10 NIL Tips for High School Athletes Who Want to Earn More in College

Being an athlete on a college sports team can feel like a full-time job. This will make it challenging for most athletes in college to complete the steps needed to earn significant revenue from NIL opportunities in the future. Despite the growing number of platforms that propose they will bring NIL deals to college student athletes, the truth is that college athletes are being turned into influencers by these same businesses and organizations. If you have ever spoken to an influencer who is making a significant income from online efforts (like posting on social media), they will tell you that there are many challenges when turning this ‘fun’ lifestyle into a business.

For these reasons, it is suggested that athletes begin thinking about their approach to NIL opportunities as soon as possible. Not every athlete will want to or need to seek out deals related to NIL. However, the following suggestions are perfect for high school athletes who want to earn more in college. These tips and steps are also highly recommended for college athletes who are just starting to explore ways to utilize NIL to their advantage. 

We have provided 10 NIL tips for high school athletes who want to earn more in college. By following these steps, athletes will begin to focus their minds on activities that transform them from simply being reactive to becoming a proactive seeker of new revenue and greater earning potential.

These suggestions are perfect for athletes who might not have started building their NIL strategy yet, or for those who may have a couple small deals and need help improving their next steps. The list is purposefully designed to offer suggestions used by influencers that also do NOT cost any money. All of these ideas can be done for free and simply require time to get organized. By following these steps, athletes will be better prepared to move forward with more advanced strategies that might require extensive time and some costs for things like purchasing a better camera or phone.

1. High school athletes need to think of themselves as business owners.

Some of us always think of ourselves as entrepreneurs but this is not always the case for young people. It can take years to develop the confidence, knowledge, and ideas needed to foster an entrepreneurial spirit. To its credit, the NCAA is now thrusting this opportunity on athletes everywhere by opening the door for everyone to earn money from their NIL.

Why is this important? 

Once you make the shift from thinking of yourself as simply an athlete on a team, with a coach, who follows instructions, you can begin to think of yourself as a business owner with unlimited potential to earn opportunities for your future. 

This mental shift is quite a jump, but it’s the reality college athletes now live in. Literally overnight, you could go from making nothing with your social media presence, to being offered 4, 5, 6, or even 7-figure deals based on your brand. This could be a lot of money for you and it is important to understand the pros, cons, and commitments that this type of offer and opportunity means.

There are very few (but growing) resources available to help young high school and college athletes do everything they need in order to become super successful at NIL. However, athletes who want to become super successful at NIL deals will utilize an enormous amount of skills that are relatable to influencers and entrepreneurs. The good news is that there are thousands of resources available to help these groups and it is time for you to begin seeking them out!

What should you do next?

It’s time to expand your list of resources and mentors. Begin searching online and asking your teachers (parents and other mentors included) for help finding a list of positive entrepreneurial influences. Also, research what it means to be an influencer. We’ll talk more about this in another step.

2. High school athletes need to create a plan to be ready for NIL deals before they start college.

The legislation that opened up this new era of NIL opportunities snuck up on everyone during the summer of 2021. If you are reading this while in college, you likely did not have time to prepare. That’s ok, it’s NOT too late to take advantage of the moment. KEEP reading! 

If you are still in high school, now is the time to make sure you are better prepared than 99.999% of the others who were surprised by the change in NIL rules. 

Why is this important? 

Very few entrepreneurs are successful without a plan of some sort. This is why you’ve probably heard people mention using things like a “business plan” when starting out. Or, if not, you’ve definitely heard parents, teachers, and coaches talk about creating a career plan. That’s what we’re talking about with this step. 

What should you do next?

Write down what you want to accomplish related to NIL while in college. Are you hoping to earn a few endorsement deals from businesses? Do you want to use this as an opportunity to start a t-shirt business? Would you like to create or autograph merchandise? Are you hoping to become a coach and looking for ways to start working with young athletes? 

When people are hired for new jobs or start new businesses, they often create 30, 60, 90, or 365 day plans. These help outline goals for what they want to accomplish in this future role. If you have trouble thinking about this or that far ahead, now is the perfect time to use some of the resources you discover in Step 1 for advice. Get a piece of paper or open a new note on your phone and begin by setting very high-level (or general) goals for each year of your college career.

