Think back to when the internet was in its infancy. Do you remember those tacky “donate” buttons that were all the rage? They were only slightly less offensive than terrible music and flashy graphics, but they served a more important purpose: helping content creators keep their virtual lights on so they could continue their creative pursuits.
Today we have affiliate links and banner ads, but not everyone wants to clutter up their website with advertising. For bloggers, podcasters and other creatives who still want to give their community an opportunity to support them, there’s another, more appealing option: Patreon.
Patreon is a unique crowdfunding platform that helps creators collect financial support from their fans. It’s a virtual tip jar that makes it easy to support your favorite artist. But here’s the best part: unlike other crowdfunding sites that are set up to help supporters donate to a one-time campaign, Patreon allows you to collect money from your community on an ongoing basis.
That makes it the perfect fit for writers, musicians, podcasts and other artists who create consistently. Fans can pledge to give as little as $1 every other week or once a month. In return, those fans get access to more great content, and in some cases, cool Patreon-supporter-only paraphernalia, too.
Wondering whether Patreon might be a good way for you to fund your creative venture? We spoke with two artists who are killing it on Patreon, both earning more than $6,000 a month from their fans. Here’s what works for them.
Liz Marek: Offers Cake Tutorials for Professional and At-home Bakers
Liz Marek, an award-winning cake decorator and owner of Artisan Cake Company, learned about Patreon from another artist. She thought it would be worth trying to use the platform to bring in a little money for her cake-decorating tutorials. Now, just over a year after signing up with Patreon, she earns a total of $3,356 every two weeks from 405 patrons, money that supports her business.
“What started off as just an experiment has turned out really well,” she said. Prior to joining Patreon, Liz earned income online from direct sales, as well as YouTube traffic. She typically promotes her work on Facebook and Instagram, giving fans a glimpse of what she’s working on.
“My only complaint [about Patreon] is there is no real way to organize my content on the website so patrons can easily access it at any time without having to scroll through all my posts,” Liz said.
To remedy this, she created an external site where her patrons can access updates and tutorials. As long as they continue their patronage, she sends them the monthly password so they can grab their bonus content. She still offers tutorial for free on YouTube and for sale on her website (patrons get a discount!) for fans who don’t pledge ongoing support.
Alex Woolfson: Creates Web Comics for a Worldwide Audience
Alex Woolfson has always loved comics, but mainstream ones didn’t feature the heros he wanted to see: guys who just happen to be interested in other guys. So he decided to write the comics himself, hiring artists for the graphics.
For three years, he funded those artist fees with proceeds from his website’s “donate” button, as well as sales from his first book, graphic sci-fi thriller Artifice, on Amazon. This usually kept him in the black, helping him cover artist fees of $3,000 a month, but the income unpredictable.
Alex was hesitant to try Patreon until just a few months ago, when he had no choice: he realized he would have to drastically cut back on his weekly web comic, The Young Protectors, because he was low on funds. “One of the most attractive things about Patreon was the possibility of making a consistent income every month,” he said. “The thought that I could actually plan a monthly budget was one of the most compelling lures of Patreon for me.”
Now, with 1,022 patrons who give a total of $7,570 each month, he’s planning to quit his day job to focus on writing full time. His comics are still free each week, but patrons get special bonuses, including badges added to their avatars, behind-the-scenes access to in-progress art and free items from his online store.
“I really am living my dream now,” he said. “And it’s the chance to connect with a worldwide audience through the Internet and new crowdfunding services like Patreon that are making that possible.”
How Patreon Works
Anyone who’s doing ongoing creative work such as creating comics, blogging, recording songs, podcasting, teaching craft techniques or writing can sign up for a Patreon account. Categories on the Patreon website include: Video & Film, Music, Writing, Comics, Drawing & Painting, Animation, Podcasts, Games, Photos, Comedy, Science, Education, Crafts & DIY, Dance & Theatre.
