Utilise the power of crowdfunding to gather funds for your photography book, exhibition or other project
If you want to get your work out there, there’s little as rewarding as a big project like a photography book or exhibition. However, it can also be expensive, particularly if you don’t have backing from a company or sponsor who can pay for everything you need.
In recent years, crowdfunding has become a very popular way to secure funds for typical photography projects. Books are always very popular on crowdfunding platforms, while exhibitions can also do well there. Other projects, such as new gadget inventions and the like can also be found via crowdfunding.
The great thing about crowdfunding is that you’ll know if there’s an audience for your photography if it’s successful - without necessarily having to put in too much expense up front. It’s a great model that is giving power back to the people, and helping lots of fantastic projects see the light of day.
But, it can also be quite a daunting task to take on. Luckily, we’re here to give you some tips and advice on what to think about when launching your own crowd funded project, which will hopefully make it easier to tackle.
1 Plan ahead
Be realistic with your timeframes. If you need money for something and want to use crowdfunding to get it, you need to plan far in advance, not only start thinking about it at the time you need the money.
There’s no hard and fast rules as to how far in advance you need to plan, but, as a general rule, you’ll need to be thinking about planning a crowdfunded at least three months in advance of when you’ll need the money, but preferably even longer than that to make sure you’ve got all the time you need.
It’s easier to “work backwards” - that is, figure out how long everything you’re going to need will take, and then start planning from that point on. With a book, for example, that might include time for editing and collating photos, time for designing a book, time for proofs to be sent to the printers, time for dispatch and so on.
2 Work out an estimated cost
Your crowdfunder will need a target. It’s easy to just pick a random number out of the air, and assume that will cover your expenses.
This is a bad idea for a couple of reasons. Firstly, you might underestimate how much you need and therefore not raise enough money and have to make up the difference.
Secondly, those who are backing a crowdfunder like transparency. They want to have at least some idea of why you need the amount you do. Having a well-costed plan, even if it goes slightly over or slightly under well help build confidence that they’re backing something worthy.
3 Look at what other people are doing
If you’re new to crowdfunding, it pays to look at how other people are approaching it.
All of the major crowdfunding platforms have a number of photography projects, so you’re bound to find something reasonably similar to yours.
Have a look and see how they are approaching updates, target amounts, the rewards that they offer, the length of time for the crowdfunder.
Pay attention to both those which have been successful, and those which didn’t make their targets. If you can try and identify a reason why it failed, then it’s something you can try and avoid yourself.
Although you don’t want to exactly copy someone else, making detailed notes about what works and what doesn’t will help you when you’re making your own decisions later on.
4 Choose a platform
There are quite a few crowdfunding platforms available, but probably the two most popular for artistic and commercial-type projects are Kickstarter and IndieGogo.
As usual, there is no right or wrong here, but it’s worth doing a good amount of research to figure out which one is right for you. Kickstarter is probably the more popular option, and as it already houses a lot of successful projects, your work is arguably going to be put in front of a greater audience.
That said, if you already have a good following elsewhere (such as social media), or are confident that you can get press coverage, IndieGogo is sometimes considered to be more flexible for creators.
One of the reasons for this is Kickstarter’s “all-or-nothing” model - whereby you have to raise all of your target, or you’ll get nothing. By contrast, with IndieGogo, you can fail to reach the overall target, but still receive the funds which have been pledged - if you’re willing to make up the shortfall yourself, this can be a good approach.
5 Decide a campaign length and name
Once you’ve chosen a platform, you’ll next have to get down to the nitty gritty of setting up the project.
Carefully consider the name of your project. You want it to be descriptive, and searchable, so that it’s immediately obvious to anyone who stumbles across your project what it is. A niche or abstract name will be harder to promote or find by chance.
You will also need to come up with a project description. Here, you want to go into a reasonable level of detail, but it needs to be punchy and attention-grabbing. Avoid waffle, and get to the point quickly.
Ask a trusted friend to have a look at your project description and ask them to be honest if they understood exactly what your project is, what you need the funds for, and what the outcome of the project will be.
You’ll also need to choose how long your “campaign” runs for. Projects can run for a very short period of time (as short as one day on Kickstarter), or for quite a lengthy period (60 days is the maximum for both Kickstarter and IndieGogo). Received wisdom suggests that the best results come from campaigns that last around 30 days. That gives you enough time to get the word out, but isn’t so long as to put people off from backing (the “I’ll do it later” problem), or for the stress of running the campaign to cause problems for you.
