In Jeff Goins' book, Real Artists Don't Starve, he exposes the myth of the “starving artist” and talks about how, throughout history, creators have leveraged their creativity and social power to not just survive, but to thrive from their creations. It’s a core thing we’re watching for in the creator economy, since the internet has created even more options for creators to make money from their work.
And one of these options is Patreon.
When Patreon launched, it gave thousands of creators a brand new way to make money off of their work. The idea was liberating. Do what you do best, focus on being great at it, and the people who love your stuff can support you.
But just because the idea of having patrons support you is great, it doesn't make it easy. For every artist wishing they could be making a full-time living off of their work, there are hundreds of others who bring in a trickle of coins every month or even nothing at all.
Because the truth about Patreon is that being a creator isn't enough. You also have to learn the art of being successful on Patreon, of delivering value and managing your audience.
That's what we’ll talk about in this post. We'll give you the foundations for how to be successful on Patreon. If you can figure this out, you'll have time to devote to the work that you love. And isn't that what it's all about?
Here’s how to be successful on Patreon:
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1. Know why people support
The place to start with Patreon is not setting up an account and hoping money comes. It's having a strong understanding of your personal brand and what your craft is. Patreon has an enormous range of possibilities. Whether you want to give tips on raising succulents or whether you're a fashion influencer, you can probably build a following there. But it's important to really know what your thing is.
Behind every successful Patreon account is someone devoted to a craft. So a good place to start is with the question, What am I good at?
And after this question, you can ask a few more: Why would people want to support my work? What do they get out of it?
Here are a few reasons people will become patrons:
For the love of the craft
This is what we usually think of when we think of patronage. Maybe it's the purest form of support, when people will donate simply for the love of your craft and a desire to support it. As we’ll talk about below, patrons throughout history have received different goodies from supporting creators, but there may still be people who want to support you just because they love what you do and believe it should exist.
Passion about a cause
Some patrons will also support because they're passionate about a cause. Imagine if you have been frustrated by a social issue in the past, and all of a sudden you realize somebody is devoting their life to fixing it. That might be something you want to support. In this case, giving through Patreon looks more like supporting a charity. Examples of this type of Patron would be donating to someone advocating for refugee issues or raising awareness of systemic racial injustice by using social media platforms.
For the benefits
In many cases, people will become patrons because of the benefits that come with it. Examples of these benefits might include guests or merch, face time with a creator, or a course. We'll talk more about this below.
By the way, if you have any qualms about offering benefits to your supporters, DON’T! Contrary to what you might think, it’s not “selling out” and it doesn’t dilute the “pure love of the craft.” Thousands of creators offer some sort of benefit to the people who love their work, and it’s a fantastic thing.
2. Master audience building
If you are trying to figure out how to be successful on Patreon, one of the most obvious things is that people need to know you're there. So the first step is probably going to be something that will come easy to some creators and hard to others: audience building.
There are different ways to accomplish this, some low-tech and some high-tech, but you need to get your Patreon account in front of people who support you.
Audience building doesn't always come easy, and just because you are great at your craft doesn't necessarily mean you will be great at building an audience. If you are an influencer wanting to use Patreon, you are probably already great at building an audience. If you have 10,000 Instagram or TikTok followers, you're well on your way. If you're an artist or writer, audience building might be a new thing.
Don’t be intimidated by it. Audience building is a skill, and if you can learn it, it will pay off big-time!
Here are some of the ways that some Patreon members choose to build their audience.
One of the most common feeders for Patreon supporters is social media. Social media platforms, whatever they are, give creators a way to build a following, grow a fan base, and therefore find loyal supporters.
Note that you don't need to be on every social media platform to successfully build an audience. In all honesty, you are probably better off choosing one or two. The influencers who look like they're on every platform often have teams of people helping them. Keep it simple. Figure out where the people are who will get the most out of what you have to offer. Focus on that platform.
Here are a few ideas for platforms you can try and what works on them:
- LinkedIn=Careers or business
- Instagram=Artists and creatives, fashion influencers, inspirational figures
- TikTok=Just about anything
- Twitter=Politics, big ideas
- YouTube=Just about anything
It's one of the oldest forms of online communication, but email is still a great way to build a following. Even better, it's a great way to deepen trust with an existing following. Social media comes and goes, and they change the rules all the time. But when you have someone's email, theoretically you can always reach them (although spam filters are a thing).
Email is personal. Most people check it every day. If you are in someone's inbox, you are in a great place to build a long-term relationship with them. And it's the perfect spot to build trust with possible future patrons.
What if you could get in front of millions of people without posting on social media everyday for years or working hard to grow a following? Some people do exactly this, choosing to focus more on tapping into existing audiences with their message than trying to build an audience from scratch.
Getting your ideas and work onto other media channels, whether it’s writing op-eds for popular news outlets, a guest blog post for a popular blog, or trying to get on the news by signing up for Help a Reporter Out (HARO) can also be a great strategy for growing your audience. You probably want to mix these with the ideas above, especially if you’re going to build a relationship deep enough to win patrons, but using existing media channels is a great way to get your message out.
3. Deliver value to members
The next step for being successful on Patreon is learning to deliver value to your members. If you go and look at Renaissance paintings, you will find a lot of wealthy patrons with their portraits sprinkled into ancient scenes. These patrons wanted to be rewarded with a picture next to Plato or someone from the Bible, and the artists painted them into famous works of art. And these patrons’ portraits have been preserved for posterity in some of the greatest pieces of art ever made.
There’s a lesson here. Learn how to deliver value to your patrons. Patronage isn’t just a one-way street in which patrons give you money. Often, rewarding your patrons will make them feel great about supporting you, and hopefully, encourage them to continue!
