When launching a Patreon is (and isn’t) right for you

I receive a lot of e-mails via this site in which people ask for help launching a Patreon, but there are two very different types of people who are writing in.

The first kind are the people who are primed to launch a successful Patreon: Those who already have an established online presence. These creators have fans who already enjoy their content, and they’re looking to monetize their existing audience in a new and exciting way.

The second kind are those who don’t yet have a following, or who are looking to launch a Patreon in order to launch a product that doesn’t exist yet.

If you’re in the latter 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.

When people 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 they make, and I can see good viewership numbers on their content, that tells me they may be a good fit for a Patreon.

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?

Patreon versus Kickstarter

I believe part of the confusion comes from understanding the difference between 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 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 establishing a Patreon.

Obviously a lot of Kickstarter projects are by people without establishing followings, but their ideas go viral on the platform (“A skateboard that’s safe for my dog to use? Amazing!”). 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 managing a project. 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 years growing your audience so that the monetization — be it through Patreon or advertising — 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.