How to test Patreon without getting burned?

Events and Talks | General

So I have been pondering an idea for a while (This post has been sitting in drafts for weeks), but have no way of really knowing if it’s going to be a success and not even sure how I can test the idea to prove it’s viable.

Let’s go back to the start, I started re-blogging about 6 months ago, it may sound pretentious but I did so because I thought the quality and quantity of “advanced” WordPress content was low. Over the last few months I haven’t written as much as I wanted to, I have just over a dozen drafts sitting waiting to go, most are waiting for an external editor to look over them and have images added. In addition to running a WordPress User Group in Leeds, I’m a regular attendee, supporter and speaker at the 6 local(ish) user groups in the North of England. I have spoken at multiple WordCamps and a conferences on WordPress including a couple of big ones. Basically I’m building up to a sales pitch and I want you to remember I do “community” first, grassroots WordPress’ing when I try to sell the idea to you. It’s also worth mentioning I do this not for financial gain particularly though occasionally I pitch one of my training workshops but because it’s great fun.

Much of my spare time at the moment is being used to create a series of videos, I’m currently working on 2 video series:

  • Acceptance testing in WordPress
  • Performance in WordPress

When ever I tell people I’m working on videos, the immediate reaction is “ooooo” you going to sell them in some sort of membership site? To which I always reply I don’t know… Then everyone looks at me funnily with that unconvinced face of, yeah but you ran a company selling membership software for 4 years do you honestly expect us to believe you are not secretly building a membership site right now?

Yet the answer is no, there is no secret membership site around the corner at the moment (at least nothing WordPress related) I want to publish the videos so they are available to everyone.

Currently about a 3rd of all the video material is filmed for both series so there is a fair way to go, I’m also doing both at once which may seem daft, but while I feel Acceptance Testing is of the two series the far more important one, it doesn’t have the glamour of performance and site speed improvements. Which means while I think everyone should watch the acceptance testing videos it may be hard for me to convince people to back them.

So the videos are being created, and my goal is to make them available for free to everyone currently, but they are consuming vast quantities of my time, this site is suffering from lack of updates or the TLC it needs. So I am stuck with a few choices, slow the video production down and spend more time on the site. Don’t take on any client work for a while and starve to get both done :(, Find a way to subsidise the video production so I can justify doing it instead of some client work and hopefully not starve.

This post is about finding a way to subsidise the video production, so that I can give up a little bit of client time to work on the videos so that I push out BOTH the videos and articles like my SSL guide over the next few months.

When looking at ways to finance the videos I have looked at various options:

  • Donations – simply asking people to donate to getting video produced
  • Kickstarter(esque) Campaign – Ask people to help fund the videos by Kickstarter
  • Membership Site – Hide the video’s behind a paywall
  • Patreon Campaign – Like Kickstarter but different


I don’t like asking people for money, especially for money for something I haven’t yet done with no strings attached. Life is complex their is always a chance I wouldn’t complete the series, then I would have “stolen” peoples donations. So at least a free for all donation prior to releasing videos won’t work, it would put me and the donators into a scary position that I don’t like. One potential option is, asking for donations once the work is up, a sort of tip box approach but I realised the other day I don’t think I have ever given someone money via their tip box/buy me a beer buttons (though when I meet peeps I normally buy them beer!) so perhaps this is not the route for me.


The second option is Kickstarter or Indiegogo Campaign, this solves a lot of the issues with “donations”, it provides a framework, and more importantly structure so I actually have to finish the videos. However it really is an all or nothing, so I would have to setup a funding goal and drive people to fund along with managing rewards it’s a lot of administrative headaches. It also has I suspect a very high chance of failure unless I set the bar very low. Which means it is a real gamble (in terms of time, effort and funds) to launch the campaign, market it, when their is pretty good odds it’s going to totally fail.

Membership Site

Option 3 the membership site, this is if I’m most honest the most lucrative, putting everything behind a paywall, drip feed the videos charge a membership fee which covers initial production cost and future production costs. The downsides other then increased infrastructure and build costs is this won’t solve the pre-production costs. The bigger reason though is that the membership site has to provide benefit to members which tends to mean exclusivity in effect the videos will be behind a paywall and not available to everyone which is my primary goal. Also once you step on this path, you are driven to create more and more content for Members which I feel will ultimately hurt the rest of the site. While they are in drafts I have half a dozen articles that could easily help provide a great launch for a membership site, but they are also content that hopefully be useful to a much wider community.

Patreon Campaign

Which brings me on to option 4 which is sort of my preferred option.

Patreon Campaigns are like Kickstarter, you set goals and reward levels, but they are for ongoing content, so rather then funding the entire campaign in one go, you do it in parts. So EACH time I publish a video Patreon would take a little bit of money from my patrons. The patrons determine how much and with what frequency. So for example:

Bob might choose to pay $5 per video up to $10 a Month

  • If I publish a single video, he pays just $5
  • If I publish 2 videos, he pays $10
  • If I publish 3 videos, he still pays $10

Like Kickstarter a Patreon campaign has Goals and rewards, but the goals are per video so would be something like:

  • $400 allows me to work on video
  • $550 allows me to get a producer involved
  • $9999 allows for unicorns

By doing it per video it means you can start of small and then add bits as you go along it means the barrier to creating new content is much lower.

It also offers the ability to set rewards for backers at various levels just like Kickstarter.

Patreon allows me to raise money as I go along, which is really useful, if you don’t like what I’m producing you just stop being a patron. This I think is really powerful, it means I can create videos available to everyone, backed by the community who partly get to steer what I’m doing. But in a way where I don’t feel entirely beholden to the community. If I can’t release a video, then so be it, but no one is out of pocket.

So this sounds great, why am I not racing to create a Patreon page?

I’ll be honest, because I’m scared of falling flat on my face, I have in my head that I have a little bit of a name associated with me, the quality of my work and in the UK through my talks a reasonable reputation. That of course may all be total bull! While I would like to think people would back something I do simply because it’s me that’s a bit of a gamble and it feels like putting my head on the line a bit.

What if they don’t? Where does that leave me, does it do long term harm to brand “Tim”?
How do I handle the scenario when just Bob pledges, I can’t just take money from Bob! Can I?

The second issue is I have been pretty open about the fact I intend to launch these videos for free at some point, some how, so really there is no massive incentive to back such a project if you are looking at it from a pure results basis, so we are back to it being about me.

Patreon is a relatively unknown method of funding things, outside of video game play through videos, which I will neither confirm nor deny is where I came across it but do consider supporting Matt Lees Patreon campaign.

So here is the problem, how do I test if Patreon is a right fit to help expedite getting videos up and out, without upset the balance I think I have reached in the community especially in the “North”. While I’m a big boy and can probably happily get up if I fall flat on my face, would doing something like this cause issues for people in the future if it fails, I’m all for being a trend setter but don’t fancy setting the trend of cliff jumping without safety aids?

I’m guessing I am not the only person looking at this way of monetising content creation at the moment? So would love some feedback, would you put $1-$5 per video through Patreon?
If so why would you do it?
More importantly if not why not, what’s the barrier?

I’m also really keen to talk to people who have been through the processes, both successes and those who found it didn’t work to hear your thoughts?

Finally if anyone has an idea for an approach to test the waters I would love to hear it!

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