Should You Start A Membership?

March 02, 2021

Most people are well aware of Patreon now (and less so Ko-Fi or Buymeacoffee) which gives artists and other creatives, a chance to make an income from giving their fans access to their work that doesn’t get shared anywhere else. There are also many other options to create subscriptions which I have written about in how I built my membership. You can also read about why I left Patreon.

Please note that I will use ‘membership’ to describe subscription in this post but it is the same thing (in my mind) as a subscription. This is going to be a long post, so be prepared!

Would running a membership suit you?

Is the membership format right for you? Will this enrich your workflow or stress you out? Will it feel like too much work or will it bring you closer to your fans? 

I previously made a blog post (and foolishly did not save a copy!) about ‘Should You Start A Patreon Page’ – and about six months after I wrote that I had left Patreon and built my own membership page and so decided that having a blog post about Patreon seemed a little odd, considering I was no longer using them myself. 

However I think that talking about memberships in general and whether it would be right for you, regardless of the platform you use, is a useful resource. So while I kick myself for not saving the previous post about this, this is a new post on my experiences of Patreon, and now of running my own self-built membership

Important questions to ask yourself, and be honest!

  1. Do you enjoy working under pressure?
  2. Do you need/want accountability?
  3. Do you enjoy interacting with your followers?
  4. Do you want to share your process or do you prefer to keep it to yourself?
  5. Do you want to teach or make tutorials or just show behind the scenes?
  6. Do you want to offer commissions or special perks?
  7. Do you have an interactive and communicative following?
  8. Do you make a lot of NDA content or do you have lots to share?
  9. Do you want to build your own platform or use a 3rd party like Patreon?

These may seem very obvious questions, but often people get excited about the idea of running a Patreon page or a membership as they see that it can make an income, but they don’t think about EXACTLY what that might entail.

There are of course MANY ways to run your subscription/membership and they don’t have to be super structured at all. I know artists who just have one tier (of usually around $5 or similar) and that’s just access to everything they post on Patreon (or their own membership) and they don’t say how often they will post so it acts more as a true patronage where the fan just wants to support that artist and help them keep making more art.

Patreon also allows the choice of ‘pay per creation’ so any members will pay whenever the creator makes a post, but they can cap that so they only pay a maximum of a certain amount a month. OR you can set it to be per month. Patreon says that per month is always more popular for the people who sign up (from their analytics). 

Let’s answer the questions above: 

1. While running a membership is not quite the same as hitting deadlines for clients, I think it’s important to think about what you are offering for your patrons and making sure that you are living up to your promises (this is specifically for monthly recurring payments, not per creation).

Think about what you would be happy to pay per month to see things that an artist doesn’t share with anyone else, or getting special benefits etc monthly. When I started on Patreon I was posting very frequently (and each post was short and just an update on a painting’s process) and it was very difficult to keep up consistently. I now offer less posts (1-2 a week max) but with (hopefully!) more quality in each one. 

If you don’t want to feel that you HAVE to make something each month to share with your patrons then it isn’t for you (at least not a monthly offering). If you are doing loads of work that never gets shared on social media anyway that you could share with your patrons, then that is a great sign that running a membership could work really well for you. 

2. If you need a bit of pressure from an outside source to help you get your work done then this is a great way of doing it. I am someone who needs some lurking accountability and pressure, otherwise I can daydream my day away and end up extremely unproductive! When I started my Patreon page in 2016 I did so in order to have a place to share my traditional art (at the time I was working on illustration jobs digitally) as I wanted to return to using traditional full time. I also wanted to see if I could stop doing client work and start to do membership and other offerings full time. The accountability really helped me but this can have the total opposite effect on other people. Be aware of this and try to imagine yourself in this situation and how it would make you feel. 

3. I love being able to chat with my fans/followers and when I began my membership on Patreon I loved being able to hear from them and their reactions in a more intimate space than just social media. If you are someone who is not into sharing or interacting with you fans and likes to keep them at a distance, then this is less likely to be something that will work for you, or even appeal to you.

Obviously each individual has a different level of what they are comfortable sharing (I don’t share much about my personal life at all, only in passing), but be sure to know what you are comfortable with when you start. Some people are not great with boundaries and you will need to keep them strong, for people who might want be, or think they are close friends with you now that they are patrons. You can be friendly and relaxed while also keeping it professional. 

