What I learned with my first Kickstarter Campaign

Trial and error with a funding campaign could for you but — as a freelance artist and business owner — are you willing to pay out of pocket for costly mistakes or spend days on “grunt work”? I had a great experience launching and completing my first Kickstarter for my Wax and Wane enamel pins and pendants but I would be remiss if I didn’t say I learned about some tools and techniques to better utilize my time, money, and energy! I also found that it can be easy to overlook expenses that could turn your funding project into one riddled with additional out-of-pocket expenses. Hopefully you can learn a little from this advice post that can help your first Kickstarter campaign to become an incredible success!

Kickstarter Campaigning

With Kickstarter, you’re trying to raise funds for a new product that you otherwise wouldn’t be able to pay up front. This means you need everyone that pledges to get properly rewarded for assisting you but you also don’t want to undercut yourself. Plushies, enamel pins, and other merchandise manufacturing can be pricy. You never know how successful your campaign will be so be careful that you cover all costs in your prices just in case you are slammed with more orders than expected. It would be terrible if you made enough for your products but without enough funding to meet demand or pay shipping costs!

Research shipping costs before campaigning: I found that shipping most of my pins domestic would ship fine as first class parcels ($3.50) but international orders would vary from $10-15 per 2oz-12oz package!

Price your products fairly for you (as well as your KS supporters): Enamel pins vary in size and manufacturing costs can vary depending on special features, materials, and quantity. If you plan to make hundreds of 2″ pins, each pin may cost you $1-2 to manufacture while a 0.75″ pin that you only make 50 of will cost you twice as much. The general rule to follow when pricing your merchandise is to multiply your cost by 3-5 (to help you pay yourself and cover manufacturing costs) then adjust to meet expectations of the market place. With $2 per pin manufacturing costs, that’s going to look like $6-10 retail price.

Pay attention to the fees and reap the benefits of the site: With Kickstarter, there is a fee to pay for their services. They offer tremendous organizational and statistical features (like how many people found your KS campaign through FB, Twitter, your website, KS explore page, etc!) They have an algorithm help to promote your campaign at the beginning of the campaign, last few days of your campaign, and if your campaign has pledges rolling in fast! You have to promote on your own time of course but they definitely helped! Over half of my pledges were thanks to Kickstarter emails and site-wide promotion! For this I’m grateful and willing to pay that 10% out of my Kickstarter payout. It’s built-in advertising and I love it! Because I was unsure about KS, I paid for a Facebook ad. But I didn’t get nearly enough pledges to make it worth purchasing a FB ad for my next campaign.

Setting a goal that helps you rather than hurts you: When figuring out what I actually needed to make this happen, I was advised by my friend and fellow artist Allison to use the following breakdown:

  • Production product (80%)
  • Kickstarter fees (10%)
  • Shipping [envelopes, labels, postage] (5%)
  • A safety net in case of an unforeseen shipping emergency (5%)

This means if you have to pay your manufacturer $500 (80%), you owe $500/8 = 10% fees which is $63, another half of that for shipping $32, and $31 for safety net. Total Goal would be 500(production)+63(fees)+32(shipping)+31(safety)= $626.

Don’t overlook “less exciting” manufacturing costs: If you’re also getting packaging for individual pins (backing cards and protective sleeves), be sure to include those manufacturing costs in with the pin costs! Same applies to any additional perks (like stickers.)

Don’t just tack on manufacturing costs for your stretch goals: You can offer additional product variations that become “Unlocked” at certain milestones after the first Goal is met. Make sure you recalculate each new goal in the same way (80/10/5/5, same as the first item) so you don’t end up losing money on shipping, packaging, and KS fees as you get more pledges! If an additional pin variation costs $500 to manufacture and your goal was $626 (from our earlier calculation), your stretch goal should be new goal plus original goal $626+$626 (Stretch goal would be $1252) Do not just add the variation manufacturing cost to your first goal (500+626= $1126 – you’re losing $126 by doing that! Ouch!)

You can limit pledges and make early bird deals: When setting up your Kickstarter, you’ll have the chance to create your own reward tiers. This is where you price each offering, establish what rewards come with that tier, establish shipping costs, and set a limit. This can limit how many people can pledge for this item (Set backer limit), which is great for really low introductory prices to get the campaign rolling or if you want to offer custom work or limited edition items (commissions, signed books, limited run prints, etc.) so that you aren’t stuck signing hundreds of books or drawing hundreds of pet portraits! You can also Set start/end date to limit when people have the option to pledge for this item. I’m not sure when/how this would be applicable but it could work nicely to boost pledges at the midpoint (often the most sluggish point) of the campaign!

Give people the opportunity to opt out of packaging and perks: I made the option in my survey for KS pledges to exclude my backing cards and sleeves and/or my bonus vinyl stickers. This helped to expedite my packing process and saved a little on costs as well. If the person doesn’t want $15 in free stickers, that’s fine with me! Thankfully I didn’t learn this during my campaign (I just had a feeling some people wanted only pins and pendants or didn’t want some of the sticker designs) and I proved this to be a good practice!

Cancelled or Dropped pledges: Once I launched my 30 day KS, I got really nervous at various points in the campaign process. There were pledge frenzies followed by times of quiet, people cancelling, reducing pledges, etc. And even once the campaign was done, the pledges aren’t guaranteed. If people didn’t have updated credit card information (or their bank/card company prevented KS from withdrawing funds), those pledges get dropped after they get a week to fix it. I had a handful of cancellations and two dropped pledges. Worst case scenario, if you don’t meet your goal, you can try your KS again. No one is charged if the goal isn’t met.

