About a year ago I started working on my first crowdfunding campaign. My partner and I were very exited. We launched with high expectations and spent our time pitching bloggers and gear sites. We ran ads and generally tried everything we could to get people to our campaign page.
30 days later we had reached 21% and the campaign ended unfunded.
We were disappointed but not discouraged. During the campaign we had gotten a lot of feedback, found some strong supporters and learned some valuable lessons. So after the campaign closed we got right back to work.
It took us a year to get back to the starting line. We took to heart what people had asked for and reworked our products completely. We started documenting everything and putting a big emphasis on great pictures. Our Instagram account grew to over 2000 followers and finally we were ready to launch again.
We pressed the button at 6 pm on March 31st and were successfully funded about 18 hours later. You can see it here.
Here are the lessons I learned over the past year that have helped me launch a successful Kickstarter campaign with zero marketing budget.
CROWDFUNDING isn’t for profit, it’s for GETTING STARTED
Don’t price in huge profit margins into your rewards or set your funding goal higher than absolutely necessary. In fact, choose your target amount as low as possible while making sure you can still meet your obligations. Crowdfunding should be used to get in front of an audience and make them your customers. People are going to watch your video, read your campaign and back your project. Make it a great experience and you will have a customer for life. That’s worth more than immediate profit. Remember:
It’s a lot easier to reach 200% of your goal than it is to reach 100%.
The most valuable thing you can have is momentum and the lower your funding amount the easier it is to get. When people see that you are doing well they will line up to back the winning horse and carry you all the way to the bank. But set your goal too high and you will never reach the point where your campaign looks like a good bet.
The lower the funding amount the easier it is to get high early percentages. That’s why I wouldn’t try to price huge profits into the initial funding amount.
THE MORE THE MERRIER
Every person has his or her own network of contacts and out of every person’s network will come a certain amount of funding. That means the bigger your team, the bigger your reach becomes and the better your chances of getting funded. Get people on board by convincing them of your cause, offering them your product, or just plain paying them. Not every member of your team needs an equity share but sometimes even that may be worth it for a big enough influencer (AKA someone with a big network or fan base).
Don’t forget about costs and taxes or they will eat you.
From the money you’ve raised you will have to pay platform costs (usually 5% on Kickstarter and Indiegogo), payment transaction costs (credit card processing, amazon payments,…) and taxes! Depending on your country this will be different of course but in most countries a product based crowdfunding campaign will count as pre-sales and you will have to pay sales tax as well as income tax on any profits.
To run a good campaign you should plan for at least 3 months of work before your launch: two months of putting together the campaign (pictures, video, story) and at least one month of marketing hustle and lead up to the campaign (this is when you build up excitement and anticipation).
Write down the names of everyone you know and put them into categories. You will have potential backers, supporters, acquaintances and inevitably there will be people in your network who are influencers, connectors or have some other type of reach.
Try to think of a way to involve them in your project and you will have an invaluable resource.
PICK YOUR PLATFORM
Depending on the type of your project different platforms will have different advantages and disadvantages. Kickstarter is the biggest player with the biggest community. Their stricter admittance policy also gives you instant credibility if you get accepted. But depending on your project a smaller, more locally focused platform will get you better results. Indiegogo on the other hand is a lot more flexible in what kind of projects it allows. There is no one size fits all: research carefully and pick the one that suits your particular needs.
Look up your competition. Find similar projects that have been funded or failed. Study what worked for them and what didn’t. Try to find commonalities and get inspired. Also, try searching for your campaign the way a potential backer would. What comes up?
You need an emotional hook, real value and a unique selling proposition. Or in other words: What are you doing? Why are you doing it? And why should I care?
BE CLEAR & CONCISE!
This is the most important point. I have to know exactly why you want my money and what I am getting in return. It needs to be kindergarten level easy to understand.
The better I understand what the campaign is about the more comfortable I am giving you my money.
The more difficult your campaign is to understand the likelier it is that I will click away.
YOU NEED A PITCH
Have a clear value proposition and a simple pitch. It doesn’t matter how complicated your product is or how many features it has. You need a short message that captures the essence of your offering. A tweet sized description that makes people go “Ah, OK I understand.” and that they can relay to their friends! If your backers don’t understand what you’re offering they will not share or back your campaign. This is a linchpin problem. Fail to get this right and your campaign will fail.
Practice your pitch and take it to your peers.
Crowdfunding is growing fast and there are Crowdfunding meetups popping up everywhere. Google “your city + crowdfunding meetup” and you’ll find other people going through the same process. Exchange ideas, get feedback and make connections. You may even find some backers.
Once your campaign is finished you need to test it. You can do this by sending out the preview link to people whose opinion you trust or by presenting your campaign at one of the crowdfunding meetups I mentioned before.
Tell your testers exactly what you want from them.
They should look at the campaign as if they knew nothing about it before: Was there something unclear?Did they ever feel like it’s going on for too long? If so, where did they lose interest? Were there any obvious turn-offs?
Don’t take the criticism personally and don’t get defensive. THIS IS INVALUABLE INFO! Write everything down and improve your campaign as much as you can.
Who are you/your company? What are you doing? What’s the problem? Why do you have the best solution? What do you need the money for?
Actually ask them to help you by backing your project and spreading the message!