4. Think about how generous you want to be with what you share. Some artists have developed a way of working over decades and don’t want to share their secret ‘recipes’ with anyone else. If this is you, then obviously you can still run a membership, but you will be limited in what you can share, so it could be that you run your membership like a tip jar instead and perhaps share your new art with your patrons a week or two before you share anywhere else. 

5. Tutorials and teaching style memberships can be very very profitable. There are always people wanting to learn step by step ways to do what you are doing. It seems the majority of this style of memberships focus on realism and painting pictures of animals/wildlife/flowers. If you are a good teacher and you have a lot of interest from your fans asking you how you do X or Y, this could be a great path to follow. If like me, you aren’t interested in making videos or long tutorials on how to do what you do, then you can just offer access to behind the scenes in your studio and everything that entails. 

6. Most memberships offer some kind of extra perk as part of it. Be that a discount in the artist’s shop or even receiving a print each month at certain tiers and small commissioned paintings too. My advice for anyone thinking of offering original commissions is to think VERY carefully about the pricing and whatever you do, you MUST have a limit on the number you can do a month or you will get overwhelmed very quickly. Be sure to check out artists who are running their own memberships to see what they offer and what they are charging to get an idea – even better you could email them to ask them how they feel about what they offer. I had to make changes with my offerings as when I started I was offering too much for too little. After postage it was quite a chunk out of the pay (especially after patreon fees and payment processing fees). So just make sure you budget well if you are doing this. I would also recommend not offering these straight away to see how it goes first. You of course do not have to offer any physical rewards at all – they do take up a large portion of time each month. 

7. Is your following always in touch with you via social media? Are they interactive and curious about what you are doing and asking you questions? When I started my Patreon page I had a very small following, but they were fairly interactive despite that and it grew slowly and steadily. Building communities like this is slow, unless you already have a very active and thriving following of several thousand ready and waiting for you to set up your membership, then it’s not likely you will be able to give up your day job/client work right away(!)

8. If you are busy with lots of client work that you are not allowed to share due to NDA’s then it is unlikely that the ‘behind the scenes’ of a membership will work for you. It will all depend on how much personal work you can share with your community. If you are up to your eyeballs in super secret client work then running a Patreon using the ‘per creation‘ would work well for you so that when you do post personal things in there you will get paid. Just note that if you decide to switch to per month payments you cannot then switch back to per creation. (Also note that I have not used Patreon now for a good 6 months and am not aware of any changes that may have occurred in that time). 

9. Should you choose to use Patreon, Ko-fi, Gumroad or Buymeacoffee to run your membership OR build your own platform like I have done? If you haven’t already, do read ‘how I built my membership‘ which tells you the options I looked at and my experience of it shortly after switching. Since writing that post I would still give a word of caution to those who are considering leaving Patreon for making their own membership instead. My income from my new membership is not what it was on Patreon, no where near. But it is not to be sniffed at! There is no doubt that people are more suspicious of a stand alone platform like the one I have built. It could also be the pricing I have chosen, but there is no way for me to find that out! I know many people who just wanted to stay on Patreon since they supported other artists there. I’d like to say I don’t regret moving to my own platform. 

If you have a small following then using Patreon is a great idea as it is a recognised platform and a lot of folks are already on there which makes it easier for them to just click and support you (as well as others). If you have a very large following and haven’t yet built a Patreon page, then I would definitely consider building your own membership as Patreon does take a large chunk of your income (which of course you could consider payment for the familiarity etc and them fixing any bugs or other issues with the site) and does change how it runs things fairly often (one of the reasons I left). Best thing to do is to use your newsletter and social media to ask your followers if they’d be interested in you starting a membership and go from there. 

So there it is, my thoughts on memberships and things for you to think about before setting forth into that world. I’m sure there are many more things I could have covered! Do not hesitate to email me if you want to ask any specific questions. Just remember it’s not a quick income stream but one that will grow over months and years (hopefully!). 

If you’d like to check out my membership, then whizz up to the links above where you’ll be able to find out about all the tiers.

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