Artist Teaching: Experience vs. Pay Scale

In response to my post about teaching fees charged by artists, Jenny Schu commented:

I have been getting many requests to give workshops and am just starting off. So they are REALLY cheap, but I feel that I need the experience and feedback from my students before I start charging more normal rates.
Do you think this is ok to do? I figure I’ll start slowly raising the rates as I get more confident with my teaching.

Yes, it's okay. But it's only okay.
Be careful and be sure you’re getting paid what you’re worth.
I think venues often view local talent as cheap labor. They tend to pay more to guest artists who have to travel.
Fair? Only slightly. Someone who travels should be compensated more because of the travel time. But the base salary (or hourly rate) should be the same.
Understand that it’s hard to raise your teaching rates once you have established a relationship with a venue or organization.
If you choose to work for lower fees, perhaps you could accept with a caveat: “Your pay rates are very low and not what I expect to make in the future. I realize I need experience, so I’m going to accept your pay scale at this time. But I don’t plan to stay at that level past 2011.”
Are you charging too little?
Have you ever had to raise your teaching rates?

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33 thoughts on “Artist Teaching: Experience vs. Pay Scale”

  1. Charging too little? Hmm tricky.
    I’ve worked all my life as a scriptwriter, photographer, director, and all-round media tart in the corporate sector and made a reasonable living out of it. I’ve also always worked as a gigging musician. I can see both sides.
    The problem is (and it has been exacerbated by technological advances -i.e. anyone with a PC is now a writer, ‘I have a digital camera’ ergo I am a photographer etc..) that there are plenty of people who, because they have an alternative source of income, will happily do ‘creative work’ for little or no cost. A management consultant who charges 1000 a day will do a jazz gig for 50 and a beer or two. Now that’s going to work well for them. But what about professional musicians/artists/illustrators etc ? How will they live? You also have to bear in mind that professional doesn’t always mean excellent. It will mean competent (one would hope) but there will often be an ‘amateur’ who is more . . . shall we say proficient/able/talented? Or at least adequate…
    So you want live music, a bunch of rich kids will do it for the fun and the ‘glory’… and invite their rich friends. I know musicians who have been invited to do a series of gigs, and been sacked after the first because the second gig they didn’t bring enough friends with them! So you play, you perform and you have to attract the audience, as well . . I’ve even met Berklee professors who have had to ‘pay to play’ because the bar had a slow night…..
    I know that I’ve done gigs for a fee that is, considering the hours involved, a 10th of what I would expect in my ‘professional’ role. It’s the same old story, just like vocations – I’m thinking nurses and teachers– ‘you get satisfaction from your job’ therefore you get paid peanuts. Is that just?
    Anyway some food for thought.

  2. Been working with this one in my art pricing and my healing practice. Bottom line is it’s an inside game. To the original questioner, if people are asking for her workshops, they already see value, and I don’t mean a bargain! It is up to each of us to negotiate pricing from a place of confidence. We can learn just as much about holding a workshop getting well as we can from being underpaid. A coach can help with this. Look around for a mindset coach. Alyson, do you work with your clients on this?
    If a venue charges a pittance, and you want to work with them anyway, negotiate the balance of your regular fee in exposure, opportunity, or some other form of compensation that is a win-win.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Carla: Absolutely I work with clients on pricing. I’m not really a psychologist. Heck, not at ALL a psychologist, but I go at it from the business angle. I believe Jenny’s going to be all right. She’s okay with the lower fees as she builds experience. The tough part (asking for more) comes later.

  3. I don’t think people value things if they are cheap.
    I used to teach courses in Art for Personal Development and Inner Growth in my home about eight to ten years ago. I set my prices just a little above the art class fees asked by most groups and people teaching in my city at the time. I did this right from the time I started teaching.
    At the end of each course I had an evaluation form that I asked all my students to fill out with a rating of 1 to 10 on all the questions. The form didn’t have their name on it so they were anonymous. I asked them to rate the quality of the material and the teaching etc. I also asked if I could use their comments for advertising purposes and if so would they please add their name to which they usually agreed.
    The final question was “Do you think the course was good value for what you paid?” I almost always got very good ratings so I could use these comments in my brochures etc which I’m sure helped when people saw that my prices were in the higher range.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Susanne: Pricing just above is probably a good strategy.
      And I ALWAYS price for value. I have one hourly fee for consulting, but everything else is based on value. I go above and beyond with my clients, so I know they get great value.

