It's late at night and you can't sleep, so you flip on the TV. An infomercial reverberates off of the screen—an art instructor hawking DVDs teaching you to paint landscapes using watercolors. Only $19.95, plus you'll get a bonus CD.
What only the instructor knows is that they're taking home only a fraction—often only 30%-50%—of each sale!
It's not an overstatement to say that this is still very much the status quo in the market for high end art instruction, an antiquated industry long dominated by a few powerful distributors. But even as new technology and tools have emerged in recent years, they've presented their own challenges.
Aggregated teaching sites like Udemy require artists to create a massive amount of content, encourage high levels of price discounting, and typically present the artist's content alongside competitive offerings. Worst of all, the platform keeps the majority of sales—often well over 50%. But over the past year I've had a front row seat as a new delivery model for art instruction has emerged—one that allows artists to:
Make more money by keeping 96% of sales.
Serve a dramatically smaller audience.
Deliver a superior customer experience and more personalized approach to teaching.
This post will show you how artists like Christine Lashley have tripled their income by delivering their art instruction classes using Outseta and Webflow.
"The artists were keeping only a fraction of their actual sales"
I first met Steve Balow, a retired tech executive who enjoys painting, last summer when I first showed him a demo of Outseta. He mentioned that he was building an art instruction website for a well known landscape painter, but honestly I didn't think much of it—that is until the site made over $200,000 within three months of launching.
Naturally, I reached out to Steve to learn more about the site he'd built—only to learn that he was already constructing another similar site for another artist, Christine Lashley.
"Webflow and Outseta together provide a unique set of capabilities that are a perfect fit for the high end art instruction market," said Balow. "In Webflow I found a website builder with limitless possibilities—and the design capabilities to meet the needs of the most demanding artists. And in Outseta I found a membership platform with a billing system flexible enough to support a wide range of delivery styles way beyond any of the other membership platforms out there."
This site is perhaps most impressive because of the extent to which it leverages Outseta's different billing options and protected content features.
Anyone can sign up for a free "Core" membership. This gives you access to some instructional materials covering the fundamentals of contemporary oil painting.
Beyond the core membership, users can purchase a "Library" subscription which is setup as a subscription based add-on product. At only $15 per month, this gives students on-demand access to a broad range of instructional content. Importantly, Outseta allows any member to maintain multiple subscriptions concurrently.
Where Christine really monetizes is by selling small cohort based classes that are topically focused. These classes typically run for six weeks and cost $175 per offering. They're setup in Outseta as one-time add-on products.
Finally, Christine offers students a unique opportunity—they can sign up to have Christine provide a personalized critique of their work. She's able to charge a premium for the service and students love it. She uses Outseta's manually invoicing tools to charge students for their personalized critiques.
Here's the catalog of offerings students can choose from at checkout—they can also purchase any of these classes at any time via Outseta's profile embed.
"Outseta's ability to handle a base membership and multiple subscriptions concurrently, manual invoicing for critiques, and cohort based one-time fee classes is really what made this structure possible," says Balow. "It's awesome because Christine has been able to build a recurring revenue steam via the Library subscription, can charge for high ticket items like critiques manually, and also has the ability to keep her content fresh and her audience engaged with the topically themed classes that she offers. None of the other membership software products offered nearly enough flexibility to support this delivery model."
The flexibility of the billing system aside, it's really the delivery model that has led to Christine's success. Prior to building her site on Webflow and Outseta, Christine had offered instruction using a combination of tools that included Zoom, email, Vimeo, and Paypal. According to Balow, this resulted in:
A high administrative burden on the instructor, Christine. She wanted to focus on teaching, not technology.
Limited content protection features.
No reporting or analytics on the business' performance.
A complicated user interface for students.
Let's take a closer look at how the site is constructed and some of the benefits of this structure.
