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10 Tips for Funding a Successful Kickstarter Project

UPDATE: Due to the high volume of traffic that this post always receives, I’ve launched a new blog called CrowdFunding Help, which provides tips, news, interviews and how-tos for Kickstarter, IndieGoGo and more. Check it out!

Last month, I created a Kickstarter project to help raise the initial funding for my new creative project, The Baristas, a web sitcom that’s a spin-off from my previous show, Something to Be Desired.  On Saturday, Sept 18, I was happy, proud, humbled and relieved to announce that we’d reached our funding goal of $3000 with four days to go before our project ended.

In fact, we wound up receiving $3660 in total donations, or 122% of our goal.

Here’s how we did it.

First, Some General Observations

These tips are based on my own experience and are specific to my project.  Feel free to adapt them to the parameters of your own vision.

My project was web video based.  If you’d like to use Kickstarter to crowdfund a book, album, stage play or other creative endeavor, not all of the following tips may apply.  (But, actually, they probably will.)

And, obviously, this is my first Kickstarter experience.  Others have used the service repeatedly and may have a better understanding of which tactics are more broadly useful.

That said, here are…

10 Tips for Successfully Funding a Kickstarter Project

1. Give your core audience something to get excited about.

In our case, we had the built-in advantage of a pre-established audience.  Something to Be Desired has been online since 2003, and while not everyone knows about it, two very important groups of people do: the show’s longtime fans, and the social media community in Pittsburgh (where the show was filmed).

Thus, we knew the fans of STBD would be excited that the show was being spun off, and we counted on that initial attention to boost our project out the door in its first days.  (More on that later.)

However, if your project is a brand new concept with no pre-existing audience or demand, ask yourself: Who is the core audience for this project?  If you’re making a zombie movie, find a way to appeal to horror enthusiasts.  If you’re writing a bilingual children’s book, what aspects of your project would get parents and educators from both cultures talking?

Find a way to excite the people who should care about your project, and you’ll have to rely a lot less on the kindness of complete strangers.

2. Give complete strangers a reason to care, too.

STBD’s core audience isn’t large (or lucrative) enough to fund a new show completely out of its own collective pocket.  Therefore, we knew we’d need to find a way to give people who’d never heard of STBD, and who couldn’t care less about an arbitrary web comedy, a reason to still want the project to succeed.

So we made them producers.

Anyone who backed The Baristas on Kickstarter for $25 would receive a single vote in casting for one role on the show — that of “the newest barista,” whose first day on the job will be the crux of the show’s first episode.  For $50, backers received two votes, and so on, up to 20 votes for $500 (which was the highest single amount any one person pledged to the show).

Pretty cool, right?

Admittedly, we might have received even more interest (and funding) if we’d set the cost of a casting vote at $5 instead of $25.  But I didn’t want people who’d never watch the show otherwise to pay $5 simply for the privilege of voting, which might result in a bizarre or problematic casting result.  So I settled on $25, which seemed like just enough of a financial commitment that a donor would be likely to take the voting experience — and, thus, the eventual quality of the show — seriously.

3. Offer an amazing perk at $5 or $10.

I did not do this and, in hindsight, I believe it was my biggest mistake.

Sure, at $25 a backer had a vote in the eventual look and feel of the show through casting.  That made sense.  But what about the people with only a passing interest in the show, or for whom $25 seems like a steep investment?  We offered obligatory promotional swag (postcards, buttons, pens), but nothing that a casual supporter could really sink her teeth into.

In retrospect, if I’d offered something more substantial at $5 or $10 — like access to filming outtakes, or a “making-of” e-book — I believe we’d have met our goal earlier and potentially exceeded our (still very gracious) final sum.

4.  Strategically stagger your swag levels.

Yes, for $25, backers earned a casting vote.  But for $35 — a mere $10 bump — they also got a t-shirt.  So why not upgrade?

That was a conscious choice on my part, because I (correctly) suspected t-shirts would be one of our most desirable tangible perks.  And judging by the number of backers who initially pledged $25 but later changed it to $35 — or $50, which got them a t-shirt and a DVD of the show’s first 13 episodes — it was the right approach for our project.  (In fact, the $35 pledge level was our most-often selected.)

5. Promote your backers on Twitter (and anywhere else that’s appropriate).

I knew the majority of our backers personally, which means I also know their Twitter handles.  (And if I didn’t, I was usually able to divine them by Googling.)

