“Well, THAT was interesting.” – me, May 2015, after my April 2015 “Amphibian Love” artbook crowdfunding campaign.
You know, the best thing about walking in, rolling up your sleeves, and trying a bunch of stuff you’ve never done before is that it’s a great way to learn. FAST.
That being said, it’s not as if it feels easy while you’re doing it. Jumping in involves making lots of mistakes. And I made plenty of mistakes during my first Crowdfunded project. Crowdfunding is a risky, stressful, time-consuming mess.
However, thanks to my friends, family, and loyal supporters, in April 2015 I successfully funded my art book project at 111% and raised $8,875.00. Honestly, I was surprised by how the campaign went, I had no idea I would be able to get funded, and had my doubts up to the last minute. But, I muscled through it and got it done. So, I’m more confident now about the whole idea of art product-based crowdfunding. My aim in writing this article is to help every one of you learn from my experiences. Even though I have many warnings in my advice, I want to encourage those of you who might have some project to raise money for — to just go ahead and try it.
So here are a few things I learned that might be useful for you.
1) Put your art on a great product. In my case, I chose to put 24 of my illustrations in a book with text facing each, in an educational format. You could choose to create a coloring book, comic book/graphic novel, illustrated cook book, or simply an artbook. If you choose an art book, check out some art books from the bookstore or library first to get some ideas. Typically the “coffee table” style art books are surveys of an artist’s career or have some sort of chronological or stylistic theme that ties the images together. Books aren’t your only option though – there are other printed products such as Tarot/card decks, clothing/jewelry items, coffee mugs, posters/small prints, calendars, etc. Any product that will hold an image and fits your style and market is worth considering. Make a mockup or order one (or a few) of the items first for two reasons: First, to get a sample of the product’s materials, and Second, to have an item or items that you can take photos of for use in your campaign. (See #6 below, about Visuals.)
2) Have something to offer that meets at least TWO of the following descriptions: worthy, cool, interesting, or useful. There has to be some reason for your project to catch people’s attention. Since I’m not good at being cool, and art isn’t particularly useful, I was left with “interesting and worthy” for example. My “worthy” reason was to support an environmental cause: to save amphibians from extinction. I allied myself with an environmental group called Save the Frogs. My “interesting” was in the illustration style I used which merged informative text with bright watercolors. So, by being 2 of the 4 things, interesting and worthy, I was able to leverage these things into a successful campaign. An example of “cool” and “useful” might be a unique resin plant pot shaped like a cute creature. Think about which two of these four descriptors might fit your product idea.
3) Make a budget. Estimate how much money you will spend on actually making the product itself, then ASSUME IT WILL COST MORE. Always over-estimate. Ask for quotes from various vendors before choosing, and assume that costs will go up over time as your project changes or some other unforeseeable factor changes. Research your vendors (printing company, T-shirt printers, fabricators, etc.) very well. It’s a good idea to talk to other artists who have already used that vendor and get a personal recommendation. Be careful when deciding on a quantity with your vendor. Don’t over-order your product, even if you get a quantity discount and have the budget for it. It sucks to have too much leftover product, and your item will never be “hotter” and more desirable than it is during your campaign month, so order just the right amount…I would recommend enough to slightly exceed your original campaign orders.
4) Be ready and willing to risk your own money. You will spend money before you make any, so have some you’re willing to gamble on this venture. This is not for the risk-averse personality type. You will feel very sad and very stressed if you end up spending more money on this than you end up making. So what to do? CHOOSE A “FIXED FUNDING” OPTION. Fixed funding means you have to meet a certain dollar amount, or the product doesn’t get made. If you choose a “flexible funding” option, you run the risk of making a little bit of money that barely makes a dent in your budget, but still owing the people who did participate – something. That’s something you probably cannot afford to do if you’re truly strapped for cash. If you choose Indiegogo, I really recommend the “fixed funding” option for this reason. Kickstarter campaigns are usually fixed funding already.) You need to determine how much money you need, build in a buffer of 10 – 20% just to cover things, and then go for it. Be willing to “fail forward” – many times, products need to go through the crowdfunding cycle more than once before getting fully funded. Another reason to choose a fixed funding option is purely psychological – people who see your campaign might feel a greater sense of urgency when a campaign is truly “all or nothing”.
