August 15, 2019 (Updated )
If you believe the old cliché, then money makes the world go round. Of course, the scientific community has evidence to the contrary, but that doesn’t mean money isn’t important. So, we inevitably get to the age-old question of how you actually make any in journalism.
Well, the good news is that it’s 2019. If you find yourself staring longingly at an unpaid invoice or empty fridge, you can take matters into your own hands.
You’ve probably seen crowdfunding build exciting wave-of-the-future businesses or finance boundary-pushing indie movies too hot for mainstream studios. Or maybe you’ve seen the viral attempts to create a giant Lionel Richie head, or even just a humble potato salad.
But that isn’t all crowdfunding is about. There’s also ample space for people without thousands of backers, massive teams or wild ideas to make a couple of quid.
Know this: done right, crowdfunding can work just as well for small-time creatives and it can absolutely work for journalists. To find out how, I spoke to Simon Ellington, co-founder of the crowdfunding website Ko-fi and our very own founder-cum-Ko-fi success story Jem Collins, and we hashed out the four steps you can take to start making an income from fans of your work.
1. Pick Your Platform Wisely
First things first, you have to decide which of the many fine crowdfunding websites out there is actually going to host your giving page. Each of them have their own benefits as well as drawbacks.
The big, established ones you’ve probably heard bandied around – Patreon and Kickstarter for instance – are popular for a reason – but it might not be a good fit if you’re just getting started.
For example, you may need to make a high and varied portfolio of things in order to make some of the bigger features (think tiered rewards and the like) worthwhile. Plus, there’s more going on behind-the-scenes of every virally successful campaign than you realise.
“It turns out there’s a lot of research and insider info behind how you actually get one of those campaigns to work,” Jem told me. “You’ve essentially got to get half of those people to back you before you even launch.”
For the would-be funding wunderkinds among you that are just coming out of the box, a more relaxed platform like Ko-fi might be the way to go.
Unlike all other platforms, Ko-fi doesn’t take a cut of the money you receive. It also allows you to create at your own pace, and, tone-wise, it’s a lot more social – which is important when you’re trying to secure those all-important first donations. Helping out a creative is as simple as clicking a button to ‘buy them a coffee’ which puts a friendlier face on parting with your money than some of the bigger, scarier sites.
“It’s okay if you’re just complimenting another job, it’s okay if you don’t post every day, it’s okay if you’re not a millions-of-views-a-month user or nationally published journalist,” explained Simon. “It’s an appealing place where people shouldn’t be worried about putting yourself out there.”
Ko-fi lets creators be paid for their work – without charging any fees
Ko-fi is a free to use crowdfunding website, where you can easily be sent online tips. Since launch, $15 million has been paid to creators, from artists to journalists. You can also upgrade to Ko-fi Gold to allow people to send you regular monthly payments – and you can snag 10 percent off using our magic link.
One of its main benefits is that it’s a good way of working out what content your fans are willing to pay for. “It was a friendly, easy way to test the water,” Jem explained. “Journo Resources was never this big grand plan to start a business or make money, but I saw a couple of other writers using Ko-fi as a way to let people give them tips and I just thought I had nothing to lose.”
She was then able to use the platform to work out what messages worked at her own pace, and what kind of things people wanted in return for their cash. Essentially, choose the right crowdfunder to suit the scale of your operation.
2. Weigh Up Your Options
So, you’ve got your page set up and you’ve written down your spiel. Now we sit back, relax and wait for the money to come rolling in. This time next year, Rodney, we’ll be millionaires, right? Wrong.
You see, man cannot live off of donations alone and there’s much more to a service like Ko-fi. It began as a simple way to give a content creators a financial thank you for making your life a little better or easier – sort of like how you would buy them a drink (a coffee, perhaps?) in real life.
In the years since, however, it’s gone from being a tip jar where you can leave a message and a few dollars to thank someone to something much more, as Simon explained.
“It’s become a fans platform for artists, bloggers, creators of all kinds – podcasters, developers and more; providing donations, subscriptions and commissions via the service,” he continued.
“The breadth of how [someone] can support a creator has increased.” That being said, on Ko-Fi, there are four main ways you can receive money from your fans.
- Donations: Exactly what it says on the tin, one-off giving to a creator to thank them for creating a particular piece of content or to help them create more like it in the future.
- Subscriptions: Like the above, but a little different. Subscriptions are regular payments to you from your fans. It goes without saying that to get regular subscribers, you need to regularly offer content that keeps them coming back.
