Update – May 8, 2019
I have to report that the site was/is and maybe will be in the future a bit unstable. Shortly after writing this blog post, a few people reported they couldn’t get their membership to my site to happen. Another wanted to upgrade and got so confused they ended up canceling and then just gave up.
From MY side of the equation, I found the site was “down” at times that were very inconvenient. (Well, there is never a convenient time to not have access to a website is there?)
By the end of 2018, I was really having a hard time promoting the site because of all the “little things” that started adding up. And now, well…they have changed their terms for becoming a creator on the site. They have actually set up a “paid” membership for you to join to get the very kinds of perks they had been promising for a while. You can still run a free site, but, the future needs for me were likely to be an additional cost.
And lastly, I got spam emails from “fake” creators that were pornography. Clearly, someone had hacked their system. And so, I determined that for now, for me, it’s a site that still has too many growing pains for me to get deeply involved.
And then it hit me: it’s a third-party site. It’s an Etsy environment. I don’t control the venue. I don’t control my destiny. They have changed the rules a few times in just a few months. If I became at all dependant on any of the income I generated there, I would also be “stuck” with compromising my goals potentially.
For me… it was no longer a rational place to hang out or to invest time or marketing efforts on. If I want to have “membership” or “patrons” I will do that in my own way, with my own needs upfront, and with my destiny firmly in my own hands.
End of my addendum. But the original article is still below and unchanged. I still think there are certain situations and certain business models that can really find a good home. Just be prepared to work the site intensely and put up with glitches.
The Original Post:
I wrote a blog about Patreon for Artsy Shark that was published last week. I don’t usually follow my guest blogs with one here on the same subject unless I think it’s a super good subject. This definitely qualifies.
Patreon is still a very new world for me, but my heart and soul resonate with the concept and the potential to build a serious community on that platform. There is living proof on that site that artists can be supported and even thrive by gathering Patrons who want to encourage creativity and support artists through monthly donations.
In fact, there are many creators on Patreon who receive many thousands of dollars in support each month. That income is above and beyond any direct sales of their art or other sources of income like musicians doing concerts or artists having open studio events.
It’s totally awesome to imagine a world where we can have such a straightforward relationship with those who believe in us.
Patreon is a world unto itself.
Patreon is a cross between a crowdfunding site and a membership site all mixed together into a very private and intimate social engagement experience. It’s got all the tools that creatives need to connect deeply and uniquely with their fans, followers, and supporters. What is important to me and to many others these days is that Patreon is a place without the gimmicks, advertising, bullying, and pitfalls – even outright lies – found in the social media world. (Yes, I am pointing at you Mr. Zuckerberg)
That said, if you have a strong following on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, or (hopefully) your email list, it’s not hard to imagine a large percentage of your fans or collectors becoming Patrons.
Contrast that to Facebook where according to the online statistics portal Statista, Facebook actually failed to add daily active users in North America and Europe in the second quarter. Furthermore and even more amazing is that Facebook actually lost three million users in Europe.
That does not surprise me. I believe people are looking for a more sustainable and trustworthy community. Patreon is that place. I currently support a terrific musician from South Africa, a totally brilliant tech guru from Canada, and a wise watercolor artist, each of whom has this concept nailed down. Between them, they are bringing in around ten thousand dollars each month.
Successful Artists on Patreon
The truly ingenious part about Patreon is that it is a “collective of supporters”. If you want to grow a small extra bit of monthly income, say under $300, that seems very possible. But with some planning, it’s possible to do much more than that. There are quite a few creators who are in the above $1000 level of donations. There are even some in the $10,000 plus category, but that is an anomaly. Often, they are marketing gurus who have large followings on YouTube that they brought with them into Patreon.
However, in each case that I have studied, a big key to success is in how you set up your tiers – the reward levels – to entice those patrons and keep them engaged. The rewards run the gamut from exclusive behind-the-scenes videos or works-in-progress to special freebies like monthly wallpaper for desktops and mobile devices. A very clever artist might create little sketches or other small quick to create items and offer those for free each month at a certain level of patronage.
The number one thing to keep in mind: Each tier will build in more rewards on top of what was already offered. So the number of goodies you promise can be overwhelming if you are not careful. And if you offer things that take a lot of time, or that require packing and mailing, you can find yourself doing more patron fulfillments than your own art.
In other words, be careful what you wish for! Even if you have only 50 patrons, that can be 50 mailings each month. Most people create downloadables.
Since creating the tiers is the deal breaker, that makes it the most complex part of the whole process of setting up your account. I highly recommend you run your tiers offers and ideas past someone who you trust will give you a proper assessment. And yes, that could be me and yes, I would be happy to do that for free for anyone who is a patron of mine at any level.
