Pre-Launch: Campaign Setup
Note: I’d love input from the crowdfunding community on this one.
Before launching your crowdfunding campaign, a couple of things to think about. Many of these are big and obvious, but still worth a pause for thought. This is a two-parter, part two is more bullet-point “quick tip” suggestions.
- Picking your Platform
- Your Project Page
- Financial Goal
- Stretch Goals, Pledge Points, Add-Ons
- Hidden Costs
- Campaign Duration
Picking Your Platform
Much longer discussion of what I consider to be the three-plus-one best furry crowdfunding options here. In general, it’s safe to say that while there are many crowdfunding sites, since you’re trying to get eyes, it makes sense to go with the most successful and most relevant. Some of the smaller sites say things like “your project won’t get lost among thousands of others!” in their ad copy, but that’s kind of like saying “Less successful! It’s our feature!”
The biggest, the most successful. #1…at least as of 2014.
Good for: products you can ship, clearly defined creative projects (books, movies, public art, outdoor events, etc.)
Bad for: Business startups, people outside US/Canada/Europe/Australia, nonprofit charity ventures, fundraising for an already complete project (like subscriptions, “round two” campaigns, annual fundraising). Websites that collect money and social networking sites. Salaries and overhead.
Features: Excellent brand recognition, good tracking software.
Hidden unpleasant surprises: Not good for international projects.
The most easily accessible and charity-friendly, and the more innovative of the two major platforms.
Good for: First-timers, charities, business startups, nonprofits, creative projects that can’t be clearly defined (like commission projects), fundraising for an existing project, annual fundraising campaigns. International campaigns.
Bad for: not specifically bad for anything, IGG is very open to all projects. But since it’s got a huge number of silly/local/”fund my life” projects and a low success rate (your mileage may vary).
Features: “Flexible Funding” lets you keep money if your campaign doesn’t succeed (this can create problems and isn’t as good as it sounds!). Forever Funding lets you continue to fundraise after your project’s success. Indiegogo Life provides no-platform-fee fundraising for personal projects (like college, medical, pet surgery, travel…) Reduced costs for nonprofits.
Hidden unpleasant surprises: Once you post your project, no-one will be able to find it without a direct link. Seriously. 7-12% fees.
The “Rule 34” of crowdfunding. Adult content, adult videos.
NOTE: I do not recommend Offbeatr anymore. Indiegogo funds frighteningly realistic insertable toys, and is porn-friendly as long as no actual nudity is on screen, and can handle ongoing funding. Kickstarter is friendly toward artistic nudity. There really isn’t a need for Offbeatr, unless you simply must show throbbing genitalia and sex acts on your project page.
Good for: Digital, porn. Furry projects make up about 1/3 of Offbeatr’s success stories, so weirdly, good for furries.
Bad for: anything not-sexy (even if it is furry). Restrictions on some hardcore kinks and nonconsensual stuff, that last one seems to have wiggle room.
Features: A porn-friendly target audience that seems to love furry stuff. Ongoing sales of digital products after the campaign ends. A “voting period” that gives a sense for how well the crowd will respond to your project. VERY fur-friendly, any well-presented furry campaign with a decent product is going to succeed.
Hidden unpleasant surprises: 30% fee (!) Very few successful projects (as of 1/2015, less than 70 successful projects, total. Deposit based on size of goal encourages lying about funding levels and can cost you on a failed campaign.
Patreon: This one’s an oddball: sustained monthly support for an ongoing creative effort. This one’s for content creators, not product developers. If you want to support a blog, make a living from your paintings, build a support base for your website, check it out. But since this article’s more about campaigns than lifestyles and Patreon has a very different structure, only briefly touching on it.
Your Project Page
Your project page has several hard jobs to do.
- Grab people’s attention in one image, 5 seconds and 20 words.
- Describe the project and its awesomeness in about 30 seconds.
- Present a compelling story of the project in about 3-5 minutes.
- Build the customer’s confidence in the product and the creator.
(Note: “telling the creator’s life story” is not on this list. Unless it is. But it probably isn’t.)
