This is Part One of a series of posts on setting up, running and concluding a crowdfunding campaign. My intention is to add something new to what is a widely blogged about subject, as someone who has read said blogs and, upon application, discovered what helped, what hindered and what is simply not covered, or at least no where I looked.
Setting the Stage:
My own crowdfunding campaign is, at the time of writing, ongoing. It launched the 1st of May (2016) with an end date of the 31st. It’s not on a well-known platform, which in itself will contribute to providing information here, not found elsewhere. I’m using a platform called Publishizer, created by a guy named Guy (Convenient!), as a way for writers to fund the publication of their books.
Whilst this is a very different platform to Kickstarter, Indigogo or any of the other well-known ones out there, much of marketing a crowdfunding campaign runs along the same vein, so these posts should have something to offer anyone looking into this as a viable way to launch their business, product or idea into the world.
This first post will cover the preliminaries: The work one must do prior to launch day.
How long you take to do any of this is entirely up to you. In the case of my campaign I started research back in November 2015. By January I had chosen my platform and begun notifying my friends and family of my intention.
Most of the heavy lifting was done in the two months prior to launch. I can’t be specific on the timing for your project as that will really depend on you, what you know about your audience, project and availability, but I cannot emphasise enough the importance of starting early. If you’ve never done this before and have a limited audience there’s no setting up a page on a whim and figuring out all the marketing as it’s happening. Even people who do have a significant following prepare for their campaigns. This preparation is absolutely essential.
You’ll quickly find this out with the first step, which is:
As stated before, I researched crowdfunding a lot before going into this venture and you should too.
Finding the right platform is important - although I’ve discovered that even the seemingly ‘right’ platform will offer a learning curve for both the crowdfunder and the platform creator, especially if it’s a newer one.
You’ll also want to read about other people’s accounts running campaigns for something similar. Like any business venture, you want to know your market, what the competition is and how past campaigns pitching similar or the same stuff have gone.
Of course, if you’re reading this odds are pretty good that you already know you need to do research, so you may be finding this particular tip a bit lacking. Which brings me to point number two…
2. Check what you think you know
It’s easy to think we already know everything. I have a background in marketing and communications, and design. I can be pretty smug about my knowledge of website copy, social media platforms and the psychology of selling, but such smugness can be a serious deficit. Checking what I thought I knew helped immensely.
I would read a lot of crowdfunding tips that seemed to say the same thing over and over, stuff I thought was obvious like: Tweet it, post to Facebook and email people you know.
But there were some articles which took these marketing basics a bit further, like one which said you should have your first week worth of tweets scheduled prior to launch. Or another that said you should pre-write blog updates for during your campaign, just in case you’re strapped for time. Knowing both of these things have helped ease what is an intense workload, once the campaign is going.
3. Be an ant, not a grasshopper
Following on from point 2, any prep work you can do I recommend, even if it seems excessive. For example, I pre-wrote blog entries or possible Tweets and Facebook posts I could use for if/when certain targets were hit. Crowdfunding is a gamble and whilst I had no guarantee it would go viral (And was seriously working on not having hope of that) I didn’t want to be caught out if it did.
I scheduled over 200 tweets and 50 posts to Facebook, Google+ and LinkedIn. I realised I had a growing following on Medium and began to cultivate my relationships on there, publishing more frequently and inviting people to sign up to my newsletter.
Make a list of what you already have for marketing by answering any or all of these:
Do you have a Facebook page? How many followers does it have? How can you get more?
A regular newsletter with subscribers? How can you increase subscriptions?
Do you have a blog? How many subscribers or readers does it get? What about other blogging platforms or forms of online publishing like Medium or Huffpost?
Do you host a Podcast? How many listeners does it have and are they a viable market? How about a friend with a podcast? Would they have you on as a guest to promote your idea?
Are you on Twitter? How many followers do you have?
Do you use Gmail? Set up Not Another Mail Merge and Boomerang.
How many emails do you have for people you know? Can you start getting more?
Knowing all this going in will really help you to plan and prepare what will be the promotional side of the campaign, which should start before launch day.
4. Ask for help & make it personal
Most of the people who have become patrons for my book are my friends and family. These people, the people who know you best and for the longest, will always be your strongest supporters going in. It’s important that you contact them personally to let them know about your campaign. No mass emails - I’m talking personalised, individual messages explaining your project, being specific about how they can help and why you need their help.
This was a tip I got from Kathryn Finney, whose Kickstarter campaign was incredibly successful. She emphasised the importance of maintaining regular contact and genuinely taking the time to ask people to support you.
In my case this was really effective for the first week of my campaign when I was traveling from Sydney, Australia to Calgary, Canada. During what would have been eighteen hours of silence (aside from all the Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter posts I pre-scheduled, of course) I had a group of five people sharing, liking and commenting on the link to my campaign - keeping it going. They were people I made specific asks to, who knew about my plans since January and were invested in it because they care about me. Seriously - don’t underestimate the support of your personal network when taking on a crowdfunding campaign.
