The Art Biz ep. 122: How Do You Know If a Class or Workshop is Right for You?

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?

Big Turquoise Ring by Kim Harrell
Kim Harrell, Big Turquoise Gemstone Ring with Diamond. The gemstone is 32mm x 25mm (1.5" x 1"); the full dimensions of the top of the ring is 33mm x 43mm (1.5" x 1.75"). The band is 13mm (5/8") wide and will fit a size 8.

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.

Rainy Moments painting green vertical grasses blue sky by Rachel Brask | on Art Biz Success
©Rachel Brask, Rainy Moments 04 (Summer Greens). Oil, 40 x 30 inches.

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?

Metal sculpture bench of two yellow abstract figures by Alisa Looney
©Alisa Looney, Contact II (Bench). Powder coated steel, 47 x 72.5 x 35 inches. Photo by Kerry Davis Photography.

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.

  1. 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 …
  2. 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.

painting green and yellow grasses artist Cynthia Reid | on Art Biz Success
©Cynthia Reid, On the Berm. Watercolor on paper, 12 x 16 inches.

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?

Ceramic dish made of green abstract leaves by Peggy Crago
©Peggy Crago, Bowl of Leaves. Wheel-thrown clay, slip-trailed, cut and finished with the majolica process, 5″ high by 14″ diameter. Used with permission.

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.

Marsh painting in blues and greens by Diana Rogers
©Diana Rogers, Rhythms of the Marsh, Late Summer. Pastel on sanded paper, 9 x 17 inches.

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.

Cabin Lake by Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki
©Tatjana Mirkov-Popovicki, Cabin Lake. Acrylic, 30 x 30 inches.

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.


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32 thoughts on “The Art Biz ep. 122: How Do You Know If a Class or Workshop is Right for You?”

  1. So very true. In most instances, when you go for it, you usually end up getting more out of it that you imagined and perhaps in more facets than just art alone. This is certainly how I felt about your blast off class Alyson. Those concepts travel with me everywhere in my journal!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Oh, thanks, Vanessa. I’m glad you feel your investment in the Blast Off class is worth it.

  2. Great post, Alyson, thanks!
    I like to make sure I am going to have the time to commit to the work on my end during the course of the class or right after. Otherwise, I am better off spending my money on a similar opportunity a little later.
    A good reason to take these types of classes is all the fellow classmates that end up being support and friends when the class is over – sometimes more than worth the price of the course.
    Finally, for anyone who thinks about taking Alyson’s Get Organized class, but isn’t sure it is worth the money, I can tell you from experience that you will find so much stuff in your studio that you thought you might have to re-purchase that the course will probably pay for itself 🙂

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Good point, Hannah. I should spell out Time under #2. Maybe not “have time” but “am I willing to make time.” Because no one really has time for anything new, right?
      I’m happy you found the Get Organized class of value.

  3. I’ve enjoyed the free webinars offered through They offer insights into an upcoming book or DVD by a particular artist.
    Free clips of DVD’s offered on http://www.creative and
    free e-books to download from are also great.
    Then, there are the benefits of attending an actual workshop with other artists. As a student and instructor, I’ve had mixed experiences and wrote, Eleven Ways To Get The Most Out Of Your Next Workshop. which is posted on my blog.
    And, I’m thankful for Alyson’s newsletters, which remind me of the business of art!

  4. I have never been disappointed in any class I have taken with you Alyson, and I have to disagree slightly with #2. When I took your cultivate collectors class I was not really ready to receive help due to time and focus issues on my end … I only made a half-hearted attempt to work through the assignments, however about one year later I did purchase Bento, a database software program that I learned about in your class and it is going to change my entire business life. So even when you may think you are not giving a class your all, you are still soaking in knowledge that you may eventually apply when the timing is right.
    I say take classes whenever you can find time. It is not like buying a new dress, you can not weigh the value or look in the mirror to see if the fit is right. What I look for in a learning experience … it never really matters because I am always surprised at the knowledge that shows up, and when it may “really show up” … lol, sometimes a year later.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      I return to how I responded to Hannah above. I really think you have to make time. But your disagreement with #2 takes me back to #1. You found something of value. Even a year later.

