One of the great joys of adventure is that it is what you want it to be. You find your challenge and tackle it on your own terms. But that freedom means it lacks the career paths and funding structures that support conventional sport. You can pick any goal you like but it is then up to you to convince other people that your goal is worth their interest, let alone their money.
Money for adventure is not a broad flowing river where you can cast off and trust it to carry you steadily downstream to your destination. It is more of a river delta, criss-crossing channels, some deeper than others, widening and narrowing as you navigate down them. Some will sustain you for a while and then abruptly peter out. Others will remain frustratingly narrow but carry you forward for a long way. You will need to swop from one channel to another, depending on where you are in the lifecycle of an adventure. You may make your best progress in one channel but need other streams to back it up (which is where the river analogy falls apart!)
1. Social Influence
Social influence is simply a modern way of saying: how big and how engaged is your audience? Who is interested in what you do and influenced by what you say? Social influence matters to an adventurer in 3 ways.
- Reach. In some of the funding streams (like Brand Ambassador and Sponsorship) the brand is giving you product/money in exchange for you giving them an avenue to reach your followers.
- Proof. Because adventure does not come with markers of ability the way conventional sport does (rankings, titles, etc) anyone you approach (a sponsor, publisher, speaker bureau, etc) is looking for proof that you are as interesting as you claim to be. One easy way to do that is to look at how many other people think your activities are interesting - how many people follow you.
- Money. You can monetise social reach, but you generally need upwards of 100,000 followers.
There are adventurers with that kind of following, but for most, it's better to focus on building your social following, not with the plan of monetising it directly, but because it gives you Reach and Proof, and you can leverage those to good effect in all the other funding streams.
Social influence is not just about social media (although that is where the numbers are found that give the quick indicator of your reach). Traditional media coverage remains the most powerful way to reach entire new audiences. Your strategy to build your social influence needs to involve both social media building and traditional media outreach - PR.
In building your social profile, you need to think through what exactly the brand is that you are promoting. To take that out of business buzzwords, are your messages to the media and to you followers about yourself and your personal adventurous awesomeness or are are they about a topic for which you become the mouthpiece? Either can work, but your plan to build your influence will be more effective is you’ve thought through your personal brand and messaging first.
2. Brand Ambassador
This category covers what might be called ‘personal sponsorship’ rather than the sponsorship of a particular adventure project. It’s about brands interacting with you on an intermittent or ongoing basis. For this, your social influence is all-important. That is what you are trading in exchange for kit or money, and extended social reach.
There are three levels within the Brand Ambassador category.
- Nano-influencer. Used in campaign launches.
Here a brand launches a product by giving out free samples to many people who have small but (hopefully) enthusiastic followings’ and tries to build buzz around the time the product becomes available. This is a one-time deal.
- Brand Ambassador.
You have an ongoing relationship with a brand, where they give you a certain amount of their kit for free and possibly a discount on further purchases. They also (you hope) give you access to their social media following by sharing your posts and your successes. In exchange you rave about their products to your followers and show yourself using them.
You can generally be a Brand Ambassador for more than one brand, as long as they are not direct competitors.
- Sponsored Athlete.
You receive free kit and discounted kit, as well as money. You are prompted to the followers of the brand. The brand may also offer direct financial support for your adventures. In return the brand gets access to your following. Often you cannot work with any other brand, although this may vary.
3. Adventure Grants (and competitions)
There are one-off financial grants (or sometimes all-costs-paid opportunities) for a specific adventure. They fall into three categories.
- Traditional Adventure Grants
These tend to be sport-specific and are particularly common in the climbing world. There are also some available for polar trips. Of all the funding categories, this is the only one where Social Influence doesn’t play a part. All that matters is your adventure proposal. That being said, the definitions of adventure are strict - projects need to be self-organised, non-commercial and (mostly) to never-done-before objectives.
There are also Adventure Grants specifically for the young - under 18, under 25, under 35 - and for people starting out in their adventure sport. Too many youngsters don’t apply because they don’t yet have the confidence or feel they need more experience first. Apply for everything where you meet the criteria!
There are often subsidised training opportunities that come from the same clubs and organisations who provide Adventure Grants. Take advantage of them.
Modern Adventure Grants
There is a new category of adventure grant which is becoming more and more common, which is about supporting the sort of quirky, personal challenge adventure where you do not need to be skilled extreme sportsperson. Again your current social influence mostly does not matter, but the company offering the grant is using your adventure to grow their social following and media profile. So you will be expected to be proficient in ways of sharing your adventure.
These are various all-expenses-paid travel offers which you can turn into your own adventure opportunity. Here your current social reach and your proven ability to share your story are likely to matter.
Crowdfunding tends to be used in one of three ways in the adventure world.
- Fundraising for charity
You have funded the adventure or challenge in another way, but are using crowdfunding to raise money for a charity you support. Your association with the charity cause may make it easier to find your own funding.
- Funding a project associated with your adventure - most often a film, sometimes a book
Not many people solicit crowdfunding for direct project costs. It seems too close to simply asking your friends to pay for your holiday. But it is common to crowdfund to cover the costs of making a film about the adventure. The (hopeful) existence of that film can then make it easier to get media coverage, corporate sponsorship, etc.
- Subsistence crowdfunding
You are asking for micropayments on a one-off or ongoing basis to support you in doing something. This is most often done in exchange for ongoing content, blog posts or podcast episodes.
A common mistake is to assume that you bring the project and the crowdfunding platform brings the audience. They don’t! They just bring the vehicle for collecting the money. You bring the adventure and the crowd. So your social influence is absolutely crucial for any kind of successful crowdfunder.
