Creator Stories

How I Turned Color Magazine into a $25,000/mo Business

July 02, 2018Olivia Seitz

An Inside Look at Ann Kullberg’s 2018 Patreon Launch

Creator Profiles is a new avenue for creators to highlight learnings and accomplishments in the Patreon creator community. Here, you’ll read stories and business insights in the words of the creators themselves.

Today’s article features Ann Kullberg and is written by her marketing coordinator, Ashley Chase. It details the strategies they used to gather 100+ patrons during their Patreon launch in January 2018.

Creator Stats at a Glance
Category Artist Commitment (Very) part-time
Project Start Date 20+ years in art education; started planning for Patreon in November 2017 Patreon Start Date January 2018
Revenue on Patreon $1604/mo Other Revenue ~$25k/mo gross sales
# Patrons at Launch 85 # Patrons Now 155
Audience at Launch ~25k between social and email lists Audience Now same

Who We Are & What We Do

Ann Kullberg is a colored pencil artist and instructor who has taught colored pencil workshops and published colored pencil instruction for over 20 years. Ann has a background in teaching and her first love in life was coloring.

Ann became a creator on Patreon to build a community of colored pencil enthusiasts who would support her in the goal of creating a larger network of art workshops across the US and Canada. Over the past year, Ann’s staff has grown significantly. What started as a one-woman publishing enterprise twenty-five years ago is now a team of six creative employees along with dozens of published authors and artists.

The primary focus of the Ann Kullberg brand is to “Instruct, Inspire, and Empower” colored pencil artists. A normal day for Ann involves coaching artists one-on-one, editing or writing step-by-step tutorials and in-depth books on drawing techniques, and discovering talented artists to promote. Ann publishes a monthly magazine, COLOR, and releases two new books or projects each month, on average. The team primarily focuses on the online retail store and product marketing.

Our income primarily comes from online sales of our books and tutorials, live workshop fees, and monthly magazine subscriptions. We needed to find a way to grow that revenue in pace with how much the colored pencil audience and Ann’s team had grown in the last several years. We considered moving products into brick-and-mortar stores and looked at Amazon FBA / drop shipping programs, but ultimately focused on expanding Ann’s workshop network and training new artists to teach workshops in 40 new cities.

To do that, we needed to hire one more person, Erin Flood. During our search for ways to create a new revenue stream, we landed on Patreon. We built content months in advance for the Patreon launch and did all marketing preparation with the small team we already had. As soon as we launched, we hired Erin part-time; as our patron revenue grew, so did her hours. Now, she’s able to work almost full time and we’ve had the staffing resources to launch SOAR with Ann (a teacher training program and workshop network).

Marketing & Revenue Strategies

How We Built Our Audience

The primary way we have built an audience is through social media and email newsletter promotion. When Ann started publishing a monthly magazine, she collected email addresses from people interested in colored pencil, offering a free sample issue of the magazine. Over the years, our lists have grown significantly. Our biggest social audience is Facebook, which has happened mostly organically—the Facebook colored pencil world is already prolific, so growing our following there has just been a matter of sharing quality content and beautiful artwork.

In the past 2 years, we have focused more than before on Facebook advertising, branched out to a different platform (Pinterest), and started using better apps to collect subscribers for our email newsletter. We use a form from Constant Contact, installed on our website and Facebook page. Our website is run on Shopify, and we also have an app called WisePops that puts a shadow box window on our website for new visitors, offering them a 10% off coupon code when they enter their email address. Our most prolific stream of new audience members is via that sign-up form on our website.

ann kullberg site

How We Prepared for Launch

Using a project planning tool called Asana, we laid out a calendar of tasks in chronological order, estimating how long each step would take. Writing and defining goals was first, then setting tiers and rewards. We held a company-wide working retreat to brainstorm the outline of our launch. We pre-designed all marketing emails and social media posts. Finally, the actual page design and advertising design happened pretty close to the launch date. You can see our Asana schedule for February below.

asana february weeks

A high-level look at the planning and preparation leading up to Ann's successful launch on Patreon.

The most important thing we did was pre-planning an entire content calendar for what types of things we would post and on what days of the month. Then, we curated, wrote, filmed and produced content for the two months before launch, so that everything could be scheduled ahead. Planning ahead took so much pressure off of managing the page in the beginning, and allowed us time to really engage and interact with new patrons in a way we wouldn’t have been able to if we were trying to plan posts day-to-day.

asana february

A look at all of the content and marketing communications Ann and her team planned in Asana.

Once we launched, we found that sending a one-week follow-up email that was more educational about exactly what Patreon is and how the site works really helped boost our first pledges.

one week follow up

The first part of Ann’s one-week follow-up email. The email covered what Patreon is about, what Ann’s Patreon had to offer, and what new patrons had to say about their experience (social proof).

The first two email blasts we sent out generated the most activity. The following chart shows the results of our marketing efforts from January through June (taken from our internal Patreon dashboard):

chart pledge growth

Reward Strategy

In planning rewards, we did a lot of research to see what similar creators were offering and at what levels. We knew we wanted to offer some sort of special welcome gift, and Ann had overstocked some inventory, so it made logical sense to offer that overstock. The welcome gift (an instructional CD along with 3 greeting cards) seems to be pretty motivating. People like it because the instructional aspect holds a lot of value, plus the blank greeting cards with Ann’s artwork on them are a fun bonus.

promotional image

One of the promotional images used to advertise the welcome gift offered to $5+ patrons.

After that, we made decisions about rewards based on what we thought would add value to our existing customers’ lives—while also keeping the actual pledge amounts low. Before making any final decisions, we asked a handful of longtime, dedicated customers and artists in our network to review our Patreon page and provide feedback.

The monthly coupon code ($3 off per month for $5 tier and up patrons) also seems to be pretty popular. Regular customers are essentially able to pay for their patron pledge with the added savings—a win-win for both us and them. The only downside is that we have received mixed feedback on that particular reward: some people love the discount offerings, and some people are turned off by it and want to see only creative content. So, we did have to adjust our balance after the initial launch.

social media shared image

Another image shared on Facebook, Pinterest, and retargeted web ads to promote the Ann Kullberg Patreon page.

We ended up changing what we initially meant by "exclusive promotions." Instead of offering special discounts, we offered a first look at new products and workshops. We also decided to post the coupon reward only once per month, instead of also doing a reminder post mid-way through the month. That kept the post feed full of more content and fewer sales pitches.

Final Takeaways

You can NOT over-prepare for the initial launch. Have a step-by-step plan in place for exactly how you are going to promote your project. Create a calendar, set task deadlines for yourself, and take the time to learn the Patreon platform inside and out. At least for us, many of our patrons are new to Patreon and needed education to find value in joining. You should absolutely test out every feature and ask close friends or associates to review your page before launching. Don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions.

Want to Learn More About Ann Kullberg?

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