Should you use Patreon or just accept payments on your website?
The website Patreon made the concept of monthly patron program popular. With a monthly patron program you’ll have a direct relationship with your biggest fans, get recurring revenue for your work, and create on your own terms.
The goal of creating a monthly recurring payment program is to enable you to build a base of patrons who will support your work on a regular basis. Predictable income from your patrons means you can create on your terms. No strings attached.
But using Patreon isn’t your only option, you can simply accept payments on your own website. When you take a step back and look at Patreon – all they really do is process monthly payments and host your exclusive patron-only content.
So why not just accept monthly payments on your own website?
If you have a website for your art, you’re already hosting content.
Accepting monthly payments is easy to set-up with services like PayPal, Stripe, or Square.
The only trick is to make patron-only content accessible only to your paying patrons.
Essentially, you’re making membership website.
In this article, I’m going to show you how I built my patron program so you can create a way for fans to pay you a subscription amount of their choice in exchange for exclusive experiences and behind-the-scenes content on your own website.
Everything from the exact online tools I’m using, pricing structure, offerings, and how I plan on growing my patron program.
Let’s dive in…
Here are the reasons I decided to not use Patreon
They make the rules. When you’re relying on income coming in every month, you probably want to be 100% confident that it’ll continue every month. When Patreon decided to alter their fee structure all the creators suffered. As with using any third-party plugin, you’re at the mercy of their rules.
Here’s an article about a controversy about when Patreon changed their processing fees: https://www.theverge.com/2017/12/7/16746652/patreon-pledge-processing-fee-controversy
You lose your branding. For the same reasons I don’t use Etsy or other mall-type sites is because I don’t want to get lost in a crowd of thousands of other artists. Becoming a commodity where everyone has to follow a similar pricing structure and compete with each other.
They take a cut. For just a little more work upfront, you’ll keep an extra 5-10% of your earnings which would have otherwise went to Patreon.
My patron program runs on handful of main pieces of software that all tie together automatically.
- WordPress – is what my site is built with, it’s what I know, and love
- WooCommerce – sends payments to Stripe
- WooSubscriptions – allows WooCommerce to process monthly payments
- WooMembership – creates accounts and shows the right content to the right people based on their account.
- Stripe – processes payments and deposits money into my bank account.
- ConvertKit – the mailing list software I use to communicate with members.
It makes sense for me to use WordPress because my site is already made with it. It’s what I know and love, so I naturally integrated this with WordPress.
What’s great about WordPress is that it can easily grow with your needs overtime. Since starting 10+ years ago my needs grew from simply having a gallery and online shop to more complicated things like selling courses and running a patron program.
WooCommerce is a free ecommerce plugin for WordPress. Allowing you to sell things on your own website.
In order to do more advanced things like processing monthly payments and creating member-only pages on your website you’ll need to add two additional WooCommerce plugins:
WooSubscriptions is a plugin that allows WooCommerce to process monthly payments.
WooMemberships creates accounts and shows the right content to the right people based on their account.
More on how to get these two plugins for $5 each later in this article.
Stripe links up with WooCommerce perfectly. Essentially, it processes payments and deposits money into my bank account whenever someone becomes a patron and every month thereafter. It’s immediate and there is no waiting an entire month for your money.
ConvertKit is how you communicate with your patrons via email. It too, also links up with WooCommerce. So when someone becomes a patron, they’ll be given a specific tag that will put then in a patron-only list inside of your ConvertKit.
This makes it so you can send new patrons an automated welcome email and future emails when you deliver your monthly patron-only content.
Pricing and tiers
There is a lot of studies and testing that’s been done on Patreon that are still relevant to offering a patron program on your website. Specifically, studies on pricing and what to offer.
For pricing, I decided to keep things simple at first and only offer two tiers:
- $4/month Monthly Sketchbook Video Tour
- $9/month Monthly Drawing Video
Figuring out what to offer was primarily based on what I saw other successful artists with patron programs offering.
