Category Archives: how to succeed at crowdfunding

On Sabbatical – But Resources Are Available

Hello, crowdfunders! I am taking a sabbatical from crowdfunding consulting – because I have been offered the opportunity to develop and teach a full-year introduction to  entrepreneurship curriculum!*

This means that for the indefinite future, I am not accepting crowdfunding consulting proposals. HOWEVER, If you are working on a crowdfunding project and need help, you are welcome to sign up for our FREE course offered through, or preorder Crowdfunding for Authors. In both cases the material is tailored to writers, but the core principles apply to any project. (We focused on writers because they have the most difficult time crowdfunding. If they can do it, you can!).

Good luck with your project – you can do it!


*PS – Since 2014 I have been teaching math, then physics, and most recently senior thesis at the Renaissance School, a college prep academy for high ability students in the arts, sciences, and humanities in Charlottesville, VA. I love this school, and am thrilled to have been invited to introduce this business course!

How to Succeed at Crowdfunding: Pro Design

Most of our clients don’t like the idea of spending money up front. The whole crowdfunding idea is to make money, not spend it, right? Nevertheless, we recommend a small pre-launch investment in professional design.

Whether the campaign’s central image is a play poster, an album cover, a business logo – or whatever is appropriate to the project – it is worth budgeting a few hundred dollars up front for design.  It’s hard to convince backers to pull out their credit cards for something that looks amateur, no matter how good the idea may be.

Our own book, Crowdfunding for Authors, is a good example of the importance of professional design.  We worked with BookWrights in the fall prior to our spring campaign, sending them the digital sketch on the left. They replied with some drafts, including the one on the right, which we used in the campaign.

before (shudder)
before (shudder)
cfa pink

It is highly doubtful Crowdfunding for Authors would have gone on to be nearly 400% funded with the feeble sketch on the left. The professional design on the right cost around $500, an amount that was easily recouped by the campaign about six months later.

So: you don’t need to spent a lot of money to make money, but you probably do need to spend some. Set aside a few hundred dollars so your key campaign image can be designed by a pro.

For a free analysis of your crowdfunding idea, please fill out our questionnaire. We send a personalized diagnostic of your idea’s strengths and weaknesses – a $125 value! – within 2 weeks.

How to Succeed at Crowdfunding: Embrace the Bandwagon Effect

The sales principle our clients resist the most is the Bandwagon Effect: the paradox that to get backers, they need backers. Most artists believe their work should sell itself. But no matter how creative or innovative, nothing sells itself. Sales and marketing, in fact, are typically the highest paid positions in most kinds of companies.

Getting the public to act, to actually pull out their wallets to purchase a product or service, is very hard work.

In crowdfunding, this difficulty is exacerbated by the fact that every campaign starts with the worst crowd psychology: zero dollars, zero backers, zero percent funded. This is the first thing visitors to a new campaign will see, right at the top of the page:


This depressing image scares prospective backers away. Instead of asking the rational questions Do I like this project? Is this a reasonable value? visitors start asking the crowd psychology questions Is this campaign a winner? Or will it make me look like a loser?

The fear of looking like an idiot for backing a “loser” is a more powerful emotion than a personal like or dislike of the project itself.

In the beginning, when a project has no backers, the Bandwagon Effect is a powerful enemy. However, there is a flip side. Later, if/when the campaign has attracted a certain level of participation, the Bandwagon Effect becomes an increasingly powerful friend. While typically only about a third of campaigns are successful, campaigns that manage to get up over 40% nearly always succeed.

Data from the Kickstarter "Stats" page
Data from the Kickstarter “Stats” page

To state it plainly: if a campaign doesn’t get to 40% funded ASAP, it will probably fail; but if it does, it will almost certainly succeed.

This is the Bandwagon Effect. Our number one piece of advice to our clients to is firmly lock down at least 40% of their target before they even announce that their campaign is live. This way the public never sees a campaign that will scare them away. Instead, they will only see a campaign that will get them excited to jump on the bandwagon.

A counter-intuitive element of the Bandwagon Effect is that once a campaign reaches 100% funded, it can actually gain momentum. This requires some forethought on the part of the campaigner to be prepared to communicate about stretch goals (what additional money will go toward), but as long as there is some reasonable message, the campaign can go on to double, triple, or more. Why? Because the campaign is already perceived as a winner.

In other words, it’s best to set a low target and surpass 100% funded quickly – this likely leads to the campaign raising more funds overall, because it is a “winner”.

So, if you think your idea will fund itself, think again. Plan ahead so you can pass 40% and then 100% quickly, and move up from there.

If you would like a free  personalized diagnostic of your crowdfunding idea – a $125 value! – please fill out our Artist Questionnaire. We typically respond within two weeks.

