Making Money on Patreon: Different Features That Help You Grow
Patreon, for all it’s sex-negativity and dislike of NSFW content (unless it makes Patreon a lot of money) really does want creators on its platform to make money. Because when we make money, they make money. To do that, they offer a ton of features and keep adding more — all to help creators attract more members. Not every feature will be right for everyone who uses Patreon, of course, but I thought I’d share some of what has worked for the Loving BDSM Patreon account, just to give you an idea of what you can do through the platform.
Changing Perks and Tiers
I adjust perks and tiers on an annual basis, though doing it more is always an option. As I change as a creator, and I (slowly) figure out what my audience wants from me, I change the perks I offer through Patreon. (Disclaimer: We did not do this for the Smutlancers community in 2021, but that’s because time didn’t matter in 2020, and this year feels like a do-over.) Sometimes I take things away. Sometimes I add new perks. But I adjust, and I do that based on feedback (both explicit and implicit) from the existing patrons. I pay attention to which perks they take advantage of and which ones they don’t. I also assess my own energy levels and ability to offer a perk, too.
Another way I’ve figured out what to do that resonates with people — enough to get them to part with money — is to experiment. Patreon offers a ton of features like Discord connection, live streams, even automatically sent merch. I listen to feedback from my audience (both paying and non-paying), figure out what Patreon lets me do within the platform, and then try things out. I prefer to do this on an annual basis, so I have a full year to discover how (if at all) it impacts membership. If the numbers go up and people take advantage of the available perk, then it’s one to consider keeping. If no one likes it or I hate doing it, it’s got to go.
Set Goals Your Members Care About
Patreon allows you to set goals for your account and to show those goals to people who visit your page. It can be based on the dollar amount earned or on the number of members you have. In 2021, we shifted to make our goals member-focused. Instead of a dollar amount, we switched to a goal based on the number of members we have. And I changed our goals to reflect what we would do for the members (and wider audience) once we achieved them.
Why? Some patrons may be happy to help you achieve a dollar amount goal, especially if you’ll use that money to their benefit — more content, fewer ads, etc, etc, etc, but in our experience, it didn’t really resonate. Most people want to know what’s in it for them when they join. Plus, I wanted the freedom to do what I want/need with the money I earn from Patreon — and sometimes that didn’t align with old dollar amount goals I set years before.
Our first member-number goal (after the change) was to reach 200 members with a promise to add a second (shorter) podcast episode each week once we hit that mark. As of the writing of this post, we’ve reached it and are planning those episodes now. I believe (and will soon find out) that promoting your goals and then delivering on those promises can help your Patreon grow as well. (We shall see.)
I use special offers as part of membership drives (see below) and to offer limited-time perks but you can set a special offer for any reason, at any time. It makes the collection of information (like addresses to mail packages) much easier. It also keeps you organized as you send things out.
A special offer can help drive sign-ups. Maybe it’s a free ebook. Maybe it’s a deep discount to an online shop. Whatever it is, make sure it’s not something you offer to non-patrons. There has to be a reason for people to get it through your Patreon and become a member. But it’s an easy way to promote your Patreon account.
“Hey want this free/heavily discounted thing I made? Join me on Patreon between this date and that date to get it!”
Even if someone leaves after the special offer is over, you got paid for the time they were with you. (Pro tip: Turn on the Patreon feature that requires people to pay for membership upon sign up — and not the following month. We’ve made a lot more money over the years that way — even when people only sign up for a month or two.)
Another thing I tend to do annually, but that could be done multiple times throughout the year, is membership drives. I create a special offer (see above) to encourage people to sign up or stay a member of my Patreon. I do it in January, but whenever works best for you is fine. Before I announce a membership drive, I think through what the incentive will be (including costs and time to produce). For 2021, we made stickers (using a Cricut and plenty of sticker paper). My cost was time, materials, and postage — and we mailed out 160+ envelopes when we were done. In 2020, we used custom art and paid to make stickers and bookmarks. (I used VistaPrint (affiliate link) for this but any printing site will do — yes, even for BDSM items, likely because they weren’t overly explicit.)
Once I know what I’ll do, then I promote it. You can’t get me to shut up about it. I remind current patrons what they get if they stay. I post about it on blogs, podcasts, videos, and social media — whatever medium I have to talk to my audience. It almost feels spammy, but it’s really about repetition. If I was constantly spamming my audience about Patreon the rest of the year, they might not care. But my level of promotion increases substantially during a membership drive so there’s a better chance of cutting through the noise that is the online world.
What makes a good incentive depends on your audience and what you do as a creator. Artists may offer a special print or graphic. Writers may write a patron-only story. We go all-in on our “proud cricket” thing and other things that the “in-crowd” of our audience recognizes — the logo, anything to do with coffee, and special artwork that’s rarely used anywhere else. Giving people something they can’t get anywhere else that also resonates with who we are as creators work best. We pick things that are easy to produce (or cheap to make) and are most definitely “on-brand.” But we also want it to be fun for us. We’ve done keychains, bookmarks, and stickers because they’re small and cheap to mail and (we hope) fun to receive.
