Our Patreon Growth Experiment, Part Two

Understanding and overcoming churn

October was a hard month for us. We lost some very dear supporters.

It was my birthday and I logged into Patreon to find that we were down significantly in pledges. Worse, it looked like this would be our first downturn in supporter growth since starting this series.

We’ve lost supporters we cared deeply about before. But this was a flurry of deleted pledges, almost back-to-back. And I had to fight the impulse not to take this personally.

Our brain starts searching for a culprit. What did we do? Has anyone associated with our show gone on a rant on social? Has anything happened in one of our community spaces online that made some people feel unsafe or unwelcome?

Sometimes there is no reason beyond capital L, Life. Shit happens.

The hardest part of being a community supported creator is the voice in the back of our brains that starts whispering all of the reasons why we might be losing our biggest fans. And none of these paranoid reasons are helpful or good.

Before we know it, we have clicked on the individual to view their profile. Only to find out that they have stopped all of their giving on Patreon. Now we’re worrying about them. Are they alright? Should we reach out and check on them?

Or more disconcerting, we click to a profile and find out they are giving to a ton of creators, but just not to us anymore.

Before long, we are just a few steps away from virtually stalking this person. Which is not good for them or for our mental health. The best thing for us to do is to step away from our computers and take a walk.

We must remember that this is often not about us.

But for those who can’t let it go, here are some reasons why someone might delete their pledge:

  • They lost their job
  • They are struggling against some other debt
  • Their credit card was declined
  • A downturn in the economy has forced them to pull back some of their non-critical spending
  • They are the type of supporter that gives to new creators when their donation really makes an impact and it’s time for them to move on to the next emerging creator
  • They had to make a hard call and they feel like another creator needs or deserves that pledge more

The last one is hard because it means we didn’t make the cut. Well, guess what? We’re gonna have to get used to that and there’s no salve to take away the sting. This is the way of the world. Not everyone will love our show. Not all super fans will stay super fans. And it hurts. But it’s also Life.

Understanding Churn

Churn on Patreon is the dollar amount of deleted pledges every month. A traditional marketer might measure it in the number of lost patrons. But because the Pledge Growth chart on Patreon uses the total dollar amount of Deleted and Decreased Pledges for churn, I recommend we define churn as the dollar amount of deleted pledges every month. It is shown in red.

Our Pledge Growth chart on Patreon.

In the chart above, take note of the lines in the red circle on the lower right. The vertical red line is the total dollar amount of deleted pledges this month. It’s the highest we’ve yet to see and the month isn’t over. So we are experiencing high churn this month.

Notice the green line to the left of it. This is the total dollar amount of new pledges or increased pledges this month. This is the lowest we have seen it in some time. And while things might change before the month ends, this does not paint a pretty picture.

Pledge Growth should be significantly higher than Deleted Pledges.

Right now, at the point in October that I wrote this article, our pledge growth was not much higher than our churn. This is definitely worrisome.

If we want to build a Patreon that will support our content creation efforts, we have to generate community support that grows faster than the inevitable churn and attrition we will experience. It’s a simple idea but hard to achieve.

Note: If your churn is increasing month over month or your growth in new and increased pledges is stagnant, I recommend reading my first two articles in this series. You can find them below.

Ride The Current

Sometimes we need to ride the crest of a frothy wave of high churn to see what’s on the other side. How’s that for some surfer logic?

A single month of high churn is not necessarily a sign that we have done anything wrong. It’s just something to watch. If we start to see a pattern over multiple months, then it is time to take action.

So the first piece of advice is not to panic. Take some time and see how things change as you get more data.

Something’s Wrong. What Now?

Let’s say we generally average a 5:1 ratio of pledge growth to deleted pledges. Or to say this differently, our growth to churn ratio is 5 to 1. Suddenly, this ratio drops to 2:1 or lower for two months running. In this case, it’s unlikely that everything is fine.

The first place I look is for any behaviour from the creator or their followers that might be causing people to stop supporting them. Did anything inappropriate happen in any channel related to the creator? Are people upset about something the creator did?

But let’s assume there is nothing happening in social, amongst our peers or in the press. And let’s say that our Patreon and our tiers are properly configured. I would still spend some time ensuring that the value of what is being promised at each tier matches the expectation of our audience, but let’s assume this is all good. (See my earlier articles for more on this.)

It might be the product itself.

Has our quality control slipped? Have we been missing launch dates? Did we release something that we knew wasn’t ready?

High churn can be a sign that it is time to double down on what we are creating. To up the ante. To surprise our fans and followers with something new and unexpected.

If a pattern is emerging and we can’t think of what to change or do, it’s always good to seek an outside perspective. Have someone external to us review our Patreon and also what we are creating. Get some critical but loving advice. Listen to what we are being told. It may be time to rethink some things.

A Sacred Trust

Some people support us because they just want the perk.

Some people support us because they believe in us and they adore what we are creating in this world. They don’t want us to stop.

And some people support us because we are like family to them.

There are many reasons why someone would support us. And I would argue that all of them require trust. Trust that we will live up to our stated ideals and values. Trust that we will deliver as promised.

The stronger the trust and the relationship between us and our fans, the healthier our community is.

And we certainly want to avoid breaking trust with our community, because that is hard to come back from.

And perhaps this is why it stings when we lose a supporter. Because all of this is a two-way street. We can feel let down or that we let them down somehow.

But please remember this is not necessarily the case. Churn happens. People leave. And quite often for reasons that have little to do with us.

In Summary

It is possible to make a living doing what we love, but it certainly isn’t easy. Far from gauranteed, It takes an insane level of commitment, hard work and perseverance. Not to mention: integrity, passion and a willingness to fail.

But most of all, it requires that we overcome churn. We can’t eliminate churn, but we can overwhelm it with strong growth and a vibrant community that grows with us.


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Sean Howard is the co-creator with Eli McIlveen of Alba Salix, Royal Physician and the GM behind The End of Time and Other Bothers. He can be reached via Twitter or email.