How to Build a Successful Patreon Group
“Sign up for our subscription, it costs less than a cup of coffee per week!”
Raise your hand if you’ve ever seen or heard that line before. This analogy represents the marketing of the modern business model: low-cost subscription fees that don’t cause the customer to feel a lot of financial pain and result in a stable, predictable revenue stream for a business.
Netflix was one of the early modern companies to adopt a subscription model and doing so changed the course of their business, and this innovative pricing approach has proliferated into seemingly every other industry.
Patreon built a platform to enable individual content creators to host their own subscription-based content to the public. There are over 100,000 content creators on Patreon who earned at least $1, with some creators earning as much as $95,000 per month through the platform. While that’s a big number, it appears the average Patreon creator earns just $12 per month.
Subscription fatigue is a real thing and it’s no different when an individual tries to sell his or her content in a sea of subscriptions that range from Spotify, Netflix, Hulu, Fitt Radio, The Athletic, LinkedIn Premium and more.
I personally am subscribed to all of the above and recently added a Whoop subscription and a CardLadder subscription (sports card junkies will understand that reference). In short, I’m subscription-ed out. However, for the past four months, I’ve been paying $10 per month for a Patreon group that is now on my “don’t cancel unless it’s dire circumstances list.”
In a matter of about six months, Dave Gerhardt’s Marketing Group on Patreon has grown to nearly 1,200 members:
While it’s not a group I created myself, I think it’s more powerful to hear from someone with subscription fatigue who ultimately made the decision to sign-up.
Below are the seven lessons I learned from Dave about creating a successful subscription-based content model as a happily-paying user.
PS: I get no commission for recommending his group.
Lesson 1: Answer Real Questions From Your Audience
When I paid my first $10 for the Patreon group, my mentality was that I would most likely cancel my membership after month one. I just wanted to see what was behind a paywall and if it was really worth it.
This was the first post I saw and my one-month mentality quickly faded away:
It’s like Dave read my mind: this was one of the most burning questions I hoped to get answered as being part of this exclusive group. Within eight minutes of joining and logging in, I had my question answered with a tangible plan to move forward and get it resolved.
Note that Dave keeps an eye on questions from his members and answers the ones he finds relevant to his audience. If you pay attention and listen to your audience, you’ll find a gold-mine of relevant content to create simply from the questions that they want an answer for.
Lesson 2: Give People Direct Access to You
Building off of answering real questions from your community, you can also make yourself available to answer questions specific to a person’s situation. This is something Gary Vaynerchuk repeatedly does and has built an enormous content library from it. If you consume any of Gary’s content, you’ll quickly learn that there are a lot of people who are eager to get personalized advice.
Dave does this in his Patreon group via a monthly “ask me anything” session:
I’ve seen him do it both live on video and in a podcast format, reading questions and then answering them. I was fortunate enough to join a live session with him and for my $10 that month, I got ten minutes with a successful CMO who answered a question that was specific to my situation.
With the average rate for a fractional CEO starting at $175 per hour, and I’m sure some kind of minimum commitment, it’s nice to know that for $10 per month, I get a ton of great content and the chance to ask my toughest questions to a successful CMO.
I’m particularly excited about this month’s AMA because I’ve asked a tough question that my team and I haven’t quite been able to crack. To me, that’s easily worth $10.
Lesson 3: Community Is Much More Powerful Than the Content Itself
What surprised me the most about joining and paying for a monthly Patreon group is that the content isn’t what is most valuable to me. It’s the people and the community.
Don’t get me wrong, Dave posts great content that I use in my current role, and I love access to him on a monthly basis to ask a question, but he’s already crossed the chasm where he is no longer the most valuable asset of DG’s marketing group. Without Dave, there would be no group in the first place, but without the community, it wouldn’t have become what it is today:
There are over 1,000 members in the private group associated with the Patreon content offered by Dave. I’ve seen people get jobs from this group. I’ve seen people (myself included) get tough questions answered by members in the group. I’ve seen great marketing examples and I’ve seen a safe space for feedback from a group of very intelligent marketers. The fact that we are all paying to be part of a more exclusive club gives us skin in the game to add value that might not be found in a group without a price of entry.
The lesson here is that there is value in being a community facilitator, which Dave is absolutely nailing.
Lesson 4: Find Ways to Engage Your Community
Facilitating a community is just the first step. You have to set-up the theme and structure for like-minded people to communicate, but you also have to motivate them to engage with each other. Dave’s group is self-sustaining in this aspect, but there are a few things he does intentionally to stimulate activity between his members.
