Today’s Biz Ladies post comes from Shannon Guirl, the owner and designer behind the handcrafted lighting company Caravan Pacific. Shannon has found great success utilizing the online campaigning and fundraising program Kickstarter to help launch her product lines, and today she shares some tips and advice for using the program. Thanks for this enlightening and helpful post, Shannon! — Stephanie
Read the full post after the jump . . .
For many small business owners and entrepreneurs, launching a product can be a risky endeavor. Luckily, there’s a great website that can help you build support for your product and pre-sell it before it even hits the marketplace: Kickstarter!
What is Kickstarter?
Kickstarter (www.kickstarter.com) is a website that helps people from all over the world pool their money to fund projects of all kinds: documentary films, music albums, theater performances, urban farms and countless iPhone devices, just to name a few. Each project has its own page on Kickstarter’s website that allows contributors (backers) to donate funds to help the project come to fruition in return for receiving a product or experience.
How can Kickstarter help me launch my project?
Kickstarter also works like a pre-ordering site for new products. Your reward to your backers can be the product you are trying to make. In essence, you are testing out the general public’s reaction to your prototype, obtaining funds to produce it and pre-selling it to customers before it actually hits the shelves.
I’ll go into more detail about how Kickstarter works, but first I want to tell you four things successful Kickstarter projects have:
1. Precisely defined goals.
2. Realistic expectations for meeting those goals.
3. Project creators that show they have the means or background to accomplish those goals.
4. A video that clearly explains the project and what the Kickstarter funds will be used for.
All projects must also meet Kickstarter’s guidelines and be pre-approved by Kickstarter. To read more about Kickstarter’s guidelines, visit their information page.
The two most important things to know about Kickstarter:
1. Projects can only raise money for a creative purpose, not a charitable one like the Red Cross or raising money to help fund a library.
2. Kickstarter works on an all-or-nothing basis. All projects have a limited time during which people can donate funds. If the fund level is not met during the allotted time, the project creator does not get any of the money. However, if people contribute more than the allotted amount during the funding period, the project creator gets the allotted amount, plus the extra funds.
How Kickstarter works
To create a good campaign for your product, it helps to do a bit of groundwork. Here are some tips and tools to help you prepare a good foundation for your product’s Kickstarter campaign:
Create media for your campaign
In pitching your product on Kickstarter, it helps to have photos and a sense of history about your project. Capture your product with photos and video as you prototype or make it. Create a journal or blog about your experience. If you’ve already created your product, start telling friends, family and colleagues and get them excited about it. Haven’t started a Facebook or Twitter page yet? Do it now! These tools are big social generators and will connect you to future backers, friends and collaborators.
Tools: Flickr, Picasa, Photobucket, Pinterest, WordPress, Typepad, Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook, Vimeo, YouTube
Create a mailing list
This is a CRUCIAL step in creating a good campaign. Not only will you be getting people involved on the ground floor with your project, but they can also help you spread the word once your Kickstarter campaign launches. Share photos, video and blog posts with your mailing list and make them feel involved in what you’re doing. This is also going to help you hone your story-telling ability about your project while creating a sense of progress with your followers.
Tools: MailChimp, Business Cards, Sign Up Lists on your website and any events you do
Start reaching out to blogs, TV, radio and other media
Research media outlets that might be interested in carrying a story about your project. When you find a few that would be a good fit for your product, send them a short pitch about what you’re doing and ask if they’d be interested in posting or talking about your project when you launch your campaign.
Is your product a 3D camera phone? Make sure you’ve already made a prototype! Is your product handcrafted? Figure out how much time it takes to make and how many you want to produce. In fact, if you have the capital, start creating some of your product before you launch your campaign. Working out any bugs in manufacturing and setting up systems for accounting, packing and shipping will make your life much easier when your backers order 500 of your gadgets.
Questions to ask before you create your Kickstarter campaign:
- How long does it take to make?
- What are the costs involved (materials, labor, equipment, studio time)?
