A Checklist for Crowdfunding Success
What I learned working with crowdfunding for over two years.
Crowdfunding is neither an exact science nor an art. There is no recipe you can follow to achieve guaranteed results over and over again. While this is true, there are many steps you can and should take to enhance your chances of reaching your crowdfunding goals.
My first piece of advice is that you should take time to prepare thoroughly. Your success is largely decided before you even launch your campaign, depending on how much preparation you have done.
This checklist outlines many of the steps you can take (I am sure there are others that we chose not to include or missed). You won’t be able to or might not need to do everything on the list. That’s OK. For example, if you have a very small funding goal, you might not need to reach out to influencers. You probably won’t be able to do the list in order either. You might learn something in step eight that means you need to edit step seven. That’s OK too. Use your common sense and follow the steps that apply and go back to earlier steps when you need. Good luck!
1. Define your idea/ product/ service/ brand/ story/ event/ film/ book/ whatever it might be that you want to crowdfund:
Defining what you will be raising money for will help you to create direction and will inform all of the following steps. It will also help you communicate what you want to do with much more clarity. Only by being clear about what you want can you build a campaign and narrative around it that people will understand and be willing to invest in and contribute to.
There are many ways to do this, but we recommend:
- Write at least 10 descriptions of your idea which are each no longer than four sentences. They should quickly explain what you are doing, the problem it solves, and value it adds.
- Present the descriptions to friends and have them comment and give feedback.
- Pick the best one and take comments and feedback into account.
- Repeat and improve.
NB. If relevant, this phase may include creating a prototype of the product you will offer so that you can demonstrate your product to potential backers.
2. Set a launch date and plan to meet it:
A lot needs to be done to launch a crowdfunding campaign. By planning and delegating you increase the chances of everything being done on time. Through careful delegating you can make the most of the different skills of your team members (if you have a team).
- Check today’s date.
- Decide when you need/want to launch (maybe you have an imposed deadline).
- Calculate how many weeks you have.
- List everything you need to do (this checklist is a good start).
- Map the skills and available time/level of commitment of your team (if you have one).
- Assign the tasks based on the skills and available time of the team members and set deadlines.
NB. Consider the skill sets of your friends and close community that might be willing to help you. For example, you might have a friend with great video editing skills, equipment, and software. Don’t be afraid to ask — people often love to help, especially if it is for a good cause.
3. Study (similar campaigns):
Doing a study of similar crowdfunding campaigns will inform many aspects of how you develop your own crowdfunding campaign. You can learn from what other people did well and what they did badly. It should inspire you and give ideas.
- Find at least ten similar crowdfunding campaigns.
- Look at how big or small their funding target was and if they were successful.
- Look at the rewards they offered and take a note of which ones worked and which ones didn’t.
- Read the text they used, look at the photos they chose, watch their videos. Take notes on what you like. Seek ideas and inspiration. Ask yourself if you would back them and why or why not?
- Compare the success of similar campaigns across a range of platforms. Maybe campaigns like yours do better on a specific crowdfunding platform than on others.
- Take notes and just learn!
- Be thorough.
4. Choose a crowdfunding platform:
The same campaign could do better or worse depending on the platform it is presented on. Certain ideas are better suited to certain platforms. The optimum choice of platform for your campaign will depend on many factors. Indiegogo or Kickstarter may not always be the best choice. It’s also helpful to know which platform you will use because different platforms have different features (stretch goals, the introduction of new rewards after launch, flexible funding, pre-launch pages, etc.) and campaign page elements that you will need to consider.
- Consider the crowdfunding models offered by the various platforms (donation, reward, lending, equity) and which model you want to use (as well as which ones are available in your country).
- Check out the features and tools offered on various platforms. See how they suit, or don’t suit, your campaign and your needs. Perhaps you want to use flexible funding, stretch goals, or a pre-launch page, for example.
- Think about the language of the platform. Though most are in English, there are others available. Perhaps German would be more useful to you than English, for example.
- Look back at the study you did, see which platform worked best for campaigns similar to yours.
- Check out the fees charged by each platform.
- Write down the pros and cons of each and weigh them.
- Make sure that the platform you choose functions in Bosnia and Herzegovina (not all platforms do). If in doubt, write to them and ask. For example, at the time of writing this checklist, Kickstarter could not be used from Bosnia and Herzegovina.
