No. 007 The Importance of Treating Sponsorships Like Partnerships

Only a few months after launching Hack the Entrepreneur, Jon Nastor was receiving unsolicited sponsorship requests. One turned out to be a perfect fit. In this episode of The Showrunner, Jon takes us behind the scenes of how his deal with FreshBooks came about.

As we did last week, we offer up a significant snippet of a course lesson for the meat of this episode. In it, you’ll learn:

  • Why Jon made the decision to accept a sponsor for Hack the Entrepreneur
  • The details of how the original package Jon agreed to with FreshBooks came about
  • What “metrics” Jon stressed to show that his audience was worth tapping into for a sponsor
  • The big mistake many podcasters make when seeking sponsorships
  • Common sense negotiating advice that anyone can (and should) implement
  • The essential importance of viewing sponsorships as partnerships

Jon and Jerod also discuss what it will be like to actually meet in person for the first time at Authority Rainmaker (on the day this episode goes live, in fact).

This week’s listener question comes from @DareeAllen, who asks about creating branding graphics and choosing the right “station” for a show.

And this week’s podcast recommendations are:

Listen, learn, enjoy! 🙂

The Importance of Treating Sponsorships Like Partnerships

Jerod Morris: This is Rainmaker.FM, the digital marketing podcast network. It’s built on the Rainmaker Platform, which empowers you to build your own digital marketing and sales platform. Start your free 14-day trial at

You’re listening to The Showrunner, a podcast about podcasting that will teach you how to take your show from good to great. Ready?

Jon, I don’t know if you know this, but something very exciting is happening today, Wednesday, May 13, 2015. Do you know what that is?

Jon Nastor: I have no idea.

Jerod Morris: You and I are meeting in person for the very first time. I know that sounds weird for me to say on Wednesday, May 6th, when we record this, but when people listen to this, it will be May 13th. We will both be in Denver at Authority Rainmaker, and we will be meeting for the very first time, which is very exciting.

Jon Nastor: Could we also sit down somewhere and listen to this episode together?

Jerod Morris: We’ve been doing so much meta stuff, I feel like we should, and then maybe record us listening to the recording. I don’t know.

Jon Nastor: It’s like when you put two mirrors together and it just goes forever. Yeah, we’ll have to do that.

Jerod Morris: Hey, you know what I was thinking earlier? What if we meet and we don’t like each other? We’ve committed to doing this course, so we’ve got this podcast going, but what if there’s just no in-person chemistry? What are we going to do?

Jon Nastor: Whoa. I guess it’s over. That’s it.

Jerod Morris: Refunds to everybody. Fee redirected.

All right, so folks, if there’s no episode next Wednesday or if this one cuts off abruptly right now, then you’ll know something went wrong in Denver. I have a feeling things will be quite all right. I’m really looking forward to being there in Denver because it won’t just be us meeting. We’re actually going to get to meet some of the people in the course, which will be really fun.

I know Sonia Thompson, who is part of The Showrunner Podcasting Course, is already getting all the people who are going to be there together so we can all hang out and have our little Showrunner meet-up. That’s the best part about these events is getting to meet people in person that you’ve only known online. Some people you’ve worked with extensively, like you and me, get to meet in person, so in addition to everything else, that’ll be great about the event.

Jon Nastor: I’m excited for the event itself, just to actually go, but then to meet so many people. I have never met anyone who’s actually been there, who’s going to be there, or who is there. Where are we? We’re … now? It’s happening right now, isn’t it?

Jerod Morris: It’s happening right now, today, yes.

Jon Nastor: We’re at the conference.

Jerod Morris: You’re meeting people right now. As people are listening to this, you’re meeting Robert Bruce for the first time, which will change your life.

Jon Nastor: That’s pretty cool, yeah.

Jerod Morris: Yeah, it will be pretty cool, very cool. So I’m looking forward to it.

