NEWSLETTERS 101 #11: Share Your Skills and Knowledge!
Email newsletters are a terrific way to share our classes and workshops.
Last week’s Newsletter 101 Fine Art Views article, on sharing our process, is a natural lead-in to our next email newsletter topic: Our classes and workshops.
In her refreshingly honest book, SCRATCH: Writers, Money, and the Art of Making a Living, editor Manjula Martin discovered that most writers, even famous ones, rarely make a living on their books alone. Most of them sustain their livelihood with public speaking events and workshops. I suspect this applies to all creatives across the board, including artists. So never feel ‘less than’ when we can’t support ourselves with our art alone. You and me and almost everyone we know!
Newsletters are a great way to create and/or rekindle interest in our teaching opportunities. Yep, you can—and should—include them on your website. But a kindly reminder a month or so before you run the class might just generate a whirlwind of sign-ups, too, by creating a sense of urgency without applying pressure.
People hate pressure when they purchase something. A little push is fine. But trying to make people desperate with FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) is a highly-recognizable pressure tactic we’ve all been subjected to. I hate it. Yes, I feel the pressure, but my resentment is often enough to offset that.
Instead, when promoting your teaching skills, proceed as if talking to a friend. Would you strong-arm a friend into buying something from you? Then don’t do it to your followers and collectors, either.
Our current world situation means we probably won’t be offering in-person workshops anytime soon, unless we can hold them outdoors or in spacious, well-ventilated buildings. But there are still ways to share our skills and knowledge, through Zoom meetings, video demonstrations, downloadable digital tutorials/books/instructions, etc.
And these strange times also give us time to prepare our future workshops. If you haven’t considered teaching, now is the time to explore, research, and plan accordingly.
So, what should we teach?
We control what we teach. Sounds redundant, but true.
Last week, we touched on how uncomfortable we can feel when we sense someone wants to learn how to make exactly what we make. When people pressure me with “I want to a make a horse just like yours!” here’s where I gently lead the discussion in another direction with these words:
“Thank you, but the world doesn’t need more people making my horses.
The world needs more people who find—and make—their own individual, unique art. The world needs to hear your voice, to see your work.
I’m happy to get you started, and share the basics. The rest is your art journey.”
I tell them we are ALL inspired by the work of others, and it’s human to want to do the same thing. But if we simply copy what other people do, we are cheating not only that artist (from the proceeds for their own hard work) but we are also cheating ourselves.
Instead, I encourage them to take a class, attend a workshop, read a book, watch a video, experiment—and let the process be transformed by their own creativity and story.*
Whenever I’ve taken a class or copied someone else’s work, it’s as an exercise only. I try to figure out how they did it, and in the process, come up with something completely different. I never represent those experiments as my own work, nor do I sell them. (Okay, once, under very special circumstances, and to another professional in that field who knew it was a classroom piece and promised to respect both the teacher and me.)
And so, when I teach classes, I focus on introductory skills: Helping people get started, asking them to consider if it speaks to them, and then urging them to find their own unique aesthetic and journey. So, for example, in my case, I choose to offer introductory classes in all my media: How to work with polymer clay; how to carve a rubberstamp; how to make jewelry; professional development skills for creatives, etc.
So, introductory classes on the basics of our craft are great starts. From there, we can offer more challenging classes (for people looking to improve their skills), specific techniques (perhaps ones we ourselves have created or perfected) and advanced classes. One fiber artist friend in New Hampshire taught beginning weaving classes. Her students enjoyed her classes so much, they became an ongoing process, with students signing up over and over, becoming more advanced in their skills and techniques. What a beautiful legacy! And a source of guaranteed income.
We don’t always have to be an expert, or award-winning, or even “the best” at what we do, especially for introductory courses or specific techniques. We just have to know enough to get everyone started on their new creative journey.
When I offer a workshop, and when I begin a workshop, I tell people there is usually no “one way” to use what they’ll learn in it. And making mistakes is not only normal, it can be educational in itself. When they goof up, I can help them erase it, fix it, cover it up, disguise it, incorporate it into the design, or cut out entirely. I discovered my newest crackle effect in last week’s article by simply changing brands of clay. Who knew?! Well, I do, now!
If, like me, you send your newsletter to everyone who signed up for one, give enough specifics for people to know whether it will meet their own interests or needs. If it’s super expensive, try not to scare them off with the sticker price. But use a page on your website to outline the details (tools and materials, etc.) and elaborate on the value gained.
If you have a specific newsletter audience that signed up for notifications about classes**, go deep with your announcement! Time/date, of course, location or platform (digital, video, YouTube, download, etc.), materials and tools needed, what will be provided by you, etc.
Also share what the goal/expected outcome will be, what they will accomplish, what they will leave with. Follow-up: After the class, encourage them to share their thoughts about the class with you. If they’re good, encourage them to also share them on their own social media. Ask for permission to use their praise in your own marketing, in your next workshop newsletter, on your website, etc. Testimonials are powerful stuff!
Re: Credentials, these can help establish our ‘authority’, i.e., we are who we say we are. But that isn’t absolutely necessary. If people love what we do, and want to learn more about it, that may be the only credentialing they need.
How should we price workshops? I am the last person you should ask. Mine were always too inexpensive, but I always charge for materials.
A neighboring artist in my building charges a minimum of $45/hour. Explore what the rate is where you live, or experiment on what people are willing to pay YOU. If your prices are high, be sure to emphasize what people will come away with from their experience. One caveat: I had one student who refused to pay for materials, insisting they already had them on hand. But when they showed up, they had it all wrong. This resulted in a lot of extra time and energy on my part, them borrowing materials from me and other students, and created a lot of resentment in the process. I have learned my lesson, and I share this with you so you don’t have to make the same mistake I did.
Last, share an important concept a customer gave me: Classes are a way to create a COMMUNITY.
This person had visited my studio last year, and love love loved my work. She asked if I taught classes, and I said I had in New Hampshire, but hadn’t in California yet. They take a lot of work, a lot of prep, and in my old studio, there wasn’t enough room to host a class. So renting a room was another hassle, especially if it was “off-premises”, because I over-prepare with tools and suppliers and I always, always leave something critical at home.***
So when people ask, “How do you….” I tend to refer them to a book, another artist, etc.
But, on impulse, I asked them, “Why do you value a class so much?” And they replied, “Community.”
So powerful! I’d never thought of workshops that way. But it’s true, isn’t it? In a great class, we are not only in the presence of someone whose skills and expertise we value.
We are in the company of like-minded people, people with similar interests and abilities. It’s a place to share thoughts, feedback (IF asked-for!), praise, and encouragement, for ourselves and others. I’ve made life-long friends through classes and workshops. And that’s a beautiful way to encourage a hesitant client to engage.
As usual, I have a jillion thoughts on this, and probably missed a lot of good ones, too. If you’ve used your email newsletter to promote your teaching, let me know what I missed! Share what’s worked for YOU, and what hasn’t.
If you know someone who would enjoy this article, please pass it on. And if someone sent you this, and you found it helpful, check out more at FineArtViews.com, and at my blog at my website LuannUdell.com.
*Does this work? YES!! I’ve had this talk with people at a major show who came back the following year to show me where they went with that advice. It was wonderful! They took my words to heart, and found their own unique story and path. Or they took one of my classes and found the same. Yippee!!!
**This is a feature FASO.com offers with its email newsletter service: You can set up newsletters to go to specific groups of your own choosing. (Me? Too lazy to figure it out right now.)
***My new art studio is not only big enough for small classes, our building has a spacious classroom available to us at an extremely reasonable fee. So I would only be a hop, skip, and a jump away from that critical item I left behind!