Patreon — Setting you and your fans up for success, Part Zero
(updated on July 28, 2019)
This article is for creators looking to launch or optimize their presence on Patreon.com with the end goal of building a community of fans that will support them financially every month. While this will apply to most creators, it was written specifically with audio fiction creators in mind.
I see a lot of creators making the same mistakes on Patreon and so I wanted to share some of the lessons we’ve learned here at Alba HQ since launching our Patreon a little over a year ago. Since then, we have helped a number of people and organizations configure and grow their Patreon communities.
I want to begin with a shout. I can’t recall everyone who gave me advice over this past year, so my apologies if I left you out or if I totally corrupted the advice you gave. This is just what remained in my brain at the end of deploying a few Patreon accounts. Shouts to Amanda McLoughlin, James Oliva, Julia Schifini, Erin Speckley, @catonpodcasts, Elena Fernández-Collins and Wil Williams. And a link to the Multitude Productions blog post on Monetization, Community Building and Social Media for Podcasts
Ya gotta do the work
As creators, it is hard to ask for money, let alone find the time to work on the perks, goals and configuration options on yet another platform. But putting up a next-to-unconfigured Patreon is going to send a clear signal to your fan base: that you are anything but committed to this.
Fans are being asked to contribute their hard earned dollars; so they pay attention when someone hasn’t put the work in. It’s not uncommon for a creator to suddenly go silent and ghost all of their supporters so fans are justified to do their due diligence.
Patreon recently announced that they expect to pay out half a billion dollars to creators in 2019. Clearly, fans are willing to support the creators they love. And Patreon gives them a way to gain special access to their favourite creators in return.
When we first launched our Patreon, it was a mess. We didn’t have goals set, our perks were pitiful and we put very little time into the platform. And as a result, only a handful of our strongest supporters pledged contributions.
I am going to get into all the tips and tricks we’ve learned. But first, I want to share a high-level checklist I go through when setting up a new Patreon account.
- Find other creators you admire on Patreon
- Become a financial supporter of one or more of the above creators
- Make a list of what they do that you admire
- Take a few weeks to see how often these creators post and how they engage with their community.
- Start writing and configuring your Patreon (see tips below)
- Create a calendar or schedule for your posts to your Patreon community.
Wait. Why am I talking about posts? Isn’t this article about configuring a Patreon account? No, this article is how to launch and grow a vibrant Patreon community that supports you. Configuring your Patreon is just a small piece of what is required.
If you aren’t willing to put a significant investment of time and effort into this platform, creating a Patreon account is likely not worth the effort.
Setting giving tier amounts
One of the most confusing things to setup for your Patreon is how much people can pledge to your show and the different perks that come with each dollar amount. These are called tiers in Patreon. The minimum giving tier you can set is $1. But that doesn’t mean you have to have a $1 tier.
Here is an example of our $1, $2 and $5 tiers and the perks that come with each. The perks in in bold are the one that are new for each higher level.
There are a bunch of big-name celebrities who are encouraged by Patreon to set $5 as the minimum tier allowed, and rightfully so. If you happen to have hundreds of thousands, or better yet, millions of fans, then this is a perfectly acceptable strategy.
For the rest of us, a strong percentage of our patrons will fall into the $1 and $2 tiers. Further, as an audio fiction creator, we deal with issues of intersectionality and access every day. So having a $1 or $2 tier feels like we are at least trying to keep access in mind as we launch what is essentially a pay-for-access fundraising platform.
Offering a $1 tier or even a $2 tier will not drive the revenue growth that most creators hope to achieve to make their shows sustainable. That said, in later parts of this series, I will outline how we have grown our contributions from $1 and $2 on average to now seeing the majority of new patrons pledging at the $5 and up level. Offering these lower tiers is often about access and it’s also a great place to start as it gets people on board as patrons easier.
Let’s assume, for a moment, that considering a $1 give to your Patreon. But the perks you carefully designed and listed on the next tier up are super tantalizing. They are really torn and trying to decide. Do they stick with the $1 or do they raise it by a tiny additional dollar and get the perk they want?
