Be Smart About Art’s founder Susan has been interviewed by The Design Fund about her experience with crowdfunding, which can be helpful for some of you out there too.
Some of the reasons the crowdfunding campaign succeeded:
- Our networks were large enough to raise the funds.
- We dedicated the needed time to the campaign.
- We were determined to succeed.
- All of us became increasingly willing to ask people for support.
Who are you, what’s your business, what do you do, where do you live/work, how long have you been in business?
My name’s Susan’s and some say I’m a game-changer in the 21st Century art world, based between London and New York. I’m an entrepreneur, mentor, speaker and author. While running a gallery in Soho, London, I founded the Association of Women Art Dealers (AWAD), a non-profit trade network, now with London, New York and Virtual chapters. I next started social enterprise Be Smart About Art, helping art world professionals thrive in a changing industry. The motto is, “Art is your life. Make it your living.”
Tell us more about your crowdfunding campaign: When did you do it? What did you want to get funding for specifically? What was your target amount? What was the amount you reached in the end? Can you give some examples of the rewards?
Be Smart About Art ran a rewards-based crowdfunding campaign in summer 2015 to create our first book, a compilation of the top 100 posts from a popular weekly blog series for the art world. It is called, Art is your life. Make it your living. A distributor was secured in advance, which provided increased confidence and credibility for the project.
The all-or-nothing target was £7,500 (approx. $11,800 USD) and the stretch goal was £8,000 (approx. $12,575 USD). Ultimately, we raised a total of £8,072, the last £572 of which was collected in the final 24 hours. This goes to show that people like backing a winner, frustrating as this might be! Each reward had a catchy name. Examples include ‘Get it first,’ ‘One for you, one for a mate,’ ‘Patron of the Arts’ and ‘Be an Art Collector.’ The rewards were varied, for example: one or two books, tote bags, Be Smart About Art Membership, mentoring sessions with yours truly, original photographs by blog photographer Chris King and a posh cuppa tea with myself.
Why did you choose crowdfunding? Was it about the fun & creativity, about the finances not being able to get elsewhere, about extra marketing…
Crowdsourcing was not only a great solution for raising essential funds to publish 1,000 copies of the book, it was also a way to engage more of our audience. Moreover, I wanted to better comprehend crowdfunding, as it’s increasingly used by creative entrepreneurs I mentor. I knew that the only way to understand it was to do it.
Which crowdfunding platform did you choose? Why that one? Did you consider other platforms? Did you consider other ways of financing your idea?
We used crowdfunder.co.uk for two reasons: 1) As an active supporter of local enterprise, I wanted to use a UK platform. 2) It’s connected to Seedrs at board level (at least they were), which could be useful. Furthermore, they partner with other organisations (Virgin, creative england, Nesta, etc), potentially providing further opportunities.
Why do you think that people invest or buy from crowdfunding campaigns?
People invest and buy from crowdfunding campaigns for a multitude of reasons. In our case, the vast majority of pledges came from people we personally know or who follow Be Smart About Art/myself by email/social media and/or participate in the training and membership programmes.
What did you do specifically to prepare for your launch? What did you have to do before you launched?
The first task was recruiting a project manager. Once onboard, she and the team put together the plan. It was initially comprised of a timetable, selection of rewards, marketing plan, and delegation of tasks, saved into a shared Dropbox folder.
The several months ahead of the campaign, and after setting up my profile on crowdfunder.co.uk, we supported a handful of other projects, which demonstrated that we were active. The project manager created my campaign and we spent a good few weeks tweaking it. Chris (the blog’s photographer) and I set to creating the promo video that would frontline the campaign. This involved filming in the back garden as well as at an art fair, where I interviewed exhibiting gallerists who commended the Be Smart About Art programme and blog.
We started a Google Drive spreadsheet for press (accompanied by a press release), which later became be the master document for tracking fundraising progress.
What did you do specifically to promote your campaign? What worked best? Can you give any top tips on what worked?
The first key promo was a ‘Sunday reading’ email with associated blog post, sent two days prior to the soft launch, in which I appealed to readers for support. Recipients could click a link to confirm their intent to pledge, which turned out to be vital.
Throughout the campaign, we continually promoted it by personalised email messages, social media, word of mouth (accompanied by flyers) and telephone.
We quickly put into place a routine. I initially reached out by email to garner support. Details and notes were added to the Google Drive spreadsheet. Several days later, the office administrator followed up by email. As we inched closer to the deadline, she increasingly followed-up by email and phone.
