"Ask Me Anything" with Jack Lowe, Who Went From Financial Distress to Monthly Income

Hi, Everyone! I’m part of Grow and Convert, the team that’s helping Patreon with some of their blog content.

We recently published this story on Jack Lowe and we hope you’ll find his story as inspirational as we did.

Jack was months into thinking he’d reached his breaking point supporting his photography passion. His subjects: Lifeboat stations using Victorian-era photography methods (so unique and interesting, right?!).

But Jack found a way to produce consistent monthly revenue from his fan base. And the blog article goes into all the details on how he did it.

Here’s that link to the story again and also where you can see some of Jack’s photos: https://blog.patreon.com/photographer-jack-lowe/.

@Jack is here to answer any questions you may have about his journey, so please ask away! Just add a comment below and Jack will respond when he can over the next few days. Thanks!

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Thank you, @andrewnicoletta. It’s been excellent working with the team at Grown and Convert…

…and, yes, I’m here to answer any questions that you may have about the piece on the Patreon Blog.

I’ve had the honour of interacting with some of you in the Patreon Community since I joined in January but looking forward to hearing from more of you too.

I hope I can help in some way from specific questions about my work to how we can all generally figure out ways to thrive in this ever-shifting online landscape (or seascape in my case :smile:).

— Jack

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Thank you both @andrewnicoletta and @Jack for this. I had a bit of an epiphany moment reading the article where you deliniate exclusion and invitation. I’d previously always seen “a paywall” as exclusive, but I think you are 100% correct that it’s a way to educate and invite fans to join. Thanks for the great article.

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Thanks for being here, @Jack!

You’ve spoken about how artists have a duty to let their crowd support them. Of course, easier said than done.

Do you have any additional insights on how to smooth over the transition to new (or higher value) reward tiers? Or in general, how to approach your existing audience about new funding methods?

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Excited to check this out, love what y’all are doing with these blog posts and this community in general!

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Hi Jenny,

Really glad you found it useful. I’ve gone one step further lately too:

I’ve been aware of the difficulties of trying to control fraudulent pledges and the discussions around introducing the ‘Pay Up Front’ option. The latter isn’t something I’m in favour of for many of the reasons mentioned by @temrin but I am in favour of the $1 up front payment to get rid of bots.

Incidentally, I haven’t had any problems with fraudulent pledges or bots myself. I hope it stays that way.

I have a point here…

Among those discussions, I’ve been aware of people mentioning that they think it’s unfair that new Patrons can potentially enjoy a whole month free.

While the options all get sorted out, I’ve turned that on its head for the moment and made it into a ‘pledging tip’.

On my About page, that tip reads:

Pledges are processed on the first of every month, so if you pledge towards the beginning of the month (but after the first), you can effectively enjoy a free trial period to see whether or not you’d like to continue.

If you decide that you wouldn’t like to support my work after all, simply remember to delete your pledge in time. Of course, I’d rather you hung around (!) but I thought you’d appreciate me sharing this tip with you.

In this shifting arena where we’re educating our audiences, I think this gives new Patrons added confidence to try it and see how they get on. A bit like Casper offering 100 nights trial on their foam mattresses.

Again, an invitation to join in rather be nervous and hang around outside the party!

Any thoughts on that…?

— Jack

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Thank you, Nate!

My pleasure, @Olivia, and thank you.

When I say “artists have a duty to let their crowd support them”, I mean that I believe we need to create ways to make it easy for our crowd to give us money.

That can be as ‘simple’ as creating a Patreon page.

Another example of how I’ve been raising funds before I discovered Patreon was via my Become a Supporter page on the project’s website.

That page has been around in various forms for three years but, I have to say, it’s been pretty quiet during most of that time with only the odd flurry of action here and there.

You’ll see it’s got over 7K Facebook shares yet only a handful of donations. That’s part of the engagement numbness I mention in my recent Turning The Tide blog post.

Then I had a light bulb moment last summer before I took the project to Ireland:

All the donation buttons were amounts of money — £2, £5, £20 and so on. It all looked quite clinical and cold.

My light bulb moment was to change the buttons to things the money would pay for and I added graphic symbols to them too.

Now people regularly use this page because they enjoy buying me pints of beer, 100g of silver nitrate and even tanks of fuel for my vehicle (called Neena).

Do you see? I made it easier for my audience. I thought about how they were thinking…I put myself in their shoes to try and come at it from a fresher, more approachable angle. And it worked.