- How much do I need to get manufacturing of my product started?
- What are the wholesale and/or retail costs of my project?
- How much will it cost to package and ship it?
- How much will someone pay for my project/product?
- Will I be able to keep producing my product after the Kickstarter campaign, or is this a one-time experience?
Things to set up before your campaign:
- Set up an email account for people to send you questions and comments outside of Kickstarter.
- If you’re already a business or planning on becoming a business, make sure you already have the necessary paperwork completed.
- Get a website! Even just one page with information about your product is fine. It gives you a professional presence and another way for people to find you. On this page, you should also have a place for people to sign up for your mailing list.
Now that you’ve created a good foundation for your campaign, it’s time to get your project approved by Kickstarter.
MAKING YOUR PRELIMINARY KICKSTARTER PITCH
Before you launch your campaign, you must first submit your idea to Kickstarter. It’s a preliminary step that ensures that your project meets their guidelines and makes good use of Kickstarter’s website.
Write a short description of your project and attach photos or video of your product. You should also include a little information about who you are and how you came up with the project. If you’ve done your homework, this will be easy. All you have to do is point Kickstarter in the direction of your website, blog or Flickr photos so they can see more of your project.
Once you’re given the go-ahead by Kickstarter (usually a day or two at most), you’ll be able to launch your project. A link will be emailed to you to help you start building your campaign.
CREATING YOUR KICKSTARTER CAMPAIGN
The Kickstarter Project Page has a number of areas that allow you to tell people about your project.
The first one is the Project Description.
Writing about your project
Be clear and concise about what your project is about and how you will use the money from your campaign to fund it. You want to convey passion for your idea and a clear understanding of the process involved to create it and instill faith in your backers that you can accomplish the project once you have money for it.
Setting your goal
Again, Kickstarter has an all-or-nothing policy when it comes to funding. If your project is NOT fully funded by the deadline you set, you do not receive any money. That being said, if a project is over-funded, you get to keep the extra money. Kickstarter takes a 5% fee and Amazon takes a 3–5% fee for processing the funds to your bank account. Amazon also reports your funding to the IRS if you make over $20,000.
Only you can determine your goal. Take a good look at the costs of creating your product, how much it will cost to ship it and anything else involved in making your project happen. It would be a shame to get funded and then disappoint your backers! Also, be honest and clear with your backers about what their money is going toward. People appreciate this and are more likely to contribute.
Most project deadlines are set around 30 days or less. There are also some successful campaigns that have lasted several months, but shorter projects set a tone of urgency and less procrastination.
Creating rewards for your backers
People need several tiers through which they can fund your project. The most common donation level is $25. That doesn’t mean that people won’t give more, but you need to have several incentives ready. The rewards should be related to the project, not just random things. For example, say you want to create a solar-powered popcorn stand. Maybe one of the rewards is a bag of popcorn for $5. Or a bag of solar-powered kernels for $2. Someone could have their name printed on the cart for $75 . . . you get the idea. Offering several different donation options gives backers a choice and lends itself to the fun. Get creative and find a way to make your project available to everyone.
Additional considerations on pricing rewards
- Make sure you calculate everything you need in order to create your product and set your rewards accordingly. Also, if you’re thinking of selling your product in the marketplace after Kickstarter, figure out an appropriate wholesale and/or retail price. That’s usually 2 to 2.5 times the cost of your materials and labor.
- Kickstarter currently does not have a way to filter backers by country. If you cannot make your product available internationally, make sure this is noted in the Reward and FAQ sections. Also, it helps to send a follow-up email to your backer after they pledge, reminding them of any pledging restrictions.
CREATING YOUR VIDEO!
Don’t launch your Kickstarter campaign without making one! This is the most important part of your campaign. It’s how people learn about you, how they can get involved with your project and get excited about how awesome your product is going to be!
