How I More Than Doubled My Patreon Support in Less Than 30 Days
The idea behind this article was conceived on 10 May, 2016 at 1 a.m. when I rather foolishly decided to send this pitch to the LitReactor editors.
I can write 'How I Doubled My Patreon Support in 30 Days' provided you tell me ASAP you're commissioning it and give me at least thirty days to write it—it's going to be a pretty experimental column.
Not an unreasonable pitch for someone who has doubled their Patreon support in thirty days, but a little ambitious for someone who hasn’t. Still I like a challenge, enjoy being held accountable and have an unhealthy habit of taking on more than I should. Truth be told I wasn’t entirely sure the editors would go for it but on 18 May it was accepted and so Day One of the challenge began.
On May 18 the This Is Horror Podcast Patreon account had 39 patrons and a total of $195 pledged. As I didn’t specify whether I was doubling the number of patrons or amount pledged, the 30 Day Challenge would be deemed a success if we reached either 78 patrons or $390. Now as you can see from the title I successfully completed the challenge, but I’d like to emphasise the possibility of failure was real and I’m not sure I truly believed we would complete it when I set the article out. I had a number of backup titles likd ‘How I Tried To Double My Patreon Support in 30 Days’, the more conservative ‘How I Increased My Patreon Support in 30 Days’ and the cautionary ‘Why You Shouldn’t Pitch LitReactor Articles at 1 a.m.’.
What follows is a summary of what I did and the key takeaways from the 30 Day Challenge.
Day 1: May 18, 2016
The first thing I did was write a list of six action steps to take. Things I thought might help increase awareness of the This Is Horror Podcast Patreon and ultimately contribute to patronage. The second thing I did was Google to see if others had embarked upon a similar challenge to see what I could learn from them. I drew a blank.
I think accountability is important with any challenge you set yourself, personal or professional. So after a healthy dose of ‘holy shit this is really happening’ I further cemented my accountability by telling current patrons about the challenge. Let’s face it, Patreon is a hard sell. With Kickstarter and Indiegogo it’s a little easier because you’re effectively saying “if you don’t fund this the project won’t happen” so if people believe in your product and vision they’re likely to throw some money your way. With Patreon, however, you’re saying, “we’d love it if you could throw some money our way, we’ll give you some perks if you do, and if you don’t, well, we’re still going to continue to do what we do and give it to you for free.”
It stands to reason that many of your most loyal supporters will be early adopters and thus already patrons. Furthermore I predicted those already supporting This Is Horror on Patreon were likely to increase their pledges a little for the sake of the challenge, particularly if I could throw in more incentives. I figured, too, that current patrons were likely to shout the loudest, being our most loyal supporters. After explaining the challenge to patrons and the situation I found myself in I asked Patrons these four questions:
- What would it take for you to increase your monthly donation?
- Would you increase your donation for extra bonus episodes exclusive to patrons featuring just the hosts?
- What do you think we could do to most improve the This Is Horror Podcast Patreon?
- Are you willing to share the This Is Horror Podcast Patreon with just one friend who listens and may be willing to become a patron?
So immediately I was asking patrons for their help, not just financially, but in terms of taking responsibility for the challenge, strengthening the community and pooling together because we’re stronger together. Remarkably some patrons said just asking was enough for them to increase their monthly donation. We cannot underestimate the power of asking, something that perhaps the most successful crowdfunder of all, Amanda Palmer, talks about in her book The Art of Asking. We saw an increase on day one of $7 from existing patrons but no immediate growth in number of patrons.
I made a start on my list of other ‘things to do’ to increase Patreon engagement, awareness of This Is Horror and the podcast as a whole, and add value to our Patreon. Here are three of the things I did:
- Prepared hotly anticipated This Is Horror t-shirts for general sale
- Announced brand new, "patrons only" This Is Horror Podcast episodes
- Added a couple of This Is Horror Podcast episodes to our YouTube channel and promoted our testimonial video from current patrons
I also made a point of increased engagement and conversation with existing patrons and listeners to see how I could better serve them and improve the This Is Horror Podcast. And make no mistake, creating rapport and a community feeling is not only what’s at the heart of a successful Patreon campaign but at the heart of a successful company and product generally.