Once you create your account, you can add reward levels and milestones. Patrons who pledge a certain amount each month, week or per episode (depending on how you set up your account) will be charged once a month.
Some podcasters, for example, charge on a per-episode basis. If they create one episode this month, their patrons at the $5 level will be charged $5, but in a month where four episodes go live, patrons are charged $20.
If you’re not sure how much content you’ll create, your patrons can set a limit of how much they want to give in a month. Fiction writer and marketer Joanna Penn, for example, allows patrons to give as little as $1 per podcast episode, and typically releases two episodes each month. Occasionally she releases additional episodes in a month, but patrons are never charged for more than two. She earns a total of $158 per show from 67 patrons — not a huge figure, but enough to add up over time, especially since it’s just a small slice of her overall income.
Patreon takes a 5% cut of whatever your community donates, and payment processing fees eat up another 2-4%. You’ll also face some fees for transferring money from Patreon to your bank account, as explained on the Patreon website.
Most creators offer rewards for patrons who contribute at various levels. Patrons who pledge $5 a month to Alex, for example, receive different rewards than those who pledge $100 a month — and yes, there are four people who value his work so much that they give that much! Not all creators offer rewards, these incentives go a long way toward enticing fans to pledge.
Patreon also offers so-called “milestone goals,” which allow artists to offer extra swag to their patrons when a new financial goal is met. Alex set his first milestone at $2,500 a month, and he’s now approaching his 14th milestone. As he’s hit each milestone, he’s created bonus content such as digital downloads or extra stories.
Liz created, and met, all three of her milestones, and she celebrated by sending patrons a custom T-shirt and hosting a cake-decorating contest for her community. Setting these goals is optional, but they’re helpful for creators to stay focused and gain more support. They can be added at any time, so once you exceed your highest goals, you can add more!
Tips for Getting Started on Patreon
Whether you’re thinking of starting an account to share your knitting techniques, training tips or music, use these ideas to get started.
Take time to create a great profile. Creating an account takes less than 10 minutes, but you’ll want to add copy, graphics, video and reward levels to increase engagement from those who find your page. These extras take time; Alex estimates that he spent more than two weeks working on his video, a few days on the copy and months before deciding on the rewards. The video in particular is effective, he said, because it creates trust and connection between him and his community.
Grow and lean on your email list. Alex credits much of his success in getting patrons from having built up an email list over the years. “As long as you’re building your list honestly and providing valuable content at least once a month, email is still one of the most effective ways to reach out to your audience,” he said.
Most of Alex’s support comes from his mailing list, as well as backers from his previous Kickstarter campaign. He also keeps a link on each new comic page so readers notice the opportunity to support his work.
Promote your work on social media — but don’t stop there. Share updates and pictures of what you create on the social networks that best suit you. Make sure to include a link in your bio so supporters can easily get to your page.
But while social media is the obvious method of promotion, Alex says you shouldn’t lean too heavily on those channels. It’s simply not as powerful as an email list, he said.
Offer awesome bonuses to patrons. Both Liz and Alex offer impressive patron-only bonuses depending on each patron’s level of support. “There is a temptation to think of Patreon support as ‘donations’ and thus not feel like you have to give back that much,” said Alex, “[but] that’s not how I see it. I do everything I can to add extra value and rewards for people who choose to become my patrons.”
What types of rewards work best? Try offering Google Hangouts, sneak previews of new creations, or physical products like T-shirts and books. Some creators offer a shout-out in an upcoming podcast or link on a website, but those rewards typically aren’t as effective.
Your Turn: Have you used Patreon to support your creative work? Tell us about it in the comments!
Charlotte Edwards is a freelance personal finance and parenting writer whose work has appeared in Incomes Abroad, Money Under 30 and Hawaii Parent. She’s the wife of a great penny-pinching guy and mom to two young kids who are learning about earning, spending and saving by taking on paid household chores to fund their Lego addictions!