You don’t need flashy editing or HD cinematography to make a great video. There are two very important things you need to make your video great:
2. Your ability to tell your STORY
This can be the most fun and frightening part of creating your campaign. It’s your chance to let your personality shine through and get people psyched about what you’re doing. Your video should include several vital pieces of information for your audience:
- Who you are, what your project is about, the story behind it
- How people can participate and what they’ll get in return for their money
- An explanation of how Kickstarter’s all-or-nothing policy works
- Information about your rewards (ways for backers to donate)
- A sign off on a positive note. It always helps to thank people for listening!
You can use all manner of ways to express these points — animation, song, dance — but your backers will want to know at least that general information.
Some things to remember when creating your video
- Watch some Kickstarter videos! This is a great way to get a feel for how they’re structured and how to put your project into words for your viewers.
- Most videos run about 2–3 minutes and keep their pitches fresh, fun and to the point.
- Make sure you make part of your pitch directly to the viewer. Having the courage to engage people directly about your project shows that you believe in it and want to share it with them. It gives people confidence in you.
- Remember to have fun and be creative when you create your campaign! To many of your backers, your personality will be the deciding factor in backing your project.
Use of additional music/video/images
Do not use music/video/images that you don’t have the rights to. Kickstarter gives you access to Commons-licensed music (music available for public use) on their website. There are also many stock footage and image companies where you can purchase or download video and images for free:
Kickstarter has specific video encoding requirements that are similar to uploading a video to YouTube. Make sure you check them out before exporting your video: http://www.kickstarter.com/help/faq/creating%20a%20project
Here are a few things that will help your video quality stand out:
- Do a quick test before filming to make sure your camera and any other equipment is working properly.
- Make sure your video is well lit and has good, clear sound.
- Make sure your face is well lit when you make your pitch and that you make eye contact with the camera while speaking.
- When filming, have a script or an outline written beforehand. This will help keep your thoughts together on-camera and prevent you from rambling.
- If you flub a take, don’t get frustrated; it can take a few times to get it right. You can always choose bits and pieces of takes you like in the editing process.
- When you ask your backers for funding, make sure you’re looking directly at the camera and try to do one continuous take.
- While editing, make sure that the information for your backers is there, along with a clear explanation of your project and how people can fund it.
- Mention or show your website or blog name at the end so people know where to find you beyond Kickstarter.
BUILDING THE REST OF YOUR PROJECT
Creating a good title takes a little creativity. Keep it simple and memorable, with a reference to your project.
Pick the best image you have of your product. It will represent you on Kickstarter, blogs, you name it. It’s your calling card, so make sure it shines!
This appears in Kickstarter’s widget and works like an advertisement for your project. Make sure it’s concise and communicates your project and its tone.
This gives people another way to get to know you and your project. Do you have prior experience that’s applicable to your project? Make sure you note this and any other relevant info in a short paragraph with a good, clear photo of yourself.
LAUNCHING YOUR PROJECT & BUILDING MOMENTUM*
If you’ve done your homework, you know what to do. Press the button to launch your project and hit send on your mailing list! Telling the network of people you’ve amassed about your project and getting them to spread the word is essential to a good campaign. You want to create momentum with your backers, and the best way to do this is by getting your base excited about your campaign. You also want to reach out to as many blogs and media outlets as you can. Keep your tone personal and positive. You won’t have much time to create buzz, so make sure you do this as soon as you start your campaign. Start reaching out to those blogs and other media outlets that you’ve researched. You can follow up with your media contacts about a week later, but don’t pester them for a post or mention. It’s best to put your energy into reaching out to as many people and blogs as you can.
Update your mailing list a few times during the campaign or more if good things are happening. The key here is not to seem desperate for people to fund you. You want to generate an exciting ride for them while keeping your momentum going.
Other things you can do to get your campaign’s momentum going are hosting a launch or fund-awareness party, distributing flyers, talking to people in your community, hosting a class on what your product does and reaching out to any guilds or organizations that are associated with your product.