Days 4 & 5: May 21 & 22, 2016
I’ve stressed the importance of an email list in previous columns and I stand by that. On day four I pushed an email out to just shy of 1200 newsletter subscribers making them aware of the Patreon challenge and inviting them to consider supporting us if they felt the This Is Horror Podcast offered them value, and the benefits were worthwhile (the main selling points being early access to all episodes, newly added patrons-only content and discounts off merchandise from the This Is Horror shop). I went from patrons to mail list subscribers and later to the website audience itself because I wanted to promote to those in order of loyalty and interest in the podcast. I also made listeners aware of the challenge on the podcast itself early on.
A few hours after the initial mail-out on the morning of May 22 we were up to 46 patrons and had reached $217. We were growing at 1.75 patrons and $5.50 per day, an encouraging start that if maintained throughout would see us finish with 52.5 more patrons than we started (only one decapitation required) and an increase of $165, just $30 short of the target. I was encouraged by this realisation and ensured conversation between myself and patrons was continuous so as to learn more about new recruits and those who had increased their pledges. A few new recruits told me This Is Horror’s acquisition of The Outer Dark Podcast had prompted them to support us. The Outer Dark Podcast is not officially part of the This Is Horror Podcast Patreon, but due to a number of supporters also listening to The Outer Dark we do offer patrons early bird access where possible.
A few patrons told me they thought the challenge was insane or questioned my mental health. Take this message from Thomas Joyce who managed to be both complimentary and call me ‘mental’:
I think you are … mental. Seriously. Whole-heartedly. I know you said if you want to accomplish something you have to challenge yourself but this is some challenge! But I'm sure if anyone is capable of success with this it is you! Good luck with it.
Max Booth, however, told me he was sure I was going to do it and even decided to write a blog promoting it: ‘Is This Horror? This Is! This IS Horror!’ Though you’ll note Max may have opened with “Michael David Wilson is a madman” and despite complimenting both myself and This Is Horror, he did further cement that I am “crazy” and “bonkers” so a worrying theme had begun to emerge. Max’s blog post got a few ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ but as with many things on the internet it’s impossible to say just how much this converted into money pledged. But spreading visibility was an important part of the challenge, thus I decided we should add a couple more Patreon video testimonials even if we only unleashed them towards the end as ace cards.
Days 6–9: May 23–26, 2016
We finished day five with 48 patrons and $226, and saw small gains for the next few days including reaching 50 patrons. I posted a celebratory post to acknowledge this milestone. A great opportunity to not only celebrate our community’s achievements but also to remind patrons of the challenge. Of course it’s imperative value is added to every conversation so I also asked patrons who they most wanted to see interviewed on the This Is Horror Podcast.
It was around this time that I added a notice regarding our Patreon Challenge to the footer of every single This Is Horror post. (Don’t worry this isn’t something you have to do manually, there are plugins available for wordpress websites.) The notice read:
Help Us Double Our Patreon Support in 30 Days!
We need your help! We are trying to double our Patreon support in just 30 days. The best way you can support This Is Horror is to become a patron over on Patreon.
Unfortunately from the morning of 25 May until the climax of 26 May we stalled at 51 patrons and $234. We’d recently announced the patrons only show, an episode where This Is Horror Podcast hosts answer patron-submitted questions for patrons and had received enough interest to record episode number one. I think the reason for the stall in patrons was that I’d gone a little quiet in terms of promotional efforts in those twenty-four hours. I was still teaching full-time, running This Is Horror, writing fiction and exercising daily so there were days when I dropped the ball in terms of Patreon. And make no mistake, one takeaway that has come out of this experiment is that you really do have to keep plugging away at it if you wish to increase your patronage.
Day 12: May 29, 2016
40% through the challenge and the stats weren’t as impressive as they had been back on day five. We’d increased from 39 to 53 patrons (36% growth) and $195 to $239 (23% growth) which meant we were on track to fall short of both targets if we didn’t up our game and, more importantly, growth. Plus there was the uncertainty that a new month would bring …
Days 15 & 16: June 1 & 2, 2016
So here’s the thing—patrons pledge before any amount is taken out of their account, which means it’s possible someone will pledge but their payment isn’t processed. Of course, with expiry dates even a loyal patron is prone to have their payment declined and/or delayed from time-to-time. I would recommend not assuming you’re going to receive what’s pledged each month until it’s actually sitting in your back account. As it happens Patreon recently announced the option to charge patrons straight away rather than wait until the start of the month. The jury’s still out in terms of the best way to proceed, but right now I’m sticking with the original option—a charge at the start of the month only—so that patrons can try out the Podcast Patreon for free before committing.