Let’s say they decide to just go with $1. Every time you release something for your $2 and up tiers, they are brought back to this question. And you will likely see them or others like them upgrading if you nailed the perks on that $2 tier.
In a nutshell, I recommend most shows begin with a $1, $2 and $5 tier. *UPDATE: my views on this have changed. I now tend to recommend either: $1/$5/$10 or $2/$5/$10 as the first three tiers.
Be sure to put some higher level tiers as well. Even if you aren’t fully sure what to give at that level. You might be pleasantly surprised.
Note that this is just my starting recommendation without knowing more about you, what you create, and your reach.
Setting the perks for each tier
Tiers and Perks are tied together. Each giving tier has a box of copy where you can outline the perks granted to the supporter at this level.
I can’t tell you the number of times I see a creator come out of the gate promoting their Patreon account with next to no perks at each tier. Not cool.
I get it. Perks are hard to create. There are so many factors to consider. How much do you offer to patrons? How do you not punish those who can’t afford to give as much? Are you going to be able to produce/deliver the perk?
I can’t outline a one-size-fits-all solution, but I can provide some ideas and guidance. And some ideas on some great perks to consider. All of that is below. And you are welcome to look at our perks and borrow any and all for your own Patreon account!
Here’s the first bit of advice. Don’t launch your Patreon if you haven’t filled out some real perks. Take some time to sit with it. Ask other creators or look at what others are offering.
- Consider a Discord server for your show with special rooms for your patrons.
- Be extra clear on what is included in each tier.
- Prioritize perks you can deliver digitally as compared to hard goods that you have to create and ship.
- Don’t put transcripts behind a pay wall — don’t make access to transcripts a perk reward. This means that people who require transcripts to access your show are suddenly made to pay when others don’t have to. This is akin to charging people with a disability an extra fee to enter your home or business. Not cool.
- Don’t promise too much. This is hard. But be honest with yourself. What is realistic to deliver?
- Don’t underpromise. You have to provide real value to your fans. A $5 fan is paying you almost as much as they pay for Netflix.
- Don’t promise things that you then can’t afford to deliver for the amount pledged. If a perk is going to require three months of support before you can afford to send that fan a pin or badge, then just make this clear in your perk description.
Here are some great things to consider putting into your tiers as perks:
- Behind the scenes updates
- Deleted scenes or bloopers
- Access to your show’s discord chat server
- Shoutouts on social media
- Getting your name read on the air
- Annotated scripts (these are not transcripts, but rather scripts where you have added in notes from the crew on what changed or how things came to be.)
- Early access! (we love this one… it’s pretty easy to deploy in Patreon and it allows you to give your fans access to new episodes a few days before the rest of the world.)
- Ability to promote their own show or venture — you give a shout out to something your fan is working on or creating
- Hard goods (t-shirts, stamps, badges, etc.) But see the warning below.
- Discounts on merchandise (great to offer if you have a TeePublic or other storefront)
- Special minisodes you create just for your fans (many creators then release these to the rest of the world after a month or more has passed.)
- Just about anything else you can think of!
Beware the hidden costs of perks
Anything that involves shipping of a hard good means you have to pay to create the item and then pay to ship it to your patron. This can get quite costly. So be sure to factor this into the giving tier it is tied to as a perk.
Hard goods tend to be in the more expensive perk tiers. And it’s not uncommon to require a fan to be in a tier for a number of months before they will receive the stated item. We generally use physical goods as perks sparingly. That said, they can drive significant adoption of higher tiers.
You will make mistakes. Here you can learn from one of ours. :)
We felt really confident that we would be able to invite $10 and higher supporters attendance (remotely) at a live recording of our new show, The End of Time and Other Bothers. After all, it takes place in our home with great wi-fi access and our digital mixer provides the ability for us to send live audio as we record to YouTube Live or what have you.
Only we haven’t been able to make this work reliably. So now we have a perk in a tier that we aren’t able to deliver on.
