This post is by staff writer Sarah Gilbert.
“You can always back out,” a dear friend who had successfully completed a few Kickstarter campaigns told me a few days into my own campaign. “You just have such a short timeline.”
“You probably aimed too high,” said another, just beginning her own campaign, having carefully lined up a roster of advisers and marketing backers. “Next time, shoot a little lower.”
“Let's try for $6000,” said one of my partners when I said $8000 was really the minimum sensible goal. Then, a few days before the end of the campaign, “If we need to, we can contribute more to unlock the Kickstarter piggybank.”
“We can do it!” I said, over and over. “We will do it.”
And you can do it too. If you've ever wanted to create something — a magazine, like mine, or a documentary video or a line of handmade jewelry or the next thing in pooper scoopers (I will not divulge my b-school friend's Big Idea on this topic here) — but don't have the money, crowdfunding is a fantastic way to do it.
Are you sure?
This is what my friends kept asking: “Are you sure?” They wanted to make a backup plan in case we didn't reach the funding goal (which, for the record, is a smart idea). In Kickstarter — as in most crowdfunding sites — you have to reach the full funding goal to get any money at all; your friends and new fans won't be charged if and until the campaign successfully ends.
I was sure. Part of this is my sunny optimism and part of it was just…my certainty. I knew this project (a literary magazine for parents) was a winner. I'd spent my life doing (informal, social, and honestly quite lovely) “user analyses” for the product. I knew what my market wanted and I knew I could sell myself as the person who could deliver. The thing is that you have to be sure, at least in your interactions about the campaign; like any small business, you need to be your biggest cheerleader and your biggest fan.
Very few goals are truly out of limit. I've seen campaigns succeed from $235 to $200,000. And part if it is just that people enjoy being part of a winning campaign. As Kickstarter founder Yancey Strickler said, he didn't know what was the reason, but 90% of campaigns that get to 30% funding eventually succeed. I think it's because everyone believes if the central figure in the campaign believes — and that's critical mass.
This is the really key thing. You have to believe, and you have to love the product you want to produce in a way that is very much like a mother loves her child, and you have to believe you can do it better than just about anyone. You have to believe all that (and be ready to tell everyone else that, too).
Find your choir
The best thing I did with this project was to assemble a choir to whom to preach. From my Twitter and Facebook pulpit I announced my idea and I had more of my team sign up to support me with a couple of 140-character tweets than any long eloquent blog post. (I hope they were eloquent.) Getting an editorial team behind me was integral.
The platform of the crowdfunding model is star-based. One person has her name and profile attached to the campaign; typically, it's hard to fit a bunch of voices into a one- or two-minute video. But I may not have achieved this on my own.
My editorial team (and even my logo designer) had a vested interest in getting this project funded. We put a bunch of time and effort into creating the campaign, launching a web site, writing essays and stories and spending countless hours reading and editing submissions. Everyone wanted to see this be real. A partner's dad was the one who made that contribution to send us to 100% funding. Another partner's friends began contributing and encouraging still other friends to contribute. My husband posted about it, and his cousin gave a generous donation. I would see a donation come in from someone I'd never met, and someone would say, “That's my high school friend!” or “That's my uncle!”
You need to preach to your choir, and your choir has to sing it. You probably can't do it all alone, so line up talented friends who are willing to go to bat for you simply on the promise of eventual, possible payment. What I discovered? The love of their family and friends will be so greatly felt that they probably can do without money for a while.
Get so excited, you just can't hide it.
One day when we were nearing 100% funding, I was very literally so excited that I could not hide it. I downloaded the song on iTunes and played it over and over at top volume, dancing in my kitchen. That was me, when my friend's dad contributed, screaming so loud all my neighbors could hear.