5. Project Sponsorship
This can feel like the jackpot of all the funding streams - one huge cheque that frees you from all further worries. The reality is more complicated. Smaller outdoor and adventure brands tend not to have the money to do this kind of thing, and the bigger brands probably already have a stable of Sponsored Athletes that they support.
Project Sponsorship most commonly comes from random corporates who are ready to gamble on something a bit different in their marketing. Finding these corporates can be very time-consuming, and the demands from them once the deal is done can be onerous. That being said, when it works well, this can take your adventuring to a whole new level.
Corporates tend to sponsor adventurers for two reasons
- They are trying to get their name out into general media, in association with an exciting, adventurous, successful (they hope) endeavour.
- They are hoping to inspire and motivate staff by getting them to support an interesting, adventurous individual or journey.
There are three further funding streams that are more likely to come your way after your first significant adventure. They can be used to pay off the debts of that first project, to fund the next one or simply to pay your way.
Writing in adventure falls into one of three categories:
You may be able to make money from your blog (through advertising, affiliate links, sponsored posts) but you need a big readership and an up-to-the-minute understanding of SEO for your website. Even if you can’t monetise your blog directly, it can be a good way to build your Social Influence. It is also proof of your ability to write, which is useful for the next two categories.
Selling articles to media outlets is hard. There are now many publications, on-line and off, and print publications often run even bigger websites. There is plenty of need to content. But there are also many publications who offer you nothing but ‘exposure’ in exchange for your writing.
You may be happy to write for ‘exposure’. Being in print extends your social reach and provides ‘proof’ of your influence and professionalism. It can be leveraged to support sponsorship proposals.
Books remain important. They bring you extended social reach, and offer a stamp of professionalism. Having a book launched (generally by a traditional publisher, with press coverage at a national level) can be your best way to get started with speaker bureaus.
The publishing industry is a fast-changing field in recent years. But it can be divided into three possibilities.
- Traditional Publishing
A big-name publishing house offers you the standard 12.5% royalty, takes 18 months to produce the book, deals with worldwide distribution and selling of foreign rights and translations, put their marketing team behind you for a shorter period than you'd hoped, and then moves on. The days of receiving a big advance for an adventure book are gone, you are lucky to get any advance. To reach a Traditional Publisher, you almost certainly need to work through a literary agent.
Pros: prestige of a big name publisher, no money upfront, professional production, wide distribution
Cons: not much money, not much control, still expected to do much of the marketing yourself
You do everything yourself or sub-contract to specialists and pay them. Writing, editing, design, proofreading, printing, storage, distribution, marketing. Online platforms can deal with many of these things for you, but always by offering you limited options.
Pros: total control of the outcome, you keep all the money from sales
Cons: you put in money upfront, there is a steep learning curve in a range of skills, it's very time consuming
There are now various hybrid models, mostly with smaller publishers. Each deal is likely to be unique, but expect to get 50% of the royalties and the production and distribution dealt with by the publisher. But you will receive little in the way of editing support and less marketing.
- Traditional Publishing
7. Paid Speaking
While giving a speech about your adventure may be your idea of hell - and listening to a bad speech is definitely the audience's idea of hell - it is a very useful source of money and often the main source of income for adventurers between adventures or once their career starts to wind down. There are three markets for speeches where you may get paid.
Presentations to schools that promote healthy living, outdoor adventure and self-motivation are popular with students, staff and parents. Rates will vary, based on what different schools are prepared to pay and what your adventure CV can command. Expect to get two to low-three figures.
- Outdoor events
The number of outdoor events - festivals, symposiums, lecture nights - has increased dramatically in recent years, and featuring speakers is always popular. Some will only pay for costs of travel (some won't even do that) but others do pay speakers. Expect to get low to mid-three figures, unless you are already famous or having done something world-class.
- Corporate Talks
Corporate talks are where the real money is. Expect to earn low four figures, for an hour-long presentation. Famous adventurers are earning substantially more. (Bear Grylls is probably earning 6 figures per speech.)
However, to make an impact in the corporate market and to keep getting booked, your speech will need to be more than just telling your story photo by photo. The higher fees reflect a much higher standard of content and professional presentation.
Many such speakers get gigs through speaker bureaus, which act as an intermediary between speaker and company (and take 20-35% of the speaker fee for their work). Speaker bureaus are not there to make non-famous adventurers famous. You have to have built your reputation first and need to have had publicity in national media, rather than just reach on social media.
8. Photography, Film & TV
Adventure photography and film-making are a complex area. At one end of the spectrum we can all pull out our smartphones and snap a photo or a video. At the other end, world-class adventure photographers bring an artist's vision, years of training, and the athletic and adventure ability to get themselves into position to take the shot.
The category can be divided into three parts.
In a world awash with happy snapping amateurs and exceedingly talented professionals, selling your adventure photographs is more likely to bring you occasional pocket money rather than useful income.
- Adventure Films
Adventure Film Festivals are becoming ever more common. However, given the costs of making a film, the slim likelihood of winning one of the festival prizes and the fact that some festival now charge you to submit your film, adventure film-making can be a path to losing money. You have to judge whether the each and publicity garnered from the film are worth the costs involved.
Nevertheless having video footage is essential if you are hoping to get television coverage.
Getting on television, whether as the subject of a documentary or as the presenter of a series, remains the Holy Grail of adventure publicity.
Over the course of the next year The Business of Adventure will be digging into the details of each of these 8 Funding Streams, beginning with Social Influencer, Brand Ambassador and Paid Speaking. Join us for the ride by signing up for the weekly newsletter. All our best content in your inbox each Monday.