Then, of course, I discovered Patreon which somehow seems to have made monthly crowdfunding acceptable to my crowd because they can see that “loads of people are doing it, so it must be OK”.

Therefore, I have now let my audience (my crowd) support me in several decent ways.

And I regularly tell them how they can support me too!

There are ‘Become a Patron’ buttons all over my website. My Twitter and Instagram profile links usually take people straight to Patreon now as well.

With every single purchase from my online shop I even tuck a postcard in with every order that tells people more about my project and invites them to become a Patron. Click here for an example on Instagram.

The best thing? There are no rules…we are only limited by our imagination!

If us creators all do this, I believe it will make a difference and help the community/industry as a whole.

Also, as I mentioned to @ScienceMom the other day, take a look at this comment left by a Patron on my site:

I think the issue for followers becoming sponsors is engagement. At what point does an individual engage with a project enough to want to offer financial support. I’d followed your project for a while before deciding to become a Patreon, I think the tipping point for me was recognising your commitment (not that it wasn’t there from the start) to finishing it. With that box ticked in my mind I decided to back up my following.

Gold dust! You know what that tells me and should tell every artist/creator out there?

Show your audience how commited you are and then they will want to commit to you!

Goodness, I’ve rambled on as always. I hope it’s useful, though?

— Jack

PS/EDIT: Oh, and I haven’t mentioned Rewards/Tiers yet. I’ll do that in a mo…

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I think I know what you mean, Olivia, but I’m not entirely sure if I’ve got this right. I’ll share these thoughts anyway…

Personally, I like to plug my lowest Tier — the $3 ‘Welcome Aboard’ entry point.

I love the idea of having hundreds (well, thousands) of Patrons supporting me at this level.

Firstly, it definitely means that any risk is well and truly spread.

I mean, what would you truly want to have for your total income as a creator…a thousand Patrons paying $1 per month or one Patron paying $1000 per month?

I would definitely want the former! There’s no way I’d want to depend on one Patron for all my income and if a $1 Patron (or even a few) change their mind then hopefully the impact is minimal and swiftly replaceable.

Secondly, it means I don’t have to do any extra work for the money. Let’s face it, most creators have got enough to do already without having to do extra stuff!

Which brings me onto something else:

I think many creators feel that they have to provide special material for their Patrons.

I just don’t know if that’s true.

I think many Patrons pay simply because they like the work you’re making and don’t actually want anything else in return — they want you to use the money to more easily make the work you’re already making.

Now, I know every creator’s different and I’m generalising but I reckon my last point is worth dwelling on.

If you take a look at my Reward Tiers, you’ll see that it’s mostly geared around doing stuff that I’m doing anyway:

TIER 1 ($3+): Nothing extra required

TIER 2 ($10+): The discount code means extra sales in the shop for which I’ll be making extra money on top of the pledge, so I don’t mind that!

TIER 3 ($15+): I’ll be making the book anyway and this is a great way to show the publisher that there’s already a growing demand for it.

TIER 4 ($25+): OK, so this is technically extra work but making prints from the project is a big side to how I earn my living already. In effect, I see this Tier as a saving/instalment scheme for my Patrons and it’s also a way of me forecasting when I’ll need to make prints (a luxury I didn’t have before Patreon).

TIER 5 ($45+): Ditto to all the above but the only new reward on offer here is a personal postcard from each mission, so about three postcards per year. That’s why I’ve limited this Tier to 10, so I’m not having to write millions of postcards and to give it a really special feel for the Patron.

Also, I’m thinking of this one from a social media angle. I mean, won’t it be great to photograph/video/Lens those moments when I’m writing the postcards in a lovely coastal café somewhere? Surely that’s going to attract new Patrons at some level?

TIER 6 ($100+): Again, the only new reward on offer here is that Patrons get to spend a day with me on the road. Again, straight forward and nice, right? But, as you can see, I’ve already got two Patrons who are willing to pay for that…simply because they want to see it all happen in the flesh and ask me questions throughout the day — fine by me!

TIER 7 ($250+): No Patrons here yet but I’ve deliberately priced this one high because I only want to make somebody’s portrait on glass if it’s for the right money. I’m sure those Patrons will come and I’ve only got three on offer because that’s all I would want to make in a year in addition to the hundreds of glass plate photographs I’m already making.

TIER 11 ($1000+): I took a tip from @8bit and added this one very recently. As John said, it’s there just in case and you never know! But, even if people pledge at this level, I certainly wouldn’t want to rely on it because of the risk factor. Know what I mean?