3. High school athletes should find examples of college athletes who are signing NIL deals.

Although NIL opportunities just opened up during the 2021-22 academic year, there are already hundreds of examples to consider. This should make it easy for you to learn from what other college athletes are doing to earn NIL opportunities and what their efforts look like. For example, if you hear about an athlete who signed a deal with a car company, go to that athlete’s social media account(s) and try to find examples of where that athlete is talking about the business.

Why is this important? 

There will be infinite ways in which college athletes capitalize on NIL in the future. For this reason, it might seem overwhelming to think about what type of activities you might want to get involved with in the future. If this feeling of not being prepared or a lack of knowledge feels immense, you might be in danger of having your progress slowed down.

What should you do next?

Search engines are going to become your new best friend when it comes to seeking out resources. Go online and begin searching for examples of NIL deals. But make sure to look at MANY different circumstances. The big-money deals might have a lot of articles written about them, but these types of opportunities will not be the norm for most college athletes. For this reason, you should seek out articles that show how smaller (or local) businesses are working with athletes. Also, make sure to search for athletes related to your specific sport, geography, and areas of interest.

4. High school athletes should list and categorize the businesses that are sponsoring athletes they follow. 

In addition to researching the athletes and what they are doing to activate NIL commitments, it will also be helpful to understand what types of businesses are offering opportunities to athletes.

Why is this important? 

Do you like talking about food? There are probably restaurants offering NIL deals. Do you like cars? I bet you could find a few local dealers willing to work with athletes. Do you think fashion is your future? I’m sure you’ve seen athletes who are starting clothing brands or wearing merchandise from their favorites. 

What should you do next?

Write down the business categories that you are most interested in. Make a list and then add the businesses you find while doing your research on student athletes. You’ll probably begin to see trends showing certain industries are more popular or common than others. But don’t be dismayed if your favorites are not doing any (or many) NIL deals yet. This new phenomenon is still VERY early and more companies will be jumping in during the years ahead.

5. High school athletes need to create a list of their current online platforms.

You should already have a list of your online platforms written down somewhere. If not, do this right away. But go one step further and organize your list by priority related to NIL opportunities. 

Why is this important? 

Hopefully, you’ll be talking to businesses in the future who might want to offer you an NIL deal. When this happens, and likely before any serious conversation, the business is going to want to look you up online and make sure that it is easy to find your accounts on all the major platforms. Remember, everything you post can be seen in the future, so the earlier you can start to clean up your content, the better!

What should you do next?

Remember to compare your list to your research of other athletes who already have NIL deals. Where are they posting? What platforms are they on that you are not? If you find that you are missing platforms, now is the time to claim your presence.

6. High school athletes should list the type of content they enjoy creating. 

Once you’ve listed your accounts (and claimed any others that might have been missing), it’s time to do some self-assessment. Take a look at your recent posts from the past few weeks or months. What type of content types and topics have you been posting? 

Why is this important? 

When it comes to NIL opportunities, your content is going to drive your ability to earn in the future. Not everyone good at writing will be good at creating engaging videos. Maybe you don’t like taking pictures all the time, but you’re happy to do a quick video with your friends. But, businesses who might be interested in working with you will want to understand what your strengths are when it comes to talking to followers about their brand.

What should you do next?

Begin by thinking about if you prefer posting videos, pictures, or just words. Review your posts and compare them to the athletes you are researching. Do your posts look similar to theirs? Or is the quality of your photos or videos not quite on the same level yet? It’s time to do some reflection and consider what you can do to improve. Maybe it’s as simple as adding some graphic design apps to your phone. Maybe you need a new phone or camera. 

Regardless, remember you are still very young in the grand scheme of things. You still have time to learn and improve your skills on social media. There are people in their 60s and 70s who had terrible quality on social media last year but improve and create ‘viral-quality’ content today!

7. High school athletes should list the topics that are MOST important to their content. 

In addition to your preferred type of content (words, photos, or video), you also need to consider the topics that you are posting about. For most of high school, you probably posted about things that were important to you, your friends, and families. Can you identify any common or recurring topics?

Why is this important? 

