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How I Got Some Paying Sponsors Without Really Meaning To

A guest post by Josh Hanagarne.

World’s Strongest Librarian was about four months old when I got interested in sponsors. I’d read the articles about how to do it, and none of them sounded that plausible for me and my situation.

For one, my traffic wasn’t impressive, certainly not to the point where sponsors were approaching me. And, while my blog has become slightly more focused in its first ten months, it wasn’t targeted at any group of readers in particular, so I wasn’t sure how confident niche advertisers would be. It’s a little more focused now, but I can’t really think of a better term for my readers than “The Loyal Weird.”

So I tried a little sponsorship experiment. My expectations were virtually non-existent. I did it more out of curiosity than anything, hoping that it would engage readers and foster some good will.

Here’s what happened.

Auditions and criteria

I decided to hold “tryouts” for anyone who was interested in a sponsorship slot on World’s Strongest Librarian. If you like, you can read my initial post here. If you’re terrified of leaving this page because there’s so much wisdom in the air, here’s the summary of what I asked interested readers to do:

Dear potential sponsor, please give me:

  • One paragraph on something you did in the last year that you are proud of
  • Your URL
  • A description of your blog/business
  • Why you’re interested in running an ad on World’s Strongest Librarian
  • Your pitch: Why you? Just how cool are you?

And I made it very clear that I did not care about the size or look of the blog. As long as a blogger wasn’t peddling anything heinous, illegal, or spammy, they had as good a chance as anyone.

I would run auditions for the rest of August and then make my decisions.

The plan at that point

I figured that I’d get a small response and run ads for the four people who responded out of pity. Then I’d run their ads for the month of September. When September was winding down, I would thank each blogger, ask them if they wanted to pay for another month or more to stick around, or part ways while remaining friends.

I figured I’d repeat this cycle for a few months until all of the ads were paid for. Then I’d end the auditions.

What I didn’t expect

I got a lot of responses. In fact, I got close to 100 auditions. Some were lengthy and hilarious. Others were half-hearted and poorly written. Some came very close to flat-out begging, and others were so standoffish that I couldn’t tell if they were actually interested or not.

The good things about this

Any reader response and engagement can feel like a huge win for the new blogger. So of course it was gratifying to see that there were people paying attention.

I also learned just how eclectic my reader base was. I got emails from bloggers covering every topic and angle imaginable. I got emails from foundations. I got emails from businesses. Word spread, and suddenly I had a bunch of new readers, and some readers I’d never engaged with came forth out of hiding.

The bad things about this

There’s really only one: because I had underestimated the response, I hadn’t really thought through my judging criteria. And suddenly I had a mountain of auditions to sift through. It was really, really hard to decide. And in a couple of cases, I wound up choosing in a more arbitrary manner than I was happy with, but I couldn’t figure out a better way at that point.

Here is my post announcing the winners.

This caused some hurt feelings, a lot of negative emails from disappointed applicants, demands for explanations of how I chose…and so on.

“Okay,” I thought. “Next round, I’ve got to do this better.”

There wasn’t going to be a next round.

The best things about this

A couple of the winners left after one month with no hard feelings between us. But several of them stayed…and paid. When I was able to show them their click-through rates and they told me how “sticky” the traffic from my blog had been, I didn’t need to convince them at all. And suddenly I had a very, very modest income from sponsors—but I had sponsors!

I was also spared the difficulty of going through another round of auditions and making people mad.

It also got a lot of people blogging about the experiment, and of course, the traffic was its own reward.

Suggestions for anyone interested in trying this

  • Overestimate the response you’ll get, this way you (hopefully) won’t get overwhelmed
  • Explain your judging criteria. You may still have some sore losers, but having a prior explanation to fall back on may be helpful
  • Give it your own spin
  • Decide which system you’re going to use to display ads with, and figure it out earlier than the night before you’re supposed to run the ads. I can be a real dunce. This was one prime example of my duncery.

Your own variant of this experiment could be a way to grab some sponsors and figure out how some things work before your numbers are commanding sponsors on their own.

Above all: enjoy it, have fun, and use this experiment opportunity to make connections, spark some creativity, and do your own thing.

Don’t try too hard to be like anyone else. You are not anyone else. This is a good thing, whether you believe it or not.

About the Author: Josh Hanagarne is the twitchy giant behind World’s Strongest Librarian, a blog about living with Tourette’s Syndrome, kettlebells, book recommendations, buying pants when you’re 6’8”, old-time strongman training, and much more. Please subscribe to Josh’s RSS Updates to stay in touch.

About Darren Rowse

Darren Rowse is the founder and editor of ProBlogger Blog Tips and Digital Photography School. Learn more about him here and connect with him on Twitter, Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn.

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Comments

  1. That sounds like a pretty interesting (and successful!) experiment you ran! What was your traffic like when you first got these sponsors though?

    Thanks for sharing!

  2. This is actually a very cool idea to kick-start blog advertising. It definitely would have been a great idea to define conditions on how you would judge but I really don’t think it would matter. No matter what you would tell people they would still wonder why they did not win.

    I may try this on my own blog at some time in the future.

