How to Use Patreon to Fund Your Creative Business
During the Renaissance in Europe, creative geniuses such as Michelangelo and Leonardo Da Vinci relied on the patronage of merchant guilds, the wealthy Medici family, and even the Pope to provide them financial support to create their masterpieces.
But in 2020, the majority of us don’t know a modern-day Lorenzo de’ Medici to help fund our books, podcasts, artwork, videos, and other creative activities. So how can creative folks get financial support for our projects?
This is where Patreon fits in— a website that allows even a modern-day YouTuber or indie author to have patrons.
What is Patreon?
Patreon is a membership platform that allows creators the ability to offer subscriptions to their fans in exchange for special and exclusive perks. Unlike crowdfunding campaigns (like Kickstarter or GoFundMe), Patreon offers individuals a way to show their support on an ongoing, monthly basis.
A typical Patreon user — such as an author, painter, or filmmaker — will build a campaign (say, to support an ongoing video series) and ask for financial support. Fans of theirs can sign up for a monthly subscription to support their favorite creators, and in return, they receive rewards such as access to exclusive online content, behind-the-scenes updates, early access to new products, or special Q&A opportunities.
As a creator, you can embed videos or other content and even set up discussions. You can also send emails out to your Patreon subscribers notifying them of added content or other updates. You receive a monthly payout of all patron fees minus Patreon’s commission (a percentage of your overall earnings) and payment processing fees.
Asking for Support
One of the most challenging things about creating a new Patreon campaign often comes at the very beginning. You might be asking, is your work important, interesting, creative, or valuable enough to ask people to support it? If you build a Patreon campaign, will anyone come?
You’re not alone. Many creatives undervalue their efforts, and impostor syndrome has tripped up many of us at one stage or another in our careers. The truth is, in order to set up a Patreon campaign, you need to be confident enough in your own work that you believe people will want to support you.
To put your mind at ease, Amanda Palmer, author of The Art of Asking: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Let People Help, says “everyone struggles with asking.” She argues that we resist “not only because we’re afraid of rejection but also because we don’t even think we deserve what we’re asking for.”
So here’s the thing: you won’t ever know if people will support you until you try.
So why not give it a shot? Let’s look at how to get started.
How to Create a Patreon Campaign
Setting up a campaign is pretty simple. Create an account at Patreon.com and then select the option “Become a Creator.” It will walk you through several simple screens asking you more about the campaign you have in mind.
Once you have the basics, you’ll come to a screen where you can start building your campaign. It’s all pretty user-friendly and you even get a checklist showing you what you still need to complete.
How to Make a Successful Campaign
First, you need to have an ongoing project for which you can ask for support. In other words, you can’t create an effective Patreon campaign if you published a book three years ago and are no longer writing. But if you published one book, and are working on the sequel, you’re in business!
Second, you need things you can send to or share with your supporters. These could be behind-the-scenes videos, freebies, updates, outtakes or extra video or podcast content, downloadable stories, artwork, or how-to guides. You can also give your time in live Q&A sessions, small group or one-to-one calls, or critiques of fan work.
There are many different options for how you can set up a Patreon for your project. It’s definitely worth browsing other Patreon campaigns to see what other artists are sharing with their supporters and how they structure their perks.
The good news is that if you’re selling or otherwise sharing your work already— if you have a website or podcast, if you’ve written a book, if you share your artwork on Facebook or Instagram, or if you have other ways in which you share your creative projects with the outside world — you’re already halfway there.
Offer a Variety of Support Tiers
Most Patreon campaigns have a number of different financial levels for fans to choose from. Generally speaking, the lower levels are mostly considered basic support, a way to say, “Hey, I like what you’re doing and want to throw you a little support.” Meanwhile, if they contribute more, subscribers can get additional perks.
For example, a higher tier might offer an annual original drawing or a quarterly 60-minute call with top supporters. Or you could do a weekly Zoom call, or offer a special newsletter just for Patreon supporters. If you offer products, perhaps your supporters can get discounts or first crack at a new release. Authors could allow Patreon subscribers an early peek at cover artwork or an opening chapter.
The more creative and enticing you can make your bonuses, the more likely you’ll be to get people to support you at the higher tiers.
Here are a couple of examples that Patreon provides:
You could have three tiers in which you offer early access to episodes, bonus episodes, and monthly ‘Ask Me Anything’ live Q&A sessions, depending on the level the subscriber chooses.
A writer or author might offer a patron-only newsletter, exclusive Q&As, and access to drafts and a one-to-one phone call, again depending on the tier.
For a couple of real-life examples, let’s consider the Patreon campaign page for CGP Grey, who creates humorous informational videos presented as cartoons (such as How to Be a Pirate). His actual video content is free on YouTube. But by supporting his campaign, you can get additional access to director commentaries, a Discord chat, the ability to ask questions during live commentaries, or even the opportunity to play games with him on Nintendo Switch.
Then there’s the Daily Tech News Show, a site that does videos about various technical topics. The DTNS Patreon campaign has 18 levels from $2 to $100 a month, and by becoming a patron you can watch their videos and get cool swag.
Examples of Interesting Patreon Campaigns
To get you excited about the possibilities of Patreon, here are a few campaigns that are interesting for what they offer, their success, or their rewards.
- True Facts by Ze Frank – You might have encountered Ze Frank somewhere on the Internet. Among other things, he was instrumental in building BuzzFeed’s video wing, but he’s possibly best known as the guy who creates hilarious and irreverent narrations over animal videos (such as this one about killer surfing snails). He only offers one level and for that, you get access to exclusive video content. His popularity has translated to big success on the platform. According to his Patreon page, he has 1,199 patrons bringing in over $4000 a month.
