Wednesday, February 26, 2014

The Same Mistakes Every Time

With the popularity of Kickstarter and Indiegogo many people who had never even considered getting involved in running a crowdfunding campaign have tossed their ideas, hopes, and dreams into the crowdfunding arena often with mixed results.  For every big giant success story like Pebble Smartwatch and Banner Saga,  there are dozens of smaller projects that have a hard time getting 2 backers, let alone 2000.  Yet even though all these failed projects are for a hundred different kinds of things, many of them have these same problems.  While there are dozens of books and articles explaining how to run a Kickstarter and what you should do, fewer point out the huge things you shouldn’t do; and since I got started in Kickstarter writing by focusing on the negative I figure why not go for more?  

So here are a list of some of the biggest things new creators do wrong when they post a Kickstarter campaign and what makes them wrong.  I’ll be including real examples of projects with links so you can see that I’m not making this stuff up, people really do these things and continue to do so.  Taken individually many of these will not sink your campaign, but none of them help!

This project will show up many many times.

Video killed the Kickstarter star

The internet LOVES video and Kickstarter isn’t an exception.  With every phone, laptop, and video game console now a days seemingly all equipped with video cameras why would you ever launch a campaign without a video?   If you can’t find a friend of a friend of a friend with a smartphone to film you, or even a web camera, then how can we expect you to get anyone involved in funding or making your project?  

Don’t feel comfortable on camera?  Don’t know how to edit?  No worries!  Sometimes figuring out how to get past these problems can lead to some of the most interesting successes such as Help Fund My Robot Army!!!  John didn’t like the video of himself talking and couldn’t come up with a good way to pitch his book in video as he didn’t have an animating or editing experience so he used his resources to unleash one of the most powerful forces on the internet: Cats!  Seriously go check out his video and see how resourceful and great that video is without being a simple “stare blankly into the camera and talk in a monotone from a script” video.  

Another problem with videos comes with not viewing the videos before going “live” with a project.  We all know cel phone cameras suck, and the microphones suck, but there are plenty of ways of getting by with those limitations you just have to try.  Don’t put the light behind you, but in front of you.  Don’t try to record outdoors on a windy day, or by a woodpecker or a busy street.  Record at night when your kids are asleep.  There are lots of ways of improving the quality of the video no matter your source, but the biggest way to do so is to WATCH IT BEFORE IT GOES LIVE!  Let people who aren’t connected to you see it and comment on it.  There are Google+ and Facebook groups full of people who will critique your campaign before hand and help you fix it before you waste your time going live. (Get used to this point as it’ll come up a lot as well)

Finally in videos, please for the love of all that’s good in the world: help stop the spread Vertical Video Syndrome!

Trust Me!

I love creative people, they’re the ones who invent everything after all; but one of the biggest problems I’ve noticed with creative folks when it comes to Kickstarter campaigns is they’re not really any good at selling themselves or their work.  They seem to think that “their work speaks for itself” or that “if you build it, they will come.”  Sure, once upon a time when Kickstarter first started you might have had a few folks post a few pretty pictures and a quick bit of words, maybe even a video and still get funded; but those days are long gone.  As such creators have to actually attempt to sell not only their ideas/products/concepts, but their ability to actually deliver on all of those promises to complete strangers.  

I think everyone knows a relative, or a coworker, or a crazy blogger who has lots of “great ideas” for this or that but we all know there’s absolutely no way they will ever actually make it.  They’re either not motivated, don’t have the skills, or have no clue what they’re actually talking about.  Yet people like that often come to Kickstarter and toss up a campaign that isn’t much better than a “give me money” sign.  

No, I won’t trust you and neither will the vast majority of people on Kickstarter.  No matter how interesting your idea is you have to demonstrate some ability to actually pull it off if we give you our hard earned money.  There’s a reason why people ask for resumes, we want to see if what you did previously shows you have the skills to do what we want; and in Kickstarters case having an actual product in hand goes a long way!  That means prototypes, game demos, rough cuts, past performances, restaurant experience, and many other kinds of things that show you have the experience and drive to actually go out and do it when you have our money in your hands.  

That’ll be $24,000 please

The Cost of doing business

Speaking of money, you can have a great looking project, with plenty of pretty pictures and videos; but if you can’t tell me what you need all that money for, what makes you think I can trust you with it?  When you get down to brass tacks crowdfunding is all about getting money to creative people to have them do creative things with it, but as I’ve mentioned before creative people aren’t always the most business savvy.   One way to help alleviate potential backer’s fear and show that you have the most basic level of business acumen is to include a budget breakdown of some kind.  

