The resources you have at your fingertips for art business and career development are endless. In that respect, you are incredibly fortunate compared to artists of the past who had so little to help them make a go of it.
And there is a downside. There are so many choices to help you grow as a professional artist that it’s difficult to decide where to spend your time and money.
How do you decide? How do you know when to invest, and when to save your money?
How do you choose which programs to pay for?
As you know, I have a vested interest in encouraging you to sign up for my programs. But I’m very clear that I don’t want you to sign up for them and take your money if they’re not right for you. I mean this.
You don’t have money to waste and I’d be a bad business coach if I encouraged you to purchase something you don’t need.
I’ve been in your shoes. Repeatedly. I have invested in so many learning opportunities and coaching programs that I know what it’s like to (1) hesitate before clicking the Buy button and (2) wonder what the heck I’ve gotten myself into after clicking the Buy button.
Let’s pretend you are my coaching client and you’re debating adding something to your calendar. I caution all students and clients to be judicious about adding more to their already full schedules.
Here are some questions I’d ask to help you decide whether or not a program is right for you.
Listen now to the podcast or keep reading.
First, and above all, …
What do you want to get from this program?
Don’t enroll in a program just because it looks good and the leader is peddling scarcity, as in “Only 24 hours left” or “Just 3 seats remain.” That’s spreading fear. It’s something I used to do because that’s how I learned to do my marketing.
No more. I refuse to participate in fear-based marketing or false scarcity. Nobody should enroll in my programs for fear of missing out. I want you to be clear about why you’re enrolling and what you hope to get from it.
Why would you enroll? Do you need this program?
If it’s a course, did you review the lesson plan and discover information that might fill some of the gaps in your knowledge?
If it’s a mastermind, coaching group or community, how can it support you with your goals?
Some things are measurable:
- I want to attract 10% more subscribers and followers.
- I want to know how to improve my videos so I can confidently post a new video every week.
- I want to get new gallery representation by the end of the year.
- I want to connect with 9 new artists around the world.
And other outcomes are squishier.
- I’d like to build my confidence.
- I want clarity on my direction.
- I want to feel supported. I’m tired of doing everything alone.
I recently took part in Tom Kuegler’s LinkedIn Sprint, which I highly recommend for anyone interested in LinkedIn.
It was during an insanely busy time and I had no business signing up for something that asked for such a huge commitment. But there was a reason to my madness.
For a few years now I’ve been thinking that LinkedIn might be a brilliant opportunity for artists to connect with curators, art writers, gallerists, and consultants, so I’ve been encouraging clients to look into it. I thought I’d better dive in deeper before I suggest another artist spend time following the LinkedIn path.
Also, and this is important, I had friends who had enrolled in the program at that time so I knew it would be easier and more fun to do it with them.
I kinda got what I wanted, which was an answer about whether or not LinkedIn was a good spot for artists to spend time. In short, the answer is not currently.
On the one hand, LinkedIn is such a great platform compared to Facebook or Instagram. On the other hand, it favors business writing and loves photos of you, no your artwork. From what I learned, it doesn’t love videos. So if you are trying to share your artwork itself, LinkedIn doesn’t seem terribly artist-friendly.
Sorry to say it, but images of your art will do much better on Facebook and Instagram.
On the other hand, who knows? You might stand out more on LinkedIn and their algorithm could change tomorrow.
Bottom line: I knew exactly why I was investing in that program at the time and that made it worthwhile for me. I got something else—a big something else—from the LinkedIn Sprint, which I’ll share in a sec.
Is this program a shiny distraction?
You have important and valuable work to do. But, let’s face it, once you’re in the middle of a project, it ceases being as fun as it was when you started. It becomes a slog.
You look for anything else that might make you feel productive. Anything other than what you really should be doing.
This throws you off your path. You’re saying that the new program is more important than your goal or what you had already planned.
It may very well be more important and help you get further faster. But you have to ask about your motivation, and make sure it’s the right tack to take you're not tempted just because it’s new to you.
Are you interested in this program just because it seems more fun than what you had planned to work on right now?
Are you in a place to receive the guidance?
Are you physically ready to absorb, learn, and take action?
Are you healthy? If you’re plagued by illness or emotional problems, you are far less likely to complete the work and benefit from what is being taught.
And are you, literally, in a physical space conducive to learning?
The lessons in many of my programs, such as Optimize Your Online Marketing, can be consumed and implemented from anywhere in the world as long as there is connectivity. But that doesn’t mean that you want to be doing coursework while on vacation.
If you’re going to be away for some of the live content, the decision whether or not to enroll depends on your answers to a couple of (more) questions.
- Are you planning on doing any work during your travels? If you have built in a few hours a week to work, as I do during many of my trips, perhaps it’s doable. If not …
- Can you make a plan to follow upon your return? If you get your affairs in order so that you pick up (and catch up) where you left off, you’re likely to be more successful after your getaway.
On the other hand, the organizing classes I previously taught (and, by the way, heads up … am teaching again in September) require organizing physical and digital spaces. That’s a program you wouldn’t want to be away for. You’ve got to be with your stuff. The same is true for many studio courses you might want to take. You want to be near your art supplies and materials.