Let’s move on to our topic for today’s episode of The Showrunner. We’re not just going to spend all of our time previewing Authority Rainmaker. We also want to talk about something specific to podcasting, and we’re going to do something similar to what we did last week, Jon. Last week we shared an interview that we did about interviewing. This is actually from the course. We shared a really significant chunk of it because I thought it was very useful. We’re going to do the same thing today, because you and I just recently did an interview about sponsorships, where you shared a lot of your experience getting your sponsorship set up with FreshBooks, so we’re going to share a portion of that interview right now.

Anything that you want to preface this snippet with? I know you don’t know exactly what the snippet is, but just in terms of the general idea of sponsorships and your experience with them?

Jon Nastor: I guess it’s to take a sponsorship, especially when you’re starting out. Get it away from the typical CPM or cost per thousand that was originally talked about in podcast sponsorships. When you’re starting out, make it into a package deal. Think of anything you can offer a sponsor, as in links on your sites, mentions on social media, mentions anywhere else that you might be able to have some sort of voice. Be creative, and really try and make a partnership out of this sponsorship. I think that that’s the essence of what we got to in this interview, and it’s how I’ve had the success with my sponsorships up till now.

Jerod Morris: Yeah, and you’ve had a lot of success with it, and this is one of the most common questions that we get: how do I make money from my podcast? How do I make my podcast profitable in a direct sense, where it’s making money? The idea of getting a sponsorship is difficult for some folks, so I think this interview really illuminated how it all came together for you. You were very open and candid about it, down to some specifics, so I think people will really enjoy this.

Here is my interview with you, Jon, about sponsorships and specifically your experience getting FreshBooks to sponsor Hack the Entrepreneur.

Let’s talk about that, Jon, and before we get into the ‘how,’ in terms of how you set it up and what to do, let’s talk about the ‘why.’ Why did you choose the sponsorship model for Hack the Entrepreneur, even all the way back from the beginning, to monetize it?

Why Jon Made the Decision to Accept a Sponsor for Hack the Entrepreneur

Jon Nastor: It wasn’t from the beginning. It was close. It was the weekend leading into the seventh week after I went live, and it was literally that weekend that I was thinking my show had grown. My audience had grown. I was getting lots of good feedback. My audience was responsive. They were good. And I needed help.

Therefore, I needed revenue to be able to hire an assistant and an editor. That weekend, I decided that on Monday, I was going to reach out and try and find myself a sponsor. I opened up my laptop Monday morning, and there were four offers from companies wanting to sponsor. At that point I was, I was number one in Business. I was number one in Management & Marketing. I was number one in New & Noteworthy of each. It was kind of like, “Whoa, who is this guy?” We want to sponsor him. He has no sponsors. That’s weird.

Jerod Morris: So these offers came unsolicited?

Jon Nastor: Completely unsolicited. I had never emailed anybody for anything at this point.

Jerod Morris: Did you have anything on your site like, “Contact for sponsorship” or anything?

Jon Nastor: No, I had a contact form. It just literally came through my contact form. I thought it was too early, honestly. I thought on September 5th, when I launched, that it would take me six months before I would be able to go to sponsorship model. The whole thing really grew quicker, and I knew that the audience, my audience, was ready at that point. So the offers came. I negotiated with two companies. One of them was FreshBooks, who is from the same country, same province. They’re a great company that I use, so it really made sense to me. At the time, I didn’t want to go with a different sponsor each episode. I wanted a month at a time — actually, I did three months at a time. I want to have their banner on my site. I want to put links in each show notes. I want to be able to just have one company that I talk about. That was the offer that we made, and it worked.

Jerod Morris: With FreshBooks, then, you had used them previously, when you say you used the product?

Jon Nastor: Yes.

Jerod Morris: You had already used them. Take us behind the scenes a little bit with how that came about and how it evolved once you decided they were who you wanted to go with.

The Details of How the Original Package Jon Agreed to with Freshbooks Came About

Jon Nastor: It was really, really quick. They wanted to take advantage of the momentum I had, and I wanted to. Literally, between talking to them that Monday, I believe on Thursday I had a signed contract, and on my Friday episode, there was a FreshBooks ad. They signed on for three months at the very beginning, and then at month two, they signed on for another three months. Now they’ve signed on until the end of June at this point, which is another three months.