5) Ask for press coverage. Months in advance, research the influencers in your realm – whoever these people are. Do they run blogs? Podcasts? Do they write in newspapers or magazines? Are they celebrities (in any kind of circles)? This answer will be different for every single person’s project. But the bottom line is: Find out who it is that everyone else listens to for news about your type of thing. The influencers. Then, ask them to talk about your project! (Because it’s Worthy or Cool or Interesting or Useful) MY EXAMPLE: I asked 25 different people to talk about Amphibian Love, and ONE person did…but it turned out to be crucial to the success of my project. This was the Scientific American blog called Symbiartic. I made 33% of my funding AFTER this press mention.
6) Prepare lots of visuals early, at least a month before your campaign. You should have folders full of web-ready graphics and photographs of the work, ready to go. Visuals that are funny/cute, colorful, and charming work best….and they don’t have to look exactly like your project either……just line up lots of eye-catching visual stuff in advance so you can focus on responding to questions and comments, and managing a constant stream of content during your campaign. (Remember: Everything you say will have a picture with it, and most of the time people won’t read what you say …… they will just look at the picture.) I made things easier on myself by doing all my social media visuals 650 x 650 pixels, and using Instagram, with IFTTT to send these to both Facebook and Twitter. (yes you will have to edit your Facebook posts – it was still a timesaver for me to do something other than hand-post to each social media channel individually.) Running a campaign takes one month of your time (and yes, 30 days is ideal for most campaigns) and during this month, you will spend ALL your time on your campaign on social media, saturating everyone’s eyeballs with your amazing product images and photographs of the real thing (that sample you had made, right?).
7) Be authentic. Do the things you do well. If you are only one human, you can’t push yourself beyond your own natural capacity…it just doesn’t work. ( So, for example, if you are not naturally funny – don’t try to be funny because someone else said it was how THEY did it. ) This applies to what social media channels work for you, too…I learned I was good at networking on Twitter and posting doodles on Instagram, for example…so I did those things, (and mostly ignored other social media channels. )
8) There is lots of crowdfunding advice on the Internet, and only a small segment of that advice will apply to you. Don’t read crowdfunding articles and follow them to the letter. Don’t copy someone else’s marketing calendar. Don’t assume that you should set your funding limits based on other successful campaigns. This is so important, I’ll say it twice: DO NOT ASSUME THAT YOUR FUNDING LIMITS SHOULD BE BASED ON OTHER SUCCESSFUL CAMPAIGNS. There are far too many variables that contribute to the success or failure of a campaign. It’s not only the product, it’s the branding of that product, your target market, your personal network, your press contacts and their reach, your Facebook advertising reach, the economy, and about a million other variables you probably can’t control.
9) Don’t get desperate. Please ignore all the Kickstarter/Indiegogo spammers that will settle on you like hungry mosquitoes as soon as you open a campaign profile. You will get many tantalizing offers to “help boost your campaign!” They will make it seem like they can help you in a million different ways. They all just want to suck a little blood from you. SWAT THEM, and spray virtual bug-spray all over yourself, and then ignore them.
10) Make a good pitch video – this is the one thing you must do that everyone else says you must do. It’s true. Film yourself. If you’re a dork, don’t be ashamed of looking like a dork. Just be a dork. Own it. (I totally owned being a dork, as any of you who viewed my pitch video can attest.) Use a smart phone as long as it takes good video, use a tripod for stability, and get a friend’s help anyway, even though you think you can go it alone. If you have access to better equipment, editing help, or any other bells and whistles…use them. If you don’t, use what you have – but put a lot of love and effort, one way or another, into your pitch video.
(Bonus #11: Hang out on Kickstarter and Indiegogo for a while and see what campaigns other artists have created. Use the successful ones to inspire your own ideas!)
If you’ve ever considered crowdfunding, I hope I haven’t driven you away! I hope instead that I helped you think about doing this. I really am encouraging you to. Even though it sounds like a lot of work, I do feel the experience was worth it. Probably the best thing about crowdfunding is getting the word out about your project. Think about it this way – if you didn’t crowdfund, who would know that you ever created that book/space/art piece/toy/gadget? Crowdfunding really represents that one big marketing push, with all your resources concentrated into making that 30 days work for you and your big idea.
And, at the very least, it will be interesting.