RedHanded: Building fan relationships and uncovering true crime facts

Words and interview by Daniel Cole 

Each week, podcasters Hannah Maguire and Suruthi Bala sit down to discuss the gruesome, the horrendous and quite often, the abominable. Their meticulously researched, award-winning podcast Redhanded, picks apart various gut-curdling crimes, discussing the socio-cultural backdrop to these true-life atrocities.

Bringing their wit and charm to the true-crime format, Hannah and Suruthi offer a deeper and refreshing perspective to the respective cases. Challenging the narrative driven, high-brow serial podcast format, RedHanded plays on the hosts’ characters, making the podcast that much more charismatic and familiar, like an afternoon chat show about some of the worst elements of life.

It’s an approach that has paid dividends. This year the RedHanded duo were awarded the BBC Sounds Listeners’ Choice at the British Podcast Awards. That award came on the back of a growing global audience that downloads an average of 1.9 million podcasts per month, along with an ever-present and impressive number of patrons.

By producing regular exclusive content and engaging with their fanbase through shout-outs, merchandise, and community building, RedHanded has established themselves as one of the leading players within the Patreon world. With almost 10,000 patrons (or ‘Spooky Bitches’ as Hannah and Suruthi refer to them), Patreon has allowed the RedHanded crime-gossipers to step away from their full-time jobs and become full-time content producers. Not only have they achieved all of this, but they’ve also published a book, been out on a series of live tours, built an established YouTube channel… and much more.

To dig deeper into their case profile, we spoke to the veritable Mulder and Scully of sleuth podcasting to find out how they cracked the mystery behind creating a successful podcast, while at the same time utilising Patreon to its fullest to help them achieve their goals.

When did you start using Patreon?

Suruthi: 

We started the show in July 2017, and then started our Patreon in November. Even though it was always something on our radar, we only started in November because so many of our listeners — most of whom are American — were saying, ‘I can’t believe you don’t have a Patreon, I don’t know where to subscribe to you’.

At that time Hannah and I were both working full-time, demanding jobs as well as producing the show, so we just didn’t have any time to put into Patreon. I think at the time all we were offering was early release and ad- free listening, but we got a full 35 patrons straight off the bat, for which we were delighted. That was like £100 pounds. And then I checked our analytics a year later and we had doubled our money and doubled our patrons.

And then Hannah finally took the break and decided to take it on full time.

Hannah: 

It was literally when our Patreon income was a penny over what my job was paying me. Once I went full time then we had the time to really think about what our Patreon strategy would be. Suru followed me then in September. It was hairy for a good few months. But in the beginning of 2020 we completely changed the way we managed our Patreon. We brought in new members of staff and had more time to think. That’s when things started to change, and we are able to bring in loads of bonus content, which is what people really wanted.

Suruthi: 

For a long period we didn’t have time to put work into Patreon, but as soon as we did, we realised that it was our biggest revenue stream. It gives us so much control, and the freedom to be more creative. Patreon is one of those rare revenue streams where the more we put in, the more return we see. Just one piece of extra bonus content will see an uptick in our pledge and sales numbers. The beautiful thing is that it’s just you and your fans, and there is no way that Hannah and I would be full time without Patreon.

Just in the past year alone, we’ve seen a 143% pledge growth, which is remarkable for us. And we doubled the amount of patrons. We’re now set at almost 10,000 Patrons, which is £51,000 a month.

How long does it take to research and write an episode, and how do you balance that out with producing the bonus content?

Suruthi: 

We turn around an average script in a week. We’re not investigative journalists, but we will watch as many documentaries and read as many books as we can, which again is something we never had the time to do when we were working full time.

Hannah:

We have our own office now, so we try to be more structured with our time. Under the Duvet [additional Patreon content series] gets recorded on a Monday morning with the team. It’s one of the easiest things for us to record, and it’s fun to do.

