Unsure of whether this is the right
category but hopefully it’ll work (and a mod can move it, naturally).
I wanted to take a moment to put together a bit of a retrospective if you will about my experience with Patreon so far. My hope is to both encourage other creators as well as give a few (hopefully) helpful ideas that worked for us and that may work for you. Naturally, mileage will vary.
Finally, I’m going to go out on a limb here and share some of our own dashboards and financial figures … I hope that is acceptable to the Patreon Staff (hopefully I’m not breaking any TOS) and that the rest of the creator community here respect what I share and keep it among ourselves. This isn’t an attempt to brag or boast but rather provide “real meat to the bone” when it comes to showing you what we did and the direct impact that it had on our bottom-line.
Again, if this is outside the boundaries of what is acceptable, mods please unlist the post and I can go back and take those screenshots out…
… okay, we cool? We cool…
Getting Our Mind Right
To start… we actually thought Patreon was kind of stupid at first and we, like most folks, felt like we wouldn’t be able to come out from under the feeling that we would be begging for financial aid. A few conversations later, we decided to just go for it and put together something quickly. But otherwise, it was really an accident that we even began talking about it in the first place.
And once we committed to the process of asking for support we decided to go all-in on it. In other words, if we were going to ask for money then … we’re going to ask for money!
Practically-speaking this meant that we decided to not be ashamed about “the ask” but just go hard on it. We used language that made it very clear to our audience:
If you like and enjoy what we’re doing and want to see and get more of it… then it behooves you to help support the growing project and community!
What we wanted to do was turn our consumers into customers and start treating them as such. This was an important psychological switch for both us (my brother and I) and our community. We all had to start thinking differently about the project as a whole and as leaders we had to go first.
Patreon is an ADDITIONAL Product / Service
If you read nothing else from this retrospective except this next section then I think you’ll do great and you’ll take away the most important “nugget” that I have to offer.
For context, I’ve been building community(ies) for a while and there is nothing more important than taking it seriously. I mean, really seriously.
What I mean by this is that my brother and I knew that if we were going to “make Patreon work” (and this is exactly how you have to think about it) then we’d have to allocate and invest serious time, energy, and resources to maximize its potential.
Strategically and systemically this meant that we had just signed up for “another product / service” in our ecosystem of products and services We were not just building our original project… we were now building our project (a YouTube Channel) AND a Patreon Community Product / Service.
For others, this means that if you want to maximize Patreon you have to see it not as a “If you build it they will come” type of deal but rather something you really have to commit to building IN ADDITION to your first and primary product / project.
This is a tough pill to swallow.
[Sidenote: I’m not sure there’s any way to easily communicate this to new creators but perhaps the genius Patreon Team can come up with some nice onramps to this reality…]
I imagine that if most creators knew how much work would be required to maximize Patreon then they could / may have second thoughts about it.
So now the new reality is that you not only have to continue building kickass product(s) like you were doing already but you also now have a “new” project of managing a community on a new technological platform and acting as both a content producer (which isn’t natural or easy for a lot of us) and a project creator.
TL;DR: Double the amount of work.
Naturally, this isn’t the case for every Patreon Page and I’ve seen many creators do just fine with engaging with the Patreon Platform just a few times a month! I find that both amazing (and I’m somewhat jealous about the more “hands off” approach) and also I think that they are leaving serious “money on the table” - I bet they could accelerate and grow their pledges to even further heights with a bit more engagement! But this, of course, is just a guess.
Yet given two options… the first being:
I’ll just update a few times a month and hope that Patreon just ‘works’ out"…
and the second being:
I’m going to bum-rush this platform and give it all I’ve got so that I leave nothing to chance…
my brother and I opted to choose Door #2 and see what we could make of it.
Door #2: Serious Engagement
Consequently, we hit the ground running and right out of the gate on September 8th we published our first post:
But because we decided to take this on as an additional product within our universe we executed against Patreon like it was our full-time job. My brother and I divided the responsibilities and we engaged.
You can see that we did more than 1 post a day that first month, to seed the community and show that we we’re taking this new platform seriously. Remember, if you’re converting consumers into real, paying customers, then you have to show the goods, not just talk about it! And we wanted to ensure that no one could accuse us of putting up a Patreon Widget and hoping that folks would drop money on their way by.
Now, for those that know… content creation is really, really, really hard to do, especially if you’re not particularly gifted at it nor used to doing it so consistently. I mean, even for myself who’s been a creator of content for a while… the thought of having to create content after a long, difficult, and hard day of wrestling with your primary product / service can feel akin to pulling teeth! It’s the last thing you want to do with your time!