5. Establish any necessary financial accounts:
When you know the platform you will use, you will be able to check how you will receive any funding you might get. You might need to do some admin here. This might involve getting a PayPal or Stripe account, for example, or opening a bank account with a specific currency. This step is important.
- Ensure that you meet the necessary requirements.
- If in doubt, write to them and ask.
6. Choose a realistic minimum funding target (and then consider stretch goals, depending if they are an option on the platform you chose):
If you choose a target that is too high, you will likely fail. If you choose a target that is too low, you won’t be able to deliver on your idea (and you might even end up using your own money to deliver on your rewards). This decision is based on many estimations and is not an exact science, but making a good estimate is better than simply divining a number.
You need to at least consider the following:
- The amount you need to complete your idea.
- The cost of fulfilling the rewards you offer.
- The processing fee that will be charged by the crowdfunding platform.
- Financial transaction fees.
- Possible taxes.
- A cushion for unexpected costs.
- How much money you need to have left over after you have fulfilled all of the above.
- How much similar crowdfunding campaigns have raised in the past.
You should consider doing this step in combination with step 7: “Outline your rewards and price tiers”.
7. Outline your rewards and price tiers:
The rewards you offer are one of the best tools you have to encourage people to contribute to your campaign. Some will contribute simply because they think your idea is worthy, others need a little more encouragement — rewards are how you do this! It is important that you consider the rewards you offer and the price they cost very carefully.
- Refer to the study you conducted earlier and take inspiration from the rewards that worked for other similar campaigns.
- Consider including early bird rewards with discounts or special features for people who contribute early in the campaign.
- Consider also including additional rewards you can add after the campaign has launched to maintain momentum (assuming the platform you selected allows this).
- Put yourself in the shoes of the potential contributors and ask yourself if you would be interested in the rewards you have outlined at the price you have chosen. Ask your friends what they think and take their opinions seriously.
- Ensure there is a wide range of prices from very cheap to very expensive to cater to those with both big and small budgets to capture more funding (but don’t list everything you can think of — having too many rewards is not good either).
- Make sure you can commit to delivering the rewards you offer — can you make that many of something? Can you ship product A to country B? Etc.
You should consider doing this in combination with step 6: “Choose a realistic funding target”. The study you conducted will also help a lot here.
8. Elaborate your rewards:
Your rewards need to be more than a name and a price tag to be truly enticing. Similarly, you need to fully understand them in order to get a better idea of how much time and money it will cost you to deliver on them.
- Draft a succinct and enticing description for each reward.
- If possible, take beautiful photos of each reward. If this is not possible, develop a graphic for each reward which represents it well.
- Define how you will produce/procure, and deliver each reward and work out how much it will most likely cost.
You should do this immediately after step 7: “Outline your rewards and price tiers”. The two steps will be nonlinear and go back and forth.
9. Craft your story:
People who contribute to your campaign are also buying into a story. This is a more detailed version of the first step where you defined your idea. People like to know not just what you will be offering and the problem it solves and value it adds, but why you are doing it and why you are committed to it. This will be useful when you communicate with potential backers through your campaign page. People like stories.
We recommend developing a story that:
- Outlines the idea, the problem it solves/value it adds, and how.
- Explains why you in particular want to and should do this.
- What the money you are asking for will be used for.
- What you offer in return.
- Is short.
- Uses simple, clear language.
After you do the above, make sure you get feedback from friends and family and edit and revise your story based on their inputs. Do this before you start genuinely reaching out to people and writing your campaign page.
10. Create a visual identity (logo, font, colours) and portfolio of visual materials:
People respond well to images and graphics. Images and graphics will be useful for your campaign page, in emails, and on social media. Similarly, if you are working to build something beyond the crowdfunding campaign, people will recognise and build a connection with your brand.
We recommend developing visual material for:
- Social media posts.
- Visually presenting your rewards on your campaign page.
- Use with email marketing.
NB. Try to get help and support here if you need it. Perhaps you have a friend who is a graphic designer.
11. Create social media accounts
Social media is a powerful tool. Your campaign will almost certainly fail if you do not use social media. It is one of the best ways to share and spread information about your upcoming campaign and to get people interested and following your project. You need this for building your campaign crowd.
