Keys to build an effective Patreon.
(Part one of a three-part article series.)
Speaking as an artist, I know for myself that I want to be able to make a living from my art. Storefronts like Cubebrush.co are great because they allow artists to make a living on information products, but some creators are interested in a subscription model to make a living, and that’s okay too. The age of Patreon is a real blessing because it’s a reasonably well-constructed tool that enables artists and creative people of all kinds to be able to make a living from their craft. The only problem is the question:
“How do I build my Patreon?”
A few days ago I replied to someone asking about Patreon with the following Tweet:
Hey there. There’s a few things to keep in mind I’ve seen around.— John T. Valles II (@toonstop) July 25, 2019
1. Viable audience volume
2. Premium content worth peoples’ money
3. Strong update schedule
4. Strong free content to bring people in.
That’s what fits in a tweet, anyway.
I don’t use Patreon myself, but I know enough about business that maybe I can help you when it comes to being able to use Patreon for yourself.
In some fashion, the question of Patreon has a handful of chicken-and-egg problems that come with it. When I made that tweet I failed to think about the order of the importance of the points I made about the use of Patreon.
First and foremost, you need to be creating content that is, in some way, improving peoples lives for the better. You need to give people something that is worth more to them than their money is, and differs depending on your craft.
For the artist, you need to be edifying people through your art, or teaching other artists who can benefit from your understanding. On top of that, you need to have a strong library of whatever your content happens to be.
When you enter the world of Patreon, you’re not just an artist. Now you’re participating in the world of Marketing, and you have to be able to play by those rules.
For your sake, let’s start talking about the points from the tweets in just a little bit more depth.
Strong Free Content
This is at the bottom of the list in the tweet, but it’s actually probably the most important to start out with, and is probably what you’ll be able to generate and post up first to get people’s attention.
You can draw. That’s great! But how does your drawing stack up as content?
Drawing by itself is a form of content, but what kind of drawing you are doing affects how marketable your art is. Now, you don’t have to be creating for the sake of marketability. As a general rule, I would advise you to only be creating art that you believe in, whether that’s because of the merit of the art itself, or the way the art serves your personal mission or vision.
Even so, if you are adding money to the equation, you can’t avoid the discussion of market value around your art.
Does your art resonate with the people you intend it to resonate with? Does it add something to the world of the people who follow and engage with your art? These are important questions to ask, but this also goes a bit deeper than I can really go within the scope of this particular article.
The next question to ask is: are you documenting your artistic pursuits? Are you recording what you’re doing as you produce your art, whether that’s in the form of pictures, video, or relevant written information? When you document this information, you not only have the picture itself, but the story of the picture which possesses a value separate from the picture itself.
Now you have the picture as well as the “making of” the picture. If you’re a younger artist still developing your skills and craft, this is useful because it connects your story with other people, as well as provides documentation that you yourself can learn from.
Strong art as well as documentation that tells a viewer something special about the strong art are powerful tools. They can be repackaged in various ways to promote your brand as an artist, and make new ways for people to interact with your art and learn from your journey.
Once you’ve developed a good library of content, it’s time to select what you want to give away. Make sure that you’re giving something worthwhile to people in this free content, as these pieces of free content are ambassadors for your brand. You want to attract people to you and make them feel like they’ve received something valuable from you, at which point they will naturally be inclined to give you money.
It is proven that people naturally want to give money to people who have improved their lives. This is called the rule of reciprocity. It’s why you buy your friend lunch after they’ve bought you coffee. Giving things away creates a sense of debt within a person who has received something meaningful, and people are naturally inclined to make up or pay back their debts in some way shape or form.
Your strong library of free content is essentially buying you credits with the people who follow your art and care about it.
Strong Update Schedule
This is the question that you answer right after or at the same time as the question of a strong library of free content.
People need to know when they can expect to see something from you, and you create this expectation based completely on your actions.
You can say anything you want to when it comes to frequency and regularity of updates, but people will only ever believe your actions. This is true completely apart from the agreement of money, and only becomes more binding upon you when you start asking people for money.
Might as well figure it out while you’re doing free content, right?
I’ll cop freely to the fact that I’m getting all of my principal principle information on this subject from Sean McCabe over at seanwes.com.
Basically, you want to create a buffer of whatever content you decide you want to market.
Whether that’s illustrations, videos, comic pages, cartoons, animations, whatever the case may be.
You need to be prepared with a few weeks’ or months’ worth of content, or otherwise have an extremely tight live system to be able to meet the schedule that you have set and published for your content.
If you are not already posting regularly in some fashion, it is critical that you learn how to update your work regularly before you even begin thinking about involving money. People are understanding and forgiving of a lot of things because we all have to liv e in the real world, but you ned to be equipped to meet the deadlines you set, otherwise you run the risk of bringing bad habits into a customer relationship and setting yourself up for failure as well as angry letters asking where your customer’s water buffalo is. Are you prepared to deal with that?
I recognize that I’m getting a little harsh with this particular topic, but I lost money on an art book that I sponsored. That money means next to nothing to me now, but it set me back kind of hard at the time that I put that money up, and I’m still angry just on principle that I didn’t get what I put up hard-earned money for.
Think of your patron’s experience. Don’t do things that you wouldn’t want done to you.
Viable Audience Volume
Alright. This is the question you must answer once you have a strong direction as an artist, a strong library of content, and an update schedule on lock. Now you build your audience.
This particular element of your Patreon equation is just going to take time. You can’t really get around that. It’s just the rules.
You have to think about the platforms that you are using to convert followers into paying customers. Twitter is really popular right now, so I’ll just use that as a reference point.
Twitter, on average, has a conversion rate of about .9% (from this article). That means if you have 100,000 followers, you will, on average, convert 900 of those followers into paying customers.
The average donation on Patreon is about 6.70 USD (from this article). That means if you have 100,000 twitter followers, 900 of whom are now paying customers, you will make 6,030 USD per pay cycle on average.
(Neither of these examples accounts for the human element or normal variances. You can make more or less money or patrons depending on your craft and what value that craft brings to the people who are buying from you.)
Now, bear in mind. You can start a Patreon whenever you want, for whatever reason or creative pursuit. But it’s in your best interest to have an extremely strong content library, and a rock-solid update schedule that attracts people to you who will pay you money.
The longer you’re making free content, the more your long-time fans will feel indebted to you for changing their lives for the better at no cost but their attention.
Having built a body of work that has attracted enough genuine followers, you may now begin seriously considering whether you can launch a patreon. But first…
Premium Content that is Worth Peoples’ Money
This is probably the final critical ingredient in the Patreon equation. There’s likely a lot of other things to think about, but you will at some point need to have something that’s worth more than someone else’s money.
This is a hard one because the right premium things to offer differ from business to business. You can’t go throwing yourself into a Patreon without something worthwhile for your audience.
Granted, there are some people who simply use Patreon as a tip jar for fans to pay content creators. This is viable only so long as you are producing free content that’s really really good.
Unless your free content is just that powerful, it’s in your best interest to cook things up that makes it worthwhile for a fan to spend hard-earned money on.
Popular options for many artists are:
- Teaching Material
- Exclusive Content
- Exclusive Merchandise
- Access to the Artist
The topic of premium content that you can offer to patrons is a subject that requires an article all on its own to really properly address, so I’ll hold off on that one for the time being.
However, I hope what I’ve imparted already is helpful for you to be able to start thinking about how to approach building your Patreon and set yourself up for success.
This is part one of a three part article series on Patreon. You can read the next post here.
Or if you’ve got any questions, I’d love to hear them. Feel free to get in touch!