My only advice is this: Document, don’t create.
And this makes a lot of sense because you’re already “creating” stuff! I’ve written a much larger post on this idea and most of the credit goes to Gary Vaynerchuk. If you can simplify your system to just “capture” what is happening and almost literally throwing it out there… then you’ll save yourself a ton of time, heartache, and the result will be more content for your community to engage with and consume.
[This is probably why the new Lens feature could be a serious boon for all of us!]
We made a serious attempt at building community on Patreon specifically and we were rewarded with a very nice, first month:
September we had:
- 254 new patrons
- Total revenue of $5706.00
We we’re surprised but at the same time we didn’t feel like it was “magic”… we had earned that money, fair and square and we had 32 awesome posts to prove it that month.
Experiment, All The Things
In light of “taking things seriously” my brother and I really understood Patreon as a mechanism to build a real, legitimate business. This wasn’t just a side-project or hobbyist idea for us… this was an opportunity to build something long-lasting that we loved.
And good businesses, especially early-stage startups essentially, experiment rapidly on every single facet of the business. This meant that we reviewed performance metrics every week and tried different angles and approaches to the way we communicated the value to folks. Nothing was sacred, as they say.
But, the most important point of experimentation was around pricing.
There’s a famous adage now here in Silicon Valley and it’s this:
It’s via Marc Andreessen, a very famous and successful venture capitalist who once shared these words of wisdom:
The No. 1 thing — just the theme and we see it everywhere — the No. 1 theme with our companies have when they get really struggling is they are not charging enough for their product. … And so, probably the single number one thing we try to get our companies to do is raise prices.
After having done a startup (or two) I know this from experience. Consequently, we not only experimented with a wide-range of pricing tiers… but we also went pretty high, really quickly, to see if folks would actually commit to pledges that seemed to us pretty outrageous.
We had a $1,000 tier and a $20,000 tier… just to stretch the pool as far as we could go. Want to know something insane? We had 2 commitments for the $1,000 pledge almost immediately and one of them stuck with us for 3 solid months!
What a crazy start to something we felt wouldn’t work!
The point is this (to beat a dead horse): Experimenting with pricing tiers is a huge component to your success and making sure you’re charging what’s fair is equally as important (and what you think is “fair” most likely is a lot less than what folks are willing to support you with!).
One final thing to note (and Patreon… I’m looking at you…!) that one of the biggest opportunities we saw to optimize our pricing was when we saw the news that Patreon has raised a big round of venture financing (congrats, by the way!) and we saw this fact / figure via a TechCrunch article:
With 50,000 creators and 1 million subscribers on board paying an average of $12 per month for early and exclusive looks at their content, Patreon is on track to pay out $150 million in 2017. That means Patreon will only earn about $7.5 million this year despite doubling in size.
The key figure here is ~$12/month!
If this figure was right, then, my brother and I made it our goal to ensure that our money per supporter was at least $12 per month… and by adding the “Raise Prices” mantra we decided to optimize all of our value and effort around a $15 per month tier.
[Patreon: Please provide more internal statistics and metrics like these to help us creators optimize our pricing! Every bit of data helps… and we shouldn’t have to find it on TechCrunch!]
As a result, we upp’d our prices again and these were our ratios as a result of our repeated experiments:
- October: ~149.65 per pledge
- November: ~$46.74 per pledge
- December: ~$13.37 per pledge
- January, 2018: ~$12.92 per pledge
As you can see, as our community grew we the average per pledge decreased (as it should) and we’ve normalized slightly about the much larger Patreon network average of ~$12 per pledge.
It took months of this iterative work and making sure our offering matched what the value props, but, we feel good about what we’re doing now and almost half of our entire supporter base is at the $15 tier. In a few months more than 50% will be at this tier and we’ll be good as gravy.
Also, as a consequence of our pricing refinement and iteration, we see a ton of this happening all the time:
Folks get in at a smaller pledge and then they can’t help but pledge higher as we push a ton of value to the $15+ pledge group(s).
It All Comes Together
So, after months of iterating (and it really does take time to review metrics, reports, and financial figures) we felt like we could fully execute against this new strategy last month, January.
After 4 months of solid learning we felt comfortable with what we not only offered as reward tiers but also how to “sell” them to our audience and customers and then upsell the ones that were lower than our target $15 pledge level.
