In April 2020, during the peak of a global lockdown, I had an idea: to create children’s books about wildlife with a bad reputation. OK, cool, but I have a full-time job, a family, and other responsibilities, so what now? Where to begin?
Resource-wise, the writing part was easy. I mean, researching, reaching out to partners, and developing the plot was a lot of work, but materially speaking, it only required a computer and an internet connection. There was no significant investment required until the next step: illustrating and printing the books.
As an independent writer - we're not talking pocket money. To fulfill the goal, the funds had to come from somewhere. After weighing all the options, I decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter. Using this method to publish independent books is not uncommon, and there are a lot of great resources to guide you through the process. And still, everyone has their own experience. Personally, I owe the coming-to-life of my books to the success of such a campaign. So now, in this blog, on this website, the new house of the brand that the books are the center of, I am happy to share what crowdfunding gave me. It was a lot more than the much-needed resources.
Launching a crowdfunding campaign on any platform is marketing work per se. It requires thinking about your brand’s identity, how you want it to look, and your core messaging. Building your crowdfunding page is creative work involving copywriting, design, and video. Once all of that is done, you go live and begin advertising, meaning you’re meeting your "clients" for the first time. You can do this using every known marketing method: paid ads, influencer marketing, organic social media, ear-to-mouth, guerilla, handing out brochures at conventions, and PR. To each their own, but at the end of the day, you must actively get out there and make people aware of what you’re doing.
Building your community
There are a lot of similarities between crowdfunding and sales, but there are also differences. The fact that you’re asking people to support something that doesn’t exist yet is asking them to trust you, and that makes everything much more personal. Specifically, on Kickstarter, each backer joins a network with which you can communicate by sending messages and updates. My tip: nurture that community. Speak to your backers regularly. Talk in first-person, and share your journey honestly and openly. This relationship extends even after you deliver their rewards in return for their pledges, which leads me to the next point.
When everything is done and dusted, your books will be on several bookshelves worldwide. They will be there, physically, for friends and family of your backers to see. If your backers like the books, they’ll speak fondly of them, spread the word, and want to buy them as a gift for others once you start sales. They'll follow you on social media and share your website. You can activate them to give you good reviews because they’ll do it based on a real, positive experience. There you have it, a unit of brand ambassadors that can help your credibility in the crucial stage of reaching out to a bigger audience.
Every marketer would love to know if there’s any interest in what they’re offering before they invest a lot of resources. Crowdfunding allows you to do exactly that with considerably low risk. Even if you promote your campaign only to your close circle, to people who’ll support you no matter what, their feedback is priceless. Add to that broader viral campaigns and the different platform discovery algorithms, and you can test the reactions of complete strangers. By the time your campaign is through, you’ll have an initial answer to your question: do people even want this?!
Building a business plan
A crowdfunding campaign urges you to manage pledges, rewards, pricing, and logistics. Building your scale of pledges and calculating the costs of your rewards, the profit margins, and shipment is excellent preparation for your subsequent sales. The level of accuracy will determine the success of your campaign. Getting fully funded isn’t useful if most of the money goes to cover costs and doesn’t leave you with enough to produce, ship, and move on to the next stage of your business.
Quality time with family and friends
Here's the fun part. One of the first things I did when planning my campaign, was to create a spreadsheet listing all the family and friends (aka my "close circle") who I assumed would back it. In order to better prepare the outreach effort to new audiences, the estimation I made was conservative. Fortunately, I was surprised, for the better. My life journey took me through many stops. I lived in six different places, in three different countries, worked in different jobs, enrolled in university, and more and more. People from every one of those environments pitch in. During the campaign, their support was heartwarming and provided an excuse to reach out, ask how they are doing, and engage in conversation. But the fun part began when it was time to deliver the rewards. Suddenly, delivering a book was an excuse to meet for lunch with a friend I haven't met for a few years. To visit that ex-colleague that gave birth a few months back and get to see her baby. Catch a football game with another friend. The conclusion is quite simple: a crowdfunding campaign can do magic to your social life. Don't miss out on the opportunity.