A useful concept here from the world of marketing: the “Elevator Speech.” You may have TONS of amazing stuff about your project, but you’ve got to grab them first. Imagine you have an AWESOME idea for a film, and you find yourself in an elevator with Steven Spielberg. You’ve got about 30 seconds to grab his attention. GO. The supporting details–who you are, your inspiration, what’s in the package–can wait, because it’s meaningless if you don’t get that first spark of interest.
Another useful marketing word: “Unique Selling Proposition” (or USP). What makes this thing the only thing that is a thing like it (that we can get now on some less-risky platform?) What’s its thingness? How is YOUR werewolf mafia game different from the 1,272 already on Kickstarter, and how is that difference AMAZING?
1, One image, 5 seconds, 20 words.
Glance over the “recommended projects” section of Kickstarter. Each project has a clear thumbnail, a clear title that often tells what the project is, and a short blurb, about 110-120 characters.
If this isn’t interesting, the rest of your content may as well not exist. I like this example at right. Strong headline that says exactly what the project is. The picture’s a little murky, but it’s film-noir, so that’s maybe okay. The blurb describes the entire project without any waste.
I’m not sure how long that blurb can be before it cuts off in the middle of a sentence–it’s also the first paragraph of your Kickstarter page. It looks like around 115 letters, but that may be affected by the length of the words around the 110-130 character mark and wide characters like “M” and “—”. Unsure.
2. What’s Awesome About It in 30 seconds: Your elevator speech.
Some things about your project are important. Some things are not. It’s a judgement call. In general, the first paragraph or two–ideally, what you can see on a landscape computer monitor without scrolling down–should express the most important elements of your project.
Unless you’re a damned good writer, you should probably lead with what the project is (particularly since the lead paragraph also acts as a blurb, above.) No stretch goals, because they’re confusing at first. No “what it means to me” or “my inspiration” or “my hard life” or “who I am” because nobody cares, sad but true. (Exception: If you’re 16 and making a movie with professional backing, that’s +1 Awesome point, people DO care. If you’re superfamous, people DO care. If you’re writing about fursuiting and have a successful fursuiting business, people DO care. But if you’re a college student, just a person with a good idea for a novel or movie, or writing out of a deep religious faith, none of that’s part of your Unique Selling Proposition.)
You can dabble with conversational language like “Imagine a world where…” or “Have you ever had to…” or “Wouldn’t it be awesome if…” if you’re a confident writer, but remember, Be Bright, Be Brief, Begone. 30 seconds. Two paragraphs. One screen. What you could say if someone was trying to drive off and you were holding onto their car door. 3, 2, 1, go.
3. You’re interested? Now, let’s have a conversation. With Bullets.
Now that you’ve got their attention (in theory), you can expand a bit. Most projects have a video that introduces the project and its developer, and that’s really helpful, but you can’t just point a webcam and talk, a little production work (images and diagrams, breaks and transitions, maybe some acted-out scenes, cut-aways) are going to make viewers watch to the end. That’s part of the conversation. So’s the body text.
Don’t go crazy. You have time to talk now, but not loads of time. Pick three or four key ideas. If your project is a complicated board game, you’ll probably need to talk about the rules and compare it to some existing projects. If the story of your inspiration is important, okay, include that. If you have crazy stretch goals, that’s its own section.
Art is good, face shots are good, but pages of screenshots is not good, and irrelevant art may actually be worse.
Remember, there’s a section for pledge points at the right that describes the contents of the packages. You shouldn’t have to waste valuable text in the body of your project page on that, unless you’ve got lots of weird components or an awesome infographic. (Check the Kickstarter for the FATE role-playing game, they really know how to organize with graphics.)
Organizationally, stretch goals, sample artwork, and add-ons are usually later in the page. Bullet points and short-and-sweet narrative, top of page. You can also create a blog, supplemental video, or extra web page with extensive rules, narration, artist “work in progress” materials, reviews, etc. There is no shame in this. People may not read it, but wouldn’t you prefer them not reading it elsewhere than not reading your important content here and now?
