If you’re here, you’re probably an artist or a creative considering joining Patreon. The post-COVID norm left many artists with the need to find innovative ways to generate income and Patreon is one of the go-to methods of acquiring income online. If you’ve done a google search you may have found a number of success stories, list of cons, and plenty of conflicting information that may or may not even apply to you.
I have been asked by several friends about Patreon, and I have a feeling there’s about to be a lot more accounts opening up as we move to an online society.I don’t want to contribute to that general cacophony by making sweeping claims for or against Patreon. Instead, I will share my story with Patreon, and some tips on how to make it work. Leaving the final decision of whether Patreon is worth the work up to you.
Have a Following
The first thing you should know about Patreon is that it’s not designed to build a following. Instead, it’s a tool to capitalize on a following you already have. That said, you don’t need a huge following to get started.
When I started my patreon, my following was very small. I reached out to all the people in my network that I knew loved my artwork, writing, and/or philosophy (or sometimes, just me as a person) and I asked them this question:
If I create a Patreon starting on the 1st day of next month, would you subscribe for at least $1 per month?
For people who knew what Patreon was, they answered yes or no directly. People who didn’t asked what it was, and I made it clear that it was an online community where they would get exclusive access to my artwork.
I asked 30 people, 20 said yes, 7 joined at the beginning.
Having a following from the beginning is critical to a successful start. While having a large following is nice, it’s their loyalty that’s most important. These are people willing to pay a subscription fee for your art. It’s one of the highest levels of devotion an artist can receive from their fans.
That said, seven people isn’t a lot. It’s only a few bucks a month. That leads me to my next point.
Patreon is a Tree, Not a Succulent
Patreon, like a tree, takes a long time to grow if you’re an individual artist. Success stories where artists start off with 100+ subscribers right away only occur when that artist already has a huge following, and is fine with money.
Chances are likely that Patreon will never grow beyond supplemental income. Any artist looking for one source of consistency is going to be disappointed. Instead, you should view Patreon as a way to capitalize on your following, and add stability to your income streams.
The nice thing about Patreon is that it’s consistent income. People subscribed to your Patreon are already loyal to you, and will generally not leave unless they can’t afford to subscribe anymore, or if you’re not engaging with them. (That’s another topic for another time).
For me, it took about a year before I got 20 subscribers. By that point, I was making about $100 per month. That’s a success to me; it’s a stable supplement to all of my other income. I know that even if I have a bad month, this extra $100 will be there as a buffer.
But even then, it’s not a lot of money. Why do I still consider my Patreon a success then?
Patreon is More About Community Than Money
Patreon is a great way to engage with your community, share content that you may not feel great about sharing in public, grow bonds with people loyal to your work, and practice outreach so that you can grow your following.
While I did say that Patreon isn’t for people looking to grow a following, it is helpful to have a place for your most loyal fans to help you grow. While I don’t get a lot of money from Patreon, it is enough to make a difference and the value I get from sharing content, trying out ideas, and having people I can count on to enjoy my art is invaluable. Even if it’s just five people, that little community around your work adds value and legitimacy to what you do. And that community is not something you can get from other platforms.
How Does Patreon Compare To Other Platforms?
The main competitor of Patreon is Ko-fi. Generally, I recommend Patreon because I see Ko-fi as serving something different. From what I’ve seen, and this comes from someone who doesn’t know this app very well, Kofi is for tipping when you release public content — and the subscription service is an extra.
Patreon’s main purpose is to capitalize on your following and build community around those most loyal to your work.
Ko-fi is a great option if you’re creating a lot of public content and you’re not ready to create a Patreon. Perhaps you’re starting off as an artist and don’t have that following yet. Or perhaps you’re already super busy and don’t want to put in the work to engage your fans. Either way, it’s a great option, but if you’re looking for a subscription service, I recommend the app that makes it its primary focus.
How Much Work is Patreon?
As much as you want! The real work in Patreon is less about the content you produce, and more about the strategies behind it and your outreach. As I started out, I asked my patrons what kind of content they want to see. I tried out a bunch of different things, and finally got a place where I feel comfortable. Here is what I provide:
- 1 Listening Guide per week. Where I give music recommendations based on what I listen to
- Podcast Episodes. I don’t promise when they occur but they do occur. I aim for once a month, but I’m honest with my patrons about its frequency.
- Drafts/Commission updates. For higher paying subscribers, they get an inside look into the artworks I have in progress!
Overall, this amounts to a workload I consider reasonable to what I get paid. And as my Patreon grows, I will continue to experiment with new works.
Patreon is a great tool for capitalizing on your following, and it’s flexible enough that you can do whatever you want with it! That said, you should view it as just that — a tool.
Gaining a following and capitalizing on it doesn’t require content. Instead, it requires strategy and outreach. You need to understand your followers, know what grabs their attention, make them love you, and then you can start using Patreon to make that following grow even deeper.
If you want to talk to me about strategy & outreach, that just happens to be my area of work, and I would be happy to help you out! But don’t feel like you need to have all of the answers to everything right away. Figuring it out as you go will also be very fruitful.
Tl;dr: I recommend it.