This was in spite of the fact that I didn’t do as much prep as I wanted to, I spent less than $400 on the campaign, I was sick as a dog (and coming off an awful breakup) for most of the campaign, and I was working around my normal freelance writing workload. It’s taken me almost a year and a half to put it together, but I’m finally here to share exactly what I did in a thorough-bordering-on-exhaustive guide.
If you’re looking to prototype and fund a hundred-thousand-dollar product, this information could be useful, but you’re going to have to turn everything up to 11 and do a lot more research (and have a much bigger budget than mine).
Either way, the first thing you need to know is that you cannot just press publish on your campaign and wait for people to find it through Kickstarter. (Yes, I’ve actually had people ask me if that will work.) That route swiftly leads to the unfunded pile, where some 2/3 of projects wind up hanging out.
You’ll probably want to grab some coffee before you dig in to this post. I tried to cover every angle that I could and give the most complete resource possible, all in one spot. The rough order of topics is:
First off, everyone tells you a Kickstarter is all consuming, and I’m here to say: that is the truth. And not just for the time you’re running the campaign, either. Expect it to eat a solid 3–6 months of your life, the way a naughty dog steals leftovers: without mercy or remorse.
You may have just rolled your eyes at my dramatics, but it’s true — and this was a relatively small/simple campaign, all things considered. There’s a reason it took me over six months after the campaign was over and orders were fulfilled to even start working on a recap post series. It’s because trying to market and fulfill a Kickstarter campaign on top of a full freelance workload (and editing a novel, whenever I had a minute to breathe) didn’t leave a whole hell of a lot of spare time for anything else.
Because of that, I just kinda jumped in with both feet. If I had taken another 30–90 days to work on my marketing strategy, I’m fairly confident I could have raised another couple thousand dollars, if not more. But you live and you learn.
I’m going to go more in-depth on each of these in the following sections, but overall, I couldn’t have run the Kickstarter and maintained any shred of dignity without:
I’ll get super granular on how each of these saved my bacon, in turn. But overall, if you’re looking at doing your own Kickstarter (or launching any kind of concentrated marketing campaign), save these apps.
I did a 35 day campaign, based on research indicating 30–40 days is the ideal length for a campaign. Any shorter and you risk running out of time before getting funded, any longer and you risk losing momentum. That makes sense, since I had to keep actively marketing it every.single.day or backer levels would drop off. That was exhausting enough, but it’d be near-impossible to keep up over a 60 or 90 day campaign.
The campaign was funded to 156% of its goal and we passed the goal with well over a week left to go:
Here’s an excerpt of the backer report:
As you can see, social media and content marketing/guest posting drove quite a bit of backer support during the campaign — I’ll get into the details of what I did there in a few minutes.
General wisdom on backer levels says that fewer is better. It’s the same as any kind of salesmanship: if you give people too many options, they tend to get overwhelmed and don’t use any. With that in mind, the tiers were as follows:
Here’s how the backer tier popularity broke down:
All told, I thought I had trimmed down the tiers a fair amount when I launched, but in the future, I’d cut the $1, $115, and $150 tiers.
That was the overall outcome…let’s move on to how I got that money:
Obviously, having a good Kickstarter video is crucial. I was on a tight budget, but I was really happy with my video from Jeff at Catch Frame. Having another person in my home recording video was way more awkward than I anticipated — I’m used to recording videos but not used to having an audience. Stage fright is real, y’all.
Anyways, the goal for the video was to:
Here’s the video playback stats:
The biggest takeaway is with your main video, shorter is better. My goal with my video was to keep it under three minutes, and it clocked in at 2:27. However, I couldn’t possibly go over all the pages of the planner in that time, or give people a really concrete sense of what they were getting.
Because of that, on day two or three of the campaign, I recorded an additional video that went over all of that in detail:
I uploaded it to YouTube (and added an annotation directing people back to the campaign and a link to the campaign in the description). It got over 1,000 views during the campaign, which confirmed my belief that people wanted and would watch a more video explaining the planner in more detail.
Most of the views during the campaign were from the Kickstarter page, but a not-insignificant-minority (12%) was on the YouTube watch page:
Let’s move on to the copy!
With this, I just stuck with the basics of good copywriting. Keep it simple, keep it scannable, keep it concrete. Here’s a video teardown of the campaign page so you can see/hear some of my thoughts:
The product photos for the campaign were completely DIY’d. Which is obviously not ideal, but again: tight budget, y’all! In general, I think people will forgive less-than-fantastic photography if they know it’s a true indie crowdfunding project.
