10 Tips from Patreon Creators on Building Financial Independence
In a perfect world, you’d get to create what you are (insanely) excited about creating all the time and also be paid well for it, right? Financial independence wouldn’t even be a blip on your radar, and you’d have all the time in the world to create in peace for people who consistently show up to love and support you and your art.
Unfortunately, that’s not the world we live in (yet). But that doesn’t mean that creators can’t find financial success! Looking for proof? We interviewed two successful Patreon creators who have walked the path to financial independence and were happy to share their map. Steve Thorne creates incredible aviation videos, while Keith Knight is a comic artist. Coming in with over 1,200 and over 600 patrons, respectively, these guys shared their best tips and guidance in creating a community of patrons who provide consistent and lasting financial stability for the creators they support.
You can check out the 30-minute panel from Patrecon 2018 or scroll on for the 10 things you need to know about cultivating financial stability and independence through your Patreon following.
1. Scale up gradually to keep today’s income more stable
Joining Patreon the year it started, Steve benefited from being an early adopter and being noticed by a growing audience. He also points out that because of the freelance career he was already leading, Patreon didn’t have to pay all the bills right off the bat.
Eventually, Steve transitioned from doing Patreon work in his free time to taking a day or two off work to build that content (much to the pleasure of his wife). The ability to scale his work, while still maintaining his current financial stability, helped Steve make progress on Patreon without jeopardising his finances. Starting out as a side hustle is great! Find ways to make the most of your time, then gradually transition from your day job to your creative passion as your audience grows.
2. Choose your ad revenue and sponsors wisely
Steve recalls: “I didn’t turn on YouTube ads in the beginning, I didn’t feel the need to make people sit through them and I knew the view count was low being in a niche. But because I was hitting a niche…and making content that I wanted to see as an aviator, it worked. It was very authentic, it engaged the community, and I had sponsors come to me. Pretty cool, but also scary in a lot of ways because it comes with a lot of caveats. I said no to some of the first offers…I needed sponsors to understand that Patreon is my majority shareholder and convince them to become long-term supporters.”
Pay attention to your views and your community. If you’re creating specialised, engaging content then your chances are higher of partnering with sponsors that are a true fit for you and your patrons. Don’t jump for a sponsor that doesn’t feel right just because they came to you. Network and talk with potential sponsors to build lasting partnerships that are beneficial to your finances and to your patrons.
3. Use your niche to find your most passionate, consistent patrons
Just as Steve’s sponsors found him through his niche content, Keith considers his comics a niche as well due to their polarising content. But he points out that the greatest thing about a niche is the level of passionate support that you get from those who are interested in your topic or area of creation. Patreon became the base of those supporters for him to work off of. By identifying a niche and creating content that is consistently meaningful to them your financial stability will increase with your authentic followers and patrons.
It’s a big world so there’s no reason that YOU can’t have 1,000 hardcore fans. Keith wants you to find those people. “I believe that 1,000 people will give you $100 every month for the rest of your life. So what you want to do is give them the opportunity to do it.”
4. Be authentic to your brand to create organic, long-term partnerships
Choosing sponsors and product placement needs to be authentic to be successful. Steve’s care in selecting his first sponsors protects his authentic brand. No artist wants to be deemed a “sellout” and so he only used sponsored products that he would have used anyway. Many of the sponsors he eventually gained were for products he had been happily using (and showing in his videos) for years already.
By building your partnerships organically, you’ll also cultivate long-term relationships with your best, most applicable sponsors and peers. Those relationships will stick around and keep your financial stability intact instead of fluctuating with “here today, gone tomorrow” trendy pairings.
5. Network and brainstorm with your patrons to keep creating content that they’ll love
One of Keith’s greatest weapons? Email addresses. “Whenever you do events, take email addresses. Have an email list, hold onto it, and build from there. Send out an email ‘Hey I’m on Patreon, here are the ways to support me…’” Keith is also invested in his own community, participating on other platforms to keep engaged and support his fellow artists. This keeps him firmly in tune with his niche as he also cultivates new relationships with potential future supporters.
To the same end, Steve enjoys engaging with his Patreon community to share and bounce ideas around. It helps him make sure that he’s creating content that they’ll be interested in and find financial value. As a bonus, Steve also sometimes partners with his patrons who have a product they’d like to test or a plane they want him to learn to fly! Being active with your patrons will protect the value of your content and help you keep patrons around for years to come.
6. Be mindful of how success may be perceived by your patrons
Steve had a killer opportunity to work with the US Coast Guard for a weekend, created an incredible film piece, posted it on Patreon…and then had a drop in his Patreon contributions. In Steve’s words, “What the hell?” Then a few of his patrons reached out to him with comments like “Wow, you’ve made it!” and Steve realised that this perceived success of this high-profile piece made some of his patrons think he didn’t need their support anymore. How do you combat that? You stay relatable to your viewers. Steve did this by mixing in some “old school” content to balance out the crazy high production value of some of his sponsored content.
It’s important, as your contributor pool grows, that your patrons know that they are still critical to your success. Keeping your content grounded, frequently engaging with your patrons, and sharing your thanks while inviting their contributions are all great ways to avoid having successes plateau or drop your Patreon financial success.
7. Leverage multiple platforms to make the best use of your time and resources
Recognising that you’ll benefit from engaging with your patrons across multiple platforms, not just Patreon, is critical to your community building. Email lists, discussion forums, and community pages are all important parts of finding and maintaining your niche. You should also be using each of those platforms for what they do best!
Patreon makes it extremely easy to post and share content quickly, and Keith uses it to post a quick comic when one just pops into his head but doesn’t fit his regular content. Patreon provides a resource to quickly share that content, engage with his patrons, and provide them additional value while maximising his time. Giving his patrons that extra content is undoubtedly part of what keeps them coming back and continuing to support him.
8. Say “Thank You” to your patrons, and say it often
Steve sends a personalised email to every one of his patrons when they start contributing to his efforts on Patreon. This isn’t an automated email, but an actual, personal email from Steve himself. He’s had more than one patron express that this impressed them! Keith sends out random gifts to long-time patrons, recognising them for their consistent support.These creators value every single one of their patrons, no matter the size of their donation every month, because they know that financial stability is cumulative. The more steady patrons you have the more even your income will be.
9. Watch and learn from other artists and creators
We aren’t saying you should rip someone off, but don’t ignore a successful process that a peer is using! Pay attention to your fellow artists, grab a drink with them, exchange some emails, show them you value their input. Two people can use the same process to be financially independent with totally different content and offerings!
Keep up with others in your creative space and share thoughts and ideas that can help everyone create better more strategic business processes. Finding a successful mentor to help you build campaigns and reach out to sponsors effectively will definitely have a positive impact on your income.
10. Individuals and sponsors aren’t the only way to make money
Keith recommends looking beyond individual contributors to increase your financial stability. Grants are out there for artists from different foundations, and they are looking for you! Schools are looking for new, innovative ways to teach content…could your creations help them? Think about what your next great thing could be, who it could help, and go find them.
Bonus Tip: Don’t just make money, save money
One final word of wisdom from Keith, and it’s a pretty simple one. Your financial stability is impacted by two things: money that comes in and money that goes out. Don’t spend all your time chasing for more money to come without paying attention to where the money you have is going. Keeping a budget, using your resources wisely, protecting your time, and paying attention to how many $7 cups of coffee you might be enjoying will help keep your bottom line stable and positive.
Financial independence is possible with Patreon! Work these tips and stay tuned for more ideas to help you make the most of your content, your contributors, and your resources.