It’s just how they kind of went for it. The idea with them was they were dealing with a company before that was doing all the advertising for them. They decided to pull that out of the company because the company took a good percentage, and they wanted to go direct, so they started dealing with me. They told me numbers of what people were getting based on their downloads.

I discussed with them how I’m very new. My downloads are growing fast, but they’re still relatively low, and they understood that. I took it away from CPM, which is cost per thousand, which is how the general sponsorship plan goes. I took it into a package deal because I knew I couldn’t make any money on a CPM basis, and because three months after where we were today, it would be so much bigger, so I didn’t want to sign on at that point.

I created a whole package deal, which was several thousand dollars a month, and it included, as I said, the banner ad and in the show notes, a link that will always stay there. Actually, I said it will stay there for at least a year, because I didn’t want to be tied in, and I don’t have plans to take them out of there, those links. But if something happens with my show, I move it somewhere else or do anything, I don’t want to be locked down that I always have to be advertising them forever.

What “Metrics” Jon Stressed to Show That His Audience Was Worth Tapping into for a Sponsor

Jon Nastor: I did it for a year, and I told them what my traffic was to my site, how it was growing, and I showed them the downloads, how they were growing. Then I really pushed the engagement of my audience because I think that that was super, super valuable to them.

There are shows with way bigger audiences that don’t have the engagement that I had worked on building by responding to everybody, by asking everybody to email me, by asking “Ask your questions. Just literally, it will come to my phone, and I will answer you immediately if I can. I just want to help you.” I did. That’s what I’m trying to do. That really helped, and then I worked with them, with their copywriters, and we came up with ways for me to actually speak out and say the ads to make them more engaging.

Jerod Morris: You hit on something really important there, and I want to focus on this, which is that you stressed the engagement of your audience. So a lot of you who are in here starting shows right now, you’re not going to have shows with the audience of This American Life and Serial. Neither do we. What we do have, and what we can create, are smaller but really engaged audiences.

You say you stressed it — was there anything quantifiable that you needed to show them so they would get it? How did they understand that even though the numbers are small, there’s a really high level of engagement that would hopefully lead to more conversions and more people taking action when you talked about FreshBooks?

The Big Mistake Many Podcasters Make When Seeking Sponsorships

Jon Nastor: No, there was nothing tangible I could give them. But I knew that I wasn’t lying, and what I did and what I’ve seen other people do is they push for maybe too much money at the beginning. They just think, “Oh I can make this big score,” and it’s business. This is a business you’re trying to create, so think long-term. Don’t think short-term, quick-grab. Some people get a sponsorship for a week that pays really well, and the company will never sign on again because they have to make their money.

I’ve said this in the course: you don’t go for sponsorships until your audience exists. Focus on your audience first. But I knew my audience was there, and I knew that with the right product, they would do well. When I made the deal, I made the deal that long-term, I knew that what they paid me for the first three months, they would make more than that money back. They would get their return on investment. This is business. They have to make money, and I have to make money.

Common Sense Negotiating Advice That Anyone Can (and Should) Implement

Jon Nastor: I didn’t try and price it so that they’re going to be like, “Oh this guy totally lied. He said he had this engagement. He said he had this audience, and we made a deal with him, and he totally just lied to us.” That’s not a good way to do business in any way at all. Sponsorship is potentially your first revenue as a podcast, so it’s important to price things that are fair. Price things that are real. If you say things, don’t lie. Make it true.

In the negotiation, obviously they’ve got to trust you to a certain degree, and you’ve got to trust them. It’s just how it is. But if you’ve done, or if you do, what you say you’re going to do or you get your audience to do what you say that they will do or you feel that they will do, it will work, and they will stay on. To me, it’s amazing that I’m going to have this sponsorship that will probably go on for a year or more, and that’s really cool because it’s a lot of work to go out there and make these new deals. I would think it would be really hard. Now it’s easier for me. People still approach me, and I’m like, “No, I’m locked in, and I don’t want to do anything else right now.”

