Making Patreon Rewards... Rewarding
In the first part of my series on Patreon, I made the argument that most creators should launch their Patreon campaign in an incomplete state. No rewards, no incentives, just good faith. Since the platform is totally fluid, there are a lot of advantages to starting things off rough and building it up as you go.
Had you followed that advice, you are likely feeling a little exposed. Part of that is by design. I’ve had friends who sat close to launching their campaigns for years because they want it to be perfect it before sharing it. After a rough launch, they pushed to polish their campaigns almost immediately. It's a long held belief in the entrepreneurial world that if you aren’t launching in an embarrassing state, you waited too long.
If you did that yourself, you're probably ready to do the real work. So, let’s talk about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to adding rewards to your Patreon.
You should be making this campaign to monetize existing work. Finding ways of carving off pieces of your work to resell through Patreon should always be your first move to monetize. The metaphor of “using the whole buffalo” is overused, but it’s apt here. At the very least, you should be chopping up yesterday’s unsold fish and to cook up a fresh seafood stew.
Reformat your work to create digital rewards (progress shots, source files, wallpapers)
Record your process to be delivered as video content
Provide discounts to your existing store
Send subscribers pieces of existing merchandise
Offer gift cards or store credit
Keep in contact (Discord, community features, direct messaging)
Do not create a new business on Patreon. If you can write that down 100 times on a piece of paper, it wouldn’t be wasted time. Committed a significant amount of extra work to create a Patreon campaign will endanger your likelihood of sticking with it.
Likewise, you want to avoid building a campaign that becomes harder to run the more successful it is. Consider every reward you promise in the context of both failure and success. Promising a daily vlog for only 2 subscribers isn’t viable and neither is private meetings with 1000 subscribers. Focus on your project first and worry about your upsell later.
Don’t start a new exclusive blog/vlog
Don’t create a new series of work
Don’t create a new, Patreon exclusive, product line
Don’t start offering commissions exclusive to Patreon
Don’t offer private meetings/teaching
Money trades hands when there is a story to justify it. One of the most effective sales narratives is one where the person handing you money feels as though they are the one benefiting financially. By providing deals that can be taken advantage of, you can build real trust. Trusting your supporters to stick around after handing them discounts is an easy way to show your genuine appreciation for them.
Every pledge tier, down to your lowest, should get a substantial discount code.
(EXAMPLE: $1+ subscribers get 10% off everything in my store)
If a customer wants to buy an expensive item and they know they can get a discount by pledging only to your Patreon, they are more likely to do it. That might seem like a bad deal for you in the short term, but it’s potentially great for both of you. The loss averse part of your brain might act as the devil on your shoulder but there are two sides to this conversation.
“You’ll be losing money on every sale! They can just grab the code and drop their pledge before the first billing cycle even hits. It’s so easy, everyone will do it.”
Someone will do this, but the damage is mitigated by the other scenario, told by your better angel.
“You may or may not have made a sale without offering a discount code. In the end, you not only secured at least one sale, but that person is sticking around to give you more money each month. They are more likely to be a return customer now that they’ve bought one thing and they are going to stay subscribed to get a discount in the future.”
The reason why discounts are a great reward for Patreon is because they scale infinitely. Imagine if everyone who followed you on social media subscribed to your Patreon to grab a 10% discount. You’re not only talking about a huge number of $1 pledges each month, you’d also be solidifying a massive number of store sales. It’s a double win for you and a great benefit to your die hard fans that would have bought the stuff anyways.
Behind the Scenes Access
Pledge tiers should include an increasing amount of access to your working process.
(EXAMPLE: $10+ subscribers get access to source files and high quality master files)
Sharing the work that goes into your creations is a better benefit that you might realize. Although it may seems like it would only tempt other creators that want to learn your tricks, there is a larger audience for this content. Fans of your work are dying to learn more about your process.
In general, people don’t want to overshare and fans don’t want to be overshared with. The point of sharing behind the scenes content isn’t to catalog your daily habits or discuss your therapy sessions. Ideally, you should be creating content that allows you to speak passionately about the things that you make you passionate. Allen Williams loves the sharpness of his pencils more than anything in the world. Knowing the intensity he puts into the grinding of pencil lead makes the detail in his work more than just small marks. By guiding you through the feelings he has about pointy tips, you can gain a greater appreciation for everything he makes.
Fans of film are obsessed with what happens in the editing room. Foodies love to know what's happening in the kitchen. Breaking down how something is done has the capacity to bring greater insight to it. Like a reverse Wizard of Oz, throwing back the curtain doesn’t dismiss the artist’s powers, it expands them. Just like with the discount codes, charging people for the privilege of becoming more invested in your work is a strong benefit for both of you.
Disclaimer: Don’t do this if you have no experience with a mail order business. Shipping stuff is expensive and time consuming.
People are more likely to subscribe to your Patreon campaign if you send them cool stuff. This sounds easier than it actually is. Firstly, you need to be offering something that sparks desire in your audience. Offering tiny prints or simple doodads might actually take more effort ship than they provide in return. Early on, I was making custom trading card sets that would arrive in the mail for all of my mid-tier subscribers. It was a huge cost and pain. What's worse, I discovered after months of fretting over them that most people didn’t care at all. Almost no one dropped their pledge when I announced their cancellation. I spent thousands of dollars printing and shipping them, for no benefit. The lesson is, make sure you understand the demand for the product you are offering before offering it.
Consider different delivery schedules for physical rewards:
- Once - Get a free pin when you sign up
- Irregularly - Get a free pin every a few times a year
- Monthly - Get a free pin every month
Most people seem to only be considering monthly offerings because the billing on Patreon is set up monthly. Don't worry about that. I’ve seen excellent Patreon campaigns offer irregularly scheduled physical rewards with no timeline set up. Try it before you decide against it. A very effective marketing tactic is to mail rewards to everyone signed up before a certain date. That gives urgency to your subscribers to pull the trigger. Whenever you start offering a cool new thing, send some out to your top level subscribers to incentivise people to increase their pledge.
It’s important to offer high level reward tiers that allow your biggest supporters to jump in with both feet. It’s possible to get people to make pledges of hundreds of dollars per month without offering physical rewards, but it’s much easier if you promise valuable items.
At the highest reward tiers, it’s common to see creators offering original work but I’m personally not a fan of doing that. Some of my friends draw so much that giving away sketches each month is totally in line with their process. I find drawing in large volumes too difficult to justify the potential income, so I don’t offer originals as part of Patreon at any price. I want my campaign to be the same level of difficulty to fulfill if there is 10 subscribers or 10,000.
Talk to your Supporters
One of the reasons I suggest everyone launch without rewards first is because it’s hard to know what will really move the needle. Each creator’s audience is different and the only way to know what your fans want is to ask them. Find time to hangout and chat with the people who support you. It’s a good practice on its own, but it’s also a great way to understand how to improve their experience.
What you are likely to find when you talk to your supporters is that most people are supporting you first because they want to see you succeed. The additional benefits you provide help them justify the expense, but they are unlikely to spend that money every month through traditional purchases. The rewards you offer can affect people’s choice to subscribe, but Patreon is not a store. Offering benefits for subscribing is a part of a larger story. Understanding that core narrative will matter more than offering increasingly extravagant rewards for discount prices.
Thanks for Reading!
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Pete is an independent artist and the creator of Angelarium (www.angelarium.net). His passion lies at the intersection of art and entrepreneurship.