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What is Patreon and How Does it Work?

All you need to know about the most popular crowdfunding platform.

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By Ana Simova
content writer at Ranking Press

Patreon is a crowdfunding platform that has gained a fair amount of popularity over that last few years. But what is Patreon exactly, is it right for you, and how can you use it? We’ll answer all these questions and more in the following paragraphs, so read on.

Patreon was founded in San Francisco by musician Jack Conte and developer Sam Yam. Conte’s music videos were getting a million views per month, but for some reason, he was only making $50 per month through YouTube’s ad revenue. This is why in 2013 he started Patreon. Conte’s intention was to give artists a means of monetizing their own work, after realizing that he wasn’t the only musician who struggled with earning through ad revenue, so what is Patreon? And more importantly, how does it work?

What is Patreon?

Patreon declares itself a crowdfunding platform for creators, as it allows creators to draw a consistent, continuous income from their followers. This funding model makes Patreon particularly well-suited for creators of viral videos, social media creators, online journalists, writers, and musicians.

In a nutshell, Patreon gives people a chance to financially support their favorite content creators with small amounts of money in exchange for exclusive content that only they can get as patrons.

 Artists, influencers, and basically any content creators, or even companies that have something exclusive to offer can start a crowdfunding project easily and be well on their way to a more stable way of revenue for their creative work.

In the last year, Patreon has grown tremendously and is now home to over 1 million monthly active patrons and 50,000 creators. But Patreon isn’t great just for content creators and their followers, it can also be a great tool for advertisers that can easily find influencers who have the most engaged and supportive audiences.

How Does Patreon Work

Now that we answered the “What is Patreon” question, let’s see how it works.

Unlike other crowdfunding platforms, with Patreon fans get to really connect with the people they’re supporting and the relationship goes both ways. It is super simple: hosts (creators) set up pages for subscription payments from patrons (followers) by offering certain perks or incentives, and donors can pledge various amounts of money based on those tiers and perks.  Creators can also set up goals that will be reached when their funding level hits a certain amount. These goals are non-binding and can be changed at any time, but are a great way to inspire patrons to help their favorite creator reach that goal.

And when followers support their favorite creators, they get exclusive benefits in return. For example, a video creator may offer early access to videos, a behind-the-scenes look, or extra footage for a relatively small monthly fee. Some patrons can support their influencers for as little as $1 a month, but on average, the fee is about $12 a month, depending on the tier. This is the biggest difference between Patreon and other crowdfunding platforms. It’s a two-way street and it makes the relationship between creators and their patrons the core of Patreon. It’s what truly makes it stand out and it’s why more and more creators choose it as their best and most reliable source of income.

If you’re a creator who’s struggling with figuring out what to offer to your patrons, Patreon suggests the following (but you’re welcome to expand on them and come up with something even more awesome):

  • Access to your patron-only feed
  • Photos/videos of your process
  • A live chat with your patrons via Patreon’s mobile app
  • MP3 downloads
  • Physical rewards (recommended for higher-tiered patrons only)

It’s important to note that Patreon takes a 5% fee and the industry standard of 2-3% for processing fees. There are no charges beforehand unlike many other subscription services, and Patreon accepts PayPal as well as credit cards.

If you’re interested in becoming a patron, a word of caution is recommended when deciding who to support on the platform. Although it is a safe and secure website, there is still the possibility of fraud, as with almost everything else on the internet. It’s important to trust the person before you make the decision to support them financially, or if you’re a content creator yourself, always take the necessary steps to ensure that you’re open and transparent with your followers so that you can build a lasting relationship with your patrons who will support you consistently. If fraud does happen, unfortunately Patreon’s policy is not to give refunds because all payments made are between the host (creator) and the subscriber, which is fair.

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Who Can Use Patreon?

Patreon can be used by video creators, podcasters, musicians, filmmakers, visual artists, communities, companies, writers, journalists, bloggers, gaming creators, influencers, but also nonprofits, teachers, and creators of all kinds. It can help creators who are just starting out to get noticed by brands and score some brand partnerships in order to support themselves in a more stable and sustainable way. Patreon isn’t just focused on individuals, though. Companies such as a digital magazine, for example, could utilize this platform’s subscription service and offer a lot more versatile content to its audience than it normally would be able to.

As mentioned earlier, brands and advertisers can use Patreon to gain insight into various creators and find people who align with their own vision and message. Through the platform, they can get a better look at just how big the creator’s audience is and how they interact with each other.

The Benefits of Using Patreon

As a creator:

FINANCIAL SECURITY – One of the biggest benefits to using Patreon as a creator is the consistent and reliable payment every single month. For many creatives, the unpredictability of their paycheck is their biggest struggle, and Patreon eliminates that issue.

