5 lessons learned from running a Kickstarter campaign
Your community will get you there, but make sure you know what you need
On December 27, 2022 at 11:00pm EST, we received this note in our inbox.
What an incredible way to end the year. And what a relief! After months of planning and executing an ambitious crowdfunding campaign, we could now celebrate that we were able to bring a book that we’d dreamed about to life.
We learned a lot in this process that we wanted to reflect on and share, in hopes to help anyone who is considering launching a Kickstarter campaign to fund their book or any other project.
While this wasn’t our first time running a crowdfunding campaign, this was our first Kickstarter. To set the campaign up for success, we did a bunch of research before launching–reading articles, talking with people in our community, and bringing others onboard who could help. Still, certain lessons sink in better with experience.
Fifty-four days and 400+ backers later, here’s what we learned:
Your community will get you there
We would not have been able to complete this project without the community that we’ve been cultivating over the last 5+ years. We went into the campaign with thousands of followers and email subscribers, hundreds of speakers and community members, and dozens of contributors who were working on the project.
They are the ones we reached out to for advice.
They are the ones who shared the campaign on their own social media, in their newsletters, and in personal messages to friends and colleagues.
They are the ones who came together in the end to make sure we hit our goal.
These are also the folks who will be helping us create the book and we are so excited to have them along for this journey.
- As soon as you start thinking about a project like this, start cultivating your community.
- Think about who can help in different ways. Some people will be great at amplifying, some will offer advice and support, some can connect you directly with donors, and some will be super supporters who can help you with all of the above.
Consider your timing carefully
We planned our Kickstarter campaign to launch and run in the last two months of the year. While this could feel like a risky time to ask for support, we made this decision based on when we were ready to launch and when we wanted to make the book. We were also optimistic that we could take advantage of the holiday time to market the book and other rewards as gifts to family, friends, and colleagues.
There were two problems with our plan.
First, people don’t like to give IOUs for the holidays. Our plan was to get something tangible in their hands so they’d have an actual gift to give. However, we didn’t realize we weren’t able to distribute rewards until the campaign ended (in retrospect, this makes sense), and since we were running the campaign until the end of December, we wouldn’t be able to produce and distribute a physical product in time for the holidays.
Second, the end of the year ended up being a really hard time to reach people. We knew in general, folks are busy traveling, logging off, and closing out their year during this time, but since this is also when business slows down, we were hopeful we could get our community’s attention. However, this year seemed to have additional challenges. Between an election season in the US, the flu, COVID and other illnesses making the rounds, end-of-year offsites being scheduled and big deadlines to meet, our community seemed more inundated and stressed than we believe they normally are during this time of year.
The beginning and end of your Kickstarter campaign are the most crucial times for support and momentum. This needs to be a time where people will be in front of their computers or other devices, checking their emails, and have the time and space (and funds!) to create a Kickstarter account.
We are thankful that despite launching around the US election and closing just days after Christmas, our community still came together, but oh was it a close call.
- If a time of year feels risky to launch your campaign, it probably is. Be aware that things you couldn’t plan for may also happen, so if you pick a time of year that’s hard to begin with, it might just get harder. Try avoiding major holidays and world events when choosing the dates to launch and end your campaign.
- Plan for a big push at the beginning and the end of your campaign. Communicate with sincerity and your supporters will appreciate it.
When in doubt, over-communicate
We heavily debated the type and amount of communication to send before and during the campaign. While we have a strong rapport with our community, we didn’t want to overwhelm them by constantly reaching out. At the same time, we knew this was the most important project we’d have for a long time and it warranted increased efforts.
In the end, we decided it was worth a few extra touchpoints.
We started posting to social media multiple times a day, on multiple channels – and still we heard from individuals that they didn’t always see our updates.
We sent a few extra emails to our newsletter audience, our community members, and speakers in our directory.
We openly asked more and more people to support our campaign AND to post about it on their own channels.
Those efforts paid off in the last four weeks (and, we didn’t get any angry emails asking us to stop).
We also realized through this process that we needed to be more direct with our ask. While we started out asking folks to amplify the campaign, we also really needed them to contribute. Later in the campaign, we shifted how we asked for support and it made an impact.
Don’t be shy about reaching out. Folks are busy. They’re forgetful. If your communications are genuine, well-intentioned, and informative, often people won’t mind if you send reminders – in fact, they may thank you for it.
And, if they do mind, they likely aren’t the folks who are going to help you reach your goals.
- Once the campaign is running, plan updates at least once a week and share all over your social media daily.
- Make a clear ask–do you want someone to contribute to the campaign, or amplify it to their channels, or both, or something else? Ask them.
- Give folks everything they need to help you. If you want them to share on social, create the messages and graphics they can use. Give them an email to forward. Write a blurb they can include in their newsletters.
Create a variety of rewards
When we first designed our rewards (and campaign messaging), we relied too heavily on people supporting the project because they saw value in it not just for themselves, but for the broader speaking community.
That was true…to an extent.
As much as we all want to support initiatives that we believe in, we’re often more likely to prioritize taking action if we see a clear benefit for ourselves.
When we added a few time-sensitive add-on rewards, designed to appeal to people at different stages in their speaking journey, we saw more action from those we knew intended to give but just hadn’t gotten around to it. We showed them what they could get by giving, making it easier for them to say, “Yes, I can’t wait.”
Based on what rewards people chose, we also learned that some people are going to prioritize a physical product, while others will be happy with a download. Some can give a little, while others can contribute a lot. We ended up adjusting our rewards as we went through the campaign to have options for anyone who might want to participate.
- If you’re producing a physical product, include some digital rewards that folks can get right away.
- Create rewards for all different tiers–starting at as low as $5-10 to much higher priced items for folks who can and want to give more.
- Think of creative ways to use add-ons. They can create urgency with limited time windows, or give supporters the opportunity to give more with additional items.
Plan your needs (and resource allocation) carefully
Our goal was ambitious.
We set our funding goal around a budget that would allow us to create the best product possible, but we also knew we could have made a minimum viable product with much less.
Kickstarter is all-or-nothing. We learned it’s more important to focus on crossing the finish line than shooting for the stars. We set our dream budget because we wanted to create the best product we could, but there are cheaper ways to complete a project and in retrospect, we would have started with a lower goal.
Speaking of planning, don’t expect to do too much while the campaign is running. We planned to create a download and print notebooks that would be available soon after the campaign ended. Because executing the campaign takes so much time and energy, getting rewards ready during that time proved to be unrealistic.
- Do as much as you can ahead of time. Have necessary vendors on board before launch, send as much information as you can to your community, and build space into your timeline.
- Set your goal to the minimum amount you need to complete the project. Then, create stretch goals ready to announce once you hit your goal to keep funding momentum going.
While we’re beyond thrilled our Kickstarter was a success, it was a stressful time filled with lots of lessons learned. We made a lot of assumptions going in that proved to be wrong. In addition to what we shared above, we had factored in corporate support. We’ve been lucky to work with several incredible sponsors over the years and assumed they’d be thrilled to take part in the campaign. Unfortunately, we were wrong. The economic climate meant a lot of our partners were tightening their budgets and several had new policies where they couldn’t support crowdfunding campaigns. There may have been creative ways to bring more corporate sponsorship into the campaign, but we needed to do more research early on.
All that being said, we’re so glad we decided to embark on this journey and are now busy fulfilling rewards and making our book a reality! If you decide to crowdfund, we’re cheering you on. Go in with an open mind, a lot of hustle, and be ready to learn a lot.