I’ve been seeing a trend among some of the bloggers I follow lately: more than a few people are asking for sponsors to help them attend some conference or another. I consider that the general approach of posting a plea on one’s blog, Twitter account or elsewhere in public to be problematic. In fact, if you’re considering such a strategy, I’d like to strongly recommend against it.
I say this as someone who has paid for her own attendance at almost every conference I’ve attended. The exceptions have been arrangements that I’ve worked out privately with existing clients.
The Problem with an Open Call for Sponsors
I know that I’m about to irritate most of the bloggers who have publicly asked for sponsors, so, before you jump in and start writing a comment to denounce me, please read the whole section.
Posting an open request for sponsors makes you look needy. You’re begging for someone to part with money, often to send you to a conference that they hadn’t planned to send anyone to. It’s a bad position — from a business point of view — to be in. No one wants to do business with a blogger or writer who can’t figure out how to get herself to a conference without begging for funds.
The requests that include a break down of what a sponsor might get strengthens your request, but it’s still far from ideal. Similarly, asking from help from readers can be better, but still makes you look a bit desperate. There’s only so many ways I can say that desperation is not sexy.
Here is what’s sexy: rather than that open post, take a look at your current client list. Who on there could actually directly benefit from sending you to a conference? Write up a proposal to send them, suggesting that they ship you off to Las Vegas or wherever the next conference is being held. Show them directly how you can turn the trip into a guaranteed money maker for them. Can you write an ebook as a result? Can you do a special series of blog posts? Can you pitch the client to key conference attendees? Get specific. Put together some numbers. Write a proposal that suggests your client would be entirely insane not to send you.
Don’t have a client for whom the particular conference you wish to attend would be valuable? Think about other connections in your network. Are you an affiliate for some product? Can you land a new client with the promise of covering this conference? Can you find an editor or a publication that needs someone to cover the conference? Even if you have to create a patchwork quilt of sponsorship, your odds are better than simply writing a blog post and wishing really hard.
That’s because businesses find written proposals sexy: if you can show someone that spending the money on airfare and conference tickets will directly benefit them, your odds of getting that sponsorship are significantly better. A general blog post — even one that includes some suggestions of the benefits of sponsoring you — will not be nearly as convincing. Deb Ng went into more detail on landing a sponsor directly, along with her opinions on begging for sponsorships.
Paying for a Conference After the Fact
I am not a huge fan of credit cards in general, but if you absolutely have to go to a conference and you can’t land a sponsor privately, don’t take that as a temptation to whip together a desperate post begging for sponsorship. Pull out the credit card, buy your ticket and then hustle from the moment you get to that conference to make it pay for itself. That can mean putting together interviews that you sell to publications, using the information you find there to put together informational products you can sell or networking to find advertisers to give you money for a listing on your blog. If you’re willing to put in the work, you can turn that credit card bill into an investment.
That’s pretty much what I did to attend SXSW last spring. Showing up there resulted in plenty of income for me, even though it meant walking my feet off and shaking hands until my elbows hurt. Just last week I made close to a grand that I can directly attribute to relationships I built while I was there.
The secret is prep work and flexibility. Before I headed to Austin, I made lists of people I wanted to meet, sessions I was going to (mostly because I wanted to meet the people giving them) and so on. I scheduled meetings with people who would be there, pitched editors on article ideas and laid as much groundwork as I could. Once I got there, flexibility came into play. I kept an eye on Twitter as a way to keep up with where people were and I’d head off all sorts of events to seek out people, as well as take a look at interesting companies. There’s no secret sauce for doing the same thing — it’s sort of a brute force approach to networking.
I know that the perception that I was willing to go to Austin on my own dime has helped a lot. The people I met there went to my website after I got back and only saw that I know my stuff and I write pretty regularly. There was no suggestion that I couldn’t handle getting to a conference on my own or that my business didn’t do well enough for me to afford the costs (which in turn could have suggested that I wasn’t particularly good at what I do). I know that presenting a successful appearance is always useful, at least in the way I run my business.
Image by Flickr user Phil Whitehouse