In January of 2016, Kate Stark made an open-ended, two-word New Year’s Resolution: "Create more."
For most people, that resolution would be too vague to follow through in a meaningful way. But Kate, who studied theater and art before dropping out of university at the end of her first year, was stuck in a dead-end bartending job. Even if "creating more" didn’t lead to better work, at least she would feel more fulfilled.
Fast-forward to 2018. She’s been a full-time Twitch streamer for over a year. She’s about to celebrate her two-year anniversary of becoming a Twitch partner. And she did it without being in the top 1,000 streamers (according to Social Blade’s data as of November 2018).
The key to her success (besides a charming personality, of course)? Diversification.
Kate is a master of using the channels and revenue streams available to her to ensure she can pay her bills and do what she loves with a community that loves her back.
In this article, we’ll dive into:
- How Kate transitioned from bartending to full-time streaming.
- Which revenue sources she taps into (and how helpful they are).
- How she engages and rewards her patrons for their support.
Plus, Kate busted a myth about what streamers do all day, while sharing which business activities actually make a difference.
Want to offer exclusive rewards to your most dedicated followers? Try Patreon.
When Kate launched her first stream, she had 10 viewers — more than most streamers start with. Before she started the stream, she had a handful of followers on YouTube who followed her over to Twitch (some of whom are still with her today).
Kate didn’t have any secret tricks to share when it comes to growing your stream: In her case, consistency (and a lot of work in the background) paid off. But she was able to share how she knew when to quit her job for full-time streaming, and which activities seem to make the most difference in her success.
Initially, Kate didn’t know if streaming would be something she could do as more than a creative outlet. But as her channel grew, she realized she could reduce how many shifts she worked at the bar proportional to her streaming income.
Whenever the stream earned enough repeatable income to replace a shift, she decreased her work hours and increased her streaming time. That pattern continued until she made the jump to full-time streaming in September 2016, nine months after she started the stream and five months after starting a Patreon campaign.
"Making the switch to full-time streaming was the best decision I ever made. And a week after I made that decision, I went to Twitchcon in San Diego for about four days. It was my first big streaming convention as a streamer and it just reaffirmed every decision I had made up until that point: that this is what I want to be doing and these are the people I want to be around. Since then, it's been work every single day, but I honestly wouldn't trade it for anything," Kate said.
She loved getting to know other streamers at the convention. Hearing their stories and learning about what their lives were like motivated her to do what she needed to do to keep fostering the relationship she had with her community.
Kate doesn’t really take breaks. Sometimes, she goes on trips — like her recent excursion to Disneyland or last year’s three-week jaunt through Scotland. "I was uploading videos every day," she shared. Each trip has as many vlogs as there were days on the trip. Even so, she lost about a third of her subscriber base.
Twitch subscriptions will fluctuate wildly (more on how to weather that in the next section), in part because a free subscription via Twitch Prime can’t be auto-renewed. When you aren’t streaming every day, people forget to resubscribe. Accepting that you’ll lose subscribers anytime you take a break from streaming just comes with the territory.
But rather than dwell on the negative, Kate focuses on things she can control, like how she allocates her time everyday.
"I think people don't understand that the actual streaming time, the me sitting down in front of a camera and playing games part, is the probably the smallest part of my job. It is the most public part of my job, but people don't see all the behind the scenes stuff," Kate said.
"They don't see me sitting down and doing an interview like this. They don't always know that I've been scheduled on another person’s stream before my own stream later today. They don't know about the meetings and appointments and sponsorships and emails and everything that I work on during the day," she added.
In a typical week, she spends time on things like:
- Responding to emails
- Coordinating with her business manager regarding sponsored content
- Fulfilling Patreon rewards
- Engaging with her community in Discord
- Saving receipts (no, seriously; it’s important).
And that doesn’t include things like networking with other streamers, staying relevant on social media, and balancing her workload with mental health.
"Keeping my brain happy is such an important one, because if I'm not mentally or physically okay, then that's going to come through on my stream and make being in my chat a pretty negative place," she shared.
Sometimes, that means it’s worth taking a night off from streaming so you can come back refreshed and energetic the next day. "Luckily, my community understands that and encourages me to practice self-care, because it's something we talk about a lot on my stream," she said.
While other streamers may need fewer (or more) revenue streams than Kate uses, her secret to success is diversification. If she had relied exclusively on Twitch subscriptions, her income would have fluctuated wildly — and it would have taken far longer for her to go full-time.
Here’s a list, roughly in descending order of profitability, of the revenue streams Kate uses to stay on top of her bills every month.
Twitch subscriptions are a simple and obvious way to make money as a Twitch streamer. Most subscriptions are a 50/50 split between the streamer and Twitch: the platform takes $2.50 of every $5 subscription. While there are $9.99 and $24.99 subscription packages available, they are uncommonly used.
While subscriptions are seen as every streamer’s bread and butter, you can’t count on month-over-month growth. Kate saw a 300 subscription drop after just three days off, and that number can increase if someone in her community gifted subscriptions to other members in her community. Those gifts eventually expire and produce a not-unexpected downturn in income.
As a general rule, assume that you’ll lose some of your subscribers at the beginning of the month; that way, you can attempt to make sure your monthly budget and expenses align with the income you’re actually earning.
While you could also earn money from running extra ads, Kate chooses not to do so.
For Kate, the anecdote to Twitch subscriptions’ variability has been Patreon.
"Patreon is the income I can count on. There are still some variations month to month with people upping their pledge or deleting a pledge or pledging for the first time, but it's generally around the same number so I can budget for the next month," she said.
Because of its relative consistency, she uses Patreon to pay rent and keep her home office running. Then, she uses numbers from other sources to round out the month’s expenses and know what she can and can’t purchase.
