Advice for people (especially women) who have been thinking about starting a Patreon

I’ve gotten a lot of really positive responses to my last post about the barriers that keep women from engaging with Patreon. In the comments I mentioned that something I had meant to address in that post was advice for how women could go about having a Patreon ANYWAY, but that time and space constraints prevented me from including that. I’d been planning on moving on to my posts about KickStarter, since I try to avoid spending suuuper-long stretches of time on one particular topic – especially when that topic is highly specialized and isn’t of particular interest to people outside of a specific group. However, I’ve gotten several requests from people to please write this post. So here we are!

0: Material Previously Covered

Last year I did a huuuuge series on “advice for women looking to get into game design”. It covered pretty well everything, from the pros and cons of self-publishing to all of the various economic models for doing so. I’m not going to say you need to read all of that, because seriously it’s really long. However, I’d recommend reading part 2 of the first post in the series here about common cognitive pitfalls to watch out for. I also wrote a little about the different types of Patreons out there in part 3 of that series with some examples (under the heading Serial Content: Patreon), some of which are now sadly out of date.

So you can go read that stuff. You know, if you want.

1: JUST DO IT

If starting a Patreon is something that you’ve been waffling about for a while, then in the words of the immortal Shia Lebeouf…

Seriously, though. JUST. DO IT. Especially if what you want to start a Patreon for is shit that you would do anyway. What’s the worst that could happen? People don’t support you and nothing has changed. Setting up a Patreon page takes 1-2 hours, depending on how much thought you put into it. You’d be out that time, sure, but nothing else.

“But, wundergeek! If I start a Patreon and no one pledges, I’ll be so embarrassed!”

Look, I get it. I do. But I’ll tell you a secret, gentle reader. Failure is an unavoidable part of being creative. Not every idea is going to catch on! Patreon at least front-end-loads the failure so that you haven’t lost tens or even hundreds of hours on something no one wants to consume. (Which is something that I’ve done, by the way, and wow does it ever suck. But that’s a tale for another post.)

However, I’ll also note that sometimes it’s the projects that we most expect to fail that surprise us. Take this blog, for example; when I first started writing it, I thought that there was no way any significant number of people would read it. And yet nearly five years, 2+ million views, and 81 (at the time of writing this post) patrons later, here we are. So don’t let your assumptions about what people will be willing to support keep you from trying, because brains are assholes.

1a. “But the thing I want to do is weirdly specific and there’s no way anyone would pay for it!”

First, while there are some people who become patrons purely with a goal to consume specific content, there are also people who become patrons because they want to support the creator, and not necessarily because they’re a super fan who loves everything that that creator is producing.

Second, never forget that the internet is a weird place. Your weirdly specific thing might be someone else’s “thing they wished someone would make” that they’ve been waiting for someone to make so that they could give them money for it. The outrageous overnight success of Send Your Enemies Glitter is proof of that.

Third, if you are a member of a marginalized community, there’s a really good chance that your brain is being an asshole. Tell your brain that in a market as saturated with RPG content as the current market is, weird and specific also means distinctive, which will help you stand out. And then tell your brain to get stuffed.

2. Don’t feel pressured to make a video.

A profile and a cover picture is more than sufficient to launch a campaign with. Don’t let yourself get hung up on the idea that you “have” to have a polished video in order to be taken seriously, even though I’m pretty sure Patreon says when you’re setting up a profile that pages with videos get more patrons (or at least it did when I was setting mine up, which was admittedly two years ago).

2a. Cover images are easy, and here’s why

Are you making game hacks? Take a picture of some character sheets spread out on a table! Are you making stock art? Collage a few of your best pieces together. Blogs and other writing projects are a bit harder, since the end product is a bit more intangible. But even then there’s no need to get fussed, because here is what you can do.

First, do an image search on Wikimedia Commons (because stealing other people’s work to promote your own is a shitty thing to do). Find an image that you like and put some simple text over top of it that summarizes what you do. No graphics software? No problem. Pixlr’s photo editor is a nice, free, in-browser image editor that is pretty well equivalent to the old Limited editions of Photoshop. (Make sure you select Pixlr Editor and NOT Pixlr Express.)

example 1
SO PROFESSIONAL

Now, you might feel like your image looks a little slapped-together when you do that. So here is my totally easy trick to make your image look more polished with about 15 seconds of work: OUTER GLOW. So here’s what you do. You have your image, and your text will be on its own layer. Click the layer styles button (highlighted in the screenshot above). Then follow the steps in the screenshot below:

example 2

Now your text has a black border! Except it will still be fuzzy and not really all that useful, so you’ll need to tweak the settings a bit, like so:example 3

Bam. Now you’ve got an image that looks like you actually worked on it. Win.

3. Decide on a content model and communicate that content model clearly to your patrons

There are two basic ways of charging patrons – either they pledge a static amount per month, or they pledge per content – at which point their pledges might vary from month to month if you are getting into posting multiple items per month and they have monthly limits set up to cap their maximum contribution.

