*Disclaimer - these are my own thoughts and opinions on running a Patreon and I am not an expert, just someone who has found Patreon very useful and has worked for me!
Should you start a Patreon page? Would running one suit the way you work as an artist or end up stressing you out? I'm going to try and break down my experiences of Patreon and what I consider the pros and cons and also right up front will say, it isn't for everyone.
Settle in gang, this is going to be a loooonng one! (I also might update and add to this as time goes by!)
When Patreon first launched their platform they were pushing it as a 'tip-jar' for creatives, but now they have changed that and talk about themselves as a subscription style platform (but they are still both).
I have set up my own Patreon page to work as a subscription to my 'behind the scenes' and that is how I have advertised it from the start, however I have found that most people who pledge are 'tipping' since they don't interact with what I post and are truly altruistic in their patronage (they are amazing!) There are then a smaller percentage who pledge in order to receive physical goodies each month but they are a small percentage of my total patrons.
Where To Start
Here are some questions I think would be useful for someone starting their Patreon page to ask themselves:
- Do I have a consistent style or theme?
- Do I have a project to share?
- Am I comfortable being held accountable for my output?
- Have I got an engaged online following (small or large)
- Do you want this to be full time or part time?
- Are you a good teacher?
1. I believe number 1 is an important one. If you have a recognisable look to your work or always choose specific themes (like I nearly always stick with fantasy and fairytale type things) then this will help enormously. People who are paying you regularly will want to be paying for the thing they sign up for. So for instance, if they sign up for cute fluffy bunny art and then when they're signed up you occasionally post erotic horror for example, then they will not stay a patron unless they happen to be interested in both those things. This is a very silly and extreme example, but you get my meaning! This doesn't mean that someone doing more than one thing can't have success with Patreon, but it is going to be much harder. Know your audience and be aware of why they are following you. Humans like the familiar and predictable. We are creatures of habit!
I know that when I don't post something that is within my current style (older work or maybe a sketch of something non fantasy related), it goes down like a lead balloon usually!
2. Do you want to use Patreon as a view into your making an ongoing project or just whatever you fancy painting at the time? I have been sharing my work for Strangehollow with my Patrons, however this isn't what I do ALL year round so when I'm not doing that they are just getting to see what I happen to be working on. However, as with number 1, these subjects all tend to have an overriding theme. Patreon can work as support for a project Or just ongoing work - I don't think it matters which it is.
3. This is something which can cause artists to clam up and become unproductive in their work. Some people don't want to have to post regularly and would be happier to just make art when the mood takes them. There is an option with Patreon to be paid 'per thing' (that thing could be a video release, a painting or a podcast) and so if you are slow or don't like the pressure of monthly producing of content, then the 'per thing' content creation will be a good choice for you. However, Patreon's analytics say that the monthly creation format is more popular with patrons. For me having a group of people who are there to enjoy what I make is good for me and helps me stop getting stuck staring into space or becoming distracted.
4. It doesn't matter if you don't have a huge following. When I started my Patreon (properly in 2016) I had approximately 1500 instagram followers, but they were very engaged and so were my other followers on other platforms. Instagram is the most engaged platform for me though so I use this as my gauge in this example. Even if you just have 300 followers or 50, you will still have people who want to support you. Having thousands of followers does not in any way equate to thousands of patrons (unfortunately!). I still try to respond to all comments on my social media these days as much as possible.
5. My intention when starting Patreon was to get to the point where I didn't have to take on client work and could spend all my time creating my own things (with Kickstarter projects to support this). This might not be something you are interested in, but it's good to have an idea of what you want when you start. Some of you might just want to work on a side project outside of client work and have a place of accountability to keep you motivated.
6. If you are a great teacher and have loads of skills to pass on, this is a GREAT platform to do that and get paid for it. Some of the most successful Patreon creators are successful because of offering tutorials.
How I Started
In 2015 I made my first attempt to start a Patreon page and ended up cancelling it after four months. I maxed out at 6 patrons in total and my subject matter was slightly different than what I am producing now, mostly ink drawings and imagined journal entries. I had had an idea to run the page as if I was someone else (namely a fictional Victorian explorer who wrote her diary entries in the form of Patreon posts!) She would write about creatures she discovered and sketch them. I hadn't thought it through and was not consistent with the posting, the art was not great quality and so I closed it down. It needs to be known that at this time I had not yet found the happy groove I am now in with watercolour and stylistically I was still looking for my 'voice' and working as a freelance illustrator full time, digitally, not traditionally.
