May 14, 2017

Ask CSALLEN: How do you find sponsors?

There are two ways you can make revenue using advertisements either you use ad network like buysellads / Adsense or you put premium ads for sponsors. For sites like IH which have content focused on a specific niche ad networks can't generate a significant amount of revenue. So how do you find sponsors? what was your process for contacting and pitching them? What worked and what didn't? How do you decide how much to charge? Did you automate this process? How? How much time did you spend on this? Sorry, a lot of questions in one post. But There are a lot of IH's who have some niche-focused website they often fail to monetize them.

Thank You.


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    I found sponsors in a variety of ways:

    • talking to people who I'd interviewed and convincing them to sponsor the site

    • asking for sponsors in the weekly Indie Hackers newsletter

    • sending cold emails to marketing directors at companies I thought might be interested

    At the beginning (in December), I hadn't proven how many clicks ads could get, so I gave them away for pretty cheap to anyone who was interested. Then I collected performance data from those campaigns and used it to build a sponsorship page. (By data, I mean stats about how many impressions and clicks each type of ad gets.)

    Starting in January, I began to reach out to advertisers on an individual basis. I looked at who was advertising on similar websites and podcasts, found out who ran their marketing departments, and sent them cold emails. Here's an example of one of those emails:

    Hi NAME!

    I run the popular IndieHackers.com blog/newsletter/podcast where my audience consists of hundreds of thousands of developers and entrepreneurs, many of whom use (or could benefit from) YOURPRODUCT.

    I just wanted to reach out and see if there's a way we could work together to get YOURPRODUCT in front of more of my readers, possibly via podcast or newsletter sponsorships, or even a featured interview on my site.

    Let me know if you're interested!

    I probably sent 4-5 of these emails each month. It took me a while to personalize them. I tried to tailor them to be what I thought the recipient would find most appealing, based on what their product was + how they had advertised in the past + how they could fit in with Indie Hackers. For example, I pitched SparkPost on sponsoring Indie Hackers in exchange for me using their product to power email notifications on the forum.

    About half of the people I emailed responded, and about half of those responses led to phone calls, and about half of those phone calls led to ad buys.

    The limiting reagent to this entire process was my ad real estate. I only really had a few spots per newsletter, and I didn't want to totally cover the website in ads. That said, it wasn't until later in February that I started running out of inventory.

    At that point, it became a lot easier to raise prices. I began arbitrarily quoting higher prices every week or two. In fact I kept doing this up until the Stripe acquisition, and I never hit a point that made it difficult to fill inventory. I did sometimes give repeat buyers and bulk buyers discounts, however.

    Also, by March I started getting a lot more repeat ad buys. It turns out that if advertising works for a business, they want more of it. It also became obvious what the criteria were for companies who tended to run successful ads:

    1. Their product or offering helped developers become entrepreneurs. In other words, they empowered aspiring indie hackers.

    2. Their price point was high enough that they only needed 1 or 2 leads to convert to paying customers for them to justify the ad buy.

    A good example of this was Zack Burt's CodeForCash, which helps programmers learn to become contractors. If I'd kept things up, I would've specifically targeted businesses that fit this profile going forward, and probably raised my rates even more.

    I was spending about 10% of my time (5 hours a week) dealing with ads. Most of that was emailing back and forth, coming up with ad copy, negotiating deals. I never automated anything or made a self-serve interface, but I really wanted to.

    Ultimately, I ended up around $5,500 in ad revenue in March. It could have been closer to $7,000 if I hadn't spent most of that month working out the Stripe acquisition. I imagine I would've easily crossed $10,000/month by July before my ad revenue plateau'd. Considering my traffic hovered around 220k pageviews/month, that would've worked out to $45 CPM rates, which is much much better than if I'd gone through any sort of ad network.

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      I was thrilled to advertise on Indie Hackers and would happily advertise again!

    2. 1

      Thank you for your comprehensive answer :) This is inspiring. And good guide for fellow IH's.

      Thanks again !