Over the last few weeks, I’ve been in the throes of undertaking my first crowd-funded project on the Kickstarter platform. I have learned a lot along the way, including much about myself. I’m also aware that a few of my contacts are similarly thinking of using the same mechanism to fund a project too, therefore I thought that a post about how crowd-funding worked in practice might be a useful addition to the blog.
The purpose of the project was to fund a new book on behalf of the social enterprise The Hysterectomy Association. The book is called In My Own Words: Women’s Experiences of Hysterectomy. This had two underlying objectives, the first was to engage with an audience that didn’t yet know about the association and the second was to provide another, long-term, source of income. The book will be published by The Hysterectomy Association and will be made available across all the online bookstores, our own e-commerce site, and high-street bookshops as well.
The book itself is an anthology of stories from women the world over who share their stories about what it’s like to have a hysterectomy. It’s a project I’ve been working on for seven years so far; gathering the stories and encouraging women to share their experiences with others.
You can watch the video here:
I started the project on 31st December 2012 and finally completed it on 10th March 2013. It ran for a total of 30 days between the 7th February and 10th March. The key, I felt was to have a plan of action before I started as I noticed that many projects didn’t get funded at all and a recent article in Writing Magazine pointed me to the reason why that might be … it seems that some people using crowd-funding don’t realise that they’re only functional when you leverage the power of your own networks. The crowd-funding sites themselves won’t provide you with much in the way of backers, you have to do the work to pull in people who are likely to be interested in what you are doing.
The Crowd-Funding Plan
My plan consisted of breaking down my audience into different groups:
- Users of the Hysterectomy Association
- Women who had supplied stories for the website in the past
- My business contacts
- Personal friends and family
With these groups in place, I was then able to determine how I would approach each group and create a set of actions to take with timescales attached to them.
But first I had to decide on what the project would look like on the Kickstarter platform. Typically this consists a page of information detailing the project and a video that is used to introduce the idea to potential backers. As a writer, I found the page reasonably easy to write but found putting the video together quite hard, probably because Kickstarter advises doing a simple ‘to camera’ piece. I hate being photographed and balked at the idea of talking on video. My compromise was to create a simple set of slides, together with a video of me waving madly at the camera. I then did a voice-over for the whole thing.
The project detail had to fulfill two basic requirements:
- It had to explain what the project was
- It had to capture people’s imagination and get them to think about the problem I was trying to solve.
It couldn’t be about me, it had to be about the outcomes and the audience. I had to identify the one thing that would make readers pay attention – this was my hook! The hook turned out to be ‘women you already know who have had a hysterectomy’. I repeated this in the project details and the emails that went out and by doing so I attracted the attention of the wider community; those whose mothers, sisters, wives and friends had undergone a hysterectomy. How do I know this? Because they told me.
My next step was to create the messages I was going to share with the groups I’d identified, these consisted of:
- blog posts on the main website and this blog
- personal emails to my Thursday Thronger’s
- email blasts to my two mailing lists
- a newsletter update for the Hysterectomy Association users
- a set of daily status updates on LinkedIn and Twitter
- status updates for the Facebook pages I run
- personal emails to friends and family
- adding the video I’d created to YouTube and Vimeo as well for easier sharing.
With this set of resources in place, I finally felt able to launch the project. My aim was to add a public project update at least once each week on the Kickstarter project page itself.
You can download a copy of the main emails I sent out from the resources section at the end of this post.
These are the facts:
- 83 people backed the project to the tune of £2,595 (103%)
- The average pledge amount was £31.27
- 96 people ‘liked’ it on Facebook
- The video was viewed 402 times, 266 of those were on other websites
- Bloggers from the UK, US, Middle East, Australia, and Europe wrote about it
- The Twitterati got behind it and shared it, in fact, one follower of mine shared it no less than 21 times
- Email marketers sent it out to their mailing list
- 70 (8%) of the pledges came as a result of the mailings not because of links shared anywhere
- The link to the project trended on LinkedIn Signal for the keyword Hysterectomy
- I got more stories sent in by women
- I received many emails of support
- The association also received other, anonymous donations directly
- It raised the profile of both the Hysterectomy Association and myself
- I was also offered a job by a global SEO expert!
What did I learn?
Perhaps the biggest lesson I learned was to get out of my own way. I started the project on the 7th February and it took me a week to work up the courage to send out the first email to my Thursday Thronger’s. Why did it take so long? Well, I guess it’s because I was afraid of being rejected. Once I’d done that and got some feedback, a few backers, and some tweets going; it took me another week to work up the courage to send the email newsletter to the Hysterectomy Association.
I very cleverly buried the details of the project in that newsletter, but once again I got a few more backers and some more people sharing. Once again it took me a week to send out the email to my business contacts. By now I’d had some feedback on previous messages that explained I hadn’t explained what the objectives of the project were. As a result, I changed what I said quite significantly in the next emails. They received a lot more feedback and even more backers.
However, I was now just one week away from the end of the project and I was less than 50% funded. I had effectively managed to paint myself into a corner and was in danger of failing dramatically. This would have been a huge problem because my feeling was it would undermine people’s perception of me as a ‘social media expert’. I finally got over my biggest fear and sent another, more personal and direct, message to the women of the Hysterectomy Association and to family and friends. With just 24 hours to go, the project got funded.
If only I’d got out of my own way earlier, the response could have been quicker and I might have reduced the amount of stress I caused myself by worrying!
Oh, and I also learned how to create my first infographic too – I used it as the basis of one of the updates on the Kickstarter project page. The infographic shows the number of hysterectomies in the UK between 2011 and 2012.
What would I change?
There is very little I would change about what I did. Perhaps the biggest thing to change would be telling people exactly what the purpose of the project was, as I did at the beginning of this post. Instead, I assumed that readers would know what the objectives were. Once I made them clear, the backers and support bounced right up. You can see from the graph below the point at which I made a significant break-through. I wonder if you can also spot the dates I sent out messages?
I would also change the video. I’d remove the bits at the front end which are about the books I’ve written. I’d added this as ‘proof’ that I would come through with the book and that I had a track record. In reality, I didn’t need to do that as the project spoke for itself. Removing that section would have pulled the explanation and stories to the beginning. My feeling is that people got bored before they got to the meat of the video, as a result, they may not have read anything else and consequently didn’t fund the project.
I would definitely do it again, I’ve learned a lot about the process and I’m pleased it worked – eventually.
- Kickstarter Project Emails
- Kickstarter project details
- Woman on the Edge of Reality Blog Post
- The social media bods who helped me out