When Brandon Jones and his fellow video game reviewers lost their corporate sponsorship and most of their funding, he thought they’d lose most of their fans, too.
He was wrong.
In a previous article, we told the story of how Easy Allies became one of the highest earning Patreon creators within 48 hours of launch. In this article, we dive deep into the strategies that led to their success. In particular, how they are able to maintain such a supportive and engaged fanbase, how that was the foundation behind them being able to bounce back from their setback, and how you — whether you run a YouTube channel, podcast, blog, etc. — can do the same.
Here’s a hint: it’s still not about a big budget. Even with over 6,000 financial supporters bringing in more than $42,000 a month, most of the team doesn’t work on the project full-time, and they still produce content out of their living rooms and garages.
We talked to Brandon, one of the hosts of Easy Allies, about how they do actually maintain a rabid fan base and boiled it down to practical steps on how you too can foster a loyal fanbase on any budget.
*Note: When Easy Allies went out on their own, they were supported by their fanbase and Patreon. If you’re also interested in making money as a creator, you can sign up here or learn more on our homepage.*
Prioritize your fan’s opinions over industry standards
Step One: Ignore industry standards
Originally, Brandon thought that Easy Allies was obligated to keep up the norms of the industry, including monthly countdowns and interviews — things they regularly did at Game Trailers. However these industry standards are much more difficult to do well on a small budget.
“Interviews was a big one because we’re at my house and so I don’t know if I want Shuhei Yoshida [President of Sony Interactive Entertainment] coming by my house. I would love to sit down to have a cup of coffee with him, but at the same time, maybe let’s wait until we can get a professional space that we can meet at.”
Brandon quickly realized that they didn’t have to do these things to keep fans happy.
Step Two: Try things out that break the norm
Instead, they try things out that are within their budget and see what the fans like. For instance, once a month for two hours, they stream how to build Gundams — giant robots in mobile suits, and the audience eats it up.
“Last night, we had our group stream and unboxed eight Gundams this guy sent us from Japan. I mean, I just I didn’t think we would be doing stuff like that. I didn’t think that would be viable.”
Turns out it is viable because, as a Patreon-supported business, they’re only beholden to their fans. “I like to think I went from having six bosses to six thousand bosses,” Brandon said.
“The most important thing is to keep these six thousand people happy and to really follow what their interests are.”
Step Three: Solicit feedback, constantly
If you have a creative project that isn’t getting the support you were hoping for, the big question is, have you asked people what they are looking for? The goal is to get super close to your fans and potential fans so that you’re meeting needs they said they had over needs you’re guessing they have. How do you do that?
Ask for their feedback.
Easy Allies communicates with their followers, a lot. Besides staying connected to their followers via Twitch and other social media sites, an FAQ portion is built into many of their shows. And one Patreon level of support gains fans access to a monthly Q&A with the entire team in Google Hangouts.
They also pay attention to what works and what doesn’t in Patreon. “We’ve had Patreon tiers that we’ve pitched that there was clearly no interest and we’re like, ‘OK we’ll change that to something else.’ It’s a little bit of the responsibility that they share in the success of Easy Allies in communicating to us what works, what doesn’t, and where they want this to go.”
Their community members seem to take this responsibility seriously. Some active community members have even emailed a list of things they didn’t like about the content.
2. Leverage the Community to Work For You
You have some active fans that appreciate what you do, now how do you hold their interest? Get them involved.
Step One: Form a community around your brand or project
They use in-person and online opportunities to not only get the community to engage with the Easy Allies, but also with each other. At their one-year anniversary event this March, Brandon explains, “Seeing people create their own events and meet together and take pictures together and seem them realize their role in it and that they’re just as much of an all as we are — that stuff never gets old.”
Step Two: Give community members official roles
Heading into year two, Brandon found he was less worried about growing the site and more focused on their existing fans. For him, the next step is to involve fans even more directly with the business. He’s looking for ways to actively collaborate with community members in more official roles.
“One thing that I’m extremely jealous of “Kinda Funny” that they do very well is leveraging the power of their community to do work for them. They’ve just recently hired people that came up as community managers naturally in their community. We have moderators on Twitch, and we have people that are not necessarily managers, but they’re people that others in our community look up to. And in the future, I’m very eager to make their contributions more official.”
3. Set Realistic Goals, Not Pipe Dreams
You’ll never guess the first goal set by the team that used to work under a massive corporate budget with the highest-quality production equipment?
Easy Allies would go on to but they didn’t know that yet. And, besides, they had good reasons to start with a couch.
Step One: Start with your equivalent of a couch
“The couch came from trying to remove the necessity of need,” Brandon explained. “Let’s have one really small thing so that regardless … at least we can show up the next day being like, ‘We hit one goal.’ We can have big pie in the sky 50K, 30K goals, but let’s at least have something that we know we can celebrate when we turn the camera on tomorrow morning. That, and we’ve got to sit somewhere.”
As they look to the future, they have goals: reaching $50K a month would mean they could afford a new headquarters and a portion of their team could work on the site full-time. But part of why Brandon thinks they’re successful goes back to the couch. From the beginning, they’ve learned to be okay where they are and celebrate the small successes.
Step Two: Create a plan you can do on any budget
Easy Allies takes turn streaming individual at different houses and, once a week, they all gather together to stream and record their podcast. Anything else requiring more time and a bigger budget gets built on top of that through the support of their followers.
To make this work, not everyone on the team is full-time. Many of them freelance and work on other projects at the same time. They all keep working on Easy Allies because they still care about the site and the community behind it.
Step Three: As you grow, don’t abandon that bare-bones plan, build on it
The Easy Allies team knows from experience, you never know how your budget is going to change, whether you’re corporately or community funded. Their perspective is to not sweat it.
“Easy Allies will grow and shrink depending on our followers, and I think having that kind of open mind is really important and takes some of the desperation away, because I think that’s something that can be not inspiring for your audience.”
This doesn’t mean they don’t plan for growth, they just know how to work on any budget.
“Obviously, we want to grow. We never want to see that number drop — we always want to see it go up. At the same time, if it does, that’s just where we are. That’s just the size of things. We don’t consider that a failure; it’s not something where we’re not meeting some invisible potential that we’ve set for ourselves.
Step Four: Don’t outgrow your community
His biggest piece of advice for those new to Patreon is to not take for granted the folks willing to support you, no matter how small the number. “The passion that you’re doing for your project can’t be a passion for numbers. It can’t be a passion for financial success or popularity. I think what people attached to Easy Allies was a passion for a shared respect and enjoyment of hanging around each other and passion for this industry and then everything else kind of like fell in line behind that.”
He also reminds people that it took twelve years to build the community that exists around the site. “At any point professionally, you’re always going to be behind somebody and ahead of somebody. You know you’re there is always going be someone that you can look up to and someone that’s going to look up to you. And sometimes it can feel like you’re at the bottom. Sometimes it can feel like you’re always just kind of struggling to get to that next thing. But there’s always somebody that looks up to you and follows you as an example. So it is an honor to have played a part.”
*Note: When Easy Allies left their corporate job to go out on their own, they were supported by their fanbase and Patreon. If you’re also interested in making money as a creator, you can sign up here or learn more on our homepage.*