There's more to Kickstarter than simply posting up an idea and hoping it explodes in popularity. A successful project takes detailed planning, realistic budgeting, and constant networking. There are plenty of projects that fall by the wayside, but when a pitch gains momentum, it has the potential to garner a wealth of funds.
Started in 2009, Kickstarter has become a massive phenomenon. Last year it saw pledges reach $480 million (£290 million), with three million users backing projects launched on the website throughout 2013.
Naturally, you want a piece of that funding – so here are nine tips for helping your project stand a better chance of bringing home the bacon on Kickstarter.
Clear thinking prevails
Have a clear goal in mind. Kickstarter does vet projects and many get rejected because they’re simply too open-ended rather than well-defined. Do a little research before pitching to Kickstarter. Creators who attract the most funding are those with music and film projects but that doesn’t mean that you should try to wedge your idea into one of those categories. Your concept should be crowd-pleasing but not crowd-pandering. Once you’ve selected which category your project falls under, do a search for similar projects to get you thinking about ways to differentiate your effort.
If you fail to plan… you know the rest
A Kickstarter project is just that – a project. That means you’ll have to budget your time, not just your money. To be fair to backers and yourself, map out your proposed timetable, keep track of progress, and adjust your schedule accordingly. Transparency is key. Your backers will appreciate this, and it will keep you honest with not just them, but yourself as well. There’s no need to develop a system on your own. Free software like Basecamp lets you set milestones and, if you’re working with other people, you can use the program to coordinate.
Work your network
From your first Kickstarter inkling, you should be building a community that can offer you not just the crucial financial support required, but also the advice and general support you’ll need throughout the process. Create a Facebook page for your idea and start racking up fans. Take to Twitter. If you hit a roadblock in gathering followers, my colleague Jill Duffy has some great advice here. Right before you’re ready to launch your Kickstarter project, get the word out to bloggers and journalists who cover the topic. Don’t send out one impersonal promotional email; focus on one or two aspects of your project that would be the most appealing to each contact. Once your page is live, make visitors to any external websites you have aware of it with a Kickstarter widget.
Setting a date
It might seem counterintuitive, but a project is not more likely to reach its goal because it’s live for a long time. The 60-day limit Kickstarter stipulates for projects is in place for good reasons. There used to be a 90-day limit – a long time ago now – but after crunching the numbers Kickstarter found that projects lasting longer than 60-days were rarely successful. For the best chance of financing your project, Kickstarter data shows thirty days or less hits the sweet spot.
Name your price
Be realistic about the amount you ask for, but make sure that it’s enough for you to follow through on your promise to your backers. Bear in mind that if you don’t raise the full amount you’re asking for, you don’t get any of it. Price everything out ahead of time: Materials, labour, etc. Be sure to include the cost of rewards you’ll be giving out in exchange for the support of your backers, and then factor in a little extra for the unexpected. If the amount seems too high, consider putting up just a portion of your project for funding. This is one of the many ways goal setting and project management will help. If you reach your goal before your deadline, you can use Updates to let backers know about any additional things you can accomplish with more funding.
The first donation is the biggest hurdle; once you make it over that, your chance of succeeding shoots up. Kickstarter says creators can expect a rush of funding at the beginning and end of the project, and a long slog through the middle. That’s when you’ll want to work your social networks and make sure you’re reaching out to your backers through the updates section, which we’ll get to soon. While backers can’t create a new pledge once they’ve signed on, they can up a current one.
Seeing is believing
At the top of almost every Kickstarter page is a video. This is the space where the backers get to "meet" you, the creator. It’s your chance to introduce yourself, talk about what inspired you, why you chose Kickstarter, and what you hope your backers will get out of participating. Even if you’re peddling a movie and have a slick trailer for it, don’t launch right into the trailer. Take a minute or two for potential backers to get to know you first. Whatever you decide to put in a video, be sure to make one; your project is far more likely to be successful because of it. If it seems intimidating, Kickstarter leads you through the nitty-gritty in the Creator’s Guide to Video, covering things like lighting, sound, editing, and encoding.
The work is (not always) the reward itself
Rewards are what the backer gets in exchange for their support. It’s not so much the cost of the reward as the value of it. You’re thanking others for helping you achieve your vision. Consider how much that means to you, and how you can best express that. If you’re shooting a movie, you can give away a song from the soundtrack for a donation of a pound. Subsequent tiers can include things like a DVD of the film, a prop from the set, naming rights to a character, tickets to the premiere, and so on. For any project, a personal touch like a Skype chat can go a long way towards making backers feel like they’re part of the experience.
Keep up with updates
Your page is live and you’re starting to attract backers, so now you can just focus on your project and tune out of your Kickstarter page, right? Not so fast. Remember that long funding slog through the middle? Keep up a dialogue with your backers within the Updates section. You can post publicly or just to backers to let them know what’s going on with your project. It’s a dialogue so keep it lively and interesting; not all your messages have to be on-topic.
What goes around comes around
No matter how your project is doing, remember that there are thousands of other projects on Kickstarter, with creators going through the same things you are. Reach out to them for mutual support and advice. Back the ones you believe in or mention them to your own backers in one of your updates.
While you're here, you might also want to take a look at our article on how crowdfunding sites can revolutionise your startup.