Well, I did it. I conquered a fear. And Ran a Successful Kickstarter!
I’m not trying to brag. Well, maybe a little, but that’s not my point here. But in running my first Kickstarter, I came to realize that I was not alone in my fear of failure, especially the PUBLIC failure that is online crowd funding. We hear from others just how EXHAUSTING running a Kickstarter can be, how your readers will SAY they’ll back it but don’t actually pull the trigger, and how many people mess up the math and wind up in the red. It’s scary! We self-starters have a reputation to uphold, and we’re (mostly) faking it ’til we make it. Nothing like a failing Kickstarter that’s not getting a much attention to destroy your already fragile ego and pull back the curtain on your supposed success.
So, that’s my insecurity speaking. Once the campaign begun, and we (Gina D’Angelo of www.supersoxshop.com and I) had a tremendous first day- raking in half our goal, it became apparent that mmmmaybe I was underestimating myself (like so many close cohorts had told me prior, in efforts to encourage me). That’s when the Facebook DM’s and emails started rolling in… both congratulating me in advance for a successful campaign and asking me advice on how to run one. I could relate– it would have been nice to know if I was READY, if I could HANDLE a Kickstarter. It very much felt like tip-toeing on foreign ground, hoping for the best. I prepared myself the best I could but didn’t feel very confident until that crazy first day. Hopeful, maybe. Cautiously optimistic, yeah. Confident? Not with those voices in the back of my head mocking me.
So, here’s your checklist, doubling as a list of tips!
***Note: Much like success in comics, nothing is guaranteed. Many of these tips are ones that helped ME and my plushie kickstarter. It may be different for a book, or for raising money for a piece of equipment, and depends also on your readership/following. Point being, there’s a lot of factors in motion, but this may be a great starting point.
- Do You Have a Following?
This is probably priority #1 in running a Kickstarter. If you’re brand new to the scene, the chance that your campaign gets funded is small. You not only need people with money willing to back it, but people who interact with you on social media and would be willing to share, share, share! While the Kickstarter website may bring in some outside backers, they don’t make up a majority of your funding. Point being: Before you run a Kickstarter, get out there, spend some time getting involved and interacting with the comic community, at conventions, building networks, helping fund other’s campaigns, investing in the community!
For me, I have 9 years worth of readership both on my own site and from my time at drunkduck.com, a large network of fellow comic creators whom I have supported and befriended, and a strong convention following, plus some recognition from my efforts here at the Alliance and on the podcast. Without the combination of all those things, I doubt I would have had enough pull to rake in the $3,000 we needed.
- Do You Have a Strong Product?
I mean, let’s be real. A Kickstarter is all about the item you’re trying to have made. Or, at the least, the reward level offerings (if say, you’re raising money for a new laptop to make more webcomics). As much as your followers may like you, a crappy product won’t sell. Spend time researching the manufacturers/printers you have available to you, while at the same time, mull over what makes your idea special. Why would people want to own it? If you have competitors, why is YOUR product better? What special qualities about your product can you list? That list will come in handy when promoting the Kickstarter.
- Is Your Product In Demand?
If you have a following of some kind, this can be determined, to a degree. Post a survey for your followers. Chat up customers at a convention. Stir up some hype about it, even if you’re not entirely sure you want to run a campaign yet. Personally, I had been asked– without prompting– about Zorphbert & Fred plushies enough, I felt there was enough demand. That, and an anonymous survey reassured me that I could count on a handful of backers, even if not everyone pulled the trigger at game-time:
- Have You Considered the Timing of Your Campaign?
I’ll go on record saying that I believe the key reason our campaign was successful was the timing of it. There’s two types of “timing”: the time of the year, and the time in your career. After a lot of thought, I figured the best chance I had at hyping up a Kickstarter for Z&F was at the end of the comic’s run. So, at the end of 2014 when I made the decision to end Z&F, I timed out everything to fall in the same month. The comic ended on the last day of the Kickstarter campaign, and after a 9 year run, it was a chance for readers to pay tribute. I coined it “Grand Finale” — to emphasize the combination of the Kickstarter and the end of the comic.
So, if you have a landmark in your career approaching (perhaps a 500th comic?), or something to center the campaign around, that would be beneficial to hyping it up! Also, be aware of what time of year you run the campaign and what your peers will be doing during that time. During the summer, people tend to be vacationing, away from their computers… and by the time November hits, people are saving up for another pricey holiday season.
- Do You Have the Math Skills?
Yeah, we’re artists.. not to perpetuate a stereotype, but many of us start hyperventilating when it comes to math. I’m actually one of those freaks that isn’t intimidated by math or finances. Even still, I was a bit concerned I wouldn’t account for everything when it comes to a Kickstarter– the fees, the taxes, any of that small text you could easily miss… and I would end up in financial trouble by underestimating the total that was needed. While you can google your heart out and find plenty of advice and breakdowns, I opted to utilize a close friend and fellow Alliance member Robin Childs. Not only has she run successful Kickstarters before, but she offers a great service under the title “Creative Consultant” and I can vouch for her. All I really needed help with was the finances: running the numbers, determining how much to charge for each pledge level, and ensuring with shipping and extra costs, that our total was calculated correctly… and she filled that role perfectly! If you think you can go it alone, Kickstarter itself has a very helpful FAQ page, and a Creators handbook, of which has a great section Funding. Also: Google Docs “Sheets”. Coordinate, consolidate, calculate, organize. Do it.