Things you should NOT include
Spamming your email list, bloggers, media outlets or other Kickstarter projects with messages. If you over-message someone to pledge to your campaign, you risk alienating him or her as a backer. Remember, this should be a fun, energizing experience for you and your backers!
Another way to create momentum is by using the Project Updates section of your Kickstarter page. This acts like a little message board within your project on Kickstarter and allows you to post messages to your backers and the world at large. Staying in touch with your backers is important. They’re taking a chance on you and your product. Make sure you keep them informed of your product and the campaign’s progress. If your project is just $1000 shy of its goal, send out an update! You want people to get involved in what you’re doing and tell their friends and colleagues about it.
(*One note here: You cannot contribute to your own campaign. Kickstarter will note this if you try to do so and shut down your project, so play fair!)
CELEBRATING SUCCESS / WHAT IF I DON’T MEET MY GOAL?
You’ve been funded!
If you’ve reached your goal and are fully funded, congratulations! You’ve worked hard to make this happen and deserve some kudos. So do your backers. Give them a HUGE thank you for helping you reach your goal and let them know how it feels. Maybe have a party to celebrate it! People love it when they’ve helped someone achieve something, so do something special to let people know how much you appreciate their support!
You’ve been funded and your campaign has not ended.
If you’ve reached beyond your goal and your campaign hasn’t ended yet, sit down and assess how much time and material you will need to keep producing the amount of product people are ordering. This might mean ending an option for backers or opening new ones. Whatever you do, make sure you have the time and resources to create the rewards people are backing. This may mean assessing things several times a week, ordering more parts, planning to hire someone to help you with assembly/packaging/shipping and calling manufacturers to ensure they can deliver things on time. If you can get a head start on production at this time, do so.
Your campaign has not been funded.
Don’t fret. There are plenty of campaigns that don’t get funded the first time around. This is an opportunity to take a step back and get some good perspective your project. Were you asking for too much money? Were your pledge amounts too high or low? Is there a proven niche for your product in the marketplace? What else can you learn from this experience? Don’t batter yourself too much about it. Keep an open mind when looking at your feedback and use it to make a better product and campaign the next time around.
After your project ends, Kickstarter will give you the ability to message your backers for their contact information and address. When backers reply to your email, their contact and pledge info is updated in a special list on Kickstarter that appears in each section of your project. This information is also available in a downloadable Excel spreadsheet that you can sort.
Keep your backers in the loop at this stage! Let them know when their package is due to arrive, and share the process with them with photos, video, blogging and Facebook and Twitter updates. Keeping people involved is really rewarding and a great way to build support for your product and business.
This is probably going to be one of the most hectic stages of your campaign. Don’t go it alone! Make sure you have family and friends ready to help you out. Things can get hectic when you’re filling a large number of orders, and having a few helping hands goes a long way.
Keep things organized: I printed the contact sheet and order info for each pledge tier and put it in a binder I could carry around with me to the post office and my studio. Maybe you’re more comfortable organizing an Excel spreadsheet. Whatever works for you. It really helps to have your backers info organized, in case you need to contact them or check their order.
You can use the information that Kickstarter has given you to assess the profitability of your products, where people are buying them, what kinds of products they like and so much more. Fortune 500 companies spend thousands of dollars each year to get this information, and you get it for free! Here are some tips on organizing this information and utilizing it:
- Organize information by type of product, who it sold to, what part of the country, etc.
- Use this information when establishing your product with retailers and determining a price
- You can also use this information in creating your next product
- Add your Kickstarter backers to your email update list
- Stay in touch with your backers about your progress with photos and updates
- Keep communicating with blogs/media outlets, updating them on your campaign
Hopefully, everything you’ve learned and accomplished during your Kickstarter campaign has given you a great foundation for launching a product in the marketplace and starting a real business. Now it’s up to you to take the next step with your product. Luckily, you have a great network of support and people who have shown a demand for your product. Keep that momentum and figure out where you want to take it. It’s up to you!
Many thanks, and good luck getting Kickstarted!