In 2015, William “Suede” DuFresne was underemployed and desperate for work.He’d been making reviews of anime and Pokemon on YouTube since 2008, but only as a hobby.
As his viewership grew, most videos made around $100 from YouTube ads — a nice tip, but certainly not enough to live on. As he explored every possible venue for full-time employment (including truck driving and undertaking), he created a Patreon account in case he could earn something from making videos.
It didn’t work (at first — more on why in a bit). Meanwhile, his Asperger’s Syndrome made securing a “traditional” job even more difficult than it already was. Fortunately, he doesn’t need a “traditional” job anymore. As it turns out, making reviews is enough to support his family.
Today, he earns over $3,000/month — even though his YouTube channel has under 10,000 subscribers.
By leveraging the power of a small, dedicated audience, Suede can double down on what he does best: making videos for and engaging with the fans who love his work.
In late 2014, William created his Patreon page. He filmed a ‘pros and cons of Patreon’ video that drove some early patrons. But the page made a mere $215 in 2015.
The reason? Suede set up the page to charge “per review.” And then he didn’t charge for the videos he made. Even though he put out opinion videos and other short works, he didn’t feel comfortable charging for them.
Long form review videos — like the ones he had become known for — weren’t an option most of the time: his part-time work plus job hunting left little time for video creation.
Finally, someone brought up Pokemon. In his early years, Suede teamed up with a few other creators to do long-form reviews of Pokemon movies. Why couldn’t he do shorter reviews of the Pokemon animated series? So in early 2016, he started posting regular reviews of Pokemon episodes. His first one netted around $350.
And as the year progressed, his Patreon skyrocketed. They became so popular that he pulled in his wife, Jess, so the pair could produce more episodes.
“Eventually we thought, ‘Hey, maybe we can scrimp and save and actually make this a part-time income,’” William explained.
Now, it’s a full-time income. What makes his (relatively) small audience so engaged that William can work on his channel full time?
Earlier this March, William posed a question to his audience: As a creator with a relatively small Youtube audience, his income is surprisingly high. Why do they support him so enthusiastically?
To date, he’s gotten over fifty responses. Here’s what they said.
After analyzing the responses, William and Jess identified the main driver of patronage.
“The main thing that people said that they paid for,” Jess explained, “was consistency, which actually matches up: once we started putting out consistent content, Patreon just exploded.”
“In one year, we went from $300/month to $3,000/month,” she recounted.
Patrons love that Suede updates regularly and publishes when he says he will. And when he can’t complete a script or a video on schedule, he lets them know why. The second most common response was often tied in with the first: consistency is important, but consistent quality is even better. Since viewers know what to expect, they’re more willing to part with their hard-earned dollars to support Suede.
It’s no secret that Suede’s patrons love his personality. But it goes beyond just his personality: they love how readily he communicates with them, how relatable he seems, and the passion with which he pursues his craft.
And, they know exactly where their money goes.
A perfect example is this 30 second video that William shared with patrons when he went to donate plasma.
“The reason why I’m telling you guys,” he explains in the video, “is it’s because of you guys allowing me to go full-time that I’m able to have the flexible hours needed to be able to donate this plasma. In a sense, you’re indirectly saving the lives that I’m saving as well, so that’s really cool.”
Naturally, his patrons loved it.
And William is happy to keep them updated.
“We are super grateful for the patrons,” Jess said. “They literally pay for our rent and our food.”
“It can be a bit of a tightrope between TMI and stuff like that,” William added. “It’s just about being real with the things that need to be discussed, especially with people who are paying your rent.”
“William has always been transparent about where the money goes, what his projects are, and what he’s doing when he’s been struggling,” Jess explained.
“Never in a ‘woe is me’ sort of way, but just saying hey, this is what’s happening with your stuff. Thank you so much. Or, this is the update. This is what your money is going towards.”
William and Jess designed their reward tiers around emphasizing the great community they have on Patreon.
Fans contributions are valued and recognized, driving loyalty (and some higher tier membership as well).
At the end of each video, Suede reads out the names of patrons who support him at $10 and above. They also get an Avatar drawn by Jess to be featured at the end of every episode.
But there’s a twist.
“For every single video — and I’ve done 72 videos as of now — I’ve done a different twist on reading their names out,” William said.
He’s done readings like patrons are on a game show impression, like he’s hungover, like they’re in a murder mystery, or even like they’re in a slenderman video.
“Lots of people express the fact that they felt appreciated and that they were part of a community rather than just throwing money at a screen,” William said.
Not only do patrons love the interaction, but it also serves to advertise his Patreon account because “it creates an impetus for people to stay around” as he reads the patron names.
Plus, William will comment on the avatars in a funny way each time.
“The relatively small subscriber count kind of works to our advantage,” William explained, “because it’s like a small café where people come in and I can say, ‘Hi Mike, how are the kids?’”
On Twitter, one of his fans mentioned just how remarkable the strategy is, saying, “I could name some of your patrons off the top of my head, which is so much more than I could say for any other Patreon.”
Another way William engages with his patrons is through a weekly ‘watch me script’ exercise. When he’s ready to write for his next video, he shares the link to his Google Doc with patrons. They can watch him write in real time and can comment with suggestions and feedback. He said that his fans are a “gold mine” of information and really do improve his episodes.
Plus, it’s a great improvement over live hangouts — which aggravated his social anxiety — that allows patrons to be part of his process.
Much of William’s success is derived from knowing his audience. That comes from asking fans what they want, and from paying attention to comments on his videos. It’s all about knowing where to look, and how to interact.
William mostly ignores negative comments on YouTube.
“You can find perfectly edible food in a dumpster,” he said. “But you have to sort through a lot of garbage and it’s a lot of work for very little. Wouldn’t you rather go to a store? It’s the exact same nourishment. It’s just in a better environment from a place that you trust a bit more.
So that’s where Patreon comes in. If you give me money in order to see my stuff, it means that there’s an element of good faith there.” In other words, comments from patrons are where he gets his best feedback and ideas.
So if a patron tells him the audio quality is poor, he asks follow up questions and investigates. When his listeners said they wanted a short summary of the episode he’s reviewing, he implemented the change. And making those changes helped him grow his community because people saw that he listened to and respected their input.
William and Jess notice some creators asking fans, ‘What should I do next?’ But such open-ended questions lead to answers that aren’t necessarily actionable. Instead, he focuses on letting fans choose between several options. That way, he’s doing something he wants to do while still tailoring it to his fans’ preferences.
For example, he might say, “I have two ideas, which of these do you like better?” Then he lets the votes roll in.
Both William and Jess emphasized that success doesn’t happen overnight with Patreon. “It’s evolved slowly but surely,” Jess explained, “and so has his viewer base. It’s a matter of patience and just working out the formula that works for you and for your audience.”
But the payoff has been more than worth it. Now, they enjoy “income detached from any view counts,” and a community capable of giving meaningful feedback on their work.
Suede is proof that it doesn’t take millions of viewers to make a living as a YouTube creator. “That’s one of the good things about Patreon: it’s merit based. You put yourself out there and if you’re good enough, then you get more money as you go along. Or at least that’s the idea,” William said.
“Less than 10,000 subscribers is pathetic next to lots of people. But I’m able to work out a living. I don’t need to be a millionaire CEO. I can make enough money to support my family. That could almost be revolutionary: the idea that people can work in a creative industry, but not always have to be worrying about where the next paycheck is coming from.”