I will say that lighter backgrounds are a lot more forgiving. If you compare the photos on the campaign page to the photos on the current planner site, the new photos look 100x better. The new photos are still DIY’d, just with white posterboard as a background and lots of natural light.
Aside from having a solid product and the copy/video to sell it, marketing is what’s going to make or break your Kickstarter. Let’s dig in:
I used zero advertising, due to my budget constraints. And after getting a look at the analytics that Kickstarter has, it would be difficult to run an ad campaign and link it directly to backer results, since there’s no way to embed a tracking pixel on the confirmation page. You’d be stuck using correlations, which would get tricky if you were doing several marketing efforts at the same time (which you should be!), because you won’t know if any one thing is driving the traffic or if it’s a combination of several things.
Or, for another example, your ads might be driving a lot of clicks, but have a much lower conversion rate than traffic coming from another source. There’d be no way to tell because of the lack of conversion pixel.
If you go the ad route, I’d recommend doing it for a few days at a time, then stopping for a few days, then starting again to see if the backer numbers correlate with each start/stop.
Like I said before, the biggest thing to know with a Kickstarter campaign is that you can’t let on marketing. If you have a PR or marketing firm (or contractors) working for you, it’s less pressure on you — but for me, as a team of one, I had to spend at least a few minutes a day on marketing for the whole duration of the campaign. If I stopped marketing for even a day, there was a noticeable downturn in backers.
With that out of the way, let’s jump in to the actual work I did during the campaign:
Running the campaign solo and with health issues, I was looking for higher-leverage things to do — so wherever possible, I was repurposing content. The YouTube videos I recorded were revamps of older text posts that had done well, and the posts I was posting at Medium were lightly edited versions of previous text posts.
In general, video is a lot faster for me to create than writing (because I am a wordy mofo and I talk fast), so I was also using a lot of video. You’ll notice below that all the posts on my site were video posts (that had a note about the Kickstarter somewhere in them). I uploaded those on to YouTube (where I get a decent amount of traffic that doesn’t necessarily overlap with traffic at Bombchelle), and embedded cards/links to the Kickstarter page.
On the social side of things…
The thank-you tweets were very effective. For the first hundred or so backers, I included their specific backer number, so that it looked like:
Big thanks to backer #83 [username]! Learn more about the Freelancer Planner & back it here: http://kck.st/1SNK4LQ
Somewhere around backer 100, this got a little unwieldy (and was becoming an admin headache in and of itself assigning numbers to backers), so I switched it up to say “Big thanks to backers [2–3 usernames].”
Aside from it just being good form to thank people who are supporting your work, people really liked being thanked publicly, and they often retweeted the tweets. Plus, it kept me tweeting about the campaign, without just tweeting the same “check out my Kickstarter” message over and over again.
The Twitter outreach made me nervous at first — I’m normally very non-salesy on social media, and I didn’t want anyone to perceive me as being just another spammy asshole. But reception was pretty positive, and several people took me up on the offer to check out the planners (and then became backers or shared about the campaign).
For reference (and as you can see above), 20% of backers came from Kickstarter. Out of the backers that actually came through my marketing efforts:
My conclusion: the content marketing I did wasn’t very effective compared to the social media marketing I did. That said, 7% of backers that I actually had a hand in isn’t too bad either. That number also probably would have gone up if I had been more aggressive with CTAs in the content marketing I did do.
It’s also worth noting that traffic sources 2–5 on the shortlink (see below) are from the content marketing, which could mean that they actually drove more backers than just 7%.
Since the direct referral traffic makes up such a huge chunk of backers, let’s dig into that a little more. Apparently, depending on the link shortener used, shortened links can count as direct referral traffic…or links (shortened or not) that were opened in a new browser tab. (More on direct traffic here & here.)
That probably explains why it was such a big chunk of traffic…and why YouTube doesn’t show up anywhere in the referral list. I’m guessing that at least part of the 1,389 “unknown” clicks on the bitlink were from YouTube. At any rate, here’s how the bitly stats break down:
Once again, Facebook & Twitter were at the top of the list. It’s interesting to note that, based on this, Twitter drove two-thirds of the traffic that Facebook did, but less than half the backers that Facebook did. In this case, it seems that traffic from Facebook was more likely to convert to backers. (Not too surprising, especially as I know a lot of the backers knew me personally and probably clicked over from Facebook.)
Here’s what the “other sites” dropdown looks like. Some of these are mentioned above in guest posting efforts, some are from PR/press efforts, which we’ll move on to in a minute.