  3. scheng1 says:

    Wow, marvelous! I think you are too modest. Probably the next thing is getting an offer to sell your blog for a nice 5 digit sum.

  4. this sure is a very interesting idea to attract sponsors to your blog.

    you can also checking out the sponsors of other blogs in your niche and apply to them to sponsor you.

    twitter.com/makenicemoney

  5. Kris Beus says:

    Interesting, I have been thinking about trying to find diffrent ways to make money rather than google adsense perhaps I will try holding sponsorship aditions though I doubt I have enough traffic to do so.

  6. NobodySharesAdRates says:

    I got an enquiry from a potential (general, not niche) advertiser a few months ago and I told her I’d get back to her. She wanted to know what I charge for various ads (cpm/monthly, not cpc).

    What’s holding me up is just that. I have no idea what to ask for, and nobody seems able/willing to give me a number (small-medium blog, 1700 subscribers, maybe 18k in traffic per month).

    Thoughts? A formula would be nice…

  7. Heather says:

    I think Steven already asked the question that was burning in my mind; How much traffic were you getting at the time?

    I’m interested in giving this a shot, but possibly I don’t have enough of a base to try it just yet ;)

  8. Awesome idea with great results. Proof that you need to just try things, you never know what the results will be.

  9. Kat says:

    Lessons learned and lived should always be reapplied untill perfected. Give it another whirl and you’ll be suprised!

  10. Interesting. My site is incredibly eclectic (by design), but I might give this a shot when readership picks up a slight bit,

  11. Artur N. says:

    Hi Josh, really interesting post!
    I appreciate your mindset of just trying out new things, even if you don’t really know whats going to happen. It takes some guts to be like this.

    Cheers!

  12. This is really interesting, Josh. Really interesting ingenuity. Hmm… Perhaps this could spark a few ideas of my own. Hey, thanks for the inspiration!

  13. Thanks man! I never thought about sponsors for my blog, but maybe now I’ll give it a go.

  14. I did a giveaway to give away ad spots on my blog. But I will not be asking the winners to pay after the month is up, mostly because the ones that won entered the contest because they are small businesses that can’t afford to advertise.

    Even though I’d one day like to create a product and maybe make some money, right now I am just not interested in trying to make money off ads. I’d rather just help other “little bloggers” or moms who have small businesses, and spend the majority of my time writing content.

    But your idea is very clever for one looking to find some paying sponsors! I bet it will catch on and we’ll be seeing more of it :)

  15. I’ve always wondered about getting paying sponsors, my traffic isn’t exactly stellar so I haven’t really looked into it much.

    Good article though, I’m going to try something like this eventually.

  16. Interesting post. I wasn’t really aware of getting paid sponsored ads until now.

    I think this is somewhat more viable then having affiliate ads on your site as you’re already paid for the space instead of hoping you get a commission in the future.

  17. Vivek says:

    i am always searching for paying sponsors but couldn’t get the right one. hope this time i get the right one and thanks for this article

  18. Jake says:

    Wow that’s pretty cool. I think we’ll try that when we get at least some traffic lol. But really, creative post!

  19. Hey Josh,

    That is a great idea! You kind of turned the tables on the whole sponsorship process.

    Thanks for sharing that with us.

  20. lena says:

    That turned out like a really successful experiment. Isn’t it what we all as bloggers wish for at some point?

    I guess with the amount of my traffic I should be waiting for some more time to get someone attracted.

    But what makes me feel encouraged is that your blog was not focussed on one topic only or a certain audience. At some point in the past I thought I should change to some topic which would be the main one as it will attract more interested readers, now I see it can be either way.

  21. Nathan says:

    Interesting – perhaps I could try it on my own website, who knows…

    Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  22. Tyler says:

    Although my blog is no where near the size necessary to get sponsor’s, it was still a great read. Thanks for posting it.

  23. Robby G says:

    I remember when you did that, and can’t believe time flew by so fast. Innovation keeps new bloggers finding ways to reach success.

  24. Well I guess I have to first get some more traffic and readership to do something like this. Currently I don’t get more than 100 visits a day on my best days. And I should probably do some guest posting.

    I just can’t break the barrier.

  25. adrienne says:

    Another great idea to add to my list. I agree that you should spell out how the contest will be judged. People like to know where they stand even though they may not agree.

  26. I love this idea! I’m not quite to where I think I can use it yet, but I would say within about 6 months time, I’ll definitely be trying this out. Thanks!

  27. Sarah Baron says:

    Thanks for this. It is really good advice. Creative, interesting results, and you learned a valuable lesson that I appreciate your sharing. My blog is 5 days old, going great, but all new ideas and wisdom are welcome.

  28. This was a great guest post.

    I need to get sponsers for my blogs im not making alot of money right now. This should help me out thanks alot man good post!

  29. Veronica says:

    Now this is a fantastic idea. I may have to steal it (with credit, of course) for my own blog.

  30. This is a very useful post, now i just need to execute it

  31. K9 Coach says:

    This is a great idea. Thanks for sharing exactly how you did it.