- Commissions. No more waiting for editors to commission you, your adoring public can commission you now. You can either listen to suggestions from paying followers or you can create a menu of things you can write (advice articles, stories etc.) each with their own prices. These give your readers a more personalised experience as they can fund content that’s directly useful to them, as Jem realised. “I would like to think we’re getting to the point where people are aware that they have to pay for news or content that they like in the same way they pay for Spotify or Netflix,” she said. “Don’t just think of it as a donation, you could make it into a product.”
- Affiliate Links. If you’re not against doing a little bit of promo work in your articles, you can big up Ko-fi and tell people to sign-up using a link that’s unique to you, which may or may not be what’s happening right now. (This article is starting to get pretty meta, isn’t it?). If they sign up to the premium version, Ko-fi Gold, you’ll be paid £3 for your good deed.
3. Know Who You Are. Yes, You.
Successful crowdfunding takes a lot more than just popularity and content. It takes a little bit of self-knowledge as well. As with anything in journalism, it’s about finding your unique selling point and putting it front and centre in your marketing.
Take David Lowe, for example, the founder of Ridgeline Images. It was created to tackle a lack of information in English about walking trails in Tokyo, and the site has now been viewed more than 1 million times. Since setting up his Ko-fi page, David has pulled in more than $200, through a simple combination of having a unique product and asking for tips.
Personality and accountability can also go a long way too. As we said before, Ko-fi also tries to make the relationship between creative and funder as friendly as possible, so it helps to try and get your personality across and let some of your fans in.
For Holly Lisle, a novelist and podcaster on the platform, it’s been about an ongoing conversation with fans, to decide what works for them. She set out a clearly defined goal, and asked fans what they’d want in return, before putting together a whole range of perks (and smashing her goal).
“You need to start creating something that people either feel they aren’t getting elsewhere or is really valuable,” added Jem. “When you find your beat and people know that they can’t get it or that kind of quality elsewhere, that’s when you can start asking for money.”
4. Get Your Money Right
Last but absolutely not least, you have to think about ways you can maximise your earnings. This isn’t anything sinister, more just being prepared for common pitfalls.
Check Out Any Charges
Depending on the site you choose to use, you may have to account for their take of your funds.
“If someone sends me £3, Kofi, don’t take any fees from that but PayPal will,” Jem told me, “so be wary of exactly how much money you’re gonna be getting in”.
Others, like Patreon and Kickstarter, will also take a cut of anywhere between five and 12% (on top of the payment fees). Even if you do use Ko-fi, make sure that it’s set to pay out in your home currency. If it’s set to dollars and you leave it that way, then you may incur charges from your bank when you try to turn it into usable money.
Share Your Page Often
When you’re killing it and a bunch of people are reading your stuff, make sure your Ko-fi page is clearly visible.
Post your links in your article, shout about your page on social, and get creative with what you say so it doesn’t get stale.
Ever notice how charities always hit you with the “With just £2 a month we can…” talk? That’s because people tend to be a lot more comfortable with parting with their money when they know how it’s going to be spent.
The best Ko-fi success stories, according to Simon, are the ones where creatives were able to fund something relevant to what they create, such as equipment. “It’s the small things like the person that says ‘I’ve achieved my goal so I can now buy an iPad and start creating again, because it broke and I couldn’t before’. That’s what keeps us motivated.”
It worked for JR early on too. Jem added: “The first time I tweeted [our page] was me saying I had to pay for the hosting and it was really expensive, and loads of people helped pay for it. I was really surprised!” Not only does it build trust, but it helps your readers to feel like they’re a part of something, so be upfront about it.
Keep Some Content Exclusive
Going back to offering readers more than what they get elsewhere, keep your more voracious fans happy by giving them some extra content that they can donate to receive. Ko-fi’s posts feature is a grand way to do this.
“It’s important to show that genuine behind-the-scenes ‘how the sausage is made’ kind of content”, as Simon so eloquently put it, whether that’s longer versions of your articles, you back catalogue, or even just links to resources your fans are interested in.
So there you have it. If you’re new to crowdfunding, there’s plenty here to get you started.
Go forth and share your funding links and pages with confidence, create content that people can’t get enough of – and who knows?
Maybe you’ll build your own empire one day. But that’s in the far-flung future. For now, be good to your fans, and they’ll be good to you.
This sponsored content was produced in association with Ko-fi, a free-to-use crowdfunding service for creators. You can sign up for a free account here, or use our 10 percent discount on Ko-fi Gold.