Smart ways to grow your creative business – and sustain your well-being
Wondering how to help your creative work flourish without running yourself ragged? Backed by years of experience forging their own paths, three creators impart wisdom on money, membership, and mental health.
Building your career as a creator can sometimes feel like a marathon, with highs and lows and unexpected challenges and times of celebration along the way. To create a membership that entices fans to subscribe while also tending to the demands of your creative practice and nurturing your own health and well-being, can feel like a lot to juggle.
At our recent live, online session, called Pull Up Presents: A Conversation with Black Creators, three creative leaders — musician KAMAUU, founder of #SmartBrownGirl Jouelzy, and culture-maker Jade Fox— shared their experiences and wisdom gained from navigating arts and media careers. Here, you'll learn entrepreneurship best practices that support your creative business and your well-being in a sustainable way.
Get clear about your motivations
Think about what inspires you to make what you make. What do you find enjoyable? What feeds your spirit? Why are you inviting your fans to become members? Getting clear about your motivations can help you connect more genuinely with your audience and invite them into your process and your world.
"Patreon's experience is very customizable. It doesn't have to be this big stressful thing, if you don't want it to be," Jade says. "You can say, 'If you want to get on the journey with me and see how I'm trying to make the pivot from online to the mainstream, get on my Patreon and let's go on this journey together.'"
Pay attention to what your fans enjoy
Gauging your fans' interests and preferences can inform your next move or help you craft a big-picture strategy. Whether you analyze reactions in comments, conduct polls or surveys, or even give new content a trial run, your fans can inspire some of your best material. For example, every Tuesday KAMAUU uploads an original song loop to his Instagram feed for his KAMUESDAY series, and fans chime in with encouragement and feedback. "That helps me know what I should actually turn into an actual song," he says. Plus, he realized that access to past KAMUESDAY songs was a benefit his fans valued, so he added a new membership benefit: access to the KAMUESDAY video archive.
"Patreon is a good place to understand who your following is and what they actually want," KAMAUU says. After surveying his audience, he says it was "humbling to find out how much people want to connect, instead of just getting something."
Reserve your juiciest content for your higher-tier members
Want to dish about something that a general audience of, say, the whole internet might not appreciate in a nuanced way? "Put it at a higher tier," says Jouelzy, who's been a Patreon creator since 2016. "I believe that they do deserve a little bit more intimacy than what I'd be willing to give the more general public."
Posting everything you create to other social platforms can feel like a tempting way to get more exposure. But saving the especially potent stuff for members can be a powerful incentive for your biggest fans to sign up for membership. In addition to bonus content (like extra podcast episodes or behind-the-scenes videos), you can reserve this sort of unpolished real talk for your inner circle of members. Think of this as an exclusive benefit that fans can't find anywhere else, and a way to have authentic conversations and forge stronger connections with a self-selected group of people who really get the full context of where you're coming from.
So, for dishing on something delicate — "that content that might be a little too spicy for the general public," as Jade Fox puts it — consider saving it for fans investing the most in your work.
Collaborate with and learn from fellow creators
Supporting your peers not only feels good and can expand your network, you might pick up new ideas or strategies that you can translate to your own creative business. By seeing others model how to market creative work, engage with fans, or structure and price benefits and tiers, for example, you might get inspiration for how to better run your own membership. "A lot of the things that I have figured out that have allowed me to sustain on Patreon," Jouelzy says, "is because I have supported other Patreon creators."
Teaming up with other creators can also be fruitful. For example, Jouelzy has collaborated with illustrator and video creator Kat Blaque on Patreon to produce content together and expand their audiences. "We do live streams and then we'll share it on both of our Patreons," Jouelzy says. "Then, people who don't necessarily exist in both [our] audiences find new creators to engage with."
To connect with fellow creators and learn together, consider joining interactive workshops, programs, and small peer-led groups in Patreon's creator community.
"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."
Find your healthy balance
As a creator you're probably your own boss. So, check in: Are you being a good boss to yourself? If you haven't been prioritizing your well-being, consider ways you can create a work rhythm that suits your needs and capacity.
"[TikTok] has radically changed the way influencers or creators work, and they think they have to be posting like three, four, ten times a day," Jouelzy says. But getting stuck in a loop of feeling like you have to constantly post content can lead to heightened anxiety and stress. Internet and social media fatigue can take a real toll on your body, both physically and mentally. Without pacing and taking necessary breaks, you may feel tangible effects of exhaustion and burnout. "When you're not taking care of yourself, those things catch up with you," Jouelzy cautions, "and you don't get to decide when they catch up with you."
Instead of getting overwhelmed and feeling like you have to constantly churn out new content, be smart with what you're already producing. "As an artist you end up recording a lot of video in this day and age," Jouelzy notes. This can mean finding ways for videos or other types of content to serve double duty. For example, after Jade goes live on Instagram or YouTube, she doesn't publish the recording on her public channels and instead saves it for her Patreon, turning low-lift content into a benefit that members value. Also, think about ways you might resurface or refresh gems from your archives or back catalog. As Jouelzy says, "It doesn't always have to be you producing new content just for Patreon."
To prioritize your well-being, consider which habits and rituals would better nourish your mind and body and work them into your daily life. This might include taking a daily walk, regular sessions with a therapist, or connecting with a group of supportive peers. For KAMAUU, this means practicing spirituality, staying hydrated, and exercising. "With that," he says,"I have momentum to approach the day."
For more ideas, read 7 practical tips for navigating and avoiding burnout.
Recognize your worth
As a creator, you're probably well aware of all the ingenuity and hard work required to keep your creative projects and business going strong. To set yourself up for sustainable long-term success, it's crucial to be honest with yourself about the value of your time and efforts. Though talking about money can feel uncomfortable, being open about why your membership tiers are priced how they're priced can pay off. "You have to train your audience," says Jouelzy. "Say what you are doing, why you're doing it, and why you would like people to engage you at this level."
As Jade points out, her videos are readily available online, but that doesn't mean the content magically sprang into being. "It's free to watch. It's not free to make," she says. "I've never been shy about talking about [the fact] that I spend money on my videos."
Fans might not be aware of all the behind-the-scenes labor and resources that go into making what you make. When you invite them into an open conversation, you have the opportunity to foster greater connection — and illuminate the value of your membership.
To produce this article, Patreon partnered with Wide Angle Youth Media, a media arts nonprofit in Baltimore. Author Lacee Cottman, serves as the organization's social media intern and produces content for their Instagram account.
For more tips, watch the video recording of Pull Up Presents: A Conversation with Black Creators, hosted by Patreon. To participate in future gatherings and panels like this one, sign up for Patreon's next live session.