy with a well-paying job, probably not.
You’ve got a lot of sponsors. Are you sure there’s not some other trick?
Over the years we have been able to acquire several top-notch sponsors. When we set off in 2006, all we had was a 25% discount from the local bike shop. That was obtained through sheer luck and a lot of cheek. Eyeing the shiny Koga World Travellers, I commented to the salesperson that THAT was the bike I’d really like to ride through Africa, it was just way over our budget. Turns out, our enthusiasm for the Africa tour had so impressed the salesman that he went out on a limb to get us a good deal.
My last bit of advice is to talk to everybody and anybody about your tour. Your enthusiasm and excitement are bound to bring good things your way. And remember, persistence pays off.