A relatively new Patreon feature (debuting in 2019/2020) is an annual membership option. Instead of a monthly charge hitting someone’s account from Patreon, they pay upfront for an entire year of membership. As a creator, you can also offer a discount this way (which may be an extra incentive to join). The theory is that by getting people to become year-long members, they’ll stick around longer, and you have less of an up-and-down fluctuation in your Patreon income. So far, my experience says this is true.
For 11 months of the year, we offer a discount that gives people one month free to sign up for a year. During our month-long membership drive, we added an extra incentive of two months free (the max discount Patreon allows). A LOT of people signed up as yearly members during the drive.
The one thing to know about annual Patreon membership is that you get the money upfront which can throw off your income every other month — for budgeting purposes. In January 2021, we made $2400+ from Patreon, primarily through annual members. After that, we went back down to “normal” which (at the time) was about $800 and $900 per month.
Other than stable, long-term membership, are there other benefits to using this perk? I think so…
- Getting people to join your Patreon is (partly) psychological. They have to believe it’s something worth doing. Seeing higher numbers of members can help some people decide joining must be a good thing to do because other people are doing it, too. Seeing more (annual) members may help convince someone to join.
- We have less membership fluctuation. A few people leave each month, but the drop is much smaller now that more people have paid for the year. Yes, they can leave early and request a partial refund, but without a very specific reason to leave, most people won’t.
- Some people will happily pay $24 one time for a year rather than the hassle of $2 being withdrawn from an account each month. It’s easier for them and allows them to pay an amount that works for their budget at that moment. Happy people tend to stick around.
Using Connected Apps and Features
My only experience with this is Discord, but Patreon offers several other patron-only apps and features. These allow you to do more beyond the basics of your Patreon account. Some make it more user-friendly, others (like the Discord connection) create new perks. Until I created a Discord server through the Loving BDSM Patreon account, I’d never used the platform before. So I didn’t have an affinity for it. But enough people asked for it that we were willing to try it out.
Not only is the connection fairly seamless — if you stop being a patron, you no longer have access — it’s also a perk people seem to really like. And I feel more comfortable using a paid-access server rather than opening up to a wider audience. We’ve built a nice little community in Discord and several people say it’s the best part of their Patreon membership. Without it available through Patreon, I never would have added it, and now it’s a selling feature. I’ve watched people decide to join because other members talked about how great the Discord server is — proving that an enthusiastic, engaged audience can be your best promotional tool.
Discord might not be your thing, but maybe some of the others will work for you and your audience.
- Bonjoro helps you create custom welcome messages for new patrons.
- Crowdcast lets you host patron-only live events — not just streams, but webinars, classes, and more. (And you can still use Crowdcast with your non-patron audience if you want).
- Goodbits lets you build a curated newsletter just for patrons.
- Patronizer makes it easier to put patron credits in your videos.
Some of these are free to use within Patreon and some cost money but you get a discount through Patreon.
This doesn’t directly relate to offers for new and existing members, but it can help you become a better community host. From time to time, Patreon offers education opportunities for creators. These tend to be in the form of live streams, webinars, and a private community for creators. I’ve attended one of these and though I kept a low profile (I didn’t want to tell a bunch of strangers I was an adult creator), I did learn a lot.
- Patreon best-practices
- Ideas from other creators
- How to use different perks
The more you can learn about Patreon, the easier it may be to navigate everything available to you and find what resonates with your audience.
Patreon Realities for Smutlancers
Patreon is NOT adult-friendly, although they seem to look the other way for really big creators. (I’m thinking of a nudist blogger whose images are fairly explicit that is regularly featured by Patreon.) This means that you may not be able to use every available feature — or you may decide Patreon isn’t right for you. To help you navigate Patreon as a NSFW creator, remember these things:
- Do not link to your website or social media in Patreon if you post nude imagery there. They’ve locked my account because I linked to Masturbation Monday, and they’ve locked other people’s accounts because they connected their NSFW social media account to their Patreon account. They won’t unlock it until you remove the link.
- Your perks or incentives cannot be considered porn (by Patreon) which means, explicitly, no images or video that contain nudity and/or sexual activities.
- You must mark your account NSFW if you discuss sex or kink, but it means you’re not searchable on Patreon. People need to know or have access to the direct link to find you and join. (Put it EVERYWHERE!) I highly recommend setting up a Patreon account with an easy-to-use URL. I regret not having the Loving BDSM URL for Patreon, but my name is short enough.
I said it before, and I’ll say it again — Patreon isn’t for every smutlancer. If you prefer to share images or want to be unabashedly your sexual self, a sex-friendly platform (like OnlyFans) might be a better option. For those who deal primarily in information, education, or text-based content, Patreon has more potential, if you play by their rules. Like every other platform and every other revenue stream, it requires time and effort. The bigger your audience outside of Patreon when you start, the quicker you may see real growth — because growing on Patreon is a numbers game. But if your audience is still small, expect it to take time.
But don’t be afraid to experiment with different features and try new things. Most of your members will go on that journey with you, as long as you communicate with them and deliver what you say you’ll deliver.
Now, it’s your turn. If you’re on Patreon, what features have you used to help grow your membership?