Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Kickstarter: A How to Guide on How to Be Successful


Part I
The Beginning Steps

So you’ve just created something you think is unique and amazing, but you have no idea on how to share it with the world. Your friends think it’s great and your family is supportive, but you realize that unless you get it out into the public, it will be trapped in obscurity. Where can you find an avenue to publicize your work, offer folks a chance to support you, and provide your fans with unique incentives to thank them? The answer is a new wave sweeping the internet called Crowdfunding and while there are many different sites out there with this platform, my favorite has to be Kickstarter.com.
Kickstarter defines itself as “providing artists with a platform that helps them to fund their projects through online fundraising, while giving everyone the opportunity to discover projects that may interests and inspire them. Kickstarter’s homepage showcases a variety of creative projects that span the arts, food, technology, and other.”
Kickstarter is the most well known of a newer group of Crowdfunding sites on the internet and continues to grow each year.  The goal of crowdfunding is where a creator can submit a project for others to review and then ask for a pledge of support in exchange for a reward or incentive.  Crowdfunding is unique because your goal is to attract people to your project who don’t know anything about you, so your audience is everyone.
People use Kickstarter for a variety of reasons, but the foremost is to raise funds for their creative venture, such as book, movie, music album, or technology enhancement.  You can also use Kickstarter to gauge the interest in a new creative venture before investing too much of your own personal time, energy, and money.  With some preparation, you can quickly get the public’s reaction to your “next big thing”.
Kickstarter’s tools and resources can be used to assist in marketing of your project, helping you to easily get the word out to the creative community without much effort.  Even failed projects can “regroup” for a later attempt, revamping particular points to make them more marketable.
In fact, even if you have personal funding to cover your latest creative venture, putting it up as a Kickstarter project with a lower goal amount will help you with advertising, connecting with others, and preselling your project to a wide audience who can safely use credit options for purchase.  Exceeding your goal gives you momentum and also showcases your project as an overachiever on the site.
On the surface, it may seem like a quick and easy task to throw something together in a day and just watch the money roll in, but in reality you will need to do your homework and put together a project that sells not just your product, but also you. Too many people think they can provide a quick description of their work, some overpriced incentives, not worry about any personal marketing, and ask for some huge dollar amount that is unachievable. These are typically the folks with projects in the “unsuccessful” category. The goal of this article is to give you some things to think about before you present your work to the world.

         1. Be able to explain your project and goal
If you don’t think you can convey how great your project is to the public, then odds are they won’t want to support you.  Your goal should be to say up front what you want to do, why you need the money, and how the pledges will help you create the end result.  Then be able to clearly state what you will provide that potential backer of your project in exchange for money and why they’ll really like it.
Don’t assume that everyone knows how difficult it is to create what you are making.  If you don’t explain the process and what’s needed, then people won’t understand how much is involved and how much you need help.  Don’t just rattle off a ton of features or details that are too technical, instead describe the experience someone will be getting when they pledge their support.

            2. Create some great incentives to entice people to pledge
What can you offer those potential backers of your wonderful project in exchange for them helping you out?  The goal is to offer rewards that are better than what you’d give to folks after the project is complete.  If you’re publishing a book, possibly offer a discount or free shipping, but definitely a signature and some personalization.  The backers are doing you a favor by giving money so they need to be rewarded with better prices and offers than someone just buying your product after it’s finished. 
Double check your wording for the rewards and make sure they make sense, have others read them over and see if they feel it’s clear what they would receive for each dollar amount.  Once you launch your project you won’t be able to edit the wording, only add updates.  Be considerate of delivering the rewards - will donors have to be present? Can you offer an object, an idea, or an experience? Can you use recognition programs like listing your supporters on a page or website? Identify amazing incentives that are hard to pass up - draw them in!
If you are creating a huge project that seems a bit overwhelming, look at dividing it up into different phases and create rewards based on the individual phases along with the end result. Maybe you use Kickstarter for the creative (most important) aspects, while using other fundraising methods for operational and post-launch costs (marketing, PR, etc.)
Really think about the time involved and cost of getting rewards to your backers when the project is over.  How much will shipping cost and do you need a separate pledge for international orders to cover the additional cost?  What time involvement will be required, such as creating hand drawn art prints for 100 people, then personalizing them, and then shipping them?  How much is that time expense worth to you?
Always think about your $25.00 pledge level carefully and make it enticing.  According to Kickstarter, the most popular donation amount for people to pledge is the 25.00.  The next most popular is the $50.00 pledge, which makes up a bulk of most projects funding.