As a result of the first of the month fiasco, the start of June didn’t quite go according to plan. We saw three new patrons pledging $8 between them but sadly we also saw three declined patrons to the tune of $19. So for the first day since the challenge began money had temporarily decreased. Fortunately all of those declined payments did go through a week or so later but it was worrying nonetheless. One of the declined patrons even joked he was ‘sabotaging’ our challenge.
Day 17: June 3, 2016
On day seventeen things weren’t looking good. The start of the month is always a little temperamental due to numbers being skewed as pledges are processed. Going into the day we had 54 patrons and $244. But day seventeen was the start of something big, what I like to think of as door-to-door canvassing. This comes back to the art of asking, the idea that it’s okay to ask for something provided you do it in the right way, ask the right questions and the right people. I contacted existing listeners and friends to ask questions that would help improve the podcast, the Patreon and might just increase patronage. Here’s what I asked:
- What do you like most and least about the podcast?
- What is one thing you'd love to see us add to the podcast?
- With regards to the Patreon—what are your first impressions of the page? Is there anything you think we could do better?
- Is there anything we could offer/add to the Patreon that would make you personally support the podcast?
- Who would you like us to interview in a future episode?
There was no such thing as a bad answer. Each response delivered feedback from regular listeners who were telling me what they loved and hated about the podcast giving insight that would enable me to improve the end product. I was also steadily building up a list of future episodes thanks to the final question. When you want to improve your product ask your patrons questions and listen to their answers. That’s exactly what I did for episode 100 and how we landed upon a live podcast episode with David Moody—because it was what the listeners wanted!
Just as I was transparent with patrons, email subscribers and listeners, I was transparent with individuals I went ‘door-to-door’ with about the 30 Day Challenge and our aims. I firmly believe the challenge aspect helped with the conversion rate (and I feel bad even talking about ‘conversion rates’ because I’m talking about listeners and friends who helped me realise a dream—these are more than numbers on a page, these are kind-hearted people).
You will doubt yourself while you’re going door-to-door and you will start asking yourself questions. I recorded my thoughts at my lowest so I could include them in the write-up:
Am I a dick if I contact this person? Have I really earned permission to do this? Does their ‘like’ on regular podcast statuses or ‘admission to listening’ really justify what I’m doing? Do they even like me or This Is Horror enough?
Here’s the thing, though, throughout the challenge I received no anger or negative backlash for going door-to-door. At no point did anyone call me out and tell me they vehemently disagreed with what I was doing. Of course not everyone I spoke to became a patron, but given the lack of hostility I reckon I chose people to talk to wisely and didn’t push the issue of patronage too hard. I would only mention it and get into it deeper if a respondent said they were interested in supporting but had an objection I could remedy. Opportunities like this are golden because you can deal with the pains and reluctance head-on.
I was having a conversation about the difficulties with door-to-door and setting up a Patreon with my podcast co-host Bob Pastorella and said:
You gotta be careful who you contact. YES there is a lot of hard work but the gains are cumulative. The more patrons the easier it gets. Plus, once you've got a happy patron they're locked in so it turns into passive income in a way once the grunt work is done.
Now let’s be clear, ‘passive income’ doesn’t mean you sit back and relax. No, you keep putting out your product, you keep engaging with your patrons and you keep looking for opportunities to innovate and improve. But it is passive in the sense that once you’ve converted someone—provided you keep them happy—they’ll stick with you and if you’re good at what you do it’s much easier to keep patrons happier than it is to acquire them initially. Once you’ve shown them the benefits of patronage it’s harder for them to opt out because they know you offer value for money.
We also started selling This Is Horror t-shirts and other merchandise on day seventeen. It’s easy to separate the brand and Patreon, but they’re both part of the same thing. The more brand awareness, the more likelihood of converting regular fans to patrons.
Not content with just t-shirts we also released episode one of our ‘Patrons Only Podcast’. To go door-to-door I needed as many Patreon perks on offer as possible and just the ‘promise’ of Patreon exclusive episodes wouldn’t cut it, so we recorded and unleashed over forty minutes of exclusive content.
Days 18 & 19: June 4 & June 5, 2016
Door-to-door started late on day seventeen so I spent much of day eighteen pedalling it with a decent amount of success, but I also decided there had to be a plan B and not just so I could say “there’s always a plan B” and create a WWE Seth Rollins moment at the last minute (sorry for all the non-wrestling fans I just lost with that reference). (Not sorry.)
