How to Create a Successful Kickstarter Campaign

by Thursday Bram on 2 August 2012 1 comment
Photo: Libertinus

Crowdfunding has rapidly become a popular way to raise money for a project. The concept is simple: you write up what you want to do, maybe make a short video about it, and post it to a site like Kickstarter. Then, hopefully, people will contribute money, and you’ll wind up with enough to actually complete your project.

But the reality isn’t quite that simple. For every Kickstarter project that brings in over a million dollars, there are thousands that fail entirely. Creating a successful campaign that raises at least enough to cover your costs requires some serious work — almost as much as launching your own business. (See also: Start a Business for Next to Nothing)

There Is No Formula

There are Kickstarter campaigns that have raised over $10 million (specifically, the Pebble Watch) and campaigns that haven’t managed to pull in more than $50. There is no formula you can follow to tell if a particular project is going to be successful. There are a few generalizations, though, that you should know about.

Preselling

Most successful Kickstarter programs offer incentives that backers would buy outright, given the opportunity. While a lot of backers enjoy giving money to support cool ideas, most still want to get something for their money. Just another t-shirt — unless that shirt is epically cool — isn’t going to cut it. You have to think in terms of products that would be a direct result of your project. That’s why hardware and movies tend to do so well.

Low Raise Points

It’s tempting to ask for every cent you need to pull off your project, but you can actually often raise more money by asking for less. Most campaigns don’t raise even half of what they need — but if you can get your campaign to the halfway point, your odds of getting fully funded go way up. And if you’re already fully funded and you have some impressive incentives, don’t be surprised if you wind up getting a lot more than what you asked for.

Marketing Offsite

If you’re able to tap into your own networks outside of Kickstarter and get them excited, it’s a lot easier to get the money you need. If you’re starting from scratch, though, you need a strong marketing plan that will get people you don’t know interested in what you’re working on.

Take the time to read everything about running a campaign on the Kickstarter website. There are lots of little nuts-and-bolts details, like setting up your account to properly receive payment. There are also a lot of ways you can accidentally violate Kickstarter’s terms of service, especially if you’re working with a non-profit.

Plan Your Kickstarter Campaign

If you’re thinking about launching a project on Kickstarter, you’ve probably already got an idea in mind. Tempting as it may be, you shouldn’t just throw together a campaign and make it live. Start by writing out what your idea is:

  • Why are people going to be excited about it?
  • What — as specifically as you can describe — is it going to take to pull off this idea?
  • Who is going to be interested enough to pay money towards this campaign?
  • What incentives can you offer with this project? What products are the end result?
  • What personal networks do you have that you can get involved?

It’s only when you know your idea inside and out that you’ll be able to figure out how much it will cost and, therefore, how much you need to earn on Kickstarter. When setting that figure, don’t forget that Kickstarter takes its share and that you’ll owe taxes on what you’ll bring in to boot.

You’ll also want to write out a specific marketing plan. Unless you have a website that gets a million visitors a month, plan on reaching out to as many places as you can. Go beyond just your own social networks — frankly, some groups of Facebook friends are starting to get annoyed by another one of their circle requesting money for a creative project each week. Think bigger, like sending out press releases to relevant news sites, guest posting on blogs, and even talking to people in person. Create a step-by-step plan, and then follow it.

Choose Your Incentives

Without the right perks, it’s hard to get even the best-intentioned campaign off the ground. You have to make sure that you’re offering incentives that people want and will actually spend money for. If you aren’t sure if what you want to give to backers is a viable option, go ask a few people if they would want to buy your products. That’s the most basic level of market research, and it will stand you in good stead with a Kickstarter project.

On most campaigns, you’ll see at least one very low level — an option to back a project for just a dollar or two. It’s rare that such a level will represent a large percentage of your backing, but for the occasional small backer (or friend who wants to contribute but doesn’t want to spend too much), it’s a good idea to include such a low-level option. Don’t be afraid to offer much more expensive: on popular campaigns, it’s not unusual to see contributions of more than $1,000. The limit Kickstarter allows for incentive pricing is $10,000.

Take a look at these successful Kickstarter campaigns to see what sort of options have been popular:

Writing Your Campaign Page

It may seem like the campaign page itself is the easy part; you just have to describe your idea and knock together a video. But while there have been some successful projects with very basic campaign pages on Kickstarter, investing time into creating a persuasive page is crucial — and can help you page get through the Kickstarter moderation system that much faster.

A good campaign page needs to lay out why it’s worthwhile for your project to succeed. It needs to persuade visitors that they want what you’re offering — preferably at a higher funding level than just a dollar or two. You can’t always be there when someone new pulls up your campaign for the first time, so your page needs to stand on its own.

There are several small video production companies these days that have made a specialty out of producing videos for Kickstarter projects. If you feel like you need some help, it may be worth deciding if a video is within your budget before you launch your campaign.

Once you’ve got all your ducks in a row, you’ll be able to submit your campaign to Kickstarter. It may be a fair amount of work to create a successful project, but it’s worth it if you’re passionate about what you’re doing.

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Meg Favreau's picture

A note I'd add about the incentives -- make sure they're things you can reasonably follow through on. I was recently talking with some friends about how we've never received any of the bonuses for campaigns we've contributed to. I'm not particularly upset about it -- I was happy to contribute -- but still, it can be a little frustrating.