With the success and high profile nature of many campaigns in the last year or so, many have launched crowdfunding campaigns thinking it to be straight forward and the end result easy. The problem is with the influx to the sector and with it becoming more professional, its become less straight forward to run a campaign. People need to be aware, they may need to do a lot of work before launching their crowdfunding campaign and in some cases drop the idea all together.
Today I start the first of 5 reasons as to why you may not be ready for crowding. This is not designed to deter anyone from crowdfunding, more a case of rethinking and potential tailoring your campaign in a different way. If any apply, you should think twice before launching our campaign...
1. Wrong for crowdfunding
I've covered in a previous blog post, how I feel some campaigns are not right for crowdfunding – I’d go one step further and say some individuals just aren't cut out for crowdfunding.
If you’re reading this, you’re probably not an existing brand or film maker with a body of hugely successful work behind you – if you look at the most funded film projects on Kickstarter, they generally fall into the famous film-maker or brand category. In addition, crowdfunding backers love original, passionate and creative ideas – a perfect example of this is Kung Fury - an action comedy featuring arcade-robots, dinosaurs, nazis, vikings, norse gods, mutants and a super kung fu-cop called Kung Fury, all wrapped up in an 80s style action packed adventure. It set Kickstarter ablaze over the tricky festive and New Year period, with minimal existing fan base. So if you’re planning on doing a kitchen sink drama, a run of the mill gangster film or un-original genre film of any kind – then you may want to think again as to how you’re going to get your film funded, as you’re competing in a pretty tough market.
To connect with your fans (existing or potential future backers) you’ll need to be actively using social media. This could be in the form of your own personal account or an account made for just the film, as we did with the Fitzroy (e.g. @the_fitzroy, www.facebook.com/thefitzroy etc) - the key thing is you’ll need somewhere to engage fans outside the crowdfunding platform of choice, and posts should be at regular intervals throughout the day. If you don’t use social media, then start now if you’re planning on crowdfunding as it will really pay dividends. Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pintrest, Youtube, Tumblr…they all have their uses and we need to understand their benefits. Social media is a huge section that deserves its own post on its uses within crowdfunding.
You need to be passionate. Not just passionate about your film, that really should be a given if you are getting into this competitive medium. You also need to be passionate about making your film through crowdfunding, it’s a very public way to make a film and you need to be willing to share the process – the highs and the lows – or you won’t be getting the most out of of the process or reach its full potential. At the end of the day if you aren’t passionate about your project with how you discuss it with the world, then how are others going to be? When it comes to the tough points in a campaign's life and you’re trying to galvanise the crowd to share with all their friends and family as the time ticks down, that passion will really shine through.
The bonus of having that passion for the project, means you're more than likely to enjoy the experience and please do try to enjoy it. There will be tough moments, almost daily - though crowdfunding shouldn't be a chore, it can be a very rewarding experience. Crowdfunding gives film-makers that very rare opportunity to truly engage and have direct contact with their fans and supporters in such a way. The best campaigns in my opinion, really connect with the crowdfunding process and get as much if not more out of the experience than the actual piece of work they are trying to raise money for.
2. Not enough time
How much time should you spend on your crowdunding campaign? This is one of the most common questions I get asked and its something I asked Katie McCullough (successful campaign manager for many crowdfunders) and her response was simple – “As much time as possible, more than you actually have”. I think this particularly true if running your first campaign, where you have a lot to learn and a lot of research to undertake. That’s certainly something I realised on The Fitzroy, where we spent 6 months developing our campaign and it could easily have been 6 more! Once you have the experience of running a campaign, you have the knowledge to know where to focus your attention and spend your time - development time should be reduced the 2nd time round, having learnt from experience.
As for the campaign itself, in my opinion you should have as much time to commit to a project as you would a full time job – which essentially it is. I’ve seen plenty of good campaigns of late fail because they don’t have the time to commit - they have too many other personal or professional distractions. If you don’t have time, seriously consider delaying your campaign launch till you have more time, or get help. Its not worth rushing it and running the risk of your project never happening. 'In Sickness' is an example of a rushed project on Kickstarter - a great idea that had a solid start but didn't pay off because time couldn't be dedicated to the campaign - I really hope Danny comes back to it when he has more time to commit.
Ideally your campaign won’t have just you working on it, you’ll have a team who can commit to making the project a success by doing what ever it takes. Indiegogo research shows 80% more money is raised with a team than by yourself. A well balanced, dedicated team with a variety of expertise will always be more effective than one individual working all hours throughout the course of a campaign. An individual will soon be stretched and burn out, where a team can share the work load. Just as the team of Liam Garvo, Andrew Harmer and myself shared the work load, at times taking on dedicated tasks such splitting social media channels and Kickstarter messages - at other times splitting the work down into allotted time shifts, which was particularly useful when doing 24 hour tweetathons.
