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An autopsy of my time on Patreon

Released on: 2022-09-02

TL;DR I’ve had a really good time on Patreon, and I hope to return. But for now I need to give it a break while I build more momentum, reset expectations for scheduling and bonus material, and take the time to put out material that I’m truely proud of. In this article, I’ll dive deeper into why things need to change, and what I’m doing about it.

Pretty much all of my videos reference my Patreon page, and views continue to trickle in. If I simply removed all of the links without saying anything; that would lead to speculation that would almost certainly become unhealthy. Therefore I have created this blog post, and this video:

My approach

My starting point

My wife and I have budgeted 2 years for getting this started. This came after 4 intensely difficult years, and this heavily influenced my criteria for how I wanted to proceed:

  • It has to remain relaxed and fun. - Hopefully self explanatory. This is a time for healing.
  • No rushing, and no arbitrary timetable. - Put stuff out when it’s ready, not because of an arbitrary deadline.
  • YouTube is not the goal, it is a tool. - YouTube is an amazing tool. I’m not wanting to be a YouTuber for the sake of being a YouTuber. Some of what I’m focussing on is relevant to YouTube, some of it isn’t. If YouTube becomes the centre of attention, many of my goals will suffer.
  • Have meaningful bonus material. - For the Patreon exclusives, I wanted to make bonus material that goes into more detail on specific sub-topics that I thought were interesting/useful for each project.

With this in mind, I decided to try Patreon early on to see how close to a sustainable living I could get.

Death by a thousand compromises

There were 3 primary influences that lead to the direction that I actually went in:

  • I took input from many sources. ie best practises for various things (particularly for YouTube), various people I chatted to, and best practises/requirements for Patreon.
  • Adapting to challenges.
  • Adapting to the data (particularly YouTube analytics.)

Over time, I ended up in a very different place to what I originally intended.

What I actually ended up doing

When I set up my Patreon page, I had to define a few things to set expectations. The relevant things for this conversation are:

  • I’d post a new project once a month +/- a little.
  • I’d post at least 2 pieces of bonus material with each project. - This was derived from these two tiers:
    • First piece of bonus content.
    • The remaining pieces of bonus content. (I actually worded this in such a way that there may not always be a second piece of bonus material. But it didn’t sit right with me to have the tier there, and then sometimes not deliver anything for it. So I always did it.)

I wasn’t happy with the quality of the bonus material for my first episode (My office), so it became a higher priority on my subsequent projects. This lead to me spending much more time on the bonus material than I originally expected. This massively contributed to filling up the time budget.

I have a long list of really cool projects that I want to be working on, but haven’t been doing so yet. I was barely meeting getting out a new project every 1.5 months, let alone every month. And this was with me doing small projects… I wasn’t even trying to do the more meaningful projects that would take longer.

A revisit of the criteria

So let’s take that picture, and apply it the criteria I laid out earlier. Did I succeed?:

  • It has to remain relaxed and fun. - No. See below.
  • No rushing, and no arbitrary timetable. - No. I haven’t even been keeping up with the goal that I set when I set up the Patreon page. All the while, I was only tackling the small projects.
  • YouTube is not the goal, it is a tool. - No. YouTube has become everything at the expense of everything else. And even then, I’m not putting enough time into doing it well.
  • Have meaningful bonus material. - Yes. There’s a lot that I want to improve here, but I’m happy with where it’s at for now.

Money

General costs

Getting this out of the way quickly because it’s simple:

There are a few costs here and there like the video hosting on Vimeo for patreon bonus material, and the occasional item like the mini keyboard for the phone hacks episode.

Nothing huge so far, but they are there.

Taxes and other official costs

Normally, when self-employed, there are various taxes and fees that you just have to deal with. The taxes are usually a percentage of what you earn, while the fees are usually one-off things, often once a year, if there are any.

In the region where I’m living, there is a fee that is around €300 every month, no matter how much you are earning. This, by itself, before taking in to account and taxes, or one-off costs, is about 5 times what I’m earning (it’s early days). To help new businesses get started, there is a discount for this fee for about the first year. But this discount does not apply for me, now (this is a longer story.)

Bringing it all together

It’s true that, at any moment, I could blow up and suddenly everything would be great. And given enough time, that’s likely to happen. But whether that is next week, next year, or a few years away, I don’t know. In the mean time I’m racking up dept/burning through savings at an alarming rate. This is not sustainable.

