First Year on Patreon
Finding where I belong on Patreon... Building a World called "Terratoff"
"If you could do anything..." he asked me, "if money was no obstacle and you had all the time you needed...what would you do?"
It was a loaded question, one I was afraid to answer because the truth sounded too farfetched to say out loud. I wiped away my tears , fighting back the heartbreak of being let go from ANOTHER production studio.
"I spent all that time and money going to college for animation," I whimpered as I gazed out the car window, " so I have to get a job in that industry."
"But what if you didn't HAVE to?" Tad asked in reply, "The industry is killing you, I know it's not what you REALLY want to do."
He was right, it wasn't. But for so many years I had believed that "making it" in the animation industry was the only way to make my real dream into a reality. All I had ever wanted was a place to bring my characters and the world they live in to life. Facing the fact that was never going to happen on my current path was soul crushing. The hours were ridiculous, the pay was modest at best, and all of my time was devoted to working on other people's projects, never my own.
"If I could do anything... I'd make Terratoff." I dreamily confessed.
My future husband nodded in agreement, "Then do that." Tad urged me, "I think everything you do from now on should somehow relate back to building Terratoff. You don't need to keep trying to do it with animation, you can find another way."
Little did I know that my "other way" would emerge on the internet several years later in the form of a new web platform called "Patreon."
Getting started with a modest audience
A few years had passed since that fateful car conversation. During that time I had rebranded, gone completely freelance, and generated hundreds of pages filled with sketches and notes about my world of Terratoff. I was off to a good start, and was beginning to be recognized online as "The Unicorn Lady" who draws and writes short stories about her fairy tale world. My audience wasn't big, but what I had was SUPER dedicated.
But the majority of my income still relied heavily on unsteady client work. I was still searching for a way to monetize Terratoff, so that I could afford to spend more time on that instead of searching for clients. Not an easy task for a new artist on the scene working with a completely original IP (Intellectual Property).
I had been curious about trying Patreon for a while, and wondered if the monthly crowd- funding model would generate enough support for me to live off my Terratoff earnings. After hearing about the possibilities at my first 1FW workshop, and seeing other independent artists thrive on the platform, I was inspired to create my own campaign! Finally a "central hub" for all things Terratoff where I could create the art and write the stories while getting paid to do it! I was totally committed to making this work, my journey began with researching and building my campaign... and I fell into a unique and personal experience with my audience I never thought possible before.
• Getting acquainted with the platform
Every online platform is essentially a different world, each with their own unique history, culture, and structure, Patreon is no different. Before I ventured off into the uncharted waters, I believed it was important to understand the platform as a pledger first. I did this by pledging to a few campaigns myself, and speaking one on one with other artists in my circle who had successful Patreons. During those months of prep I got inside the head of my potential audience and learned firsthand what I did and did not like about the platform.
I found some creators treat the platform like a tip jar, and engage with their audience on a minimal level. While this method is valid and works well for many people with busier schedules, I found I was more emotionally invested in the creators that added just a little more personal commentary to their Patreon posts, vs. what they were posting on other platforms. For example, instead of just sharing a Patreon post that was identical to the corresponding one on their Instagram, the artist's tone on the Patreon post was more friendly, and included additional insight not shared with the public. These campaigns felt more intimate and special, which seemed an appropriate side to show the most dedicated fan base. We were building a relationship together, and I was in it for the long haul with those creators. Now that I felt I was an active and knowledgeable part of the community, it was time to claim my own plot of land! The only problem was there were few people using their Patreons for world building, so I had to get a little creative...
• What was my BIG picture?
A brand and a goal were my starting point. A "Brand" is the feeling people get when they experience your work, I made sure everything I crafted for my Patreon was in alignment with that brand. "Terratoff is a paranormal fairytale world that combines the fun of fantasy creatures with paranormal activity and theology." This was the foundation that I build everything in my campaign upon. Continuity creates a clear and recognizable message to your audience, your unique voice and story is what sets you apart from everybody else.
My goal is to eventually compile all of the art and stories I am creating for Terratoff into a series of heavily illustrated short story books and novels (my "epic"). I continually remind my Patrons of this goal, and they know this is the journey we are all on together. Giving them updates as we inch closer to this eventuality excites them and reflects the impact of their support. I find that I am also more invested in campaigns that have a clear goal in mind, whether it's a book, an album, a collection of work, or production. I found that inviting my Patrons on a journey with me not only fit my brand, it enriched the experience for them as well!
• Brand at every opportunity
Since my Patreon is based on the concept of world building, I take every opportunity to make my Patrons feel like they have entered into "The realm of Terratoff" when they are there!
1) I created a custom banner specifically for the campaign instead of recycling old work. The advantage is the new artwork emphasizes the "premium" feel of the platform, and fits precisely into the provided dimensions, making the most of that prime website real-estate. It's the first thing people are going to see on your page, make it eye catching!