6 Choose your rewards
A key feature of crowdfunding campaigns is the rewards that the backers receive.
If you’re creating a photo book, the obvious reward is a copy of said book itself. For exhibitions, you could offer a print - perhaps even one of the exhibition prints once the show is over.
However, as the amount which people can throw in the pot varies from just a couple of pounds, up to hundreds or even thousands, a number of different rewards is usually required.
For those just chipping in a small amount because they like you or believe in the project, you can offer something simple such as a thank you, maybe even printed somewhere in the book / exhibition. Those offering the typical cost for your book might receive a copy of the book. Those offering more will usually expect something “extra” for their cash.
This could be something simple that doesn’t cost you anything - such as a signed edition of the book, or a more prominent thank you in the book. Or for those that are putting more forward, it could be something additional such as extra copies of the book, a print (or several prints) and so on.
If you are offering copies of your book as a reward, make sure you don’t “over promise”. If you know you’re only going to have a print run of say, 1000, you can’t have more than 1000 of this type of reward. For this reason, you can select a limit to the number of rewards when you’re setting up your crowd funder.
Another aspect you’ll need to choose - and be realistic about - is when you can deliver any rewards you promise. This is again where preparing in advance comes in useful - if you’ve already done your research, and know exactly when a book (for example) can be ready to be shipped by, you can make an accurate promise. Try to keep to this as best you can - and if there are any delays down the road, communicate that with your backers as soon as possible.
7 Be prepared to publicise
Crowdfunding campaigns live and die by how much publicity they receive (usually).
If you’re very lucky, it might end up on the home page of your chosen platform, but it’s best to assume it won’t. Instead, you’ll have to do much of the heavy lifting yourself - even before the campaign goes live.
This is one of the many reasons why planning in advance comes in useful. Before setting your campaign to go live, you can be starting to drum up interest on social media, letting your existing community know what is coming. Once it is live, don’t be afraid to religiously post on your channels with updates and so on.
You should also get in contact with relevant press outlets. There’s possibly hundreds of different outlets you could contact, so factor in some time for research and marketing from the outset. You’ll need to make sure you get in touch with press outlets with enough time for them to run a piece during your campaign.
As a general rule, magazines are working at least 2-3 months in advance - so it’s no good leaving until the launch date to get in contact, as it’ll likely already be too late. Contact them even sooner than 2-3 months if you can, with a reminder if you haven’t heard back a couple of months in advance of the launch. Newspapers and online outlets can be a little bit more flexible with timing, but it’s still worthwhile trying to make the connection in advance if possible to allow for planning.
Spend time figuring out who might be interested in your project. It might be local newspapers, magazines and websites, or it might be publications who cover whatever your project is about. It might also be generally of interest to photography magazines and websites, as well as the national newspapers. Don’t be disheartened if not everybody you think is interested in your project doesn’t cover it - there’s a lot of competition out there.
Creating a press release which you can send to these types of outlets is tremendously helpful. Within it, make sure you include key information - such as the dates of your crowdfunder, a link to it, and somewhere that journalists can quickly and easily download assets (pictures) to illustrate a story. Although you’ll have a press release, it’s also helpful to tailor individual emails to each outlet highlighting why their readers should be interested in whatever your project is.
You will need to be prepared to be pretty relentless with your publicity campaign. Posting several times a week as a bare minimum, and being active and reactive with the press is required - this is another good reason to keep a campaign relatively short. Towards the end of the campaign, especially if you haven’t yet reached your goal, be prepared to ramp up the publicity even further.
8 Campaign updates
As well as updating your audience via social media, don’t forget to include campaign updates on your crowdfunder page itself.
This shows any potential new backers the progress you’ve been making, why they should trust their money with you and what they can expect once the campaign ends.
It’s also nice for existing backers to receive updates about what their money will be used for should the campaign be successful.
9 Be ready to go
Assuming your campaign is successful (or you’re willing to make up any shortfall yourself), the real hard work should now begin - you’ll need to actually get your product made.
Being as ready to go from this point on as possible will give you a head start, and will mean you can deliver to your backers on time. For example, if that’s producing a book, that could mean having it already designed so you can get it to the printers asap.
If it’s for an exhibition, having the frames measured up and ready to order as soon as funds hit your account is another example. Essentially, doing as much of the work before the campaign ends as possible is a wise idea.