October 13, 2019
Today’s episode is sponsored by Outlander Stars
Hello and welcome to Film Pro Productivity, the podcast which helps film professionals and other creative people to live a more focused, effective and HAPPY life. My name is Carter Ferguson and this is EPISODE 36 – Crowdfunding: Lessons Learned
“If you launch your campaign with zero audience, you are launching to crickets.” — Khierstyn Ross “Crowdfunding Uncut” UNQUOTE
Today, I’m talking about crowdfunding - If you have ever considered running a campaign of your own then there’s a few things which I’ve picked up along the way that you might find useful.
As it’s still fresh in my memory and I’ve had a few messages about how I approach a campaign I thought it worth an episode. I see campaigns launched every week by filmmakers and artists and I’ve even seen a few film pros run them to get equipment or develop ideas. Running them efficiently and effectively and achieving success with them, however, is easier said than done.
But first things first - What is crowdfunding? According to Wikipedia, it is the practice of funding a project or venture by raising small amounts of money from a large number of people, typically via the Internet. It goes on to say that in 2015, over US$34 billion – yes you heard me right BILLION) was raised worldwide by crowdfunding.
The modern crowdfunding model is generally based on three types of actors: the project initiator who PROPOSES THE IDEA OR PROJECT to be funded, individuals or groups who SUPPORT THE IDEA, and a moderating organization (or "platform") that BRINGS THE PARTIES TOGETHER to launch the idea.
It has been used to fund a wide range of for-profit, entrepreneurial ventures such as artistic and creative projects, medical expenses, travel, and community-oriented social entrepreneurship projects.
My experiences of crowdfunding are entirely based on the use of the platform IndieGoGo, but there are a myriad of well-known crowdfunding platforms with good to middling reputations. Some are perhaps better for business campaigns, others for creative purposes. The one I hear about most often is Kickstarter but the 10 most popular crowdfunding platforms in 2018 according to INC.com also included Patreon, GoFundMe, CrowdRise, PledgeMusic, Razoo, RocketHub and finally Give.
“Before you even start building your crowdfunding page, Start building a crowd first.” — Roy Morejon of Command Partners UNQUOTE
So, just last week as I start this episode, I ran a crowdfunding campaign to raise finance for THIS season, but before I did so, as you may have heard in earlier shows, I thought long and hard about what I was getting myself into. I’ve done all this before, you see, and it’s a hell of an undertaking.
I’ve run 4 successful campaigns using the crowdfunding platform IndieGoGo, but with each campaign has come a great commitment of time and energy and a genuine commitment to delivering what I promise to those that have backed me. If you run a crowdfunding campaign and fail to deliver that which you promise, you will have a hell of a time getting anyone to trust you again.
Even with my positive experiences in raising finance through crowdfunding in the past I was extremely cautious about running a new one now. One reason for this is that I believe you can only “drink so many times from the same well” and I have a rule about never running more than one in a year. I’d also say that with so many people at the same proverbial well, it can become muddied and make people less likely to back you. The other big reason that I really wasn’t keen was that it is a MASSIVE undertaking.
By tackling a fundraiser I was committing a vast amount of my time and energy to promoting and managing it and the cost, in loss of those valuable resources felt too great. I did run it though, successfully, and the primary thing that swayed me was this – By the very act of running the campaign, I would be promoting the show. Raising finance to support my endeavour was a very powerful second reason, but finding new ways to positively promote this show is really difficult and the peripheral promotional benefits which go with a crowdfunding campaign finally won me over.
So let me get into some basics. There are some elements they say you should always do with a crowdfunding campaign - A Catchy Title, A Compelling Video, An Explicit Goal and Timeline, A good explanation of "Why" you are running it, A List of Costs, Great perks and regular Progress Updates.
If you think you can just roll up and put your hand out then you’re going to be disappointed. There are a few good examples that prove that a bad idea or even an improperly presented good one, will not hit its target. For example:
- Corey Feldman's 'Elev8or 2 Ascension' album only got 15% of its $100,000 target.
- The reboot of TV show Good Times which only hit 1% of its $1,000,000 target figure.
- And the sequel to the 2014 Nicolas Cage fiasco “Left Behind”. The original film scores 1% on rotten tomatoes, so you can imagine the powerful feeling that lay behind NOT FUNDING that Kickstarter.
Chris Muscarella of Field Company says about crowdfunding “Do your Homework. Trying to throw together a campaign in a few days and thinking that you will shoot the moon is highly unlikely.”
Crowdfunding is not an easy way to free money so if you are serious about raising capital in this way, you’re going to have to work hard for it.
Asking a bunch of people you do and don’t know to help you fund your dreams is far tougher and more time consuming than it sounds. It’s also a landscape which is changing all the time, so you can’t always, as I found out with my latest campaign, utilise the same techniques to get results. I’ll talk about that a little later.
