Finance

How I Booked $8,000 in Podcast Sponsorships Before Airing the First Episode

Before I ever published a single episode of my podcast, I successfully sold over $8,000 in sponsorships. And by the end of my first year of podcasting, we secured over $30,000 in sponsorships for just 24 episodes.

That’s $1,250 per episode. Not bad for a brand-new podcast no one had ever heard of.

Probably a bit like your podcast, mine wasn’t owned and promoted by NPR or some giant media company. It didn’t start with a household name for a host. And it didn’t (still doesn’t) get millions of downloads every month. It’s a modest little podcast taking up it’s own small corner of iTunes—just like hundreds of thousands of small shows started every day by people like you and me.

But just because your podcast is small, doesn’t mean you don’t deserve to make a little cash from the work that you put into it.

If done right, starting a podcast can be a great source of side income and can even mature into a full-time gig, if you want it to and you play your cards right.

Of course, it’s fair to point out that sponsorships are just one of many ways to make money from your podcast. You could also build a loyal audience and sell digital products or use your podcast to find more freelance work.

But almost every other monetization strategy has the same drawback: It takes time.

When I started my blog in 2009, I was willing to wait for the money to show up later. But when I started podcasting, I didn’t have the same kind of patience. I wanted revenue from day one.

If you want to learn how to get podcast sponsors and you’re anxious to see a positive ROI sooner than later, here’s my best advice for selling podcast sponsorships, no matter what stage your podcast is in.

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We Took Whatever We Could Get

There will be some people who read this article and think, “$8,000. That’s it?” And they’re right that in some ways, $8,000 is not a ton of money.

But getting sponsorships on a podcast that didn’t exist yet was about way more than just the money. By launching our show with sponsors already in place, we started off on the right foot with both listeners and future sponsors.

Listeners knew we were serious about what we were putting out and we weren’t afraid to sell ads in order to monetize our hard work.

Future sponsors (in seasons 2, 3, 4, and so on) were comforted to know that other companies had taken risks on us and seen results—which meant they could too. In fact, one of our sponsors even gave us a glowing testimonial after our first episode went live, which we, of course, used when we went back to find more sponsors.

If your show is new or very young and you don’t have solid numbers to back up any sponsorship pitch, take whatever they’ll offer you. It’s better than nothing (the alternative) and there are far more upsides that will kick in later.

OK, But How Much Should I Charge?

This all sounds great in theory, but it’s a bit messier in real life. Let me share with you exactly how it happened for me.

When I started Freelance to Founder, I had no idea how to get podcast sponsors or how many people were going to tune in. So I decided I would be happy with just about any reasonable amount I could get.

But here’s how I went about figuring out exactly what that reasonable amount was:

A few months earlier, I had received an email pitch from a company asking me to be an affiliate for them. So I found that old thread and replied with this:

Hey, It’s been a couple months since we last talked.

I’ve noticed is stepping up its sponsorship game. I listen to the Fizzle Show and read Paul Jarvis’ email newsletter and I noticed placement in both of those places.

Since we also talk to 31,000+ freelancers & creatives multiple times each week at Millo, I wondered if could get a lot out of partnering with us.

Maybe you could forward this to whomever is setting up sponsorship deals at ?

The reply I received couldn’t have been any better:

Hey Preston,

I actually also handle sponsorships at !

Right now, we’re focused primarily on podcast sponsorships (Paul’s newsletter is part of the podcast sponsorship) or partnering with people as affiliates.

What sort of sponsorship opportunities are you interested in exploring?

Naturally, you can see why this was such a fantastic leap forward. Both she and I were incredibly interested in focusing on podcast sponsorships.

Of course, this kind of serendipity can’t be taught, but I’ve been sending cold (or cold-ish) emails for sponsorships long enough to know that it’s a numbers game. Send more emails and eventually you’ll have conversations like this one.

I usually have to send 20-30 cold emails (or 5-10 warm emails) before we get a great arrangement like this one.

I responded as quickly as I could (edited for length):

Hey, 

I’ve almost got pilot episodes for our new podcast ready to listen to.

It’s called “Freelance to Founder” and it’s a storytelling podcast along the lines of This American Life or Startup telling the stories of solo entrepreneurs who have scaled their businesses beyond themselves.

I think it could be a great fit for to be a sponsor.

Can I send you the pilot episode when it’s ready and we can discuss a partnership further?

Naturally, she agreed to listening to the pilot episode. When the audio was ready, I sent it on.

It’s important to note here that I curbed any hesitancy she might have directly in my email:

Hey, thanks for the response.

We’ve got a pilot mostly finished for Freelance to Founder. Still a few small polishes to make, but here’s where we’re at.

I’d love for you to take a listen and see if it’s something would be interested in.

We’re focusing on independent, creative people who want to scale their business.

