How to Plan
So you want to plan an expedition? If it’s a long distance cycle one, don’t. Sure, if you summit Everest you may want to plan every last detail. But even then you must prepare for the unexpected. At the very start you may have an idea and need to plan a little, but keep it loose. The only certainty in life is that everything changes and so to will your thoughts and ideas during this time. Keep your thinking flexible and open yourself to opportunity.
I did no training for the expedition, but started slowly. After i’d told all my mates and form then on had to save face, and actually go through with it, I started to put a website together, get my finances in order and seek sponsors. Certainly don’t leave everything to the last minute, but don’t waste time planning everything down to the last detail. The best lesson is experience and you’ll have plenty of that once you hit the road.
Someone once told me “the best plan is the one that never comes together” and he said it with a cheeky smile. He knew that i would never understand this until I’d spent a long time on the road.
What to take – and what not to take
I threw a lot of things away in those first few weeks, I wasted money on battery recharging devices and carried way too much gear. Go with little and build your kit as you go as you find out what you really need. Don’t spend thousands on gear when a simple cheaper alternative is available. You don’t need the most expensive bike in the world, just one that will roll. I met people cycling thousands of kilometers on a old chinese bicycle from the 70′s. I’m sure they had their fair share of problems but they also had lots of stories and it made for an interesting adventure!
Give yourself the ‘gift of time’
I understand that for some on a 3 week holiday it simply isn’t practical to take months off work. It’s difficult not to plan a lot in order to ‘make the most’ of that short time. But what is important not that you arrive at your destination but that you have the quality of experience. For that you will need time, time to relax, time to be, time to enjoy. Time is almost like a commodity now, efficiency it’s driver. For a society that prides itself on driving efficiency, it’s been ingrained in us how important it is to be ‘doing’ stuff all the time while we simply forgot how to ‘be’ - how to slow down and live in the present moment. Giving yourself the gift of time will be the most rewarding experience you may possibly ever have – I imagine it’s up there getting married or having a child – but I’ve neither.
I get the odd email every few months about people planning a similar journey by bike. They often asks things like where to go what to take and how the get people to pay you to do it. Sponsorship is tricky, but if you have the time and are planning a big journey it can really pay off in the end!
Who to approach?
While casting the net as wide as possible can work, it’s also time consuming. Knowing who to approach will save you time. You will need a lot of time if you choose to seek sponsorship. Nike probably won’t be interested, neither will big electronic companies like Sony. or companies like Virgin. Target the little guys first. It helps to get a few of these on first so that you gain credibility.
Know how the game works. It’s not just the company at the top that may sponsor you but also every middle man in between down to the shop that retails the product. Chances are these guys get approached less and are more willing to be receptive. Perhaps they may not give you gear free, but ask for stuff at cost as a backup option.
Be creative. There may be the companies you would like as sponsors but what about others? Perhaps a telecommunications company, and insurance company? Think outside the box, but remember you still have to pitch it to them! Try even Rotary and Lions clubs in your area sometimes they can be very receptive – particularly at a local level.
What about grants?
Getting grant money for your expedition is as rare as hen’s teeth, but it’s possible. The Australian Geographic Society and National Geographic Magazine do offer grants but you’ll have to be a creative writer, an experienced adventurer, award winning journalist or a prized photographer in order to get them!
You can certainly try and who knows you might strike gold, but for small scale expeditions I’d stick to the sponsorship.
Gear or Cash?
There’s basically two routes you can persue for Sponsorship. That is for a company to supply you the gear – which in turn saves money, or for them to give you a bid wad of cash. Sponsorship for gear is much easier to target than funding. So try this first. Sponsorship for the gear will usually save you money but you may not end up with what you want.
So they won’t give you cash?
It’s very difficult for a company to give you cash without knowing the return on their “investment”. In all fairness most of the time a company gives you gear they invest very little in actual dollar terms. They produce the unit as cost to them – which is usually about a fifth of the actual unit price you’d pay off the shelf and even then the gear they give you can be written off using creative accounting.
So in order to get cash – where it will actually effect their bottom line you have to learn to market your expedition, sell yourself and deliver a return on their investment. Even to get to talk to the marketing manager of a company you must learn how to effectively communicate your idea!
How to communicate
What you need to find is the right approach for each company, and more importantly the individual. Imagine how many requests they get from people who promise the world and just run off with their gear never to be heard of again. Find the right person you should be speaking to. Usually it’s the marketing manager, the company founder – whoever you think your adventure will resonate with the best.
You have to convey that honesty, integrity and strike a chord – something from you personal experience that resonates with the individual. It’s not easy. What i wrote works for me, but i always write a personal email as an introduction and you’ll need to follow it up, emails and phone calls. Keep on it. Convey that enthusiasm.