- Do You Have the Planning Skills?
Understand fully, this is an undertaking. I believe it was Robin who put it best: It’s like being “on” at a comic con for an entire month. Plus all the pre-show prep that comes with that… times 3. You have to be able to take this project from the brainstorm process, to the shameless promotional month, to when the REAL work begins: the fulfillment stage. If you’re the type that loses interest quickly or has trouble focusing, you may want to bring on some help rather than leave yourself to, well, your own devices. To give you a better road map, this is what you’re in for:
• Research and brainstorm phase
• Number crunching phase (determining your funding goal)
• Deciphering the inter-workings of Kickstarter (ie: setting up your page)
• Graphics-palooza! (you gotta show ’em SOMETHING, right?) Also: Video! GAH!
• Setting the date, followed immediately by PANIC
• The Campaign is HERE! Put on your social media whore hat!
– Initial Wave excitement! Yay, it’s looking good!
– The Plateau …in which you, again, PANIC!
– The Slow But Steady Ending…. in which you, hopefully, get funded!
• CELEBRATE! for 5 seconds.
• Emails. Updates. Fulfilling the easy stuff.
• Money appears and immediately goes POOF.
• Living at the Post Office as you send off that thing you were dying to get made, and now just happy to see it GO.
• Revel in the feeling of accomplishment. And swear you’ll never do that again. (for a couple months at least)
If you’re still on board after all that- start by reviewing the stats from Kickstarter in 2014, see what works, when, why and how!
- Have You Mastered Social Media Promotion?
It’s a necessary evil, we all get that. You have to utilize the networks you get the most interaction on, and do so creatively with variety, humor, cleverness, while also being succinct. Study the times of the day where you tend to get the most interaction.. there’s lots of free resources which can give you information on this, such as SumAll. Create graphics with the selling points about your product like a designer would– consistent, clean, concise, easy to understand. Use social media scheduling tools to ensure you are posting even when you’re busy- I suggest Hootsuite, Buffer and IFTTT. Especially IFTTT- with which you can take 20 minutes to set up a chain of social media posts that is triggered by a hashtag– one you can use for the Kickstarter as a whole. Mine was #ZnFplushies! This made the process of posting EVERYWHERE less exhausting. But keep in mind: interaction will get your posts the most views/shares/likes. Ask questions. Make memes. make people laugh, or get a conversation started. Yep- good old fashioned hard work WILL win out over robotic posting. But they certainly help when you don’t have a social media manager of your own, eh?
- Can You Put Together a Good Video?
As Kickstarter advises, put together a solid video of SOME sort– because 50% of projects with a video get funded, opposed to 30% without. Even if it’s just you yapping at your webcam, it’s something that connects YOU, the real person, to your audience- which is the heart behind crowd funding anyway!
What should your video contain exactly? Well, here’s a great article covering the details, but essentially:
• You, or your project’s personality
• A Hook- something enticing regarding your product in the first few seconds
• Visuals! It’s the video, silly.. don’t waste a chance to show off your product at its best!
• A quick bullet point list of all the best qualities of your product
• A little inside info on the story behind your product
Keep it short, keep it snappy and positive! Even if you have to act like you’re farting rainbows, DO IT. Rainbows sell.
And reach out to a video editor, should you need help in that capacity. Yet again, the Alliance is here to help, as the great Byron Wilkins edited our kick-ass video and could aid in awesome-fying yours as well.
- Do You Have Patience and Emotional Stability?
Hate to beat a dead cliche (*snort*), but this isn’t a sprint- it’s a marathon. A Kickstarter from start to finish, not just the campaign itself, can take 6 months to a year! You have to be able to work well under pressure, and deal with stress in an efficient manner. Not all of us have that ability, so having an assistant or consultant to ease your concerns and take the reigns at times may be beneficial. Just remember to breathe, and not get ahead of yourself. Plan ahead, but be flexible if needed. If you’re plateauing during your campaign, freshen up the promotion a bit, try new angles.
- Let’s Keep it Real: Do You Have the T-I-M-E?
If you’re still reading this article at this point, you’re probably already calculating how little you’ll be sleeping during this whole process. It does take TIME, even with the aid of technology. The best advice I can give is to plan WAY ahead, not try to rush it, and reach out to those networks of friends to help you. Help promote, help design graphics, help you with the numbers, help with shipping. Ensure you run your campaign during a stress-free, easy going period in your life with ample spare time. HA! Yeah, I wanted to close with a joke.
Best of Luck, Future Kickstarter Campaign Managers!
Dawn Griffin is the resident “crazy chick”. She likes steak, Cleveland sports, video games and oh yeah, comics. She spent her formative years either playing street basketball, pitching, or drawing comics and submitting them to syndicates. Once she –accidentally– discovered the world of webcomics, the syndication route became a pointless hurdle. After all, “Crazy Chicks” do things their *&%$ selves. Dawn is the mastermind behind Zorphbert and Fred, and you can find her portfolio site HERE. She can be easily bribed with ice cream.