A caveat to this - it used to be my opinion that the more hands on support you can give a project the better it would be. This only works if everyone involved is committed to the cause with their time and energy. If there's one cog in the wheel not pulling their weight, this can bring down the whole machine. Crowdfunding can be very time pressured so fulfilling tasks in a timely manner is essential - if you can't commit time to be an active member of the team, consider taking a back seat as the last thing anyone wants is someone being over stretched and not fulfilling the task as promised and putting added pressure on everyone else. As you'll find out, time management can play a crucial role in crowdfunding.
If it’s the case you don’t have the kind of passion or the keenness to use social media or you don’t have enough time, there are people you can bring on to help you out and help run your campaign who can bring more time, passion and commitment. This doesn't just apply to social media, it can be to any area of the campaign that you feel you are lacking in - their are plenty of experts out there who would who would be delighted to help your campaign be successful.
3. You don't have fan-base & don’t know where to find it.
Finding your fan-base is an area we struggled with long and hard when we launched the Fitzroy campaign. Due to the nature of the film being hybrid-genre we really weren't sure which fan base to target – funny enough we didn't really find genuine success with the campaign until the audience found us!
If you’re only looking for a couple of thousand dollars, you might be able to generate this with support of friends and family. Though I'm guessing even if you’re making a short film, you’re going to need a more financial support than that.
I get asked a lot, of the people who backed the Fitzroy on Kickstarter, how many did we know? I don't know the exact figure but I think its between 10-15%. This surprises most people who ask, I guess because they think the only way to be successful is to have lots of very generous friends and family willing to give you money. Friends & family are great for getting your project off to a good start and you should definitely let all of them know what you are doing, they should not be relied upon for the majority of funding. You'll need a solid campaign and some generous fans for that.
(As a side note I have a feeling the attitude is very different in the UK to the US on this subject. The US has much more of a heritage of philanthropic behaviour and is more understood, where in the UK there is generally a sense of why would you give money to strangers? - Even when in reality crowdfunding is not charity, its about offering a product or service. I'd be interested to hear what you think and if you have an opinion either way)
If you have a pre-existing fan base, then great… as long as that fan base is engaged with you and will be behind the fact you’re trying to make a film. If you've got thousands of followers on Twitter because you make great knitted patterns on Pintrest and then decide you’re going to get those same fans to support your zombie horror movie, think again. Your fans should be engaged in the sort of work you’re planning to crowdfund, so if you’re a film-maker with tens of thousands in your network, then that’s a good start – though the hard work is still ahead of you.
Ideally you should identify what sort of film you’re making or what sort of film maker you are, then be prepared to go out and find where the relevant fans are. Its only when you’ve identified your fan base, can you start to identify where you might find them. For documentary film-makers this can potentially be easier, particularly if you’re discussing a topic that has a pre-existing fan-base. So if you’re now using you’re knitted pattern knowledge to go make a documentary on just that subject, you can go and find the online forums where these people are and engage them and even find events where they are active in the real world.
If you're making a narrative film there are all kinds of ways to find your audience. First off work out what genre your film is and then try and find where those fans are. So if your film is Sci-Fi, find out about Sci-Fi film festivals, events, blogs etc and try to get your project publicised through them. If its good enough they'll want to talk about it, because its interesting free content and fans will engage with it. Think if there is anything in your film that might be relevant to a specific audience - for example if your film is comedy where the lead characters LARP then approach forums or LARP societies with your project, I'm sure they would love to hear about it.
If you're interested in reading more on the importance of fans, its worth reading Kevin Kelly’s renowned blog on ‘1,000 True Fans’ a fascinating insight into how import fans can be to artists.
4. The hard work hasn't been put in
The most frustrating thing I see with a lot of crowdfunding campaigns being released now, is not seeing the hard work being put in before the campaign goes live. I think it must be something to do with the instant gratification culture of the public at large in our culture, as people seem to think they can get rewards without putting in the hard work first.
I’m a firm believer in the ‘10,000 hour rule’ of what defines a successful expert as described in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. Since it takes about a 10 years work to clock up those sort of numbers and Kickstarter has only been going for about half that time, you’d be hard pushed to find any one with those sort of numbers. That said there is a wealth of material out there to read and advice to listen to. Though to be honest, the single best piece of advice I have on researching crowdfunding is to check out and study crowdfunding campaigns. Back a load of campaigns, ones you like the look of and follow then closely to see what they do well, where they trip up and learn what to avoid, then steal and make better.
