When Linda Hollander came up with the concept of the Women's Small Business Expo eight years ago, she needed a way to pay for the event.

The expo was not an inexpensive undertaking. She had to rent a ballroom, hire a singer and provide two meals for attendees. And she had to pay for those amenities upfront, before receiving funds from attendees.

Hollander decided to seek out corporate sponsors to foot the bill. The effort was wildly successful. She approached companies such as Citibank, Hansen's, IBM and Walmart. "I told them, 'I can offer you the women's market.' They threw money at me," she says.

During a recent teleclass, Hollander--a business consultant, speaker and author--offered her advice on securing corporate sponsorships.

"Whatever you're doing, you can get corporate sponsors," says Hollander, who's known as the Wealthy Bag Lady.  "Don't think you're too small, and don't be sidelined by the fact that you don't have experience.

"When I got my first sponsors, I had no track record. But I sold sponsors on the concept, and I surrounded myself with people with more experience than I had."

According to Hollander, corporations will spend more than $17 billion this year on corporate sponsorships. "Wouldn't you like to get just a piece of the $17 billion?" she asked.

"You're helping a company market itself. They can't buy prime-time advertising for $10,000."

Here are Hollander's top tips to attract corporate sponsors:

  1. Be clear about your demographic and your platform. Your platform is your message and your fan base--people who know you or who align themselves with people you know. Your demographic is the market you're after, and you want to have statistics about that market at your fingertips. For example, if your market is women, be aware that they make or influence 85 percent of purchasing decisions, and that they are starting businesses at twice the rate of men.

    Find out the spending power and purchasing habits of your target market. Research the median income and educational level.

    Consider the publications your demographic reads. Then ask for media kits from those publications. According to Hollander, media kits will reveal amazing things about your demographic--all provided for free.

    Don't forget cause-related marketing, either. "This is so hot that it's scorching. People want to purchase from companies that give back to the community. If you change lives in a positive way, that's cause-related marketing." Sponsors will be eager to come aboard, Hollander says.
     
  2. Have a great sponsor proposal. "Without it, don't even bother," Hollander advises. "It has to be completely compelling." The person you show that proposal to has to show it to accounting to get approval and a check. You need to connect personally with your champion in the company.

    In addition, be aware that there's a certain format for how the proposal has to look, Hollander says. "It has to have certain language and certain sections."
    • Start with a story. It could be your story, or the story of someone whose life you changed. "Whatever you do, tell a story. This will get your proposal to stand out and make an emotional connection." Hollander points out that there's a person in the company you approach who's going to make a decision about sponsoring you. "That person has to make an emotional decision to give you the money," she says.
       
    • Describe what you do. This is your mission statement. It explains why you do what you do.
       
    • Benefits. You have to have really great benefits for the sponsor you're approaching.
       
    • Describe your demographics.
       
    • Create an advisory board. "If you don't have experience, surround yourself with people who have experience. Show potential sponsors that you have an A team."
       
    • Ask for the money. "They don't call you to ask how much money you want," Hollander says. "A sponsor once said to me, 'If I don't see a menu of prices, I throw it out.' "

      Hollander offers a training class that includes her proposal template, and she personally reviews each student's proposal. "If you don't have me look over your sponsor proposal, have someone who has done it look it over," she says. "Otherwise, you're going to be wasting your time and it's going to be an exercise in frustration."
       
  3. Promise deliverables. Don't just promise media coverage. Promise specific media coverage: "I will give you media coverage in the hometown business journal. It has a circulation of 60,000 people making more than $100,000 a year."
     
  4. Don't sell yourself short. Ask for $10,000 to $100,000 from each sponsor. "I see people asking for $1,000. That's not going to cut it. You're dealing with a well-paid person in a corporation. It's not worth their time if you're asking for $500 or $1,000."

    Hollander also advises asking for a year-long program, not just a single event. "Make it a whole year, because then you don't have to keep going to the well."
     
  5. Find the right person to approach in the company. "Ask for the marketing department. That's the best place to start," Hollander says. She noted, however, that in some companies, the appropriate department might be public relations, community affairs, public affairs, supplier diversity or brand management.

    Whenever possible, Hollander advises, introduce yourself by telephone, not e-mail. "This is a relationship business," she says. "You have conversations; you don't just e-mail back and forth." Besides, a lot of corporations have good firewalls, and your e-mail may not get through. "E-mail once you have the relationship," Hollander says.

    Try to avoid filling out an online form. That's a screening device, she says. "It's like the black hole on Star Trek where something goes in and never comes out."
     
  6. Be impeccable with your word. When you're courting a sponsor, always do what you say. Sponsors will test you. If you can't get information, tell them why. Always be on time or early for an appointment. Let them know you are a person of integrity. "You get one chance to make an impression, and if you burn the bridge, you can't go back."
     
  7. Always follow up. "So many people lose deals because they don't follow up," Hollander says.
     
  8. Be brief, be brilliant and be gone. Ask for what you want, but don't take up a lot of a potential sponsors' time doing it.
     
  9. You can't help anybody until you help yourself. Until you're financially secure and strong, you can't help all the people you want to help. Corporate sponsorships are a way to make you strong and give you the resources you need, Hollander says. They also add to your credibility. She also advises that you publicize your corporate sponsors on your website to let people know you are playing at a higher level in business.