- That you consider all of the major ones, but above all a dedicated Facebook page is a must have.
- Not committing to more social media accounts than you have the time to manage. An empty page could be a deterrent for potential contributors.
12. Plan and write your social media posts:
To make the best of social media you should plan ahead and have well thought out, written, and designed content to post on a regular basis to generate interest in your campaign before you launch and to maintain interest in your campaign after you launch. You will use the visual material from #10, but you will also need text to accompany it.
- Drafting a mixture of posts: text, image, video (if possible).
- Drafting content with different objectives for different points in the process. This should include content to start letting friends, family and followers aware that you plan to launch a campaign at least a couple of months before you launch, content to let people know your campaign will launch very soon (these should build interest and anticipation), content to let people know the campaign is live (this should drive people straight to your campaign page), and content to post giving updates throughout the campaign to maintain momentum and interests and in particular a few days before the end of the campaign (these should create a sense of urgency).
- Drafting a calendar so you know what you will post, when you will post it, and on which social media space. Obviously you don’t have to stick to your calendar 100%. Things will change and you should be flexible, but it does help to have content ready for both before and during your campaign. You might even consider content to follow your campaign to keep the momentum going.
13. Draft email templates:
One of the main tools you will use to build your pre-launch crowd (see #14 and #15) is email. They are a great way to reach out to large numbers of people quickly and efficiently. Carefully written emails will be more effective than something thrown together without much thought. What this means in practice will of course depend on the specifics of your project and your audience.
- Using a mass emailing service provider such as MailChimp (the free account should work fine for most purposes).
- Drafting different templates for different audiences. You might want to write slightly more personal messages for close friends and family, more professional messages for people from your work network, and another style of message for emails you collect during your pre-launch campaign (see #15).
- Drafting different emails for each stage of the process (building up to campaign launch, launch day, during the campaign, thank you emails, etc.).
- Drafting emails that are polite, simple, and to the point.
14. Pre-launch crowd step 1: build your family and friend’s awareness of and commitment to your campaign.
Campaigns which raise around 30% of their total target within the first few days are far more likely to be successful and receive contributions from people beyond your own network. First, people are more likely to contribute if they see someone else has. Second, crowdfunding platforms are more likely to include your campaign in their newsletter or feature them more prominently on their websites — this allows you to take advantage of the huge amount of traffic some of these platforms get.
To ensure that you reach this magic 30% quick enough, it is important to build a committed crowd before you launch. A crowd of people that you know are interested in what you will offer and that you know will actually contribute with their money. One of the easiest places for you to secure contributors like this is from your family and friends — they already know, like, and trust you (hopefully).
But, even these people will not just give you their money. You need to take some steps to make them aware and to build their interest in and commitment to your campaign.
- Tell them about it. Do this face to face. Do this over the phone. Do this through social media. Don’t be shy. Do be polite.
- Harvest their emails. A very powerful tool to reach a large proportion of your network is to collect their email addresses and write to them. You can take your contacts emails addresses of from Facebook, LinkedIn, Gmail, etc. and then write to them using a mass email tool. But do make sure to be compliant with relevant data protection legislation!
- Contact them early, before you launch your campaign.
- Write to them again, a few days before you launch your campaign.
- Write to them again on the day you launch and give them a link directly to your campaign page.
15. Pre-launch crowd step 2: expand beyond your personal network.
Depending on the size of your own network and the amount you need to raise, you might need to seek contributions from beyond your own network to reach the magic 30% figure. In fact, this will probably be the case in most instances.
- Get a landing page to collect emails. What is this? It is a one-page website (or one page of a website you already have) which has the sole purpose of collecting the email addresses of interested people. It quickly informs someone of your idea and asks them to subscribe for updates and news. And again, do make sure to be compliant with relevant data protection legislation!
- Use your friend’s social media. Ask them to share information on your campaign with their networks as well as a link to your landing page.
- Join groups on Facebook that are relevant to your campaign and promote your upcoming campaign and give the link to your landing page. Actively participate in the groups where you are able.
- Identify and reach out to relevant influential people and make them aware of your idea and upcoming campaign. If they show interest, ask them to share the campaign with their followers when you launch.