So I came up with a plan B that might just allow us to hit our monetary target should all else fail, but I hoped I wouldn’t have to ‘cash it in’ and could double the Patreon without it.
As day nineteen ended we hit 60 patrons and $310. Suddenly the challenge was very much ‘back on’ and to emphasise how achievable it was I reminded the @thisishorror twitter followers that if eighteen people pledged just $4.44 we’d complete the challenge. There were many reminders and mathematical calculations as we headed into the final ten days of the challenge.
Day 22: June 8, 2016
To mark the 70% point we released another update to patrons highlighting our progress:
- 39 patrons increased to 63 patrons = 24 patrons (62% increase)
- $195 increased to $315 = $120 (62% increase)
We were 8% behind, but I still had an ace card in the form of Plan B and a hell of a lot of perseverance. The day before I’d written the first ever post on the 30 Day Challenge on the This Is Horror website. You may be wondering why I had left it until 70% through the challenge, but it really is because I wanted to focus on gains with the hardcore listenership first before targeting the wider but less niche audience. In the early days I reckon we’d have had less uptake, but at 62% through I felt there was more likelihood of success (and this is what a lot of the challenge was based on, educated guesses and hypotheses).
I once again told patrons how they could help. To summarise:
- Share the post and increase awareness of the 30 Day Challenge
- Rate and review the This Is Horror Podcast on iTunes (remember increased visibility generally contributes indirectly to Patreon success)
- Recommend the This Is Horror Podcast to friends, family and colleagues
- Create video and/or written testimonials
- Suggest a perk or reward you’d like to see that would make you increase your pledge
See that last point, once again I’m resorting to the tried-and-tested, tell us what you want to see and we’ll make it happen. Of course, I threw in some ‘fun’ statistics breaking down how much more we’d need per current patron to reach our goal and other such gems. We got an immediate pledge edit from $1 to $4 and others followed suit. The challenge was working. Remember a challenge creates urgency, excitement and a deadline. I wouldn’t have pushed the Patreon so hard if I hadn’t set myself the challenge. But maybe this was the real lesson, to push harder more frequently.
I also started thinking about other podcasts I admired and ways I could forge a relationship with them. Not to go ‘pledge for pledge’ (something I’ve never been a fan of and find counterintuitive), but to acknowledge the success of one another. I tweeted some recommendations for a couple of podcasts I’m a fan of, Bloody Good Horror and Small Town Horror. Incredibly Jon Grilz of Small Town Horror started supporting us. All I’d planned on was goodwill and signal boosting a podcast I love—this was a happy side effect that wonderfully illustrates the power of community.
Day 27: June 13, 2016
We started the day with 68 patrons and $374. Dangerously close to completing our challenge!
I mentioned previously that I was doing all of this while teaching full-time, writing, running This Is Horror and taking on a variety of freelance endeavors. Rest assured it was hard work and at times it got the better of me. I had a conversation prior to day twenty-seven with a colleague who suggested I didn’t have to do this alone, and so I spoke with my trusty co-host, Bob Pastorella, who started going door-to-door as well as signal boosting the hell out of our Patreon at every given opportunity. I think my journal entry for day twenty-seven captures just how tough things were getting:
HAVING A BREAKDOWN—there’s too much to do.
What’s ridiculous is this was all self-induced. No one forced me to take on the challenge, to write this article, to push myself to the limit or to come up with incentives to encourage people to pledge or up their pledge. I did it all of my own volition. If I had had a breakdown it would have been my own damn fault. And yet despite the intense pressure mounting and the workload increasing I tweeted things like this from both @thisishorror and my personal account @wilsonthewriter:
- “If we get a new patron in 60mins/pledge increase I'll not only edit @johnfosterfic part 1 but part 1 w/ @YerPalSkipp” May 29, 2016.
- “If we get the This Is Horror Patreon to $385 or 70 patrons in the next hour we'll put the Patrons episode live today” June 12, 2016.
And usually I’d end up creating 4–8 hours of additional work for the sake of a new patron or $1. Not the smartest plan or the best return on investment, but it does illustrate that the whole is greater than any individual part. Each new patron, each dollar meant a step closer to completion and that’s what kept me going (well, that and a lot of coffee).