For me, thanking our backers publicly served two purposes: it conveyed an immediate appreciation of their faith in my project, and it was a public signal to others on Twitter that my project was being considered worthy of investment.  Those thank-you tweets always included a link back to the project itself, so anyone who was curious (or who retweeted me) could drive more attention to the project.

This is important because…

6. The middle of your project’s timeline is a promotional dead zone.

When your project is new, it has the benefit of being new, and people like talking about new ideas.

When your project is ending, it has the benefit of good faith and momentum.  People want you to succeed, and if you’re within striking distance of your goal, they will find creative ways to spread the word (or dredge up some loose change) on your behalf.  Everybody wants to be part of a project that succeeds.

But between kickoff and wrap-up, your project has no inherent hook.  It’s a lonely ship, bobbing in the ocean between reasons to care.  Finding any reason to get a new audience interested in your project during this stretch is critical to its success, because the people who already know about it are already tired of hearing you endlessly self-promote it.

7. Stagger your outreach & promotions.

Fortunately, your idea is always new to someone.  The trick is to continually find new excuses to bring it to people’s attention.

In our case, I circulated the idea among its core audience (STBD fans and Pittsburgh social media creators) first.  Then, I directly brought the project to the attention of various individuals who might be interested, like my Facebook and LinkedIn colleagues, fellow web video pros, Pittsburgh-based journalists, etc.  I staggered this outreach over the course of the project’s 33 day timeframe, so as to not light all my fires at the beginning of the project and then run out of fuel after the first few days.

8. Offer regular meaty updates, especially near the project’s end.

Kickstarter allows project organizers to post updates that can be seen by anyone, or just by a project’s backers.  I chose to use the updates as a way of pointing out cool or intriguing aspects of the show’s creative genesis while also reminding readers that funding was still ongoing.  That way, if an update seemed interesting to a backer or a casual visitor, it could be shared with others, and the suggestion to support the show would automatically be included.

Our updates included a post-audition preview of three actors who’ll be joining the cast, a public debate over our possible logos, and a chance to immerse yourself in the show’s story by following the characters on Twitter.  In addition to reminding our backers that the project was moving forward, it also provided a glimpse of our creative process and detailed the choices we were making in bringing our ideas to fruition.

9. In the end, plan as much promotion across as many channels as possible.

Our project ran 33 days, and ended on a Wednesday.  The weekend before the end date was the weekend of PodCamp Pittsburgh 5, an annual social media “un-conference” which I co-founded in 2006 and where I expected to have several opportunities to discuss the project (if appropriate and / or necessary).

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette had also planned a story on The Baristas, and they printed it the Sunday during PodCamp, just three days before the project’s deadline.  I had initially believed that article would give us the necessary promotional push to achieve our $3000 goal, but I’ll never know if that would have been the case or not.

That’s because my friends, supporters and attendees at PodCamp had pushed us past $3000 by 4 PM the day before.  However, our largest individual donor did see the Sunday article and was inspired to pledge an additional (and greatly appreciated) $500, even though we’d already made our goal.

Which brings me to my final point:

10. Give people a reason to back your project even after you reach your goal.

My biggest concern about the project, other than the possibility that we might not reach our $3000 goal, was that we’d somehow reach our $3000 goal so early in the project’s timeline that no one else would feel compelled to donate.  In that case, we would have had an embarrassment of riches, but we also would have had days or weeks in which the project sat idly and failed to generate additional momentum.

Thus, my idea to reward backers with casting votes at the $25 level.  That way, even if we raised our $3000 goal by day two of the project, there would still have been a meaningful, one-of-a-kind opportunity to support the series and have a say in its final chemistry.

And, for only $10 more, there’s this t-shirt…

After the Rain: Bonus Advice on What to Do Immediately After You’re Funded

Once you’ve safely met your Kickstarter goal, you might start celebrating, rejoicing or simply pass out from emotional exhaustion.  But when you come to, be sure to:

  • Announce your success
  • Thank your backers
  • Mail out any swag-related perks you have on-hand
  • Inform backers when they can expect to receive your other, not-yet-created swag (DVDs, etc.)
  • Update your project website (like we did)
  • Update your Kickstarter project description with off-site URLs, because your project will still be discovered by web surfers long after funding has ended, and they should be able to find the project’s current home

If you’ve successfully shepherded a Kickstarter project to fruition and you have tips that I haven’t listed above, feel free to add them to the comments below.

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a web sitcom to launch… in 2011.

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