How do you start getting folks to pay you to teach workshops? First you have to gain experience, develop curriculum, and understand how to hold a class or a workshop. Start by volunteering for an established, successful writer who gives workshops in your area. In lieu of paying her fee or the full fee, volunteer to help set up the room, market the workshop, sell workshop seats, all to find out exactly what goes into making a successful workshop happen.
Twelve years ago I volunteered to help out at my friend Rhonda’s writing workshop and then started conducting free prompt writing workshops on my own at a coffee shop. I was a Raleigh Jaycee and decided to put on a project called “Writing Creatively” to bring fellow Jaycees and an author together. I found an author through my contacts at the NC Writers’ Network, found her a venue for a book reading and then rounded up my fellow Jaycees at the meetings, and through email and phone calls. I did the same thing for my author friend Rhonda who HATED dealing with the minutia of workshops/attendance/follow-up. After helping Rhonda I then decided I could host and facilitate my own free creative writing workshops. Half a year later, I started charging for a memoir workshop, while also establishing workshops and classes at local continuing ed centers in Raleigh, North Carolina—I also conducted workshops on blogging/social media and writing at the library—and I’ve been going strong ever since. I’ve taught writing workshops through Meredith College, Raleigh Parks and Rec, OLLI/Encore at NC State and Duke, Duke Continuing Ed Studies and now Wake Tech.
If you want to teach a workshop or lead a retreat you’ll also need credentials. Advanced degrees are important (MA, MFA, PhD, MEd) and one way to establish credibility. In the case of writing workshops like those I teach you’ll also need some publishing credits. Have you taught or have been a tutor somewhere before? How well do you speak in public? Once you have these essentials, you’ll need to decide on what topics you’ll present. The trick here is in order to have successful paid workshops; you’ll have to give a few workshops for free to grow your reputation. Now you can write up the title of your workshop, along with a 100-150 word description. Be specific on what participants will get out of the workshop and who would be the best fit.
Include your bio, written in the third person and a recent headshot. You can give your own workshops privately OR you can partner with an organization like the library or a writers’ organization/conference. Get on writers’ newsletter lists who host workshops/retreats so you can see how their workshops are presented and what price they are charging. What language are they using to entice registrants? Is the online process easy?
In order to sell workshop seats, you’ll need a loyal list. I use Constant Contact to capture email addresses. You create this list through newsletter marketing via your website, blog and social media. You can first start teaching workshops for older adults at Osher Lifelong Learning centers for free or a modest amount—this is where you start building your list. Also, inquire at your public library. Start a Meetup group and give workshops to your participants. Meetup has been vital to my workshop success (both free and paid) Networking is also vital.
If you aren’t charging yet for your workshop, many churches are willing to provide space. The library is also a great spot too. Also look at bookstores, craft stores, health food stores, and yoga centers. At first, try not to pay for your space or if you can barter for it for services. You can also use your home, a friend’s home, the back of a coffee shop or an office that is closed at night. Use your networking contacts! Eventually when you charge for workshops, you’ll want to move into a private space that’s free of noise and distraction, has tables, chairs and AV equipment. Consider chairs, tables, acoustics, Wi-Fi and handicapped access.
Weekdays, weekends and weeknights can be great class times for workshops—don’t limit yourself to only weeknights when participants may be tired and hungry and have childcare challenges. I’ve found that Saturday mornings are the best time for two to three hour workshops. Organize your workshop with a sign-in list on a clipboard, nametags, handouts, and evaluations. Take pictures during your workshop and post on social media. Consider also videoing your class to post later in a webinar.
Retreats will be most successful when you take your most loyal workshop participants and offer them a writing retreat that gives them time to write without distraction.
First, describe what a retreat is and be sure that you market retreats to serious writers. I would charge a substantial fee so that you only get serious writers who want to make that investment.
Is your retreat going to be for writers to only write (no workshops) or will workshops be held? Decide now and communicate this in your marketing so you get the right participants.
Retreats can be held one day or multiple days—the important thing is that they give the writers time to work on their own. If you’re conducting a class all day or are bringing in speakers, then what you have is not a retreat—it’s a speaking/workshop event. Make sure your participants know the difference, or they will be uncomfortable with all of that time ahead of them. Don’t overwhelm your group with extra content if your retreat is not a writing workshop retreat.
Find a retreat space that has conducted writing workshops there before—are there tables? Is it easily accessed? Is it affordable for you so that you do more than break even? Work closely with the retreat coordinator so there are no surprises. What do the participants bring with them and when should they arrive. It’s a good idea for you to arrive ahead of your participants so you can settle in and get a feel for everything.
Cater your retreat so that you’re not worrying about the group’s dietary preferences, or if food is provided by the retreat center, let the participants know what they will be served. Take payments in installments at least six months ahead of the retreat and get enough rest before and after the retreat for yourself—they take up a lot of energy! Give out written evaluations and also take video testimonials.
Some Final Thoughts:
Don’t cheat yourself out of money because you don’t value yourself. Charge the appropriate rate.
You can sell your book at your workshop/retreat, if you’re classy about it. Be sure your book is tagged so everyone can see its price.
Take cash, check or charge using PayPal or Square. Don’t leave money on the table because you’re not fiscally proficient.
Best of luck to you! Establishing yourself as a workshop facilitator/trainer takes time, but if you go about it with solid intention and care, folks will be flocking to your workshops from around the state and beyond!