2) As much of the text as possible is written to fit the theme. Instead of "Your monthly rewards are...." I used "Welcome to Terratoff! You've traveled far from "Twom" (The world of man) & made it into the realm of Terratoff! You are now "one of us!" You get..."
3) A tip I picked up from watching a lot of YouTube... give your followers a special name! I call mine "Terratoffians". It reinforces the concept that they now belong in my world and are a part of its creation, instead of being on the outside looking in. Similar to how Disney World refers to their visitors as "guests" instead of "customers".
4) My tier images became "sigils" that represent each level's identity with their own mascot! This reinforces the idea of "belonging" to a subset of this special realm I have made for my backers.
• Fill out everything, yes even the video!
Let's face it, nobody gets excited about an incomplete landing page. Time is short to grab people's attention and entice them to pledge, make it easy and make it fun! Utilizing images and video are a great way to do just that, to "show, don't tell". I do this by splitting up big blocks of text with images that summarize the theme. I also made my reward images include easy to read graphics that "show" the rewards so people can immediately know what their rewards are (great tip for Kickstarter too)!
And I know many of you might shiver at the idea of being on camera, but you are missing out on some prime web real-estate by not having a Patreon video! It's located right underneath your main image, the second thing people will see. Most potential backers will prefer to watch a video about your Patreon, rather than read a lot of text about it. BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY Remember when I mentioned the unique relationship aspect of Patreon? Your Patrons don't just care about your work, they care about you as a creator. Why not reward their enthusiasm by showing them your face and sharing a side of you that others might not get to see? Having a video that shows you as a living breathing human being sets the tone that here on Patreon, stuff gets real. Their pledge is unlocking premium access to get a little deeper with the art and with you as a creator(while still maintaining healthy boundaries of course).
• Rewards that fit the story
The Terratoff Patreon is a world building campaign filled with art and stories, so I made sure that my rewards fit that theme. What do I mean by that? Well, since I am mostly creating traditional art, I felt it was important to offer that as a reward to my higher level patrons. People love traditional art because it is something tangible that they can hold in their hands, if somebody isn't holding it and giving the art a new home, the magic of the medium is somewhat lost. Each piece comes with a little story on the back as well, even if it's just a sentence long. Similarly, I recommend campaigns that produce digital work find ways to create rewards from their creations, like high res downloads.
BUT CREATORS BEWARE- Committing to making monthly mail in art on a regular basis is a job in itself, so tread with care! I manage the demands by limiting the availability of those tiers, charging an appropriate price for the work required, and only taking specific requests on the highest pledge tier (everybody else gets work I am already making at random). This way, every mail in reward is a byproduct of what I am already creating, and will eventually fit into my future Terratoff books.
• The "Soft Launch" - family & friends
I knew that in order to entice people to pledge to my campaign, I needed the landing page to look like a thriving and active environment. Nobody wants to join a new venture that seems incomplete or inactive. I did this by creating a secret "Soft Launch" before my public launch a month later.
I contacted my closest friends, family, and more familiar clients, asking them to join me on this adventure. I don't think anybody said no. I also contacted a few other artists who were already close friends, and offered to do an exchange of pledges called "pledge for pledge". We basically pledged the same amount to one another so that we could raise our numbers and see each other's content. I started filling my campaign with my first posts and began getting interaction from my first 14 patrons. The result? When I publically launched in July I went from $33 and 14 patrons to $210 and 26 Patrons. I believe the reason I had such a huge jump was because my campaign wasn't empty when the backers arrived to the public launch, the party had already started and they wanted to join in!
One year later...what changed along the way?
One of the great things that sets Patreon apart as a platform is the freedom to evolve. Several prospective Patreon artists I've spoken to have expressed anxiety over "making their tiers wrong" and being trapped in a commitment they couldn't fulfill. But unlike Kickstarter, you need not fear the unchangeable tier! You can edit, modify, add, or subtract from your tiers at any time (just be sure to fulfill any rewards that were already paid for first). The culture of Patreon is one of generosity, loyalty, and open communication. Every time I have modified my campaign I have explained the new changes to my Patrons and they have graciously agreed to grow and change with me every time.
• Shifted from Teaching to Sharing
My original concept for my Patreon was to teach others how to build their own worlds. My first few posts included in depth story analysis and references to "Blake Snyder's Beat Sheet"... apparently my audience does not get as excited about these things as I do!
Instead, I found that my Terratoff art and story posts got the most engagement. In an early poll I asked my Patrons what they wanted more of and they OVERWHELMINGLY asked for more art and stories. "Fair enough!" I thought, and went back to doing what I do best, what I was really there to do in the first place...share my world with them.