My recommendation to people just getting started with Patreon is that they default to per-content for their pledge model. When you’re just getting started, a per-month model is going to deter a lot of folks who might want to support you but also want to see a proven track record of providing consistent return on investment. Setting up your Patreon as per-content means that your patrons are only on the hook when you produce content, and the controls for setting monthly caps are robust and relatively easy to set up such that your patrons won’t need to worry about getting into paying you more money than you’d expected.

If you are someone who has a lot of real-world obligations and know that your content production is going to be inconsistent, make sure you make that part of your pitch upfront. That way your patrons are going into supporting you knowing that the content flow is going to be uneven, and if you have a few weeks where your life explodes and you don’t make anything – it’s okay. (Though if something happens that keeps you from adhering to your usual content frequency, it is polite to drop a note to your patrons letting them know. I’ve done this as patrons-only messages through Patreon when it’s happened to me in the past, and my patrons have always been wonderfully supportive when it’s been an issue.)

There are drawbacks. Per-month funding evens out the revenue stream; per-content logically means that you get more money in months where you produce more. And, also logically, the inverse is also true in that if you have a month where you don’t produce anything… you also don’t get any money. Still, I feel those are pretty minor considerations overall. I’ve had my Patreon for two years and still wouldn’t consider switching the funding model, because per-content is much better for how I operate given the meatspace demands on my time and attention.

3a. Different model subtypes: examples

For the sake of clarity, and because you shouldn’t do exactly what I do just because it works for me, here are the four most common Patreon models that pertain to game type. YMMV:

  • Charges per unit content, all content publicly available (ex: this blog!)
  • Charges per unit content, all content available to patrons (ex: Kaitlyn Peavler)
  • Charges per unit content, content available to patrons with previous content available for purchase (ex: Worlds Without Master)
  • Charges per month, grants access to content (ex: Avery McDaldno, now defunct)
  • Charges per month, all content publicly accessible (ex: John Harper, now pretty much defunct)

4. Offer a $1 level, even if $1 won’t give access to the thing you are making

Never underestimate the $1 pledges, because they really add up! Having a $1 level makes it possible for someone to say “well I’m not interested in that thing they’re doing, but I really like the creator so it’s worth $1 to me just to help them do what they want to do”.

TEN out of my 81 patrons have set themselves up as “no reward”, meaning they don’t want any of the perks that come with their donation level. They just want to give me money, and that’s it.

Patreon patrons are generous folk, is what I’m saying here.

5. Be conservative in setting up your milestones (if you set them up at all)

Milestones are NOT something that you need to start right away. Hell, two years later I still haven’t set up milestones, because I don’t know what I would set as my goals. I tailor the amount of work I do for posts here on my blog to the amount of support I get. When I first started this Patreon, I was averaging around 1500 words per post. Now 2000-2200 is much more my usual average, because I can afford to go more in-depth.

Still, if the thing you want to do is a thing that it would make sense to set up milestones for, BE CONSERVATIVE. I lose between $5 to $10 per post on pledges that don’t get processed, for whatever reason. People don’t do it maliciously – most often it’s because their credit card information changed and they forgot to update all of their peripheral shit like Patreon. But it happens. Add in the fact that Patreon’s and PayPal’s cut adds up to about 10-11% of your total AFTER dropped pledges… you can end up on the hook for a lot more work per unit dollar than you wanted to be doing.

My advice – don’t set them up right away. And leave yourself lots of wiggle room if you do set them up, and be willing to communicate with your patrons if you have to change your milestones.

Speaking of which…

6. Thou shalt communicate with your patrons

If you’re someone who sucks at email, learn to not suck at it. Patreon isn’t exactly a business transaction, in that your patrons aren’t buying and selling content per se. But they are making it possible for you to do the thing that you want to do, so be courteous about responding quickly to messages. It will go a long way toward building goodwill. It sounds stupid and obvious, but you want your patrons to feel good about you as a human being, since that will make them more likely to want to continue supporting you.

7. Don’t feel guilty about charging your patrons

If you’ve communicated what it is that you want to do, and you’ve communicated your expected content schedule, and the thing that you’ve produced is even remotely within the scope of your Patreon, then let go of your guilt and make that post paid already! Having a clear pitch isn’t just important to attracting new patrons. It’s also important to set expectations so that your patrons know who you are and what you’re doing.

If someone is your patron, they have agreed to become your patron because they WANT to give you money to do the thing that you are doing. So feeling guilty about doing the thing that you are doing and NOT allowing people to give you money for it is actually the opposite of what your patrons were hoping for.

Of course, I say this as someone who still struggles with this. I had to be reassured that it was okay to make this a paid post before I did so, and even then I still feel a bit hinky about it. So, you know, do as I say and not as I… feel? Or something.

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