Suruthi: 

In the beginning we were overcomplicating it and worrying about what additional content to create. It’s never about putting poor quality work on Patreon, because if people don’t like it, they won’t pay for it. The extent to how much people will like you only extends so far.

Our conversion rate is less than 5%, that’s the amount of our listeners that are on Patreon. These fans want access to you, and you need to figure out how you can do that and how to make them feel special. Early on we decided that Patreon was going to be a special club that we wanted people to be a part of.

There’s a lot of people doing crime-related podcasts out there. Do you connect at all with these other creators?

Suruthi: 

There’s just more crime creators in the US than there are in the UK. Even though we’ve met the ones here, we don’t honestly think too much about networking. Maybe this will sound unpopular, but I don’t think you need to spend a huge amount of time trying to connect with other creators in the beginning. It’s all about your relationship with your fanbase.

When you start something, just focus on your thing, your fans and your work. We started out with the motto ‘content is king’, and we only worried about people who listened to and tweeted at us.

How does it feel to win the BBC Sounds Listeners’ Choice award?

Suruthi: 

In the previous four years, except one, we were not nominated. It kind of felt a bit sad because we knew that we were having explosive growth as a podcast in the UK, and we were charting and getting great engagement.

I think what we do was seen as a bit grubby, because it’s just us chatting. You have to listen to a few of our episodes to really understand that we bring in a lot of political conversations about the current social justice climate, which are things we feel very comfortable talking about. The reason we love true crime so much is because it holds up a perfect mirror to society, you can talk about inequality, bigotry, misogyny, the police, the government, politics… anything. Last year when we placed Silver in the Listeners’ Choice category we were blown away. This year, I think our fans just got behind us. The benefit of being a personality driven show, is that your fans feel like they know you so they want to go and vote. And when we won it just blew my mind and I cried.

Hannah: 

It’s just going to open so many doors for us. The legitimacy it offers is world-changing, as are our Patreon numbers. Any promoter can go on our Patreon and see that we’re instantly bankable. I can’t wait to see what happens now.

As a first time listener, what episodes would you recommend people to check out first?

Hannah: 

I would say the Anders Breivik, and General Butt Naked episodes. If you listen to those back-to-back you’ll have a very rounded view of what we do as a show.

Suruthi:

It also depends what your flavour is because we cover it all. I would say that the one I’m really passionate about is the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi because I felt like no-one had covered this, and this man was murdered by Saudi government operatives. We covered it and so many people were like, ‘what the hell?’ That makes us feel really proud, because one of our founding principles was this idea that we wouldn’t cover a case unless we had a specific point to make that we felt wasn’t being made loudly enough, or wasn’t being made at all.

 Do you have an other advice for Patreon users?

One of the key things is, don’t start it up too soon, just focus on the show.

Don’t network with people, don’t start anything too social, and don’t start live tours until you have a solid fanbase.

Don’t overpromise. It’s always better in every scope of life to underpromise and overdeliver.

Be consistent, think twice before you go down the road of physical rewards, and know when to cut it off.

Think strategically about your tiers. One of the things we wished we’d been better at was market research. Go look at what other people are doing.

Don’t sell yourself short. If you’re offering something for $2, and everyone else is doing it at $10, you might want to rethink that.

Think creatively about how you promote your Patreon. We do monthly wrap-ups on our main feed, so we just cut a bunch of highlights together, put it in the feed, do social posts, and mention from the show.

Don’t be embarrassed to tell people about your Patreon. You’re not begging for money, you’re asking people to subscribe to your show. Change your mentality to how you think about your work, use the right vocabulary, for instance we never use the words ‘donating’, or anything like that. Break it down into a language that people can understand. When we started people didn’t know what we were talking about when we said Patreon, so we used to call it the Netflix of RedHanded.

Stay connected to your patrons and make use of the add-ons that are being offered, for example we use Crowdcast to do video streaming, we also have a Discord. Also survey your listeners and fans to see what they want.

And finally, find easy ways to create more content and then find a way to differentiate it from your main show to avoid cannibalisation.