Yes, “astrophysicist” is an actual day job! But not all astrophysicists are alike — in addition to his day job, Paul M. Sutter uses his vast knowledge of black holes, comets, galaxy clusters, and more to answer questions on his YouTube and podcast series. Ask A Spaceman, his podcast series since 2015, is now one of the top podcasts across all subjects globally.
When Patreon launched Special Offers in late 2018, Paul was one of the first to test it out. Initially, his Special Offer was to join his membership program at the Interplanetary Traveler level (the $10 group) or higher and maintain that for two months. The patrons would receive a signed copy of his book on top of that tier’s benefits. The book was worth $25+, so this was a deal.
“It was simply fantastic!” he said. “The process was easy to set up, it was perfectly timed with the launch of my new book, and the tools really and guides really helped me shape and target my outreach.”
Paul saw a significant increase — 40 new patrons signed up during the Special Offer window, earning $553 more per month — and half of the growth came from existing patrons bumping up their tier level.
“My income nearly doubled,” Paul said. “I braced myself for a huge drop-off in December, but in December — it went up. And then it went up in January. And up in February. And March, and April. The majority of the new patrons [who signed up through the special offer] stuck around.” When he spoke with some of them, he heard many express that they had been meaning to sign up for a while, but they needed an excuse. Maybe they were listening to the podcast on their commute and by time they got home, they forgot. But his new book was just the push they needed.
And since he already had a book coming out, it was the perfect time to make this Special Offer — it would continue to showcase his new book, make a connection with his existing patrons through a personalized message, and increase patronage.
It went so well that he just finished his second Special Offer May 1st. “This one was more of an experiment,” he said. “I offered one-on-one half hour Skype sessions where fans could ask me anything.” People could have an individual session with him if they pledged at the $25 level or above.
He reports that there was about 10% growth in April, while the offer was open. About half of the growth was from existing patrons who upgraded, and half was from people coming in new. This time, he didn’t do the same kind of promotion — he didn’t promote it on his podcast, but on his very active social media presence.
“I wondered, what kind of reaction will this get?” he said. “And even without the big push that I did in the fall, it was a success. I have a bunch of sessions with people scheduled in the next couple months, and they’re really fun.”
Paul reports that his earnings have steadily gone up, though occasionally flattens out for a little while. “A few in the fall joined at the $100 per month level,” he explained, “and I didn’t expect them to hang around for long. So it takes time to build $100 back up when someone drops. But the number of patrons is more important to me than the income.”
One of the most challenging thing about setting up a special offer is just what to offer. The first time, the timing was perfect with Paul’s new book — so any time you have a new product coming out, consider making it a special offer perk.
But if your creative work doesn’t produce products in that way, Paul has some other advice. “Take a look at the ways you're already reaching your fans and engaging with them. That's exactly your vehicle for promotion.”
Ask yourself what your audience is hungry for, he suggested. “My audience was hungry for my book, to put an artifact in their hands that they could read late at night. And with the question and answer format — my fans like asking me questions, that’s the whole premise of the podcast and Youtube series.” So it made sense for him to extend personal one-on-one time from the creative output he was already doing, and his audience already had an idea of what it would be like, because they’d witnessed him in a similar format for his public work. “It’s rewarding for me to interact in that very special way,” he said.
But when it comes to figuring out precisely what is best for another creator’s special offer, “It’s more about knowing your audience,” he said. “Every creator is the expert on their own audience. You may have to experiment. Try one and see how it goes, wait six months and try something else. Find something that fits within what you’re doing already, that is an extension from it. If you’re an artist, things like sketches or designs would make sense.”
His book was a very clear extension of the work he was already doing, and so are the Skype sessions. “What’s something special you can make out of what you’re already creating?” he asks.