Cover photo by Carl van den Boom.
It’s no secret: Photography is an extremely saturated field. With the age of digital cameras, photography has become more accessible than ever so in a crowded field, how does one stand out? How do you make your big break?
Budding photography careers isn’t the only thing the digital age has brought us. It has also introduced to the fascinating and highly effective world of crowdfunding. Platforms like Kickstarter and GoFundMe have made millions of business dreams a reality and for the right person, crowdfunding can be the catalyst you need to take your work from undiscovered to highly sought after.
We sat down with Irish photograph, Peter Cox, to pick his brain on how a photographer can use Kickstarter to fund a photography career. Peter has used Kickstarter twice to fund his Photography books and has learned a few lessons from the platform over the years. Here are his best tips:
Kickstarter is a great tool but is it not a shortcut to profit. In Peter’s words, it was a lot more work than he thought, but also, it was a lot more successful than he thought it’d be. His initial goal was to raise$12,000 which would cover the costs of making the book, what he thought the shipping fees would be, and the Kickstarter fee itself. The amount you’re asking for has to cover the fees and shipping so it’s easy to underestimate the costs, especially shipping. If you’re not sure, aim a bit higher than you think.
Kickstarter revolves around delivering a product to an audience so it almost goes without saying the very first thing you should do is make sure you’re offering a good product. Prints aren’t enough, portfolios aren’t enough. People relate to a well-defined product, not a vague idea. If you’re not sure where to start, go to Kickstarter and click on the photography section and look at projects similar to yours. You’ll quickly get an idea of what sells and what has worked for other photographers in the past.
Once you’re 100% confident in your product, put together an all-star pitch and an even better video. The video is one of the most important parts of any Kickstarter. It doesn’t necessarily have to be ultra-professional but the messaging has to be spot on. In fact, Peter argues that if a video is too polished, people may assume you have the money to do the project yourself and will doubt your Kickstarter. The main takeaway is to accurately and passionately argue why someone should back the project and why they should trust you to do the job over anyone else.
When you’ve got your pitch and video down, it’s time to max out your audience reach. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, email lists. Whatever you use to communicate with your audience, use that same platform to promote the project.
Whether or not someone backs the project, ask everyone your network to share the message themselves to their own audience and circles. You can also consider going to media outlets, however, Peter wars that getting media exposure can be difficult. Most media outlets generally won't cover the project until the funding is done because they are very cautious about giving away free advertising.
In Peter’s case, he had been a professional photographer for years so his audience was quick to fully fund his project within 24 hours. If you can get enough traction quick enough as he did, you can be featured by Kickstarter as a “staff pick” which will also boost your sales. Out of the $44,000 he raised, 10% of his sales were from people who had just found the project through Kickstarter.
For people who don’t have a big audience, you’ve got a longer and harder road ahead of you. Pay careful attention to the quality of the page, make sure your video is high quality and ultimately, make people confident your project is worthy and you’re the person for the job. If you’re going to have fewer eyeballs on the project, you want to make each visit to the page count. You’ll need to rely on higher percentages of conversions than someone with a lot of traffic so make sure your pitch and content is spot on.
Regardless of your audience size, the key point is maintaining the excitement and spreading the word. Again, even if someone isn’t ready to back the project, don’t be afraid to ask them to share in their own personal circles. Use whatever network you have and do everything you can to get them engaged. You can also try reaching out to people with a larger audience and ask them to spread the word. They may say no but it’s always worth the effort.
Once you have their attention, don’t overlook the key factor of explaining how it works. Sure, most people these days understand Kickstarter but don’t assume everyone is privy to how the platform works. Part of your job is not only explaining the product but also educating your visitors on how it works and what they can expect when they back you.
After his first successful Kickstarter, Peter decided to do another one but was nervous that he had already oversaturated his network and might not get the same traction as the first time and what he found was that while still wildly successful, his second Kickstarter, only 20% of the people who backed his first one backed his second as well, meaning 80% of the backers were brand new. Don’t get stuck thinking you’ve fully tapped out your market because as you grow in your profession, you’re constantly attracting a new audience.
One of Peter’s biggest regrets was farming out the fulfillment to a third party. As his project grew in size, the fulfillment process became overwhelming so he looked for a third party to help with the burden but unfortunately, the fulfillment center wasn’t as careful as he had hoped which ultimately damaged his reputation leaving some customers dissatisfied. His advice? Do your homework really really well if you’re going to involve third parties or be prepared to put in the long hours and do it yourself.
His biggest advice for someone who wants to dive into Kickstarter? Decide you’re going to do it. Fully committing yourself to the project is the hardest part. It’s easy to put it off and say “oh, I’ll do this in a few months time or I’ll get around to it eventually” but if you can fully commit and see the project from start to finish, you've done the hardest part. The rest is just grunt work and showing up day after day.
Your Kickstarter was successful. Now what? Consider having a platform to sell after the project is completed. Peter has a physical retail store but even a web shop can do the trick. Why does he recommend this? If you sell your product, it’s hard to return to Kickstarter again and again so soon after it finished. Peter gives his projects a few years to run before he does another Kickstarter project so selling the product in the shop after the project is funded is a good way to keep you going before your next Kickstarter project.
He argues that Kickstarter is a way to get pre-sales and build up a little bit of profit but you should have some surplus stock after the project is completed that you can sell through other means. If you want to do a book, talk to book publishers in advance to get them interested in it. Don’t get so caught up in Kickstarter that you forget about the big picture after the project has ended.
Peter Cox is a landscape photographer based in Ireland. He made the leap to professional photography in 2005 and hasn’t looked back yet. You can see his work on his website petercox.ie or visit his retail store and photography gallery in Killarney, Co. Kerry.
If you want to hear the full interview with Peter, you can listen to The Photopreneur Podcast here. Thanks to Peter for his wisdom. As always, if you have any questions or comments, drop us a line!
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