Kickstarter Slam Dunk, Tips to Raise the Capital

This past year we’ve seen history in the making, an exciting shift in funding these creative projects of ours: power to the people, no grants, no clients, just great ideas, passion, and a kick-ass three-minute video. Having just completed a Kick-starter-funded short film, I know this stuff really works (and there’s my validated answer to the first question we all really have about so-called “crowd funding”).  It was a challenging roller coaster of an experience for me, but it was a rewarding, enjoyable, and — at midnight on the last full day — a successful one. What did I learn?  Read on:

Kickstarter, and its varying spin-offs, are Websites that allow visitors to create little fund raising pages, gather cash, and keep contributors informed of a project’s progress. Kickstarter has a few twists: projects are only funded if 100% of cash is raised, projects can only be creative in nature  — not simply “fund my new gear purchase” or “send me to Vegas for an epic weekend”, and project creators must offer a few rewards to contributors: some little exciting product or spinoff of the project.  The rules make sense and the process, though involved, is a pretty straight-forward affair.

The Point of Launch

The first component of Kickstarter success is an idea for an awesome project that will grab the interest of enough people. The very idea should, however,  be developed to a point where potential contributors can easily-enough envision its actual completion.  Consider creating the first track of a proposed album, the first photos in a proposed series, the first chapter in a proposed book, or the scrappy rough prototype of a proposed machine.  At this point, all I need to finish this thing is your cash is a good place to be at the start of a Kickstarter campaign.

My project involved hiring a crew and renting gear. In order to make the teaser I used as my Kickstarter video, I saved the cash for one day of gear rental and had a friend run my B camera. It gave a reasonably accurate idea to potential contributors of the eventual final product without breaking the bank. Risky?  Perhaps, but I know the campaign would have failed without something — and why not make something meaningful while I’m at it, at the end of the day, we are still artists, right?

Speaking of the Video

Step two, make an awesome little video. This is the campaign centerpiece and, with a little persuasion, the three to five minutes of earnestness that everyone you have ever known will see.  Script it, plan it, collaborate with professionals or talented friends; having something you love before launch is a confidence booster and an essential communicator.  This is a chance to both demonstrate the unique qualities of the project and unique qualities of the artist.

Filmmakers have it easy, of course, though expectations are also high.  Someone, on screen, should describe the value of the project in no uncertain terms. There should also be a clear taste of the end product: a clip from a demo, a demonstration of a functioning prototype, test images, renderings, or testimonials. Give viewers a chance to get excited about the project and the person behind it.

A Rewarding Little Read

Once that’s in place make your campaign page a thing of beauty. Plan rewards carefully that have a meaningful connection to the project, that will really interest potential contributors, and that you can afford to make and distribute. Don’t forget to plan for these in your proposed budget. I carefully studied the offerings of successful campaigns similar to mine and landed on a range of offerings (check out my project’s Kickstarter page for specifics).

A couple tips: have a solid low-end reward (something cool and desirable at less than $10), have an enticing mid-range reward (something serious at around $50) and have something awesome in the meaty $100-$175 range. Not to mention major rewards at the very high end, just in case. I had a lot of action below $50 and am very grateful for each one, but a nice group of $125 contributions really made my numbers, which surprised me. Be your own judge: would you want the rewards you’re offering?  Does the cost-to-benefit ratio seem reasonable to you?

Write a description that is specific, enticing, short enough to keep interest but long enough to convey your professional determination and organization.  Break it into headings and organized sections.  Consider explaining your proposed budget amount, your workflow, and your timeline.  This is your project proposal to potential investors, a great opportunity to sell yourself as a qualified and experienced project manager.  Like every aspect of a crowd-funding campaign, this is a chance to fine-tune and communicate your artistic ambitions, which can have positive implications far beyond a single project.

Kickstarter is, in the end, a brilliant tool for the creative community. As a social experiment, it proves that many people are interested in what we do, even willing to financially contribute to it.

The One-Month, One-Man Call Center

Finally, and of the greatest importance by far, your well-crafted Kickstarter page is only a landing place and an aid in credit card processing.  It isn’t a campaign; that’s up to you.  Make a very long list of contacts: potential sources for funding, interest, and  publicity, and hit them hard by land, sea, and air (er… phone, email, and in person). Enlist friends to help spread the word.  In the end, a Kickstarter campaign is a social networking campaign and a major endeavor. A major plus of a hard-hitting social campaign is the intense marketing for your work, idea, business, and skills. Budget made or no, It’s a chance for tremendously valuable outreach.  I was fortunate to receive quality links from locally-significant Facebook pages, blogs, and email newsletters, but none that I didn’t plead for, at least a little.  Work the phones, forums, and Facebook pages early and often and get out for strategic sit-downs with key players.

Once underway, it’s addictively inspiring to see the cash slowly mount. Kickstarter, via a strong back-end alliance with Amazon, collects pledges. Nothing is actually charged until the budget is made and the campaign ends (nothing is ever charged if the budget isn’t made).  You’ll be able to track funding with a small assortment of analytics. Post frequent multimedia updates to keep your audience engaged.  Kickstarter and Amazon deduct small fees, very reasonable (though you’ll want that in the budget too). In a few days time, the cash is available for transfer to your bank account (that will have been arranged when you started your process).

Power to the Creatives

Kickstarter is, in the end, a brilliant tool for the creative community. As a social experiment, it proves that many people are interested in what we do, even willing to financially contribute to it. It’s perhaps easy, in the hustle of running a creative business, to loose site of the wide-appealing value of real creativity.  The crowd funding process, the networking and communication involved, as well as the necessary fine-tuning of creative vision is true encouragement. So get out there and enjoy the ride!

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