Being a Patreon creator means running a business of one (or more!) by providing value and connection to your most passionate fans in exchange for their ongoing support. It may not look like the usual 9-to-5 job, but it comes with similar pressures... even if you have the freedom to work on projects that make you happy and advance your creative career.
It seems straightforward to us, yet you find yourself sitting at a holiday party, talking about your latest Patreon project, while your family and friends look at you like you’re from another planet.
Sound familiar? You’re not alone.
In a recent global survey, LinkedIn found that one in three parents had a hard time understanding what their child does for a living.
Explaining to your family and friends that you earn your income through an online membership platform can be a long-winded journey. Even when you think you’ve laid it out well, you may end up with even more confused looks. But it doesn’t have to be a hard conversation. In fact, you might find you’ll get more support once you describe what you’re up to these days.
According to the LinkedIn survey, 59 percent of those parents wanted to know more about their child’s career. But how do you do it? How does a creator explain their work to inquiring family and friends?
Ahead of the holidays, we reached out to our community for advice on how to talk to your family about building your creative career on Patreon.
Get down to their level
Finding something they already understand can help put your parents on the same page as you a lot faster.
“I've always used Kickstarter as a jumping-off point for explaining how Patreon works: That people could commit to paying any amount they wanted, and in return, they'd get exclusive rewards and behind-the-scenes updates,” says Patreon member Ginny Di, a web creator that creates complex cosplay costumes and other creative projects she funds with her Patreon page.
Make sure that you clarify that you’re not gathering donations, says Ginny, but instead receiving a recurring, monthly monetary commitment in exchange for the value you offer. It’s okay to use the phrase “value for value exchange” — this will show your family that you’re building a legitimate small business with a proper income stream. If you’re ramping up your Patreon business so it eventually becomes your main source of income, use other creators who have chartered the same path as an example. For instance, Ginny was able to quit her day job in December 2016. She continues to grow her business, and retain all creative control in her work, thanks to committed and passionate patrons who pay her month over month.
Ginny also recommends explaining your income stream from Patreon as akin to a VIP subscription service: “It's kind of like a monthly subscription service, it's kind of like the digital version of VIP concert tickets... whatever comparison makes the most sense for your work,” says Ginny.
Show them instead of telling them
“Running a Patreon is a lot like running a small business, and although you don't have to pitch your parents as if they were the sharks on Shark Tank, there's a lot to be said for being able to confidently make the case for your own creative work,” says Nicole.
Writer Nicole Dieker is the editor of The Billfold, a personal finance blog and community that is partially funded through Patreon support. She writes bylines across the web on popular sites such as Lifehacker and The Penny Hoarder — but to publish her novel, The Biographies of Ordinary, Dieker turned to Patreon.
She suggests that after describing what Patreon is, you follow up with a few success stories. Nicole says a variety is key; don’t just show the six-figure earners, but also smaller creators that have successfully completed projects similar to yours. “You should also be ready to show your work: what have you already created? What are your friends and fans responding to? What's your next big project?” says Nicole.
Ginny agrees that creators whose work doesn’t fall neatly into a common category may need to do a little more educating. It can help to show how similar Patreon creators are finding success on Patreon and provide a few more examples of your program and process.
“I think the presence of so many amazingly successful creators on Patreon can only help prove that it's a viable platform and a potential source of real, life-supporting money,” says Ginny.
Yes, you have business expenses and a schedule just like anyone else
Sometimes family and friends think that just because you work from home, working in your creative element, you’re not “really working.” Has anyone ever assumed that your schedule is always open or you don’t have business expenses? That's when it’s important to clarify that you’re providing a service just like any other small business — it just so happens that you’re able to provide this service from home to your customers — your patrons.
Dispel the myth that you only nap and eat snacks during the day (full disclosure: we’re totally on board if that’s part of your process) as it will help your family see you in a more serious light.
If you’re met with concerns about your financial future, from taxes to retirement, take the time to decide if it’s helpful to hear them out. If you respect the person offering advice, go into listen and learn mode. They may have valid feedback and may give you the necessary push to prioritize your business’ accounting. Ginny attributes her refreshed business perspective to her father, who helped her look at short-term and long-term goals. “They wanted to make sure that I was safe, informed, and making the right decisions. And that's what I want, too,” she said.
Accept whatever support they’re offering
Artist Kate Allan uses Patreon as a way to create and share her mental health-focused encouraging art. With hopeful messaging and adorable creatures, Kate sends off positive vibes to her patrons one project at a time.
While she didn’t have a hard time explaining to her parents what she did for a living, they did assume she had a large income due to her online popularity — “I think a lot of people assume when you’re popular online you must be financially doing well, which definitely is not always the case,” she says.
However, sharing her reality with her closest confidants earned her some unexpected support from family and friends.
“I have one friend who has been my patron for months, and it's so heartwarming. When people become my member on Patreon it feels like such a boost; not only do they like my content, they're willing to give me their hard-earned money just so I can keep making it. It's a beautiful and validating thing!” says Kate.
Support from loving family and friends can help you feel less isolated and overwhelmed, too. Many times, creators are seen as living large, colorful lives — but the truth is that many creators work on their craft alone. Getting positive feedback can be crucial to keep up momentum.
“I'm an anxious person, and I have as much self-doubt as the next creator — knowing that my friends and family believe in me and have my back helps me get through those times where I wonder if I'm doing the right thing,” says Ginny. “If you don't have supportive people in your life already, I truly believe that finding them should be one of your top priorities!”
Surrounding yourself with supportive people, speaking up for yourself for your creative career, and remembering that what you’re doing is important and valuable are goals that can not only get you through the holiday season but also throughout the new year.
Curious if membership is right for you? A new year is a perfect time to launch a new program as part of your creative career. Sign up for Patreon