In summary…

I plug TIER 1 the most, hoping that will be the most attractive option. If visitors then see higher Tiers they’d prefer then that’s all well and good.

In short, I want to do the least amount of additional work because I’m already doing so much to create the project. I believe that point is vital for all creators to consider!

Don’t feel duty-bound to your Patrons beyond the work you’re already making — that’s what they should really be paying for.

Additional case study from today:

This ties lots of things together that I’ve mentioned so far in this AMA

Today, I had my first Patron pledge at Tier 5 ($45).

Brilliant. I think it’s a great Tier for me and for the Patron.

The process that lead to him pledging illustrates that us Creators are only limited by our imaginations. Here’s what happened step-by-step (remember, this all happened today):

  1. I had 37 keyrings to sell that were ‘slight seconds’;
  2. I added the item for sale on my site;
  3. I wrote this tweet to my crowd (later to Insta and FB too);
  4. One particular customer bought three keyrings;
  5. In the automated thank you email from the sale I have a ‘Become a Patron’ link at the end;
  6. He clicked on that link;
  7. He became a Tier 5 Patron!

So, I made a £21 sale that ended up earning me an extra £390 ($540) every year…

…and all because I put a ‘Become a Patron’ link at the end of an automated checkout email!

As I type this, he’s catching up with loads of my posts on Instagram, realising how much he loves the story.

Do you see?

There are no rules. We just have to think. And that, dear Creators, is a gift.

Incidentally, I sold out of those keyrings by 2025hrs this evening.

It’s been a good day — the product of nurturing my crowd, working out how to speak to them and being imaginative about the mechanics of it all.

Again, I hope this is helpful?

Keep this those questions coming. I can’t promise that the answers will be brief!

— Jack

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You seem to start at three dollar donation. Was there a reason for that instead of a one dollar? Do you find it worth it? Do people get turned off at all or does it work okay?

This is a tricky one, Kate, as I constantly wondered whether I should add a $1 Tier but my heart says no.

I listen to my heart — or ‘the quiet voice’ — a lot and what the quiet voice says usually goes.

When I set up the page and the associated Tiers, I experimented with how a $1 Tier looked but I just didn’t feel comfortable seeing it there. I felt I wanted to set the bar — and the level of expectation — a little higher.

My internal reaction was, “This is not a throw-away-one-dollar-thing, this is an environment where I’m trying to educate my followers that my work is something worth paying for.”

$1 didn’t set the tone from the outset and, remember, if people want to give $1 they still can. When you’re sent to the ‘Become a Patron’ Reward Tier page there’s a $1 option on every Creator page:

Once I knew that option was there anyway, that was the clincher for me — so definitely no to a $1 Tier on my page!

In all honesty, I have no idea if it puts people off but then that makes me think this:

“If they don’t want to pay the equivalent of a monthly cup of coffee to help me make the work of my life, do I mind if they’re put off? No!”

Also, I think a $1 Tier might collude with the culture of engagement numbness I talk about.

In a discussion where we’re also talking about trying to move Patrons ‘up the Tiers’, Patrons who pledged $1 may have actually spent more when faced with an entry point of $3. I reckon it focuses the mind a little more, you know?

At the other end of the scale, I say this in my latest blog post:

“Three years down the line, people have told me the prints are too expensive, others have told me they’re too cheap and plenty of people have bought them, so I think I’ve got it about right.”

Those prints cost £195.

When I’ve asked the people who complain that they’re too expensive how much they would be willing to pay if they’re not willing to pay £195, we start going down the scale:

JL: “£100?”

Complaining Person: “No.”

JL: “£50?”

Complaining Person: “No.”

JL: “£20?”

Complaining Person: “No.”

By this time, I’m usually raising my eyebrows because the real answer is about to be revealed. And it’s brutal.

It’s not only brutal to the work (that’s OK, I can handle that) but it’s usually more brutal to the Complaining Person when it dawns on them what their own answer really is:

Complaining Person: “I am actually willing to pay nothing.”

Then it’s patently clear that the conversation is ridiculous and we have to move on.

But if I’d listened to the Complaining People too much, I might have reduced my print prices and got absolutely nowhere other than a scenario where I wasn’t making enough money!

I know the prints are worth £195, so that’s that. The quiet voice prevails again.

Therefore, I think we should all at least consider setting the bar a little higher.

