You wouldn’t be a real bass fisherman if your thoughts and dreams never took you to the other side. By the other side, I mean that mythical land of the professional bass fisherman. I can’t prove it, but I’m almost certain this mythical place was the setting of almost every fairy tale that I was read as a child. That had to be the case, based on my reason-defying quest to make it happen as the man I am today. So needless to say, I understand every frustrating detail of what it takes to make it to the other side.
Now let’s get back to the first part of that statement. In my opinion, the biggest mistake pros and aspiring pros make, is approaching their career like their only job is to fish. I have friends that are very successful fisherman, and very horrible business people. They actually try to spend enough time fishing so they don’t have to work for their sponsors. When these guys have a few bad years in a row, which will happen, I fully expect that their faces will disappear from the magazines, and their sponsors will be gone. In this day and age, there are very few people in the world of professional bass fishing that can start out by being nothing but a really good bass fishermen. They are out there, but they are the exception, not the rule. Building a career on those terms can only end tragically. Bass fishing is an industry, not a tournament trail, so design your campaign to become a professional based on the industry, not the trail. You will go broke if you don’t. If you are a good fisherman, only time on the water will make you great, and time on the water will only come if you design your career goals to take you there. There is very little chance of extended success if you start by spending all of your time on the water. Focus on the business aspects of your new career. The first step, is developing the brand, which is you. Can you market yourself? Can you convince companies to support “Brand You?” What can “Brand You” do to help these companies sell their product? Trust me, just being in a fishing tournament will not get you sponsors. If two fisherman meet with a potential sponsor, and fisherman #1 goes to the meeting and says sponsor me because I won this, and I fish in this, and then fisherman #2 goes to the meeting and says he wants to earn the companies sponsorship by working these shows, and selling the companies product in these places, and promoting the companies image and product by initiating this game plan, which fisherman do you think the sponsor will choose? The answer is simple, and so should be your plan of attack.
So, which companies should you talk to? Obviously, you should start with companies that make product that you use, that you are confident in, and that you can sell. THEY DON’T HAVE TO BE FISHING PRODUCTS. Think outside of the box a little. In my experience companies inside the fishing industry are the hardest companies to gain sponsorship from, due mostly to the number of pro staff members that already exist. Whether or not they are productive or unproductive members of the team, they will get more cover photos than you will in your humble beginning. These are endemic companies, like tackle manufacturers, boat companies, rod and reel manufacturers, and so on. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t form some relationships, because you should, by all means. These companies usually start with letting you purchase tackle or equipment at discounted prices. Some manufacturers even give you product, or a certain amount of their products in exchange for your hard work. What brand of clothes do you wear, or shoes, or what brand of oil do you use in your truck, or maybe even a company you work for or worked for in the past. Maybe a local business will help you with entry fees if you spend a weekend promoting their product or service. These are non-endemic sponsors. There is an unlimited supply of these kinds of sponsor out there, and very few people who chase them down. Sometimes the biggest challenge with non-endemic companies, is teaching them about how big our sport really is, and how many people we reach with different medias, and how bass fishing sponsorships can help their business, and what “Brand You” can do to help them. All of these things need to be a part of your sponsorship presentation.
And I will end Phase One with my next bit of advice. Don’t overextend yourself. Don’t try to get sponsorship from every bait company whose products you use on a regular basis. Chances are, they will all be at the same tackle shows with different booths. Your time will be much better spent if you go to the show for one tackle manufacturer and spend all of your time at that show working to make that one relationship stronger. Fishing is still the most important element of your fishing career, so make sure you get to go fishing every once in a while. I am in the fourth year of my professional career. Early in my career planning process I decided to kind of creep into the professional ranks by learning the business side of bass fishing first, by working for my sponsors as much as possible and creating relationships that would be ready when the time came to call in favors. I use the word favors very importantly. In my opinion, the most important relationship building decision I made was not to start the relationship by asking for money of any kind. Imagine if you planned on finding a man or woman to marry by starting out the conversation on your first date by asking for a little money to go enter a bass tournament. It’s not an unfair comparison either. You are trying to build a relationship that will lead you to success in life. If you build your sponsorship relationship the right way from the very beginning, the support will come when you need the favor.