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Crowdfunding 101: Ten Things You MUST Do

Flickr user 401(K) 2012

We here at Turnstyle News don’t hide the fact that we’re excited about the ongoing crowdfunding revolution. Filmmaker Lucas McNelly writes our “Crowdfunding 201” column, which takes an in-depth look at what makes crowdfunding campaigns tick. Tech and entertainment editor Noah Nelson takes joy in finding new campaigns to talk about and creators to profile.

While the 201 series has been a success for us, we’ve deliberately left cataloging the basics of crowdfunding campaigns out of the discussion. Until now. Lucas and Noah have each come up with five musts for campaigns, which we now share with you.

1. The Pitch Video (Lucas)

You have to have a pitch video. You just do.

If you don’t have one, your campaign will almost definitely fail.

Really, the video needs to accomplish 2 things: 1) It needs to prove that you can do what you’re raising money to do. So if you’re making a film, you need to show off your skills. The more well-known you and your work are, the less you need to do this. I did a profile on Fat Kid Rules the World. They had already won an Audience Award at SXSW. So they could effectively skip this step. But you probably haven’t. Ergo, show us something. 2) You need to connect with your potential audience as a human being. It’s the old politics question of “would you like to have a beer with this person?” If you fail the beer test, you’re going to have a hard time. You also want to show off your enthusiasm for the project. People respond to that sort of energy. Look at Kevin Garnett. You don’t need to be screaming at people, but show that passion and people will line up behind you.

2. Have Great Photos & Images (Noah)

Nothing is more annoying for a web writer, at least this web writer, than getting a draft of a article together and then having to scrounge around Flickr for a suitable Creative Commons image. Be a friend to these sad, coffee stained wretches who want to be enthusiastic about your project by providing pretty pictures, at large format sizes, in easily accessible locations. On your project page, with links to higher resolution versions. In your Facebook fan page. Best of all: at the website you’ve dedicated to the project, in a section with the url extention “/pictures” or “/press”.

It still boggles my mind that full finished films, games, and other creative endeavors don’t take these steps. I deal with projects that have professional public relations people working behind the scenes that sometimes don’t have the material accessible. A PR embargo is one thing, but once a work is in the wild there’s really no excuse for a lack of an image archive. Plus a word of warning: if you don’t choose the image that gets spread around, one of us will.

3. Fix It In Pre (Lucas)

A crowdfunding campaign is like a movie. There’s pre-production, production, and post-production. You want to do as much as you can in pre-production. You want to plan out your perks and, more importantly, budget how much they’re going to cost you. Find successful campaigns that are similar to yours. Sure, it’s great that Amanda Palmer raised over a million dollars, but are you Amanda Palmer? No. If you’re trying to sell your 2 bedroom house in Nebraska, you wouldn’t look for comparable properties in Manhattan. Look in your neighborhood. Trying to raise money for a $10,000 web series? Find other web series that raised around that much. Study those campaigns. See what worked, and what didn’t. Constantly ask yourself, “would this get me to give to the campaign?”

You should have most of your campaign mapped out before you launch. Because once it starts, your life is going to be Hell.

4. Hone The Lede (Noah)

On the entertainment beat I get hit with a boatload of pitches each day. The ones that stand out don’t necessarily have big stars or amazing high concepts, but they all have one thing in common: they can be explained in one sentence.

Twitter is great practice for this. If you can describe your campaign in under 140 characters you’re doing great. Under 140 with the shortened URL and you’re a superstar.

This is about more than communicating on Twitter, however. For your campaign to stick in people’s head’s you need to make it easy to remember. $99 dollar Android-based game console. Guy wants to direct a movie before he goes blind. An ad-free magazine about pairing beer and chocolate. Your short pitch is your weapon to colonize as many brains as possible. It’s the hook of a pop song. Do it right and people will spread the news for you. Do it wrong and they will stumble over themselves trying to explain why they backed you in the first place, if they bother to at all.

5. Work, Work, Work (Lucas)

A couple of months ago, I did a survey of campaigns, asking people how many hours a day they put into the campaign. The average successful campaign that raised over $10,000 put in 9.9 hours per day. Yes, per day. Unsuccessful campaigns put in 5.2 hours per day. You don’t need a degree in statistics to figure out what that means. The campaign will take over your life. Plan accordingly.

I keep telling people that, and they don’t believe me. Then, on day 12 or so of their campaign, I’ll get a text message about how overwhelmed they are. Don’t be overwhelmed.

6. It’s Called A CAMPAIGN For A REASON (Noah)

Don’t expect to flip a switch and then watch the money roll in. Unless your name is Amanda Palmer, Seth Godin, or Tim Schaffer. Spoiler: they didn’t expect to either. Well, maybe Godin did. What sets those three apart from you?