  4. I am following this topic with a lot of interest because I would enjoy teaching a class here and there but have many questions.
    The few venues that allow classes to be held charge a flat rental fee to the instructor, regardless of how many attend the class. This fee is sometimes in addition to parking fees. Thinking that the venue limit was ten students and using the fee divided by ten and incorporated the fees, I still lost funds.
    How do you all handle this? How do you find venues to hold your classes?
    Question for Suzanne: Was having this class in your home a problem? What do you do differently for a class in your home versus a class at a venue?
    Thanks, all!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      A-M: Are you providing classes for the venue (e.g. an art center)? Or are you just renting the space?

    2. Alyson,
      There are few venues of which I am aware that will allow art classes.
      I would be renting the space. For example, a room at the local ceramics business may be “rented” for $75 for two hours. A room for classes at an art store is $150 for 4 hours. The library system is $150 for two(?) hours with many restrictions (they will not even allow Toastmasters nor an art salon to meet without paying the fees).
      I am beginning to open my mind to do what Suzanne did, which is give classes from home. However, I am curious about insurance, which someone mentioned along these post replies, as my home is currently rented.
      Sooooo many questions! LOL

    3. Alyson Stanfield

      A-M: I’d make sure you’re covered for liability. Hopefully you have renter’s insurance. Check with your agent about that (and your landlord).

  5. Speaking as someone wh does not teach in the art field but has travelled extensively to teach in my other career of law I would say that travelling teachers should get more, not just the exact cost of their travel and a fair rate for the time of travel but the fee should be slightly higher to reflect the inconvenience of being away from home and the toll that takes.

    1. I would agree with you entirely about ‘travelling teachers’. However ability/commitment/talent are rarely rated equitably. What I’m trying to say is that if in your case you have a well paying profession, you can actually choose: you can do it for nothing OR you can charge a ‘realistic’ price based on your professional rates or a compromise between those extremes. In any case, you have more freedom in THAT situation than a ‘professional artist’ who is unlikely to be an ‘amateur lawyer’!!
      As I said in another response to this article, I have often worked as a musician for a 10th( and less) of the fee I would have accepted in my ‘other profession’: I often question the integrity of doing it.

    2. Alyson Stanfield

      Helen: As I said, I also believe that people who come in should be compensated more. When I travel, it’s 2 days of workshops + two full travel days. I expect to be compensated for that.

  6. I loved teaching in my home. It makes it so easy as you don’t have to take equipment anywhere and set it up. It’s also cheaper, no venue cost, and you can claim the running costs for that area of your home against your income taxes.
    My students also loved coming into my home for classes as they said it made the experience so personal. I have half a dozen really good friends that I made during that time because of teaching too.
    I found people very respectful of my home however I did have a studio space in which to hold the classes. The only thing against it was that I couldn’t have lots of my own art, objects and paintings out and on the walls as I needed all the space possible for the attendees.
    If I had the space in my current home I would start teaching again as I actually love doing it.

    1. Alyson (and Susanne),
      Regarding liability insurance: my husband and I decided since I had occasional students in my home for private or semi-private lessons, we needed an “umbrella” insurance policy. I also teach workshops at my second home and this would cover that location also. It is another expense, but well worth it. Anyone teaching or doing something out of their home should check into insurance in case someone were to slip and fall, etc. Good peace of mind.

  7. I give workshops for less than my going rate all the time — in fact, they are my favorite workshops — but they are only for a specific venue — the library system. And I view them as 1/4 charity (because I knock off 25% of the price) — so I don’t feel underpaid when I am donating part of my time and meeting my costs at the same time.
    I used to charge half my usual price, but the librarians insisted I raise my prices, so I did. Now I find that with budget cuts, some libraries can’t afford me at all. So, my goal is to become financially sufficient enough to give free workshops in target libraries where the kids need art the most. But this will be my choice, so I won’t feel taken advantage of.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Good point, Natasha. It’s your choice — your gift to the community. They’re lucky to have you.

