How I used Patreon to Start a Cult (and why every creator should)
In 2019 I decided to create a patreon dedicated to my silly frog character I liked to draw. People did not follow me for frog art, I just happened to like inserting him into all my anime and game fan art. I had a $5 a month sticker club where people would get hand made frog stickers. All of my initial subscribers were my online fandom friends.
Fast forward 2 years: everything is frog. i am surrounded by frog. i have started a frog based cult with nearly 1,500 members. my family is begging for mercy. I quit my part time retail job and now run a successful business full time while going to school.
Patreon played a very big role in allowing me to focus my art entirely on frogs and building a dedicated audience for my work! I firmly believe that I would not have the successful business I have today without Patreon, and I greatly encourage all creators to give it a try. For folks who are on the fence about starting one, I hope this post will help you decide! I’ll cover the biggest pros to launching a Patreon, common fears people might have with starting one, and my tips to prep you to launch.
This article is based on my own personal experiences, and is mostly geared towards artists and small business owners who offer physical rewards such as pin and sticker clubs, but the advice can apply to other creators as well.
What is Patreon?
If you aren’t familiar with Patreon, it is an online platform that allows fans to support their favorite creators monetarily. Think of it like a mix between a tip jar and a Netflix subscription - you can pay once to access specific rewards/support, or pay monthly to receive new rewards every month. The rewards can vary from physical items to digital goods such as wallpapers, access to exclusive content, having your name featured somewhere, or just because you want the creator to keep doing what they’re doing. It’s a really broad platform that allows creators to create and support themselves while doing it.
My top 3 reasons for why you should launch a Patreon: Community, exclusivity, & reliability.
1. Sense of community - aka the Cult 🐸
Building a cult/community through Patreon and Discord has been far and away one of the greatest tools for building my business. I have had numerous people tell me that they originally joined my Patreon for a specific reward - but ended up staying because they fell in love with the community. It is one thing to build a large follower count - it is an entirely separate matter to build an audience that is deeply invested in your work!
This sense of community is made possible through Patreon’s integration with Discord.
What is Discord?
Discord is a chatting app that allows people to form servers dedicated to a specific interest and has different channels within for different topics, so you can talk in a giant group chat with other enthusiasts. Think of it like Slack but geared more towards gaming and hobbies.
Patrons receive access to exclusive channels in my server, where they get to chat with me and see behind the scenes. They get to know what I’m working on in real time, as well as give me feedback and suggestions on merch and designs.
Being able to interact with my Patrons in chat is immensely valuable because it allows you to close the distance between creators and fans. People get to see and know you as a human being, not just a creator behind a screen. People get to know me as Rachel, not just as Rainylune, and form a greater attachment to the work I’m creating as they get to know me better. Patreon and Discord are what have allowed me to create a thriving community and fan base. I’ve made so many wonderful friends through my frog cult server, and chatting with everyone really helps to spark new ideas!
The other thing that has been amazingly helpful? Having a help desk channel. People can ask questions that might have already been answered elsewhere (ie: when the shop update is, when ___ will be back in stock), and people who know the answer can give information! This saves me and my inbox from questions that I’ve already answered!
On a mental health level:
I get a lot of DMs from a lot of people on Instagram & Twitter on a daily basis. Keeping up 50 different conversations on similar things with strangers is socially exhausting, and you can feel so overwhelmed. And at the same time, there’s some sort of loneliness in that you can talk to dozens of strangers yet lack a deeper connection. Discord allows you to chat with multiple folks at once instead of having the same conversation with multiple people. You can talk about how your day is going, or ask about someone else’s. The burden of keeping the conversation doesn’t fall on you because there’s others to keep topics flowing. You get to have more meaningful conversations and get to know people better.
2. Sense of exclusivity - make people feel Special
As a small business, you always want to make the customer feel Special. By offering exclusive bonuses via Patreon, you can incentivize people to join, and convince them to stay by treating them like stars 🌟
One of the biggest ways I do this is by having a patreon exclusive Secret Shop. I use Locksmith on my Shopify store, and it allows me to hide specific collections and products from people unless they input the password. On my secret shop, I list special items that aren’t available to the general public, as well as give patrons a head start on new products. Since I tend to list products in limited numbers, they sell out quickly, so I favor my patrons by allowing them to get it first.
I also offer my patrons other rewards, such as coupons, wallpapers, early access, and Forbidden Knowledge of what I’m working on. Offering exclusives rewards patrons for their loyalty, and encourages them to become repeat customers (which should be your favorite type of customer!!)
