7 Things to Consider BEFORE you Launch your Kickstarter Project
I get A LOT of requests to help with kickstarter campaigns. Through trial and error on several kickstarter projects, hours of research, and countless meet ups, phone calls and emails with artists and innovators, I’ve refined a “best practices” list that I share when I decide to get involved with a project. I’ve been fortunate to have helped out on over a dozen innovative artistic endeavors all of which have been successful in some way. What you’ll read here, and hopefully in the future, is what I’ve found to work (to the tune of almost $350k and counting). But at the end of the day, two things are really all that’s required: a good idea and A LOT OF HARD WORK. Ok, maybe three – a decent network that supports what you do.
Disclaimer: This list is not definitive. In fact, it barely scratches the surface, but it’s a start. I don’t claim to be an expert. The word guru makes me throw up in my mouth a little and every project is different and strategy and tweaking are critical depending on audience, budget, content, fanbase, etc. These sections are just a snippet to get you rolling – I could talk for an hour on each – but who’d listen
1. Story: What’s your story? Craft and tell the story of your story.
Story is everything. Let me back up. Your story is everything. People aren’t so much getting behind the idea as they are getting behind your passion to produce it – be it a book, film, album, live event, business, it makes no difference. I’ve been lucky enough (or dumb enough?) to have smart people with means give me money for various projects over the years. I used to think it was all based on the merits of my “great” ideas – but what these folks quickly chastened was that they were investing in me, my spirit and passion, and my drive to make something happen. Of course they were investing in the project, but they’re won over by YOU! In my experience, and my opinion, this is the very heart and soul of an effective kickstarter campaign (or any crowdfunding campaign). It HAS to have heart. Kickstarter isn’t a place people come to make an investment expecting a financial return. They come to engage with other interesting people and to help along artistic projects they believe add value to the world in which we live. I’ll stop there for now (I have an hour long lecture about the role story plays in our lives), but for the record: Story is everything.
So, what does that mean? Well, you must first write a treatment for your project and develop a strong pitch. The treatment is an overview of what you’re trying to do. Feature Film treatments that get shopped around Hollywood might be 60 pages long and include scenes, storyboards, budget figures, and a distribution strategy. Does your pitch need to be this complex? That depends on your personality and what you’re trying to accomplish, but you cannot proceed with your project successfully until you’ve gone through the process of developing your pitch through a treatment. The treatment essentially becomes the “written” portion of your project from which you can cannibalize to write everything down the road.
This also leads into one of the most important visual components of your story, in that youABSOLUTELY MUST HAVE A PITCH VIDEO (and a trailer of your film doesn’t count). The pitch video is your chance to “sell” yourself and your ability to produce what you’re pitching. Does it have to be slick? No, but it shouldn’t be painful to watch either. I really believe that a direct to camera approach is the most effective. Put a bit of your previous work in there, or a clip of your trailer, and sit down and talk to the camera. It works, and it’s your chance to get people to catch the vision and spread the word.
a. The pitch video should be compelling, honest, humble, and decently produced. It can also be funny, clever, and tongue in cheek, just don’t be arrogant. Be you, but remember a little humility goes a long way, and, you NEED as much support as possible so try your best to make it “shareable.” As an aside, I’ve seen some projects that I was willing to back but not willing to share the video as it was so poorly put together (it’s almost a reflection of your ability to deliver). Imagine sauntering in to a hard-to-get investor pitch meeting 20 minutes late, without apology, totally disheveled (not as a style choice), and with an air of expecting them to give you money. That’s what a shoddy pitch video reminds me of. Harsh, but it sends a message that you don’t really care.
b. Ideally the pitch should be direct to camera combined with some trailer/footage/images
c. Keep it brief – attention spans are waning these days! I’d try and keep them under 5 minutes.
2. Fans: We all have them.
We really do. You might not think you do, but you have teachers, colleagues, relatives, co-workers and other associates that actually do care about what you’re up to. This step takes some time and thought (and some research!), so plan for it, but start to assemble a list of these people in excel or google docs. I should clarify: I’m not talking about facebook friends here, I’m talking people that are actually looking forward to your holiday greeting card, or news from you that you were promoted at work etc. We’ll talk about facebook later.
This list should include the names and emails of those in your circle that care about you. These are people that would buy your bestselling book, or a ticket to see you perform at symphony hall, or come to your funeral. Make sense? If you are young (right out of highschool/college), this list might be mostly your parents network and that’s ok because guess what? The AVERAGE donor age is a ripe old 42. Zing!
List building is like brainstorming and you can make many associations based off one name that leads to others. Again, plan for this as it will take some time (but it’s worth it!).
a. Compile an exhaustive professional/personal/family/friends email contact list
b. Edit this list and maybe ask for some objective help (mom/dad/partner) to weed out people that might be annoyed or are put off by these things. When I compiled my first list, I had over 500 names and emails. I cut out 20 or so just based on what I know about those people and how they would respond. Relationships are everything, so take care of them.
c. Plan to email this list a total of 4 times during the ENTIRE fundraise (we’ll get to this in a bit).
3. Evangelists: We all know some.
You’ve likely met someone, or are friends with someone, who is especially talented at sharing the latest thing. To evangelize is the act of converting someone to a cause, traditionally through “preaching.” In the case of social media – we’re all evangelists to some degree. We craft pithy status updates and 140-character tweets that annotate our lives for those that “follow” us, and we appreciate the RT’s and “Liking” that goes on in support of our micro cause. For a successful kickstarter (or any crowdfunding campaign) to really catch fire, you need a handful of committed evangelists.