  8. After being asked by another private art school (50 mins more driving time) if I could teach at their workshop and discovering they paid the higher rate, I recently asked for a pay increase of $10/hour from the school I currently teach at. My classes are reaching full capacity and I have a high retention rate. I have been earning the same rate for two years and in our city, that rate seems to have been standard for the two – three years I have been teaching. I was told that the owner could not afford the new rate (even tho I assured her I would keep a pay rise confidential from other teachers). I am currently trying to negotiate a performance bonus – ie an extra payment for each student over a viable class level for the owner. We’ll see how that goes – any suggestions?
    However, the whole situation brought home to me that we are NOT in a great bargaining position – the extra driving time rules out teaching at night time in the new venue, something the owner of the current school knew. I need the job, and the night time class suits as it fits in with my studio practice, but I pick up a measly $125 for 2 1/2hrs teaching plus prep time and before and after clean up etc. I will be doing long day workshops with the new art school, but it still grates that the owner could just play “poor” and I have no real come back (I just taught a class yesterday that would have brought her a profit of $450 for three hours, less operational costs). My solution last year was to teach private class, which I have been building up – more control over when where and even, which students, more money – though lots more admin time. Keep juggling those balls!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Gabrielle: You don’t say how much more the new offer is for, but it sounds like you are doing a good job in your negotiations.

  9. Alyson,
    I definitely agree that you should not sell yourself under value. Not even when you are just starting out. I don’t just have the impression that people don’t value what you are doing but the next time they come across you they will ask for more discounts and take advantage of you.
    I’ve done it before and I won’t do it again,
    Franziska San Pedro

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Franziska: By definition, you charge less when you’re starting out than when you have more experience. That doesn’t mean you undervalue. It means you are valued at the level of experience you have mastered.
      I charged what I felt was my value when I started out. I charge much more now, but I am comfortable with both fees.
      I’m a MUCH better teacher now. Wiser, more knowledgeable, and worth more. I charge for that value.
      But I did not undervalue my previous work. It was valued at what I felt I was worth at the time.

    2. Thank you for responding!
      I agree with you and that’s what I meant to say: it’s always depending at what stage you are but you still have a value when you are just starting, the value will go up over time because of your experience and expertise.
      I’ve made the experience that many take advantage of people who just started out (“this would be such a great experience for you to expose yourself and meet high-profile people…” and similar) that I decided to turn down some offers. But also, I took offers that were payed low when I had the impression that there was some synergy and I could get more in future classes. And in this case, they always went up with my pay after they have seen me at a class teaching.
      Good to read all the different experiences in negotiating,
      Franziska San Pedro

  10. Alyson, this post came at the right time for me. I’m struggling a bit pricing my ebook tutorials. I’ve been teaching for many years – famous artists and professional arts writers have often said that I’m the best teacher they’ve come across.
    At the same time, I look at my work as a mission to artists. That’s why I have free tutorials on my email newsletter, but at the same time, I need to make a living.
    My goal is to put out some of the best art instruction on the internet; I know I have the experience and teaching talent to do this, but I don’t want to “gouge” artists either. My co-tutorials with other artists are currently $20 (about 25 pages). My own tutorials, which I’m working on at the moment… I’m thinking $15. I’d rather have more orders and build an following than charge a lot and not get a lot of response.
    There is the question as to whether artists will value my work more if I charge more, so not quite sure what to do with that concept. I’m leaning towards making them the same price as a dinner at Olive Garden 😉 and producing one tutorial download a month… covering a wide variety of concepts and media.
    Any advice from Alyson’s readers? I’d appreciate it.

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Lori: Price for value.
      If your buyers were to take a class, how much would it cost them?
      What’s the value in buying the tutorial over a larger book or workshop? Be clear about the benefits people will get.
      If your $20 product saved someone 3 hours trying to find a solution of their own, I’d say it was a good value, wouldn’t you?