Failed payment? KS messages people for you: If the payment doesn’t go through, KS messages the person who pledged. I ended up messaging and emailing every backer that had a failed payment and I learned that I was being far too neurotic since KS beat me to the punch. Oops!

Manufacturers

Not every artist shares their suppliers: That’s OK! It might be better if our fellow artists would help us avoid bad manufacturers and reward good ones (who can grow to meet demand if volume increases beyond their current means) but when we can’t get suggestions we can all use google instead. That’s what I did. I reached out to Pin Game Strong but they didn’t respond to my quote. I wasn’t interested in navigating the chaotic world of Alibaba. So on a hope and a prayer, I went with the manufacturer who was quick to respond to my questions and quote inquiries, offered great features, and had plenty of examples on their site.

Not all enamel pin manufacturers send progress photos: I went with Quality Lapel Pins for my Wax and Wane pins. QLP has a great selection of add-ons and features, a list of their enamel Pantone colors, great customer service, great turn-around, my representative reached out to me when they had questions about modifying the pin to improve the design, and upon seeing the pins in person I could see that they earned the right to have “quality” in their name! However, once I had paid them and production was rolling, I asked if I would be able to see a preview of the pins before they shipped. I was a little worried when my QLP representative said they don’t receive any sample images from their factories but she also reassured me that if there were any issues, she and I could work something out. I was fortunate that no issues occurred but it does make me feel a little uneasy taking KS funds then letting KS supporters sit in the dark on production.

Work with your manufacturer(s) for realistic timelines: To figure out your campaign’s projected timeline, ask your manufacturer about their turnaround capabilities and give yourself enough time to pack and ship everything after the products arrive. My timeline lined up nearly perfectly with how everything progressed in real life and looked like this:

  • Kickstarter live: March-April (gave myself 30 days for the Kickstarter pledge process)
  • Funds are received: Mid April (gave Kickstarter two weeks to submit funds to my account)
  • Manufacturing: April-May
  • Pins (and stickers) ship to me: Mid May (gave the manufacturer a month or so to produce and ship to me)
  • Rewards are sent out/arrive to backers: Late May/June (gave myself a week or so to pack and ship / a week+ for transit)
  • International pledges: please allow extra time to get your pins! (reminded international backers that it takes extra time to mail outside US)

Packing orders

Make sure the backing card isn’t the same size as your plastic sleeve or bag: I was a dummy and didn’t factor in how thick the pin and rubber clutches would be in the plastic sleeve. Make sure its about 0.25″ smaller top-to-bottom and side-to-side for enough wiggle room. I ended up having to trim all my cards (by hand) to fit.

Let the manufacturer do the grunt work: If your pin manufacturer gives you the option of printing backing cards and having them assembled at the factory, DO IT! I grossly underestimated how much time it would take me to stab my pins onto cards and slip them into envelopes. My intensions were good (continue to support my pals at CatPrint LLC, get shiny holographic cards, and do it myself like the packaging-obsessed, detail freak I am) but I never want to spend that amount of time packing pins myself again! I have too much to do so it’s worth it to pay a few cents per card for them to assemble for me; worth it to save time and my fingers!

 

Shipping

Buy appropriately sized envelopes: I was resourceful! I reused as many bubble mailers as I could, trimmed larger mailers to be smaller mailers, reused bubble wrap and paper for padding, etc. And I’m happy to report that I’ve slimmed down my once-used packing supplies because of it! But after hours of cutting apart and taping together, I regretted not just getting small bubble mailers that were the perfect size. Slip in the KS reward, seal, address, done! For a KS campaign with 100+ pledges, why waste the time? Great places to get bubble mailers at various sizes are BagsUnlimited, OfficeDepot, and Amazon. Check out my advice post about shipping.

Buy plenty of return address labels: I ran out so I ended up using my stamp (which doesn’t always work on bubble mailers) and printing out some cheap-o labels toward the end. Either way, I’m not handwriting my address 80+ times!

Print out your KS backer addresses: If I’m not writing my address 80+ times, you better believe there was no way I was going to handwrite all the backer’s addresses. Nope nope nope. Instead, I copied and pasted from the Backer Report page into a print document so I could print, cut, and tape onto the packages. If you have address labels and template, that would make it even easier!

Postage for large batches can be a time-waste if you let it: I had nearly 20 international orders and a mile-long receipt of domestic orders. It took hours to pack them, fill customs forms, print out address labels, and so on. Then about an hour or so at the post office waiting for all the orders to get their first-class parcel labels and tracking. I wasn’t sure about USPS Click-N-Ship or Stamps.com before but I am definitely looking into them now! Click-N-Ship is definitely the better way to go for international orders than what I had been doing. I usually end up handwriting a CN-22 form for customs (which includes shipper and destination names and addresses in addition to content information) for each package, then waiting for the post office employee to retype everything I just hand wrote. With Click-N-Ship, apparently you can copy and paste from your KS backer report and when you get to the post office, the postal employee can simply scan the barcode for all the information rather than manually typing everything again! Your post office employee (as well as yourself and everyone waiting in line behind you) will be grateful!


If you found this post informative, feel free to share on social media!
If you have experience or suggestions to share, I would appreciate your comments below!

Much LORF!
Crazdude




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