Just Start - Creating a Patreon Campaign Without Any Rewards
As one of the newest tools in the Independent Artist’s drawer, the prospect of launching a Patreon campaign can be both highly appealing and deeply fraught. Let’s get a clear look at what you need to successfully begin as a creator on the platform.
Now that many of us are used to the idea of what Kickstarter is and how to use it, it’s tempting to apply the lessons learned there to Patreon. Early on, Patreon would even refer to themselves as “a Kickstarter that doesn’t end”. That was a huge mistake. The underlying reasons why each platform works are totally different and require completely different philosophical approaches.
The first myth to dispel about Patreon, is the perception that you need to “launch” your campaign. While Kickstarter benefits from a strong first day and an advertising push leading up to the project’s start, that’s just not true on Patreon. The pent up expectations built into starting a new enterprise can make a big launch announcement tempting. The truth is, your Patreon campaign’s long term success is not measured by it’s first day, first week or even the first year of its operation.
My suggestion to everyone beginning a new Patreon campaign is simple. Be cool, pretend like you’ve always been there. You definitely want to upload 1-3 months worth of content on your page before you make it public. This is essential for building confidence in your subscribers. I would go as far as to say, not to even tell anyone that you just launched the thing. This is just my take, but I really don’t think you can win anyone over by telling them it’s your first day on the job. Don’t think of it as the grand opening of a store, think of it as your first day as manager. Pretend like this is business as usual. Realistically, that shouldn’t be much of a stretch, since your campaign is likely built on content you’ve already been making for free.
"Be cool, pretend like you’ve always been there. "
To inform people about your campaign, your primary mode of attack is a consistent presence of passive links throughout your online presence. Put up banners on the front page of your site and links throughout your social media. Whenever you post new work, just toss a link into the description. Make sure your followers are seeing that this thing exists, but don’t push it. The conversion rate of social media followers to paid subscribers is usually around 1000 to 1. Those super dedicated fans that constitute the top 0.1% of your following don’t need convincing, they just need to know that there is an opportunity to start supporting your project.
Creating Reward Tiers
"Any creator that has a lot of people like that around them is likely to succeed, regardless of any other factors."
My recommendation for new creators on Patreon is to start by offering nothing. Literally nothing. Set pledge tiers at a variety of dollar amounts ($2, $5, $20, $100) but offer no rewards at any of them. This works better than you might expect, especially if you are hung up thinking about Patreon as a point of sale. Check out the One Fantastic Week campaign as an example of this in action: www.patreon.com/1FW In exchange for continuing to do the show every week, some number of people give us between $4-$40 per month. They give us cash and we keep doing the thing they like. It’s a great relationship.
I’m subscribed to about 40 different Patreon campaigns right now because I want to bribe these people to keep creating for themselves instead of taking straight jobs. Whether it’s for a podcast, Youtube channel or a series of personal illustrations, the main reward I receive is the pleasure of their continued output. I fell in love with what these people do and I want to take action to ensure that they keep doing it. That’s the reason why I think the 1FW Patreon works. Fans know that we are way more likely to keep making episodes as long as it is in our financial interest to do so.
Another reason people pledge to Patreon campaigns is as a token of goodwill. In part, Patreon subscriptions are often given as a donation. The people who are likely to subscribe to your campaign are also likely to be the ones that care deeply about your success. Ideally, subscribers have a connection that is deep, meaningful and ongoing with the project. Any creator that has a lot of people like that around them is likely to succeed, regardless of any other factors.
Patreon campaigns have the potential to be a lot of things, including a store. It’s possible to tempt subscribers to your campaign with escalating reward tiers that justify the money they spend them. That’s definitely something to aspire to, but I caution against creators starting there. Patreon is unique in the crowdfunding space in part because it allows you to change your campaign on a whim. You can add, remove or change pledge tiers at any time, regardless of how many people are currently paying for them. That means you can start offering nothing and add benefits as you find your limits. It’s possible to start big and pare back, but it’s a lot harder.
Content is King
"If you are an illustrator, make a Patreon campaign that pays you to deliver illustrations."
A lot of people pitch me ideas for their Patreon campaigns. Many of them involve using the platform to create hype for their brand new project. This is a TERRIBLE idea on two counts.
1. Patreon has no tools to help you increase your following.
2. Projects with no track record are going to actively turn people away.
Always start by expanding on your existing body of work. The energy that drives a Patreon campaign is content. Sharing new illustrations, videos or podcast episodes across the Internet gets you paid and then has the potential to draw in new subscribers. Done right, this cycle of releases can be a self perpetuating engine but it can not be started cold. There needs to be momentum coming in from another source. It doesn’t matter if that’s YouTube, Deviantart, Facebook or wherever. What matters is that something is already in motion.
While it's possible to switch the focus of your campaign after it’s been launched but I strongly recommend focusing your effort on a project you already have a relationship with. If your project is successful, people may be paying you to do it over and over again for a very long time. You shouldn’t feel the need to wait until you are “popular” or “successful” to start making money, but you should make sure that it is something you love doing. If you are an illustrator, make a Patreon campaign that pays you to deliver illustrations. Full stop. Don’t try to twist what you do to fit what you think the market wants. Just keep doing the thing the way you’ve always done it. Done right, Patreon should not change the way you work or what you make.
When considering what kind of content you should be making for your campaign, you might notice that the most successful illustrators on this platform mostly focus on fan art, tutorials and boobs. I’d like to assure you that that perception is a mirage. If you dig deeper into those campaigns, the real lesson from their history is actually their release schedule. The top performing illustrators on Patreon are all very consistent at delivering content very often. Some of them even deliver new artwork daily. While that’s not possible or necessary for most people, it’s worth mentioning that the marriage of quality and quantity can create incredible results in this space. The clearest path to campaign growth is to create work that you love, at its highest level of quality, as often as possible.
If you want to build a Patreon campaign that can fully support you financially, there is a lot more to learn. First things first though, you need to take the first steps seriously:
1. Build on your existing work
2. Offer nothing besides gratitude
3. Pretend like this is normal
Stripping the whole operation down to its bare bones makes it seem almost too simple to be effective. That's because this whole process lives and dies by the emotions people have for your work, which really couldn't be more complicated. Don't worry about that though. As creators, we are often poor critics of our own work. Give people a chance to be a part of the process and see how it goes before you write the whole thing off. Patreon is not a judgement of worthiness or value, it's just a tool.
As a creator, there is almost certainly people in the world that care about your success enough to pledge some amount of money. Whether that money adds up to the cost of a Netflix subscription or mortgage payments is besides the point. As your relationship with your work and your audience evolves over time, your Patreon campaign will evolve with it. That may mean a lot of work… someday. For right now, just start.
Pete is an independent artist and the creator of Angelarium (www.angelarium.net). His passion lies at the intersection of art and entrepreneurship.