COMMUNITY – Patreon has the ability to bring the host and their patrons closer together as a community. In a way it feels like a family that shares experiences together unlike the rest of the audience that, for example, only follows the creator on Instagram or YouTube without the additional content and perks.

OPPORTUNITIES – Patreon can open doors for creators to get brand deals and partnerships simply by being on the platform. Like we mentioned earlier, by seeing how big and powerful a creator’s audience is, an advertiser or a brand can analyze whether this person is the right fit to work with.

As a patron:

EXCLUSIVE CONTENT – Depending on who you support and what their tiers are, chances are that as a patron you will get some kind of exclusive content that audiences outside of the platform won’t have access to, and that’s pretty cool. It feels like having backstage tickets to your favorite artist’s concert.

ENGAGEMENT – Patrons get to truly engage with the creators they support because they don’t just disappear in the sea of followers on other social media platforms. The creators here are within reach, tangible, and patrons get to communicate with them and further develop their relationship. And the deeper the relationship is between a creator and a patron, the more the patron will be willing to support them.

DIGITAL & PHYSICAL OFFERS – Patrons can get digital and physical offers that the creators come up with depending on their niche. Books, magazines, sketches, stickers, prints, and all kinds of merch that’s relevant to the creator. Basically, stuff that isn’t available for anyone else who isn’t a patron.

How to Start Using Patreon

Now that you know what is Patreon and what the benefits of using it are, let’s move on to how you can start using this crowdfunding platform.

The very first step that doesn’t actually have anything to do with Patreon is to actually build your audience outside of the platform. Whether that’s on Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, you need to have a loyal group of people that cares about what you have to bring to the table, and everyone knows that’s what takes the most time and effort. But if you have a strong foundation, it will be so much easier to execute your Patreon account successfully and more importantly, make it a lasting source of revenue for yourself or your company.

Once you’ve reached that point, you can consider starting a Patreon account. You can test the waters by letting your audience know you’re thinking about it, and ask them what they’d like to see on your Patreon, since your paycheck will quite literally depend on their willingness to support you. If you have a good audience, they will be honest with their feedback and you’ll have a clear idea as to where you can go from there. It’s okay if you don’t immediately have a clear vision of how you will do this Patreon thing.

If you have created a plan for your patrons’ benefits and what the different tiers of rewards will be, you’re good to go. But if you have no clue about what to offer your audience, there are dozens of articles online that can help spark an idea that would work perfectly for your brand.

There are several things you will need to fill out once you have created your account:

About section: Tell the world who you are, what brought you to Patreon, and why potential patrons should subscribe to your page. Anyone that visits your page will see this section, so spend some time on it and make it as good as can be. There’s also the option to upload an intro video, and even though it isn’t required, it has been shown to help convert fans to patrons. People love it when they see that a creator took time out of their day to introduce themselves and show gratitude for anyone who has decided to support his or her work.

Benefits: What would you like to give your biggest fans in exchange for their donations?

When you create a new tier, you can set a tier price, title, add an image to your tier, and enter a description that gives your patrons a better sense of what they can expect to receive when they subscribe to you. Be as descriptive and as clear as you can here. You also have the option of setting a limit for how many patrons can subscribe to that tier, and you can request those patrons to provide you with their shipping address if you want to offer physical rewards.

Goals: The goals you set for your page will get your patrons excited about the next step of your creative journey. You can use goals to help paint a picture of what you’ll work toward together and inspire your patrons to help you achieve that goal by promoting your work and recommending your Patreon account to friends and family.

There are two different types of goals you can set: Earnings-based goals, and Community-based goals. Earnings-based goals are related to the amount of money you’ll earn, while Community-based goals are related to the number of patrons you’ll have.

Payments: You can choose to either bill your patrons for their support monthly or per-creation. If you bill your patrons monthly, they’ll be billed on the first of each month for access to content they received during the previous month. If you bill your patrons per-creation, they’ll be charged on the first of the following month if you publish a paid post. There is no right or wrong way here, just go with whichever works best for you and your business.

You’ll be able to enter your payout preferences as soon as you launch your Patreon account.

The final step is something that you’ll have to do continuously: promote your Patreon on your usual social media accounts, especially in the beginning.

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Final Thoughts

Patreon welcomes creatives from all niches and walks of life, however it isn’t for everyone or for any business. If you’re making something that inspires people, Patreon’s platform is engineered to help you monetize doing what you already love to do. It’s an excellent way to utilize the power of the internet for good and create opportunities for those who lack a platform but deserve to be heard.

Although it’s not without its flaws, Patreon does seem to learn from its mistakes and listens to its hosts and patrons, so it’s safe to say that in the future we will continue to see this platform grow, develop, and become even better and more user-friendly than before.

At the end of the day, there’s nothing to lose here. Now that you know what is Patreon and how it works, see if it’s a good fit for you and your audience, and be persistent. If you are a content creator, you are well aware that nothing happens overnight.

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