Wrong. It’s not that they’re famous. It’s that they spent the time cultivating their audience for years before they pulled the trigger on their Kickstarter campaign. A campaign isn’t just about getting that dollar… there are easier ways to make money, and several fine cable television shows dramatize those methods. You, however, have chose to put in the work of building up your audience while simultaneously hitting them up for money. To do that you’re going to need to court attention outside your comfort zone. You’re going to need a plan.

Do you have anything other than “Hey I’m here!” to talk about once you’ve launched? No? Then you’re not ready. Running a 30 day campaign? What do you have planned for day 15, when you’ve hit a slump and need a boost financially and emotionally? Look at the campaign for Republique. Game developer Ryan Payton told us game industry insiders thought he was asking for too little money. As it turned out they had to fight for every dollar.

7. Thank you, ________ (Lucas)

Take a look at this tweet.

It’s kind of a perfect example of what you should be doing throughout your campaign. You’ll get an email whenever you get a backer, and it’ll say something like “John Doe has backed your campaign”. Now you might know who that is, and you might not. Either way, you owe them a thank you. And not as one of those BS perks where you say you’ll thank them. That’s not a perk. That’s common decency. It’s a simple process. 1) Figure out who the backer is. If they’re on Twitter, find their Twitter handle. 2) Figure out what they do. If they’ve got some project of their own, that’s great. Or if they’re obsessed with the Celtics, or Star Wars, or cats. Whatever it is, make a note of it. 3) Put all of that in a thank you tweet, including the link to your campaign in the tweet. Easy.

It’s ridiculously effective.

You’ve thanked them publicly, which is better than a private message (which you should probably also do). You’ve taken the time to learn something about them and perhaps even promoted their work. You’ve organically plugged your campaign, while showing people that you’re getting more backers. And guess what? There’s a really good chance your new backer will re-tweet that to all of their followers.

I tell EVERYONE to do that. Very few do. And then they wonder why no one knows about their campaign.

8. End On A Friday (Noah)

Lucas mentioned this in his 201 post about what he looks for when analyzing a campaign. It bears repeating.

Think about it this way: how much time do you spend on the internet over the weekend? Really? That much? I’m sorry. The rest of us are out in the world having fun. Or we’re at least playing Minecraft, which is totally the same thing.

The big point is this: a campaign has a story arc and these story arcs are predisposed to having a Big Finish. Whether that means a last desperate attempt to get the show off the ground or a final frenzy of buyers who realize that the X-On Neuro Rocket Game Stabilizer Pen & Watch will cost $300 more when it finally hits store shelves is irrelevant. What matters is that on Friday people are A) still at work, B) might have money to burn (payday!) and C) are more likely to be willing to depart with their cash than they will be after a weekend where they wasted it all on DLC/Scotch or some combination thereof. Not that I’m condemning DLC or Scotch. Perhaps we could combine to two! Time to take this idea to Kickstarter.

I’m being extra jokey here because it just seems obvious to me, and doubly so once you’ve watched a campaign fail to cross the finish line because they were closing funding on a Sunday.

9. Updates (Lucas)

One of the first things I look at when checking out a campaign in process is how many updates they’ve posted. It’s a simple formula. More updates generally means people are more engaged. You should have some of these planned ahead of time. But I’m also a big proponent of the personal video done off-the-cuff during the campaign. This is really simple. Chances are you’ve got a phone that shoots video. Point it at yourself. Talk about how the campaign is going, especially how overwhelmed you are with all the support (and, trust me, you will be). Be yourself. Upload that to YouTube. Post an update. It literally can be as simple as that. You don’t need to get an Alexa and a bunch of lights. You’ve probably already done that in your pitch video (and, yes, there’s points during the campaign where you might want to do that), but sometimes the most effective video is the grainy one of you at your kitchen table, thanking people from the bottom of your heart.

It can be as simple as that.

10. Think Of Your Audience (Noah)

First. Second. Always.

We all suffer through spam. Journalists and bloggers with even the slightest bit of notoriety even more so. When reaching out a little bit of research can serve you well. The straight up PR blast does little to grab attention, but one that is tailored to our tastes? Now we’re talking.

The power of social media isn’t it’s ability to turn anyone into a broadcaster: it’s the necessity it puts on everyone to be a narrowcaster. Google and Facebook hinge their entire business model on the idea that they can refine an algorithm to the point where they know your marketing vulnerabilities. You’ve got something better: your brain.

Before reaching out to a journalist or posting on a popular message board take some time to understand what their values are. It may not guarantee you’ll convert them into a backer or an ally, but you’ll go a long way towards increasing the odds they do. It’s basic respect, and if you’re going to be playing this game again you’ll want the respect of these communities the next time you go to the well.

This is bonehead simple from my point of view– but this is Crowdfunding 101– and I’m still shocked at how many people don’t get this.