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Tips for Running Your Membership During an Economic Downturn

The economy is having a rough ride right now. Tours, events, and any in-person meetups have been canceled indefinitely. Small businesses are closing. The travel, restaurant, and hospitality industries are taking a huge hit.

So how does that affect you as a creator? Do you need to do something different? How do you survive, or thrive, in the midst of an economic recession? And what about your membership business? Will your patrons stick around? What if some of them can’t afford to be members anymore?

It’s an uncertain time, and uncertainty is tough. Taking action, even small steps forward, could help you not only feel a bit better but also help your creative business. Below are some ideas you can use to run and sustain your business during an economic recession.

1. Be communicative and transparent with your patrons.

Tell them what’s going on, what you’re feeling, and share ideas about how you’re going to keep going. Good, frequent, open communication builds trust — so just let folks know what’s on your mind. We’ve found that creators who post at least twice per month on Patreon have members who stick around longer on average.

2. Find ways to be together with your patrons.

A lot of people are lonely right now, and we need to build connection more than ever. Don’t let social distancing keep you away from your members! Try fun, digital gatherings with your patrons. I recently listened to an album, start to finish, with Pomplamoose’s patrons over Discord (Pomplamoose is my band with my wife, Nataly). It was awesome! I sent out a link to the album on Spotify and YouTube, and then used this online timer to sync us all up. When the timer hit 0:00, we all started playing the album. The next 30 minutes were incredible! People were hanging out, working together, chatting about the album, creating custom Pomplamoose emojis, and just enjoying a moment of connection. Check out this comment from one of our patrons:

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The point is that togetherness is especially important right now — if you can help provide that for your patrons, they will be quite grateful and see even more value in their membership. Maybe try watching a TED talk together on YouTube, or listening to an inspiring podcast, or watching a movie! You can learn more about integrating your Patreon with Discord and fostering community here.

4. Do a patron survey.

Reach out to your patrons and ask them how COVID-19 is impacting them. Create a list of 5-10 questions. Let them know you’d like to better understand what everyone is going through, and that their answers are going to stay anonymous. If your patrons are up for it, maybe you could even share some of the overall trends in an anonymized report. Google forms is a great survey tool that I use all the time.

5. Revamp your tiers and benefits.

Don’t worry if the tiers and benefits that you designed months or years ago no longer make sense given the current state of the world. Not only is it okay to revamp your tiers and benefits, our data suggests that it's a great way to grow your membership. Nataly and I revamp Pomplamoose’s tiers and benefits every six months or so, and we just did it again, including adding Discord. Below is a chart of our membership growth over the last few years, with annotations to mark the moments we revamped our tiers and benefits:

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If you’d like to learn more about how to revamp your tiers and benefits, and how to talk with your patrons about it, watch this vlog I made about how to do it, step by step.

6. Find ways to give back, and involve your patrons!

Giving brings people together. Consider ways that you and your patrons can team up to make the world a little better right now. It doesn’t have to be financial, though it can be if you have the means. There’s often a way to give back, even if it’s just a little, or with time, or creativity, or energy — and that goes a long way, especially with your patrons. Host a digital meet-up with your patrons, or ask them in a post to brainstorm ideas on the ways to collaborate and help out. Maybe you could do a virtual canned food drive? Or you could host a live-streamed “Thank You card” making party, and send them to hospitals and institutions on the front line to provide workers a little joy in these stressful times. Studies show that giving makes us happier, so by collaborating to give back, you’re helping everyone, including your patrons.

These are tough and uncertain times — but we’re seeing some hopeful trends. Patrons are stepping up to the plate in a big way to support creators during the pandemic: On average, creators across the US, the UK, Canada, Germany, Australia, and Italy got over 36 percent more patrons in March than in February. While that statistic doesn’t make everything less scary, it’s amazing to know that patrons are looking to creators for inspiration, comfort, and community now more than ever.

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