Kim Werker on the set at Craftsy.
Photo courtesy of Kim Werker
Stacey Trock of Freshstitches is a crochet designer specializing in cute Amigurumi patterns. She’s written three crochet books and runs a popular online shop with yarn, tools, and softie accessories like craft eyes and rattle inserts. But the main purpose of her business is selling her crochet patterns.
“Before Craftsy, I had a serious problem,” says Trock. “I sold digital crochet patterns, which was great for people who already knew how to crochet and how to read a pattern, but I had a number of people ask me how to learn, and I didn’t know what to say. Most people don’t learn very well from books and I didn’t have the resources to produce a class with videos that would fill this role for me. I wrote blog posts with photos, but it just wasn’t what beginners needed.” Teaching a class on Craftsy was the solution. “Now, I can refer them to my Craftsy course, and they learn exactly how to get started, and they feel super-confident about the journey because they can ask me questions and I reply so no one gets lost!”
Trock is not alone in her enthusiasm for teaching an online craft class. Teaching on a platform like Craftsy, Creativebug or CreativeLive is a way to reach existing customers in a new way and find a new and larger audience for your work. “I have nearly 14,000 students in just one of my Craftsy classes,” says crochet designer Kim Werker who has taught two classes on Craftsy as well as a class on CreativeLive. “I could teach in person every week for the rest of my life and never reach that many students.” Online teaching can be a significant revenue source as well. “I earned more from my first Craftsy class than I did from all but one of my seven books,” Werker remarks. “In many cases, a lot more.”
Know the Platform and the People
Often, teaching online begins with the designer pitching a class. It’s important to spend some time looking through the class platform’s current catalog to determine where your idea might fit. Elizabeth Madariaga, head of the craft channel at CreativeLive, says this is a step many hopeful instructors skip. “They don’t take the time to look at the classes we already offer. I will sometimes get people sending in a proposal that shows they’ve clearly never looked at our site, detailing a class that is identical to something that already exists, which doesn’t impress me,” she says.
Often a relationship precedes the pitch. That’s how it was for Craftsy and Creativebug teacher, Anne Weil. She suggests “getting to know the folks at the platform. Follow their blog posts for a couple of months, comment, interact. Give the platform shout outs about classes you find interesting, on Facebook or Twitter.” Weil also emphasizes the power of in-person meetings. “Honestly my best advice on getting an ‘in’ with online platforms is to network. Go where there are creative people and make an effort to meet them and stay in touch. You never know who you’ll meet when and who they’ll introduce you to next. I ended up meeting my main Creativebug contact at Squam Art Workshops. It is much easier to send a pitch email to someone you know and have met face to face!”
Prepare a Detailed Proposal
Once you’ve done your best to form a relationship with the online class provider the next step is to write a clear, concise email pitch. “An excellent pitch shows me you’ve thought about the class beyond a basic concept, says Linda Permann, senior acquisitions editor for sewing and embroidery at Craftsy. “It would include visuals of similar projects so I can get a sense of your aesthetic, thoughtful reasoning as to why the class would sell, and evidence that you’ve looked at our class catalog and watched a class, so that you understand what you are suggesting.”
In the email, describe the concept for the class and your relevant experience. Also, try to answer the following questions:
- Is your course seasonal? Is there a particular time of year it’s likely to sell best?
- Can you prove that there’s a need for this class in the market? How?
- Who is the target audience for this class?
- Have you presented this information elsewhere already? Where?
Check over your pitch to be sure you’ve:
- Included your contact information.
- Provided links to your online presence.
- Described your background including degrees, awards, and teaching experience.
- Listed your availability.
- Given your course a title.
- Explained how your course will differ from the existing course in the company’s catalog.
- Composed a course description including projects or techniques that you’ll teach.
- Drafted a course summary with a breakout of the lessons.
- Create a small sample lesson including steps and common questions students ask.
- Included 3-5 well-lit photos of your work.
Once you submit your proposal, send a short follow up a week or two later to be sure it was received.
If your idea has received some interest from an acquisitions editor it’s important to keep an open mind about the actual content of your class. “Just like publishers, the company knows what sells, and in general, they make suggestions for courses that they think will sell well,” says Trock. ”Of course, when pitching, you don’t want to sound wishy-washy ‘oh, I could teach any old thing.’ Conveying your strong suits as a teacher in your craft is important. For example, I conveyed my passion for crochet, my strength at teaching beginner-level courses as well as talked a bit about my teaching philosophy, which fit in well with what Craftsy had in mind. As for the actual course material, I was completely flexible. I think this is why they selected me – they had confidence in me as a teacher.”
Sewing pattern designer and Craftsy instructor Wendi Gratz reiterates the need for flexibility on the part of the instructor. “One of the things that really impressed me was that Craftsy knows a lot about their customer behavior and what they like,” she explains. The editor at Craftsy was initially most interested in her Wild Flowers and Chirp applique quilt patterns. “I told them those were my two slowest-selling quilt patterns and that faces seem to sell much better to my audience, but they didn’t want something as kid-specific as my other designs,” Gratz recalls. “I came up with Woodland Critters as something that combined the colors and more general audience they were looking for, but with the faces that would appeal to my existing customers…The editor I worked with was really terrific about helping me understand the Craftsy platform and their own customer behavior and together we came up with a class outline that had people making from the very first lesson.”
