I receive a lot of e-mails in which people ask for help launching a Patreon, but there are three different types of people who are writing in. The question of whether or not you can start a Patreon comes down to how many dedicated followers you have for the thing you wish to launch a Pateron for.
1) Creators with clear, significant, and established followings
The first kind of creator who contacts me is the person who is primed to launch a successful Patreon: Those who already have a significant and established following. These creators have fans who already enjoy their content, and they're looking to monetize their existing audience in a new and exciting way.
You can see high engagement across this type of creator's social media posts, and the creator can easily show that they have a large fan base that returns to their work each time they post something new.
Most importantly, these creators have dedicated followings who return to their work on a recurring basis. For example, you have a podcast and hundreds of people listen to every episode each week. I'm ready to work with these types of creators in a heartbeat, because I know they have a following that will pledge! Patreon will be an excellent new income source for them.
2) Creators with small or one-time followings
This second kind of creator is similar to the one above: They've already launched something that they're now looking to better monetize. But the difference with this creator is that they don't have a very large following. When launching a Patreon, you need to keep in mind that roughly 5% of your existing fans will pledge to your Patreon. So, if you have 100 dedicated fans of your work, you can expect around 5 of them will pledge to you.
While this number could sound small, this isn't necessarily a deal breaker for creators. Some could really use that extra income each month, even if it's only coming from five fans. For others, it might not be worth their time. The choice is yours, but just know that around 5% of your dedicated audience will pledge.
3) Creators who haven't launched their project yet
The third kind of creator who contacts me is one who doesn't yet have a following, or who are looking to launch a Patreon in order to support a product that doesn't exist yet.
If you're in this group, Patreon is not what you're looking for at the outset of your project. Patreon is for people who already have an established audience, and you believe that audience will want to financially support you based on your body of work so far.
Patreon versus Kickstarter
I believe part of the confusion around Patreon's purpose comes from conflating Patreon and another popular crowd-funding platform, Kickstarter.
Though both platforms allow you to accept money for projects, the typical Kickstarter campaign asks for a one-time pledge to help the creator get their project off the ground. Patreon, on the other hand, is a platform in which creators receive monthly pledges from fans of an existing product, and the creator will give them enticing benefits on a regular basis in exchange for supporting what they already create.
While this isn't the case for every Patreon creator, I will bet you that most of the Patreons you've looked at for inspiration are by creators who had been releasing work online for years before launching a Patreon. These creators have established followings who want more of the creator's work.
Kickstarter hosts people with and without established followings. The platform is also intended for people to go from zero to hero. Your Patreon will not go viral, because Patreon focuses on elevating those with established followings. If you browse Patreon.com, you'll notice that they ask you to search for a specific creator you already know, and they feature popular creators in various categories. They're not featuring the little guys who are just getting started.
Create First, Profit Later
Too often, people expect that they can make money from the moment they start being an creator. Unfortunately, this is usually not the case. Whether you're a podcaster, YouTuber, artist, or in any other type of creative industry, you're going to need to spend months and years growing your audience so that the monetization -- be it through subscriptions or advertising or merchandise -- can follow.
Take my two podcasts as an example: MuggleCast did not make any money for the first couple years after we launched in 2005. #Millennial launched with a Patreon in 2015, but only because we had an established audience from MuggleCast and several other podcasts we've hosted over the years.
If you're new to being an online creator, I strongly recommend focusing on building the best product possible without financial support from potential fans. If you create a great product and spend time proving yourself as a creator, the money will follow. I know this can be difficult to hear because you need money to justify spending so much time on your work, but this is what the early days of being a creator looks like.
This is a better path to follow than spending a lot of time planning, building, and launching a Patreon, only to slowly but surely see that no one is pledging to the Patreon because you aren't yet an established creator.
When creators write in to me, I look to see if they already have an established following. If I see that you have a significant number of followers on social media, YouTube, etc, receive good engagement on the posts that you make, and I can see good viewership numbers on your content, that tells me you may be a good fit for a Patreon. (By the way, if you have other metrics that show you have a loyal audience, I'd love for you show me!)
If your following clearly returns to each project that you release, you have an established and loyal audience that is always craving your work. These types of creators are who Patreon is meant for!
Those without followers will have a near-impossible time getting people to pledge to their Patreon, because people don't know you. Why should they support you when you haven't proven yourself as a creator?
Ready to launch your own Patreon?
My new online course "Building the Perfect Patreon" explains everything you need to know about planning, building, and growing a Patreon. By purchasing this 3 1/2-hour course, you'll spend less time worrying about if you're making the right decisions and jump straight to success! Learn more about the course, why you can trust me, and see a preview at the link!