People see that FreshBooks has been sponsoring me for what, six months, eight months now? People are like “Wow, they’re obviously getting their money’s worth.” If you see these shows that, “Wow, they have a different sponsor every two episodes or every second week, why is that?” They go from having one hosting company sponsor them, to the next one, to the next one. Then people just all of a sudden stop sponsoring that show because it’s obvious they’re not getting the return on investment. My next sponsor I take on, I think, will pay me three or four times what FreshBooks does because they know that the engagement’s there. They know why this company’s paying me repeatedly because it’s a good deal. We have a great partnership, and it’s a good way to think about it: it’s a partnership.

The Essential Importance of Viewing Sponsorships as Partnerships

Jerod Morris: There’s the word right there, and that’s what I started thinking about as you were talking, is it really sounds more like a partnership than a sponsorship, what you’re describing. It seems like that’s how you thought about it the whole way, which is why it’s worked out like it has.

Jon Nastor: I don’t think you should think about anything in business that you’re trying to do, right? This course, in itself, is a partnership with me and you and Copyblogger. It’s not like one of us trying to take from the other one. No, we’re in partnership to make something bigger than either of us could have made individually. That’s awesome. That’s what we tried to. FreshBooks couldn’t have access to this audience without me. I couldn’t have had access to their resources without each other. It’s a great way to think about it, and long-term, it works. Now I can focus on podcasting, and I know I have this steady stream of income coming in.

Jerod Morris: I want to talk real quick about structure, because you talked a little bit about that with FreshBooks. A lot of people think CPM. That’s been a very popular model on the web — a banner advertisement, you get, whatever, $3.00 per thousand impressions. Whatever it is. I think people sometimes get locked in to thinking that’s what the sponsorship will be, but you thought creatively about this, and you gave FreshBooks other stuff besides just the listener, the ‘impression,’ the link. Was there anything else added to the package that you gave FreshBooks beyond that?

Jon Nastor: No, I think that was it, and I guess pushing the whole partnership, the whole fact that I’m not going to look for three other sponsors at the same time. Literally, I’m on an interview talking about FreshBooks with you, and I’ve been on many interviews with people asking how I got sponsorships so quickly. Who do we talk about? We talk about FreshBooks because they’re my partner. To me, that’s pretty valuable, isn’t it? They know that. Anytime anybody else has come to me like “Yes, okay, when it’s time, maybe we can have a partnership,” but for now, I have a partnership with FreshBooks. It makes it more and more and more valuable.

Jerod Morris: I know.

Jon Nastor: It’s funny, right? But it’s true, and I didn’t try and grab the cash up front. I really tried to make it long-term, and it’s going to make it grow its business. You have to think long-term.

Jerod Morris: Yeah. Module 9, Lesson 2, sponsored by FreshBooks here. It basically is, right?

Jon Nastor: It is, and I didn’t tell you to do that, it’s just a great sponsorship. It works really well, and it fits the brand. It fits the audience.

Jerod Morris: For the record, this lesson is not officially sponsored by FreshBooks.

Jon Nastor: No, they have no idea that this is happening. It’s just us talking.

Jerod Morris: Okay, so let’s move on now to our listener question, and our listener question this week is sponsored by the Rainmaker Platform. Jon, let me bring you in here real quick. I know you started Hack The Entrepreneur not on the Rainmaker Platform. You have since changed over to the Rainmaker Platform. Is there maybe one or two things you can identify that being on the Rainmaker Platform has helped you do or that has moved Hack the Entrepreneur further along?

Jon Nastor: It’s allowed me to get my assistant to do my show notes for me now, which is really cool. She couldn’t seem to figure that out within the basic WordPress setup I had before, and I’ve been testing A and B landing pages since I started writing for now. I’m split testing it right in the Rainmaker Platform, and it’s amazing.