    Finding out who follows us versus who we “think” follows us is an interesting and well advised endeavor.

    This is one I plan to give a try.

    Wag!

  32. What a great idea. You planted the seed of interest to see what would happen and it was a success. That’s what being a good business blogger is all about. I have to decide if this is good for me. Time to do a little soul searching.

    Thanks for the great idea.

  33. It would be great to get an idea of traffic levels when sponsors came along.

    It’s a very interesting concept and something that I might try. Hey what could be the worst thing that could happen – nobody auditions i guess.

  34. How did you compile a list that grabbed the candidates?

  35. AIEEE 2010 says:

    awesome post and awesome idea….thanks bro

  36. Anne Moss says:

    Not sure I completely understand. I guess you offered them one FREE month, right? Otherwise, I can’t see how you got so many applications. Also, wondering where and how you got the word out. Unless you had a fairly large amount of readers, I don’t think you could have easily had 100 applicants.

  37. Tekrux says:

    Offering one free months sponsorship is a great idea. Although, You would have to have a fairly large readership base before making such an offer.

  38. You sir have given me an idea, sometimes in order to have success in old techniques requires a new angle.

  39. Michelle says:

    I am so glad I clicked through to read this post. Very interesting Idea, completely new to me. Thanks.

  40. The Loyal Weird seems like a good group name and a relevant audience. :) Glad to be a part of your current sponsors now – it’s absolutely worth it!

  41. pochp says:

    Hey Josh,
    your tip was very timely because I’m looking for sponsors now. Thanks!

  42. Beth Norman says:

    Very interesting article and timely too. Although I have a small business of my own, I’m toying with the idea of having sponsors provide a prize which would be highlighted during my Tuesday Tutorials. Some of your questions are appropriate for me. TFS.

  43. Mokibobolink says:

    I love this idea and really want to implement it on one or both of my blogs. I’m just curious though if either have enough traffic yet to make it worthwhile. How many visitors were you getting when you tried this?

  44. moobets says:

    Hi, Josh,
    Great idea! Please share what your reader base was at that time.
    I have a possible interested advertiser but it’s teetering at the moment. I have readers per Google but seldom any comments.
    I would love to be able to get comments and sponsors for all three of my sites so this is a great idea to try.
    Thanks for sharing such a great idea!!!
    Betsy

  45. Hi Josh,

    I have a blog that is beginning to gain more traffic every month. I have had several agents in the industry ask to be a sponsor, This is quite new to me so responding to these inquiries has been difficult.

    As one of your reader commented, how do you go about coming up with a price? Also, In your post you had mentioned”

    “Decide which system you’re going to use to display ads with…”

    What type of systems are you referring too? This is all new to me so I am quite clueless about ad systems etc. II see the possibilities with my own blog so I am really interested in find out how all this works

    Would you please enlighten me or perhaps direct me where i can find out more about placing sponsors and systems on my blog.

    Great post!
    Marvin

  46. NobodySharesAdRates says:

    Okay, I actually found some info which may be of value to other readers. Here is an Adify report on CPM ad rates in the last year.

    This seems to be a good basis. For example News related ad rates have been between $10-12 cpm in the last year (all verticals seem to be in a decline, with the exception of food).

    Given cpm, it is easy to set your asking price for both cpc (use your AdSense ctr as a guide to convert cpm to cpc), and flat-rate monthly fees (based on your monthly traffic, and accounting for growth, and including your intentions to rotate vs. keep static). For example, if you get 10,000 visits per month on your blog, the asking price for a front page static ad should be nearly $100 for a news blog. If you offer cpc and your ctr is 1%, then you can expect 100 clicks, and you can ask for $100 again at $1 per click.

    This, of course, is a gross average benchmark source. It is not clear whether 1000 impressions in a huge site are worth the same as 1000 impressions in a small site. It is also not clear how your asking price should vary based on the different positions you offer.

    There is a need for an advertising rep for bloggers, who will do all the negotiations for direct ad sales and pick networks etc. for a % of the cut. I would gladly outsource this whole damn business because I don’t want to have to learn it.

  47. Markus says:

    Josh, thanks for sharing this. I’ve never tried to reach the attention of the sponsors, but now I will. Thank you.

  48. Josh, how do you figure click-through rates for advertisers? I need this info, knowledge. I really don’t know how to read my cpanel stats very well at all.

  49. Josh,

    This was a very inspiring post. I am glad to hear how that experiment panned out for you. (I entered at the time.) The only reason I can’t take up your advice, however, just as I can’t take up any other similar advice is that I have no idea how install ads on my website. I read all these posts about getting affliates and sponsors, but because I have no idea how to actually set ads up on my site, I can’t move forward.

    Can anyone actually advise on how to go about this?

    Secondly, Josh, you mention your readership wasn’t huge when you started the competition. Exactly what was your readership at the time? 100 per day??

    Thanks,
    Pam

  50. Hey gang, sorry I’m late. I just back from a trip and saw that the post was up. I’ll be going through the questions for the of the afternoon during Super Bowl timeouts:) And for those of you that have sent me emails, I’ll respond to them all. Thanks for the great response so far.