And then bringing in my current state: I’m stressed, not keeping up, and not working on the stuff that I’m really interested in.

I’m paying money to be stressed out. This has to change.

Notice that these are all problems that I’ve created for myself? The beauty of being self employed is that I also have the autonomy to change direction to fix them with low friction.

Changes I’m making now

I’m

  • stopping my Patreon activity. - I’ve already had payments paused for the last couple of months, and am about to unpublish the page. With a couple of exceptions (the phone hacks episode, and the handWavey quick-start guide) all of the bonus material will become unavailable during this time.
  • stopping making bonus material for each episode.
  • removing the frequency obligation. - I’ll put stuff out when it’s ready. Although I’ll still need to balance good-enough vs perfection.
  • going to post a little more on my blog, when it feels right.
  • going to put a little more time into “doing YouTube right.”
  • going to put a little time into a few other platforms.

This will give me the space to get things done at a pace that makes sense. To be more creative, and learn more along the way. It’ll give me more time to give it the appropriate level of promotion.

And when I get enough of a following, I can look at bringing back income streams like Patreon at that time.

So let’s take this picture, and apply it the criteria I laid out earlier. Did I succeed?:

  • It has to remain relaxed and fun. - Yes? I’m really excited about what I’m doing again. Time will tell, but this is a great start.
  • No rushing, and no arbitrary timetable. - Yes… I’ve actually delayed this post by a few days. Largely because there are several things that needed to come together, and it made sense to get it roughly right first time.
  • YouTube is not the goal, it is a tool. - Maybe? I’ll have to constantly monitor this. But certainly, I want to have a more balanced approach to getting my work out there.
  • Have meaningful bonus material. - No. This is the sacrifice, for now. And I’m ok with that for now.

What I’d do differently if/when I return to Patreon

  • Get a much bigger following first so that I’m not loosing money. - This wouldn’t matter as much in most countries, but it’s worth knowing what costs you’ll have in advance. I did, but I over-estimated how quickly I would grow.
  • Don’t over-commit on bonus material. - Patreon is there for people who believe in what you’re doing to support you. It’s not there to sell stuff. I’ve been trying to make the bonus material compelling by itself, and that ended up dragging me down.
  • Don’t over-commit on the frequency of episodes. - Probably I’ll do a pay-per-episode rather than pay-per-month. That way I could go at my own speed rather than feeling like I’m misleading people if I need to take a little longer to get something just right.
  • Periodically re-evaluate what’s working, and what’s not. - Ok. I’m already happy with this. Let’s continue. :-)

Why not ____?

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been chatting with various friends and family. And I’ve been learning how to articulate what needs to change, and why. There have been several really good suggestions along the way that don’t totally fit with what I’m trying to do at the moment, but are likely to come up in subsequent conversations. So let’s cover a few of those now:

  • If you’re not earning enough, why stop your only income stream? - As it was, I was going to crawl over the threshold where I would be liable for the fees, but would have earnt no where near enough to pay them. I’ll still be liable for the tax on what I’ve earnt so far, but that’s a percentage, which is much easier to deal with at this scale.
  • Why not add ____ income stream? - This is very tempting, and is something I’ll reconsider when I’m more confident that I can earn more than I’m losing. But at the moment, it has two problems:
    • I’m a long way off being profitable. All of them need time to grow, and all of them are uncertain. However, the liability is reliable, is here now, and the longer I go without momentum, the deeper the hole is going to get.
    • I’m already drowning in to-dos for the available time. Adding more tasks is going to make that worse.
  • Why not do a video on ____? - That’s a great suggestion. However, I actually have a massive list of projects that I’m trying to prioritise. I’m happy to add it to the list, but I really need to start making progress on the important ones first.

Thank you

I have a lot to be grateful for:

  • My wife, for being supportive while I try to make this work.
  • My friends and family for bantering, both normally, and while working out this transition. It’s taken me a while to be able to articulate what the problem was, and why it needs to change. Thank you for your patience and ideas.
  • My patrons who have been supporting me. Many of you have been with me right from the beginning. Whether or not you join me when I get it going again, I am truly grateful for your support.

This post references

2022-03-07
The RandomKSandom series is the spiritual successor to FunnyHacks. Here, you can find all of the posts about it.

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