3. Identify and set a proper goal
Of course you want to raise as much as possible through Kickstarter, but you need to remember that this site is all or nothing.  If you fail to reach your goal by the timeframe you select, then you get nothing and your supporters are sent an email explaining you didn’t make it.  There are some steps you need to think of as you calculate your end goal, making it reasonable.
First, look through the site at comparable projects to see their goals and how they are doing.  If you are printing a paperback book and decide to ask for $50,000 for printing costs and a book tour, it will be unlikely you will reach that amount, especially if other authors are only looking to raise $5,000 for their books.  Sometimes a huge goal will be a turn off to potential backers because they feel like it is just a waste of time.
Second, be strategic about your goal, don’t just make something up.  Calculate your project’s expenses, determine the cost of your incentives (along with the shipping), and then take into account the fees charged by both Kickstarter (5%) and Amazon (3-5%) to give yourself a little cushion.
Third, if you determine the goal you need is not likely reachable, then look for other avenues of funding first before starting your project.  If you don’t have the money to start with, then you are stuck if your project is only 80% funded with a couple of days left.  It is always better to make your end goal reasonable and exceed it with a few days to go, then spend your projects final days begging close family and friends for their support.

4. Prepare a great video
There’s a misconception that making a Kickstarter video is something you can accomplish quickly with a webcam and just speaking from your heart about how cool your project is.  The video, especially the first 30 seconds will need to establish you and your project as something a stranger would invest their money in and a poorly created video is a bad first impression.  Think about your audience and what they want, and then cater to that aspect.  If you’re a wild and creative person with a fun project, you might not want to film yourself in an uncomfortable suit and speak in a montone voice.  Likewise, if you are portraying yourself as professional, you might want to leave the campy sound effects out.
Know your strengths and work with them.  If you don’t do well in front of the camera, think about using pictures of your work and doing voice over recordings.  This will allow you to do multiple recordings with notes and then keep the best one. You will find that Kickstarter.com has some great advice on creating the perfect video, so take some time and check it out. Kickstarter wants you to be successful, so they have tons of great tips for you to help you prepare a great project.

5. Create an appealing page.
Your Kickstarter page is your storefront and many folks will quickly browse through, so make an effort to catch their eye.  Use engaging pictures and well written text to convey your message if for some reason they don’t have the time or capability to play your video.  Make sure your rewards are interesting and look at giving them catchy names instead of just reward 1, reward 2, etc.  For my Christmas book project, the rewards were given names like:  The Elf Pledge, The Mrs. Claus Pledge, and The Santa Pledge.  Find something that ties into the theme of your project.
Before you finalize your project, have people look over your page and give you feedback on the information, looking for anything that might be unclear to the quick browser.  After getting their feedback, make adjustments and then wait until after your soft rollout to activate it.  This will allow you to review it multiple times before you are unable to edit it.

These five areas are a great start to your planning process, but you are still not quite ready to go live yet. In my next post, I’ll talk through the final prep work portions before you click “submit” on your project. Once it’s up and running, there are some other great ways to market your project and keep the pledges rolling in, which will be discussed also. I know crowdfunding is a wonderful avenue for your creative project and hope you’ll use it to your best advantage.