Mihail Klenov of Half Bikes says “You must always be honest with your backers about what you do and why you do it.”
Each campaign or product is unique, but there are some things you can do to get closer to crowdfunding success.
- TRUST is probably the biggest issue when it comes to crowdfunding: When you have no prior record, you have to consider how you can generate credibility with backers. Simply stated - without TRUST you might not generate enough interest in your campaign and fail to meet your targets.
- CHOOSE THE RIGHT PLATFORM: This is essential and as I listed earlier, you have plenty of legitimate platforms to choose from. If you’re raising money for a film, then go to the platform where people who might want to back it go - Don’t go for a small local platform if there’s no interest in what you are pushing there already. Crowdfunding has an internet-driven worldwide audience, so go where the audience for your product or project is would be my advice.
- SET REALISTIC TARGETS AND A DEADLINE. Setting up the right targets and the time to achieve them is essential. If the target seems too outrageous, the backers simply won’t support you. And not only should you decide beforehand what your fund-raising goal is, but you should also specify timeline goals, production goals and any others needed to keep your project moving forward. This information proves you know what you are talking about and will allow your backers to get behind you.
- BUILDING INTEREST. This is a common fail in crowdfunding campaigns. Nine times out of ten you need to build interest in your campaign a good bit prior to it starting. This will help you to get an initial large boost to your goal. I kinda trailed that I was going to do this on the show here, but due to time constraints, I only got specific about it a few weeks before. I was aiming for the lowest amount that IndieGoGo allows though, so my target was as achievable as it could be and I didn’t feel too bad about it. One thing I must add is that most platforms will NOT put any effort into promoting your campaign for you. Generating interest in your specific campaign is entirely up to you, although occasionally you may get a random backer passing through on the platform. Just don’t rely on it.
- Fulfilment. This is one area that is so important. It’s also far trickier than it sounds. Your reputation hangs on your ability to not just deliver the crowdfunding goal, but also to provide your contributors with their rewards, perks or whatever you want to call them, in a timely manner.
Some problems that can be associated with fulfilment include:
- Not budgeting for it.
- Not budgeting for postage and packaging.
- Communication problems: I have had quite a few issues with the delivery of perks for my campaign. I get email addresses from IndieGoGo as a download, but I made a rod for my own back by communicating with backers via Twitter and Facebook direct messaging, through the platform itself and via two different email addresses. My situation was further complicated by receiving three messages through my website’s contact page. Trying to collate and verify information from so many different sources was and still is a nightmare, so if you can, encourage all your backers to communicate to you through one email address. If you do that, life will be a lot easier, believe me.
- DO YOUR RESEARCH. Before you even start your crowdfunding campaign, do your research. Find out everything you need to know about crowdfunding - mine for success strategies. Not only should you know how to run a successful campaign, but you should also be aware of all the rules and regulations surrounding this funding source. This was an area on which I fell down a little on the last run. I had calculated just 5% in costs going to IndieGoGo, but the reality was that I was losing percentages of committed monies to credit card companies and even a £25 surcharge at the end to cover the disbursement of funds. Rather than the percentage of running costs for the campaign totalling 5% of the total it ended up at 14% through my not following the fine print.
- CREATE MARKETING MATERIALS. Once you know who your target audience is and, create high-quality marketing materials. Personalize materials to yourself and your message and if you are wondering what is most effective here. Its video. You must create video content, with you right out there on camera, if you are to be successful in raising finance. Your face will gain a backers trust. If you don’t appear on camera it makes backers uneasy. Get over your fear of cameras and get in front of one, or you will fail.
- MAKE THE REWARDS WORTHWHILE. While you're not REQUIRED to reward your backers, offering something in return for their support makes for a more successful campaign. Make sure that any reward you offer is worthwhile, as well. Some will be happy with just a thank you but try and ensure that at least one of your perks has value. I tried not to offer perks that involved postage and packing so my most valuable perk was the opportunity to sponsor an episode, and it worked. Without that perk, I’d never have hit the target.
- Clay Herbert of Fund Your Dream says “The best campaigns I have worked with tell a specific story to a specific group of people.” So with that in mind, my next tip is GET PERSONAL… That’s why I say get in front of the camera and talk - When people feel that they know you, they'll feel more comfortable with, and trust in, your goals. Opening up about yourself and your situation is a great way to help your campaign see more success.
- PROMOTE IT. Once you've published your crowdfunding campaign, start spreading the word. Share your campaign on social media, with family and friends, on blogs and anywhere else where you can get it out there. The wider your reach, the more potential you have for investors to see it.
- It’s essential to talk to your backers throughout the entire process. This also helps to build trust. While you don't need to tell them every detail, be as open and transparent as possible. Don't just pitch them or try to sell to them either.
