As much as we’d love to, we can’t look into a crystal ball and tell you how much you’ll earn if you sign up for Patreon. But we can tell you what factors influence your earning potential.
None of the factors we discuss below will make or break your business. And how they’re used can vary a lot from creator to creator. But the overall picture of your business—as determined by the seven factors below—is a good predictor of how much you can expect to make on Patreon.
This article is designed to help you evaluate yourself on each of seven factors, then compare yourself to similar creators. The result will be an estimated earnings range on Patreon.
A Prerequisite for This Guide
Successful creators on Patreon all have one thing in common. Ready for it? Successful creators understand their audience. Who finds value in what you create? What will motivate them to give you money for your work? What can you do to keep them engaged?
The answers to these questions change from creator to creator. If you don’t already know the answers to the above questions, it may take some experimentation and some real conversations with people who love what you do. (Yes, you should spend time talking to your fans so that you understand why they like you and what motivates them.)
If you understand your audience well, you should be able to describe (quickly and easily) a typical member of your audience—where they are in life, why they enjoy what you do, and what kind of resources they can offer to support you.
Understanding your audience is the most important idea here. Why? Because you’ll only be able to use the factors below adeptly if you understand how and when they’re useful.
As you proceed to the next section, keep in mind how well you understand your audience (and how that understanding can help you improve in each area).
7 Questions to Evaluate Your Earning Potential
To help you along, we’ve phrased each factor as a question you can answer to position yourself as a Patreon creator. Then, you can compare yourself to similar creators to estimate your potential earnings (more on that later).
Niche: How Unique Is Your Creative Project?
On a scale from ‘I make YouTube** prank videos’ to ‘I teach people how to modify old Ford Mustangs,’ how niche is your project?
If making prank YouTube videos is your calling in life, you’ll likely have a large target audience. But there are lots of prank videos on YouTube, which means you’ll have a more difficult time getting people to support your work. It’s not impossible; but to make a ‘less niche’ topic work, you’ll need to answer the question in the back of your viewers’ minds… Why should I pay to support you when so many others are doing something similar for free? (More on that in a minute.)
Alternatively, niche creators often have smaller target audiences. But if that audience is underserved, their willingness to pay is higher: people inherently see value in something they can’t find anywhere else.
Nevertheless, she nails some of the factors listed below (like brand strength), and her smart strategies have catapulted her project to nearly 2,000 patrons. She’s a clear example of turning a very niche topic into a strong project on Patreon.
Or, consider “video podcasters” Fruity Knitting. They create shows on all things knitting and have gathered an impressive patron count: 1430 patrons from a YouTube subscriber base of only 22,000 (In case you didn’t feel like doing the math, that’s a massive 7% conversion rate!). In other words, they’ve mastered the art of converting their small, but devoted niche audience.
An image from Fruity Knitting’s 28th episode. Fruity Knitting is entirely produced by Andrew and Andrea Doig, who live in Offenbach, Germany.
Brand: How Strong Is Your Brand?
Brand matters for every creator (and is especially important if you’re not very niche). But how do you know if your brand is good? To find out, ask yourself these questions (and maybe your fans, too):
- Do people care if you are making the content, versus someone else?
- Do you differentiate your work through unique delivery or personality?
- Does your project have a reputation for superior quality?
- Do you have an emotional or a personal connection with your fans?
- Are your fans engaged? (i.e. are you and your fans interacting regularly?)
A strong ‘yes’ to any one of these questions is indicative of a solid brand. For example, a reputation for quality work can be all your brand needs to thrive. You don’t have to be the type of creator who is always chatting on Twitter or Discord to make a Patreon page work for you. The occasional reply on Youtube or Facebook could be sufficient for your audience.
But in the right situation, establishing a personal connection with your audience can drive a significant increase in revenue. If you’re the creator showing folks how to modify their Ford Mustangs, then engagement on a personal level (like helping people troubleshoot their own modifications) means a lot.
You might even spend your life building up and interacting with your fans, Amanda Palmer style. In addition to being active on Twitter, she spends a significant amount of her tour time interacting with them in person. Combine that with her unique artistic style, and you have a seriously strong brand.
An image from Amanda Palmer’s video for her Patreon page.
Rewards: How Valuable Are the Benefits You’re Offering?
When you choose what to offer for each reward tier, you have to consider things like…
- how many people would be interested in that reward,
- how much people would pay for it, and
- how costly (both monetarily and time-wise) it is to produce.
Each reward type has advantages and disadvantages: it’s up to you to decide what mix is right for your business and audience.
Take hit political podcasters Chapo Trap House, for example. They offer exactly one reward tier: for $5/month, you get access to a weekly bonus episode to which no one else has access. It’s a reward that appeals to 100% of their fan base: if you’re a fan of the show, you’re guaranteed to like the bonus episodes.
Chapo Trap House offers one reward tier that drives all $99,000 of their monthly Patreon income.
At $5 for four bonus episodes per month, it’s not hard for fans to justify the expenditure. After all, Chapo Trap House is a weekly podcast, so non-patrons miss half of the shows. The results are remarkable: that one reward tier results in $99,000/month in income through Patreon. And it’s not a result of behind the scenes access, extra engagement, or personalized rewards.
But that kind of strategy isn’t for everyone (and not every audience is as devoted). You may want to supplement rewards that have a general appeal with ones that target a specific subset of your audience.
For example, Captain Disillusion offers visual effects (VFX) tutorials to patrons who part with $15/month. Many of his patrons couldn’t care less about how to make special effects in videos, but that kind of educational content appeals strongly to the VFX creators in his audience.
By targeting that subgroup, he earns an extra $2,800/month on Patreon.
It’s just another reason knowing your audience is so important: if you know their interests and motivations, you can create rewards that appeal strongly to subgroups within your total audience.