She’s extremely grateful to the patrons who have stayed with her over the past couple of years. Because of that, she makes an extra effort to cultivate her relationship with patrons and tries to improve reward offerings whenever she can (more on that in the next section).
Kate has a business manager who handles contracts with companies that want Kate to stream their game. He’ll offer her opportunities based on her interests, and she’ll accept or decline as she sees fit.
That said, she declines sponsorships more often than she accepts them — even though it means taking a hit to her income. Why? Because her fan base is more important to her than short-term monetary gains.
"I don't want to alienate my audience by playing every sponsorship that comes at me, because then, when something comes at me that I really, truly love, there wouldn’t be the level of trust that I've built with them. So I only accept sponsored streams and sponsored products if it's something that I've been able to try, something that I believe in, and a company that I believe in," Kate shared.
Another source of Kate’s income are tips from her viewers. People watching her stream can choose to tip her any amount they like using PayPal.
She incentivizes and thanks her viewers by using a funny image and sound effect whenever someone gives her a tip.
"I have a few funny alert sounds that pop up along with a number if people tip that amount. For example, if somebody tips $4.20, then a Snoop Dogg voice saying “Smoke weed every day" comes up. It's just a little joke that comes up and people laugh,” she said.
If her viewers have a favorite joke animation they want to see during her stream, they tip her the exact amount necessary for that joke to pop up. It’s a way for her followers to say ‘thanks’ for the stream while giving everyone a reason to laugh.
Similar to tipping, viewers can give Kate "cheers" during her stream. Cheers are measured in “bits” and one bit is equal to $0.01. The max you can give during a cheer is $1,000.
"That happened to me once and it was amazing," Kate laughed, referring to the maximum value cheer. More often, cheers are a few cents or a few dollars here and there. It’s a way for viewers to thank the streamer during a particularly exciting moment in the stream.
Added together, cheers can make up a noticeable portion of your income if your viewers are generous.
Most of her merchandise is done through DesignByHumans because she doesn’t have to worry about producing or shipping the merch. When she or they have a design idea, they collaborate to bring it to life. After that, she can focus on her other revenue streams.
Occasionally, Kate will recommend a product she’s tested herself and that she believes is good equipment. If someone buys that product using the link she shared, she’ll get a small percentage of the sale.
There’s a big difference between setting up your Patreon account as a "tip jar" and making it a value-for-value exchange. Kate is always looking for ways to make her patrons happy to support her.
In the process, she found four rewards in particular that her fans love: handwritten postcards, exclusive Discord channels, new music Mondays, and priority play on community days.
"I am a huge fan of getting handwritten mail," Kate shared, “because I never receive handwritten mail. When it does happen, I get excited about it, like a little kid. Especially in today's world, most people are used to receiving bills or junk mail. When they see a brightly-colored, fun postcard which only has well wishes on it, it just brightens people's day.”
She writes the postcards for her $25/mo and $50/mo patrons and has received an overwhelmingly positive response. She said that the postcards and postage total over $120 most months, but she believes that’s a small price to pay for saying "Thank You" to her biggest supporters.
"Find your balance and don't be afraid to take some of the money that you make every single month and reinvest it in Patreon," she shared. Over time, that investment pays for itself many times over by fostering loyalty and satisfaction for your patrons.
Many creators opt to place entry into a Discord channel at a low price; Kate does the opposite. Patrons only get access to an exclusive Discord if they support her at $50/mo.
The reason? Over 700 of her Twitch subscribers are already in a dedicated Discord channel. It’s fun, but it’s crowded. The patrons-only Discord is "a cozy place" where it’s easier to have meaningful conversations. She also makes more of an effort to participate in discussions on her patron-only channel, as a way of showing her patrons how much she appreciates their pledges and their company.
Note: To learn more about how you can use Discord as a reward for your community, see our round-up article here.
When Kate started her Patreon, she had a hard time using it as anything beyond a tip jar. In her words, "I didn't want to bother people, but then I realized people want to be ‘bothered’ by these things because that's what they're signing up for. That's one of the reasons that I started the New Music Monday playlist. I thought it would be a fun way of interacting with everybody and keeping people updated."
Note: Follow this link to see and listen to a New Music Monday post that Kate made public for this article.
She’s heard time and time again from patrons who found their "favorite new band" by listening to the playlist she curates each week. Sometimes, it’s just a mix she enjoys. Other times, the theme is based on what’s happening in her life. When she went to Disneyland, for example, she made a list of her all-time favorite Disney songs for fans to enjoy.
It’s an ideal reward for her $1+/mo supporters because it’s fun, it doesn’t take too much of her time, and it’s consistently popular with patrons.
A popular reward that Kate offers whenever she can (read: not every month, in most cases) is priority play on community days.
On a community day, she’ll pull out fun group games, like party packs from Jackbox Games. Her $50/mo patrons get priority picking games; if they decline, then her subscribers get a chance to play.
Playing Jackbox Games with Kate is a perk reserved exclusively for subscribers and patrons who are active on her Discord channel. It’s a policy that "cuts down on random trolls who show up just to try and say offensive things in the games," she explained.
Ultimately, priority play is yet another way her biggest supporters feel appreciated and valued for their contribution to her campaign.
Being a full-time streamer means you can’t take many days off. And when you do take days off, you’re guaranteed to lose some of your recurring income because of it.
Even so, Kate wouldn’t trade her job for anything. She loves interacting with her community and building a closer relationship with the fans who support her the most. And having a Patreon to cushion the blow when she does need time off has made a huge impact on her happiness and health.
She’s confident enough to take a night off from streaming when her health and sanity demand it, and that’s part of why she’s so successful. She takes care of herself so she can take care of her viewers — and they take care of her by supporting her stream.
Want to offer exclusive rewards to your most dedicated followers? Try Patreon.