Video can really rock it and rocket your success
Artists who are doing videos and who have built up a YouTube channel (c’mon… you can do it!) can create amazing followings and significant income on Patreon. With or without YouTube, if you have been thinking about tutoring and want to do it online, I cannot think of a better place to start that venture. A lot of the more successful artists are focused on video demonstrations and some include teaching and tutorials.
Even if you don’t want to “teach”, you can easily share some moments from your studio. You don’t even have to be on camera. People love to watch you create, no matter what medium you use. All you Plein Air Painters have proof of that! Imagine building a hand coiled clay vessel and creating a collection of short video clips during the process that you add together with a little music in the background and post exclusively for your Patrons.
You all are in your studios working with your materials, right? Point a lens at your workspace and do some minor editing. People – your Patrons – will pay to see this. Just about anything you do, including cleaning your brushes, will be interesting. and therefore valuable, to your patrons. Voyeurism is alive and well on Patreon!
What I have done so far
I would encourage you to look at my early baby steps on Patreon. I have just over a month into this so not a lot of patrons, yet. (And, of course, I would love your patronage while you visit!)
There are three areas on my page you will want to study:
- Front and Center: the About Me section which has a video introduction (pretty important) and below that is the written section where many keep it very short and many make it very long. I am somewhere in between. I did include a “chart” to help people see what they get at a glance which was something many of the high-income earners had utilized.
- On the left side (on non-mobile screens) is the current patrons, current monthly income (although it can be kept private) and then the goals you have set for yourself. I am hoping to break through my first goal soon! (hint hint!)
- On the right side is the tiers. As already stated, this is the hardest part. I re-did mine at least three times. I may still tweak them. (Would love your feedback actually. Are there rewards you would like to see?)
While you are there, cruise around and see all the other creators, too. It’s an amazing community! Of course, I hope you will become my patron for a couple of reasons that I know will matter to you.
- First of all, you will have access to the weekly podcast. At fifty cents per episode, I know you will get your money’s worth!
- Secondly, I am going to be concentrating more and more on building marketing assets like PDF’s, video how-to tours of various online products, and generally creating valuable content to help you. Oh! And, I will be issuing special flash sales on products and services that you won’t want to miss! Some will be free. Some will only be available to patrons.
This site, my blogs and other resources that live here, will continue to be a vital part of my overall focus. I will continue to blog, but I will only blog once a month rather than every two weeks.
I think of Patreon as my “holiday getaway” place. It just feels more personal. It’s 100% devoted to helping you find loving homes for your art in ways I can’t quite put my finger on. I believe it will be a place for you to find take refuge from the Facebook/Instagram/Twitter noisy bot-filled and increasingly untrustworthy spaces we go to in search of community.
Along with your considerations of supporting me, I hope you will consider starting your own community on Patreon. They are supporting the arts in an intuitive manner. And certainly in the most authentic way possible. It’s all a big win/win! For some, even a few hundred dollars a month can be a great help to the bottom line.
To remain fair and balanced in this review, I must say that like everything else we do to try to get noticed on the internet, it takes marketing efforts. The site is not unlike any other third party site like an Etsy or Shopify. You still need to drive traffic. And in this case, you also need to educate your visitors so they can understand the concept.
That said, I believe in the years ahead as Patreon continues to grow and more people learn about it and all the treasures that await art lovers and supporters of the arts, this will be a nice footprint for any artist to create in the ever-shifting sands on the “internets”.
Upfront, it costs you your time to create the site, but once it’s launched, it’s yours for free. The only other “cost” is the fees they charge upfront from your pledges. After you have launched, you should be “profitable” as your patron count grows. Think of it as a pseudo-Facebook page that gives you money when you are engaging with your followers.
I had an additional cost. I created some super cool waterproof stickers to give away!
The vast majority of creators are making less than $1000 a month. What is not calculated is what other income is generated as a result of this unique engagement. For example, I am offering big discounts on many of my services. So, if I have more consulting appointments because of that discount, I have increased my income, right?
Along those same lines, if you offer free sketches and that leads to people wanting to buy your finished painting of the original sketch, that’s not showing up in Patreon’s income report. That’s your sale that was in part facilitated by your free sketch to your patron. By sending the sketch, you can include in the package an “opportunity” at first dibs on the original when it’s complete. See how this can work?
It’s really an exciting time for creators who can finally have a direct relationship with people who want to support them even if they could never afford to buy your art.
I could keep going, but for now, I look forward to your questions and comments. And click below to join my list and stay in touch so you will know when my next article is released.