In the realm of motorsports, the pursuit of a professional career on the racetrack has always been synonymous with a relentless demand for financial backing. While not unlike traditional sports where dedication, consistency and perseverance can often propel individuals toward success, the world of racing requires additional financial resources that won’t allow for success without it.
For example, imagine you want to play basketball for your local team. You’ll need to practice and train as much as possible to ensure you will be at your best. Your goal is to make the team and help them win games. But what if the cost of acquiring a basketball and proper shoes, combined with the court rental fees, amounted to hundreds of thousands of dollars just to practice?
And what if you couldn’t afford that substantial sum to practice, but other players did have enough financial resources? You could decide to work incredibly hard anyway, studying game footage, working out in the gym, completing mental and reaction training. You could do everything you could afford to and yet never get to actually practice the game of basketball. As a result, when tryouts come along, you don’t make the team.
No matter how much passion you have, how hard you worked off the court, you didn’t get to practice the game and therefore can’t become a great basketball player. So what happens if professional basketball is your dream and you want it more than you want to breathe?
You find a way to raise the money to practice.
Thankfully, I was blessed to have a family that helped me get started in karting and found creative business solutions to keep me advancing as I progressed.
Then at the age of 12, I started learning about sponsorship and how to
acquire it. My father is a former professional motocross and supercross rider, so he knew what it was like to canvas for sponsorships and partnerships. However, the differences in cost between motorcycle racing and car racing were substantial, and the sponsorship and technological resources were ever-changing.
Together, my father and I tried, failed, learned and tried again on how to navigate the process of getting and keeping sponsorship.
Slowly, I began to acquire product sponsorships, then smaller cash sponsorships, and hard-earned prize money from winning pro kart races. However, nothing was substantial enough for me to do a car race.
Through family and network connections, I was introduced to an amazing individual that had his own car and race team. He came to watch me in a karting race. When I won, that was it. He offered to put me into one of his race cars!
So in April 2017, I finally did my first car race at Summit Point Raceway in the Sports Car Club of America series.
Now that I had a taste of what had been my dream for so long, I knew I was going to have to find a way to stay in the driver’s seat and achieve my goals. So, that’s what I did. Through lots of trial and error, challenges, mentorship from amazing people, failing and trying again, I began to acquire larger and larger sponsorships, and understand how to bring substantial value to my partners.
As I look back though, there’s one key component that I wish I would’ve focused on much sooner: Social media.
When I was younger, social media just wasn’t the powerhouse it is today.
And aside from being a race car driver, I’m a mechanical engineer. Which means I’m a Type A, analytical, introverted person by nature. So the idea of consistently posting my life on social media had my skin crawling.
With complete transparency, I can say it’s still not an activity I particularly enjoy doing. But that’s life! Doing things that drag us out of our comfort zone, things we don’t like to do, are actions we must endure to achieve our goals.
I made every excuse in the book trying to get out of it.
”It’s a waste of time. I have more important steps to take to be successful. It’s so vain. It takes too much time. It feels so frivolous. It’s not serious work and I want people to take me seriously. I should use the time to focus on more important things.”
In this day and age though, social media is important. It’s vital to your brand, and it’s one of the most powerful and free tools you have. For those of you trying to raise money and making the excuse you don’t have the time or money to invest in it, you literally can’t afford not to.
Just start. You don’t need a fancy camera or a team of people to help posting and editing. You just have to start and be consistent, like any activity you want to get better at.
Think of your social media platforms as a magazine or portfolio that’s completely free for you to create. This portfolio can be seen globally by potential sponsors, partners and fans. It shows them the value you can bring and highlights your personality.
These are the top benefits I’ve discovered from utilizing social media as an athlete:
1. Build Your Brand.
The first step in sponsorship is understanding your brand and your brand values. That way you know which companies best match up. Then, by posting regularly on social media, you can give your personal brand true depth. Rather than just saying that one of your values is “hard work,” you can show fans and companies how hard you’re working through genuine content. As the old saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.”
2. Expand Your Network.
Certain social media platforms, such as LinkedIn, create an unbelievable opportunity to connect to business professionals. Through your sponsorship research, you’ll decide on the companies you’d like to connect with. Then, use professional social media platforms to connect with some of the key decision-makers or C-suite employees. Work on starting the conversation and building the relationship until you’re in a position to discuss a partnership. One of my largest partnerships this season was sparked from a LinkedIn connection!
3. Grow Your Fanbase.
There are 4.9 billion social media users worldwide. There’s no other free resource where you can connect to that many people and share your story. Think about how many people you can inspire and include in your journey. The more fans and followers you have, the more value you bring to a potential sponsor. One of the first questions I get asked by potential sponsors is, “How many followers do you have?” Also, the bigger fan base you have, the more people will be excited to purchase your branded merchandise.
4. Drive Additional Income.
Influencer and brand ambassador roles are extremely common these days. As an athlete or driver, don’t be afraid to engage with brands that might be looking to do social media promotion with you, but not direct sponsorship on your racing program.
Social media can be a great “trial run” for them to see how you fit into their brand and how you bring value to them. Getting paid for social media promos is an additional source of income to help cover living expenses. The less you have to travel for work, or work typical 8-5 hours, the more time you have to find companies to partner with on your racing program. And the more time you have to test, practice and train to improve your on-track performance!
5. Analyze Consumer Insights.
Posting your own content and then observing how your followers respond to it is a
great way to learn what people like or what you can improve. It expands your understanding of how to connect with your audience. Many social media platforms have insight tools that let you collect valuable data for your partners and sponsors. This helps them understand how to better engage with their desired demographic, which is another selling point for your partnerships!
6. Express Yourself and Gain Media Practice.
Brainstorming and producing content is always a creative challenge. It teaches you to keep an open mind, and consider others’ perspectives and wants. Understanding how to optimize what would engage a consumer – and how a company wants to present their product – takes great creativity at times. Plus, being in front of a camera, learning to present, paying attention to the details on how to convey information are all key media skills you will need to be a successful professional in sport and business. Companies love well-spoken representatives!
7. Showcase Your Partnerships.
Your current partners love it when you promote them to your loyal followers and fans. Social media is the easiest and most effective way to do that. Plus, showing you have loyal partners that you actively work with instills confidence, and intrigues other brands that might want to work with you.
The marketing, business, media, and communication tools you learn from social media and sponsorship work are invaluable. Think of it as an all-encompassing business internship. These skills will transfer to so many other aspects of life after racing. It’s the best hands-on education you can get, all while pursuing your passion!
Our job as drivers and athletes is to adapt, and create the best result possible with whatever situation and resources we have. Social media is a resource. So why not use it?
The addition of focused social media efforts has proven to be a transformative force to generate partnerships in my professional racing career. Social media has challenged me to innovate, and taught me the power of strategic growth and promotion. This tool that I was initially so resistant to has become a medium through which I inspire, engage, and propel my racing aspirations forward.