Why Every Creative Should Be on Patreon (And How to Get Started)

I would like to begin this post by sending out an affirmation to my fellow creators – you and your art, whatever form it takes, are worthy and have value.

I’m glad you’re here.

The reason I start this week’s article in this way  is because I have noticed a trend that binds itself to artists – we undervalue ourselves and our creations so much. Too much! This is why when I was thinking of which topics I wanted to cover for Variant Ventures, my mind immediately came to this. I want to empower all of us to understand and know that we are deserving of compensation for our skills, we are not imposters, and it’s in our hands to change the perception society has placed on the worth of art.

This is important, because any time I ask a creator “Why are you not on Patreon?”  the answer is often some form of “I don’t have anything to offer” or “I don’t want to charge for (insert silly reason here)”.

For a lot of us the concept of asking for money from strangers without necessarily having a direct something to give back is daunting. Society has kind of grilled into our minds that any income must be “earned” or exchanged for a service or product. Sometimes even when we’re down on our luck, it feels somehow odd (or even shameful) to ask for money.

Additionally, that we’re expected to offer our skills and expertise for pennies or free is nonsense. And to that end, services like Patreon are created for us – because as it turns out people are happy to offer a little something to support someone’s dream.

And if you still feel you must have ‘something to offer’ in return, I’m happy to inform you – you already do!

The Concept of Patrons

Patrons of the arts are nothing new. Back in the days of yore, (before Photoshop, tablets, mass printing, and cameras) artists were highly valued as providers of entertainment, keepers of history, and tellers of stories. Folks or institutions who had the money and appreciation -or, let’s be honest, political agenda – for the arts became patrons, or direct sponsors, of these artists. Old-school patronage wasn’t always a walk in the park, but that’s an art history lesson for another day.

Though this system has evolved over time, there is still a deep appreciation for art and artists alike, and the internet has made it possible to connect folks who make unique work and those that are happy to pay for, commission, or otherwise support said work.

Certain forms of modern patronage echo that of the past, in that you still have some folks who directly patron an artist by commissioning, subsidising, or directly paying artists just so they can work their craft. It’s not as common or easy as other more modern means, but it still can( and does) happen. Other forms of financial support for artists include institutional grants, scholarships, and crowdsourced funding.

And So, Patreon

Patreon is not the only option you have as a modern creative, but it’s the most well known and feature-rich. For artists, you never have to pay a dime up-front for any of their different plan tiers. Patreon, however, does take a cut of the income just like many other services, so that is something to keep in mind.

  • The basic fee plan essentially lets you set up a donation or tip box, similar to Ko-Fi or GoFundMe. You can set an entry level price, and patrons can opt for more.

  • Their Pro plan allows you to have different patron tiers, and this is where the magic really happens.

What to Offer on Patreon

Circling back to our original roadblock – what to offer your patrons becomes the question.

My general recommendation is to offer a basic, low-cost tier ($1-$3) that offers nothing but gratitude. And while that might sound a little daunting, trust me. It isn’t. I subscribe to several artists that I probably haven’t even checked in a few months but I’m happy to toss a few bucks a month at them all the same (and I’m not alone).

And gratitude can be worked with. If you create any sort of content, a quick list of your supporters goes a long way.  These can include a shout-out on your blog or social media, or dedicating a piece of work to a patron. These are easy, low, or no cost ways to show appreciation for the folks who support you.

For lower to mid tiers I recommend somewhere in the $5-$30 range. This is where you can have a lot of fun with offerings.

Popular options include:

  • Behind The Scenes Of Your Creation Process.

  • Previews Of Upcoming Merch.

  • Voting On Color Schemes Or Small Differences In A Product.

  • Early Access To Upcoming Sales Or New Products.

  • Video Updates.

  • Access To Commissions.

Mid and high tiers can go as high as you can imagine, but I try to keep it reasonable. Remember patrons are not limited to just your pre-set tiers – they can opt in to give you more if they want to! For this reason, there is no need to set exorbantly high prices unless they’re tied to a very specific offering (like an online class).

Some ideas for mid to high tier patron rewards include: 

  • Exclusive Patron-only Content, Merch, and Sales.

  • Discount Codes.

  • Raffles and Giveaways.

  • How-to Videos.

  • Naming Items / Characters / Etc After Patrons.

  • Bloopers & B-roll.

  • One-on-one Q&A’s.

  • Discounts or Access to Consultations, Mentoring, or Tutoring.

  • Exclusive Community Access (like discord!).

And so much more, this really is just the tip of the iceberg!

Patreon also comes with dozens of integrations and partnerships to help you manage access for your patrons as well.

The biggest downside is the cuts Patreon takes. The platform absorbs 5%-12% of earnings in addition to payment processing fees and payout fees (when you withdraw from your Patreon balance), numbers of which they do not publish. So, it can potentially be hefty depending on the plan you choose. At some point you might find you want to shift gears.

The better news is many other e-commerce platforms are now offering subscription services similar to Patreon, such as Shopify, Squarespace and Woo Commerce. None of these are going to be completely free, so as you grow and your needs as an Artrepreneur changes you’ll need to regularly do some number crunching to figure out which service works best for you.

At the end of the day, the fees and costs of these services are generally worth the ability to acquire some extra income, and the truth is these platforms offer validity and security for both artists and their patrons. And who knows, maybe someone will take you under their wing in a more traditional partnership after finding you?

So here’s some foundational information on getting started with Patreon and why you should definitely give it a go – cuts and all – because a little extra cash in your pocket is a free coffee and one step closer to living the dream!

Do you have any additional ideas for patron rewards?  Do you know of any services like patreon that are worth a mention?  Let me know in the comments below!

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