How I raised four times the amount I was hoping to on my first kickstarter / by Simeon Smith

Last week my first crowdfunding campaign finished. I raised over four times the amount I was hoping to. I’m not telling you this because I want to brag, after all it’s the people that backed my campaign that deserve the credit. I’m telling you this because I want to tell you how I did it.

Chances are if you’re reading this, you’ve probably been at the receiving end of my month-long campaign to get people ordering my book, but if I somehow missed you, I crowdfunded the production of my first photography book called Every Shot Matters: A Minimalist Film Photographer’s Scrapbook. It’s full colour and over 180 pages, so was pretty pricey to produce, hence the crowdfunder.

I must admit, I was pretty apprehensive about spending a month basically asking people for money. 

I’m British, and asking for cash isn’t something that comes naturally to us. Besides, I’ve seen a lot of people get burnt by the whole crowdfunding thing, either not meeting their target, or barely meeting their target and then struggling to deliver a large project for a tiny return on investment. So I read. And read. And read.

The great thing about Kickstarter, Indiegogo, et al. is that they really want people to succeed in their campaigns, because, well, the more money you make from your campaign, the more money they make from you. These companies put a lot of effort into material on how to run a successful crowdfunder, so much effort that there’s a hell of a lot of blog posts, videos, tutorials and podcasts out there about running these campaigns. It can be really overwhelming.

I read all the blog posts and tutorials, watched all the videos and listened to all the podcasts out there, because that’s the kind of sad, obsessive I am. But in an effort to save you from doing the same here are my top 6 things you need to get right for your first crowdfunding campaign.

  1. Be Passionate - Nobody knows your story better than you do. Get in front of the camera and tell it. A video for a crowdfunder doesn’t need to be elaborate, doesn’t need to be professional (unless you’re raising money for a film!), but it does need to be YOU. Over half the people that backed my crowdfunder were my family and friends, they care about my passion and my story more than they care about a book of photos I’ve taken. They wanted a copy of my book, but most of all they wanted to see me succeed. Turn the camera on yourself and talk about your project with passion and a smile on your face.
  2. Be Honest - I see so many crowdfunding campaigns that just appear a bit dishonest. We’ve all seen campaigns with a target of £20,000 that leave you thinking, “Yeah, they could do that for half the amount”. My target amount was literally the cost of getting 10 copies of the book printed and sent out. I also provided a breakdown of my costs, and a info on what I’d do with any profits. Keep your target low and honest.
  3. Be Prepared - There’s two sides to this, firstly put in all the work you can BEFORE the campaign. For me that meant that all the writing, all the photos, all the formatting and all the editing was done before launching my campaign. It was a lot of work, but I’d never expect someone else to invest money into a project I couldn’t be bothered to invest my time into. You might have a great idea, but develop it properly before trying to sell it to me. The second part of this is that if you have done all you can before the campaign starts, you’ll have something to show for it. In my video I had an actual test-print of the book. People could see the quality, the size and the design before choosing to back the project or not, and a lot of people said how impressed they were by the test print. Prepare as much of your project as you can pre-launch, and show off your work.
  4. Be Proactive - You’re putting out a video asking people to get their card out of their wallet and give you money. If you can do that, you can write a press release asking professionals to give you space in their publications, on their blogs, and on their podcasts. Every interest-group has a tonne of blogs that just post reviews of gear they’ve gotten for free and rehash press releases. Without social media posts from brands like Lomography and Analog Cafe, I wouldn’t have made it as far as I did. Find people with a bigger reach than you have, and get them on board!
  5. Be Persistent - I launched my campaign and was 100% funded within 4 hours. So I kept on promoting the campaign. Two days later the first stretch goal, 200%, was met. So I kept on promoting the campaign. Lomography picked up my story and promoted it further. So I kept on promoting the campaign. The day before the campaign ended I was just blown away by all the support I’d had. And you know what I did. I kept on promoting the campaign.
  6. Be Open to Failure -  I feel like I should by telling you about survivor bias. I’m writing this on the back of a successful campaign, but there are plenty of other people who have done all the right things, but had campaigns that failed. Maybe timing was wrong, maybe they just had bad luck. Very few will want to tell you about their failure, and they might not know what went wrong. There’s a big buzz in the business world at the moment about “Failing Forward”, using unsuccessful projects to learn and to gain resilience. The best way to fail forward is to plan to fail. What are you going to do if no one backs your crowdfunder? Chances are you’ll be able to progress your project a different way, but if you’ve already planned what that looks like, it’s easy as switching from plan A to plan B and reflecting on what went wrong. If you fail without a plan the emotional toll is a lot higher. And don’t just plan to fail; plan to succeed. Plan to blow your target clean out of the water. When the rewards from your campaign have all be sent out there’s still work to do, and you might as well plan that work now. On the back of my successful crowdfunder I’ll be appearing in two magazines, have an exhibition at a gallery that got in touch with me, and have a book launch at a venue that contacted me to set it up. The future is amazing - plan for it.