Some might argue that only allowing patrons access to exclusive products is favoritism, and is unfair to everyone else. And my response to that is yes. Why yes it is. And that is the point of it!! Use patreon to reward VIP’s for their loyalty. You don’t see people saying Costco is unfair because it only lets Costco members access those Very Delicious chocolate chip cookies!! This is the same concept. You are offering more delicious cookies in exchange for being a member. People could get cookies anywhere - but they must be part of the club to get the Really good ones. 🍪 tempt them with the fear of missing out on your exclusive and sinfully delicious cookies.
3. Reliable Income
And my third biggest reason why you should start a Patreon? Reliable monthly income babeyyy! The great thing about Patreon is that as long as you continue to advertise it, it doesn’t fluctuate downwards from month to month, and usually you can see a steady trend of growth. Even if my shop is closed or I’m out of stock and waiting for the next shipment, I can always rely on Patreon for a stable monthly income, to pay bills or fund my next evil enterprise. 😈
“I don’t need a patreon, I have a shop update every month and people can buy that way.”
Unfortunately, you will not be at the top of people’s minds every month. With social media, our attention span is practically nonexistent. It is easier for people to sign up for a service and forget about it than to remember to go buy something every month.
aka me i have the memory of a goldfish
Am I big enough to launch a Patreon? 😳
You do not need to be a big creator in order to start a Patreon. When I first launched mine, the only people to join were 5 of my good friends. Even if no one signs up at first - just keep promoting and creating for it, and possibly ask your friends to sign up, and eventually more people to will join.
I’m too shy to talk to people in Discord 🙈
I am naturally shy and introverted myself! And so are countless others! Just remember - they are there because they like Your Work. you can show up and just show off some work or some cursed memes. you’ll be fine. You don't have to constantly keep a conversation going.
I don’t think I can keep up with monthly content & rewards 😩
This is a highly valid fear, and one that I struggle with sometimes as well! If you find that you are unable to keep up, you can always edit your tiers, or pause your Patreon! People won't be charged for that month, but will stay in your tiers. That way you can catch up without worrying about owing anything!
And if you try Patreon and realize it isn't for you, you can always shut it down.
• Plan ahead before you launch. like. Really far ahead.
If you are offering rewards that require being created by you (such as drawings, videos, songs, etc) then you should try to make a few months worth of content Before you launch your page. I am a chronic procrastinator, so I often find myself not having my sticker designs completed until the last minute. I recommend not being like me! no. seriously. don't do this to yourself.
You want to be able to advertise your rewards for the entire month - and in order to advertise them, you gotta show off the completed stuff! Especially if you’re offering physical rewards, people want to know what they’re getting ahead of time! It is far easier to convince people to sign up when they can see what they’ll be getting.
• Don’t offer more than you can handle.
It’s easy to give into the temptation to pour your heart and soul into every reward, because you feel like you must justify your patreon or make it “worth it” to join, but please remember to price your labor fairly. Offering everyone a commission for $5 a month isn’t sustainable, and you’ll live in fear of disappointing your patrons or quickly burn out. Price your rewards and work fairly to Yourself.
• It’s okay to change things if it isn’t working.
Did you under price your tiers? Or offered more than you can feasibly handle? That’s okay, you’re learning! You are allowed to change the rewards you offer or create new tiers. Getting everybody to switch over to the new tier is a whole other story, however. Don’t take it personally when people don’t check their email or drop entirely - these things happen. Just explain things to your patrons honestly, most of them will be understanding of your dilemma!
• Don’t turn on the “pay upon joining” feature unless you’re 100% POSITIVE that you want it because you can’t turn it off.
You have the option to turn on the feature that would charge people money immediately upon joining. Or, you can have it so that people can join, but don’t give you money until the 1st day of the next month. There’s pros and cons to both:
Pay upon joining pros:
- people give you money immediately. money right now is good.
- people can't join to get a specific thing then leave immediately afterwards without giving you money 🔪
Pay upon joining cons:
- if people join on the 29th of the month, they'll get charged again a few days later on the 1st
- it makes sending physical rewards incredibly more confusing because people will be joining throughout the month.
My personal recommendation: If you offer physical rewards, make people pay on the 1st of the month. Yes, some people will join just to get a secret shop password then immediately leave. whatever. I'd rather deal with that than trying to keep track of more outgoing rewards.
• Do not connect your Patreon to Discord until your server is all set up.
As soon as you connect the two, it will immediately dump everyone into your server. learned this the hard way. 🤠
And this concludes my advice on why you should start a cult. Being paid to do something you love is an absolutely amazing feeling, so I hope more creatives will be encouraged to take the leap and be able to monetize what they're passionate about!
did you like this article? good. consider joining my cult and see what the fuss is all about. you’ll even get some frogs in exchange 🐸 patreon.com/rainylune