Jerod Morris: Wow, I’m glad you mentioned that. It’s funny, you know the A and B split testing is actually an overlooked feature that’s really cool, but I feel like not enough people have talked about it, so that’s cool that you mentioned that. It’s a really neat feature. For anybody who is interested in the Rainmaker Platform, go to You can see everything that it includes, and if you want to see if it’s right for you, you can take a 14-day free trial. Take it for a spin. See if it works. It may just be the solution to help you build your online marketing and sales platform.

Speaking of which, we’re going to get to that here in a minute on this listener question, which is a two-part question that was sent to us via Twitter by Daree Allen. The questions is, “How to create a great podcast branding graphic, and how to choose a station?” Each one of these questions carries its own ambiguity, which is, I suppose, inherent in taking questions from Twitter with the limited character amount. But we’re going to try and tackle these based on how we understand them. Jon, if you want to take that first one about creating a great podcast branding graphic.

Jon Nastor: All right, I’m going to take a branding graphic as being show artwork for iTunes. We go through this completely in the course.

Somebody wanted me to mention that I have a cold.

Jerod Morris: We’re leaving this in. I refuse to edit that out.

Jon Nastor: Okay, I think it’s allergies now, but yeah, somebody mentioned this in the course today.

Jerod Morris: They did. Maybe we’ll do that as next week’s listener question. Let’s talk about having to deal with having a cold. Take some of what we learn from this moment right here.

Jon Nastor: I’ve been battling it for a couple months.

Jerod Morris: You have a secret for dealing with it, right? We going to tease that? Okay, we’re going to tease that for next week: Jon’s secret to dealing with colds that he apparently forgot for this episode. Okay Jon, keep going.

Why You Should Do Your Homework Before Designing a Brand Graphic for Your Podcast

Jon Nastor: I’m going to take the graphic as the iTunes graphic, and the biggest thing, I guess — I can’t get into all of it — is to understand your market. Your market is iTunes, because that’s going to push 90 percent or more of the listeners that find you.

Go into iTunes. Go exactly to the category, specifically, that you are going to be entering, and study and analyze the top 20, the top 50, and then the top 100 of those podcast artworks. You have to look for, obviously, the top ones, see what they do in comparison to the ones who are number 100, see what the differences are, see what you can pick out there, and then go back to the top 20 and figure out what it is — colors, text, whether your face should be on it or not. Look to see how you can stand out within that exact, specific marketplace.

If you’re entering the comedy market space, it’s no point to you studying the business marketplace and seeing what works there. Go directly to your specific category. See what exists out there, and see how you can fit in in a unique way and stand out visually, because over 50 percent of these people on iTunes now are going through on their phones, which means they’re swiping by really quickly. Your artwork has to grab that audience that you are looking for.

Jerod Morris: Yes. Then the next part of the question is how to choose a station. Part of what throws us off there is the examples that are used, which are Rainmaker and Blog Talk radio, which seem extremely different. When it comes to station, I would say first, choose a platform. Rainmaker, obviously, as we just mentioned, is a way to build your own platform. This is where you’re going to house your files. This is where you’re going to direct your audience to go. This is your home on the web. Then, you have different distribution channels like iTunes, like other places where you are getting your content out there to the audience.

I think the first question is, choose a platform. There it’s just whatever your goals are, which one fits best, try out different ones. We’re obviously partial to Rainmaker, and it has a lot of features that work really well for podcasters.

The Importance of Building Your Podcast on Your Own ‘Land’

Jerod Morris: In terms of distribution, look — when I started The Assembly Call, I started it on Blog Talk Radio because for a low-cost way to host a call-in show, a live call-in show, it worked really well. I was basically just using it to record the audio, then downloading the audio and putting it on my own site. Blog Talk Radio does have a network of people. There are listeners there, that kind of thing. We never got very many listeners from Blog Talk. Maybe that’s changed, and we probably didn’t use it right, but the focus was on building the platform.

I think if you are podcasting for any significant, big-picture goal, especially if it’s anything related to building a business or building your personal brand, that kind of thing, I think you want to build your own platform, not just rely on a place like Blog Talk to host everything and do everything for you, because you don’t own that. You don’t want to build on rented land, as we’ve said often at Copyblogger. That’s digital sharecropping. You want to build on land that you own.