Part II
It's Go Time

So you’ve had some time to think about the initial key points of sharing your creative project with the world through Kickstarter.com.  You can easily describe to people what you want to accomplish, what incentives you will give backers for their pledge dollars, how much money you need to raise, and you’ve almost finished that amazing video that will capture the hearts of the thousands that will watch it. Just when you feel like the tough stuff is behind you, it’s actually time to begin the next phase of project creation to help you start out with a bang.
This blog will discuss some additional important areas you need to think about before you click “submit” on your project. What timeframe should you run your project? How do you get the word out to build some excitement before you begin? Finally, how to use some existing and free tools on the internet to help you keep your momentum going. You may still have a little way to go before your project is live, but that special day will be here soon enough.

1. Set a proper timeframe for your project 
Setting the right timeframe is vital to a successful project on Kickstarter. Setting it too long can desensitize people to your constant updates and requests for pledges, but setting it too short can cut off your fundraising just as you might be building momentum around your project. Kickstarter has analyzed the optimum duration for a project funding, and found that the majority of successfully funded projects chose a 30-day financing window, while unsuccessful ones were more likely to pick longer timeframes.
As you choose your projects starting and ending date, give some thought to how much money people may have available at a certain time of the month or day during the week. Since most people get paid twice a month, think about ending your project in the second half of the month on either a Friday, Saturday, or Sunday. The second paycheck of the month typically has some flexibility because most people pay the major bills mid-month. Ending your project on the weekend allows folks to not feel rushed, so they have time to look at your project and their finances to see how much they can support. This may lead to some last minute pledges because some people don’t want to pledge until they’re sure your project will make it, or they might just be procrastinators. You may also find that some people wait because they don’t understand how Kickstarter holds your donation, so you may want to explain in more detail that while you may put in your credit card information, nothing is charged until the project is successful.
There is a typical life cycle of donations for most projects on Kickstarter. When a project opens, there may be a large amount of pledges, especially if you did your prep work on getting the word out. Shortly after, almost all projects see a sharp drop off of pledges, followed by an irregular series of smaller amounts.  Finally, pledges tend to pick up as the project gets close to its deadline, often with a sharp jump just before the end.
There are some tactics you can use to help out the “dead time” of pledging. I was a week into my project when I realized that I had an extra page in my children’s book, No Sweets For Santa, so I contacted folks I felt were on the fence and offered them a chance to be on a special acknowledgement page for Kickstarter backers. I had to get the files to the printer a week from then, so I posted an update that everyone who pledged by two weeks in would be able to list their name or their families name on that special page.  This caused many to make the decision to pledge then instead of waiting until the project was nearing its end date.
Another method I’ve seen that has proved successful for many projects is creating bonus incentive levels as they work to reach their goal. While it may be something small, like bookmarks or a quick sketch, having these milestones mapped out in advance keep folks sharing your project with others. I’ve personally found myself sharing projects that use that method more than others. I want to get that email update that I just got some cool bonus stuff and all I had to do was keep telling my friends and sharing the project with others.