  5. What about classes to further develop your artistic skill set? Or to have intensive time with like-minded colleagues? For example, there are a number of art centers – e.g., Anderson Ranch (Colorado), Penland Schools of Crafts (Maine) – where the instructors are outstanding. However, one has to travel to get to them, pay to stay in the area (usually a resort area and expensive), and pay a steep tuition.
    I was able to go to an Anderson Ranch workshop one summer for two weeks and it changed my life. But I would not have gone if my favorite elderly aunt had not given me the wherewithal to do it.
    When have you found it worth spending the funds to do this?

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Priscilla: Do you not think my list above can be applied to that same situation? Maybe I need to add a #6: Will it break the bank?

  6. LOL – love it. This is what we learned to call the “take away” close in negotiating classes.
    “if you’re great at staying in touch with your contact list, updating your mailing list, and making your collectors feel special, you do not need to take my Cultivate Collectors class that starts February 9. Save your money.”
    Truth is – EVERYONE could benefit from keeping collectors front and center in their mind. Would love to hear some of the “gotchas” and “ahas” from your students.

  7. I took an artist business class from a local gallery a few years ago when I first moved to Athens, GA. It was definitely an eye opener to say the least and I felt so rejuvenated on the way home. I have tons of books on how to make art a business, etc. but find that I can’t just sit down to read, I’d rather be “doing” than reading about “doing”. I made it through the Art Marketing 101 book and I’ve started on your “I’d rather be in the studio” (which is great, btw) but I think I benefit more from hands on face to face situations. I like discussing art in general and it’s one of the things I miss most about art school. However, when I was in college, there wasn’t a class or workshop dealing with being a business person in the arts. I’m always learning and I’m confident in my skill set. However my business sense still leaves a lot to be desired.
    At this point, I don’t really know what I’m looking for in a workshop or if I should take another one. I don’t think I know all there is to know, but I feel like I’m doing the right things marketing wise, and that my art itself is “up to snuff” but I’m still having a hard time making actual sales. or at least as many sales as I would like.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Will: I gotcha. I like to mix it up. I love live events because I learn differently. I also like audio and interacting with others in an online forum.
      Have you considered starting one of my free salons?

  8. Thanks Alyson. You’ve given me a lot to think about and some resources to look into. I’m looking forward to investing in my business, for then, I can pay forward to my collector base!

  9. Pingback: Indigene Fine Art & Illustration » Blog Archive » Value to Questioning

  10. Your Art Biz Blast Off class was the first time I’d taken a class related in a long time (and has figured in numerous of my blogposts:Artists, Go Back to School! and Best Art Business Resources: 1 – LOL your name features more than mine on my blog, Alyson!).
    I’ve always been an avid learner – as well as enjoying the opportunities for networking and making new friends that taking classes offers – but living in a place where these opportunities aren’t readily available had got me out of the habit. Your class opened my eyes to the wealth of opportunities available online to people like me who can’t just hop in the car or on a bus and get to a live class or seminar.
    What prompted me to take your class? Instinct! It sounded like just the right fit for me at that moment. I wasn’t at all clear about what I wanted to get out of it but I just had a gut feeling it was exactly the right thing at the right moment. So I guess the that would be the guideline I’d use in the future…i.e. Can I afford NOT to do this?
    Oh, and re: Time – ditto (Can I afford not to?) But also your self-study Blog Triage is allowing me to fit in the curriculum as and when I can and also apply the bits that are most relevant to me at the moment. I know that can’t work with all course structures but it’s a great option when it’s available 🙂

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Wild C: Sorry for the delay in getting your comment here. The links triggered a spam filter.
      I like this: Can I afford NOT to do this?
      I may steal it!

