When you are running any kind of business it’s important to periodically stop and assess what is working for you and what is not. I recently put my Patreon account on a permanent hiatus and I want to share with you why I did, what I learned, and what you should consider if you want to join the platform.
Disclaimer: I thought that the learning opportunity that came out of this for me was too valuable not to share with others who may be thinking of trying out the platform. I want to also preface that my experience is not everyone’s experience. There are many people that have been successful using the platform and it is possible to be.
How it Started
I joined Patreon around March of 2018 at the encouragement of one of my former coworkers. I had been thinking of joining the platform already and had seen many artists with accounts seemingly doing well at it. I was still working full-time as a graphic designer at the time and I thought this would be a great way to potentially start having a regular side income that could help fund my art projects and eventually help me transition to doing it full-time.
I was very eager in the beginning. I set everything up fairly quickly and took notes on all of the things that Patreon recommends to launch your account. I would say I did about 70-80% of those things, which at the time seemed more than reasonable to me. Over the years I experimented with tier pricing and what features were included. I researched other artists who offered similar things to see what my competition would be like and where my pricing should be. I even mentioned it on social media and in my monthly newsletter. Basically, I did all the things I thought I should be doing.
How it was Going
In the time I was on Patreon, I think the highest amount of patrons I had at one time was 7 or 8 people. There was a handful that signed on in the beginning and remained loyal the entire time including my coworker who convinced me to start it to begin with. To those people, I am truly grateful for their support. Others came and went for various reasons. When someone chooses to stop supporting you, Patreon allows them to do an exit survey of multiple-choice options as to the reason why. If you ever want to feel terrible about yourself that’s a great place to look for answers. Now, granted I’m admittedly a bit of a sensitive person, so some of the reasons probably hurt my feelings more than someone else’s may have been. When I would receive a comment that they didn’t get what they were expecting my heart sunk a little. I was trying my best to put out great content every month and largely was delivering exactly what I said I would.
I felt that I had been honest in terms of the fact that I wasn’t a full-time artist and the expectations of what I would deliver every month. Some people left due to their financial situation changing, some left with the ambiguous “other” reason. The truth of the matter is people come and go from your social media accounts, email lists, and platforms like this all the time. The difference is when you have a low number of people it’s a lot more obvious so it feels more personal even though often it’s probably not.
Despite having some consistent and dedicated followers, Patreon really wasn’t growing for me. I wasn’t ready to admit my defeat yet and felt bad because I didn’t want to leave the people who had loyally stayed on through thick and thin. I decided to put more effort in and give it until the end of the year and then decide. What followed was a consistent feeling of guilt and apprehension every month that I would open the app and potentially see another person had left. To my surprise, my numbers actually stayed pretty consistent. But then another departure inevitably happened and I had decided it was time to look at closing the account.
Patreon had become a monthly source of anxiety for me and the financial return wasn’t balancing out with the time and effort it was taking me to create a video tutorial or PDF download every month to fulfill my tier promises. In some self-reflection and notes I took on my experience over the years, I think there are a lot of things I could have done better. There were also many things that were out of my control that affected my experience on the platform.
My audience wasn’t big enough*
I’ve put an asterisks beside this reason because it’s actually not a factor if you have the right people supporting you. You could have only 200 social media followers or email list subscribers, but if all 200 of those people are super passionate about what you do and want to support you, that’s a potentially good living depending on what they are willing to pay you a month.
The average artist on Patreon that I researched charges somewhere between $5 to $9 USD for a single-tier that gives their patron, access to things like new content, behind the scenes, and weekly or monthly video tutorials. That, to be perfectly frank, is a STEAL for what they are getting content-wise. I want to say that again so the people in the back can hear me…if you are only paying $5 a month to get weekly tutorial videos from an artist and more, they are giving you a ridiculous deal.
When you only have a handful of people at say $5 a month that’s not really much of an income for the time and effort that goes into creating that level of content. Now if you say have 100 people or more, that starts to feel more like you’re getting a better return on your time investment. Artists with large social media followings or email lists have math on their side when it comes to this because even at a very low percentage conversion rate, they are still likely to attract enough people to make it worth it. This low monthly price, however, also sets a bad precedent for everyone else to keep their prices low to stay competitive without the numbers to balance it out. It ends up devaluing what ALL artists create when everyone feels forced to lower their prices to be competitive. That is a long rant for another blog post though.