We could do a cool ad about how takes billing and bookkeeping off a freelancer’s plate leaving room to scale their business.

I realize it’s a bit of a risk on season 1, but we’ve got 33,000+ people on our email list and a network we’ll be pushing it to. Given it’s a joint risk, I’d be happy to cut you a deal on season 1.

Thoughts?

Notice, I also offered a deal or a discount if they would book the full Season 1.

After lots of back-and-forth (and months of following up with my contact), I convinced them sponsoring the podcast for a full season 1 was the best option (and it genuinely was).

Here’s part of the email I sent when we started discussing pricing:

What I actually would suggest is experimenting first with singularly the show sponsorship. Here’s what I can offer for the show sponsorship:

1. 30 second mid-roll and end-roll ad in each of our 8 episodes.

2. Banner + text + CTA + link in each email that sends for each episode (est. 35,000 readers)

3. Banner + text + CTA + link on show landing page and episode page(s).

Since this is our first podcast, I’d love your help on identifying a fair price for this kind of setup. What would work for you for what I’ve listed below?

If you can help me identify a price for the podcast sponsorship, I’m very excited to move forward with writing and recording the ads, etc.

After even more back and forth on details of what the campaign would entail (just expect a lot of questions from a client who’s about to give you a decent bit of money), she finally got approval to sponsor all eight episodes of our first season at $500/episode! Here’s what she said:

Hey Preston,

Okay, I was able to get approval on the following:

$4,000 for 8 episodes with the weekly email mention.

I know that doesn’t sound like a ton, but usually they reserve $500 per episode for shows getting like 10-20K downloads per episode. My lead felt that even without any guarantee of downloads, the email went a long way plus your brand is a great fit for us.

Also, between us, they’ve only ever done brand new shows a few times and several have gone on to be huge… now commanding a lot per episode from us… hopefully it will be the same with your show!

I was completely jazzed about the idea! Securing $4,000 from the first sponsor on a podcast that didn’t exist yet!? Excellent!

Of course, I could tell from her language that she felt like it was a lowball bid. I probably could have gotten more. But I didn’t ask. Instead, I was super grateful and knew that landing a high-profile, first-season sponsor like this was valuable in other ways than just quick cash.

At the same time, just to manage expectations in the future, I added this to my reply (which was, of course, full of gratitude as well):

I would like to be clear: we expect the show to be fairly successful and, if it reaches what we expect, we’d have to renew at a higher rate.

The responses just kept getting better:

Yes, I definitely understand it would be a higher rate next time… like I said, we are happy to pay more once we have some baseline metrics to work with.

That initial deal has since turned into years of creative partnerships with this same company.

Remember, the art of business development, partnership, sponsorships or advertising is all about the long game.

This initial deal nearly three years ago has allowed my company to:

  • Book renewal sponsorships with this same company on multiple podcasts.
  • Book new sponsorships with small companies who trust us because this larger sponsor did.
  • Improve our affiliate relationship with this sponsor and build a long-term relationship of mutual support.
  • Fund our podcast to keep producing episodes at a profit from day one.

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We Created Niche (Sellable) Content

When I started my show, I was completely focused on its marketability. But not just how attractive it would be to listeners. I also focused on how it would be attractive to potential advertisers.

While there are lots of podcasts for freelancers out there, our podcast, Freelance to Founder took a unique storytelling approach in a sea of basic interview shows and “expert roundtable” podcasts.

Freelance to Founder

What did this mean when I went knocking on advertisers’ doors? It meant I had something unique and different to offer them—something worth taking a chance on. And many of them did.

So while it’s crucial that you create a podcast that people actually want to listen to, don’t forget to ask yourself:

Am I podcasting in a niche in which I can find quality advertisers too?

For example, Eric Cacciatore started a restaurant podcast because he’s passionate about the industry but also because there’s a never-ending lineup of food- or cooking-related brands that want to reach restaurateurs.

Eric Cacciatore and his podcast, Restaurant Unstoppable

Eric now makes a cool six-figures from his podcast, Restaurant Unstoppable.

If you’re not sure your niche has advertisers willing to put money on the table, take a look at similar podcasts and check if they have actual sponsorships.

If the selection seems slim and none of your personal connections come readily to mind as potential advertisers, maybe you need to rethink your podcast’s niche.

We Planned for Distribution and Growth

Starting your podcast is just the beginning if you want to produce a show that advertisers get excited about.

If you, like me, want to sell podcast sponsorships in the very early stages, you’ll probably need to include plans for distribution and growth when pitching advertisers.

See, when it comes to podcast sponsorships, it’s all about the numbers.

Most advertisers just need a positive return on their investment in order to justify renewing a sponsorship with your podcast. The more concrete numbers you can give a sponsor, the better. For example, if you know you’re going to get influential guests on your podcast, be sure to include their names and potential reach numbers in your sponsor pitch.