    2. Alyson, thanks for your reply. good questions to consider!
      I get $100/day per student at my workshops. If they’re held at a workshop business/facility, it’s closer to $600 for a 5 day workshop.
      Your post here got me thinking, and I put the question out to some of the folks who’ve ordered the first tutorial. I’m glad I did because they gave me rave reviews and said that $20 was a bargain. The consensus is that $30 is still a great value for what I offered, and one said I could easily charge $40 or $50, but I don’t want to go that high.
      The plan after doing some research is to have a pre-production price of $20 and a regular price of $30. One artist said she pays that for a tank of gas and that the tutorial will do more for her than that.
      So, I’m happy now and feeling secure with the $30 🙂
      thanks Alyson for asking.

  11. In the various enterprises I’ve started in the past this is what I wish I’d done:
    Look at what price I wanted/needed to receive, in say 5 years when had achieved my (dream) goal? Take that hourly rate, (or price per tutorial,), add my overhead, hydro, heat, insurance, taxes, replacement costs, cleaning costs (sure I can do my own cleaning now, but what if I decide I prefer painting to say cleaning the toilets, then cleaning arrangements have to be in the budget), other wages (assistant, etc). Take that total amount reduce it by 10% or less per year for 5 years (or however long you think you need to reach your dream goal). Divide by the number of students/buyers.
    Now if the price is still too high, post that price and offer a limited time discount. If you are willing to ignore the overhead costs, and your labour and time other than the actual teaching time, leave the discount in place forever, or until you run out of time and energy.
    If you are working out of your own house, and ignoring the overhead, think about what it is costing you, could you live in a smaller house with less costs? Have you looked at liability insurance? What about property tax implications if you are running a business from your home? Plus the cleaning and increased replacement costs from having extra people using the bathroom etc., how much secretarial time are you putting in?
    One more thing the guideline I’ve been given is: if you increase your prices by more than 20% per year, you’ll probably need to find new buyers/students.
    Happy number crunching

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Bonnie: It’s good to see your face here! It sounds like you have lots of experience with this. I’m sure we’ll learn from what you’ve written here. Thanks!

  12. This is a very timely post and conversation. The economy has taken its toll on students taking classes and workshops. So, how do we deal with that aspect also? I have not raised my rates for workshops in about three or four years. But, the number of students has dropped also.
    For classes I have decided to only teach out of my home an open session type of class — more along a mentoring situation rather than a class with a specific plan, and I paint also with the students. Though, I do still teach workshops in other locations — Florida, Colorado, etc.
    Coming up with a reasonable rate — value for instruction received — is still difficult. Reading the post above where all the factors are used to come up with a fee, just boggles my mind. Mostly I look at other instructors, what they charge, what their level of expertise is, how long they have been teaching, etc. …. and then I try to situate my class or workshop where I think it fits. I do try to make money above the cost of the venue, travel, etc. … but those other factors, are so hard to figure out. I know you think we should be able to do that … sit down and figure it out. I’ll try to be better.
    Thanks for this post and all the information from the comments!

    1. Alyson Stanfield

      Marsha: It’s fine to look at what others are charging and start there, but you should also be crunching the numbers and making sure that you’re making money and not losing money. And by making money, I mean seeing a profit — earning a living.
      Don’t blame it on the economy. Get out there and pound the pavement. There are students to who need you. Find them.

  13. From the POV of a painting student, I just want to say that I feel my instructor undercharges us and I’m grateful that he does. I don’t think I could afford to study with him if he charged what his time is worth. There are painting students who will appreciate the value of their lessons even if they aren’t being charged a lot for them.

  14. Pingback: Artist Teaching: Experience vs. Pay Scale | davetboise

  15. I am totally interested in teaching art workshops, been a school teacher for years, and have a ‘few’ questions, LOL! This column was great, learned a lot…can you teach in a public park without permits, etc.? If you begin with a simple class, what price range can you hope to receive from students, low to high? How can you realistically make a living with art workshops and how many do you need in a given week? Thanks!

  16. Marj: I’m planning on teaching a teleseminar or webinar on this topic – coming up in June 2012. Thank you for your questions. Let me know if you have more!

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