Instead, I slip in little teachable moments with special sneak peeks that relate directly to the art I am making. For example, with the $5 tier "first refusal" posts, I include a little Patreon exclusive information on what inspired / what I am using as reference for that current work in progress. Engagement has been up on those posts because now there is additional content provided for the part of the audience that isn't interested in buying the piece, but wants to know more about the process.
• Added a $1 tier
Originally my lowest tier was a $2, I thought if people are willing to pledge $1 surely they will pledge $2? What happened? People started pledging $1 anyway for no reward! So I decided to officially add the $1 tier so that they could have their own sigil and feel included with the rest of the backers. I realized that some budgets really are limited to just $1 a month and they deserve a place at the round table just for them too.
• Remade my $150 tier
After getting feedback that people wanted more art and stories I had to remake my $150 tier, which offered one on one world building council. I remade it into "The Storyteller of Terratoff" tier, where one special Patron can create their own Terratoff character and story along with me. It was such a hit, patrons were gushing over it, wishful grabby hands were happening. Luckily for me the spot didn't stay open for long!
• I post A LOT
One of the most frequent pieces of Patreon advice I hear is to not do mail in rewards (oops) and to not post too much. (oops!!) Most creators I follow post an average of twice a week, I can post as much as once every week-day. I look at it this way, my Patrons are giving me their hard earned money to get special content, I'm going to give it to them! Despite my frequent anxiety about posting so much, I have consistently gotten feedback that Patrons want MORE. And I believe the fact that I am creating consistent and fresh content keeps me on my Patron's minds and ready for my "call to action" posts. THAT BEING SAID there are guidelines I follow when breaking this rule...
1) Give them the content they ask for. Whenever I create a new Patreon post, there is a clear and concise message and reason for the post. I do my best to avoid filling the posts with needless "fluff". I also avoid posting anything irrelevant to my project, just to "have something there" is not content of value.
2) It is better to split up a long post into 2 smaller posts. What I mean is, if you are working on a post that covers more than one topic, consider splitting it up into multiple posts. A big wall of text is scary. If you must make a big post, keep it as concise and to the point as possible while remaining on brand.
3) My "every week-day" posts are scheduled for certain events every year. These are the only times I go above the 2-3 posts a week average, and my collectors are aware of them. Those events are art prompts such as #MarchOfTheFauns, #Mermay, #Junicorn, and #Smaugust. Most of them have a nice gap in-between where my collectors can catch their breath between all the Terratoff excitement!
4) Consistency is key. I pre-make and pre-schedule almost all of my posts to go live at 9am EST. It seems as though people are more comfortable with frequent posting if they know exactly when and where it will happen, so they don't get taken by surprise.
5) Limit it to just one post a day. Unless the second post is an exclusive for a higher tier, and there is no way to schedule it to be on it's own day, I rarely post more than once per day.
• I started doing Pledge Drives
Patreon is still a fairly new platform, so while people may be excited to support you, getting them onto the platform is another matter. We have all experienced the apprehension of signing up for a new social network, add money to the mix and the obstacles grow higher. Some people just need a little extra nudge to take the leap. Pledge drives are a really great way to facilitate that.
Every couple of months I will do a mini pledge drive where I offer an extra incentive to become a new Terratoffian! It could be a free print, a sticker, or even a small original. Each time I have converted onlookers into new Terratoffians!
BONUS! Did you know that there are non-pledging "followers" that subscribe to the public posts of Patreon campaigns? HOW COOL IS THAT? The first hurdle of conversion is already overcome! It may seem strange that people are getting your public content regularly without pledging, but most people that follow campaigns do so with the intent to pledge when they can afford to, OR they are trying to get a feel for your campaign before they commit. I currently have 59 followers, if each of them pledged that would nearly double the size of my Terratoff army. I make sure to make my pledge drive posts public so they can see them, and answer the call to Terratoff themselves one day....
• MORE BRANDING!
To make my Patrons Terratoff experience even more exclusive and special, I invested in branded post cards to deliver with their mail ins, as well as other add-ons. Seeing me expand my empire reminds my backers that their pledges are making a real difference in the business side of Terratoff.
My first year on Patreon has been a magical adventure, the support and enthusiasm from my patrons has motivated and sustained me so that I can work on my world of Terratoff more than I ever have before! By offering them exclusive access to the world, and to myself as a creator, we are building not only Terratoff, but stronger artist and patron relationships. If you take anything away from my experience, I hope that it is this. Consider inviting your patrons on a journey with you by creating the most immersive environment you can for them. Be open with your art and to an extent, with yourself. If there ever was a platform where you could let yourself and your creations shine, I believe Patreon is it.
Heather R. Hitchman is an independent artist working in Kissimmee, Florida; but she was born in the United Kingdom. Her current focus is the world of Terratoff, a fairy tale place where magic is the essence of life, but where "The Rott" threatens to tear the world apart.
You can see her work at www.patreon.com/terratoff or follow her on instagram @heatherhitchman