How to Start a Team From Scratch
Words by Krys Blakemore
Photography Courtesy of This Team Saves Lives
I just finished my first year as a founder of a women’s cycling team in New York City called This Team Saves Lives. Throughout the season, I got lots of questions from women and men that were considering creating their own teams. Through these questions, I realized that knowing what I know now would’ve helped me tremendously when I first started. While recently reading Anna Schwinn’s post “So You Want To Start A Women’s Bike Racing Team” - I thought I would also share in my experiences of creating a team.
Why Should You Create A Team?
I created TTSL because I didn’t like racing and training by myself. I wanted to race and ride with women that had similar goals to mine and also wanted to support and be supported in the field. I wasn’t interested in the already existing co-ed teams in my area and there’s nothing wrong with that. I just had something different in mind.
Racing can be very intimidating for everyone, and I mean EVERYONE. It gets less intimidating when you pre-ride the course with your friends and can share in the experience of the race. Afterward, you get to talk about that one really difficult section and maybe your teammate learned a new technique she could share with you later. Or how you overcame your fear of taking a scary steep descent and know that someone else experienced the same thing.
You may find that there are a lot of teams in your area but maybe they’re not the right fit for your needs, if that’s the case start your own. Do you have a few friends that would want to race with you and have similar goals? Get them on board. I met co-founder, Shelby Tramel through mutual friends, we were introduced because we had similar ideas for a women’s team. It just so happened that we had the same exact ideas and got along great. So don’t hesitate to network in your community.
The Nitty Gritty
Get some friends together that are interested in being a part of a team. I would recommend keeping the team small, at least in the growing stages. Start with 3 - 10 people. Talk about what it is you want from the team. It could be training camps, bike camping trips, fondos, road races, mountain bike races, cyclocross, fat bike tours - whatever! Do you want it to be an adventure team or a serious race team? Determine your goals and pick a discipline. You can expand on disciplines later but for the beginning, start with one.
Decide What Your ‘Mission Statement’ Is. What is your team about? You can read TTSL’s here for reference. This basically tells people who you are as a team and gives your team an identity.
Come Up With A Name. These don’t always happen over night. We didn’t have a team name for the first few weeks. Come up with something that speaks to your identity or just sounds fun.
Establish A Visual Identity. Is anyone on your team creative? Or is there anything out there that visually inspires you? Play around with logos. It can even just be a typeface you like. I used a shared Pinterest board with the girls on the team to get an idea of colors, patterns, etc. If you’re Adobe Illustrator savvy, create a vector of your logo. If you don’t know how, there are tons of an easy tutorials out there on YouTube.
Create A Social Media Presence. Make an Instagram account and a Facebook page using your new team name and logo. You can then sync the Instagram account with the Facebook page. Add some photos of rides, some candid photos of the team to the accounts. This gives your new followers something to look at when you go public. We took 9 photos of our bikes on different rides and posted them before we told anyone about our team. Make a hashtag that links people to your content. You can also make a website, there are a lot of free or low cost blogs out there that are just fine.
Establish Roles. You need people that are going to be in charge of your rider contracts, your kit ordering, the team social media accounts, your team funding, travel planning.. etc. I am the team Captain/Manager of TTSL East Coast. Heather Seagraves is my Co-Captain/ Treasurer. All of the team members are responsible for blog posts and social media content. It really helps when all involved in making sure the team needs are met and things are running smoothly.
Create Rider Expectations For Team Members. This outlines the responsibilities of the riders while racing under the team name. For example, my contract says that I will not tolerate anyone from my team behaving in a disrespectful, unsportsmanlike manner to another team member or anyone on the field. The repercussion of this could mean that person is asked to leave. I also have a section where team members fill out their emergency contacts, existing medical conditions, medications.. the pertinent information should something happen while training or racing. There are also sections for sponsorship responsibilities, like not altering the kit, representing the sponsors in a respectful manner etc. I keep these documents as PDF’s for easy e-signing, and filing on Google Drive. If you want to see a copy of this for reference, feel free to email me.
Start A Spreadsheet Of What Your Needs Are As A Team And A Budget. Basic needs can be anything like, kit expenses, USAC race license fees, equipment, helmets etc. Make an estimated cost for these on the budget so you have a better idea of how much you’re going to spend on things. I personally love spreadsheets. We use them for ordering from sponsors, budgets, carpooling, registration fees, number of races entered by each team member, contacts, you name it - there’s probably a spreadsheet for it. Outside of spreadsheets, we use a group text message thread to communicate and a private Facebook group where we chat about ideas, news, etc. The group text works if you all have I phones, if you don’t, use Facebook or a messaging app,
Make A Sponsorship Packet. This is usually a multipage PDF document that you will be sending out to potential sponsors. (If you want sponsors, you don’t absolutely need them to establish a team) It should list your mission, who you are as a team, what kind of support you’re looking for and what kind of support you’re willing to give in return. Sponsorship works both ways, an easy way to give back to your sponsors is just creating content about their product and support. Publicly thank them for the support they’re giving you, showcase their product, write a first person review or blog post about how great they are. You can’t expect anyone to give you anything and do nothing in return.