  11. June Rollins:
    THANK YOU THANK YOU for another list of great resources!!!!
    I agree to add a #6: Will it break the bank?
    Having limited vacation time and funds (just like all of us, eh?), most learning and doing has to be planned. For example, I decided that the encaustic conference in June was not really going to further my project goals for 2011, but taking the CC class by you that begins in the next couple of weeks DOES. The conference would break the bank in light of my projects while the CC will fit in my “off day job hours” and budget.
    As for seminars, etc., there are MANY free podcasts out there (like your archives and the newer Artists Helping Artists and 15 Minute Craft Website Tips). I listen and track ALL of the them…and know where to go for information when I need it. All of your list weighs in when deciding to pay for a service…and like others who posted sometimes I need the interaction with others…even if just online. Add #6…it is a huge consideration!
    Looking forward to CC! Scared about how much I’ve bitten off to chew…but I WANT/NEED to follow my dreams!!!! Oceanography can be passed with a C! LOL

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Duly noted. Any updates will include #6. What’s your favorite podcast? Or do you get a little from each one?

    2. Current favorite podcast would have to be Artists Helping Artists, followed by 15 Minute Craft Website Tips, followed by yours (you have some gems!!!). I used to enjoy a few others, but some have stopped without warning (what happened to Art Heroes?). The other podcasts are “fun” like The Great Detectives of Old Time.”
      I get a little from each podcast. As I need/want to do something, I listen to the same ones over and over. Each listen gets interrupted 1,000 times, but I still learn. Something always sticks, and when sitting down to do something, I remember and do it.

  12. My problem is both choosing and “wherewithal.” Primarily the latter. I just saw the post about Alyson’s free salon program. It looks stupendous! I just have to find some local artists who are as committed to their careers as I am and who also can see the value of these. That’s actually a lot harder than it sounds.
    Which brings me to a related question. Is it appropriate to push if one’s attempt at first contact with a local art league is completely ignored and disregarded? It’s not even a professional group (as far as I can tell. they promote concerts and paintings in city hall, but I can’t find out much about them other than they have an office (not always populated) at the Library/Senior center.
    Maybe I should think bigger and approach Silvermine (given that Guilford has also proven less than welcoming).

    1. A long time ago Dorothy Parker had her round table. A convergence of poets, writers, and other artists. They interacted with one another and I have to think each gained something from the exchange – if only reassurance that there were other artists struggling with the various aspects of life as an artist in a world that maybe doesn’t understand your ideas.
      I feel so isolated and being a member of something like this where everyone is an artist who is working toward something would allow me to feel less isolated. That may not necessarily be the function of the Hamden Art League, of course. It probably isn’t.
      You know what? Forget them. I’d still be isolated given my present life circumstances. Anyway, I have everyone here who replies (Alyson, Sari, etc). That’s my art league!

  13. I am a big believer in investing in myself, but I am also guilty of thinking that “this is going to be the class that changes my life.” This thinking has led me into signing up for a few too many classes and not really applying what I was learning…. or at least that is what I thought.
    I just completed a project that has been on my “to do” list for a couple of years. After completing it, I realized that I had finally incorporated many of the techniques I had learned about in the classes and from articles and books (loved yours!) I had read. I set goals and made timelines. This stuff really works!
    This is a good topic and I just have to let you know that I tell everyone about your blog triage class. I loved that class and learned so much. I also met some pretty awesome artists that I am still in touch with almost 2 years later.
    Thank you!

  14. Pingback: Musehunting: 29th January 2011 – Becky Hunter

  15. Such an insightful and well-timed podcast Alyson. You did a fantastic job at laying out the criteria I can use to make more thoughful decisions about how I invest my time and energy into taking classes and workshops. As artists, we are fortunate to have so many excellent opportunities to grow and learn but it can be overwhelming too!

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