When businesses consider offering NIL deals to student athletes, they want to make sure that the athlete (and their followers) have some interest in topics that relate to the business. For example, if you dream of earning an NIL deal with your favorite clothing brand, but you never post about clothes or fashion and don’t consider what you’re wearing in your photos, this might not be the best approach.

What should you do next?

Consider creating content related to your favorite topics. You might already be doing this, but if you conduct an assessment and find that you have posted anything related to these topics in weeks or months, you might need to be a little more purposeful at times. 

You also do not need to go over the top with this. There are plenty of athletes and influencers who have never talked about certain topics and then earn deals from businesses in these industries. But, those businesses believe the influencer can help them connect with potential customers in a certain demographic. 

At the very least, you should start following accounts from businesses in your preferred industries. Then, consider ways you might be able to engage with or share their content at times on your platforms. 

8. High school athletes should create a SIMPLE annual content and production calendar

One thing that most athletes don’t consider before starting NIL deals, is the time it might take to seek out opportunities, complete content, and communicate with businesses. One thing we hear a lot is that because of your busy athletic schedules, there might only be certain times of the year when you have the flexibility to focus on these activities. This can create many problems and frustrations for athletes who hope to work on NIL deals during the offseason. What if the businesses you are hoping to earn NIL deals from are not on the same schedule? 

Also, many athletes might have trouble creating content during the peak times of their athletic schedule. However, you should understand that the busiest times of the season are likely the times that businesses will want you to post content related to them. This is because business owners and marketers will likely believe that more attention will be given to athletes during these times of the year. 

Why is this important? 

In addition to thinking about how your yearly schedule might impact your content production, you should also think about how your timing for connecting to businesses might play a role in your ability to earn future NIL deals. You should also understand the times of the year when your content might be the most valuable to a business.

These factors and many others should be mapped out on your annual content calendar. Such a tool should start to serve as a general guide that helps you understand when you can partake in certain activities, such as reaching out to businesses about NIL opportunities. It should also map out times when you can work on producing content for potential sponsors. You can even mark times on your calendar when you might want to take a class or find other resources to help you improve your content or NIL strategies in general. 

What should you do next?

Begin by creating a calendar for the entire year. On this calendar you should map out general times to show when you would like to schedule the ideas mentioned previously. In addition to these, think about if you were to create any special content for certain businesses you might work with. For example, would future partners want you to post a preseason message to fans? What if you or your team make an important postseason tournament? Would there be a chance to provide special promotions on your social media? What would that look like and how often would you post something? 

Lastly, you should begin to think about your content as if you are a media channel. And like all media channels, there is usually a schedule for specific shows or series. This does not mean you need to create a lengthy video show, although many athletes have had success with this type of content in the past. But, this does mean that you should think about if it makes sense for you to post certain pieces of content on a regular basis. There are a lot of VERY important reasons why this might help grow your audience. We’ll talk about how this can help you benefit from online algorithms in another post on this topic in the future. 

9. High school athletes should talk to their parents or guardians about their goals. 

It can be difficult to talk to your parents at any age. Your parents likely did not have to worry about NIL opportunities when they were in college but they still have a lot of life experience and they likely want to help you get the most out of this moment. We recommend you start this step early in your NIL journey so that you can decide if they are going to be supportive of your goals or not. If not, it is still important for parents to be aware of your intentions. Even if your parents know nothing about NIL and have no interest in helping you with NIL opportunities, they still likely want what’s best for you. They likely have very little information about this topic yet. For this reason, we are dedicating a large portion of paytoplaymarketing.com toward educating parents so that they can help their kids grow and improve their future. 

Why is this important? 

If you are under the age of 18, you are likely going to need your parents’ help if you are serious about becoming an NIL influencer or entrepreneur. We do not recommend starting a business in your parent’s name and you should  work with accountants, lawyers, and other experts whenever possible before launching a business of your own to make sure everything is set up correctly. 

Aside from the details needed to start a business or launch your NIL career, there are a lot of potential problems that can arise from doing deals with businesses. Despite your parent’s interest or experience, you should still work with them or another trusted guardian (grandparents or approved mentors may also be helpful) to share the requirements for any opportunities you’re considering.  

What should you do next?