By 2016 I was more determined to move my art back to using traditional media and decided that Patreon was the place to do it. It would become a sort of accountability for me to make time for my own work outside of my client gigs and then in the long term I hoped that it would mean that I could go it alone full time without the need for client work. At the time I was playing around with pencil drawing and inks and occasional small watercolour paintings. I didn't have the space for oils and potentially messy/smelly things like that so watercolour seemed sensible as it didn't create toxic fumes (when working in a small space) and importantly, I really enjoyed using it.
As of writing this blog (November 2020) I have had my Patreon page running non stop since February 2016.I still hadn't found a really solid style though at the start and I needed to get some focus, so towards the end of 2016 I set myself the task to illustrate the inhabitants of an enchanted forest rather than just drawing and painting what I wanted randomly. This was to then become Strangehollow. (You can read about my journey to a consistent style HERE). At the end of February 2016 I had 13 patrons and as of writing I currently have 136 patrons. The number has fluctuated wildly (especially this year) and was at its highest with 165 patrons (Sept 2019). It took me about two years from when it started until it began to pay my bills almost completely. It took approximately 18 months to go from 13 patrons to hovering around 100. I would say that for me it starts to hit a sweet spot (bill-paying wise) at around 145+ patrons, but this will be different for different people, depending on what type of tiers they offer and what size of bills they have to pay!
What do I offer?
When I started I had a small selection of tiers (although I can't recollect their exact names etc, it wasn't dissimilar to how it is now) and at first started with the opening tier being $1 (something I would later up to $2, and now the entry tier is $5). Dollars to pounds is never a good conversion unfortunately so it makes more sense for me to have a higher entry tier. If I had known what I know now I would have never started with a $1 tier and probably not even a $2 tier!
The Tiers I Currently Offer
- $5 - entry tier, 5% discount in my shop & Patreon feed
- $10 - 10% discount, access to Patreon feed
- $15 - 10% discount, access to feed but it's a 'savings' tier. Patrons at this level get to save up their monthly pledge to use to pay towards something at a later date, be that a print or towards an original
- $30 - A6 mini watercolour commission (discontinuing) & 10% discount
- $65 - A5 small watercolour commission every 3 months of payment & 10% discount
- $85 - ACEO tiny watercolour each month plus one A5 and A4 print & 10% discount
My offerings have changed and evolved over the years although I have always offered some kind of physical reward in the form of a sketch or now, a watercolour painting tier. I am discontinuing the $30 tier as it is a lot of work for a very small amount so I will just keep the two higher tiers with less spaces. I also used to give 15% discounts at the higher tiers but this was just too high as a regular thing so I have capped it at 10%.
What would I do differently?
I think the number one thing I would change is not to have the $30 tier and have less physical tiers to fulfil overall. At one point I think I had around 15 patrons at the $30 tier which became very overwhelming to complete each month. It is now at 6 which is much more manageable.
Another thing that I have changed is frequency of posting. I have a tendency to post very regularly and so I feel guilty if I haven't posted several times a week and the reality is my patrons are not checking on how many times I post! This sensation of 'having' to post X number of times is not a healthy mindset to get into. At my most prolific I would post every day with barely any days without posting, even at weekends, not necessary! So for those starting I recommend starting small and growing from there so as not to become overwhelmed. Starting with just one tier would be a great way to test the water.
Is this something you can maintain?
If you are someone who needs deadlines and a bit of pressure to get things done then Patreon could be a great tool to help you. If you are already doing loads of sketching and personal work that you don't necessarily share with the rest of the world then this is an ideal place to do so. I tend to lose focus if I don't have to do a thing so Patreon creates soft deadlines for me which help me a lot as well as the hard deadlines I give myself. Also having the space (created by the financial support my patrons give me) to continue with my world-building has been amazing and life changing. If you have a project idea that you have been wanting to dive into, Patreon might be a great place to share it so that you can earn some income from it.