One surprise benefit of actually keeping up with my own blog posting (vs focusing on client work) is that I had a small spike in newsletter subscribers during (and after) the campaign. The pink box below highlights June-August 2015 (the campaign ended at the end of July):
Overall, it didn’t hugely help grow my email list, but it did help avoid the summer slump in email signups that I’ve experienced before.
Other secondary benefits:
Now it’s time to move on past the marketing into…
I’ve talked a lot about doing PR well in other posts, so I’ll refer you to those:
Generally, I followed the same rules that are outlined across those posts, which breaks down to:
After a few rounds of refinement, this is the pitch template I used for most of the campaign:
(obviously, it was modified depending on who I was pitching, but this is the version I have saved in Evernote)
I wanted to get in touch because I’m working on a project I thought you might find interesting, since you write about freelancing tips and tools on a regular basis. As you might know, 34% of the US workforce is freelancing now (http://bit.ly/1R5pvwT), and that number is only going up — but there’s a problem. Those freelancers are often fantastic at what they do, but they have some very common struggles: staying organized, making their business a priority, and planning well.
My fix for these problems, the Freelancer Planner, is currently funding on Kickstarter: http://kck.st/1LxcDfm It’s the first planner designed to make freelancers more efficient and profitable.
In addition to the planner itself being set up to support better business and productivity habits, the printed version will come with a guide that walks freelancers through how to get the most from the planner, while also avoiding common problems such as overestimating client slots on a weekly basis, setting realistic income goals, etc. As someone who’s been freelancing for years, I’ve seen these problems send my friends and colleagues diving headfirst into burnout. And it’s not just my friends — these problems are probably a huge reason why a whopping 38% of full-time freelancers only made $20k or less in their last year of freelancing. (http://bit.ly/1FS6iTD)
As we move more and more towards a flexible gig-economy that relies on freelancers, it’s absolutely crucial that freelancers learn how to be good business owners as well as talented designers (or writers, and so on). It’s my hope that the Freelancer Planner can help with that.
If you have any questions, want to do an interview or want me to send over a press kit (or the digital downloadable version for you to take a look at), etc., please don’t hesitate to let me know. If you don’t have the bandwidth/interest in a story around the campaign, but want to support it, here’s a click to tweet link you can use: http://ctt.ec/jz39d
Thanks for your time, and have a fantastic day!
A few notes on this pitch:
As for results, check out this post at CreativeBloq: This clever planner could solve your freelance woes
I sent a modified version of the above pitch in via their contact form. They didn’t email me for any more info. Instead, I just got an email when the post went live. This is why you include all the pertinent information in your emails to journalists/writers, especially those who have to publish daily (or more often), because then they can (and often will) run with it without having to email you again.
One phenomenon that I didn’t know about ahead of time is that many outlets won’t cover a Kickstarter campaign until after it’s fully funded. This is another reason you want to be funded as early as possible in the process. With this campaign, we were fully funded by end of day 7/22, with the campaign ending on 7/28:
I reached out to people who had told me to follow up when I was funded as soon as we met the goal, but six or seven days isn’t a lot of time for a news story turnaround on short notice — especially when that time stretches over a weekend (the 22nd was a Wednesday, the 28th was a Tuesday).
The next time I do anything like this, the goal will be to get funded with a solid two weeks left (or more!), giving ample time for people to cover the campaign after it’s funded.
Another tactic I used, instead of just pitching people on writing about the campaign, was sending review copies to people who covered related topics.
Not unsolicited, mind — I’d reach out via Twitter first and ask if they were interested in writing a review or just wanted to see it, and if they said yes, then I’d send it. Some of these people I was already engaging with and some I found via posting in Facebook groups or searching for people who tweeted about freelancing (or topics that freelancers often tweet about, like design or writing). I also openly posted on Facebook & Twitter that I’d send a review copy to anyone who wanted to write about it.
Here are a few of the reviews/interviews that occurred as a result:
Something I wanted to try with this Kickstarter was getting on Product Hunt. In case you haven’t heard of it (people in startup circles tend to know it, people outside of those circles might not), Product Hunt is like an aggregator of new/cool products and apps, with a massive audience. Getting on the front page of Product Hunt is a really big deal.
I did have two factors working against me, though:
Basically, unless you’re in a select group of users, nothing you post goes on the front page. Instead, it goes on an upcoming page, which most people don’t check. Moderators can bump something from the upcoming page to the main page, but my understanding is that that doesn’t happen very often.
At any rate, I found myself with a Product Hunt invite/postable account. I asked a friend if she knew anyone who could post it, so she introduced me to someone who did, who didn’t post it, but instead invited me…it’s like the dang mafia up in there.