The steps outlined in this article are designed to give you the knowledge base needed to talk to your parents about NIL opportunities and why they might be important to you. Walk through each of these steps on your own, but begin your conversation with your parents by asking them for advice about a new challenge in your life. Start by saying NIL opportunities are a new concept that very few people in the country have yet to master. In fact, the entire country, every state, each college, and professionals are just now beginning to learn what possibilities exist in this new era of NIL. For these reasons, you would like to share what you’ve learned with them and ask for their advice about what to do next.

Very few parents will neglect their kids when they ask for advice on something that is important to them. Schedule a time to spend 30-60 minutes with them entirely focused on this topic. Share this article and your progress on the steps suggested. Ask them if they have other recommendations on each step, and tell them that colleges and businesses are working to present NIL opportunities to student athletes. Your goal is to be prepared for these opportunities and challenges just like you are preparing to participate in your favorite sport at the next level. And, if done correctly, NIL could help you in a lot of different ways. 

Then, work with them on ideas to improve each of the steps. 

10. High school athletes should focus on planning first, creating engagement second, building a list third, and monetizing last.

Regardless of if you are a business, an athlete, an influencer, or a new entrepreneur, you should begin with a plan. In the context of NIL opportunities, your plan should map out your goals, a potential schedule, and some ideas on how your content might be engaging for audiences. We’ll talk more about suggestions for this plan in a future article but it is important to understand that these simple steps should come before you start worrying too much about trying to monetize online. This is true if you are a young athlete hoping to earn NIL endorsement deals, develop a merchandise campaign, or create any other type of business. You need to understand how your content relates to specific audiences first. 

After this, the next important step is to think about how your audience can be used to help you create a list. This list of people should be something that you can reach out to and utilize in multiple ways in the future. On social media, we often call this list your followers. But it is important to note each social media platform might have different rules governing how you can reach out to followers. For this reason, you should also consider other options for how you might contact your list. Collecting their names, emails, addresses, and phone numbers might be tactics you want to think about in the future. 

Why is this important? 

After working with influencers and businesses for several decades, I’ve seen businesses succeed and fail based on the strength of their list. A strong list of followers, customers, or supporters can mean the difference between a little or a lot of money when you are ready to monetize your efforts. Your list might be the deciding factor when businesses decide to work with you in the future. 

What should you do next?

Cultivating a list of people you can reach out to at any time can be a complicated process. But there are scientifically proven methods to help with this. You should start by considering if you have a list of people who you could reach out to if needed. Where does this list exist and do you have access to the contact information needed to connect with these people with or without social media? 

Don’t worry if these questions are confusing or cause you to worry at this time. There are many successful athletes, influencers, and businesses who do not have strong list-building strategies in place. However, the whole point of this article and others in the future is to help athletes develop the best practices needed to be successful regardless of if they are superstars or not. We will dive into list-building techniques in the future.

What should student athletes do next to begin their NIL strategy?

After reading this article you should be ready to begin your NIL strategy. Start by turning these 10 steps into your checklist.

You may have already completed some or all of these steps. That’s great! Work on each, but don’t feel like they have to be 100% complete to move forward. That’s where your mentors or our team can help.

We’ve worked with athletes at all levels from youth to professional. We’ve also worked to build businesses and influencers that earn everything from hundreds to billions of dollars in revenue.

Click here to fill out a brief form with some details about your situation if you are interested in learning the next steps in which we can help with your NIL Amplification Plan.

Nick Stover

Over the last 30 years, Nick has been an athlete and worked with sports teams at all levels, including youth, college, amateur, and professional. He has held roles as a business owner, COO, CMO, Vice President, General Manager, Director of Social Media, and instructor of undergraduate and graduate courses at multiple universities. As the owner of Shark Jockey Digital, he currently helps clients with brand creation, development projects, lead generation, website creation, SEO, SEM, PPC, social media marketing, Google reviews, online listings, and campaign management. He is a published researcher, presented at national conferences, and holds degrees including an MBA, an MS in Sports Management, and a BS in Health and Sports Studies. Nick is also a husband and father of 2 girls. He is passionate about building PayToPlayMarketing.com as a way to share the advice he experienced and carefully researched to help his own daughters in the future.

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