- If you have some budget (it’s not expensive), consider using targeted digital advertising to drive traffic to a landing page to collect the email addresses of interested people.
- Go to relevant events and promote your upcoming campaign.
16. Don’t launch until you have enough people waiting to back you.
There is no point launching if you don’t reach that 30%. Even if you are only launching your campaign for marketing purposes, this will only be useful if your campaign reaches a large number of people. One of the best ways to guarantee this is to do steps #14 and #15 properly and to get that 30%.
- Take the time to calculate and estimate if you have enough people interested in your campaign.
- Be patient.
- Consider that if you cannot build interest in your idea, it might mean that you need to tweak or completely change your idea.
17. Prepare a press kit and share it with relevant journalists and bloggers.
If just one or two relevant and influential journalists or bloggers cover your campaign it can really boost your chances of reaching your goal. If they back you, then so will some, maybe many, of their followers.
- Identify relevant bloggers and journalists. You can do this by looking in industry magazines and by seeing who has written about similar products or campaigns in the past.
- Build a database with their contact details.
- Prepare a press kit so that most of the work is done for them. If you don’t know what a press kit is, you can Google it. Include text, photos, and graphics.
- Send the press kit to them before the launch day. Ask them if they could kindly publish something about your campaign on the day you plan to launch (this is also called pitching under embargo).
- Try using a tool like Audiense to identify influential and relevant Twitter users too, and reach out to them as well.
- Always be polite.
- Do not spam.
18. Make your video.
The video is one of the most important elements of your campaign page. People are happier watching a short video than they are reading some text these days. Make sure you do it right.
We recommend the following:
- Refer back to the study you did in step one and the notes you took on the videos. Try to get inspiration and ideas from them.
- Draft a script. Include who you are, what your idea is, why you are doing it, what the benefit of what you are doing is and the problem it solves, how much are you planning to raise, and what you will spend the money on.
- Film it. Borrow a camera and microphone from a friend if you need to. If you have to, use your phone.
- Edit it. If you don’t have it, try to find a friend with the necessary software and skills.
- Keep the video shorter than three minutes and give exciting information early in the video to capture the audience’s attention.
Having said the above, you don’t need to direct an Oscar winning video to get people on board with your idea.
19. Build your campaign page (this will vary in the detail depending on which platform you selected).
Your campaign page is the main show! This is where people will come to give you their money. It needs to persuade people that your idea is worth their money.
What you need for this will depend on the platform you chose, but it could include any of the following and more (you will have already developed most of this stuff by now, maybe all of it): campaign title, the category, a short description, images/graphics/ endorsements, the video, a description of the problem, how your idea solves it or adds value, the rewards, your team, risks, etc.
- When you choose your platform, open it as early as you can to see what you will need and the options available so you can start working on it or at least have it in mind.
- Keep text easy to read. broken into short paragraphs, and use simple, clear language.
- Make it great. This is your stage. Don’t be lazy about any part of this: potential backers will be looking for signals of quality and trust.
- Refer to the study you did earlier to see how other people presented their campaigns.
Because you need to launch at some point.
- Check everything once more.
- Have a friend (or five friends) read through your campaign page one last time.
- Proofread those emails and posts announcing the launch again.
- Launch the campaign page!
- Send those emails alerting your crowd that you have launched and include the link to the campaign page.
- Post on your social media that you have launched and include the campaign page link.
- Ask your friends and family to post the link to your campaign page too.
- Switch any links you had going to a pre-launch landing page to go to the campaign page.
- Switch any digital advertising you had going to a pre-launch landing page to the campaign page.
21. After launch
You need to maintain momentum, and you need a plan to do this. You should have already planned much of this with steps 12 and 13. In addition to this you will need to keep people up to date with progress.
- Quickly and accurate answer any questions you receive.
- Post updates regularly on social media and on your campaign page if you can.
- Keep sharing the link to the campaign page wherever appropriate.
- Even if you didn’t have a digital advertising campaign, think about launching one if necessary to drive traffic to your campaign page. Obviously considering the costs/benefits of doing this.
- If the platform allows, add perks mid-campaign and have flash sales or perks which are only available for a short time — post about this on social media and email your list telling them about them.
Good luck! If you are successful, all of the above is just the beginning. May the crowd be with you.