2. Before you go live, start a grass roots campaign first.
There’s so much to think about before you take the leap and put your project up on Kickstarter. Now that you’ve followed the previous steps and are ready to go, I wanted to discuss the prep work you can do to insure your project is eagerly awaited by many folks waiting to pledge their support. You must understand that raising money, through Kickstarter or any other means, is not a simple task. You won’t just put a video up on a webpage and then sit back, waiting for the cash to come rolling in. It’s a lot of work, but in the end, it will be worth it, not just for the money raised, but also the visibility you will receive and connections you can make.
I feel it’s important to get your friends and family used to the concept of crowdfunding.  Share projects you find interesting on Kickstarter and encourage others to look and get in the habit of supporting. There are many methods of sharing projects via email, Twitter, or Facebook, so people will get used to the concept in advance.  When your project starts, people will be comfortable with the idea and be able to quickly pledge instead of trying to figure out what the process is and if they want to trust it.
I recommend doing a soft launch for the project on your website, through email, and via social media around 30 days before you activate the actual Kickstarter project. You want to get the word out and get people interested and talking before you start the fundraising drive itself. At this stage, you’ll need to be able to tell people firm dates for the start and end of the Kickstarter drive, reward levels for backers, and so forth; use your own website as the central location for this because you won’t have a Kickstarter page to send people to until later.
Go to any web message boards you frequent and post about the project (but don’t be spammy — if you don’t regularly post somewhere, don’t announce in that forum). Include links to the project in your message board profile and signature. Keep track of where you posted and what you talked about so you can return after your project begins and place your project link plus updates.
Think about your friends and family, especially who might have connections with web forums that apply to your project. Begin asking them for any creative suggestions to get the word out into the internet community.  While they’re being creative, someone might have an idea of how to take your information into an offline forum, like a book club, comic convention, or music festival to get you more exposure.
Your goal is to build a level of excitement about your project so they will pledge early and begin telling their contacts about your work. This may give you sustainable momentum to last the entire month.

3. Once you’re live, use social media for support and updates.
Crowdfunding and social networking definitely go hand in hand, but there are things to think about so you don’t overwhelm your friends. The main point you must remember is not to become a spam machine, churning out request after request and driving people nuts.
When posting an update on Facebook or other networking site, try to bring up a new point or additional fact about your project, not just “check this out” or “pledge now” over and over. I recommend sharing some pictures of your work, or of you working on your work, to show the progress being made. Try to keep your project posting activity to no more than about 25 – 30% of your overall posts. This will help avoid the zoning out of your posts by the people who care for you.
I am not a fan of the “blanket” email or Facebook message to a large group of people. This can be annoying to your friends because people use the “reply all” button and keep filling up their inboxes. While it may be a little more time consuming, write up a general announcement about your project, that you can personalize quickly for different folks. This will make people feel like they are getting individual attention and allow them to quickly reply and ask any questions about your project. 
Another great advancement is the ability to add a Kickstarter widget to your website and any message board posts where you have announced the project. Once the project is live, this widget can be used to provide a direct link to the project along with its current status (number of pledges, funding level, % of goal achieved, and number of days remaining).

4. After you are successful, what happens.
When you finally recover from the overwhelming sense of joy because your project was successful and you get your funding, the real work begins. The money from your project may take a week to two weeks to reach your account, but don’t procrastinate on preparing your rewards. Immediately send an update thanking everyone for their support and explain to them what happens next.  You will then need to create a survey, asking specific questions of your backers to best fulfill their rewards. Kickstarter helps you create the form that you can ask questions about clothing sizes, book personalization, and character sketch preferences. 
In some circumstances, you may be able to immediately provide your backer with their reward digitally or without much effort through the mail.  Others may have to wait until your project is completed to see the end result, such as book printing or album recording.  In either case, keep a constant stream of communication going so they don’t feel forgotten.
Don’t underestimate the time involved in collecting information from your pledges.  My project involved me personalizing a book to a person or family for my supporters, but I found that some people required multiple emails just to respond with a name for inside the book.  When people sign up for Kickstarter, they often will use secondary email addresses that they might not check that often or they just don’t understand that you need specific information from them, making them hard to reach.
Kickstarter will allow you to organize the surveys you send to your supporters, with the answers to their specific questions. You can easily export these answers, along with their information into a database that you can access into Excel, allowing you to check off your progress. I would recommend using Kickstarter’s database and then exporting it to modify when you’re ready.
In the end, I would highly recommend the use of Kickstarter or any other crowdfunding site for your creative project, whether you need the money or not.  The exposure and ability to promote your project and yourself makes the time investment well worth it.  But remember, no matter the size or goal of the project, you will need to treat it like the most important advertising you have done for yourself.  Kickstarter allows others to gather a quick impression of who you are and what you produce, so it’s always good to put your best foot forward.




Best of Luck!
John Graham
www.FIGIDPress.com

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