If you're not physically ready to receive and apply what you learn, pass up the opportunity. You can gather information until the sun turns lavender, but nothing will serve you until you're ready to receive it and do something with it.
Do you respect the presenters, teachers, or leaders?
The onus is on you to research the “experts” and make sure they're a good fit for your learning style. Some program leaders are more woo or spiritual, while others are more practical and down to earth. I personally like a combination of the two and try to infuse my programs with a little of both.
The important thing is that you respect the people delivering the message. What are their qualifications? Read their writings, listen to their podcast, watch their videos, and understand where they're coming from before signing up.
Look for testimonials from previous students and clients. They should be easy to find, but don’t hesitate to ask if there is any question. A good testimonial shows a transformation in a student and points to something specific rather than just general gushing.
Here’s an example.
Connie Nobbe, one of my previous students, wrote:
I love the structure of the assignments, which helps me actually DO the work. You have given me so much for my hard-earned money. Before signing up with you, I was just floating around in a void, not knowing how to manage being a professional artist. I cannot even describe the difference you have made in my art life.
Now that's a testimonial to pay attention to.
I also look for authenticity and transparency from program leaders. Pricing should be visible and the features of the program clearly delineated.
How is this program different?
When you look at the course content, do you know it already? And by know it, I don’t mean, have you read about it? I mean, Have you implemented it?
Because you can read lesson after lesson, attend all the webinars you can get your hands on, watch any number of YouTube videos, or listen to top-rated podcasts. But are you implementing what is right for you in this moment?
You don’t really know anything until you start implementing it.
Coming at a goal from a different angle might be just what you need.
Every time you look at a topic in a new format, you digest it differently. Maybe you read it somewhere, hear it on a podcast, watch a video, or attend a webinar. They all use a different set of your senses, compounding the chances that it will sink in and become part of your knowledge base.
How is the content being delivered?
Is it live or recorded? What’s the percentage of each?
Is it in person rather than online?
Is it led by someone with a fresh perspective?
The answers to those questions are considered the features of the program: How is the information being delivered?
Then there are additional features you want to know about.
Will you get feedback on the work you are doing? If so, in what format?
What level of accountability is provided?
Programs with a high personal touch will, in my experience, lead to faster growth, but there is also a pricing premium added to such programs.
What is the duration of the program and how long will you be able to access the material?
Students in my programs have forever access to course material, but limited access to the live community and group calls.
Is it ongoing, like the Art Biz Connection membership community, or does it occur within a more defined period of time?
The energy of a group class and the right instructor can help you implement what you haven’t been able to do on your own. But you need to accept responsibility for consuming the information, participating fully in the program, and putting your new knowledge to work.
That brings me to the final question I'd ask.
Are you willing to devote the time to the lessons and homework?
The truth is you will never have time. And there is no such thing as the perfect time for a program to come along. Program leaders operate on a schedule that works for them.
Unless you are prescient and set aside time for growth programs in the future, you’re probably going to have to move around a few things on your calendar in order to make room for this opportunity in your busy life.
Can you maintain other commitments—especially the commitment you have made to your studio practice?
Can you commit a few hours to class lessons and homework or to practice a new studio skill?
Can you use the information immediately?
If it’s an online class and you aren’t prepared to do the homework, you won’t be able to take advantage of the resources provided during a live class. More to the point, most of us are no more likely to do the lessons later than we are right now.
If it’s a live class—perhaps a studio skills class—do you have time to practice what you’ve learned?
It’s valuable to begin implementing new information while it’s fresh and while others in the program are doing the same work. This provides a level of accountability and helps make it stick. If you wait too long to implement, you run the risk of having to relearn everything.
Are you willing to interact with others in the program?
Will you share and comment in a forum? In a group, you are likely to learn as much from the students as you do from the teacher, but only if you interact with them.
Final thoughts: Just 1 thing
To emphasize something I said earlier, you have a responsibility in the learning process. True learning isn’t the download of information from a so-called expert. The instructor teaches and shares. You must be present to receive and do the work.
Understand that not everything in a program will be for you, and that’s okay.
As long as you participate fully and with an open mind, you can learn at least one thing from almost anything you invest your time, money, and energy in that will make it all worth it.
I find this to be true in the products and services I pay for. One sentence or idea out of an entire program can change my whole mindset, spark a brilliant idea, or confirm my direction. That one sentence or idea is priceless—well worth my investment.
Using my LinkedIn Sprint that I mentioned earlier as an example, I did learn that it wasn’t currently the best platform for artists. But I also learned how to write better posts.
I’ve been writing posts since there was such a thing as posts. But I learned how to improve my posts by participating in. this program. And the knowledge I gained was transferable to Instagram and Facebook. I saw my metrics on those platforms improve tremendously when I was focused on the content.
You’ll never be certain that a program is right for you, but with a little effort, you’ll be able to make a more informed decision. If you sign up and participate, be open to that one aha moment that will be a game-changer for your art business.
This post was originally published on January 26, 2011. It has been significantly updated with a podcast episode added and original comments intact.