A significant change on day twenty-seven was a new $4 perk. Contributors at $4 and above would receive access to interviews in their entirety. For public consumption each episode is around one hour, but sometimes interviews span the two or even three-hour mark. A number of patrons had expressed a desire to listen to interviews in one go and in the spirit of listening to paying customers I unveiled the reward and saw an increase in support. I also pushed the new reward via our mailing list. I knew I may well lose a few email subscribers that way but wasn’t afraid of that, the logic being if I had email subscribers who would be incensed and frustrated at a call to complete a 30 Day Challenge a couple of times per month they probably weren’t a good fit anyway.
Day 29: June 15, 2016
As the clock struck midnight to bring in the twenty-ninth day we were at 71 patrons (just seven shy of our goal) and $381 ($9 to go). So close but the clock was ticking—we unveiled a couple of new video testimonials from Jessica McHugh and Metal Wolf (yes, that’s right, we brought in a wolf, and not just any wolf—the official mascot of horror authors, The Sisters of Slaughter).
Day 30: June 16, 2016
After some last minute plugging and testimonials we reached 73 patrons and $386 at a few minutes to 4 p.m. when I had to leave the house for my teaching job. We were just $4 off doubling the pledged amount and I wouldn’t return home until 11 p.m. I was confident we would reach the target before then and before I had to ‘activate’ Plan B, but I was all set just in case …
At 4:34 p.m. the news came in that we had hit $390, which meant we had doubled our Patreon in under thirty days. Upon hearing this joyous news and knowing we had done it without Plan B, I initiated proceedings and we finished the challenge at $638 (227% increase—yes that’s right we more than tripled our Patreon) and 74 patrons (87 increase—just shy of doubling).
What was Plan B?
For a while I had considered including advertising on the This Is Horror Podcast and had been waiting for an opportune time. I’d had queries over the years but had wanted to ensure it was a good fit for the podcast and that we had a big enough audience to provide value-for-money to the advertiser. So it was on day eighteen that I had a lightbulb moment while basking in the hot sun of Lisbon (see I sometimes get out the house) that I should offer podcast advertising as part of the thirty-day challenge. The parameters were simple:
- Each advertiser must be a great fit for the This Is Horror Podcast—companies or individuals that truly complement the listener experience and who I believe in and know listeners will, too.
- Adverts must be no longer than thirty seconds.
- There will be a maximum of two adverts at the start of the show and two adverts at the end of the show.
I agreed terms with Grey Matter Press and Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing prior to the completion of the challenge and have since taken on Crystal Lake Publishing as podcast advertisers. So that’s how we went from doubling the Patreon to more than tripling it in the space of an hour. The takeaway here is to really look at how you can offer value, what services you can add that will help increase your patrons without compromising user experience.
To summarise, here’s what I learned during the challenge.
- Consider not just how you can increase your number of patrons but what value, perks and extras you can offer to increase the amount pledged by existing patrons, as early adopters are amongst your most loyal supporters.
- Ask your patrons what they want to see, not just in terms of Patreon perks but in terms of your product and make sure you listen to them. Implement their suggestions where possible and show them that their feedback is important and will help shape the direction of your product.
- Creating a challenge helps foster a sense of community, it also increases urgency which means you’re more likely to increase your Patreon dramatically in a short space of time than you would otherwise.
- Creating a sense of community and rapport is at the heart of a successful Patreon.
- Patreon is a long game strategy and works better with existing products that already have an established audience rather than to launch something brand new.
- It’s important to plug away at Patreon and do something towards promoting it every day—little steps for long term gains are better than infrequent grandiose gestures.
- Do not underestimate the importance of asking existing fans of your product who are not yet patrons if they’d like to join, and if not what you could do to make it worthwhile.
- It’s easy to separate the brand and Patreon, but they are both part of the same thing. The more brand awareness, the more likelihood of converting regular fans to patrons.
So now the challenge is over here’s what I’ll continue to do:
- Go door-to-door with potential patrons.
- Ask questions, listen to answers, and implement suggestions.
- Increase brand visibility via the website, social media, mailing list and in any other way I can.
- Always look at innovating and adding new things to the Patreon and Podcast.
- Collect more written and video testimonials.
Patreon is by no means an easy option, but it can be a very rewarding one. Do you have a Patreon account? How do you increase your Patreon? Would you like me to answer any specific questions? What are your biggest pains and struggles when it comes to Patreon? See you in the comments.
To leave a comment