The budget breakdown is the most basic of budgeting tools that everyone thinking of doing a Kickstarter should use.  Simply put you need to show us where the money is going!  If you’ve come to Kickstarter to ask for $5,000 you’d better be able to tell us how you’re planning on spending the money and show that you’ve prepared for problems in some small way.  Have you taken into account taxes and fees?  How about shipping costs for all those cool gizmos you’ve invented?  How about having a solid price for whatever service you’re going to buy before you need the money?  These are extremely basic and key questions that are covered in a good budget breakdown.

Who says budget breakdowns are boring?  

Just because a budget is a boring thing, doesn’t mean you have to present it in a boring way!  Area 5 has done a good job of making a fancy looking budget for their Outerlands campaign, but it doesn’t have to be that fancy or even done with pictures.  A good thing to do is to think of a used car salesman coming up to you, would you really want him to say, “oh sure this car is worth $10,000!”  Just like a used car salesman potential backers know you’re trying to sell them something so everything you can do to alleviate any concerns they have is a good thing.  

The good, the bad, and the ugly

Art is a very subjective thing, and if you don’t believe me go look at the list of successful comic and art Kickstarters!  One thing about art that isn’t subjective when it comes to Kickstarters, If I can’t see it, I won’t buy it.  In this case I’m talking about not having any pictures to show for your comic project, or art project, or photo project, or anything else really that has some sort of visual aspect.  This would include screenshots, prototypes, and even artist concepts everything helps in the visual medium that is the internet.

Now just tossing up every image in your hard drive can often be worse than putting up only one or two, the big key here is trying to put out enough visual information without being overwhelming.  This can be a tough balancing act to pull off but I’ve found at least one image a section (like this article) tends to be plenty.  The idea is you shouldn’t make the potential backers guess as to what you’re doing, show us whenever possible.  Also, when art isn’t final, be sure to point that out especially if part of your budget (see budget breakdown above!) is specifically to make better art!

Again I have to reiterate you NEED to have folks who are not involved and who don’t know you personally to take a look at your project before you list.  They will point out things like how good or bad the pictures are, if you need more pictures, and the like.  Again find yourself a group to follow, a forum like Board Game Geek or whatever other specialty site that fits your project and let them look at it.  It will do wonders for your project’s presentability and get more eyes on it down the road.  

Yeah I live here and still don’t
know what this one was about.

You’re doing what now?

Remember when that guy did that thing in that movie?  You know the one, the one with that one girl who played music on tv that one time.  You know?  Yeah, that doesn’t work in regular conversations why do you think it’d work in a digital sales situation?  

The final problem on this list is the general “vagueness”  of some projects.  Often these projects will require inside knowledge of a subject, the creators aren’t native English speakers, or the project is just poorly written.  Whatever the cause there are plenty of projects on Kickstarter that do a very poor job of telling you why they came to Kickstarter, or what their project is all about.  Proofreading by those who aren’t connected to you (told you this would come up a lot) goes a long way to making sure your campaign actually makes sense outside your head.  

Words matter, and even with all the pictures and videos you can put on a project a good number of folks will still be reading your campaign and as such you need to ensure they make sense.  If you make a reference to a specific genre like “six-axis shooter” you should, at a minimum, link to an outside reference if not spell it out in the campaign.  Just because everyone you know understands 4d6 keep the highest, or knows what IDIC is, or can tell you how many rounds a minute a ma deuce can put down range doesn’t mean everyone else does.  Even if your project is in a specialized field there’s no reason you should exclude those outside the field the opportunity to help you out by aiming your pitch only at them.  The Kickstarter community is a very inclusive one so why try and exclude potential backers?  

Why even bother?

Everyone makes mistakes, and there are many failed Kickstarters who have learned from their mistakes and come back to great success.   Even if you only had one backer the first time you tried making a Kickstarter project doesn’t mean your idea is bad.  You shouldn’t let failure dampen whatever passion you have that drives you to create!  The best success stories are surrounded by failure but one thing comes through, perseverance and the ability to learn from  you mistakes are the keys to success.  So learn from these mistakes I’ve listed and go out there and have a great campaign!  Who knows, I might even ask you to participate in a future Kickstarter Conversation.  

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