Well before we started putting together the nuts and bolts of the Fitzroy campaign, we did as much research on other campaigns as we could muster. We found as many relevant campaigns with similar target figures or subject matters and broke down what they did to succeed. What kind of rewards did they do, at what price did they offer them, how long was there campaign, how did they run it, what type of video did they make and how long was it. You get the point. It was only once we figured out what all these other campaigns did that we could then begin to apply the same rules to ours. Its worthwhile looking at what unsuccessful campaigns have done too, as there are some great ideas out there that have failed because the campaign was poorly executed.
The hard work and prep will pay off once you’re really up against it in your campaign. You’ll go through highs and lows, at times working all hours – if you’ve put in the hard work up front you can react quickly and creatively to problems that arise, without scrabbling around confused. There are times during the course of every campaign where it just goes quiet and no one is engaging with you, doing the hard work will give you the confidence as to what to do when the time comes and not to panic.
If you have friends or contacts who have run a crowdfunding campaign reach out to them for advice and share with them what you’re thinking, as their knowledge will be invaluable. If you don’t know of anyone, reach out to people who have run campaigns – ideally similar to what you are planning – you’ll be surprised by what you get back, as most people I know who have worked on crowdfunding are happy to discuss and share their experience. After all, it’s a collaborative experience.
The last thing you should do – however much you are trying to raise – is to rush off and throw you’re campaign together and say oh “we’ll deal with that once the campaign is live” – I’ve heard this a lot and there are two big problems with it. Firstly you probably won’t have time to respond effectively, as often crowdfunding can be about moment to moment reactions and if you haven’t done the hard work upfront you’ll probably take too long to respond or come to a decision. Secondly if you launch your campaign and its wrong, because it doesn’t engage people, the rewards don’t work, your video is boring, or for whatever reason - then you have very little chance of winning people around later in the campaign, as you will already have been dismissed.
When it comes to what you should be working on, there are a whole host of things. I think there are a few key areas you can focus on and if you have a team you can split responsibility across everyone. These are just a few and all deserve greater explanation - they should at least be a start:
- Research - Other campaigns success and failures. What ideas can you adapt to your own. What is the best crowdfunding platform and model for your film?
- Campaign structure – Develop the calendar for you campaign duration. What are you planning to do and release across the weeks? This may go out the window, at least you’ll have a plan with that you can adapt depending on the project's success.
- Plan rewards – Make sure they are well structured of interest and you have good surprise rewards planned for the course of the campaign.
- Develop your video – Look into what will make your video successful, what will fans want to see and what can you potentially achieve.
- Think about your brand – An area massively over looked by a lot of crowdfunding filmmakers and is a huge area. If your visuals look poor and are inconsistent across mediums, are people really going to back and engage with you? Look at what other films with strong brands are doing.
- Write and plan emails in advance – Its great to have a few template emails you can easily change for friends/family/associates, and adjust them for each person. You’ll be surprised how difficult it is write these once the campaign is live. Also come up with a list of people to contact in advance, including relevant bloggers - a spreadsheet you can update is really helpful for this.
5. Thinking crowdfunding as a form of charity
Let me be very clear, crowdfunding is not like fund-raising for a charity and should never be treated as such. With charity fund-raising, people give to a good cause because they feel impassioned to, they may want to support a friend or a family member, or identify with cause that needs help or even for philanthropic reasons. Its a very dangerous game for a film to consider itself a project in need of charity fund raising.
There are films that are made for non-profit but most people understand that film making is a business and once the film is finished, those involved will try to sell it in some capacity to make money out of. (Before we get into it, I appreciate a lot of charities now make a lot of profit for their executives, but thats more to do with the way they are run and they don't have the historical business model films do). To reflect this, films should treat crowdfunding more like pre-sales in the same way sales agents seek foreign pre-sale guarantees, to get bigger budget films into production. Rewards should be seen as goods and services you're selling to the general public, in doing so you should always offer good value for money - why should people pay a premium just to back your project? Why would someone pay $100 for a DVD, only for when its released to cost nothing like that price?
Don't get lured into the trap of thinking, hit your target you'll need to set expensive rewards. The most popular reward price on Kickstarter is $25. So if your target is £25,000 you're much better of thinking I need to get 1,000 backers at $25 than you are 100 backers at $250 - not that its as simple as that, but it helps put it in perspective. This also helps the paradigm shift to focusing on the crowd instead of the funding, in crowdfunding. I've covered the importance of the crowd in previous blog posts, as I think when the crowd is focused on and fans treated as individuals, your campaign and career has real chance of keeping that support for the longevity. You can start to generate those 1000 true fans that will support your film and your career beyond just the crowdfunding campaign and help turn it into a paranormal success with a fully engaged committed audience fan-base.
So if none of the above applies, good news you’re ready to crowdfund… the bad news is, you’ve now got a lot of work ahead of you!