If you’re a creator, chances are you’ve entertained fantasies of having legions of fans love your work and tossing big bucks your way. Unfortunately, reality doesn’t always meet expectations and it can be hard to monetize your creative endeavors.
Enter Patreon. Since its formation in 2013, the popular membership platform has enabled creators such as podcasters, comic book artists, photographers, writers, and YouTubers to do just that.
We reached out to two Patreon creators who are killing it: Brian Lewis, founder of the YouTube channel Tolarian Community College, which features in-depth reviews videos on Magic: The Gathering (MTG); and Mike Migas, the producer of the true crime podcast Casefile.
Here are their tips and insights on how to cultivate a successful Patreon community.
Build your community
“Nobody is going to support you in the arts, unless you have a community,” says Lewis, whose YouTube channel currently has over 250,000 subscribers. “You need community more than anything.”
And because Lewis’s YouTube videos focus primarily on a single game, it’s helped him find his niche and build that community. He’s discovered that MTG fans tend to be those techies and freelance artists who are former “freaks on the playground” and eager to be generous and help the community of fellow nerds. Therefore, they may be more willing to help a fellow nerd (in this case, Lewis) in need.
Lewis also makes it clear that he serves his audience, first and foremost. That means providing unbiased reviews, thorough information, even if it upsets potential sponsors.
“My fans are paying me today for what I’m giving them tomorrow,” says Lewis, who, although he also earns money from YouTube ads and miscellaneous sources such as merchandise and sponsorship, receives the lion’s share of his income is from Patreon.
Be consistent and stay devoted
“If you build it, they will come” is a great movie line, but Lewis warns that it isn’t always the case.
“Put in the work first, then maybe the money will come,” he says. He started off creating two videos every week, then bumped it up to three a week for three and a half years before reaching over 2,700 patrons and bringing in about $8,800 every month (before taxes and fees), which he hit early this year. Lewis worked seven days a week, from morning to midnight and putting everything else in his life on the backburner.
Lewis points out that you have to make it about what you create first, and the Patreon efforts come last. “If you make it about your work first, your fans will gravitate toward that, and they’ll then become bonded to you,” Lewis says. “They’ll support you, and will take care of you.”
And while he’s at a point where he can afford to rent out a small office, invest in some fancier film equipment, and hire some help on a very part-time basis, his focus and work ethic remain unwavering.
“I killed myself over this channel, and continue to do so.”
Engage with your patrons
Engagement is the key to success, explains Migas, who, as a producer, helped Casefile cross nearly 100 million downloads since its start 18 months ago. The podcast has nearly 1,100 patrons who donate almost $4,000 a month.
“Everyone wants to be heard and acknowledged, especially when we decide to support our favorite artists.” The Casefile team does their best to like every comment, answer every question, and let their fans know their help is appreciated.
“When producing a show, making art seems like a Herculean task and often doesn't leave much time for anything else,” says Migas. “But engagement with supporters is the key to a successful Patreon campaign.”
The Casefile team also makes a point to listen to feedback from its listeners. “Sometimes you make a mistake, and at times something you thought was a great idea will polarize people,” says Migas. “And although not everyone will agree with what you do, at least show that you are listening, even to your biggest critics.”
Show your gratitude
The Casefile team also recommends showing your gratitude whenever you can to your patrons. “Remember that each one of them sends you money just for what you do, and they can stop anytime they want,” Migas says. “Plus, if you want to grow your audience, you need to show your appreciation.”
For instance, the Casefile team offers unexpected rewards every so often. They’ll put together an “Ask Me Anything” livestream, send stickers and postcards in the mail, and record a thank you video exclusively for their patrons.
Be willing to experiment
While it’s easy to sit back and enjoy success when you find the golden formula, Migas explains that the only way to progress and improve is by experimenting.
“Always learn, keep an eye on different aspects of your show, and try to grow it both in popularity as well as in quality,” he says. He also warns against deviating too much from the original style. “People expect consistency, they like what they already know. So roll out the experiments but do it in small doses, listen to the feedback, and make decisions based on that.”
Both Lewis and Migas agree that building a successful Patreon community is a long, tough process, and persistence is key. “Even if it's just a few people in the beginning, it doesn't matter,” says Migas. “Stay humble and dedicated to your craft. Don't take anything for granted.”
“There’s been a lot of heartbreak and failure, and getting very lucky at certain points,” adds Lewis. “It’s a long process. It’s not easy and it’s not something everyone succeeds in.”