Black creators on growing their creative businesses
In this episode, a panel of creators discuss how they tend to their creative projects, entrepreneurship, and well-being.
At a recent live session hosted by Pull Up, Patreon’s incubator and community for creators of color, three Black creators — musician KAMAUU, founder of #SmartBrownGirl book club Jouelzy, and culture-maker Jade Fox — shared their insights and experiences with growing their creative businesses.
Hear five takeaways from the event on navigating tiers and content, boosting audience engagement, finding your healthy balance, and valuing your work as a creator in this episode of Backstage with Patreon.
Hello, creators. You are backstage with Patreon, where we open the curtain on how to build a thriving business on Patreon. I'm Brian Keller from the Creator Success Team, and today we have something a little bit different. We're sharing the key insights from a panel of Patreon creators at an event called Pull Up: A Conversation with Black Creators. Pull Up is Patreon's incubator and creative community built to connect and amplify creators of color. It offers opportunities to learn from each other and build from industry leaders at curated events, speaker series, workshops, and community programs, as well as access to a private chat group. These initiatives are crafted to equip creators of color to succeed and also to support each other's creative paths and pay it forward to the next ones up.
We had this panel that had three great creator guests. We had KAMAUU, an Atlantic Record signed artist, rapper, singer, poet and thinker; Jouelzy, a Black feminist and founder of the Smart Brown Girl Book Club, and Jade Fox, a culture commentator and trendsetter on gay culture and fashion. Special shout-out to Angela Rayford from Patreon for moderating, and Posadas and the creator development team for putting the event together. Now, if this gets you interested about Pull Up, you can come join the community at pullup.patreon.com. But let's get into the themes from the workshop. Number one was, use Patreon to monetize content that didn't work elsewhere or to give it new life. We'll get to hear from each of the guests on this: first Jade, then KAMAUU, then Jouelzy.
I was going to say, because a lot of the content that me and my peers make oftentimes gets shadow banned, our accounts get shadow banned, our stuff gets restricted, can't monetize it, I find that putting content on Patreon that would not be monetizable, even though it is, it is, but putting it on Patreon is a good way to still make money off of that content without having to go through the rigamarole on YouTube or on any of the other platforms. I liken Jouelzy's tip about just reserving that juicy content or just that content that might be a little too spicy, you know what I mean, for the public. Putting that on Patreon, I get a kick out of that.
One more thing. If y'all ever go live on Instagram or you go live on YouTube and you want some easy content just to post for Patreon, don't leave it published on your page and just say, "Hey, if you missed the Live, you missed the Live. If you want to go see it, hit over to my Patreon." Just say that's where all your archives of all your Lives are at. I'm a fire sign. I'd be getting passionate in my Lives. I say stuff that I don't really want to stay published on the page, and so I'll just post it on the Patreon.
Even though I'm very new, I think some of the things that have worked the best for me, one is realizing that the things that I post on social media in general that received a lot of attention, I think I've acquired this mind state that it's one and done and people have been there, seen that and I've archived it. I didn't realize that people would be so interested in seeing stuff that I've taken down. Because it's such a low lift, in some of my lower tiers I just have old archive posts. I do these things. I started out to expand my brand on these things called KAMUESDAYS because I could come out Tuesday.
On Tuesday, I would drop a tailor-made track for Instagram and they'd be a continuous loop. I made hundreds of those and they're just sitting here on a hard drive. People keep messaging me like, "Yo, when you going to upload this thing again? Da, da, da..." I'm just putting them on Patreon, and based off of the feedback between social media and Patreon, that helps me know where I should actually turn into an actual song.
When things can't be used, like when you get demonetized on YouTube or even if you have a video that didn't do well on another platform and maybe you have a longer version of it or you can edit it down, that's great content. For someone like KAMAUU, I used to work in the music industry. I get asked all the time about doing content on my music industry experience. I would never put that online publicly because I like to name names and a lot of my friends still work in the industry and I don't want to hurt they pathway, but I'll bring those friends in. I have a friend that works for Robert Glasper, so we did a talk. I have a friend, he teaches ethnomusicology and he's a jazz musician, and so we talked about the racist history of genres and the Grammys. That video did not do well on YouTube because it was way too intellectual. But I reposted it on Patreon and folks were like, "Wow."
