If you're one of the many creators who wasn't granted access to the elusive "charge up front" feature on Patreon, which was doled out to some creators seemingly at random, you probably struggled with theft. With Patrons being charged at the end of the month, it was all too easy for people to pledge (fingers crossed behind their back), download your exclusive content, and then bolt before being charged a cent. Creators had to choose to either sacrifice their financial security, or risk issues with Patron satisfaction and timely reward delivery. Thankfully, now there's one less thing to stress about: Charge Up Front is now available to all creators.
As someone who got access to Charge Up Front early on, I've already been through the transition that many Patreon creators are about to undergo. It can be a confusing switch for you and for your Patrons, which is why I'd like to humbly offer this little guide.
how does it work?
Charge Up Front is exactly what it says on the tin: Rather than being charged at the end of the month, Patrons will be charged as soon as they pledge to you. On every subsequent month, they'll be charged on the first of the month. (Note: This is only for monthly creators! "Per project" creators cannot charge up front.) Sounds simple, right? Unfortunately, after that it gets a little convoluted.
This is the easy part: When a new Patron pledges, they'll be charged immediately for their Patronage of the current month. So if Joe pledges on June 10, his charge is processed on June 10, and he comes a June Patron. After that, he will be charged on July 1 for his July patronage, August 1 for his August patronage, etc.
The only hiccup here is when a Patron pledges towards the end of the month. If Joe pledges on June 31, he'll also be charged the very next day for his July patronage. My suggestion is to be very clear about how your Patreon charges work, so that new Patrons towards the end of the month don't get an unpleasant surprise.
This is where it gets a little more confusing. Your Patrons are currently being charged at the end of the month. So if Joe pledges in June, he won't be charged until July 1. When you switch to Charge Up Front, your current Patrons' next charge will be for the following month. So if Joe pledged in June, paid for June on July 1, and then you switch to Charge Up Front on July 10, Joe will be charged on August 1... for August.
So... what happened to July? Joe was never charged for July. This means that while you will still get the same number of payments per year, you may have to adjust your reward distribution depending on how you manage your Patreon. For example, if you send out photo prints every month, you will need to decide whether Joe is going to get a July print and an August print, even though he was never charged for July content. I'll outline a few different strategies for dealing with this in a moment.
One last thing to note — if a Patron increases their pledge mid-month, they will be charged the difference immediately, and then their new total amount the following month. For example, if Joe is pledged at the $5 level on June 1 (and pays on June 1), and then increases his pledge to $10 on June 10, he will be charged that extra $5 on June 10. He will then be charged $10 on July 1, and every subsequent month.
how to not start a dumpster fire
If you don't communicate this information to your Patrons clearly, you may end up confusing or even driving away Patrons. That's why there are a few key steps to making this change.
1 — look before you leap
Stop! Don't press any buttons yet! Before you execute anything, you need to have a strategy. You need to make sure you fully understand Charge Up Front, you need to think about how you'll handle your "missing month" for existing Patrons, and you need to prepare to communicate all this information to your Patrons.
There are two main ways to handle the "missing month":
- Give out a "free" month. This is what I did when I changed over to Charge Up Front: I basically told my existing Patrons that they were getting this month free, as thanks for their support. Remember, your paycheck isn't changing. You're still getting the same amount on the same day of the month.
Say that you change to Charge Up Front right now, in July. Existing Patrons have already paid for June, and their next payment will be for August. They don't actually pay for July. By giving July rewards to your existing Patrons anyway, you're creating a feeling of good will. Your Patrons will feel like they're getting a great deal, your payment schedule doesn't change, and you greatly reduce confusion by continuing to produce rewards for every single month. Plus, you won't have to go through the mental labor of differentiating existing Patrons from any new July Patrons that need to receive July rewards.
- Skip a month for existing Patrons. If you don't want to or can't eat the cost/labor of a month of free rewards for your current Patrons, you can just clearly inform them that they'll be skipping a month. For example, if you switch to Charge Up Front right now, you could tell your current Patrons that July will be a "break" month with no rewards, and they'll start receiving August rewards starting August 1. Remember: Any new Patrons that come in during July will still need to receive July rewards, though!
Of course, it's your Patreon, so you can do whatever you want! Maybe you want to skip a month for everyone, and find some sort of replacement benefit for new Patrons that come in during the month of your transition. It's up to you!
2 — don't leave Patrons in the dark
No matter how you choose to handle it, your communication with your Patrons will be crucial to avoiding confusion. Here's what I suggest you do:
- Make a statement. Find one central place (be that a public Patreon post, a blog post, a tweet thread, whatever) and write up a full breakdown of everything that's happening. Be as concise and clear as possible, and get a friend to proofread it to make sure it's easy to understand. Consider making a video too, for people who prefer to listen rather than read. Make sure people can comment or contact you with any questions, and respond to those questions as quickly and helpfully as possible.
- Spread that statement. In order to reach all your followers, you'll have to post a lot. Most of your social media posts are only seen by a fraction of your audience! Dedicate at least a few days to posting about the change on all your different platforms. You don't want any Patrons to be taken by surprise!
- Be open to suggestions. People might bring up concerns that hadn't occurred to you when you were strategizing for this transition. It's important to be willing to listen and make changes if necessary.
- Remain accessible while you implement. Things might seem clear when you release your statement, but once the first of the next month rolls around, confusion and frustration could still strike. Make sure it's easy for your Patrons and potential Patrons to get in touch with you with questions during the weeks following the transition.
3 - are you SURE?
Once you switch to Charge Up Front, you can never go back! (Seriously... I'm not just being dramatic!) This means you should be absolutely sure before you make the change. Once you're ready, you can learn more about how to actually switch over your account here.
Charge Up Front is an essential tool for creators, and many people have been waiting with bated breath for Patreon to finally make it available to everyone! Now that it's finally here, make sure to take your time and figure out the best way to execute a change before you throw your Patrons into turmoil.