Jessica Hische designed this certificate for McSweeney’s Kickstarter

Welcome back to our two-part series on using Kickstarter to fund your design project. As we explained yesterday, Kickstarter works best when you approach it as both a fundraising and community-building tool; when your campaign page is beautiful, clearly expressed and compellingly different; when you’ve tallied all the hidden costs into your funding goal; and when you’ve chosen the right reward-tier strategy for your project, audience, and inclination.

You’re almost ready for launch day. Here’s how to get your head fully into the Kickstarter game.

Tip #6: Plan your campaign marketing in phases—and front-load your efforts.

Steve Kroeter, founder of Designers & Books, notes an oft-cited Kickstarter stat: “If you get 30% of your money in the first week—that is, the first quarter of your month-long campaign—you have a 90% chance of getting [fully] funded.” His campaign to reprint Visual Design in Action by Ladislav Sutnar followed this pattern exactly.

The takeaway? “Make sure you have lots of [promotional] things lined up in the week before and after you launch,” says Kroeter, ensuring that “you get into that percentile.” Kicktraq is a free web tool that lets anyone see the day-to-day funding arc for Kickstarter campaigns, both completed and ongoing.

The Great Discontent, Issue 3
The Great Discontent, Issue 3

Of course, not all successful campaigns follow this trend. The Great Discontent’s campaign did hit the early target: 72 hours in, they’d raised 33% of their goal. “But after a week,” writes Ryan Essmaker in his Medium post about Kickstarter, “it plateaued. The next two and a half weeks were what I like to refer to as our Kickstarter desert walk… [Finally] we had less than 24 hours to go with a whopping $32k to raise”—a third of their funding goal. They pulled it off at the finish, but not without considerable scrambling.

Designer Observer’s 50 Books 50 Covers campaign also didn’t conform to the stats. Their campaign to fund an exhibit and catalogue of the winning book cover designs raised 108% of its $45,000 goal, squeaking over the finish line with just three days to go. “Our efforts didn’t really change throughout the campaign,” recalls Betsy Vardell, Design Observer’s executive producer. “The moment kept growing and eventually hit a tipping point. We put as much work into it day one as we did on day 29, but we had a lot more community support towards the end.”

“Another tactic that seemed to work well was staggering the exciting updates and announcements,” says Shannon David, development director for the McSweeney’s Kickstarter campaign that helped the independent publisher transition into a non-profit. “Each week we had something fun to share: new rewards, the backer challenge, etc.” More on backer challenges in a minute.

Design Observer’s 50 Books 50 Covers exhibit catalogue
Design Observer’s 50 Books 50 Covers exhibit catalogue

Tip #7: Prepare to pitch your grandma.

Introverts, you won’t want to hear this part, but Kickstarters require both tenacious and shameless outreach. Pentagram designer Hamish Smyth describes the dogged talents of his girlfriend Alex Daly, who crowdfunds for a living for her agency Vann Alexandra. “Alex has a number of [promotional] techniques, ranging from brute force to internet deep-diving to find contacts and people who might be interested. She’ll scour the web to target the right nerds and post to their forums to get them interested.”

Daly concurs. “You can make your video go viral by being a cute cat. Otherwise, it requires a lot of legwork and networking.”

Steve Kroeter’s hazy memory of his own Kickstarter launch resembles that of a mother right after giving birth: forgetting the pain is merciful. When asked which tactics really worked and which didn’t, he remarks, “It’s not that I don’t want to reveal secrets, but I almost can’t remember. Three months in advance of the campaign, it was certainly the primary thing I did. I personally addressed more than 500 emails.”

“You start with the obvious suspects, like Swiss Miss, Design Observer, Core77,” he continues. “Then you work in concentric circles, starting with the people closes to you. It’s just like looking for a job. Once you’re lucky enough to connect with someone, try to get more names from them. You’re creating a network.” He recalls looking up individual design-school faculty, bloggers who’d written about design books, one determined pitch after another.

Daly acknowledges that the perfect media angle is elusive, but trial-and-error is instructive. “It’s hard to know what to focus on,” she admits. “Showing how your project is relevant at that time can help get the word out. You’ll pitch to a journalist; the article goes live, but it gets you zero conversions. Okay, let’s go pitch it to five other sites. You find out what’s working and what’s not, then focus more of your efforts on what’s clicking.”

Mailchimp’s backer challenge with McSweeney’s
Mailchimp’s backer challenge with McSweeney’s

Tip #8: Line up some 800-pound gorilla partners.

McSweeney’s enlisted their full network of contacts—writers, local restaurants and businesses, and other book publishers—to create a dizzying array of reward tiers. (For instance, typographer Jessica Hische made a Certificate of Awesomeness for backers at the $50 level.) Shannon David lined up a backer challenge with MailChimp that really moved the needle. “They contributed an extra $20,000 when we got over 3,000 people to back our campaign,” she recalls. “It was a tremendous help… and allowed us to talk up the fact that a pledge of any size, even one dollar, would truly make a big difference.”

Tip #9: Don’t screw up the final survey bit.

You’ve made it! Imagine yourself lost in the football end-zone dance with confetti and greenbacks fluttering around you. But there’s one last misstep you don’t want to make. As David of McSweeney’s explains, “One thing to note—and [Kickstarter] makes this very clear—once the campaign is over and you’re sending out surveys to collect shipping info and stuff like that from your backers, you only get one chance to send a survey. So you have to get it right the first time.” Remember pointer #1 from yesterday? You’re not just funding a one-off project: you’re building a long-term community. Make sure you can actually connect with that community after Kickstarter severs your ties.

At this point you may be wondering if Kickstarter is worth the hassle. In the final analysis, most of our experts would do another campaign, with varying degrees of enthusiasm (and perhaps level-setting their expectations in advance). A few plan to run more Kickstarters. Steve Kroeter is already talking with archives and libraries about reissuing design classics that are too tattered to check out to students anymore, or simply unavailable despite a groundswell of interest. “I had a theory going in that Kickstarter might be the salvation of niche publishing in the 21st century,” says Kroeter. “Our experience absolutely confirmed that. I always want to have a Kickstarter project going as part of our business plan now.”