Kickstarter has rapidly become an ideal way to fund a creative project, often providing individuals with a way to found a business in the process. But there are plenty of projects on that site, as well as other crowdfunding sites, that don’t raise enough money to move forward.
The key to Kickstarters that do well — the ones that raise millions of dollars and blow past their goals — is that the individuals behind such projects already have active audiences, mostly online. Consider these projects:
Amanda Palmer: The new record, art book and tour: Amanda Palmer raised $1.1 million for a new record. Of course, she also founded her first band in 2000, landed a record deal and has generally worked very hard to build a following. When she launched her Kickstarter campaign, Palmer already had an incredibly dedicated fan base.
The Order of the Stick Reprint Drive: Rich Burlew has been publishing his webcomic, The Order of the Stick since 2003. He’s published multiple books, as well as won several awards. He also had been getting specific requests for reprints of the books (the project that he funded on Kickstarter.)
Charlie Kaufman’s Anomalisa: Charlie Kaufman wrote Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, along with having a list of credits on IMDb several pages long. While he might not be a household name, millions of people have seen movies and television shows with his name somewhere in the credits.
The most successful Kickstarter campaigns require that the creators be at least well-known to their audiences before they ever ask for a single dollar. You may not have spent the past ten years building your fan base, but you should invest time in creating interest in what you do before you ever start promoting a crowdfunding campaign.
More than Just Friends and Family
Kickstarter and its counterparts rely on you promoting your request for funds to your friends and family. Social media tools are built into the sites so that you can even automatically send out some requests. But that’s not necessarily a good approach: in the last few months, I’ve gotten dozens of requests from friends, which makes it feel like I’m constantly being spammed by such people.
On the other hand, there are people who’s work I am familiar with, but who I’m a little less emotionally attached to. When they launch a Kickstarter and add a couple of promotional posts to their blogs or otherwise push the campaign, it feels less obtrusive. The relationship is different.
It doesn’t hurt that for bigger campaigns, it’s unusual to be able to come up with enough funding just from the people you talk to on a regular basis, or even the entire list of your Facebook friends. Unless you’re offering something incredibly appealing and only need a few thousand dollars, you’re going to need to go outside your own circles.
Building Your Network
Creating an audience is work — don’t let anyone tell you it’s not. You’re going to have to do a lot more than just snap your fingers, and you’re going to have to be proactive about getting things done. On a basic level, you’re going to have to make yourself famous, although it might just be internet-famous or famous just among very specific circles.
You have to start with a platform that’s going to be interesting to the sorts of people who will be interested in funding your future project. Since you’re putting in the effort, it’s worth thinking a little bit bigger and creating an audience that you can keep going back to, by the way. You’re going to need to do something of interest to that audience, like writing regular blog posts or creating YouTube videos. Exactly what will depend on the type of audience you’re looking for. That can mean some serious research. You need to get your work in front of potential audience members, marketing it just as much as you’ll need to market your Kickstarter project itself.
In order to build a following, you need to be doing something on a regular basis, such as creating some sort of content. It’s possible to draw an audience with nothing more than regular tweets (although it’s generally a lot easier with longer content), but you have to keep on it for several months before you can even have a hope of having enough of an audience to fund a Kickstarter campaign. You can — and probably should — co-opt audiences from other people and organizations. Writing a regular guest post for a popular website can get your name in front of more people than you can hope to attract on your own. Done correctly, such an approach also means that the big name will be willing to stand behind you and help promote your project when you’re ready to start pushing it.
It’s important to have a method in place by which your audience can keep track of you, particularly if you’re doing a lot of your promotion on sites and in places owned by other people. Luckily, technology has made this process much easier. You can create an email mailing list on sites like MailChimp for free, use social media sites or even arrange for people to subscribe to your site via RSS. The important thing is to choose one contact method you’re going to focus on and send every visitor you can to a signup form or a place to friend you.
Invest the time to create your audience before you start trying to promote a Kickstarter project or other crowdfunded endeavour. That way, you’ve built your credibility with a group of people who want to see more from you.