The first way he does this is through a monthly book club:
The books that Dave recommends are largely under the radar, for me at least, and following it up with a facilitated discussion helps to get members more involved in the community. Sure, you can pick up a book and read it by yourself, but when you introduce a platform that fosters communication between a community of like-minded people with diverse, deep backgrounds, it becomes a premium experience.
In conjunction with the book club, I’ve noticed that Dave shifted how he communicates out his monthly ask me anything question requests to Facebook:
I originally would see these requests for questions only in the Patreon group, but for the last few months have seen him ask it on Facebook and get great engagement by doing so. It’s a subtle shift, but those 94 comments comprise both questions and answers with a very stimulating discussion. For reference, his latest post in the Patreon group AMA has 36 comments, whereas the post on the Facebook group for July has nearly three times as many comments.
Lesson 5: Audiences Find Value in Being Behind-the-Scenes With You
One of the features I was most intrigued by before joining this group is to simply observe how a fast-rising CMO works and interprets the modern landscape of marketing. It’s one thing to talk about what another company should do in terms of marketing, but it’s an entirely different ballgame when you show your own approach to building your brand, your Patreon group, or your own product, content or service.
Dave has done this in multiple ways for his Patreon members and he specifically gave us some behind the scenes of how he marketed his “Laws of Copywriting” product and what his next move would be:
I’ve written before that my most popular articles on Medium are about things that I’ve done and insight into the process for that accomplishment from personal experience. Patreon is no different.
I’ve gotten to watch a 33-year-old CMO market a content-based product in almost real-time. That simple observation has already taught me a lot and gives me validation that my approaches are on the right track and I am not alone in my challenges.
Dave often shares his “secrets” to LinkedIn and e-mail marketing but with real examples he’s personally used and those are the tips I cannot share fast enough with the rest of my team.
Lesson 6: Your Job Is to Be a Super-Curator
Gary Vaynerchuk has suggested that “time is everyone’s number one asset,” and provided examples of successful companies that ultimately give people their time back (think Uber).
This same concept can be introduced in a Patreon group: yes, there’s a ton of free content available that will likely get your question answered or help you grow your career, but how much would you pay me if I could get it to you faster?
I’ll discuss this more in lesson seven, but one of Dave’s testimonials speaks to that exact point. The gentlemen wanted a resource to find answers and good content fast, curated by an expert, instead of finding it himself.
Information overload is just as real as subscription fatigue and it creates an opportunity for people who are good at keeping a pulse on what’s going on in their industry and distilling the most relevant content in a tangible way to their audience.
As a member of a Patreon group in marketing, it’s given me time back to focus on execution or doing things I enjoy. Dave consistently delivers both personal curated content and content curated from other sources. In a sense, it’s my “marketing level-up hack” to make sure I spend a few minutes in the group each day.
While I still curate my own content and build that skill-set for myself, this group is particularly valuable on the days where I don’t have time for it. If you want to start a Patreon group but are concerned about the amount of free content available to your target audience, remember that it’s hard work for them to find time to consume it.
Lesson 7: Address the Elephant in the Room
The main objection your likely to face whenever you paywall content is “why should I pay you for content, something that is ubiquitous?” This was a hang-up for me before shelling out $10 per month for a content-based product.
The best thing you can do as a creator is to address this objection head-on:
In this two minute video, Dave features customers who have joined his group answer this question for him and he even suggests that you could join the group, screenshot all of his content, cancel, and get your money back.
The lesson is two-fold:
- Create a talk-track for why someone should pay for your exclusive content. Even if you’re uber-successful or famous, people want to know what they’re going to get for their money.
- Inspire confidence in your content. Dave flat out admits you can screenshot his content, cancel and get your money back, but by doing that he’s betting on himself to consistently produce content that’s well worth your $10 per month.
Don’t hide from the objections, address them.
If you do the quick math at 1,200 members paying $10 per month, Dave’s topline revenue from his Patreon group is $12,000 per month or $134,000 per year. Given that the average Patreon host earns $12 per month, this is an impressive feat.
It certainly helps that Dave is a CMO for the number one sales app on Shopify (Privy), but the lessons I outlined above can help anyone start-up a successful Patreon group so long as you have valuable content to share.
Part of that valuable content will come from your own experiences. You may be in that position today, but Lesson 1a for starting a successful Patreon group is to go out and do.
The more you do, the more you document and learn, the more you’ll be able to share for people who haven’t yet done or want to learn from your mistakes and successes. If you get the experience and have something to say, follow these seven lessons as a guide to help you start and grow a successful Patreon group.