Email is impersonal and they often end up in the junk folder. If the email doesn’t get a response (or even if it does) try and get them on the phone and say your following up and email on (which ever day you sent it) and talk with them directly. It will go a long way and much further than the email. If you can, make an appointment to see them directly. Speaking to someone in person is much more powerful as they then know who they are dealing with and it’ll be much easier to convey your enthusiasm.
One company I tried initially said no, but the fact that they went to the trouble of replying told me that they cared for what i was doing. I approached them again with a stern and quite frank email about the benefits of supporting the expedition and they turned around and said “How many tyres will you need?”. Keep on it. Sometimes even a no can be turned into a yes.
Marketing and Performance
You need to show the companies that your serious and that you can deliver on your commitment – remember it’s a two way path. For this you usually need experience to demonstrate you can pull it off. I cycled across Europe before this trip and used that as a focal point. to demonstrate that cycling around the world isn’t just a pipe dream. Companies want publicity for their money and usually photo’s etc of their gear being used. An internet site helps as you can “broadcast the adventure to the world”. As a starting point I’d first get that up and running. Google some sites first so you know what works.
I worked for ages (like months and months) penciling a Sponsorship program together for the expedition. It’s basically a document that says what the company will get out of sponsoring the Expedition. I had absolutely no experience in marketing or PR and continually changed it over and over with each “NO thanks” reply, asking “what makes this different from other expeditions?” “How to convey in marketing-speak, the challenges, trials and revelations of being on such a long and arduous adventure.
Because my adventure is a long one i had to break it down into bite size chunks and say how about you come on board for the first year and then we see where it goes from there then if you like what you see, commit more… seems to work, especially when i didn’t ask for too much in the beginning. Now i have some good working relationships with the sponsors and if i ask for stuff i usually get it.
Sponsorship is a catch 22. You need publicity to attract the sponsors, but you need the sponsors in order to capitalise on the publicity. I write ‘regular’ media releases, I do interviews on radio and in local and international magazines as well as local newspapers. It works to some extent but it’s time consuming.
Don’t be deterred by failure
Chances are whatever you planning is going to be tough. You’ll have your ups and downs chasing sponsorship but don’t let a few ‘no’s’ ruin your enthusiasm. My ratio was 1%. Of 100 companies I approached, I had one that was remotely interested. Hope it’s easier for you. English companies seems to be more in tune with the adventurous spirit than Australian ones. I’m sure that’s got to do with history and historical figures – adventures that are admired. But if your going to go down the Sponsorship path, keep in mind it’s a long one!
Is sponsorship really for you?
It’s probably more worth while, as Alistair Humphreys pointed out, to spend the time working rather than hunting sponsors, that way you can just buy what you want. He suggested getting a second job. Sometimes you’ll get gear given by sponsors that you’ll end up stuck with. But of course you won’t realise this until you put in many many hours hunting sponsorship. The CSX is a long Expedition and that’s why i pursued the sponsorship route. Over the years I hope the sponsorship will “pay off”.
Going the Chairty route
Make the expedition bigger than yourself. It’s not going to be a summit attempt on Everest or rowing a boat to Antarctica, so why are you doing this? While your goals may be modest and personally very important it may not be to others. Personally, the Cycle Strongman Expedition was about finding a way to feel alive, to learn and grow, but that doesn’t sell or even resonate with some people stuck in a career they might not enjoy so much (who are jealous, envious or even wishing they could just take off on a bicycle). Chances are these are the people you are trying to pitch your expedition to. So make it about helping others. People can relate to that and while you may have trouble or be uneasy with your motivation, you will no doubt be helping other people in the process. It’s a win, win.
What makes your adventure unique?
There are literally hundreds of cyclists out there doing a similar thing. The real question is, what makes your special? Why are you doing it for a Charity? Make sure you motivation is clear, because it will change over time and you grow, learn and most importantly experience. If you can get a patron, or in your case maybe a select few. A patron opens doors. It makes you all of a sudden not so much an unknown factor with the companies, they associate you with the idea they have of your patron, that happened to me in good and bad ways.
So to sum up!
Important points when approaching companies are:
- Keeping it light and fun
- Share your enthusiasm (people wanna be inspired by what you doing)
- Conviction – Make sure they know you believe in what your doing and you will do what your setting out to do no matter what. They get a lot of people running off with their gear and never hear from em again.
- Have an angle/story to sell yourself and your adventure
- Bug the hell out them, all my sponsors required follow up, maybe 2,3 times after initial call and proposal in mail/e-mail. Phone bill blew out.
The thing about sponsors is usually once you crack them, if you follow through with what you set out to do, feed them well with stories and photos they are usually in longer term. You’ll build a relationship and it’s not hard to sustain.
Hope this helps!
Best of luck. Go get em!