"I didn't know you did this." So, taking things that maybe you've done elsewhere. Because as an artist, you end up recording a lot of video in this day and age, so there might be composites and other aspects of your life that you can put together and use as content on Patreon. It doesn't always have to be you producing new content just for Patreon.
The second theme is, involve your audience in evolving your creation process. Jade talked about this as market research, and KAMAUU went into the details of how to survey your audience.
It's a great place for market research for my lifestyle brand. I'll put mock-ups in there. I'll say, "Hey, this is a really rough design I'm thinking about. What do y'all think?" Because these are the people realistically that would buy. These are the people that have already invested, and so I trust those opinions more. I feel like we all have gone on Instagram and said, "Hey, y'all, I want to make this video. What do y'all think?" It's going to be overwhelmingly yes. Every time, it's going to be overwhelmingly yes. I feel like on your Patreon is where you're going to get those real answers. It's like, "Okay, yes, but how are you going to do it though?" I feel like there are people in that audience that just care and give a little bit more of a critical eye to what I post in there. So yeah, that's my lane when it comes to Patreon.
I think Patreon is also a good place to understand exactly who your following is and what they actually want. It's humbling to realize how much I don't know my base. I got help in a survey. One of the beautiful family members at Patreon helped me release a survey to get info on the nature of the reasons why my patrons support me or my audience supports me in general. It's humbling to find out how much of the people really just want to connect rather than want something. Because the nature of my engagement on social media has been performative, and I'm realizing now that the nature of Patreon is one more of connectivity. One thing that has been very enlightening to me, as I said before, was getting to know my audience. Maybe even understanding what a high tier is for your audience.
Some people might have the Hampton audience. They're like, "I would've paid 10,000 if you would've asked me." Some people are like, "I have 10,000 dreams of paying $10 and that sounds like a lot." I may be understanding what humbly and honestly your high tier is. Because I know when I talked to the team out at Patreon I was like, "I have some big dreams, so I had some crazy tiers." And they're like, "Let's do a survey to figure out what's your people are willing to pay." Because then it's like, "It's better to have a high tier for you." This is my hypothesis, my hypothetical mind speaking. It's probably better to have a high tier that's high for you, that's consistently, or tiers for you that are getting some type of action rather than having maybe something that doesn't reflect your actual audience.
Because you respect people by listening to them and looking at them. You have to respect your audience to understand who they are. Every audience, if they're there, if they're coming, they want to give you something, and so just make sure that what you're asking for is, I guess, aligned with what they want to give. I don't know how to get into a high tier or what's smart as far as amongst tiers, but I do know that paying attention to who your audience is to understand what they want or are willing to pay and the different things that they're willing to ask for will help you create what the tier numbers are and what you're offering amongst them, whether it's the same or not.
The creators also had lots of lessons about structuring membership on Patreon. Theme three is, set up and cultivate members at higher priced tiers. First we from Jouelzy and then Jade about their own approach to this.
Keep your more personal content for higher tiers. I think with the advent of TikTok and everyone now all of a sudden becoming a creator, which is great, hey, I love equity, but to be a little shady, some people don't really have personalities. They pivot once they garner an audience to just sharing a lot of personal information. I think the way that TikTok ecosystem has worked in general has really encouraged people to be more over-sharers. I prefer to be the secret squirrel on the internet. You could have whatever opinion you want of me, you just not going to be in my business. I got dragged on TikTok in September. That man went looking for me and all he could find was my book club so he had to give a donation. I appreciate that that's the integrity I have on the internet. Because when DJ Akademiks is posting about you, that shit don't feel good.
But within that, sometimes your audience does want more personal information about you or just want more access. Because they want to understand how you think, and I do do topics that fringe on personal. If I am interested in sharing that, I will put it at a much higher tier. Y'all framed it as juicy content, but I think if you are inclined to want to talk about certain experiences that you have had and you feel like it's a meaningful way to engage your audience, put it at the higher tier. Because I promise you, 2 and $5 is not too much to be messy, but $20? Okay. You know what I mean? That's not your audience that's going to go and take your content and post it elsewhere. I also do believe that they do deserve a little bit more intimacy than what I'd be willing to give the more general public.