5. Include a campaign video - no matter what
I waffled on this one, even though I know it’s one of those seemingly obvious things you’re told to do. This was largely because all the examples of crowdfunding campaigns for books that I found during my research phase had an actual copy of the book to show people. My manuscript is unedited and I wasn’t about to slap together a layout for a one off print for a three minute video.
It was a conversation with Tylea, founder of Thundress, that convinced me to work around it. She emphasised the importance of the video to help make that personal connection with people who don’t know you.
The result has been a lot of videos throughout my campaign, including the official campaign video for launch day - which wasn’t so hard to make after all. The lesson learned there being, just because everyone else does their video in a particular way doesn’t mean you have to. In fact, by changing it up and doing something no one else has (I included a blooper reel, which I’ve yet to see anywhere else) may just be the thing that makes you stand out.
6. You don’t need a budget - but you do need to make time
If you have the money you can pay for marketing agencies, Facebook ads or sponsored tweets. You could pay to get your campaign video made or edited. You could hire someone to do social media promotions.
I didn’t. I didn’t have the money for any of those things and I know, from my years doing marketing, that such things don’t necessarily get you more exposure. For example, many of my Facebook posts during this campaign have had as many interactions as Facebook Pages ads claims they would get me. How was this possible? Back to point 4 - I asked for help. I’d post something and my team of supporters shared, liked and commented on it. I made time to schedule things and prep and inform people of what was going to happen when and how they could help.
Crowdfunding is a learning curve - it’s a relatively new way for someone to get seed money for an idea, and one with growing appeal - so be prepared to make mistakes.
Things I Would Do Differently or : What I Wish I’d Know Before the Campaign Started:
1. Pre-Campaign posting about the campaign
I did a bunch of informative pre-campaign posts including the edited first chapter (as a taster), information about the platform I’d chosen, a break down of the costs and the perks lists. My initial plan had been to publish one a week leading up to the campaign, starting the first week of April.
I quickly realised, whilst a good idea, I’d posted the first blog - the first chapter - way too far in advance. It was met with great enthusiasm from supporters who wanted to back it right then and there. I was then stuck with maintaining that momentum for four whole weeks, which just wasn’t feasible and meant I had to ‘re-spark’ it for the launch.
These posts were my ‘wider audience’ plan - the public at large rather than friends and family. In the case of marketing to this bunch, since they don’t necessarily have the same invested interest in your success as the people who know you personally, I wouldn’t recommend putting anything out until a week prior to the campaign.
TIP: Campaign pre-marketing to the general public should be done in the last week prior to launch.
2. Talk to your platform provider if it’s an option
As I said before, Publishizer is a relatively new platform. That was one of the things that appealed to me, besides being specific to book publishing. I appreciated that I could have an email exchange with the founder. When my campaign was approved I was set-up with a campaign manager, which affirmed my belief that this wasn't a Big Machine platform.
However, I quickly became unsure as to what the role of the campaign manager was. Much of what he was telling me was crowdfunding 101 which, with my background in marketing, came across as patronising. Looking back I realise should have said something about my experience of his advice falling short for me right away, and I most certainly should have taken him up on the offer to have a face-to-face call via Skype.
Establishing a more personal connection in this way would have prevented some of the frustrations I’ve had - starting with my frustration of being told to email people I know and post to social media accounts. I know it would have helped because now, although a bit late, I’ve since rectified my earlier mistake, voiced my concerns and am creating a much better line of communication with the founder. I feel more supported in my campaign and they're able to use my feedback to improve a platform which fills an important niche.
TIP: Establish a personal relationship with someone who works for the campaigning platform you are using - they want you to succeed because they want their business to succeed and it does so by having successful campaigners.
3. Setting the price points & perks
This is probably the most challenging bit of crowdfunding. I figured that anyone backing the campaign wouldn’t want a lot of copies of the same book, so at my highest Patron Point (Platinum) I originally offered just five copies of the book. However, in the second week I was informed by Publishizer that the most successful campaigns always did best by offering lots of copies at the higher price points and getting backers there.
Initially I thought this would have been helpful to know long before I did but on analysing the metrics of my own campaign, I’ve actually had the most backers at the Copper ($50) Patron point, which offers the bonus of the book being signed.
I did do the research to determine the minimum I would need to cover all my costs, but I wish I’d also done a survey amongst those who said they’d back the campaign to 'test' different perk point offers.
TIP: Don’t just go off your costs to determine your perks - ask your audience what kind of perks they would like, and find out from your platform provider what their metrics say for similar campaigns.
My next instalment in this series will look at the campaign itself - from the launch right through to the wrap-up. If you have any questions please ask. I’d also love to hear what anyone who has run a campaign before has to offer in the way of advice we don’t often see in the typical ‘How to Crowdfund’ article.
When not writing, making art or recording podcasts,
Kaitlyn can be found in trees, listening to Dharma talks on her iPod, Boon.
Thusly named because
Brian Froud = Awesome.