Getting that first paid sponsorship is one of the most rewarding moments you’ll ever experience as a creator.
It’s also the first step in your journey towards financial freedom and building a life that you’re excited to wake up for.
Just imagine … you get to work with brands you love, connect your audience with amazing products and services, and make a ton of money in the process!
If you’re a creator, an influencer, a podcast host, or a newsletter writer — sponsorships can and should be a critical pillar to help you build your business.
But the problem most creators face when arranging sponsorships is unpredictability.
Whether that’s getting lowball rates from brands or even just not knowing with certainty where the next partnership is coming from, figuring out your sponsorship strategy can be kind of hard.
Most creators assume the process looks something like this:
But what if I told you that the process of working with brands does not have 3 steps — it actually has 8?
If you’re not conscious of these 8 steps, you’re never going to lock in long-term partnerships (which should be the goal)!
You might have landed a few lucrative deals over your creator career, but you want to be hitting those every month, right?
But the good news is this:
The only thing between you and consistent, predictable sponsorships is the right system.
Introducing the Sponsorship Wheel.
The Sponsorship Wheel is a proven 8-step, rinse-and-repeat system that if implemented with a long-term mindset, will help you land consistent, well-paying brand deals allowing you to finally go full-time with your creator business and build the life you want.
At its core, the sponsorship wheel is a system for tracking what stage your various partnerships are at. The number one mistake I see creators make is taking their foot off the gas too soon.
Just because you’ve signed the contract doesn’t mean you can rest on your laurels. Just because you’ve submitted the assets to the brand doesn’t mean it’s time to put your feet up.
It’s on you as a creator to keep the sponsorship wheel turning (especially after you hit publish).
But in order to do that, you first need to understand the 8 steps, so let’s break it down.
Step 1: Pitch
This is the phase where you’re reaching out to a brand cold to propose a collaboration or a brand has reached out to you inquiring about a partnership.
When reaching out to them, your pitch needs to follow what I call the ROPE method:
- Relevant (to any current campaigns they’re running or have run in the past)
- Organic (can be tied back to work you’ve already published)
- Proof (shows how you’ve helped another brand achieve results)
- Easy to execute (when they say “yes”)
Keep this in mind during your pitch. Don’t write three paragraphs telling them how much you love their brand and have always dreamed of working with them. That won’t cut it because it’s exactly what everybody else is doing.
But what about when a brand reaches out to you?
It’s important to remember that just because they did doesn’t mean you can phone it in and expect that they’re 100 percent committed to working with you.
They probably reached out to a bunch of other creators in your niche too.
So it’s up to you to pitch them on why they made the right call in emailing you, and why you could actually go above and beyond for them, such that the brand should pay you 2-3x what they originally had in mind.
But what about when a brand ghosts you after your pitch?
If you want to see actual results, I recommend you do no less than four follow-ups.
- Follow-up 1 (If no response, 5 days after the initial cold pitch or initial response to their inbound inquiry)
- Follow-up 2 (If no response, 6 days after Follow-up 1)
- Follow-up 3 (If no response, 7 days after Follow-up 2)
- Follow-up 4 (If no response, 14 days after Follow-up 3)
Step 2: Negotiate
This is the phase where you’ve agreed in principle to collaborate with the brand but you are actively negotiating the deal terms.
The duration of this step should be five days, otherwise, follow up with the brand/agency.
Within the negotiation, there are a few important things to remember.
First, the person at the brand who you’re in contact with initially likely won’t be the only person who has input on the deal. Be prepared to negotiate with multiple people.
Second, you need to understand what the brand’s goal is. They could simply be looking to create awareness of their new product or service, or maybe they’re actively focused on converting new customers to their business. Or maybe they want to use the deliverables you create on their own social platforms.
Third, you need to pick a pricing strategy. This should primarily be based on the value you’re providing to the brand, rather than just asking your friend what they charge for, say, a newsletter integration, and copying that rate. Your pricing should change in relation to the brand’s goals.
Fourth, you need to learn to overcome brand objections. For example, if you reach an impasse where the brand just won’t go higher on their offer, you have to learn how to negotiate a compromise, or else be okay walking away from that deal.
Lastly, keep in mind you and the brand are on the same team. They’ve come to you because they think you can help get their campaign across the finish line — and they’re gonna pay you for it!
One problem creators face early on is brands offering them free products rather than actual payment. This might feel nice the first time it happens, but it quickly becomes incredibly frustrating. After all, a free packet of vegan beef jerky isn’t gonna pay your bills, right?
Step 3: Contract
This is the phase where you’ve agreed to the deal terms and now are either reviewing the contract the brand/agency has provided or drafting your own agreement to send to them.
The duration of this step should be seven days, otherwise follow up with the brand/agency.
Crucially, during this step you need to align on the timeline of events moving forward.