The more detail you can give about what a sponsor can expect in terms of reach, the more likely you’ll be able to come together and agree on a sponsorship.

For example, I didn’t know exactly how many downloads we’d get in our first season, but I did know how many people I’d be sending it to (more or less).

Because I had a solid distribution plan in place, I was able to make promises like this to our first sponsor (direct copy/paste from my email):

I realize it’s a bit of a risk on season 1, but we’ve got 33,000+ people on the list and a network we’ll be pushing it to. Given it’s a joint risk, I’d be happy to cut you a deal on season 1.

Having 33,000 people on our current email list and a huge network of friends who were going to share our new podcast with their networks, I was confident we could get some good download numbers in the first few weeks.

We Sold Whatever We Had to Offer

I’m not going to lie—those first few email pitches were a bit awkward. To the sponsors, it probably came off something like this:

“Hi. I have a podcast that literally doesn’t exist yet. Will you spend money to be our first sponsor?”

To this day, I’m a bit shocked we were able to book as much as we did that first year. I attribute much of that success to the scrappiness and creativity of our pitch.

For example, we said if they’d be willing to sponsor an episode of the podcast (we actually started by trying to sell the entire season, which worked for one advertiser) we would include their brand in the email we’d send promoting the episode.

When you’re selling an unknown (like an unaired podcast episode), you’ve got to build in as much stability as possible. And you can do that by selling whatever you’ve already got.

For example, if you’ve already got a bunch of Instagram followers or you’ve grown a large email list, consider including exposure on those two platforms when someone agrees to sponsor the podcast.

It’s a win-win. You have one more excuse to talk about your new podcast on your existing channels and your sponsor gets more exposure, “at no extra cost.”

For example, we already had an email list and a social following we could leverage, so I included those in our pitch. Here’s the initial proposal I sent to our first sponsor:

1. 30 second mid-roll and end-roll ad in each of our 8 episodes.

2. Banner + text + CTA + link in each email that sends for each episode (est. 35,000 readers)

3. Banner + text + CTA + link on show landing page and episode page(s).

Site stats

Monthly visits: ~120,000

Email list: ~35,000

Avg open rate: 34,000

Avg click rate: 3%

If you’ve got a little-known (or completely unknown) show, your job is to convince potential sponsors that you’re a safe bet—that they’re not just throwing their money away completely.

We Leveraged Existing Relationships

As anyone who has experience in pitching and sales will tell you, a warm pitch is infinitely easier than a cold pitch. This proved true when it came to selling ads on a podcast that didn’t exist yet.

When I decided to launch my first podcast, I had built up partnerships with affiliates as I worked on growing my passive income over the years, and those people were among the first I reached out to when it came time to pitch podcast sponsorships.

Because they already knew I was personally trustworthy and that our brand worked well with the products they were selling, we were able to avoid all the trust-building that usually has to occur before a pitch can happen.

We got straight to the point and I was able to quickly weed out those who I knew would not be interested and those who had potential.

Start by brainstorming and reviewing your existing network to find potential sponsors or people who may have connections to potential sponsors. You might be surprised at what you find.

Partner With People Way More Talented Than You

When I first started this podcast, I knew I wouldn’t be able to tell the kinds of stories I wanted to tell since I had almost no experience in front of a microphone.

So, for season one, I partnered with an old friend of mine and agreed to split the sponsorship revenue with him in exchange for his podcasting talent.

It was a major win.

Since then, I’ve partnered with the current host of the show, Brandon Hull, who does a much better job than I ever could at finding high-quality guests, asking them the right questions, and putting it all together in an entertaining and interesting way.

I never suspected that so many podcast guests would email me to tell me just how wonderful their interview went with our show host. That’s something I’ll never be able to achieve on my own.

The show has also grown to the point that I’ve partnered with another company to handle our sponsorship sales at this point. The Podglomerate finds new advertisers on a regular basis and builds relationships with potential advertisers that I just don’t have the time, bandwidth, or talent to do myself.

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You Can Sell Podcast Sponsorships at Any Stage

If selling sponsorships is the way you want to monetize your podcast, then take it from me: you can do it.

It takes some serious hustle. I was told “no” by a lot of potential advertisers in the process of pre-booking our first season.

But guess what? Some of the sponsors who declined to sponsor season one came to us asking to be considered for season 2. And we agreed—at a much higher price, which they happily paid.

If you’re willing to take whatever you can get (remember, it’s not just about the money), focus on creating relevant (and sellable) content, make solid plans for distribution and growth, get creative with what you have to offer, and surround yourself with talented people, making money by selling sponsorships on your podcast is totally achievable.

I’d like to hear from you now. Have you sold sponsorships before? Did you find it hard, easy, fun, drudgery? What’s the biggest hangup you’ve had in selling podcast sponsorships?

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