Benefits are always better than features.
In case of an umbrella this would be instead of “A water repellent screen you can carry around”, you say: “Keeps you dry wherever you go.” If you can show, don’t tell. Seeing is believing. If you tell me something I have to believe you, but if you show me, I only have to believe what I saw.
Length: Keep it short and sweet. Aim for 90 seconds but definitely keep it under 3 minutes. People on the internet just tune out after more than that.
GET GOOD SOUND
There is no excuse for crappy sound and it’s an instant turn off. That’s why it’s a separate point. Go to Amazon and get a decent lapel mic for under $10.
Do it now.
MAKE IT EASY FOR PEOPLE TO GIVE YOU THEIR MONEY!
Easy to understand message. Short and easy to watch video. Clear reward descriptions. Easy, easy, easy.
Everything that’s unclear or takes effort is going to turn people off. Do as much as possible visually. I recommend canva.com for an easy way to create great looking visuals. I use it a lot. Aim for skimmable. The more effort it takes people to get all the information from your campaign the less people will bother. Cut the lengthy exposition pieces. Make “minimum effort for the backer” your motto.
EVERY DETAIL COUNTS
Everything in your campaign that is not perfect is going to turn some percentage of people off. Every spelling mistake and every formatting error will cost you trust. The writing, the tone, the images: every detail makes up the impression potential backers will get from your campaign. A crowdfunding campaign is a big beast so having twenty tiny imperfections isn’t a stretch.
There are a lot of factors you won’t be able to control, make sure the ones you can are as good as possible.
GATHER YOUR TRIBE
Tell your friends and family and contact your network. Ask for their support and most importantly ask them to use their network.
You should have at least a Facebook page and an Instagram account and probably Twitter and Pinterest as well. Link the accounts and post something relevant to your audience at least once a day but preferable 2–3 times per day. The better the images attached, the better the response. Before your campaign I recommend running a giveaway of some kind. If you have a working prototype you could give that away for instance. Spend some money on Facebook ads and promote the giveaway to your target audience. Make Email signups and Facebook likes a condition of the giveaway. I use Gleam. Giveaways get great results for a lot of people, so give them a try.
The better you do early on the more support you will get from the crowdfunding sites algorithms. The stronger your start the higher you will be ranked and the more prominently you will be featured (on, for example, the Kickstarter main page or their newsletter).
The day you switch your campaign to live you should KNOW that you will reach at least 30% funding. These 30% need to come from your network and your pre-launch efforts. And the earlier in the life-cycle of the campaign the better. 30% in 3 days is the sign of a healthy campaign. 30% in 2 hours is better. Make sure you educate your network about momentum and the importance of timing! If you don’t get over 30% in the first couple of days it’s going to take a minor miracle for you to still make it.
EXPLAIN WHAT’S IMPORTANT
Everyone has a couple of people that are definitely going to back your project. Take those people by the hand and explain to them that it is VITAL for you that they back your project in the first HOURS of it going live.
People do not understand this unless you explain it to them!
Whatever else you do: make it a good deal.
If I support an untested project with an uncertain future, probably made by unknown people, it should at least be a good deal.
You can show this in a variety of ways the easiest of which is to just put a higher later retail price in the reward description. And again: profits should be secondary with crowdfunding. You’re here to get started and build a customer base.
Limiting the amount of a certain offer is a good way to get backers to commit early. A lot of people won’t back an early stage project and will wait to see if it is likely to get funded before backing…unless there is a great offer that might not be available later.
THROW A LAUNCH PARTY
A launch party is the perfect way to thank the people who are going to back you for sure and to tell them again about the importance of timing and momentum. It’s also a great way to sway people who are still on the fence. Explain your campaign in person. If it’s a physical product: Let them touch it and make it real for them.
An in person meeting can often do what even the best campaign page can’t accomplish.
Once your campaign has launched backers, potential backers, spammers and scammers are all going to hit you with questions. Stay on top of them! Answer every question as best you can. Be helpful and respond quickly. This builds TRUST and that is invaluable.
Keep your backers informed with regular updates.
It’s best to plan and write these before the campaign even starts so you don’t have to do a rush job.
Your campaign is live and you’ve got about 30 days to reach your funding goal. Everything is still possible so work your ass off. Call people, write to people, meet people. You should have the month of your campaign planned out and have a daily checklist of activities to bring more people to your campaign. The beginning you already took care of. The End will take care of itself. It’s the middle that will take everything you have to keep the backers coming.
DO YOU HAVE A STORY?
If you can come up with a story related to your campaign that fits with a particular publication, find a rookie writer there and offer it to them. It shouldn’t be an ad for your campaign, try to come up with an actual article. Try: “Local kids taking on big business — How Mike and Ike from just round here are trying to give Big Corp a run for their money. Is crowdfunding leveling the business playing field?”. You get the idea.
Set a realistic timeline and keep your backers well informed of your progress. During and especially after the campaign. Don’t lose focus after the campaign. This is where you can leverage your new customer base into creating a long term business. Just imagine how much easier it is going to be to run another campaign now that you have a successful track record and a fan base eager to see what you are going to do next!
Connect with me
My current campaign is still live on Kickstarter where it has more than doubled it’s initial goal. You can check it out here.
If you want to connect with me or have questions about crowdfunding send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org