The first step to any crowdfunding campaign is to build an audience who will actually back you. Unfortunately, most people make huge mistakes here, costing them time, money and results. We're going to show you how to go from nothing to building your audience with your own project website in just a few minutes, for far less than you probably imagine, using HostGator and WordPress.
The entire thing can be done in just 6 minutes, with just a project name, a very short description and a product photo or two. Even if you go 4 times slower than we do in the video, you can still have this done in a lunch break. Either watch the 6 minute video to follow along, or skim the article below which goes into more detail about how to customize for your own project:
Full Disclosure: There are a bunch of links in this article. Some of them are to free resources. Some of them are to paid resources that we've used ourselves enough to recommend. Some of these pay us a fee if you click our link and choose to use them, which helps us to bring you more free resources like this guide. You should assume they all do. You don't need to use any of them if you wish to use another service that provides the same benefit. I recommend you only use any of these services if they genuinely provide you with something valuable.
The Best Place to Start Building an Audience of Backers
While it's always possible to find exceptions, the most reliable way to get started on the path to getting funded is to have a website for your project that promotes your project alone, following no one's rules but your own. This is very different to having something like a page on Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Facebook, Twitter etc. You need a website of your own, that will promote you, play by your rules, share your vision and collect names of people interested in learning - and eventually committing - more to your cause.
But why not just use a Facebook or Twitter account instead?
They Who Make The Rules, Win The Game
For starters, anyone else's website (including social media platforms) will always be looking to promote their interests first. Usually this means that at best, you'll be competing for attention with hundreds of other people (or more). At worst, it means that they'll ban you from doing the things that would best promote your project or even shut you down and take all of your audience to boot.
Every year, all of the social networks - especially Facebook - introduce more and more rules limiting projects' ability to promote without paying. Every year the rules that you have to abide by to not have your account closed down get more and more complex.
Years of Your Work - Gone in 60 Seconds
While you're just using a website like Facebook or Twitter, you're unlikely to experience these problems. It's the moment you need to start promoting something that you'll find their rules can become like one, large complicated trap. You can spend years building up an audience that love you and listen to you, but break just a couple of rules you weren't aware of and all of that can be gone in an instant.
Compete For Attention With the Whole Internet... And Lose.
Even if you *don't* break any of their rules, you're still competing for attention on these sites with hundreds of distractions pulling people away from your project to a vast sea of internet diversions. These platforms are all filtering out promotional content, such as your posts telling people about your crowdfunding campaign, unless you're paying big money. For example, more and more of the content actually being seen on Facebook is content people have paid to have seen (via Facebook Advertising). Why? Well, a while back, Facebook posted that less than 12% of posts were seen by the followers of the person posting them, and that the number was dropping. Facebook stated that their filters were moving more and more away from showing people promotional posts over posts by friends, family and content based accounts. All over the internet, people have been reporting that their organic (free) reach with Facebook has been dropping and their social networks like Twitter are often even worse.
So, Social Media is... Worthless?
So, does this mean that these sites are worthless? No. They can be a decent place to find new people and be seen. Ultimately though, they're not the best place to *promote* yourself. You can, but it's not necessarily the fastest or best way to do it. Use these sites to help people find you, to like and trust you, but make sure that you're always encouraging them to join you where you can talk to them freely and never have the ability to talk to them (with their permission) taken away.
Where's that? Email. When someone is reading an email from you, they're seeing only your information, unlike on social media. This is why you typically get much higher rates of people clicking on your links in email, which is the key to getting your audience to go beyond reading, and actually come to your crowdfunding campaign or website.
Trust, and Repetition is Key
Getting people used to clicking links from you *before* you try to send them to your campaign is critical. Every time you send them a link that goes to something they genuinely love, that they can't get elsewhere, the more they'll trust you when you send them an email with a link in future. This is how you can make sure, before your campaign launches, that as much of your audience will actually visit your campaign when you need them to. In other words, the more great stuff you give them before the campaign, the more likely they are to trust you enough to visit your campaign when you need them to.
You've got to have somewhere that will be sharing only your great stuff though, that will let you promote as much as you want, whenever you want. That place is your project website.
So How Can I Get My Project a Website?
(Without Tech Skills, Spending $$$ or Taking Forever)
The fastest way is simply to watch the video above, and just copy what you see me do onscreen, step by step. If you want to understand how to customize any of these steps or understand the reason behind any of them more in depth, then read on down below.
- Get a Web Host
A web host is the business whose computers share your website with the rest of the world. Different web hosts have a range of different features, and while we recommend HostGator there are literally thousands (or more) that you could go with. The main things you should look for are:
- Cheap - The more you're spending each month, the more you need to raise to break even. Simple.
- Scalable - Many hosts are fine when you start and no one is visiting, but choke when many people visit at the same time. Unfortunately, this tends to be at the most important times, like on the launch day of your campaign.
- Fast - Google has publicly said that they give preferential treatment to sites that load fast.