With all that advice given, here are a few tips on what NOT to do too.
- E-BEGGING. This is something I detest and another reason that I think long and hard before running any crowd funder: According to URBAN DICTIONARY.com, this is when some pretentious asshole (usually on Youtube) decides to solicit "donations" from his or her audience. Sometimes they try to hide their e-begging under the guise of elaborate "movie projects" on sites like indiegogo.com with laughable incentives like "Donate 100.00 and get your name in the credits" ... The irony is that most of these youtube "movies" cost only a fraction of the donations received. The e-beggar then pockets the rest as profit and then laughs all the way to the bank. E-begging preys on stupid people but if you aren't a complete sheep, you won't be fooled by e-beggars.
- EXCEEDING YOUR TARGET. Yes, it happens. I had considered what would happen if I exceeded the campaign total, and I implemented it - My stretch goal was unspecific though. I just said any additional money would go into promotion for the show. I didn’t mess about with it as I had already met my target and I was happy with that. One thing to be cautious of - is not being able to deliver your promised rewards so be cautious and have a plan for this eventuality. IF YOUR CAMPAIGN GOES VIRAL, YOU BETTER HAVE A BIT OF AN IDEA HOW YOU ARE GOING TO PROCEED.
- ALL OR NOTHING. Some great projects fail simply because their fundraising goal is just too high and the fundraising platforms will not distribute any funds if you don’t hit your target. Many campaigns raise a sizeable amount but get nothing because they didn’t meet the funding goal. Be prepared. Do your research. Don’t fall on this really obvious detail.
- NOT ENOUGH TIME. New Crowd funders fail to understand the process involved in crowdfunding and the need to build excitement and a community before launch. There is just not enough time during a campaign to do the outreach necessary for success. You need to build an audience and then launch a campaign. You will never have enough time to do it all at once.
- And I’m going to end this list of mistakes with one just as problematic. TOO MUCH TIME. Yes, you heard me right. As I said earlier, running these campaigns is massively time-consuming. Epically energy absorbing in fact, and your promotional content will be swallowed up with each and every day that you are committed to it. Just as damaging to your efforts will be finding yourself chained 24/7 to a campaign that goes on forever. When I planned the campaign for this season, I set it at 7 days, and even knowing I was setting myself up for a tight deadline, I went with it as I knew I could create and deliver the publicity and social media interaction required for that period. If I'd run it for a month I’d have needed a month of marketing materials and ideas. Running a shorter campaign for a realistic amount was for me the only option.
Peter Dering of the founder of Peak Design says “Something we have done really well with our campaigns is that we are extremely transparent. We go to great lengths and to create and justify our designs.”
Earlier I mentioned that some things have changed as I’ve run several campaigns. On this last campaign I realised that the social networks are hobbling our ability to use them for promotion – for example, Twitter no longer previews YOUTUBE. Instagram only shows its own content and Facebook is hit and miss with its 3rd party previews. You may have to create content to be hosted Separately on each platform now. For the record, Instagram is limited to 60 seconds but you can kinda get around this with Instagram TV. Facebook limits its own videos to 15 minutes which is quite healthy, and Twitter allows videos of up to 2 minutes and 20 seconds. If you are putting out video content therefor, perhaps put out short 60 second videos so that the same content can be hosted on all three platforms…
I’m going to wrap this up now but here’s a great bit of productivity advice to add to all that I’ve said already – I used a really simple hack with my first campaign which ended up at 156% of my target. That hack was that I didn’t start from scratch. I found similar campaigns which had done well and worked up my content to be based on those samples.
It’s a hack that only goes so far but one that works. Use someone else’s successful campaign as a blueprint to build a new one of your own.
One example that I include now in every campaign is the use of a pie chart to show where the funds will go. It’s helpful to potential backers and it’s helpful for you in planning how you will place the funds when you raise them, but it wasn’t my idea. If you plan to run a campaign, spy out a few that you like and which you think really work and use them to inspire you.
Thanks for listening to this longer episode than usual. I just want to remind you once again that the primary reason that I eventually bit the bullet and ran a campaign for this season was, NOT financial, but to raise the profile of this podcast. Crowdfunding is a powerful force and for creative people, it’s one which you should learn to harness and embrace. It’s not however just about the money.
Call To Action
Your call to action this week is not to run a campaign, but to consider how it could help you achieve your dreams. Let it open your mind to possibilities you had not previously considered.
I’ll end today's show with the words of Anne Frank, who said: “No one has ever become poor by giving.”
Thanks to all of you who helped spread the word or backed my campaign for this season – and thank you all for listening here today – now take control of your own destiny, keep on shootin’, and join me next time on Film Pro Productivity.
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