Permann affirms Trock’s and Gratz’s pitching philosophy. “It’s useful to send a fleshed out pitch but be open to suggestions. A detailed outline helps me see how you think and organize information, and I can also ascertain whether there is enough information for a full-length class,” Permann says, but don’t be too rigid about your idea. “By nature every class changes from concept to fruition, so we seek instructors who can roll with it, but it’s still helpful to have an idea to begin with so I can see what you are bringing to the table.”
Anne Weil on the set at Creativebug.
Photo courtesy Anne Weil
To get your pitch seen by all of the acquisitions editors at Craftsy submit your course proposal here: Craftsy.com/courseproposal and consider following up by mail. Send your pitch packet to the attention of the acquisitions editor for your craft to: Craftsy, 999 18th St #240 Denver, CO 80202
To submit a proposal to CreativeLive’s craft channel contact Elizabeth Madariaga at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Get Some Experience
Your pitch is more likely to get accepted if you have prior teaching experience. Madariaga recommends getting some local teaching under your belt first. “If I have someone who can’t get me through that process, or who I suspect needs a bit more experience before they’re ready for CreativeLive, I would suggest practicing by teaching classes at a local craft store or even at your home,” she says. “Learn what it takes to manage a classroom, to build a curriculum, to plan for students of different levels, and how to explain yourself clearly and simply and in different ways for different learners.”
Permann feels the same way. “In person teaching is critical for me, because you really have to have foresight into the kinds of questions people will ask when you teach for video. Teachers who are in touch with their students regularly via teaching or blogging have much better insight into the actual skill level of their students and where they go wrong and need help,” she explains. “It’s great to watch a video where someone can execute every step perfectly, but even better to watch classes where you learn what mistakes look like, why they happened and how to fix them—and that’s what we aim for at Craftsy.”
Actual on-camera experience is a plus, but not a prerequisite. If you have a video to share, by all means share it though. “Previous camera experience is also a huge plus—it makes it very easy to see whether you’ll be good on camera when I can watch an example of your past work. However, not having camera experience is not necessarily a deal-breaker,” Permann explains.
Trock taught successfully on Crafty without prior on-camera experience and feels it was crucial to be upfront about that from the start. “I was completely honest from the beginning: to that point, I had no experience teaching on video and very little experience teaching at a national level. But I was confident in my teaching style (I had taught university courses) and also in my style (since I view my pattern and blog-writing as a form of teaching). Especially with online courses, Craftsy is investing in you as much as your material. I think if I had tried to fib or stretch the truth about my experience, that would have severely damaged their trust in me.”
Understand Your Audience Analytics
In addition to prior teaching experience, many online class editors are looking for instructors that already have a significant audience. “Audience is an increasingly important factor when it comes to being a Craftsy instructor,” says Permann. “We have 8+ million users but find that instructors with passionate, measureable audiences have the most success. We are most interested in email lists and Facebook followings—there’s no better way to convince me that a lot of people are interested in your teaching than to show me that X amount of them let you into their inbox and onto their feed. Other social media sites like Pinterest and Instagram can come into play, but it depends on how relevant they are to the topic at hand.”
If you’re audience isn’t huge yet, but your expertise is on a high-demand topic, don’t give up hope, though. Madariaga explains, “At CreativeLive we broadcast both live and pre-recorded classes. If the instructor has an established platform and an engaged audience, we’d want make that class live so that audience can interact with the instructor. But even if an instructor has a smaller following we may decide to move forward anyway because the topic they’ve pitched is one we know our audience wants us to cover.”
If At First You Don’t Succeed…
If your first online class proposal isn’t accepted, don’t take that as definitive rejection. Permann says, “At Craftsy we have very specific allocation goals—meaning, specific direction for the mix of classes and instructors to acquire—and it changes often. So, it is worth pitching another idea a few months down the road if your initial idea isn’t accepted, because of that magical thing called timing. That said, if you’ve received several rejections in a row, it’s probably safe to say that the acquisitions editor is aware of you and your knowledge base and will reach out if he or she sees a good fit in the future.”
Weil points out that a rejection can be seen as an opportunity to improve. “If they say no, ask them what you can do to improve your pitch the next time, or what specifically your pitch was missing,”
Teaching a craft class with one of the major online learning platforms is a highly sought after opportunity, and for good reason. As Werker says, “Online classes have the potential to reach students (and lots of them) from all over the world – people I’d never have a chance to teach or even meaningfully interact with otherwise. I see online classes playing a central role in my business for quite a long time to come.”
Trock agrees. “Having an online course allows me to reach thousands of students all across the world: with a format –video – that almost everyone learns well from. It’s a dream come true! And of course, being on Craftsy allows me to get myself known to all of the students they already reach!” Making this dream into a reality often begins with an excellent pitch.
Are you considering producing your own online class? Craft Industry Alliance members get access to our exclusive webinar, Producing Your Own Online Video Class, taught by a former Craftsy producer and an award-winning quilter.