How to Succeed at Crowdfunding: Take Your Time

Fewer than 10% of those who fill out our Artist Questionnaire ultimately go on to launch a crowdfunding campaign. Potential campaigners opt out for a variety of reasons, but in most cases, it is because crowdfunding the amount of money they wish to raise will take much, much more time – and effort – than they expected.

Crowdfunding is slow, hard-earned money.

Image courtesy Shelton Interactive
Image courtesy Shelton Interactive

One of the questions we ask in our questionnaire is: When do you plan to launch your campaign? The number one answer is “next month” – usually a week or two away. In our instant-gratification online world, it’s understandable why this may feel like plenty of time to prepare.

So most people are shocked to learn that a minimum of 3 months is required, and often preparation takes 6-12 months. This is not because it takes 3 months to build the campaign – but it takes at least that long to market it.

Crowdfunding is subject to Effective Frequency, what’s known in marketing circles as “The Rule of 7”. People need to hear a message 7 times to act on it. For crowdfunding, that means prospective backers need to hear about the campaign seven times prior to launch in order to become active participants rather than remain passive observers. It’s not possible to meaningfully share a message seven times in a week or two (that’s spam). A sustained marketing plan takes time to develop, and then time to disseminate.

There is no substitute for time. So, if you are considering running a crowdfunding campaign, take a look at the calendar. Find a spring or fall month that is around 6 months away. If you get started preparing now, realistically that seemingly far-off date will be the earliest you can launch. And once you get started on the work that needs to be done to prepare, our guess is you’ll be surprised at how quickly the time flies.

If you would like a personalized analysis of your crowdfunding plan, please fill out our questionnaire. A detailed report – a $125 value! – will be delivered for free in two weeks.


Crowdfunding Usually Doesn’t Work for Writers – But It Can

The following is an excerpt of an article for Jane Friedman – you may view the full post here.

cfa pinkCrowdfunding can market and presell your book. Since most books fail to turn a profit, the ability to raise money and reader enthusiasm before expenses is a valuable resource.

However, authors have a poor track record doing it. Over 70 percent of author crowdfunding campaigns fail, and many authors who have tried crowdfunding have nothing to show for it.

What Is Crowdfunding?

Most people think money when they see the word crowdfunding, and that makes sense—funding is the second half of the portmanteau. But crowdfunding is much more valuable than just the funds raised.

First, crowdfunding centralizes and organizes your fan base. This is the crowd part of crowdfunding. Unlike when selling your book through brick-and-mortar or online bookstores, where buyer information is hidden from the author, you get all the contact information of everyone who preorders your book on your crowdfunding page.

If you have read even one marketing book, you know the power of having an email list of people that have bought in—in this case, literally—to your product. Instead of hoping your Facebook post appears in your reader’s feed, or paying to advertise in a periodical that may or may not be of interest to your reader, you can email your fans directly, and for free, to let them know about events and offers. You won’t have to hope that the people who care most about your messages will receive them—you will know.

This is important because later, when your book is actually published, sales are driven by rankings, and rankings are driven by algorithms. And algorithms are driven by volume and speed of reader activity. With your fans’ contact information, you can ask them to synchronize their watches to your book’s official publication date, and to go online all together to rate and review your book (and buy additional copies as gifts for family and friends). This kind of “clumped” activity is what has the potential to boost your book’s rankings in the algorithm, and create the visibility for potentially greater sales numbers.

Second, crowdfunding is book marketing boot camp and publication day training.

To read more, please visit the full post here.

Q&A About Crowdfunding for Authors – for Jane Friedman

The following is an excerpt from an interview with Jane Friedman. To read the full article, click here.


JANE FRIEDMAN: I worry that some authors who are interested in crowdfunding don’t have the proper resources or network in place to run a successful campaign. While I don’t want to be discouraging at the start of this interview (!), are there situations where you advise authors to wait before they start a campaign—to ensure they have some essential components in place?

BETHANY JOY CARLSON: Most authors are surprised when I advise them to prep for three months to a year. Authors need well-organized reader contact information, a great draft cover design, and time for effective communication.

Crowdfunding is marketing, and that means it is subject to Effective Frequency, or The Rule of Seven: a person needs to hear a message seven times to act on it. So, authors need to communicate with their readers seven times before their book’s crowdfunding campaign launch. This means creative emails, posts, blogs, tweets, events, etc. about their campaign in the months leading up to launch.

I also remind authors that, just like with party or wedding invitations, not everyone invited will respond. In other words, not every reader invited to buy the book on a crowdfunding site will do so. If an author has an engaged email list, perhaps 10 percent will do so, and around 1 percent of their social media following will respond.