If we somehow misunderstood those questions, just Tweet us with a little bit more context, but that is how we would answer those. Let’s move now, Jon, into our podcast recommendations, which is quickly becoming one of my favorite things to do on this show. Would you like to go first and give your podcast recommendation this week?

Jon Nastor: I would love to. My first recommendation was published on March 5th of this year, so it’s just about a month old. It’s the Rocketship podcast, and on March 5th — they don’t do numbers for their episodes in iTunes, so you have to go by the date — but the title is How to Build Your Content Strategy.

They’re a great show that I’ve gotten to know. I was on it months and months ago, and that’s how I discovered it. They’re a team of three, and they do interviews. It’s interesting to hear them play off of each other, and the conversations go in interesting places. They’re very much into the startup business world, but in this How to Build Your Content Strategy on March 5th, they interviewed Neil Patel of KISSmetrics and such. The guy’s a genius with content, so I was drawn to it. That’s my recommendation for this week.

Jerod Morris: Very cool. And to clarify, March 5th is two months ago based on when this airs, not one month ago.

Jon Nastor: To clarify, I don’t even know what day it is right now.

Jerod Morris: For my recommendation — and I didn’t even realize this, but there’s an Authority Rainmaker tie-in with my recommendation — it is PNR: This Old Marketing with Joe Pulizzi and Robert Rose. Joe Pulizzi of Content Marketing World, The Content Marketing Institute, will actually be speaking at Authority Rainmaker, which is kind of cool. What I want to recommend about this show is that it’s obviously great content marketing information if you want to stay up-to-date on news and the big issues in content marketing. It’s a must-listen.

My favorites are the intros that Robert Rose does, and they’re clearly scripted, but his delivery is very solid. They always include this clever wordplay and these relevant pop culture references and usually some kind of self-deprecating joke or two. A lot of times, it ends with Pulizzi giggling in the background, which is always funny. I actually Tweeted to them if the show ever goes away, they should just release a podcast called the Intro Show with Rose just doing intros for a podcast that doesn’t even exist. Because they’re just the really entertaining, the way he puts them together.

If you’ve never listened to an episode of PNR: This Old Marketing, I highly recommend it. There’s not really a particular one to recommend because Robert Rose does this for all of them. I highly recommend that you take a listen. It’s a really good show. And Jon, if you never got a chance to meet Joe Pulizzi, you will get to meet him at Authority Rainmaker. You might be meeting him right now.

Jon Nastor: Wow.

Jerod Morris: This very moment. I know, kind of crazy, huh? Kind of crazy. Unless you have anything else to add, Jon, that’s all we have for this episode of The Showrunner.

Jon Nastor: I’m still shocked that March 5th was two months ago, actually. To tell you the truth, I’m still shocked by it.

Jerod Morris: Why don’t you go get your bearings while I close this out, and then we’ll record another one.

All right, I do just want to say thank you to you, listener, for being a Showrunner listener. We appreciate it. We really hope that you’re finding value in these episodes that you can incorporate into your own shows, because that’s the goal. Obviously there’s a little bit of entertainment, a little bit of inspiration here and there, too.

That’s what we’re here for, and if you are, we’d really love it if you’d leave us a rating or a review on iTunes. We’ve gotten so many of these already. Every time we do, it is exciting and lifts our spirits of why we’re doing this show because it is for you all. If you could do it while leaving your Twitter handle or some other means so that we can actually reach out, contact you, say thank you, we would definitely appreciate that, too, because we certainly don’t take the effort that you take to leave them for granted.

Plus, it’s a great way to pay it forward because the more ratings and reviews you leave now for shows you like, the more comfortable you will feel requesting ratings and reviews later on when they can have a big impact for you, so hopefully you will consider doing that.
All right, thank you for listening. Good luck with any and all shows you are running this week, and we will talk to you next Wednesday on another new episode of The Showrunner.