Take that list you compiled in step 2, and identify several people in your professional network who could aggressively promote and evangelize your project. What you’re attempting to do in this step is identify a few evangelist types that have a circle of influence outside your own, ideally to a group that you’d have no hope of reaching otherwise. Your networks should be quite different. They won’t be of much help if you have too much overlap or identical professional/social networks. For example, assume you find a willing evangelist that has a nearly identical network (family, school, and work) as you do. This type of project promotion will have little chance of going viral because of the overlap – and you run the risk of alienating and annoying friends and family besieged by different people about the same project. They can certainly help promote the project, but they wouldn’t make an ideal crowdfunding evangelist.
The key here is to think carefully about those individuals who can help reach out to those beyond your own network. When I was helping one of my friends raise funds for their charity, we knew we wouldn’t raise $150k or anywhere near that on his network alone. Before we launched we reached out to his network and they graciously agreed to help spread the word.
I’m not saying you shouldn’t “pull the weeds in your relationship garden” from time to time, but do what you can to keep your relationships fresh and up to date.
Find those individuals who are wiling to get on board your project but who don’t have the same friends and relatives as you.
4. Write: And write…and write…and write.
If you don’t like writing, you’d better start. Start liking it or walk away while you still can! If you’re uncomfortable reaching out to friends, family and strangers about your project and about asking them for their financial and social media support, then crowdfunding isn’t for you.
Actually, what this becomes is a great litmus test for how committed you are to your project. You may feel reservations about reaching out regarding your needs – but your passion for completing your work will overcome any intimidation to network.
There are several things you need to write. For starters, you need to reach out to a few groups of people, particularly the two groups I mentioned above: Fans and Evangelists.
a. Draft an “I need your help” email for fans that outlines the project Here you outline the project and what you’re trying to do. You need to educate your fan base on kickstarter and social media and crowdfunding. They’re not dumb, but don’t expect them to have any idea what you’re talking about and be careful with the vernacular. If you use a buzzword – define it. Be gracious, be humble, and remember you’re nothing without an audience and this email IS your only audience for now.
Also tell them that you’ll be contacting them with updates during the project and that you would be happy to remove anyone from the list. Also BCC (Blind Carbon Copy) your list. It makes the “ask” more personal and keeps people from jamming inboxes with “reply all” responses.
b. Draft another email for Evangelists This is a version of the above email, but also outlines how you think they could help (via blogs, twitter, email, etc). Take the email you just wrote. Copy it, and paste it into a new email for Evangelists. Double check that your evangelists aren’t on your fan email list – you don’t want to email them the same email twice – it’ll make you look unorganized.
c. Draft your press release Yes, you need to have a press release for your project no matter how small. Getting your project out beyond your network is critical to getting it funded and to generating buzz about what you’re doing. Remember, you’re building a fan-base through crowdfunding and the more people you can attract the better.
Media outlets, publications and news sites NEED content. A good press release is a way to provide these places with content that they can then redistribute. You want to make it easy to read (8th grade level) and it should contain quotes from those involved. It’s written like a news story and in the third person.
In the next section we’ll discuss where to send the press release, but you should have already spent some time crafting your project narrative during the pitch/treatment phase. You’ll come back to it again, and again throughout the project.
d. Blog> tweet >(bleet?)> facebook. Rinse and repeat. If you don’t have social media accounts in place already, get on it. You also should make sure you have a place to distribute and disseminate information about your project. Set up a facebook page, a twitter account (or do it through your personal account), and a blog/website for the project. This helps show fans you’re serious, and gives you a place to archive everything that happens during your fundraise. Think of it as a transmedia diary, where your project narrative has multiple entry points: link on facebook, a retweet, a published article, etc.
I promise this works, but this becomes the ongoing challenge for most crowdfunders as it takes SO MUCH TIME. One project I consulted on did this expertly. They set up a site on wordpress and started funneling people to kickstarter but also documented what was happening on their site for people to learn more. They took their press release and blasted it out – and it was picked up on blogs nationwide including the prestigious Sundance blog.
As this is a Pre-Launch article, I’ll merely state that at this point your job is to “get the barn up” so to speak, and you’ll start filling it soon enough. Also: DON’T SEND ANYTHING OUT UNTIL YOU’VE LAUNCHED YOUR KICKSTARTER PROJECT!
5. Research: It’s mission critical, and ongoing
Hopefully if you’re thinking of crowdfunding, you’re pretty internet savvy. Why? Well, one of the most critical and never-ending components to crowdfunding is research, as you’re constantly needing people and places to distribute information about your work. You’ll encounter a lot of rejection, and a lot of “no thanks.” But don’t let that get you down. Use research as a time to explore where and to whom your press release can be sent and where your story/blog/tweets can be shared. I have a zillion ideas for this section, but here are a few:
a. Identify active bloggers and twitter-ers, facebookers, who can help spread the word (should be germane to your project topic)
b. Identify where the press release could be sent, and to whom at that magazine, blog, program (Wired, NPR, university radio, etc).
c. Create list of minor celebs using social media who might take an interest in the project
d. Draft email/tweet with link to the project, asking for help
e. Identify all possible forums, blogs, and news site to send press release to and could post in comments – or get people to post blogs about
f. Think local and home grown. Identify places who care about you who might release the news (high school paper, college/university alma mater, town newspapers, you get the idea).
You should be doing this every day before and during the launch with the goal of attracting as many potential readers/fans as possible. It’s exhausting, but so rewarding when a link pays off.