But the other challenge is delivering long-term value. Unlike crowdfunding websites where you are raising money for a specific cause or project and it has a time limit on it, you’re hoping to keep your patrons for a long time to come. You’ll need to learn how to deliver value, not for a week or a month, but for the entire lifecycle of your supporter. That can be a tall order.
Here are some ideas for how to do that:
Set up membership tiers
One of the best options Patreon gives you to deliver value to your members is through membership tiers. This is where you can have preset offers, and members will be rewarded according to their level of gift. For example, a visual artist might set up membership tiers that look something like this:
- Entry-level = $5-10/mo (5 free printables)
- Mid-level=$10-25/mo (5 free printables + a recorded monthly video art lesson)
- High-level = $25+ (5 free printables + live monthly video art lesson with Q&A + recording after + quarterly guest art lessons)
There are a million different ways to reward your members, but finding ways to make them feel special will be a great incentive for them to keep supporting you!
Pro tip: Try to keep your rewards scalable. If you said, “I’ll meet personally once a month with everyone at the high-level tier, and then 1,000 people joined, you’d never get anything else done. It’s better to offer things you can do once (like printables, classes, courses, live streams, etc) that benefit everyone.
Patreon has the option to build merch for your supporters. It might not be right for everyone, but if you’re an artist or musician, or even if you have a strong logo or a quote you want to share, merch might be an option. Patreon recently added the option to build merch into your offerings, and they take care of the manufacturing and shipping.
Sending your supporters a free mug or t-shirt can be a great way to deliver value.
One of the best ways creators can deliver value to their Patreon supporters, especially if you have fans, is to offer them access to…. YOU. It might seem a bit Hollywood at first, but often people love the chance to meet creators and/or to learn from them.
If you’re a well-respected creator, you might find that people are excited by the chance to come and meet you, ask you questions, and get more face-time. You could do this on Patreon, but it's limited. But mixing Patreon with a platform like Mighty Networks lets you add amazing courses and live streams (pictured above)!
Chatting in a Mighty Network
Another option that a lot of creators are taking is to build and grow an online community. It’s one of the best ways to give your supporters access, value, and easily manage different membership tiers. With the right community platform, you can live stream, post ideas and host discussions in the forum, and even serve your members with an app! We’ll talk more about this below
We’re a huge fan of this strategy because you don’t need 100,000 people to build and monetize successfully. You might be surprised to find out that you don't need a huge marketing team or social media presence to launch a great community. You just need a clear value proposition for people who will join, and they need a reasonable expectation that being in your community will help them accomplish their goals.
Linking this to your Patreon levels can be an easy way to add value to your supporters.
4. Create extras
One final step that you can use to give value to your Patreon supporters is to create extra bonuses. You could do this for free as part of their Patreon package, but a lot of creators choose to use their Patreon audience to springboard into other things, running special events, courses, and more. In fact, selling access to one-time benefits is a huge source of income for some Patreon creators.
In business, it’s well-known that it’s easier to sell to an existing customer than someone who’s never bought before. It’s the concept of the upsell, and it’s why your favorite burger joint usually asks, “Do you want fries with that?”
So, however you want to handle the pricing, creating extra bonuses for your members, and even charging for them, can be a really important part of a sustainable Patreon funding model.
Here are a few ideas for extra things you could offer:
It stands to reason that if you’re an artist, the people supporting you on Patreon won’t expect a free oil painting every month. So if you have an actual big product to sell, something amazing you’ve created, your existing audience are probably the perfect people to buy it. You could offer discounts to your members if you want, as an even bigger value-added (e.g. “Members get 5, 10, and 20% off depending on membership tier.”)
If you’re a creator who builds and sells either physical or digital products, using your existing Patreon members to make sales is a great extra.
We talked about community above, but building a community space for your patrons to join that lives on a platform like Mighty Networks, or maybe even upselling a community membership is a great way to give your patrons access and extra value.
Another way that many creators choose to add extras for their members is through an event. You could choose to sell tickets at a discount to members or give them first or special access. And whether the event is a series of speakers, a lesson that you lead, or a performance, you can use it to expand your reach and your income potential.
Running courses for your followers, whether it’s on “Building an Instagram Following” or “Secret Watercolor Techniques,” is another way you can add more value to your existing audience and also supplement your Patreon income. A lot of our creators on Mighty Network do amazing things with courses and make great income off of them!
Finally, some creators choose to add coaching as an extra to their Patreon work. Whether it’s a limited group coaching session, a mastermind group, or 1:1 coaching, it’s an extra that lets creators work closely with select people and deliver even more value.
If you’re looking for a super-easy way to run community and/or events and/or courses and/or coaching, try Mighty Networks! We go great with Patreon and help you bring even more value out of your audience.
If you’re just starting out on Patreon, it can be intimidating. You may look around at other creators and see people making a decent income off of the platform, and it’s hard to believe you could get there. But if you work to grow your following and add value, you can definitely make Patreon one of your income streams.
But it’s important to be realistic about what Patreon will and won’t do. Based on their numbers, Patreon estimates that a creator with a following of 30,000 people can make about $315-$1,575 a month. If you’re currently making nothing, that sounds pretty great. But it’s hardly enough to live on. If you want to actually make a living from your work, you’ll probably need to make Patreon a part of your overall income, rather than the whole.
And that’s where some of these extras we talked about, building a community, hosting events, or even selling products, will need to be a part of your overall monetization strategy. We’ve built an amazing platform you can use for this, that will give your patrons a ton of value and let you sell more memberships, access to subgroups, courses, and events. It gives you great ways to serve your members like polls, live streams, and discussion forums, and many creators are earning a full-time living off of communities of 40 or 50 people.
You can try it for free and get a sense of what you could build with it!