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How Venues and Local Businesses use Patreon to Keep Going During the Pandemic

“Though we may be temporarily shutting our doors to the public, we cannot quarantine our love for music. We refuse to give up.”

That was the defiant note from New York live music venue Le Poisson Rouge when they were required to shut down their (physical) shop in the wake of COVID-19.

As venues and local businesses know, trying to balance the books as well as the needs of your staff and customers can seem overwhelming. Yet, across the country, creative business owners are coming up with innovative ways to get reliable and sustainable income during these difficult times. Music venues, restaurants, fitness studios, and local shops are all offering unique benefits through Patreon’s membership tiers, which work like subscription price plans, to keep the cash flowing.

From virtual experiences to discounts and merch, here are some ideas for how you can still connect with your customers and make money during the pandemic:

Make the Internet Your Stage

Hosting events and classes online has never been easier; within the last few weeks, even the most technologically-challenged among us have joined the streaming bandwagon making it super simple for customers to join your digital DJ sets, fitness classes, or dance parties.

One of the easiest ways to get started is by dusting off old recordings for your members to download or stream. You could also follow in the rhythmic steps of Nowadays.The New York club and bar is live-streaming tutorials, workshops, and DJ sets every night, but only provides archive access to patrons (who pay a base of $5 a month or higher). Since the coronavirus crisis hit, Chuck Raffoni, a Massachusetts yoga instructor, also began producing videos and blog posts, and montetized them by making them exclusive to their 100 patrons.

Chuck had wanted to make online videos for a long time, but, as he wrote on Instagram, he’d been too afraid, citing “fear of it not being perfect or professional quality, fear of not having the perfect body…fear that no one would be interested enough.”

But after being forced to stop teaching live classes, Chuck took the risk. Within two days, he had 50 patrons.

“Perhaps this is how this crisis is happening FOR me, instead of TO me,” he wrote.

Phone a Friend

Lots of us have more time on our hands at the moment, and many are eager to use that time to learn a new skill or finally launch our own business. Think about how you could offer your expertise as a masterclass; could you speak to how to run the business for those who wish to follow in your footsteps? Or perhaps give a course on harnessing your brand of creativity? Even if it’s not what you ordinarily do, now is the time to get inventive.

The development group r.ecollab, which is creating an arts incubator, maker space, and community center in Utah, offers up to two hours a month for “consultation, design work, and project support” on its highest tiers (plus they’re cumulative and never expire!).

If you’re not comfortable in front of the camera, don’t worry about it. You don’t have to host livestreams in order to connect with your community. Creating a members-only email or newsletter is a low-cost way to share skills or just keep your fans up to date.

Everyone Loves a Good Deal

The allure of a good deal is hard to turn down, especially during uncertain times.

That’s probably why DNA Lounge’s patrons love their six membership tiers so much. The independently-owned San Francisco nightclub and live music venue, which has been owned by Jamie Zawinski since 1999, offers several different card “levels.” Among patrons’ benefits that can be redeemed in the future are free admission for two, drink tickets, and the ability to skip the club’s line.

If you’re feeling reluctant when it comes to offering things for free, you can still share discount codes via Patreon. You can also use Patreon to track each of your patron’s spending and then put their spent amount towards future orders. Think of the money your patrons spend on Patreon as store credit that can be put towards a future purchase—it’s like a gift card they’re paying for in installments.

That’s how non-profit r.ecollab uses their Patreon; after a patron spends $10 a month, they can bank their contributions as a credit towards residencies, offerings, and finished products.

Make that Graphic Tee Already

Does the green-eyed monster take over each time you spy an excellently-designed logo t-shirt, tote, or enamel pin (we’ll take one of these black-and-white cookie pins, please)? Now’s a good time to join in the fun.

Wicked Grounds, San Francisco's first and only kink cafe and boutique, has a whopping 10 Patreon tiers with different benefits including stickers, t-shirts, and more swag for their VIP level.

At a time like this, finding your own manufacturer may seem like too much of a hassle, but you can use Patreon to help design and develop the perfect merch (Patreon even recommends what tiers to offer to make sure all the costs for your snazzy new hoodies are more than covered!).

Plus, not only will merch bring in some extra cash, but you could also earn some free media coverage. If you don't see the option to sign up for merch, just send a note to [email protected]to access this feature.

Simply Exist

It sounds crazy, but what if you did nothing? If your audience and customers are an altruistic group, maybe you don’t need to offer anything at all. Music venues, studios, restaurants, and mom and pop shops are the heart and soul of neighborhoods—often people just want a way to support you because it makes them feel good.

Le Poisson Rouge’s lowest tier is for those who “feel like supporting independent music in NYC just because.” Customers may not receive anything in their inbox or mailbox in return, but for many, supporting their favorite local businesses will be more than enough until they can see you again!

Want more info before you get started? Check out some examples from other local businesses. If you’re keen to offer merch to your patrons, please email [email protected]. We’re in this with you!

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