- Reliable - Almost every host will claim a 99.9% uptime guarantee (meaning they promise your site will be available more than 99.9% of the time). The trouble is that most say this knowing that few people will check, and even if you do, the most they'll give you for failing is a free month of hosting ($5-$25 worth). If your website is unavailable on the most critical days of your campaign, you're going to lose far more than the cost of a month of hosting. That's why reliability is far more important than any guarantee. We use Uptime Robot to monitor every web host we try, and HostGator's Uptime has been exemplary.
- Easy - How quickly you can get this done is as important as getting it done. If it's slow and complicated and difficult, chances are you won't get it done, or you'll waste a bucket load of money along the way. You want a host that makes it easy to set up the software you need. A good host will let you do it in a few clicks, instead of taking hours.
- Choose a Domain Name
Picking a good domain name can have a big impact on the success of your site. This is the name that people put into their web browsers to visit your web page. While there is often no perfect name, the ideal name is usually the one that has the best overall mix of:
- Ending in .com
- Easy to remember
- Hard to misspell
- Unique (so people searching Google can find you easily in the search results)
- An indication of the benefit or feeling that your project will share.
- Install Wordpress
Just like with the web host, there are other good options ( I also often use Joomla ). For what we're doing here though, WordPress is perfect. It's free, easy to use and the most popular piece of web publishing software on the internet. If your web host has a simple software installation system similar to HostGator's (like Fantastico or Installatron).
- Set Up a "News" Category
Your site has two main goals. The first is to get new visitors to join your mailing list, so you can stay in contact. The second is to provide regular updates. This is the name of the link people will click on to see those updates. You can call it "News", "Updates", "Blog," or whatever you wish. You can do this just by going to Posts > Categories and editing the name of the default category. You can watch the video for exactly how and where.
- Install a New Theme
A theme is what makes the visual look of your website. Fortunately you don't need to be a designer, because WordPress comes with access to thousands of free themes, many of which look excellent. There are also a range of commercial themes that you can buy to add various features if you wish, but to begin with usually one of the free themes works great. In the demo, we use the Ward theme, but if you want to choose another theme, we recommend you use the feature filter to select a theme which has:
- Responsive Layout - This means it's designed to look good on phones and tablets as well as on a computer. Given the huge amount of content that people are viewing on phones and tablets now, this is a must.
- Custom Colors - This lets you change the main colors of the website easily, to match the look of your project.
- Featured Background Image - Lets you show whatever you wish in an image that fills the background of your site. Useful because it's a very flexible way of changing the look of your site.
- Featured Image Header - Lets you pick an image to use as a banner across the top of your site.
There are other useful features you can discover by exploring the feature filter, however with just these three you can find a range of themes that are free and can be easily modified to look like just about anything you wish.
- Create Your Home Page
The home page is usually the first page people see when they come to your website. Often people make the mistake of having this show only their latest news. The trouble is that your news updates need to assume people already understand your project and what it gives. If you assume this with new visitors though, then you won't be telling them why they should be interested in your project or giving them a reason to join your mailing list.
Instead, create a single page which doesn't change, that explains the benefits of what you're making (or the feel and style if it's an artistic project like a film or album). You can do this by going to Pages > Add New in WordPress and adding your content. Your static home page content should be made up of:
- A title that hints at what they can get from your project. Be specific and avoid dramatic, but unsubstantiated adjectives (eg. "amazing","incredible","wonderful" etc.)
- A brief description of the problem your project solves, whether a niggling problem or the lack of quality art forms in your genre. Follow that up with why and how your project will deliver the solution and/or experience. The longer it is, the fewer people will actually read it, so keep it as short as possible. Think just 1-2 paragraphs.
- Finish with a call to join the email list in exchange for instantly getting something of value emailed to them. It should be related to the project in a way that genuinely gives them value and preferably also demonstrates your ability to create this project. This could be a free first chapter, a free song download, early access to the launch with a limited number of early-bird units available at a lower price - whatever matches your project.
- A button they can click to join your email list. You can create this kind of button in just a couple of minutes using the ImageFu's free button tool. Just make sure that the wording emphasizes what they should do (click) and what they'll get for doing it.
Less Distraction Equals More Results
Set your page up to have as few links and distractions from clicking the button as possible. Any link on this page diverts people's attention away from the one thing you want them to click on, which is the button to join your mailing list. Once people click on the button, they are psychologically committed, so it's important to avoid anything which interrupts or delays from that.
Two Step for 60% Better Results
This is also one reason why we use a button that people click on before entering their email address elsewhere, rather than entering their email first and then clicking. There is plenty of research suggesting that this style of collecting emails (technically known as a "two step opt in process") can increase results by 60% or more compared to a form where people enter their email before clicking a submit button.
Once you have your signup button, then it's as simple as linking it to your mailing list's signup form.
Don't Spend Money on The Next Step
If you don't have a mailing list already, then be aware that it can be pricey, often starting at $30 every month, or more forever. That said, we've found that MailChimp makes an excellent place to start, giving you a mailing list of thousands for free, and an excellent easy to use interface.
In our next article, we'll show you how to integrate a mailing list into your new website and start growing it, for free. If you have any questions about this tutorial though, please ask below now. If you know someone thinking of running a crowdfunding campaign, who needs to start building an audience, then please do us both a favor and forward this article to them now, so they can start a website of their own today.
The best time to start building an audience is now. Let's do it, together.