Make A Spreadsheet Of People You Want To Reach Out To For Sponsorship. Get everyone on team involved in this. Think about your favorite businesses, coffee shops, hairdressers, cycling industry brands you like, etc. Find the “Contact Us” section of their web page and send them a polite message with your packet attached. Always start your message with “Hello” or “Hey, How’s it going” and always end your messages with “Thank you” “I greatly appreciate you taking the time” etc. Pleasantries go a long way with people. You have to realize that at least for anyone you email in the bike industry that they have been receiving emails just like yours for years, and it works best to treat these people ... as people. You’re not going to always get a response, and you will get turned down but don’t worry about it. It happens to everyone.
Get Your Gear Made. You have a logo, a squad, goals, maybe some sponsors, now it’s time to create a kit. It helps to have a designer friend for this. If you don’t, kit manufacturers often have in-house design teams that can help you out but it’s best to have a general direction of what you want even if it’s a little scribble on scrap paper. If you’re stuck, create a ‘kitspiration’ Pintrest board like this and check out @wtfkits on Instagram or Tumblr - prepare to be inspired. Consider which pieces you need, for example in Cyclocross, most racers wear skinsuits whereas road races are often bib shorts and short sleeve jerseys. There are always order minimums across the board, the quantities vary by manufacturer. With that in mind, consider ordering a second kit for yourself in the event of an accident. Also keep in mind that there are always production lead times from at least 3-8 weeks depending on the factory, so plan ahead. During your inquiry, if you find a manufacturer that you want to work with, request a ‘fit kit’. There are few things less disappointing than ill-fitting kit, so try it on first.
I asked popular kit manufacturers Castelli, Pactimo and Verge Sport for advice to share with people that are new to creating a team and ordering kit, hopefully making the process a little less daunting..
“Try to set realistic expectations when starting your custom project, as it will save you a lot of unnecessary frustration. To do this, you need to ask questions (if we did not already answer them.) Expectations are set by letting us know what you need and when you need it. Don’t be afraid to ask questions about the process and the specifics: the graphic process, design time, production time, and transit to you for example.
It’s best to remember that what looks amazing in 2D on a computer screen and in a design template may not actually be possible in production. Be open minded to the fact that compromises may need to be made, but Castelli and our designers try our very best to produce what your imagination can dream up. In some cases, the art process can take longer than you might have imagined if, for example, we need to find a solution to a graphic element that is not going to execute in the production process.
When starting a custom project you should have all of the pieces to your puzzle ready to go. It’s tough to move efficiently through a process when you are missing 25% of the pieces… so have all of your sponsor logo’s ready to go in “vector format” aka .ai .eps or .pdf - we can not work with .jpg .gif or .png - you’ll thank us, as well as your sponsors, for not printing a low res fuzzy logo.
A HUGE thing to know as well is to choose Pantones from a printed pantone book for your colors. Picking colors from adobe illustrator/photoshop or from a screen is a huge faux pas as electronics are set to read in RGB and the printing process does not print in RGB.
Blues are notoriously the toughest culprits. Cyan looks amazing & BRIGHT on screen but you’ll notice that the hue can dramatically vary from your laptop screen to your tablet to your iphone when you open up the same image on all of those platforms. No screen is calibrated the same. So asking a designer to use the color on screen is dangerous because you have NO idea what hue variation we see vs. what you see.”
- Starr Walker - Castelli USA
“As part of our customer service model we have a team of experienced Account Managers who work directly with the club/team to select garments types, liaison with our design staff, and with configuring each club/team's online store for ordering. Our Account Managers really do help make the ordering process of custom cycling apparel as easy as possible.”
- Matt Erchull, Pactimo Custom Apparel
“It’s important to understand that some artwork may look incredible on a screen but will not translate well to a sublimated fabric. There’s myriad reasons for this, but it’s best to take the advice of our sales team and art department when it comes to your finished product – some designs work better on different patterns or fabrics and we can guide you for the best outcome.”
- Jed Kornbluh, Verge Sport
Here are the general custom ordering inquiry emails and websites:
Once you have your kit on the way, start planning a fundraiser. This is a great way to introduce your team to the public and generate team funding at the same time. We asked our friends, local businesses, everyone we could think of, for raffle prizes and hosted a raffle at a local bar. Already having that pre-established social media presence I mentioned earlier, really helped create awareness about our new team.
After your fundraiser, go back to that budget spreadsheet you made and divide the funds according to your team needs. You can also look into sites like ‘Booster’ - which is a crowdfunding site. We had some success selling sweatshirts there. It works well for people that don’t have the money to put up front for things like shirts and other cool marketing pieces. After that, you’re all set. Now, get to the races!
Starting a team is a ton of work, you really need to stay on top of your social media, setting aside content for your sponsors to use, and staying organized on the back end. That’s why you have teammates to help you. Sometimes, it does feel like a full time job but at the end of the day, I think it’s worth it. I have zero regrets on starting a team and I hope to encourage more women to start their own teams.