- Patreon is a platform that allows creators to put their content behind a tiered system of paywalls.
- YouTubers like Jessica McCabe use Patreon because it offers a second source of income that’s typically more consistent than advertising revenue.
- McCabe uses YouTube to find new audiences, then funnels interested viewers to her Patreon, where she can monetize their support through customized subscription tiers.
- On Patreon, paying fans gain access to different levels of exclusive content, including behind-the-scenes videos and private chat rooms.
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When Jessica McCabe received her first $100 Patreon payment from a fan of her YouTube channel, How to ADHD, she nearly crashed her car.
She had been struggling for months to find the time to create videos while still working full-time as a waitress. Researching, filming, and editing took dozens of hours, which had forced her to drop shifts at her job to find time to produce the videos.
Further complicating matters, her viewership was growing, but it was still small enough that it generated very little revenue from advertising. Between the skipped shifts and her fledgling audience, McCabe was actually losing money. Nearing burn-out, she had a realization.
“One day my brain shut down, and it felt like it went on strike,” said McCabe. “Like, ‘I refuse to work under these conditions. I will not write another word until somebody gives me a dollar and tells me that what I’m doing is worth it to them.'”
A fan messaged McCabe and suggested that she create a Patreon account. Using Patreon, McCabe could put her content behind a tiered system of paywalls, allowing fans to offer financial support in exchange for exclusive material and deepened engagement.
So she created an account, set up a few support tiers, and began her drive to work, checking her phone constantly to see if anyone would donate. When she received the $100 payment, the highest level of support possible for her account, she was stunned.
“I shouldn’t have been looking at my phone while I was driving, but I was that desperate,” said McCabe. “Then I realized, ‘Okay, I guess I’ll keep doing this.'”
Within months, McCabe was able to quit her job waiting tables and begin making videos full-time. On her channel, McCabe, who has ADHD, creates content that acts as a resource for people with ADHD and their support networks. She focuses on providing a “toolbox” for handling the neurological disorder, offering a variety of different strategies for navigating life with ADHD.
McCabe has since amassed 2,500 patrons, who collectively pay more than $15,000 a month. Here are the steps McCabe took to turn her YouTube viewership into a steady source of monthly income.
Offer multiple tiers
McCabe offers five payment tiers on Patreon: Tip Jar, for $1/month; Behind the Brains, for $5/month; Superbrains, for $10/month; The Brain Board, for $25/month; and Brain Advocate, for $100/month.
The majority of her supporters are on the Tip Jar and Behind the Brains tiers, but she has plenty of well-heeled patrons as well.
The Brain Board, for instance, is limited to 100 supporters, and all the spots are filled. As for the $100/month Brain Advocates, whose names McCabe displays at the end of all her YouTube videos, nearly 40 individuals or businesses have lined up to support her work.
Even though McCabe knows the most affordable tiers will be the most popular, she says it’s important to offer different price points. Especially for a creator like McCabe, whose material has a tangible impact on its viewers’ lives, she wants patrons to be able to express their support for her work, at whatever level they feel appropriate.
Use YouTube as a funnel
It’s important to McCabe that her videos are free to access, meaning anyone can find and make use of them. For that reason, she doesn’t put any of her videos behind a paywall.
YouTube is also the second most-trafficked website in the world, and it has a highly effective recommendation algorithm, which provides her videos with a constant stream of new viewers.
As a result, McCabe treats her YouTube channel like the widest part of her audience funnel, leveraging the site’s strengths as a discovery platform to passively grow her audience.
She places links to her Patreon at the end of every video and in the bio of each episode, which allows viewers who want more of her material to find it easily. This way, everyone wins: Casual fans get YouTube videos, dedicated fans get behind-the-scenes access through Patreon, and McCabe gets an expanding audience with a stable source of revenue.
Leverage exclusivity and community
Patreon creators like McCabe have two main offerings for fans: exclusive content and access to a community of like minded fans.
As the tiers rise in price, the content unlocked becomes more exclusive. For $5/month, fans get access to the Patreon stream and behind-the-scenes content; at $10/month, they can offer episode ideas. This ratcheting up in access continues at each tier, culminating at the $100/month Brain Advocates, whose names get listed at the end of each video.
In addition to exclusive content, every paying tier grants fans access to the How to ADHD Discord server. Discord is a communications platform, similar to Slack or Microsoft Teams, that allows members of a community to chat with each other. Whereas Slack and Teams are more commonly used in professional situations, Discord is popular for bringing together groups like fan bases.
With every successive tier, users get heightened chat access on the group Discord. For instance, the $10/month group gains access to a channel where they can pitch McCabe on episode ideas, whereas the $25/month group gets the opportunity to join McCabe in a monthly live-stream and discuss it in a specially created Discord channel.
Combined, the allure of exclusive content and access to a community of fans is powerful. McCabe is adamant that her YouTube videos be free resources for the ADHD community, but for fans who want a deeper connection, Patreon gives them that opportunity.