And, by the way, note my wording on all Tiers: “Pledge $XX or more

Many people don’t actually pledge $3 — they pledge $5 because they think $3 is too little.

Food for thought?

— Jack

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@jack - I am curious if you’ve had more recent mentors for your photography work. I recall from the article your grandmother being instrumental early on by putting a camera in your hands and Amanda Palmer helping shift your business mindset but has there been any direct mentorship or inspiration from other photographers that played a role in your photos? Or has it been mainly self-taught?

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You’re so inspiring Jack and I love what you’re doing. I just hope I can reach a monthly amount that will support my bills etc. It’s about half way there at the moment which is so amazing and takes away the stress of having to take on jobs I don’t really want to and continue to work on my own projects!

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Thank you very much, Emily. Glad I’m able to help in some small way. It sounds like we both share the same goal!

Keep on keepin’ on…

— Jack

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Hi Andrew,

Excellent question. I’m mainly self-taught — but that’s usually just the way I go about things!

I think the best way artists can learn and improve is to look at the work of other artists they admire. I have a really nice collection of photo books, for example. It’s not a huge collection but it’s really focussed (forgive the pun). I’ve bought them since my teens — before the days of social media, when we had to buy books :smile::wink: — and they’ve always been my main inspiration.

But, in my final year at uni, I knew that I hadn’t learned anything about professional business practices. Unfortunately, that’s really common in the UK on photography courses. Or at least it was back in the 90s.

So, before I graduated, I used to jump on a train to London and look at the Assistants Job Board at the Association of Photographers in Domingo Street (as it was then). Having the foresight to do that before graduating put me ahead of the game and gave me the pick of the jobs.

To cut a long story short, I ended up working as a freelance assistant for several photographers before landing a full time job with Jonathan Knowles where I stayed for three years. Between those photographers and Jonathan, that’s where I really learned about professional business practices and the kind of standards it would take to earn a living from photography.

I can honestly say that I learned more in the first week with Jonathan than I did in my whole three years at uni.

The best thing about that chapter in my life (besides what I learned) is that I’ve stayed in touch with many of those photographers. Sometimes they even come and assist me on the road! How wonderful is that? #thecircleoflife :blush:

They were — and still are — true mentors.

The photographer who inspires me the most these days, though, is Roger Fenton. He was a photographic pioneer back in the 1800s and founded the Royal Photographic Society.

I work using exactly the same methods as Fenton. The only difference is that my mobile darkroom is a decommissioned emergency ambulance whereas he had a horse-drawn cart!

He famously documented the Crimean War using wet collodion (the process that I use). If ever I’m having a bad day, I just thank my lucky stars that I’m not working in a war zone like Fenton!

I would love the chance to sit down with him and have a chat over a pint. But clearly, that’s not going to happen.

Other Inspiration…

I think it’s important to look beyond your own field to draw inspiration too. Somebody I gain a lot of inspiration from — and would love to meet one day — is Ken Robinson.

In my opinion, his TED lectures are vital viewing. His most famous one is called Do Schools Kill Creativity, which is up to 50 million views now:

And I also regularly watch this commencement speech by Neil Gaiman (now Amanda Palmer’s husband, incidentally). My eyes well up every time:

One of my friends has seen this video too. Whenever he knows I’m going through a difficult time with my work, he will always send me a text that says:

“Make good art.”

Watch that speech by Neil Gaiman and you’ll see why.

How’s that for starters…?

— Jack

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Thanks for the incredible answer and thank you for sharing some of your inspirations.

Also, I think there shhould be a coffeetable book on mobile darkrooms!

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Thanks, Jack! This month is a big ol Patreon experiment, so I’ve kicked out the $1 and am playing with a $3 and $5 tier now. WE’LL SEE!

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My pleasure, Andrew. :slightly_smiling_face:

Ha! Yes, I think so too!

— Jack

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Go you! Let me/us know how you get on, Kate…

— Jack

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Fascinating thought here @Jack I particularly like the “complaining person” conversation. I had started out with a $2 pledge being my entry level, then changed it to $1 because I thought the “as little as one dollar a month” membership model would be a good way to draw people in. But with how much of the $1 pledge goes to processing fees… I’m a bit torn about it. On the one hand, I have a (currently very small) budget for supporting other patrons, and I appreciate those who have a $1 tier because then I can spread my budgeted money further and get an inside look at how more creators are interacting with their patrons. On the other hand, if I’m really dedicated to supporting someone then I definitely want to pay more than $1. I’ll be thinking about this as I go forward.

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