Funding Your Journo Start-up
Ann Friedman at the Columbia Journalism Review posted a good article today about best practices for crowdfunding your entrepreneurial journalistic endeavors. I want to delve a little deeper into a few areas and suggest alternatives to Kickstarter.
First, Friedman suggests having a good narrative, and she is right, this is absolutely crucial to building buzz about your project. But more specifically, “Your story is everything“–you need to explain the problem your project solves with purpose, vision, and lots of passion. To do so, you must make an explainer video because, as Kickstarter itself explains:
A video is by far the best way to get a feel for the emotions, motivations, and character of a project. It’s a demonstration of effort and a good predictor of success.
As Kickstarter hints, your video kinda needs to be awesome (no pressure)…because you can have all the passion in the world but if potential funders don’t believe you can actually pull your project off, they’re not going to give. So how can you make an awesome explainer video if you have no videographic expertise? Well before you even get to that, you need to have a great script that is short and sweet–your video should be two-minutes long at the max, and that may be too long depending on your project. As far as creating the video itself, find someone to help you that knows what they are doing. In my opinion, your best bet is likely a current film student–they have the expertise, access to equipment, and are willing to work on the cheap in order to build their portfolio. If you live in a locale with a film school or something similar, put your project up on the school’s career services website and let the applicants come to you. But just a hint, a college career services office usually has to approve you as an “employer” before you will have the ability to post jobs. Depending on the school, this may mean you need to be a “business” and not just some guy or gal off the streets. In that case, you’ll likely need to become a registered business (think LLC, corporation, etc.), have a Tax ID number from the IRS, and know what a W-9 is (I smell a follow-up post). It’s really not all that hard (or expensive) to do, but it will take some leg work on your part.
Which brings me to my next point, as Friedman’s article recognizes, Kickstarter is not a magic funding bullet. There is a lot that is out of your hands and a lot of competition for backers. And to get somewhere, you will have to put a lot of time and energy into marketing your campaign. For example, Ryan Koo tracked his time over the length of his 38-day campaign for his narrative film; he worked a total of 345 hours, and as he put it, “had absolutely no life” throughout the campaign. You need to work your network in that time, pitching bloggers and others using a great email pitch, contacting family and friends for support, updating your current readers on your progress, etc. And realize, even with all that effort, you may still fail–Ryan Koo made his goal on the last day, getting 1 percent of visitors to his Kickstarter page to back him with a $53 average donation. But still, if you are passionate and hardworking, you just might be able to kickstart something that could change your life and career.
And as far as alternatives, Indiegogo is a great option. It’s similar to Kickstarter, but there are a few differences. First, unlike Kickstarter, your projects do not have to be finite or even projects–on Indiegogo you can raise funds to start a business. Also, Indiegogo gives you the option of flexible funding (whatever you raise you keep) or finite funding (like kickstarter, only keep funds raised if you meet your goal). And while Indiegogo and Kickstarter use the rewards model, a new style of crowdfunding called equity crowdfunding is on the horizon thanks to the JOBS Act. The JOBS act allows businesses to “raise as much as $1 million each year by selling shares in their business online, without the costly and burdensome process of registering with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.” Unfortunately, the SEC needs to issue regulations to put the provision into effect and already missed its January 1, 2013 deadline for doing so. Apparently, we might have to wait until 2014. When the provision does go into effect, Fundable is the equity crowdfunding platform poised to lead the pack.
Have you crowdfunded a journalistic endeavor or do you plan do so? Tell me about it in the comments.