For me, having Patreon there and such an amazing community to share with is very nourishing for my work and I love it when they get involved with helping me name creatures or giving me feedback on things I have painted. I find bouncing ideas off other people, even if I might not always like their reactions or feedback is really important to my creative process and is something I will always seek out. Through my Patreon community I have learnt so much about how I like to work and what inspires me (and what doesn't!).
I know that some people would HATE this way of working and don't want to hear other people's opinions on their work before it is finished. This doesn't mean that you can't make a success of Patreon, however you will need to set it up in a way which doesn't invite these kinds of interactions which is completely doable! You can run a Patreon page where your patrons pay for the privilege to see artwork in advance of anyone else, so it doesn't have to be showing them the workings, it can just be finished pieces.
How Is Patreon As A Company?
There are also pros and cons to using Patreon to create a membership. For those of us with small numbers of members it is great, we don't have to worry about all the taxes for different countries and that side of things, Patreon does that, they deal with all the back end stuff. However there are other ways of creating a membership platform that is 100% controlled by you. I have been looking into alternatives myself because I would rather send people to my website to sign up, instead of via Patreon. Also the more patrons I gain the more expensive it is. There are other plug-ins and sites which give you a flat fee to run it per month rather than a percentage of your patrons.
I do feel like Patreon make changes to the platform which aren't always 'good', even if their tests say otherwise. For instance the last big change was to alter what people see when they land on the creator page. They used to see the banner, the video, a full page 'story' that you would write about your page in and then to the right there would be the rewards. It is now set up so you just see 3 rewards on the page when you land. I don't like this at all and feel that it ruins the friendliness! (one of the reasons I'm looking to maybe move to a different way of running my membership).
Overall though it is an amazing platform to be able to use and great if you don't know how a membership might work for you without shelling out any cash up front.
(Obvious) Tips To Grow Your Patreon Page
Add the link to your Patreon EVERYWHERE. Talk about it on social media frequently. Don't just have a link on your website and expect people to randomly find it. Tell people about it, be enthusiastic and unapologetically in love with what you do. It is contagious and people want to be part of that.
Post consistently and think of what your USP is (unique selling point). Tell a story, why are you making a Patreon, why are you making what you make, why should people get excited?
Launch your page with a bang! Patreon allows you to do Special Offers so you can do this when you launch your Patreon to help entice people into your special little world!
And of course, make great content.
Things To Watch Out For
Don't give yourself too many things to maintain at the start. Keep it simple, small and manageable. Maybe even start with no physical rewards at all, maybe just one tier, test the water and see how you feel. You can ALWAYS change things at a later date but it is easier to add things than deleting a tier that doesn't work.
Patreon Alternatives I Have Looked Into:
- Restrict Content Pro
- Woo Memberships & Subscriptions
I think Podia could be good if they can make their posts searchable and tangible. At the moment if you post content with them - which you attach to your website, it is just infinite scroll with no way of searching, so no use if you intend on making lots of content. Podia also is a little more expensive than the others so would only be worth while if someone had over a certain number of patrons. Still, not ready yet to replace Patreon in my opinion.
Member Space looks great as it is something you add to your website to restrict certain areas. This is only available for wordpress, squarespace, weebly and Wix amongst others (so for me it is no good as they don't do Shopify ... yet). It has a very good fee ($25 a month for the lowest pricing option). If you already have one of these site builders then it's worth a look I think! It also boasts that it is designed for non technical people. Always useful!
If you are well versed and comfortable with wordpress then you are pretty much open to endless options. Woo memberships & subscriptions mean you can embed your courses and membership into your Wordpress site. All the other options above (and more) are available to wordpress too.
DO THE THING! Only you know if you are ready or if this is something that you can enjoy. Don't wait, just try it and see. It's ok if it doesn't work the first time, you will learn from it.
Don't expect lots of patrons at once or that it will be paying your bills by next month. This isn't a Kickstarter and it will be slow growth (unless you are a superstar artist with thousands of online followers who want to throw their cash at you!).
Pick a subject YOU love, not that you think people will like and you will have the beginnings of something truly sustainable.
Please do comment below with any questions you have and I can add them and the answers (if I can answer them!) to this post. If you think I've missed anything out, let me know!