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Pledge Drive Mode - How to grow your Patreon

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Patreon is an amazing tool for creating a passive income. Rather than pushing to build something new and involved, it allows creators to earn a living by doing the thing they want to do every day. Once you’ve got it all set up, it’s safe to leave it on the back burner. Popping in occasionally to give it a stir and check the spices is recommended but you don’t need to slave over it the way an online store requires. Patreon’s passivity is one of its greatest qualities, but it can also be one of its greatest weaknesses. After your launch, new member tend to join slowly. That’s fine if you’ve got other stuff going, but if you want to invest in Patreon more deeply then you need accelerate its growth by switching into pledge drive mode.

I’m borrowing the term “pledge drive” from National Public Radio (NPR). A couple times a year, they interrupt their regularly scheduled broadcasts to promote fundraising efforts that help pay for their otherwise free programming. In exchange for donations, they offer token benefits to their listeners. Tote bags and water bottles with the NPR logos on the side is pretty typical stuff. So typical and so boring that I didn’t even realize how it potentially related to my own business until somebody else pointed it out to me. Realizing that a stuffy old institution like NPR has been quietly hustling up cash from its listeners for decades helped me realize that there was a tried and true path for independent creators already proven in the marketplace.

Pledge Drives Are Super Effective

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In an effort to learn how to grow my own Patreon campaign, I began to read the very excellent Patreon blog. One article that stood out to me was ‘How Nataly Dawn Increased Her Patronage From $1.5k to $6k in 30 Days’.

Let’s read that headline carefully. Nataly was already starting at $1,500 per month, which is really impressive. Getting to that level is impossible without a dedicated fan base. Pushing her income up to $6,000 per month doesn’t involve materializing $4,500 worth of subscriptions out of thin air. That jump suggests there were a lot of people enjoying her music for free and now she’s found a way of bringing them into Patreon for the first time. If you are personally making $10 every month on Patreon, following her steps won’t put you in a new tax bracket but it might make you an extra 30 bucks a month. I recommend you read her whole article, but there was one suggestion she made that I feel is especially important.

“Pick a date, create an expiring incentive, and let them get excited with you.”

Hey now. That basically describes a Kickstarter. We know how to do those! In Nataly’s case, she was offering to print the names of everyone who helped fund her album as her expiring incentive to join her campaign. That's the sort of thing I'm always excited to try to replicate.

My own attempt to create expiring incentives also got a 400% increase in income on Patreon. After seeing it done a few times now, I can confidently say that a 300-400% increase in subscribers is a realistic goal. But please keep in mind, your results may vary depending on the rewards you offer, how well you advertise them and many more factors. You never know until you try, so you’ll have to give it a shot yourself to see how it goes. Just don’t overextend yourself. Shipping physical rewards is not for the faint of heart.

  “Subscribe before the deadline and I’ll mail you a FREE enamel pin.”

“Subscribe before the deadline and I’ll mail you a FREE enamel pin.”

How to create a pledge drive

To create a successful pledge drive, you don’t need to offer much but you do need to be mindful about what you promise. The rewards should be:

  1. Compelling to your fans

  2. Cheap to produce

  3. Cheap and easy to fulfill

We’ve already gotten a great example of a musician offering written credits as a pledge drive reward. Finding the right balance of demand and affordability can be a hard needle to thread but it’s an open ended enough concept to leave you room to get creative. For artists, I’ve found enamel pins work shockingly well. I’ve also heard of customized ‘thank you’ cards being effective for creators that have a strong personal connection to their audience.

For my pledge drive I offered enamel pins. They cost about $1 each to produce and another $1+ to ship. At that price, I could afford to send them away for free to all my existing members as well as give them away to all the new members who were just jumping in. Making the rewards cheap to fulfill meant that I didn’t have to restrict who was getting the pins and who wasn’t. That made it easy communicate the benefits of joining before the deadline.

Engaging the Sidelines

The target audience for a pledge drive is the group of fans that want to support you, but don’t. Getting someone to go through the signup process to create an account no a new website is always a big ask, bigger still since they also need to punch in their credit card info. They might want really want to give you money, but they might be getting your content in a place that doesn’t link up to Patreon so easily. Maybe they love you but they naturally tune out links. Who knows. There are a million reasons why people who want to support your art just don’t. That’s normal. But we’re here to define a new normal, so we need to make a case for them to do something they normally wouldn’t do.

Creating a countdown timer with rewards attached to it won’t change people’s minds about paying for your art. All it can do is give a little nudge towards supporting you. Most people won’t budge, but that’s fine. If you can nudge just the few people who are already on the verge of subscribing, they will. Evidence suggests there are likely 3-4 times more potential subscribers in your audience than current subscribers. That’s how I explain the 400% increase in subscriptions that has happened for myself and others. The support is already there and people are willing, you just need to give them a decent excuse to take action.

After multiplying in size, its common to see campaigns retain their new subscribers. What’s even more interesting, is that the distribution of new members throughout the different pledge levels will remain fairly consistent, even without offering additional signup bonuses for higher tiers. That’s a tough phenomenon to describe, so I’ll use an example from my own experience. I saw a 300% increase in people subscribing to my $75/month tier despite the fact people only needed to pledge $1 to get the pin I was promoting.

All Together Now

Getting a Patreon campaign running at full speed can take time, which is why I’ve built this road map in phases. You can keep the investment low when things are small and ramp up big when things start to heat up.

  1. DO NOW - Launch with nothing and figure it out later - Patreon is flexible and will have to evolve over time under the best circumstances. Just jump in and keep it things casual while you decide what to do next. No rewards needed.

  2. After 1-3 Months - Start to offer simple rewards - You can grow your campaign without destroying your schedule by offering digital rewards, discounts and personal connection to your fans. Find what motivates them and experiment to see what ends up working out.

  3. After 3-12 Months - Run a pledge drive - Offer a special and time limited incentive to help drive your audience to action. You can multiply your earnings in a short span of time by tempting small group of already passionate fans to begin subscribing.

Rinse and repeat

It’s probably a good idea to do some tidying up every 6-12 months. Take a hard look at your campaign and see if you want to change some stuff. Run polls, tweak rewards and find new ways of fulfilling your audience’s needs. Every year you are likely to gain and lose a whole new cohort of fans. Combined with your own changing life and shifting tastes, you are almost certainly going to want to switch things up.

After any big shift in your campaign, it’s probably a good idea to run another pledge drive. Find all those new people sitting on the sidelines and wave them on in. It’s potentially a great experience for new members and a wonderful way to reward your long time supporters.

Patreon is a powerful platform that is becoming more powerful all the time. As the feature set improves and the cultural awareness behind it increases, it’s going to get easier and easier for creators to earn a serious income using it. Keep experimenting and exploring your options. Every improvement your make to you campaign has the potential to make you more independent both creatively and financially. In the end, that has to be the goal. While it may be possible for you to someday make $1,000,000 each year on Patreon alone, the reason for doing so is unlikely to involve purely material wants. Whatever the personal goal, dream of having the freedom to create without financial restriction is one I believe we should all be aspiring to.

Best of luck!

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