Similar to what Jouelzy was saying, it's just give people what $20 is worth. I feel that within that $20, and I'm just saying $20 because I feel like that is a higher price point, that video is going to be edited just like the public-facing stuff. The quality that you're used to on the public-facing stuff is going to be in that $20 tier. Because when it comes to the lower tiers, we want to keep the load gentle. For example, I just started following this guy on Patreon and I'm on one of his higher tiers because he's basically giving people the play-by-play, the 1, 2, 3 of how to work with manufacturers. If you come up with a prototype and you have a clothing line and you want to figure out how to get it out there, the manufacturing bit of that pipeline is so confusing. It's so frustrating.
The fact that he's giving you exactly what to do, that is something that I find very valuable. I would just say whatever it is, just make sure that it's truly, truly valuable. Also, this is just me, I don't put a whole lot of focus on that top, top tier, because the way that people engage with me on Patreon is just like they just want to support me. They just want to be down for the ride. Usually people sign up for that higher tier just because they mess with me. That is usually what the case is. I don't sell. My sell isn't that strong. I don't hit it that hard monthly when it comes to that higher tier. I would like to, but it's just one of those, for me, one of those slow burn type of tiers.
Another common thread through the discussion brought in mental health, so theme four, don't let Patreon stress you out. Make it part of a healthy balance, with Jouelzy and KAMAUU.
How do I balance? I go to therapy every week, Monday at 10:00 AM. It's the first thing I do for the beginning of the week. And yeah, I think especially this past year — I'm older for the creator. I'm about to be 38. I've been working on giving myself more grace and not feeling like I have to keep up with the world of the creator economy and being okay with doing what I want to do without it being based on this standard that's created by whom. I don't necessarily have a large audience anymore on the internet because now the numbers are like, "Do you have a million followers?" No, I don't. If that happens, that happens, but I'm not going to run myself dry trying to get there. I run a book club. It's a nonprofit. I have a team of people that is under me.
I'm in grad school, which is crazy because I'm a Black woman. And like Jade, I'm also a Aries. It's insane. The pandemic happened and I was like, "What a great idea." Horrible idea. Way too close to the sun. But we have a year left. I'm going through big, huge life changes and it's just like it's okay that I can't keep up on the public side in the same way that everyone else has. I do the things that I feel best about and then I give myself grace to take a nap, drink some water, and eat the food and go about my day. I don't need to be competing. I mentioned, I think, TikTok before, but yeah, that has radically changed the way influencers or creators work and they think they have to be posting 3, 4, 10 times a day. I've never in my life — No. I don't want to have a panic attack.
I don't want to have a mental health breakdown. Because when you're not taking care of yourself, those things catch up with you and you don't get to decide when they catch up with you. When you get on this treadmill feeling like you have to constantly post content in order to make any kind of money, and then the anxiety attacks, the mental health breaks catch up with you, you're going to be out for — You don't get to decide when you go back to work. You don't get to decide when suddenly you're able to do it. I've experienced these things. Yeah, I lived in New York in my twenties. I was on a run. Yeah, it was 2004 and I was walking through kitchens to get into industry parties because I wanted to work at GOOD Music. That was my M.O., and I was just out doing everything I could to get in that cycle.
I burnt myself out and I said I would never do that again. I ended up so sick for so long and I couldn't just get myself up and get back to the flow that I had before. Coming into this career, it's like being cognizant of the goals that I'm setting for myself, why I'm setting them, and understanding that a lot of the goals that I have now are going to require great periods of transition and being okay with that because I don't need to compete with everybody else on the internet. I'm creating the life that I want to live and that I can sustain for myself, and that's what I'm more focused on. Rather than being this public-facing influencer who can, because of aesthetic markers, can signal success. I'm at peace with what I believe to be success without it being to the internet standard.
I just prep myself and take a lot of time watering the thing that's causing everything to work, which is my body. My mind is local to my body. My spirit is local to my body. So, nourishing my body, which also involves nourishing my psychology, my emotions. I start my day off with that and I end my day off of that. Because without that, I can't have a career. I can't have content. I can't have anything. Health is wealth, and maintaining the honoring of that.
