If you’re serious about starting a YouTube channel, you’re going to need sponsors.

This might feel a bit dirty, like you’ve ‘sold out’ or you’re simply “doing it for the clicks, views, and money”.

Time for a reality check. If you’ve reached this blog post, that’s exactly why you’re doing this. Sure, you may have an overarching goal to help people, swing the spotlight on a particular cause, or share your passion with the world, but if there’s even the smallest commercial imperative involved, you’ll need clicks, views, and sponsorship revenue.

This is totally normal – and absolutely fine!

The good news is that it’s surprisingly easy to strike up sponsorship deals with brands you know, like, and trust. Today, I’m going to reveal how you can do just that, no matter the size of your channel.

The sponsorship game is inherently broken

No matter what you read, there is no such thing as a standardised calculation for sponsorship fees. Every brand, YouTuber, and agency I speak to has a different opinion on the topic.

Charge per view, some will say.

Think about CPAs, LTVs, and conversions, others will say.

Look for fixed fees – avoid commission deals.

Go for commission-only, it’s far more lucrative.

Always get a mix of fixed fees and commission.

It goes on, and on, and on. Trust me – no one can agree on this, and that’s for one simple reason: the entire sponsorship game is inherently broken. No one knows what they’re doing or what the value of an integrated sponsor read is.

I was reminded of this recently. Having spent the last two years negotiating sponsorship fees myself, I’ve reached a point where I can command pretty good rates (even if they do vary wildly between brands). At least, they are for my business, and thanks to the ‘Magic Circle’ of YouTuber mates I now have, I’m confident I’m not lagging behind anyone else.

Then, along came an agency, who I won’t name. They promised to do all of the hard work for me by negotiating with brands and finding the best possible sponsorship deals for me.

Sounds great! I’m in! Let’s get going!

Several text messages later (yeah, I know), I was informed that my expectations for sponsorship fees were way off, and that I should instead be shooting for a fee that was approximately 20% of what I’d originally suggested.

I was genuinely knocked back. And not because I have my head stuffed up my backside – because I’d been achieving the rates I’d suggested for months, on my own. I knew what I was worth, and I’d proved it.

We amicably agreed to go our separate ways, and a couple of days later, I signed two new sponsors for the kind of rates I’d quoted the agency.

So, with the thought that the sponsorship game is, basically, broken, and that some agencies might be inclined to take you for a ride, how do you go it alone?

Going it alone

As I’ve learned, there’s an awful lot you can do on your own when it comes to negotiating sponsorship deals and building long-term partnerships with brands. It takes time, of course, but during the early days of your channel’s growth, it’s time incredibly well spent.

Most of the brands I’ve partnered with for sponsored videos came to me first. That’s right – they made the first move.

That might surprise you, but there does appear to be a stage in a channel’s growth during which brand interest is triggered. It’s probably different for each niche, but for me, it was around the 10,000 subscriber mark; as soon as I hit that, I began to receive some genuinely interesting sponsorship offers from brands I’d actually heard of and, on occasion, who’s products I already used.

When this happens, the world is your oyster. Some brands might make you an offer straight away, or ask for your ‘rate card’ (or something similar). This is what you need to do in either instance:

  • They make you an offer: Double it and explain that, while they’ve come in well below your normal rate, you’re willing to work with them to make it worthwhile for you both. You have nothing to lose, remember.
  • They ask for your rate: Go in with something that feels too high. It could be $500 (a common starting point for new YouTubers), or $2,000. Whatever it is, be bold and add some urgency by suggesting that you’ll need a quick turnaround due to a busy production calendar.

You probably won’t get the fee you initially quote. You might, of course (this has happened to me on a couple of occasions) but most brands will negotiate. Some may not negotiate at all, which absolutely baffles me – but if that happens, tell them that you want to work with them to settle on a fee that’s comfortable for both parties.

The other thing to shoot for right from the start is a long-term partnership. Ad-hoc sponsorships don’t work – it’s as simple as that. If a brand acts like a fly-by-night on a YouTuber’s channel, the audience will never build any recognition or trust with it.

You should always mention the desire to build a long-term partnership from the start. The brands that ‘get it’ will know exactly why you’ve mentioned it so early, and will respond with something like, “sure – let’s give it a trial on a video or two and take it from there”. This is a great response – just be wary of brands who seem entirely unwilling to commit to any kind of long-term relationship.

Dealing with agencies

My agency tale from earlier is, thankfully, not the default way in which such businesses act. In my experience, there are some wonderful YouTube agencies and brand agencies out there who do have everyone’s best interest at heart.

They’re pretty easy to spot, too.

An agency worth working with is one that:

  • agrees with your desire to find long-term brand partners;
  • understands your niche and has experience operating within it;
  • doesn’t take the piss with stupidly low sponsor fee suggestions;
  • is open about their cut; and
  • genuinely takes all of the hard work off your hands.

Whenever you engage with an agency, ask what their cut is upfront. Ten to 20% is what you should expect to hear, and they shouldn’t be coy about it. If they are, they’re about to take you for a ride. So, make your excuses and leave the conversation.

A lot of this comes down to common sense, thankfully. It’s pretty easy to identify great agency partners. They won’t be full of bullshit, they’ll happily agree to a Zoom call, and you’ll just get a good vibe from them.

Use your nose. If it doesn’t smell right, it almost definitely isn’t.

Final thought

At the start of this guide, I noted that this advice is applicable to all YouTubers, no matter the size of their channel. This is true, but there’s no escaping the fact that the sponsorship opportunities you encounter will get more plentiful and far more lucrative the bigger your channel gets.

However, that comes with its own set of challenges. In my experience, it certainly doesn’t get any easier finding or working with sponsors as your audience grows. If anything, it becomes more challenging.

The principles remain the same, though, and the key takeaway for you today is to always charge what you’re worth. Never doubt your value, and avoid any brand or agency which suggests you should be charging fees that don’t sit right with you.

Trust me – only you know your true value.

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