Better content delivery
Lashley Studio's new website makes it easy for customers to find the content that's most interesting to them, with most of the instruction taking the form of pre-recorded video lessons. These are supplemented by moderated lectures (also recorded) hosted via Zoom and coupled with assignments. Most of Christine's classes consist of three lessons, so the work to create new course content is quite reasonable. The video tutorials are also enhanced with additional information including lesson notes, assignments, downloadable reference materials, and related instruction.
Each of Christine's classes is its own CMS collection in Webflow, with the individual lessons setup as collection items. Here's a quick overview of how the site is structured in Webflow.
Finally, the content on Christine's site is protected using Outseta's content protection features. When a user logs into Christine's site, Outseta recognizes not only their base membership but also the add-on products that the customer has purchased in order to give them access to the art instruction content that they've paid for.
A more personalized learning experience
Outseta allows Christine to offer a much more personalized learning experience to students, by increasing the range and choice of course materials available to them.
"Previously we were only able to offer students one course at a time," says Balow. "Now anyone can sign up for Christine's "Core" membership to get a taste of her instructional style for free. Students that want access to more materials and want to learn independently can opt for a "Library" subscription for a modest monthly fee ($15), and those that want to work most closely with Christine can opt for one (or more) of her topically focused classes."
The result has been a loyal and stable customer base, who can tailor their instructional experience to their unique interests.
Trial-to-paid customer acquisition funnel
By introducing the free "Core" subscription, more students than ever have been able to try Christine's classes—a change that alone has led to a 2x increase in sign-ups. About 50% of free subscribers convert to purchasing Christine's paid products.
Payments are now collected automatically by Outseta, and students have the flexibility to purchase new classes or cancel their existing subscriptions any time on their own terms. "There's been very little need for any administrative effort in this area," says Balow. "Outseta has really streamlined everything around payments and collections for us."
More responsive customer service and communication
With Outseta providing email and help desk tools, Christine and Steve have been better equipped to respond to questions from customers. "Students have been delighted with how quickly and professionally we've been able to respond to their inquiries," says Balow. "Outseta's support ticketing system routes all customer requests to a shared inbox, where we can assign and respond to issues quickly."
Christine also uses Outseta's email tools to notify her customers of new lessons, class materials, and live sessions. Finally, automated email sequences are configured in Outseta to welcome new students to each of her classes as soon as they make a purchase.
Analytics and reporting
Outseta has also given Christine and Steve insights into the performance of their business that they'd never had prior. This includes the ability to look at the financial reports for specific customers, specific classes or product offerings, and the business as whole.
"The results speak for themselves. Christine's business has been able to triple in size over the first nine months of operation. Outseta and Webflow just seem to hum along, allowing Christine to focus on creating content and helping students learn." —Steve Balow
If you're an artist that's tried to monetize your skill set by teaching, chances are your plans were met with a lot of frustration. Rigid delivery models, huge content creation costs, and the ability to only keep a fractional percentage of your sales have simply been the norm. But as the examples above show, delivering your content with Webflow and Outseta has introduced a new alternative with some benefits that are hard to ignore.
The artist keeps 96% of sales.
A platform that's flexible enough to support a wide range of delivery models.
Tools to manage your business like—well, a business!
A lot less administrative work so artists can focus on instruction.
But perhaps most important of all, Christine's site demonstrates that substantial income can be made by providing excellent content, a high-end user interface and personalized service to a relatively small group of customers. Online courses with high fees often need to reach tens of thousands of students to make the artist any sort of significant revenue, all the while killing the artist's ability to deliver a premium customer experience. Sometimes serving less does result in more!
"Outseta and Webflow have been great to work with—they've created a wonderful way to meet my students' needs and grow my art education business. Client management and communication is versatile and easy. I have average computer knowledge, so I was apprehensive about learning to use new systems but using the software myself has been possible after only a short learning curve. My art education website, customer management, and billing, all work together automatically now so I can spend more time on quality content and my art." —Christine Lashley