Lorna Sixsmith is quite possibly the busiest woman in Ireland. She’s a mum, wife to a dairy farmer, farmerette, social media consultant, blogger, columnist and author. So how did she find time to run a crowdfunding campaign to raise money to publish her first book?
In this blog post, Lorna shares her experience of running the campaign, including motivation, strategy, highs and lows, challenges, achievements and lessons learned.
Tell us about the book
The book is called “Would You Marry A Farmer?” – it’s a humorous take on what life is like married to a farmer, inspired by a blog post I wrote a year ago entitled “Advice to those considering marrying a farmer” which became very popular.
Marrying a farmer has been viewed in many different ways over the last century and the book is taking a historical and contemporary look at farming life, While it includes many serious issues such as isolation and farm safety, most of the content is delivered in a humorous way.
Why did you decide to crowdfund it?
I had been planning to send it to a traditional publisher but had been mulling over self-publishing it. I attended an ACT Ireland Wales social media conference in Wales in May and attended talks on self-publishing and crowdfunding. The following week, that particular post went viral and received over 50,000 views. The comments showed that women had enjoyed reading the humour in their lives and how it was very much a ‘common woman’ experience.
It seemed like all my planets were lining up for a reason so I decided to finish the book to have it out for Christmas but run the crowdfunding campaign, not just to raise some funds towards the publishing costs, but also to reassure myself that people would buy the book and to help increase awareness of the book pre-publication.
I tend to be quite independent as well as impulsive and I just went for it. There’s a lot of work now to be done to get the book out for the end of November but it will happen.
How did you plan your strategy?
I initially planned to use Kickstarter but then discovered it isn’t available for those in Ireland. I looked at Indiegogo but decided to go with the Irish crowdfunding website Fundit. Having a video is extremely important in crowdfunding so that people can relate to you, the creator – they can see your voice and your passion for the project.
Once I had planned the rewards, worked out the costs, the total I wanted to raise and the script for the video, Amanda at Spiderworking completed the filming and editing of the video, as well as coming up with the ‘American Gothic’ parody idea.
How did you choose / design rewards?
I wanted every reward to have a value so that people would get something concrete for the smallest reward which was €8. The most popular pledge (according to the research) tends to be around €40-50 so I opted for one reward at €45 (2 books sent anywhere in the world and an acknowledgement in the book and on the website). My goal was €6,000 so I knew I needed to include some rewards of high value as well as lower priced rewards such as the €15 for the single book.
Because I teach social media online and the courses are €60-€100, I included 2 rewards at those prices. I also included some higher priced rewards such as coming to visit our farm and adopt one of our heifer calves and other farming activities. Only two of the rewards over €115 were claimed – I designed them with the American audience in mind but perhaps because of it being an Irish crowdfunding website, there weren’t as many pledges from America as I had thought might happen. The most popular pledge was for the book at €15.
How much promotion / did your campaign require?
Promoting the campaign is like a full time job. I didn’t make people aware of it before I launched it, which was a mistake in one way, I should have told more friends to spread the word and then reminded them when it went live. As happens with many campaigns, it went well in the first ten days, then there was a long lull and then there was an incredible surge in the last 5 days. The full length of the campaign was 35 days.
Of all the social media tools, Twitter was the most successful for me although there would be significant overlap between my Twitter followers and Facebook fans. While it was wonderful to get pledges from friends and people I knew well, the ones that meant the most to me were those who had chatted with me occasionally on Twitter and decided they would enjoy the book or buy a Christmas present.
The first “Twitter pledge” was by Ian Drew and we’d had conversations about Wiltshire as I used to live there and it gave me such a boost to know that he was looking forward to reading the book. It was hard work to tweet out links and information about the crowdfunding and yet ensure that the Twitter account was conversational and gave a flavour of the book and my personality.
I found that being chatty about it was the most successful means of getting pledges but some people found it via my Facebook page and my blog too. A few Irish American bloggers wrote about my project too.
I had heard from another successful crowdfunding campaign that the media didn’t tend to cover projects until they were over so I hadn’t put that much effort into a press release or getting it out there, sending it to a few journalists I knew and the local papers.
I also received an enquiry from an Irish Independent journalist who reads my blog and she featured it in the Farming Independent, giving it a very good write up. It was also featured in both local newspapers, Irish Country Living and Agriland.
While the PR was great for increasing brand awareness and should increase sales as more coverage on publication will remind people about the book, feedback was that many readers didn’t grasp the crowdfunding concept and said they would purchase on publication.
It is hard to get people to pledge when reading an offline publication too – it really needs to have just one click for it to work. Getting PR is great but it is hard to tell how much it helps with getting people pledging. A number of sites, including Irish Central, contacted me with a request to republish my original blog post and they linked to the campaign too.