For example, when does the brand need the assets to go live? And before that, when would be ideal to send your draft content for review? Once you’ve sent that draft, how long should you expect to wait before receiving feedback and/or revision requests?
All of this matters. Without agreeing on these timelines you can’t figure out when you’ll be integrating the sponsorship within your content, or when to set aside time to complete their revisions.
You’ve also got to align on some key expectations so they don’t come back to bite you later. For example, agreeing on how many rounds of revisions you’ll do and what constitutes a reasonable revision is paramount.
As a Sponsorship Coach who has made over $4,000,000 personally working with brands and has helped other creators land over $3,000,000 in sponsorships, I’ll say that this step (if done wrong) can cause the biggest headaches down the road.
Step 4: Concept
This is the phase where you review the creative brief and submit a concept to the brand/agency (even if they haven’t asked you!) for review/approval prior to creating the content.
The duration of this step should be five days, otherwise, follow up with the brand/agency.
First up, if the brand hasn’t provided you with a concept, ask them right away.
I’ve seen so many partnerships derail when the brand says they trust the creator to create the assets without a brief, but then ends up giving them a stack of revisions because it “wasn’t really what they had in mind.”
Make them tell you what they have in mind.
What are the main talking points? What’s the call-to-action? Any do’s or don’ts?
Then, on a more granular level, how do they prefer to be introduced in your content? (“This week I’m partnering with…”? “This podcast is sponsored by…”?)
If the brand gives you this information out the gate, you’ll save so much time later on.
And don’t worry, it can feel like there are so many questions you could ask the brand that it’s hard to know where to start (and if you’re missing anything important).
Step 5: Produce
This is the phase where you create the content and deliver it to the brand/agency.
The duration of this step should be relative to your draft delivery date.
When sending the deliverables to the brand, I suggest putting everything into a single document, like a Google Doc.
This makes it easier for the brand to see everything in one place and allows them to comment directly on, say, wording choice on the ad read or the segment of your newsletter where you talk about them.
Step 6: Feedback
This is the phase where the brand/agency reviews your content and requests revisions, edits, or reshoots.
The duration of this step should be seven days, otherwise, follow up with the brand/agency.
This is where the steps we took earlier save us some time. Because it’s now up to you to decide whether the revisions they’re asking for are reasonable and whether you’ll do them for free or charge them more.
Obviously, if you didn’t adhere to the approved brief and concept, you should be open to free revisions.
You should also be open to minor revisions if it will aid your relationship-building with that brand, so long as they’re not being totally unreasonable.
If it will take you five minutes to make the changes they requested, just do it.
But this equally means you’ve got to put your foot down if they are clearly not being reasonable.
Maybe they’ve gone way past the number of agreed-upon revision rounds, or now they’re asking you to create some entirely new content not previously outlined in the brief.
In cases like this, charging the brand extra might be warranted.
Step 7: Publish
This is the phase where you publish the content and deliver the live links to the brand/agency.
The duration of this step should be relative to the go-live date.
For this, I have a checklist that takes you all the way from the moment you sign the contract right through to the moment you hit publish on your sponsored content.
That’s available as a resource to all Brand Deal Wizard students.
Step 8: Analyze
This is the phase where you invoice the brand/agency and provide your tax and vendor paperwork. Within this phase, there are also some sub-steps. For example, after you send the invoice and tax and vendor paperwork:
- Follow-up 1 (If no response, 5 days after submission)
- Follow-up 2 (If no response, call or email 3 days after Follow-up 1)
- Follow-up 3 (If the response is received, 7 days prior to invoice due date)
You also want to provide the brand with a post-campaign report summarizing the campaign objectives and key insights about its success.
This will look different depending on the campaign goals.
You might share the number of views/impressions your content got relative to the brand’s expectations.
If this was an awareness campaign, you could include screenshots of comments from people saying they’d never previously heard of the brand before.
The aim of this is to show the brand that this campaign was a success, right?
By the way, now that we’ve reached Step 8, hopefully, it’s clear why this system is not structured as a horizontal timeline, but rather as a wheel.
The moment you complete this partnership, you have to pitch them on your next idea!
The worst possible thing you can do is to collect that check and then never talk to the brand again.
Bizarrely, a huge amount of creators do this and end up back out there hustling for the next partnership with a new brand.
It’s so, so, so much easier to nurture the brand relationships you already have than it is to constantly win over new clients … trust me.
Next Steps for Creators
So now you know how the Sponsorship Wheel works, but the big question still remains:
“How do I actually get on it?”“Where does that first sponsorship come from? What if brands aren’t reaching out to me yet and I don’t have the first clue about which brands to approach?”
Well, you’re in luck — by signing up for my weekly Creator Wizard newsletters, you will receive a list of brands who are actively looking to sponsor creators, as well as strategic tips you can use to negotiate more lucrative deals.
Thanks for reading, and best of luck with your next sponsorship!