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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. I was only getting 150-200 visitors a day at the time, and most of them didn’t stick. I don’t think the traffic matters. Everyone’s looking for exposure. You putting my link on your blog doesn’t hurt me just because your blog is smaller than mine. The more the merrier.

    You sell yourself short when you say “My blog’s too small for that.” For what? For free advertising? Very few things are free, and the fact that your blog doesn’t get much traffic doesn’t make it unappealing for me to sponsor you if it’s FREE.

    Most of you are overthinking and underacting. If you try something and then it bombs, then you win the debate. If you decide something “just couldn’t work for me right now,” and you don’t try, you’re right. If you try something new, you might fail. If you try nothing, you have already failed.

    @For anyone who has asked about ad rates and formulas. I have my own evolving views, but here is the broadest stroke: you are worth what someone will pay.

  2. You know what? I actually mispoke a little bit. I went back through my stats and I was averaging between 400-700 visitors a day. so I was off, sorry about that. The fact remains: those are not massive numbers and offering something free was the big point anyways. Whoops!

  3. mizzFIT says:

    Wow, loved this guest post! I’m going to try an experiment of my own. Truly brilliant. Bravo, Josh, and thanks for sharing!

  4. This is excellent information. I just announced the revamping of my blog and planted a few ads to entice others. I am going to give this a shot in the near future. Thanks for this.

  5. chris says:

    Very interesting. I have been trying to make it on adsense alone, but maybe I can try my luck at this. Adsense really isn’t panning out to be much for me. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Raffy says:

    Interesting and awesome. Its sounds difficult but once you get there attention, its worth it. thanks for sharing

  7. I just found this Blog today and I find it great! This post gives me some hope for monotizing my site. Thank you!

  8. Bob says:

    This is very interesting. Im going to try this for sure.

  9. Naveen Reddy says:

    good content.Every blogger have to follow these steps

  10. Raihan says:

    very useful information for newbies. Even I too want to experiment this with my work at home blog. Thank You.

  11. Its a long article but I enjoyed most..Thanks for sharing it here..

  12. Aglolink says:

    Darren, I really love with all of your post! Thanks inspiring me for criteria.

  13. Very nice and inspiring piece by Josh. Creativity does take you a loooong and some times, pleasantly surprising way. Keep up the good work, Darren.

    Amy Cameron
    BuildMySiteforFree.com

  14. Hey Josh,

    I used your post as inspiration for my own contest.

    Readers – If you are interested in helping me out, click my name above and it will take you to a contact page to get some free advertising.

    (Edit – The last one was a mistake. Wrong url…)

  15. Eilene Luka says:

    Great! Generally I in no way study entire content but the way you wrote this details is simply amazing and this kept my interest in reading and I enjoyed it. You have obtained great writing skills.