How much content did you need / prepare in advance?
Apart from the actual project, I hadn’t prepared much in advance at all. I could have prepared press releases in advance and sent them out more promptly.
What was the initial response? Was it hard to get the first few pledges?
There was a good response in the first week or ten days – friends and people I knew either really wanted to read the book, wanted to support me and I think were so amazed by what I was doing that they put their hands in their pockets – maybe a mixture of all 3 with a few people too.
The importance of having a community behind you cannot be underestimated either. I’ve been blogging a long time, have quite a few good friends from blogging and because of my involvement in organising the local KLCK bloggers network and the Blog Awards, I know some people pledged partly as a ‘thank you’ too.
What challenges did you face during the campaign?
It can be tough going to keep positive during a long lull. Although I was somewhat confident of a positive result, I would have moments of huge self doubt too. I knew the Irish tend to leave things until the last minute but with 6 days to go, I still had almost 50% to achieve and I was so wishing I’d aimed for a goal of €4,000.
I would say to anyone running a campaign that they need to have someone with them who is cheering them on, encouraging them, helping them out with social media and helping to think outside the box.
What was the hardest part?
I detest asking people for anything so that was by far the hardest. You do have to ask people though – I found that many people were delighted to respond once they heard about it. One lady from London (who I’ve never met, I used to stock her designs) once she heard about it, she pledged within seconds and shared it on her social media channels and that meant so much too because I knew she had no interest whatsoever in farming!
How much time did the campaign take?
The campaign was for 35 days. It’s hard to say how much time I put into it each day as – even if you’re not working on it (i.e. writing a press release, responding to tweets, writing a blog post [I wrote a weekly post about it], chatting to people online) – you’re still thinking about it. Yes, you can do it in your spare time but expect to be very busy.
Describe the last few weeks of the campaign / the push for the finish line
The last few days were incredible. I introduced two new rewards (the limitations of Fundit mean that you can’t put the new rewards in the rewards slot though, only in your updates).
One was aimed at the American audience – a booklet of 6 recipes would be included in every pledge of €25 as an extra. The other was aimed at businesses – that for either of the €100 rewards which were for five books or a social media course, I would include an advertisement on my new website for a year and gave them the details for my current traffic. I had connections with some farming businesses but some I met on Twitter too and ten businesses went for this option which gave it a huge boost, two of them pledging €250.
The last night was very exciting. It ended at 3pm on a Thursday but the Wednesday evening was incredible. I knew some friends kept refreshing the page (just as I did) but I hadn’t realised so many were doing so. People were pledging and as it got close to 11:30pm, there was only €82 to go. I was thinking to myself that’s about another five pledges (as most were pledging €15 or €25).
Suddenly it was there and I didn’t know who had upped their pledge. Texts, tweets, DMs and Facebook messages came flying in – I hadn’t realised how many people were watching – it almost felt like an election night! (I discovered who the last pledger was when I received the final list from Fundit).
When you made your goal, did pledges continue?
They did but I didn’t push it. I sent out a few tweets but didn’t want to overdo it so I decided to let it end relatively. A couple of people contacted me the following day as they hadn’t realised it was ending (the Irish do put a lot of things on the long finger).
What did you learn?
Lots! Plenty of surprises. The importance of community and of social media. The goodness of friends and supporters. The generosity of so many people – not just financial but also in terms of sharing and good wishes.
You also have to keep going, you may feel you are being a pain in the ass tweeting about it on a regular basis and you will receive a few unfollows but you have to keep at it. I was going to produce my book in some way if the crowdfunding wasn’t a success so I didn’t have the line “If this doesn’t get funded, it won’t happen”. Many projects use that and it seems to work.
Advice to others re crowdfunding?
Be prepared. Do your research into other successful and unsuccessful campaigns that are similar to yours. Kickstarter’s success rate is 44% and Fundit’s is 73%. Much of your success (especially on the bigger sites) comes from being a popular project and being featured on the featured pages but much comes from community too.
You must have a loyal community behind you unless your project is something that really captures the public imagination. If your project does fail, it isn’t necessarily negative. It might be because it needs tweaking but it also can be seen as testing the market i.e. your market research. Better to fail with a crowdfunding campaign than lose significant money in an investment.
You have to be confident in your own abilities too – unless people can see that passion and that confidence, it’s very hard for them to invest.
Sincere thanks to Lorna for her honesty and generosity in sharing her advice on crowdfunding. We at TweakYourBiz wish her every success with her book, which will be available for purchase from her website Irish Farmerette before Christmas. If you have any questions or comments about crowdfunding in general or Lorna’s campaign in particular, please post them below.
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