With our final theme, the creators hit on an area that can be tough to broach as a creator. Number five, valuing the real cost that goes into creative work, with Jade and Jouelzy.
“It's free to watch, but not free to make. I've never been shy about talking about the fact that I spend money on my videos.”
It's free to watch, but not free to make. When I launched my Patreon, I was like, "I'm not going to use words like 'support', or, 'I would really love for us to lean in. I'd love to cultivate a community.'" Literally my video was like, "Hey, y'all, I want your money. If you got some extra bread, I got Patreon." It's like I've never been shy about talking about the fact that I spend money on my videos. I pay the monthly servicing fees for Adobe, the monthly fees for whatever live stream platform that you use when I bring guests on to Patreon. Even though the work has been free to watch, it's never been free to produce. I think that education piece, at least when I first started my Patreon, was really important in getting people to understand why I had one. Because I think there is this attitude about, "Well, why do you need one?" Or "You just want extra money. You're trying to be greedy." It's just like, "No, the stuff takes money to make. If this is my career, I need money for my bills, Verizon Wireless and all these other people."
But it's so particular. Everyone has a different means. I started this content. I didn't have kids. I wasn't partnered. The only thing that I was thinking about is rent. Some people live at home. Some people are in school. You have to think about all the things that exist outside of you that you need to sustain in order to be healthy. And then think about, "Okay, how am I going to produce the content?" I think we get so caught up on the number. I think, be realistic and start small and consider where do you have audiences at elsewhere. I started Patreon. I had 100,000 subscribers on YouTube.
For me, it really just came down to a matter of plugging my Patreon in all the videos that I was doing. Because this was a 2016 cycle and AdSense had disappeared and I was not making any ad revenue money. I started getting more into doing Patreon content and then I stopped doing Patreon content because I wasn't creating it in a way that allowed me to sustain. It was very hard. It was too much work. I came back around right before the pandemic kicked off actually, because I saw somebody else be very successful on Patreon and realizing that I wasn't using it. I had stopped posting, but I still had 300 patrons that were just giving me money every month. What if I was actually posting content?
I could create a more established audience, but I had the means at the time to make that pivot and to think about it. It's so personal. There's no exact advice someone can give because you really have to consider, Patreon's is kind of a slow build and people got bills to pay. You can't slow build your rent. It's like we just got to be real about, what can we do? What can we provide? And maybe it's more so about you start off with doing your — Maybe you could post more content that's not that great, but it's more access. Or maybe you do the one post a month, but it's a really good video. It's different for everyone. It really just depends on what their means and what they're dealing with in life overall.
That's it from the Pull Up Black Creators conversation session that we ran recently. To recap on those five themes. Number one, use Patreon to monetize content that didn't work elsewhere or to give it new life. Two, involve your audience in evolving your creation process. Three, set up and cultivate members at higher priced tiers. Four, don't let Patreon stress you out. Make it part of a healthy balance. And five, valuing the real cost that goes into creative work. Thanks so much for these amazing creators sharing their stories about being on Patreon, their experience as a Black creator and as part of the Pull Up community. Shout out to Pull Up. Go check it out at pullup.patreon.com if you want to get involved as well. Tune in next week to Backstage with Patreon when we'll have Josh Zimmerman on the show. Josh is also known as the creator coach, the first ever life coach dedicated to creators. He's an expert on creator burnout and he's presented to and coached lots of Patreon creators. He shares his expertise on honestly evaluating your mindset as a creator, and practical tips for making the work more sustainable and enjoyable.
To catch every episode of Backstage with Patreon, follow or subscribe in your podcast app and leave us a review. We also have transcripts available at patreon.com/backstage. You're growing as a creator by listening to the show, so why not share the insights from this episode with another creator on Patreon or who is running a creative business. We'd love to have you as an active collaborator with Backstage with Patreon. Come join the discussion in the Patreon Creator Discord. Follow the link in the episode notes and you can get answers to your follow-up questions directly from the guests and weigh in on what topics we'll be covering next. Editing by Tyler Morrisette. I'm Brian Keller. See you next time, backstage.