I posted it (and ran its own little mini-promotion campaign, with tweets linking to Product Hunt and prompts to backers to upvote it — read more on launching/promoting on Product Hunt here), but it stayed on the upcoming page for a day or two. Despite that, it still drove backers and traffic (see below).
As previously mentioned, social media was far and away the biggest driver for backers. That said…
Total: 12.3% (51 backers, $1,100)
Now, like I mentioned before, there is the matter of the direct traffic. Looking at the referrals in the bit.ly dash, 19% of the clicks came from the CreativeBloq article (so it probably created more backers than the report shows).
All told, the press/PR/review efforts drove a decent amount of backers. There are a few things I’d have done differently, which moves us onto…
Last but not least, I’m going to cover a few of the things I learned as a first-time physical product creator and what I’d do differently next time.
As previously mentioned, I did not have a huge budget (I had essentially a $350 budget, which went to the videographer and the product prototype). If I’d had 2–3x that money, I probably could have raised a lot more money — but it’s hard to say. Some of the things I would change are strategic/tactical changes, and if I’d been putting more time/money into what I had already been doing, it might not have resulted in exponentially better results.
I pitched a lot of journalists throughout the campaign and aside from a handful of articles on smaller outlets, there wasn’t much traction.
My conclusion, after taking note that the CreativeBloq article was relatively easy to get and also drove a nice chunk of backers, is that I was pitching the wrong places. I wasn’t pitching big-name journalists — I know better than to start your PR strategy there — but I pitched a lot of small-to-mid-size contributors and columnists at places like Inc, FastCompany, etc., who had covered similar topics in the past.
If I could go back in time, I wouldn’t nix that entirely, but I would add a whole other category and put a lot of focus there: medium to large scale outlets that have a more specific audience than “people interested in business and business news.”
I’d create a list of outlets that had 50–250k followers on Twitter, who talk to people who are likely to be freelancers (designers, writers, coders/developers). Possibly the same with productivity focused sites (sites that write about productivity that are likely to have a lot of freelancers in the audience), but my focus would be on group #1. In general, I think the takeaway here is that niching down based on audience rather than on topic is likely to net better results. (I will be testing this the next time I run a campaign and reporting back!)
Sweet merciful Zeus, shipping was a nightmare. Part of this is because Kickstarter’s export options don’t really play nice with ShipStation. Trying to figure it out on a Mac meant that I literally had to borrow a friend’s Windows PC to import the csv into the (Windows only) Stamps.com software, and then print the labels from that interface. Never. Again. (I’m hoping they’ve changed this process since mid-2015, but if not…be prepared for it to be a logistical clusterfuck.)
A much bigger part was that, being the ecommerce/shipping n00b I was, I fudged the numbers to make them even (free US shipping, $10 for international shipping). I knew that shipping is a huge deterrent to purchasing and figured it would all wind up okay in the end. Friends: DO NOT DO THIS.
In my case, my planners are heavy little monsters (the larger one is over a pound and a half, the smaller one is around a pound). On top of that, there were several backers who ordered two or more planners. There were people who paid $45 with $10 shipping for two full-size planners and then here I am, paying $45 to ship nearly four pounds worth of planners to Australia.
Seriously. Get your shipping numbers right. Get a scale, weigh your prototype, and make sure that you have a very accurate shipping cost for every backer tier. Build it into the cost (because shipping prices do make a difference) or charge for it, whatever, just cover your ass, because I’m here to tell you that it sucks when you don’t.
(I also know that all of this sounds like totally gross oversight to anyone who has experience with ecommerce and shipping physical products, but before this, I didn’t, and I know I’m not the only one, which is why I’m putting so much emphasis here.)
And…that’s really about it. Considering all of the factors (it being my first time crowdfunding, a tiny budget, less prep than normal, me being sick and straight off a breakup at the time) I’m very happy with how the campaign went.
It was a lot of work, though. Right now, I’m doing a preorder promotion to help fund the second round of printing, largely because I didn’t want to start 2017 off by working every day for two months straight. I do plan on going back for round two later this year to fund a larger round of stock and expand the line of products, during which I’ll be implementing these lessons learned and — hopefully! — have some new results and lessons to share.
Questions? Hit me up on Twitter or in the comments — I’m happy to help!
Find this guide useful? Take a second to click the little green heart so that it’s easier for other people to find it! (And check out my other posts, videos at YouTube, and the Bombchelle blog if you want more freelancing-related guides and how-tos.)