Whether it’s the local little league team, a 5K race or an industry trade show, opportunities to become a sponsor present themselves frequently for small-business owners. While sponsorships may seem like a great way to get your name in front of a large crowd of potential customers, they can also become a costly investment with little payoff if they aren’t thoroughly planned.

“A big mistake business owners make is they write a check, turn over their logo, show up with banners and then they check out,” said Gail Bower, corporate sponsorship expert and founder of Bower & Co. Consulting.

Before considering potential sponsorships, entrepreneurs need to identify their sponsorship goals and create an execution plan.  “Entrepreneurs should determine who they are trying to reach and where these people hang out,’” advised Joellyn Sargent,
president
of BrandSprout. “If a business owner is trying to generate sales at an event, they should try a home show or community fair. If they are looking for community awareness, they may get more eyeballs at a road race.”

The reputation of an event that offers sponsorship opportunities is also important because that will determine attendance. “An established film festival is likely to be able to show proven results when it comes to delivering return on investmen in a sponsorship, but a first-time event is still likely to succeed if planned and hosted by a well-known, well-connected organization or individual in town,” said Mara Shorr of The Leone Company.

Once entrepreneurs have zeroed in on an ideal sponsorship opportunity, they need to evaluate the potential effectiveness of the partnership. “Typically the rights holder [sponsorship seller] will have their audience surveyed or audited by a third party,” noted Molli Moss, president of MRA Services.  This data will help the entrepreneurs determine if the group is made up of potential customers. Moss also recommended attending some of the rights holders other events to see how those turn out. 

As with any business partnership, a contract will help clarify everybody’s expectations. “Spell out as much in a contract as you can; things like logo placement to whether it is on the website, posters, postcards or advertising,” advised Shorr of The Leone Company. “Include timelines, what sort of marketing benefits you’ll receive, whether you’ll have product exclusivity and how many tickets to the event you are promised.”

Simply sponsoring an event will not yield results unless the entrepreneur is willing to make a time and financial investment in activating the sponsorship.  This means creating opportunities for people to interact with the brand.

“A little league team that plays during the summer is great for a business that generates a lot of business during that period,” said Bower of Bower & Co. Consulting, “Businesses shouldn’t just stick a logo on the back of the t-shirt. They should think about how they can interact with the audience that that team attracts. Can they get a table at the game or host winners at their locations? Think about ways to drive traffic to the store or location.”

Finally, business owner need to have patience and a plan in place to measure return on investment.  Sargent of BrandSprout suggested entrepreneurs use “codes, coupons or flyers or provide a unique web address and landing page for prospects.” 

“Small business owners assume they can do one sponsorship and get immediate results,” added Sargent, “But, sponsorship for brand awareness is an ongoing activity and commitment is important.”