Audience Size: How Large is Your (Engaged) Audience?
Overall audience size matters less than you might think. Having lots of people on your email list or following your YouTube channel is a definite positive. But for those people to be potential patrons, they have to engage with your content on a regular basis (whether that is visible to you or not).
It’s easy to overestimate how your audience size will boost your Patreon earnings. To avoid that mistake, you can conduct a little experiment or two with your audience.
William DuFresne, aka “Suede,” found overwhelming support from a small audience.
Let’s say you have an email list. Try sending them a small survey or something else that requires them to take action. How many of them take action? If you send a blog post or some other link, how many of them click through?
If your audience is on social media, try asking a question to see how many people respond. How many likes and comments do your posts usually get? What does that say about the number of engaged fans you have?
On the flip side… don’t sell yourself short. A highly motivated but smaller audience could be exactly what you need to succeed. For example, video creator Suede has fewer than 10,000 subscribers on YouTube… but he earns over $3,000/month.
Growing your audience is a necessary part of doing business, but it’s important to do so in a way that gathers people who want to be part of your community. In the end, the number of fans who care about what you do is more important than the overall size.
Note: Think you can earn money by doing what you love? Find out by signing up for Patreon**.
Marketing: How Good Are You at Promotion & Marketing?
Don’t change your art. Don’t turn yourself into a salesperson. Don’t compromise your brand.
But do think about how you can convert audience members into paying patrons. That can mean everything from making sure your Patreon page is optimized for conversions to the language you use to invite fans to become patrons.
Consider things like…
- How clearly does my Patreon page communicate what I do?
- Are my rewards easy to understand?
- Where will I tell my audience about Patreon?
- What decision process will fans follow between discovering my project and signing up as a patron? Can I straighten that pathway at all?
- How strong is my call to action (CTA)?
The good news is that you’re in control of promotion and marketing. If it’s not up to snuff now, you can fix it. You can read up on psychology and marketing techniques to strengthen your efforts in this area. But don’t feel like ‘selling’ your Patreon page requires being pushy or ‘in your face’ about patronage.
Art teacher Irshad Karim prefers a subtle approach to marketing his Patreon.
Many creators take a subtle approach to Patreon by giving out rewards that speak for themselves (for an example, see the “nuclear yellow” names that Irshad Karim’s patrons get in Discord for being high tier supporters). On the flip side, you might post reminders on social media that say, ‘Hey – this benefit is available if you sign up to be a patron.’
In the end, it’s about finding what works for you and your audience. Take some time to explore how other creators market themselves, then apply those strategies in your own work (or give them your own creative twist).
Emotional Appeal: Do You Have an Emotional or Political Appeal?
Not every project has an inherent emotional or political appeal, and that’s a good thing. We can’t all have a call to action that packs a punch like an animal rescue. And not everyone wants the polarization and drama that comes with politics (though some, like The Rubin Report, thrive in that environment).
Jack Lowe’s project has a more subtle—but still powerful—emotional component.
But if you do have an emotional appeal or political appeal that works well for you, it’s worth exploring. For example, Jack Lowe’s mission to document all Royal National Lifeboat Institute stations appeals to the sentiment of UK residents. The lifeboats are a much-loved tradition that has hundreds of years of meaningful history. He doesn’t force emotion into the project; it’s already there.
The right emotional or political plug can motivate higher patron counts; just make sure that it’s something you’re comfortable doing (and be ready to field critics who don’t like what you’re doing).
Art Type: What Medium Do You Use?
This question is last on our list because it’s the least important factor behind how much you earn on Patreon. That said, knowing how people react to the type of project you undertake is something to have on your radar.
People are conditioned to feel like certain types of art should be free. For example, cosplayers are often heckled by people who think they don’t deserve to get money for ‘playing dress up.’ Even musicians face resistance from fans who think music should be free.
If your chosen art medium is harder to monetize, should you give up now? No way! There are two main things you can do to succeed regardless of any fans’ preconceived notions about what ‘ought’ to be paid for…
- Emphasize the value you offer through rewards on Patreon
- Strengthen your performance in the other seven factors listed above
Take Moderately Okay Cosplay, for example. He has an excellent selection of rewards that provide value to patrons. His mix includes rewards like…
- Behind the scenes updates & snapshots
- An exclusive Discord server
- Tutorials for every costume he creates
- A monthly Dungeons & Dragons game for supporters
- Voting on his cosplays
- Pieces of his costumes (to $100/mo supporters only)
Moderately Okay Cosplay succeeds in a niche that often gets pushback over monetization. Photo credit @fffuuutography.
His brand, marketing, and reward offerings are excellent and the value added for patronage is clear. Being a cosplayer doesn’t hold him back at all. Rather, he found ways to make his art medium work to his advantage through the rewards he offers.
In summary, demonstrate the value of what you’re creating. When you invite your audience to join your journey via Patreon, you might be surprised by how many of your fans are willing to pay after all.
Comparing Yourself with Other Artists
Use the questions above as a basis for self-evaluation. Which of the above factors can you use to be more successful? Where are your strengths and weaknesses? Can you change what you’re doing to become stronger in any of those areas?
Once you have those answers, you can compare yourself to other artists on Patreon to estimate your earning potential. Find someone with a similar creative profile – think category, audience size, brand, reward structure, etc. Then, see how much they’re earning with their current strategy. Once you’ve found a couple of creators like you, it gives you a starting point for your estimate.
You can also look down the road at more successful creators who are doing what you want to do. What would it take for you to reach a similar audience size and income?
No two creators are the same, but this process will help you evaluate your potential for success on Patreon and show you where to focus your efforts so your plans come to life.
Note: Finished your analysis? Put those learnings into practice on Patreon**.