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Patreon at SXSW: Steps to Launching and Growing a Membership Business

So here's the thing: If you want to make money as a creator, you first have to think like an entrepreneur. As a video content creator and Patreon's Creator Partnership Lead, Alexis Gay knows this first hand. And since she's constantly helping creators build sustainable recurring revenue businesses, she kicked off SXSW with a session on the steps, strategies, and tools creators can use to turn their most passionate fans into paying subscribers.

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Also, check out this Twitter thread to get insights from the Q&A discussion and behind the scences content from the session.

What's membership?

Membership can seem a bit confusing, but here's how we describe it at Patreon: Membership allows creators to turn a community of their most passionate fans into paying subscribers (we call them patrons) in exchange for additional access, exclusivity, and engaging experiences. Ultimately, it's a value exchange where patrons get unique benefits and gets creators paid.

Why membership?

Direct relationships with your superfans free from ads and algorithms allows you to bring a level of authenticity and connection you can't find anywhere else. Plus, having significant and recurring revenue from doing what you love is always a big reason to focus on membership. Here are some of the top reasons creators choose audience backed membership over ads, and other channels of revenue:

  • Sustainable income
  • The ability and financial stability to grow your team
  • Create a direct and stronger relationship with fans
  • Having the freedom to create more, more often

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So... why Patreon?

We'll let you in on the secret sauce: Unlike other platforms, on Patreon your audience is your audience. No matter what you decide to do, even if you leave Patreon (but we hope you'll stay!), you still own your audience, their email addresses, and the direct relationship you have with them. We don't use algortithms to serve your patrons your content: each patron can see exactly what you want them to see.

What does membership make possible?

We have countless examples of creators who've changed the way they not only make money but the way they live because of launching a membership business. For example:

No Clip can now fund over a dozen documentary projects across three continents.

Kinda Funny can now create podcasts, gamecasts, a morning show, a doodle series, livestreams, and new content daily.

Smarter EveryDay was able to hire an editor, a design engineer, and make multiple concepts in the travel interview and research space a reality.

Now that we've shown ample evidence, here's how to go from where you are to where the creators above are - enjoying the benefits of audience backed revenue.

OK, cool - but how do I start?

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Check out Alexis' awesome timeline for starters, and use it as your launch template. Let's break it down:

1. Pick a launch date: It's important to pick a date because you want to get tactical — you want to get concrete — this makes it more likely that you'll actually follow through and make it happen. It's also smart to think about campaigns. Is there a new series, story, book, album, or other content that you're about to offer? Maybe launch in conjunction with that project to make the push event more natural and impactful.

2. Select tiers and benefits: How much are you going to charge? And for what? It's super important to think about what your benefits are since they're the heart of your membership business and what fans are willing to pay for.

3. Create an introduction video: This gets potential patrons excited, engaged, and quickly lets them know "why" they're subscribing.

4. Promote your membership: This is important when launching, but will also keep patrons and potential patrons coming back month over month.

5. Evaluate success: This is an ongoing process, much like promoting your business you're going to want to continually optimize your tiers, benefits, and overall offering based on your audience's feedback.

Setting benefits & pricing

Before figuring out your pricing and benefits remember that this will be based on your specific audience and what you're offering. Ask yourself:

  • Why do fans engage with my content?
  • What keeps my audience coming back week after week?
  • What's on-brand for me?

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Once you've asked and answered those questions, you can use these types of benefits to inform what you'll offer:

  • Access and insights
  • Digital offers
  • Exclusive engagement
  • Physical offers and merchandise
  • Fan recognition

The price of your benefit should be equal to the impact and the effort. Basically, PRICE = IMPACT + EFFORT. Here are some of the best practices when coming up with your benefits:

  • Make it scalable (for instance, giving each patron a handwritten note might not be as scalable as a quick digital download).
  • Use community-focused benefits that keep patrons engaged and excited
  • Start at $2. Really. It's okay to have your lowest tier be $2, your biggest fans will still support you. What you're offering is valuable, your time is valuable, treat it as such.
  • Limit patrons per tier, for example, setting up the highest tier so only 25 patrons can join. This allows you to 'sell out' of tiers to create exclusivity and excitement, offer benefits that aren't as scalable, and better focus your time.
  • Come up with a fulfillment plan. Yes, it's fun to think about benefits, but you'll need a plan that will allow you to see what resources and time you'll need in advance of offering your benefits.

Tiers best practices

When creating tiers, remember less is more. Keep it reasonable at first and then think about whether or not you should expand. Limit your number of tiers to just five to avoid overwhelming fans. When writing out what the benefits will be, focus on keeping it clear and concise.

Also, remember to format your tier so that the most important aspect of your tiers are in bold. Think about uploading an image to spark attention, and use creative, fun, and hard-to-forget tier names.

Promoting your membership

Remember: you recruit patrons because Patreon isn’t a distribution platform. There is always an opportunity to add to your audience, but you have to talk about your membership to make this possible.

Also, social media is a major driver in creator page traffic but, surprisingly, we’ve seen that’s only 40% of what we’ve seen. So, what does that other 60% look like for you as a creator? Is it your mailing list? Is it links included in press coverage? How about forums — are you active in Reddit communities? Find your distinct channels and plant your Patreon marketing messages there.

Effective marketing strategies

Marketing isn’t as simple as just adding a link to your profile. It may surprise you, but tactics like driving an emotional connection, direct conversations with fans, and teasing benefits can be impactful for your marketing. You’re going to want to continually let patrons and potential patrons know what you’re offering, but more importantly, as Alexis shared, be open and honest about the value you’re offering, and what membership brings to your fans.

Here are a few other actionable marketing strategies you can implement:

  1. Bring your audience “along for the ride”
  2. What value does membership bring to the fans
  3. Implement stories and content that brdige an emotional connection to you as the creator
  4. Directly speak to your audience
  5. Tease benefits by giving fans a behind the membership “paywall”
  6. Create compelling events with a call to action

If you missed Alexis' talk at SXSW and are looking for more tips on how to start or refresh your Patreon membership program, check out the Patreon Workshops our Creator Success team hosts every month.

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