- N.K. Jemisin – Award-winning Fantasy and Sci-fi author N. K. Jemisin, famous for her Broken Earth series and the Inheritance Trilogy, offers sneak peeks of some of her writing, Patreon-exclusive blog posts, a periodic Q&A with her, and even cat pics! She has 1568 patrons and earns over $6000 a month.
- Creative Pep Talk – Brought to you by podcaster Andy J. Pizza, host of the popular Creative Pep Talk podcast, this Patreon offers you additional exclusive content. Currently at 356 patrons, when he reaches 500 he plans to offer transcripts of podcasts and a community site. By the way, this is a great way to scale a Patreon campaign – offer enough to start building interest, and when you reach ‘critical mass’ open up more options that will take more of your time to create and manage.
- Laura Tempest Zakroff – As a visual artist and author, Laura Zakroff offers patron-only previews of artwork she’s creating for her own shop, for commissions, and for book covers. She also hosts weekly Zoom calls to talk about a wide variety of topics, and for higher tiers, you can receive an annual signed print or even original custom artwork.
- #Resistance Live – In an example of how topical discussion can perform well on Patreon, Elizabeth Cronise McLaughlin offers a live video each weekday in which she analyzes US political events through the lens of a practicing attorney and former law professor. Her 4700 patrons allow her to pay for staff to provide additional background research as well as cover technical expenses.
- Amanda Palmer – It’s hard to imagine a discussion of Patreon without talking about performance artist and musician (and the author of the book quoted above) Amanda Palmer. She has built her career and reputation around the concept of the ask. And with 15,205 patrons, clearly, she has mastered the art of Patreon.
Patreon Case Studies
Recently I interviewed a couple of Patreon users about their campaigns and how they use them as part of their larger business strategy.
She’s Bold Podcast
Beth Whitman runs a tour company called Wander Tours. Beyond that, she has a number of projects meant to inspire women to travel more and to take care of themselves physically and emotionally. One of these projects is the She’s Bold Podcast, in which she interviews amazing women who have taken on incredible challenges in their lives, living out Whitman’s motto of “Be Bold!”
Whitman uses her Patreon campaign as a side income but even more as a way to build a community around her podcast, connecting her Patreon supporters through bonus audio content and a Facebook community.
She promotes her Patreon within her free podcast episodes as well as her newsletters that go out to her podcast subscribers and to her wider business community.
With the pandemic, her main business of running tours has obviously been impacted, but this hasn’t really changed her podcast and Patreon campaign on her end. However, she notes “more supporters have joined my community since the pandemic started. I believe people are more appreciative of the mission of the podcast and are taking the time to make the financial commitment to express that appreciation.”
Aaron Studwell runs a new atmospheric sciences consulting company called ExoConsulting, but for the past 18 years, he has also run the weather reporting site called RaceWeather, providing free weather forecasts for NASCAR races. He decided to try monetizing the project — as he puts it, “if people like what we are doing on our other social media channels (Twitter and Facebook), it was a way for them to simply put a ‘little money in the hat’.”
All of his patrons get the early NASCAR weekend forecast on Sunday night, whereas his public forecast doesn’t go live until Tuesday or Wednesday. Upper tiers get information about his Ph.D. progress and the rollout of his other business, and the top level can receive personalized seven-day forecasts up to four times a year.
With the pandemic, there was no NASCAR for a while so he opened up the updates to all patrons so they would continue to receive content.
To get more patrons, he promotes his Patreon primarily on social media, and “during busy weather weekends for NASCAR I will remind people that if they appreciate the race week forecasts and in-race updates, they can subscribe.” He also gave away a gift card once he reached a new level of subscribers.
As he notes, the goal of his Patreon is “to produce something where my current subscribers see the value in it and want to support me. I need to distinguish a generic forecast by providing an explanation and tailoring it around a specific set of events.”
If You’re Just Getting Started
Whenever you create a new platform, be it a new website, a blog, a social media channel, or a Patreon campaign, it takes a while for it to catch on.
Whitman encourages people new to the platform to be patient. “It can take some time to build up a community.” She also suggests that you “try out different things to encourage people’s participation. Join other communities and see what others are doing for their supporters.”
This is a point Studwell on which empathically agrees. “New people on the platform need to be realistic and not let slow (or no) growth dishearten them.”
What’s important to realize is that Patreon isn’t just a way to make money, but is just as much a means to build and connect with your community and find appreciation for the work you do.
Even if you only have five or ten supporters, that means those five or ten people like what you’re doing enough to pay you money to keep going, and they want to hear from you. Having those supporters can be motivating and inspiring enough to get through the difficult times. (Plus there’s nothing like the accountability you get from having to send your supporters a progress update each month!)
Are You Ready for Patronage on Patreon?
If you’ve read this far you’re probably intrigued by the idea of Patreon, but there’s probably a bit of lingering fear. Are you good enough? Are you ready? Will people really pay to support your projects?
These are questions no one else can answer, and you won’t find out unless you give it a try. So what are you waiting for? There’s seriously no time like the present. And the sooner you get started, the faster you can start building your community and army of loyal supporters.
And if you’re thinking about Patreon, you should definitely have a website where your fans can find you and your Patreon campaign. If you don’t, check out EasyWP, a quick and affordable way to get started with your own WordPress website.