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Crowdfunding dreams in Lansing

Swedish Lessons
Swedish Lessons
So here's a weird thing: if you have a great idea for a project, but don't have the funds to make it happen, you can just ask the Internet. The Internet has money. And it will give it to you.
 
Of course, it's not quite that simple. Three weeks into my very own crowdfunding project, I can confirm that such a venture is an investment in time, resources, nerves and shamelessness. (If I have to read another of my own Facebook posts about my own stinking book, I might unfriend myself.)
 
On the other hand, crowdfunding also turns out to be exhilarating, validating and downright heart-rending, as well as an effective way to raise funds. This is exactly why platforms like Kickstarter, Indiegogo and GoFundMe are so incredibly popular right now. Kickstarter campaigns alone raised $319,786,629 last year. While these three companies differ in subtle ways, they all have the same core function: providing an online space for people to pitch their projects to dozens, hundreds, even thousands of microfunders, rather than one guy in the loans department or venture capital fund.
 
As per usual, Lansing is right on top of the trend that is transforming startup financing as the world knows it. 
 
Remember when Clint Tarver, commonly known as The Hot Dog Guy, had his cart trampled near the Capitol, and the community came together to buy him a new one? That happened on GoFundMe. Even more recently, the Lansing area grieved at the death of local artist, poet, and writer Ed Lahti, even as they raised $38,000 for his friends to film a documentary about his life on Kickstarter.
 
Crowdfunding has been used locally for more traditional fundraising projects as well, such as the Lansing Community College student who is using Indiegogo to raise funds for an educational internship in Otsu, Japan.
 
For not one of those projects was the road easy, nor the route to success clear. I know how they felt; as a business writer who has produced more than one article on crowdfunding in my day, I thought I knew exactly what I was getting into when launching my Kickstarter campaign. Oh, how naïve I was, those 26 long days ago. It has been a wild and wonderful ride, and here are a few things I've learned along the way:
 
 Crowdfunding is a full-time job. I already have one of those, so suddenly finding myself with a second one was as startling as it was logistically challenging. Be prepared to save all of your sleeping, recreating and non-required eating until after the campaign is done. These platforms give you the online real estate and fund-collecting mechanism, but the PR and marketing is all up to you.
 
It's all about who you know. And who knows who you know. Social networking isn’t a way of reaching funders; it's the way. More than 30 percent of my funding came directly from social media, and those weren't all from my own posts. Unless your goal is pretty small, your friends and followers won't be enough; they'll have to share it with their friends and followers too. Make sure they know that, because honestly, they probably have things going on in their lives too.
 
Never stop the content. It took me about 48 hours to be tired of watching myself post the same old link to my Kickstarter page every two hours. Every time I talk to a friend or family member, I begin with an apology for my relentless self-promotion. In order to keep it interesting (and avoid hate mail), I had to keep coming up with new things to post. I created videos of me reading excerpts from the book, posted photos of some of my cool rewards, and even filmed a ridiculous video of my husband and I singing an 80s pop cover as a thank you when we hit 50 percent. See what I mean about shamelessness?
 
Don't panic. Ah, there were days of plenty; and then there were days of famine. During my first dry spell I totally flipped out. I whined to my husband that I was going to fail. I emailed a friend who had run a successful campaign and begged for his magic crowdfunding potion. It turns out there isn't one of those, but perspective and innovation are a good substitute. I chilled out, kept churning out new content, and the train started moving again.
 
Appreciate the amazingness of it all. On Monday, with  days to go, I met my goal. And I don't just mean my funding amount on Kickstarter. It has been my goal to publish a book for virtually my entire life. At no other point in history would this be possible. I tried the traditional publishing thing for about a minute. Searching for an agent was like a cross between job hunting and online dating. As a self-employed, married person, I had no desire to welcome either of those nightmares back into my life.
 
Without crowdfunding, however, I would have had to. Who knows if Clint Tarver would have ever gotten his hot dog business back up and running? And how else would the friends of Ed Lahti have raised $38,065 to preserve his memory in film?
 
Crowdfunding is about business, but it's also about heart. Banks loan to businesses based on plans and trajectories. People support crowdfunding projects because they love them. It's therefore no surprise that the phenomenon is catching on so well in the Lansing region. The #LoveLansing movement has always been about supporting and promoting each other, and as I can gratefully and humbly attest, crowdfunding is one big new way they are prepared to show it.


Natalie Burg is the development news editor for Capital Gains. Though she's met her goal, you can still pledge to reserve a copy of her book, Swedish Lessons: A memoir of sects, love & indentured servitude.
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