It really helps to line up a patron or two ahead of time who will take a big bite out of that figure—$500-1,000 or more—which cuts down the size of the email and social media threshold substantially.

Authors also need a good draft book cover to crowdfund their book. We hear the adage “don’t judge a book by its cover” precisely because that is exactly what people do. Sometimes authors attempt to design their own book cover, but that is almost always a bad idea. Authors should hire a professional book cover designer and budget to spend that money before they begin promoting their crowdfunding campaign. Depending on the book, workable drafts may cost between $30 and $1,500 (which is a reasonable max for a book cover draft).

For an author undertaking their first crowdfunding effort, about how many hours of prep time would you budget, and then how many hours per day during a typical campaign?

To read the answers to these and other questions, visit the full article here.

Crowdfunding for Authors is available for preorder on Indiegogo.

How to succeed at crowdfunding: Market Research

Crowdfunding is marketing. And it’s the best kind – you get paid for it, rather than vice versa!

“Marketing” can be a word that gives artists hives. But all it is is stepping way back from your project and looking at it through the eyes of your audience. What will entice them before they’ve had the chance to read your book / hear your album / see your film?

Most marketing works on the paradox of “similar but unique”. You’ll want to be well-versed in what is familiar to your audience, and after that identify the element of your work that will uniquely grab their attention. The first step is knowing your audience as precisely as possible.

blog images - market research

Think of a handful of people you know who will enjoy your work the most. Then answer these questions:

  1. What is their age?
  2. Gender?
  3. Relevant characteristics? (This could be geographic location, race, socioeconomic status, religion, shared experiences, shared passions, etc.)

This gives you a good profile of to whom you’re talking when you’re sharing your message. Many artists think they’ll sell more if they explain why really their book / album / film / project is for everybody – but it won’t. Get specific. This helps to set the right tone.

Step Two is another one that artists often dislike: classify your work. You may think your project transcends genre – and maybe it does – but that will not help sell your work. Pick the genre that is the best fit. Which (online) shelf does your work match? This helps to set the right layout for your cover or preview.

Step Three is to research bestsellers to your audience in your genre. Fortunately, online retailers like Amazon and iTunes make it easy to research bestsellers in just about any digital media. If your project does not fit these two websites, find some that do sell your craft. If all else fails, you can browse through your category on Kickstarter and Indiegogo to see what kinds of messages work and don’t work for projects like yours. You’ll want to keep an eye out for things like:

  1. Color scheme
  2. Font
  3. Layout
  4. Design elements / icons
  5. Voice / word choice
  6. Price
  7. For video: soundtrack, voice over, timing, cuts, captions

Pick 3-5 examples that stand out to you as great. What are the common components they share? Borrow these in your own marketing. This helps you to meet your audience’s expectations.

Step Four is the fun part: identify the one unique element of your work that will be of special interest to your audience. Artists often want to select the sixteen elements of their work that are unique and amazing. And your audience will love them all -eventually. But you need to pick the strongest, most appealing one to sell your work first. A confused observer does not become a buyer. A strong unique element in a familiar layout will help you to surpass your audience’s expectations.

Step Five is to work with a designer, writer, videographer, or others to actually turn this research into the pitch for your project. With the above information and successful projects that have gone before you, you have what you need to be on the same page and craft a pitch your audience can’t resist.


For a free crowdfunding analysis of your project, please fill out our Artist Questionnaire. We typically respond within two weeks. We look forward to hearing about your project!

How to succeed at crowdfunding: Rallying Your Backers After The Campaign

There’s a bigger benefit to crowdfunding than the money: a core group of fans. Most people are joiners, not pioneers, so this core group of fans will be tremendously valuable for attracting other people to your project once it is realized. Here are a few ideas on how to both thank your fans and boost your project.

  1. Circle back to your Influencers. The organizations and people who helped spread the word about your crowdfunding campaign may be very willing to help spread the word about your project now that it has been realized. Be sure to get them your marketing materials, press releases, offer interviews – make their job easy to help you.
  2. Invite your backers to the project premier. Whether it’s your album launch party, first book signing, or opening night – make your backers VIP guests, and tell them to bring their friends. They’ve been on this journey with you now for months or even years. They’ll bring the enthusiasm that only that kind of anticipation can generate.
  3. Invite your backers to rate and review your project. Just about any kind of project has a place where people can write their own reviews and give a project a rating. Synchronize watches to boost your project on Amazon, iTunes, Rotten Tomatoes, or the relevant platform. Offer raffles or prizes to incentivize participation early. A visited project will attract more visitors that one that looks abandoned.
  4. Invite your backers to join the conversation about your project online. Whether it’s on your blog, website, social media, or elsewhere, somewhere online there’s a conversation you should be starting about your project. Make sure your backers know that their comments, likes, photos, and other participation is welcome.