I didn’t have a team and was doing it part-time
The thing that many people have to realize is that often when an artist has reached a certain level of success they have people helping them with getting their content out there. Whether it’s a video editor, intern, or just some sort of assistant, they are likely not a “one-person show” anymore despite how they present themselves online. Video editing alone is very long and time-consuming, especially for a novice. For me to plan, execute, edit and do the graphics and voice-over for one of my videos that were around 10 minutes long it would take all of my spare time in a week outside of working my full-time job.
Yes, there are ways to expedite the process but sometimes that either means lack of editing or lack of quality in things like sound. I wanted to focus on quality over quantity, but that meant a longer production time to put out a video. Many times depending on what else was going on in my life I would only be able to put one or two videos out between Youtube and Patreon but that was ALL I was doing. I wasn’t working on personal projects and any extra time I had outside of my job, making sure I was taking care of myself and sleeping I was planning for the next month.
I didn’t promote it enough
Studies have shown that it takes an average of 7-9 times for a potential customer to be exposed to something you are selling before they’re ready to purchase. Artists, in particular, tend to have a difficult time marketing themselves. You may think mentioning something once is enough. I mean, you told people about it, right? So they must know already and you don’t want to be annoying and tell them again. The problem with that, especially on social media, is that chances are only a fraction of your followers saw your post about your sale, product, or service. Of the people that did see it, an even smaller percentage, something like maybe less than 2% will actually act on it. So if you are only ever mentioning it once, not a lot of people see it, and if they are new to you they likely aren’t quite ready to purchase – the odds are majorly stacked against you.
While I did talk about my Patreon account over the years it was often in passing or at the end of a YouTube video. I wasn’t reminding people enough or really giving them a good enough reason to go over there. For me, it was a catch 22 especially when I was working full-time. I thought that if I had more people I could justify spending more time putting out content because then it was paying me like a part-time job. However, I was also nervous about promoting it not knowing if I could put out enough content to keep people happy to stay. How was I supposed to cover all the fees, and charge the same as someone with exponentially more patrons who was offering twice the amount of content? I felt frustrated and defeated. Perhaps a bit more confidence and consistency would have helped but I felt like I was doing as much as I could already.
Patreon is not a social media app
While I take a lot of ownership of my unsuccessful experience on the platform, it also isn’t designed for you to succeed organically. They are merely the vehicle hosting the experience. It’s your job to get people in the vehicle. Unlike social media, the chance of being found organically on Patreon is pretty low to non-existent. I don’t know what the actual stats are on this but I would wager that I’m right about my assumption. Essentially if you aren’t able to bring an audience with you or attract an audience from an external source it’s really hard to grow and be successful.
I was perhaps naive in thinking that my account would grow quicker than it did and also underestimated that I would likely have to make it the only thing I focused on to meet the expectations that were being demanded.
When I made the decision it was time to cut ties it was really hard for me. I still felt the guilt of potentially letting down the people who had stayed on loyally, but I also felt like I wasn’t serving them as best as I could if I wasn’t giving it more of my attention. We each get the same amount of time each day, but that doesn’t mean it gets divided up in the same way for the same activities. Someone in a similar position to myself might be able to find the time to really dig in and churn out more content, that just wasn’t me. When I left my full-time job last year, part of that was in search of a better work-life balance. With technically more time dedicated to my art business now, I still wasn’t finding time for Patreon. Which if I’m being honest, also became clear to me that I didn’t care about it enough. My relationship with the platform had soured in a way that I just didn’t have the same motivation that I once did in 2018. I want to be clear that I don’t mean that I didn’t care about my patrons, the platform just wasn’t something that I was connecting with in a way that made me want to spend time there over other platforms I was also on.
The experience I had and the content that I created while on the platform wasn’t a waste of time though. I believe a lot of it is still really valuable to share with others. In one form or another, I will be making that content available for purchase either as separate ebooks or bundle downloads in the future. Re-releasing this content in this way allows me to do it when I’m able to, the way I want to and not because I feel obligated to. I want to also mention that Patreon does allows you the option to charge your patrons by creation but I decided not to pursue that.
If you’re considering joining Patreon, there are a lot of things to consider before making the leap. This blog post honestly only really scratches the surface of things to consider. If you think this is the right platform for you, I would highly recommend seeking out someone who is successful on the platform and asking their advice if they are willing or even finding a course created by someone who has been successful to learn some best practice tips. You should also seek out other people who left because there is a lot of insight to be gained from having a balanced perspective. Patreon can be a great way to make a consistent income as an artist or content creator but consider what you’re willing to put into it in terms of time, content and who you can bring with you to the party before you make the leap.
Are you a creator on Patreon? Share your experience with me below in the comments!
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