I wrote this article for the December issue of Popcorn Horror magazine, who just so happen to publish Rock In Purgatory. If you are considering crowd funding a creative project heres a few things to think about…
Anyone who has ever tried to get their art, project, or grand plan for world domination off the ground will have come across one obstacle or another. Most often it can be summarised in a simple question:
Where am I going to get the money to do this?
Every venture we undertake costs us money. Even if we are not looking to put ourselves into the public domain, we have to pay to do the things we are passionate about doing. So when it comes to taking a risk and going public, the advent of crowd funding platforms such as Kickstarter have suddenly made it incredibly easy to take that next step. I used Kickstarter last year to launch my debut horror comic Brutal Bombshells. Though I am pleased to say my campaign was successfully funded and that I did not experience as much stress as is often reported when running a campaign, it was no easy journey.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term, crowd funding refers to the process of seeking investment in your venture from willing members of the public. People can offer to help fund your project and come away with an exclusive product if they make a financial contribution. Often a variety of products are available at different price levels. If you think of it as a way for fans to safely invest in something creative, it is easy to see why crowd funding is moving into the mainstream more and more. Pledge Music has been helping bands get albums released for years now, and Rob Zombie just used crowd funding to get his latest horror flick, 31, off the ground. As most crowd funding relies on hitting a minimum target, unless that target is reached nobody has to fork out cash for something they may not get. However, there are often risks on both sides as contributions may not truly meet the goal required. There are many sad tales of false promises and backers left empty handed. These range from individual people offering more than they can deliver, all the way to larger ventures overspending to the point of going out of business.
When I made the decision to pursue crowd funding as a way to launch my comic, I researched the platforms and processes to better understand what I was getting myself into. Crowd funding gives creatives the opportunity to have guaranteed funding for their project up front. The risk is, in theory, low – if you don’t hit your funding target you do not have to deliver on anything. It’s free to set up a campaign, with the platform only taking a cut if you fund. So again, low risk. Plus, I was pleasantly surprised to find there is a community of users on Kickstarter. These are people keen to get involved in new things which are exclusively available through crowd funding. Roughly 65% of my backers were Kickstarter regulars who had no interaction with me until I launched the campaign. Considering the amount of effort I put into digital marketing and social media activity, this was a revelation to me.
This was all fantastic news for me and my comic. I spent a long time comparing other campaigns and backing a few myself to experience how it worked from both sides before deciding on my plan of action. Seeing similar projects to mine seeking thousands of pounds and offering many outlandish rewards, I chose to keep my first campaign simple. I opted to treat my campaign as a pre-order promotion. I had sought printing costs already and knew how much producing the comic would set me back. Rather than factor in time and materials for the art and writing, I just went for actual expenditure. I created this comic because I wanted to and I was happy not to be paid for the work this time. As a new face on Kickstarter, I felt that humbly asking people to pre-order copies was the best way to go about it.
One big attraction to using a digital platform such as Kickstarter is its ability to help you reach a potentially global audience. But if you are not prepared for this it can be very hard to fulfil all you have set out to do. I was ecstatic to find I had contributors from across the world. Most were purchasing a digital copy of the comic, but I still had a lot of physical sales to Europe and the US, and one person in central America buying an original piece of art. I was not aware that the postage costs I was charging contributed to target amount and not collected separately, which nearly caused me a lot of trouble. This was my own mistake, but it was one of many things that were not clear when setting up my campaign that could have tripped me up considerably.
On top of this I had a rather nerve wracking three weeks with that piece of original art being lost by the US postal service! The piece was priced high, so if it disappeared I would have been liable to refund the backer. This would have been disastrous for me – by this point the comic had been printed and paid for, so the money had been spent. Any refund would have to come out of my own wallet. I couldn’t help but smell a rat and was convinced that either the buyer was trying to pull a fast one or it had been stolen by an opportunistic postie.
Luckily, after weeks of chasing the buyer I got an email from him to say it had finally arrived safely.
It is worth pointing out that financial and logistical mishaps are not isolated to crowd funding. No matter how you try to fund and deliver a project, something will always go wrong. In a past life I ran my own company promoting live music events. Even for the low cost / low risk shows, there was always a chance I could lose money or have an awful situation on my hands. Things are never totally within our control. So, if you are considering a crowd funding campaign, here are a few things to always keep in mind.
Communication and honesty are key to everything. People are committing to pay you money for something, so you need to tell them what is going on. If it is still in production when you launch the campaign, say so. If it runs late, let them know. If you can’t get to the post office because you have too much to do, apologise and let them know when you’ll have time. People hate being lied to (don’t you?) so avoid giving them excuses and fob offs. Most people are totally fine with things changing as long as they are kept in the loop.
Do your maths – then do your maths again! If you hit your target you’ll be charged a fee or two as the money gets processed. It is hard to fully anticipate this, so do your maths well and consider a number of different outcomes. Don’t get caught out. If you have something to physically post to people, take it to the post office and note down all the postage charges you can so you know how to set these costs. Get all your production costs worked out and then add a bit more, just in case. However……
Don’t get greedy. Setting contribution tiers too high will put people off, and setting the target amount too high will make it harder to reach. Be fair, but if you are in it to make a profit, make it a reasonable one. If you are using crowd funding it is likely you do not have the money to invest in your project already. If you make your primary goal to deliver a cost neutral project then any over funding can start to contribute to profits. Once you’ve delivered the best crowd funding campaign ever, you can think about clawing in the cash on the next venture.
I would recommend that creatives considering crowd funding take the plunge and give it a go, but I urge you to keep your wits about you and be prepared to put effort into it. A great campaign needs to be engaging and informative if it is to stand a chance. Make it as awesome as you can. And one last piece of advice: don’t bother with the Kickstarter trope of rewarding a £1 pledge with “your eternal thanks”. Spoiler alert – nobody bothers backing that!