After announcing the campaign on my personal Facebook page, I started direct messaging friends in Facebook. This worked a treat, attested to by the 18.65% of pledges from Facebook.
As time passed, the Twitter campaign picked up, using graphics to update followers. More than 6% of pledges came from Twitter and LinkedIn.
Who was your campaign specifically aimed at?
The campaign was primarily aimed at art world professionals who would be interested in receiving the rewards being offered, as well as my own network of peers, suppliers, friends and family. Significantly, it was also presented to Chris’s contacts, the support of which turned out to be crucial.
How much money did your campaign raise? What do you think contributed mostly to the success or failure of your campaign?
There are three reasons the campaign succeeded: 1) Chris and my combined networks were large enough to raise the funds. 2) For the last four weeks of the five-week campaign, I had a largely clear calendar, giving vital time needed to dedicate. (Most of the year, there’s no way I would’ve had the time.) 3) We were single-minded! Chris, the office administrator and I were all determined to succeed, and so we did. As the days and weeks passed, all of us became increasingly willing to ask people for support. It was a real lesson in raising money and selling, which arguably makes it a useful exercise for anyone in business.
Crowdfunding is about more than ‘just’ getting the money. What else did you get out of the campaign? Were there any unexpected outcomes? Think about additional press, partnerships, opportunities as a result of the original campaign,…
The biggest benefit of having succeeded is that we now have a book! Not only is this excellent as an expansion of product range, it’s also an effective marketing tool for the enterprise, reaching and supporting more art world professionals than ever before. (Soon it will be distributed in the USA, too.)
The campaign also incentivised a number of people to join the membership community. Some of those individuals are still active a year later.
And I learned all about crowdfunding, which I’ve been able to pass on to others (in one-to-one sessions, online training seminars and panel discussions). I was asked during and after the campaign to write about the experience. This very piece is an apt example, in addition to my inclusion in a printed book on the subject that is also in the works.
What did you do after the campaign ended? Obviously it was about delivering the goods, but was there something else you had to do?
When the campaign concluded, we conducted a review, including what worked well and what we’d do differently in future. In addition, the project manager and I agreed to an interview by an M.A. student (who was researching crowdfunding). That document with fresh insight immediately following campaign completion will no doubt provide insight later down the road.
The project manager also compiled a spreadsheet that could easily be used for completion and delivery of all rewards.
Was your campaign ultimately profitable? Were you prepared for the costs and the work involved? What was harder than you thought it would be? Any advice for others?
All said, the campaign was ultimately profitable. I cannot emphasise enough the importance of adding more to the forecasted budget to the campaign goal than originally anticipated, as we did. The running of the campaign itself and production of the book worked out to be break-even. Book sales made today are pure profit, since we had 600 fully paid copies remaining after distributing an initial 400 to supporters. Furthermore, some individuals who actively engaged with Be Smart About Art for the first time with the campaign are now actively partaking in our programme.
If you would do your campaign now again, what would you do differently? What have you learnt?
If I were to run the campaign again, I’d likely opt for Kickstarter. People outside the UK were struggling to make pledges (which was significant since I hail from America). Crowfunder.co.uk has however since added Stripe as an option, helping address this hurdle. That said, some people commented that they have pledged faster if we’d used Kickstarter, since they already had profiles and found the platform easy to use.
I would also spend more time prior to the live campaign getting solid pledge confirmations. Expression of general intent is quite different from actually doing it.
I learned that getting people to take action was the biggest challenge. During the 35 day period, it became clear that the key was catching people at the right moment.
Anecdotally, we learned that for our audience, Friday afternoon was generally the worst time to make contact, and Monday morning the best time.
Have you done another crowdfunding campaign? If so, what was different? If not, why not?
We haven’t yet embarked upon another campaign, though we’re planning to do part two at some point. That will be raising essential funds for the second book, presenting the top 100 posts from years 3&4 of the blog series.
What would be your top 3 tips for anybody thinking about doing a crowdfunding campaign?
- Be prepared to give 3.5 weekdays plus weekends for the duration of the campaign. (And therefore, pursue it at a relatively quiet time of the year for yourself.)
- Pursue a project in which you truly believe. This is what will be needed in the darkest, most difficult moments. You, like I, might later be surprised about all the various people you approached, having by and large experienced success!
Go for all-or-nothing in fundraising terms, as this gives you the incentive to raise it. Entrepreneurs are forever juggling multiple balls in the air, and so if you don’t give yourself this focus, you’ll find plenty of other projects to take your attention.
Watch this space for this and more…