4. Building Confidence
A good argument or debate is built on emotional appeals (pathos), compelling logic (logos), and the audience’s confidence in the speaker (ethos). The last one is incredibly important in crowdfunding, because you’re selling your readers a promise that you’ll deliver.
Sketch out your business plan. If you need $50,000, please say why. Find three similar projects and see how they reached their numbers. Explain–use a chart if you have to–where you’re going to spend your contributor’s money. Don’t forget the cost of shipping, printing, and fulfillment. Is your goal $150,000, and you’re writing a book? Explain that.
Imagine that you’re a total stranger asking someone for money. You’d want to tell them what you’re going to do with it, why you need the money, what it’s going to. If you had a chance to explain why you’re uniquely qualified to spend their money–maybe you’ve successfully spent other people’s money before, or you’re a professional project manager, or you work with a larger organization that will help with expenses if needed–all good stuff to know. If you have a talented team, good to know.
This one’s tricky. And critical.
Having a reasonable, realistic, justifiable, and attainable goal is important for several reasons. Obviously, you don’t want to make a bunch of promises and not be able to meet them. But you also want to actually get people’s money (plus cost of goods and services). And your goal says a lot about your confidence and the ambition of the project.
All this is why Indiegogo’s “flexible funding” can be a trap. Using it means you’re not concerned, for one reason or another, about any of the above. But that’s another long rant.
As a starting point, figure out what the most commonly-purchased pledge points for your project will be (digital music download and CD, hardbound and paperback book, the board game basic set…). Play “guess the cost of production,” and see how many copies you have to purchase to get a reasonable production cost (there’s usually a magic number.) Solve for “Z”. Guesstimate shipping and handling for that many units.
Estimate your actual cost needed for development (Kickstarter doesn’t seem to be very charitable toward “of course, an artist needs money to live” as a rhetorical point, but it’s true.)
Add about 10% for fees, and maybe an extra 20% if you don’t want to be surprised by the IRS later (business expenses aren’t generally taxable, but if you’re looking at this as a moneymaker or sales platform, it’s worth considering.)
Some projects, like many of the games made by the “Cards Against Humanity” people, may never see a retail shelf–funded AND sold through kickstarter, the crowdfunding campaign is the end of the story. Other projects assume some retail distribution, ongoing sales through a website, or a long-term product. The math will be simpler for the first option, and a little blurrier and riskier for the second. Most projects will fall between these two.
Throw it all into a spreadsheet, and then compare to other, similar successful–and unsuccessful–projects. You may find that your goal’s going to be too high. Ask yourself if it would make sense to pay for some of the difference from your own pockets, either to lower the goal, or to pay off the last $5,000 of a high goal if needed (wait, wait, “loan to a friend who just spent their money helping you reach goal.” There are policies!). If there’s an element that’s less essential (hardcover printing, a pretty box, color artwork, custom playing pieces, fewer instead of more art pieces…) make it a stretch goal, over and above a more conservative estimate.
Rewards: Pledge Points, Stretch Goals, Add-Ons
Part of being in the Kickstarter crowd is getting a little something over and above what you can find at your local game shop–unique rewards, signed cards, special boxes, all that goods stuff. These add a sense of urgency for crowdfunding projects. Sometimes you’ll never see the project in the store. Interesting rewards cash in on the “buy now!” mentality.
Pledge points tend to follow a similar pattern, and why deviate? Here’s some common themes.
Handshake: a $1 or $5 gimme for people wanting to +1 or follow your project.
Lowball: often a digital reward like an eBook or digital portfolio, a black and white version, or thanks on the credit list.
Early Bird: Kicktraq measures “day one” success as particularly meaningful. Some crowdfunders offer a small number of the final product at discount to early pledgers to fatten those numbers.
The Standard: a standard product or package at a shopping cart price ($20-50, say). Often includes stretch goals.
The Custom: since we’re an artsy community, a few packages with a piece of custom art tend to go over well, and would be hard to get outside of the kickstarter. Just don’t overestimate your time. You’re going to be busy if the project succeeds.
The Deluxe: some but not all the bells and whistles.
Your Face Here: One of the standard levels, but with the contributor’s character in the background, or as one of the guest NPCs, or as the name of one of the supporting cast. Be careful to limit yourself to a few of these! There’s only so much room in the world for walk-on extras.
The Retail Multi-Pack: 3, 6, or 10 of the Big Whatever for your backer’s game store.
The Cadillac: all the bells and whistles and one or two “kickstarter only” offers, often in a pretty box, maybe even with ongoing add-ons as the project evolves.
Date Night: a personal concert, business consultation, writer’s workshop. Personal time with the author.
Angel offer: original product art, time with the artist, a steak dinner, frequently more of an experience than a product.
Stretch Goals are a part of Kickstarter’s culture, and a way of increasing buzz about the project. Most of the time stretch goals are added to the complete package, which can change the way your financial numbers work. Or don’t work.
Stretch goals can show what your project would look like if you had all the money you could possibly want. “With $5,000 over base goal, everything will be printed on laminated stock.” Frequently, they’re additional trinkets in the complete package (wooden playing pieces, an extra three cards). They don’t necessarily have to add to the final cost of the product’s Cost of Goods and Services; Fox Amoore’s “Abbey Road” album had the $35K stretch goal of “rent world-famous recording studio,” which wouldn’t necessarily be passed on to the consumer.
Some stretch goals are silly, and bank on a community of support: “At $12,500, we’ll record a musical number thanking everyone by name and release it on YouTube because you guys rock our worlds.”
What seems to work well is to imagine what your project will look like at your minimum funding level, and how you’d expand it with just a little bit more money. Put two or three of these out on display, keep a few of them as hidden surprises, and unroll those surprises when things get a little slow.
If your stretch goals are a part of the main package, you may need to use an infographic to organize contributor’s reading experience. A really complicated set of stretch goals can totally clutter up a page without a clear map.
Add-Ons: If you’re worried about your main product getting too expensive, or you want some purchasable extras, a clearly-stated add-on can be your friend. An add-on might be a stretch goal that lights up with enough interest, or a previous related product (Volumes 1-2 of the three volume series when you’re launching Volume 3.
It’s fun to add all sorts of things into the offer, but remember to keep your costs affordable. It’s possible to sink a successful campaign by adding too many “suggestions from the user base” rewards, costing the creator too much time and money. If you’re a wildly creative person with a big treasure chest of previous projects, you might want to add some of your previous work to sweeten the pot–generally not wise, these may or may not be of any value to the person who just wants the book or DVD or whatever.
Campaigns don’t often go viral. And they certainly won’t do so on their own. If a day passes where you don’t make some new effort to blog, tweet, podcast, or otherwise prostitute yourself, it’s a day that didn’t happen. At the end of the day, unless you’re lucky or supremely awesome, only you will promote your project, and nobody’s going to accidentally stumble across it. Sad but true.
The exception is the first and last week of a project, where most platforms “new projects” and “ending soon” pages kick in (mostly on Kickstarter. Indiegogo does nobody any favors).
Some campaigns have a compelling reason to stretch on to a second month. Maybe you’re collaborating with your base on a final product, or telling some sort of story that unfolds over weeks. Otherwise, pick one month, maybe 45 days. Not too short and not too long. It’ll be easier on you, more fun for your investors, and you probably won’t lose money. If nothing happens on the middle of a campaign, and generally it doesn’t, keep it easy on yourself and your donors.
Not to repeat myself, but nobody’s promoting you but you. Every day of your campaign do something small… a tweet, reach out to a blogger or related project, post a good update (but don’t be spammy). Every week, do something big. Youtube, podcast, collaborate with another campaign, post some commissions or open some up, add an add-on or stretch goal, release a PDF. Post a survey. Trade art with another crowdfunder or solicit “fan” art. Keep the buzz in the air.
One strategy that’s worked for boardgame-type projects in the past, is to trade between campaigns–the “Big Dragon Drinking Game” gets a few cards from “Knight’s Quest”, and the knights in armor game gets a “drinking with dragons” card featuring characters from the other game. Everybody wins!