So we got to work, published religiously, every single day as we had begun:
And, to make a long story short, we doubled the number of patrons and more than doubled our total pledge amount! Here’s a look at our dashboard:
- December: 337 pledges @ $3,880.00
- January: 680 pledges @ $8787.00
We grew 343 patrons and $4907 in monthly recurring revenue! We feel blessed and fortunate but we also know that we worked hard to optimize our Patreon Experience ™️ for our customers after months of learning and with this momentum we know that we’re going to be able to break through the one of the biggest milestones for us as a business which is a 5-figure MRR (monthly recurring revenue)!
In fact, every day, I look at this figure and just marvel:
And this one too:
5 months of seriously hard work iterating, optimizing, experimenting with almost $30k to show for it isn’t anything to laugh at! We’re grateful for Patreon for making it all possible.
But we have so much more work to do because we aren’t even close to paying for two full-time incomes (we both have families with 5 kids between the two of us… and I live here in SF and it’s hella-expensive…!!)… but we are on our way.
A Few Final Notes and Tips… Maybe.
Here are a few tidbits that I didn’t think fit in the other larger sections but could be useful to you…
Sending Follow-Ups for “Declines” Works
Did you know that you could “sort” your patrons by status and also send the “Declined” group messages?
Yeah, I didn’t know that you could do that until a few months in!
But, when we do this we always get people to re-up and get back onboard. For most instances, it’s not even their fault:
So, follow-up and get those conversions!
Load Up The End of the Month
We spend a lot of time engaging and reminding folks why this matters and all the fun that we’re having together near the end of the month so we can get those subs to pay for their patronage! The reminder work and we have better retention when we do.
We also spend the first few days of the new month thanking the group explicitly for their support and also opening ourselves up to feedback explicitly at this time to learn more about what they’d like to see, what’s working, and what’s not.
The engagement levels are also always high:
We’ve Never Cared for Exit Surveys
Some swear by them but we’ve found them to utterly useless for optimization purposes and cannot ever capture, at least the way that they are built, the real reason that folks leave. Personally, I ignore this but I know a lot of creators who get hung up on this.
We believe our job is to create what we were destined to create and if folks don’t want to be around for that then that’s totally cool.
Updates Is Marketing
I hate marketing (I’m a software engineer, by the way). But, did you know that Patreon’s posts (at least the public ones) are pretty darn SEO-friendly?
We get good percentages from Google Search into our Patreon Page and that’s always a good thing. So, updating your creator page doesn’t just keep folks engaged… it brings in new folks who may subscribe.
Throttle Update Types Based on Campaigns
You can tell that in the beginning when we first launched our Patreon Page that we delivered many more “public” posts than private. This is because we needed to grow our base through public viewing (as marketing and advertising) and then funnel them into juicy Patron-Only posts:
Now that we’ve got a good base, you can see that we’ve flipped this a bit and we’re spending much more of our posting for Patrons-Only, respectively:
Again, experimentation is key here, but, the rule of thumb is this: Your strategy should change as your Patreon Community changes. Evolution is good, on both sides of the equation.
Maximize the API and 3rd Party Services
We’re using a bunch of the integrations to continue to add even more value to our patrons, like a Discord Server:
Discord isn’t difficult to setup and our folks love it as an additional value-add.
We also have a Zapier built-in to deliver a fresh email to new patrons immediately upon subscribing:
I can’t overstate how powerful this email has become in our sign-up workflow as it allows us to interface immediately with a new subscriber with a personal email address. Access is everything.
One of the integrations I can’t wait for is with Crowdcast… that looks amaze:
So, go in and optimize your communication and engagement channels with some of those App Integrations!
It’s Dangerous to Go Alone
I can’t imagine building my project AND working on Patreon without a partner. I know that many of us are solo-creators and the challenge is real.
If there is a way for you to get help, even volunteer help from your Patreon Community… do it. Having them help create or even edit updates for you would be a life-saver (and then some).
There’s no honor is carrying it all by yourself. If anything, that’s just arrogance and pride. Get some help and everyone will be grateful for it.
So, that’s about all I have time for, but, of course I’m open to any feedback and questions! So, feel free to hit me up and let me know how I can help you!
I’m not an expert nor have I been around here the longest but I know (obviously) how hard it is to wake up every single morning and work on the project(s) that are in our hearts to build and then, after a super-long day, remember to engage with your Patreon Community! It’s really tough!
Thanks…! And of course, THANK YOU PATREON!