And I spent two weeks (the maximum time I thought I could conceivably spend constantly promoting myself) dancing, literally and figuratively, singing the praises of my project. I posted, sometimes, four or five times a day on Facebook and Twitter. I sent emails and direct messages to friends. I went up to strangers or bare acquaintances at coffee shops and parks to tell them about my project (only if they said something that seemed to connect them to, as I saw it, my customer base). I posted photos of my project on Instagram and left fliers at ice cream shops and only avoided Pinterest because I didn't get around to it.
Every day, from the day you make your video to the day you complete the campaign, you are going to have to be amped up! This is something you should prepare for and something that should guide the timing of your campaign.
Be strategic. Be calculating.
I didn't go to business school to avoid doing math when it came down to it. Nor did I forget any of my marketing lessons. Here are a few practical things I learned:
- Guess at the monetary size of your friend base. You'll need at least five times the amount you're shooting for in “capacity.” I thought of many friends who could afford the higher contributions — say, $100 to $1000 each. Only about 10% of those who I thought could give at these high levels did (while many gave at lower levels, many didn't give at all). This could be anything from simply not being on social media during your campaign, to a reluctance to give money to relatives, to a distrust of the online payment process. About 1/5th of my Facebook friends gave.
- Facebook, by the way, is it. I have a lot of Facebook connections (thank you 20th high school reunion for connecting with my dear old friends) but my Twitter audience and blog readership eclipses that. We got almost 50% of our contributions from links from Facebook. Unless you have an email list or some other very effective way of communicating with your audience, you'll have to be on Facebook!
- Give and ye shall receive. I have given to lots of campaigns; I found a lot of my friends were giving back to me, even if they didn't have children or for some other reason didn't seem like my audience. Likewise, people for whom I've recently done favors were so eager to give. I didn't give any of these things out of some hoped-for return, mind you; but generous people do inspire generosity and it can't hurt to start practicing now!
- Add up the cost of your promised rewards. Be practical here. I've watched many a campaign where the reward seemed like it might cost as much as or more than the pledge. Unless your reward is your project (in our case, we could quite easily promise subscriptions for about the retail price), make sure you're making enough with your goal after fulfilling those stickers and buttons and totes and serenaded al fresco lunches to cover your costs. If you're not good with this sort of financial estimates, find someone who is.
- Give people rewards they might want even if they're not your friend. In the end, the best way to get contributions to your project is to produce something people want. People want a new set of dishtowels painted by hand even if they don't give a whit about your project (maybe). People do not want stickers with a logo they don't admire for a product no one has ever heard of, because this is the launch. People want useful (or, at least, pretty and iconic) stuff. If your market is national, perhaps it's not a good idea to send out invites to a VIP launch party in New York. (Maybe it is. If your VIP ticket might encourage people to travel. But then they're going to have to calculate that cost, too.)
- Make a short video. Be adorable. Be funny (if that's your thing). Be to the point. Don't just repeat all the text you've written beneath the video. Sell yourself. Be memorable, in a nice way. Be positive. The worst thing is a several-minutes-long video in which you feel so, so sorry for the subject of the video the whole time. This is not charity. You want people to love you, in a happy warm fuzzy way, not a pathetic pat you on the head way. I suggest about a minute. Any more than two won't be watched by the majority of your viewers and people are so grateful for short videos.
I'd love to hear your ideas. Have you been thinking about crowdfunding a project? Tell us about it! Have you completed a campaign? What advice do you have?
Author: Sarah Gilbert
Sarah is a blogger by trade and a finance geek at heart. She cut her teeth on her first Excel spreadsheet full of financials at the tender age of 21, when she began her investment banking career in First Unionâ€™s Loan Syndications group. She went on to get her MBA from Wharton, work at Merrill Lynch and fall in love with analyzing company strategy and endless rows of numbers. She got into blogging as a marketing strategy and the blogging took. She now is a freelance financial and (award-winning!) literary writer, working in between baking bread and finding socks for her three little boys in her beloved 1912 Portland, Oregon, home.
Sarah's even-more-personal blogging about being an Army wife, parenting, food, biking and life can be found at urbanMamas and Cafe Mama.