And even if we can solve the technical hurdles, new episodes are recorded many weeks out from when they air. Sometimes an episode won’t air for many months from the date of recording. So is access to an out-of-synch episode really a valid perk we want to offer?
All of this was not known when we re-launched our Patreon account. So we are exploring what we can offer in exchange. But our first step is to reach out to each of the individuals giving at this level to explore what would be of value to them and get their input.
Jedi trick: public vs. private
Consider changing the default mode that controls how Patreon displays the support raised for your Patreon page.
In Patreon, the default for a new account is “Earning-based goals” and the amount raised is publicly shared as shown in the image below. This used to be called “Public” but the new name is much clearer.
Earnings-based goals shares the dollar amount raised with fans and visitors.
Community-based goals shares only the number of supporters (patrons) with fans and visitors.
Two of the greatest jedi minds on the planet once shared why they chose community-based goals.
In a nutshell, many of us are trying to build communities. It’s not just about the money raised. So changing the setting to community-based goals is a great fit as it shows the number of patrons and celebrates the growth of the community, not the dollars raised.
When left on the default setting, new potential patrons are sometimes put off from supporting. In the audio fiction community, particularly, we have heard from fans that have chosen to no longer support a show because the money raised was so high. They felt that the show in question didn’t need their money so they chose to give their funds to a newer show just starting out.
All of which is totally commendable. But as a creator, it may make sense to switch to community-based goals.
An update from Julia who has let me know that “Earnings-based goals” is fine for smaller shows but the bigger and community-focused shows should strongly consider “Community-based.”
Goals are tough in how vague they are. The basic idea is to set a quantifiable goal that when achieved will lead to some bonus thing from you, the creator.
It’s not that dissimilar from stretch goals on a kickstarter campaign.
Let’s assume you have set your Patreon page to be community-based as outlined in the previous section.
If that’s the case, then I recommend you set your first goal at 20 or 25 patrons. And then a second goal at 50 patrons. And be sure to make the goals not just about what YOU can do with the funds raised. Make it a celebration that offers value to everyone involved.
You can add goals at any time. The idea is to give a little spark to patrons. Something to aim for — so they feel like they are contributing to something larger.
Here are some great early goals I have stolen from other creators. DON’T MAKE YOUR EARLY GOALS TOO CRAZY!
- When we hit 25 patrons, we will launch special behind-the-scenes audio segments just for you, our Patreon supporters, with access to Q&A episodes, cast commentaries and a Discord channel! (source: Alba Salix)
- If we hit 50 patrons, I will host an episode of Radio Drama Revival with the help of my puppet pal, Rocco The Mole. (source: Radio Drama Revival)
- Map! We will commission a gorgeous poster-sized map of Fidapolis for all Patrons to download and enjoy. We’ll also make prints available in our merch store, as cheap as we can make them for all our Patrons. (source: Join the Party)
A giant shout out to the most amazing Elena Fernández-Collins as I had completely forgotten to address this issue in the first draft!
Jedi trick: spell out your perks!
We like to spell out in detail what is included in each tier. It makes it VERY clear that higher tiers have everything in the lower tiers. But we also bold the items that are new in each tier. You can see this below.
And take advantage of an icon for each tier! I know it’s a pain, but it really helps them stand out and shows fans that there are distinct levels of support available.
Create a content plan
Patreon is not about people giving money to you. If that’s all you want, go create a kofi or any other donation service.
The Patreon platform is about fans supporting you in the creation of content. It’s about giving them access to you that others can’t get. And Patreon offers a ton of tools designed to provide new ways to deliver content and access to your supporters.
This is about creating new content: everything from special monthly production updates, behind the scenes posts, videos from recording sessions, special interviews with the creators, and more. When we started our Patreon, we just posted releases of the show we were already creating. And our Patreon failed miserably.
Now we post stories, behind-the-scenes mini-docs, deleted scenes, a Patreon-only show and production updates.
It’s a lot of work, but the end result can be pretty awesome. You can build a community that is deeply invested in supporting your work in the world. And to steal from Mastercard, that is priceless.
Looking for more? See Part One of the Series: