Are you a creative? Maybe you’re an artist and that’s all you want to do – create your original artwork. Maybe you’re a writer, longing to pen the next great thriller novel or popular fantasy trilogy. You could even be an online therapist or an essay writer or a musician just wanting to do your own thing all day. Whatever it is, it’s something you can’t do without financial support – and a regular job just wears you down and kills your creative drive. That’s no good for anyone!
This is where Patreon comes in.
What is Patreon?
Patreon is a website that’s taken the tradition of wealthy individuals being a patron of the arts and combined it with crowdfunding – so now people of all financial backgrounds can offer support to the people whose work they enjoy. In some ways, it’s like an ongoing Kickstarter – an independent musician or a coloring book artist can make a Patreon page, set financial and project goals, and offer rewards to their supporters.
The service was launched in 2013, and has become a driving force in the creative community. It’s very popular among webcomic artists, independent musicians, YouTube video creators, and similar content creators. If you’re focused on building a relationship with your audience to engage them and drive sales, Patreon can be the place to be! Amanda Palmer, an independent musician, makes around $83,000 from her Patreon supporters per creative work she releases. (To be fair, she had an extremely large audience before she started a Patreon page – she was a musician who did the traditional big company-produced records thing for a while and she’s nurtured her audience online for years.) The Chapo Trap House Podcast has over 20,000 patrons and makes around $88,000 per month. Seanan McGuire, New York Times bestselling fantasy author, makes around $9000 for each short story she writes (one per month). Now, all these people had an audience outside Patreon before they started, and they’ve all spent years nurturing that network of supporters – but that’s something you can do as well. You can put the time in, you can build an audience, and you can make an income stream out of Patreon – you just need something to sell.
How Does Patreon Work?
It is an absolute breeze to set up a Patreon page of your own. Once you’ve decided to use their platform, just create an account – you may even have an account already if you’re supporting other Patreon pages. If you want to become a creator, they’ll walk you through setting up your own page: you can either register with Patreon as a creator from the start or convert your profile to a creator account if you’ve previously had an account only to support others.
When you take the plunge and start setting up your Patreon creator page, there are a few main sections to the process.
First, you need to describe yourself and a few basic points about the work you’ll be offering on Patreon: this is where you describe what you’re creating (soundbite-sized), decide whether you want to earn per month or per release, link your social profiles, and even upload an introduction video to get your audience up to speed on what Patreon is and why they should subscribe to you there.
Second, you need to describe how you’re using Patreon: this is where you get to set your financial goals and create different reward levels for your supporters. Financial goals allow you to describe what happens if enough supporters pledge enough money to get you to $2500 a month or $5000 a month or more. (These numbers are just examples – you can set any goal you want.) Some creatives use this space to tell supporters that they’re now able to make their rent or afford health insurance or fulfill some other basic human need. Others to announce that now they can offer exclusive YouTube videos every month or an extra song download or an exclusive printable coloring page to all subscribers.
Then there are the reward levels! If you’re an artist, you may offer thanks and a social media shout-out at your lowest support level (say, $1 per month/creation) and an exclusive art print each month for those supporting you at higher levels (say, $25 and higher). If you’re a writer, you might have a $5 level that offers access to a monthly mailing list where you talk about the business side of writing, then give access to an exclusive story-a-month club at $15, and so on. What you offer as rewards is limited only by your imagination – but make sure you develop a reward scheme that offers your audience real value, and even helps them feel more connected to your journey and work. And don’t forget to listen to any audience feedback about what they’re willing to pay for from you – those giving you feedback are Patreon subscribers in the making!
Third, if you haven’t already, you need some engaging visual elements for your Patreon page. Not only do they make your page look nice and professional, but they’re incredibly valuable for attracting attention. If you’re a visual artist like a photographer or a cartoonist, I’m sure you have this covered. If not, spend some time looking at popular Patreon pages to see what they do and brainstorming what images might best support your brand and work. Then, if you don’t have the Photoshop skills to make visuals yourself, hop over to Fiverr to get some help.
At this stage, you’re ready to launch! You’ve described what you’re creating; you’ve made an attractive page with your shiny new goals and tempting reward levels. Now you just need to score some subscriptions!
How Do I Make Money with Patreon?
Make sure you attend to the practical steps to making money with Patreon first: set up to get paid! As a US creator on Patreon, you have two payout options: you can be paid by Stripe direct deposit or you can be paid through PayPal. Patreon will keep 5% of your take (that’s how they make their money), and then there may be fees depending on your payout method – with Stripe, there’s a $0.25 fee on every deposit and PayPal charges $0.25 or 1% of the amount transferred. (PayPal caps that charge at $20 per deposit, at least.) Also, you’ll need to fill out a tax form in case you make over $600 in a calendar year. Then you’re all set.
Okay, so now you know how you get your money. But how do you make it with Patreon?
There are two kinds of answer to this: the first is to leverage your audience, and the second is to offer something of value that appeals to a wide audience.
To leverage your audience, you need to have one. The people who read your website or listen to your music, the people who subscribe to your newsletter, the people who follow you on Twitter and Facebook and Pinterest… these people have the power to make you. So make sure they know about your Patreon! Share it far and wide on social media during the times when your followers are the most active. Don’t feel shy about sharing it multiple times – social media moves so fast these days that it’s sometimes the only way to make sure people see your posts. Make a newsletter announcement about it, then keep the information in your signature. Display the Patreon logo (with a link to your page!) prominently on your website.
Don’t have an audience yet? That’s a whole other thing, but you can build one. It will take time, trial and error, and careful nurturing, but you can do it – start with a Google search on “how to build an audience” and go from there.
To drive those subscriptions to your Patreon page and to attract an audience, you need to have that awesome thing of value that only you can create. There’s no specific Patreon type guaranteed to earn you immediate success, I’m afraid. The best I can tell you is that many of the top-performing Patreon pages involve videos – whether they’re educational videos or nerdy videos or technology news. So if there’s any way you can incorporate videos into your Patreon page – whether you just set up a webcam to show you drawing or painting or go all out and create a music video to accompany a song you created – it wouldn’t hurt your chances, and could even help you a great deal!
What do you think? Feel ready to take on the Patreon world? Get inspired and take advantage of this unique way to turn your audience into subscribers and cultivate a revenue stream for your creative life! But remember: it’s not just about earning money – to be successful, nurture your audience, make them feel connected, and succeed together in patronage of your art.