For a free crowdfunding analysis of your project, please fill out our Artist Questionnaire. We typically respond within two weeks. We look forward to hearing about your project!

How to succeed at crowdfunding: Fulfillment

Your crowdfunding campaign is over! But the work has just begun. It’s time to get your backers all the creative perks and rewards they ordered.

Our mantra is “under-promise and over-deliver”. It’s easy to be overly optimistic on both how long it is going to take to produce your project, and then how long it will take to actually get it into your backers’ hands. Be sure to include in your timeline calculations the following considerations:

  1. You may not see your money until a month after your campaign closes. It can take up to 14 days on Kickstarter and 15 days on Indiegogo for funds to be sent. Depending on your bank, it can take up to 7 days or more for funds to clear. To be on the safe side, you should consider having money in hand by a month after your campaign closes.
  2. Budget for delays in production. Most creative projects are sequential and involve a team, so there are many points along the way where a delay on one task may mean a delay in completion. A rule of thumb for a home remodel is to expect it to go 25% over time – that’s a good expectation for your project, too.
  3. If you’re producing something physical, leave time for proofs and shipping. If you are producing something digital, leave time for beta testing. If you are producing a book, album, or other physical good, it can take a good month or more to order proofs, wait for them to arrive, review them, make tweaks (which may mean looping people like your designer back into the process), place your order, manufacture, and wait for the goods to arrive. It’s not safe to assume the proof will be perfect – it almost never is. If you are producing something digital, there are almost always bugs. Your backers make great beta testers! Be careful not to give them the impression that they’ll be receiving the polished final product at a certain date when it is more realistic that’s when you’ll be asking them to test it out.
  4. Leave time to collect your backers’ information. Before you ship, you’ll want to confirm your backers’ shipping information. This can take a few weeks of surveys, reminder emails, and some back-and-forth communications. If any of your rewards include collecting additional information – T-shirt sizes, for example – you’ll need even more time.
  5. Remember to block off days for packing and shipping. The more successful your campaign is, the bigger the undertaking of actually packing, labeling, and posting all of the items your backers have ordered.

Taken together, this usually means that a safe estimated delivery is somewhere between 6-12 months from the close of your campaign. Your backers will be happier to receive their rewards on time rather than promised up front a date that you later have to explain was overly optimistic.

For a free crowdfunding analysis of your project, please fill out our Artist Questionnaire. We typically respond within two weeks. We look forward to hearing about your project!

How to succeed at crowdfunding: Closing Day

Sprint across your crowdfunding campaign’s finish line (even though you’ll be tired!). Campaign funding tends to be U-shaped, with the greatest amount of activity on the first and last days, as illustrated by this data from Kickstarter.

pledge pattern graph

You’ll want to maximize that final day and gather up as many of the procrastinators in your crowd as you can. Our recommendations mirror those for Launch Day:

  1. Dedicated “Last Chance!” email. This email should be short and sweet. Your network has by now heard from you many times, so this is a short, fun reminder with images and most importantly the link to your campaign, with one simple message: the campaign closes at midnight tomorrow, and this is their last chance for special pre-order opportunities. (As a reminder – email and social media are not created equal. Social media is not useless, but email prompts action. Don’t neglect your email list!)
  2. Deadline phone campaign. Especially for those people you’ve expected to get on board and have yet to show up, it’s worthwhile giving them a ring and talking to them in person. They may have questions on how to pledge, what the money is going towards, or how else they can get involved. Be upbeat and remind them that this is their last chance to get in early on your exciting new project.
  3. Influencer synchronization. Your Influencers deserve a little one-on-one time, too. Ask them to repost or resend what they’ve already sent to their networks, with the “Last Chance!” message.
  4. Deadline event. Just think of the ball dropping in Times Square – people love a count-down. Have a little party and make sure to have your laptop connected to your TV screen so that partygoers can watch the %-funded tick up live. Have samples of your rewards and invite people to pledge, auction style. Food, beverages, and music get folks in a festive mood.
  5. Social Media blasts. Update your profile picture with your key campaign image and the “Last Chance!” message. It’s a good idea to hit your Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and/or other feeds multiple times during the final 24 hours.
  6. “Last Chance!” campaign update. And, don’t forget your backers! Publish a campaign update (like the blog on your campaign), thanking your faithful backers and reminding them this is their last chance to invite their friends and family before time runs out. This is a good time to hype any special rewards, stretch goals, or other last-minute news.

For a free crowdfunding analysis of your project, please fill out our Artist Questionnaire. We typically respond within two weeks. We look forward to hearing about your project!