The prices I chose were exclusively based on this article by price intelligently: https://www.priceintelligently.com/blog/patreon-pricing-page-teardown
When it comes to deciding what to offer it’s really important to offer something specific in exchange what a patron pledges to you.
A lot of artists fail with patron type offers because they treat it like a donation platform. Where they ask for money to support their existence as an artist – lame!
You have to have a specific deliverable every single month for each tier you’re offering.
A lot of artists take the education route when creating tiers, but I already offer courses. I want the focus of my patron program to be solely based on my drawing output.
The types of tiers that do really well with this are about offering non-tangible, patron-only content, behind-the-scenes access in many different ways.
Remember, you want the specific offerings in your tiers to be things you’re already naturally doing. In my case,
I’m drawing every day. So I based my tiers on this.
Yes, you can have more than two tiers. Some artists have 5-10 ranging in prices from $1/month to $1000/month.
Here are some additional ideas of what you can offer as an artist:
- High-quality, full-size images desktop wallpaper
- Early updates
- Patron-only newsletter
- 25% Discount in your online shop
- Lessons and art critiques
- Access to an archive
- Physical merchandise like a patron-exclusive print
- Q&A Sessions and Livestreams
Fees + Costs
Keeping things to a minimum to make a patron program on my website, here are my monthly costs:
- Website hosting. I pay $12 a month with Media Temple. You can get hosting for as low as $3 with Bluehost.
- Convertkit. I pay $79/month, but it would only be $29 if you have less than 2,000 subscribers.
- WooCommerce. Free!
- WooMemberships and WooSubscriptions plugins. If you were to buy these directly from WooCommerce they would easily be a few hundred dollars a year. Because of a GPU license, you are able to purchase literally any plugin from resellers for much cheaper. On woocrack.com you can buy these for a one-time fee of $5 each.
Time and Commitments
As I said before, the tiers you’re offering should be things you’re already naturally doing with your art. Also things that don’t necessarily cost you In my case I’m always drawings.
For the $4/month Sketchbook tour I’ll spend 2-3 hours filming, editing, and posting a video walking through each page of that months sketchbook. Not to mention the hour a day I spend drawing. But I’d be doing this anyways because I love it.
$9/month video drawing I’ll spend 2-3 hours filming, editing, and posting the video.
Totalling about 36-40 hours a month to run my patron program.
Goals + The Future
My goal is to eventually have 1,000 patron. That’s it. No more no less. Within the first month of casually mentioning my patron program I’ve gained 128 patrons.
For ongoing promotion I plan to keep things simple. Using my Sunday newsletter and daily posting on Instagram to keep driving traffic and awareness to my patron.
None of what I’ve outlined above is new information for anyone who has worked with WordPress before. I wrote this to break down all the steps you can take when building your own patron program on your website. I also wanted to show that it’s possible to have a patron program that pays well and doesn’t cost much to create and maintain.
Keep the overall content you’re offering in your tiers minimal. Stay along the lines of offering exclusive access or a behind-the-scenes look into your process.
Make sure if you’re offering physical products like prints, your shipping ongoing costs are easily covered. Some artists offer a special tier for international orders outside of their home country.
Printful is a good resource for printing and fulfilling merchandise orders.
Pay attention to the onboarding a new patron. Welcoming them as a patron and delivering your monthly content.
If the thought of setting up WordPress, plugins, mailing lists, etc. is scary, don’t hesitate to use Patreon instead. Do whatever it takes to get your patron program launched. Just be aware of the pros and cons.
Don’t guess what your audience wants for patron content, ask them and see if it’s something you can easily add into a tier.
My final note is to keep your tiers simple at first. You can always add more tiers later.
Even since launch, I’ve learned so much about having a patron program. I hope some of the information above helps you avoid some common mistakes I made, if you’re thinking of building an patron program as well.