Jessica Chinyelu, Founder, The Sponsorship Lady, LLC
Photo Credit: Stephanie Rose
It has been well-documented that women are starting and running businesses at increasing rates. However, the maturity and long term sustainability of these growing ventures are highly dependent on an entrepreneur’s ability to access enough capital for growth. Financial support enables women-owned companies to maximize on opportunities, hire a team and purchase resources to keep up with consumer demands. Yet finding funding is challenging and Black women face the most difficulty. Since the pandemic hit, 31% of Black women business owners have cited raising capital as their top hurdle. Without outside investments, several Black women-led businesses resort to self or crowd-funding.
Jessica Chinyelu is a Sponsorship Strategist who knows all too well about the obstacles that hinder the progression of Black women’s businesses. After hosting her faith-based women’s empowerment conference using student loan money, Chinyelu drove herself into debt to fund her dreams. It was a conversation with an attendee of the conference, Constance Cash the founder of I Am Team Natural, who opened her eyes to the possibilities of earning sponsorship money. Over dinner, Cash reviewed Chinyelu’s pitch deck and shared resources that could help transform her cash-strapped business. With this invaluable experience, Chinyelu was determined to no longer host her conferences using money out of her own pocket. Her goal was to learn everything she could about the best sales strategies to engage with sponsors. So she took on a Senior Director of Partnerships role for a multimillion-dollar non-profit to gain first-hand knowledge of what it takes to position your business for brand deals. Before she knew it, Chinyelu had raised multi six figures in sponsorships for her conferences. When she left her corporate job she began helping other notable people to secure similar gainful deals, including helping Motown gospel recording artist Jonathan Traylor and later the thought leader and CEO of Resilia, Sevetri Wilson.
Now Chinyelu shares these techniques with Black women business owners. Determined to be as generous with her knowledge as Cash was with her, Chinyelu’s mission is clear: to ensure that Black women land lucrative sponsorships while highlighting to brands the power of the Black dollar and the value of cultural capital when partnering with Black women. Providing mentorship at scale, Chinyelu has launched various initiatives including a #SponsHer campaign and her Sponsored & Secured Program to educate women on the techniques required to earn capital. To date, she has helped Black women owned businesses collectively make close to $850,000 in sponsorships.
Here she shares her strategic approach for Black women to get unstuck from the sponsorship pitch phase to opening the doors of money-making opportunities.
Drop the limiting beliefs keeping you from earning more
The game of comparison is hard to avoid when we have the ability to witness others’ wins and success every day through social media. “I think the biggest, and this is even for myself, the limiting belief that I used to have is that social media plays such a big game in this,” shared Chinyelu. “There are people that really strongly believe that no one’s going to pay five, six or seven figures to partner because they see that big brands are sponsoring those with hundreds of thousands or millions of followers.” We can be led to believe that high figure sponsorship deals are only reserved for those with large followings. Chinyelu points out that this thinking is what will keep owners from reaching the funds that can make a difference to their business.
Recognize the Value You Bring to the Table
Outside of the concern that they do not have a large enough following, Chinyelu shares that the other pitfall that keeps women from getting the most from brand partnerships is not having enough clarity on the value that they bring to the table. “I always tell people before you pitch a brand or even want a brand to come to you, recognize that you don’t have to say yes right away. Don’t say yes out of desperation or that I really need this money or even that this is my biggest dream,” Chinyelu cautions. “Take time to really assess everything that you bring to the table. If that means that you need to speak with an attorney or other insiders who are currently in the industry and being paid well, pay them to pick their brains or pay a professional to help you negotiate everything. I think too many people are just hopping on opportunities too quickly out of desperation.”
Decision Makers Don’t Want to be Treated as Just a Check
Seeing a “no” as an opportunity to build instead of a stop sign is an essential strategy for keeping the lines of communication open with important decision makers at brands. There are many reasons that a brand can say “no” but it often means “not right now” due to a department’s budget constraints. The important move at this point is to keep the conversation going. Chinyelu advises business owners to learn to ask more questions about the brand, such as when does their fiscal year start and when does it end? But also don’t be afraid to ask to set a date on the calendar to meet with the brand. “ A ‘no’ might be discouraging but still keep in touch with the people who tell you no because you never know what other brand they’re going to introduce you to, which happens all the time. You never know what department is going to get a budget, and they’re going to connect you to that department within the brand that does have a budget,” advised Chinyelu. “Also, you just never know what that person behind the screen may be thinking like. They’re real human beings and they want to know that you genuinely want to build a relationship with them outside of just collecting the check. Relationships are everything in this industry.” To maintain engagement with them, she advises to use Linkedin and their social media pages to keep up with what these brand contacts are doing. Other ideas include, finding opportunities to send an email, ask for feedback, provide some advice or ask how you can serve them.
Audience Data is the Key to Earning More
Many business owners seeking sponsorship do not possess the level of data and knowledge of their audience that sponsors require to make an informed buying decision. Without this data, owners are leaving money on the table. “Data is everything now more than ever,” informed Chinyelu. “I have some students who walk into my Sponsored & Secured program and they’ve never polled their audience. They don’t even know how to poll their audience.” Gathering relevant data and sharing it with your sponsors is the way to capture any brand’s attention, helping you to keep existing sponsors happy while attracting new deals.