Samantha Clark - The Quiet Coach and alum of The Autonomous Creative Incubator

From toxic academia to business as a support system: The power of guardrails to balance client work and studio time

The Autonomous Creative Incubator

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    Listen to Samantha’s story in her own words:

    Samantha Clark is an award-winning visual artist and writer with an active exhibition schedule, who has also been commissioned for major public projects.

    For nearly 25 years, Samantha built her body of work while supporting herself as a professor of art in higher education. But as time went on, the academic path became increasingly problematic.

    Less of her time was spent talking with and mentoring students, and more of it was spent caught up in the bureaucracies of higher ed. “The more senior you become, the more of all that stuff you get to deal with,” she said.

    Samantha knew what she wanted to do—teach and mentor artists and writers directly.

    “I was looking to cut out the middle man. I’d developed my own teaching, coaching, and mentoring service, working with artists and writers to offer them a space to reflect on their work in depth with someone.”

    The kind of one-to-one attention Samantha offered “is actually becoming quite rare in higher education, where the emphasis on group learning contexts,” she said, “which doesn’t really suit everybody.”

    Samantha Clark, artist, author, and creative coach

    Samantha was ready to offer her skills and experience directly, rather than through gatekeepers, but she wasn’t sure how to get started.

    Looking for guidance, but “there was no one-to-one support”

    Previously, Samantha had joined a program that purported to teach artists how to build a business, but she found that the course was geared toward artists who were very early in their career, not artists with her experience and expertise. The focus was on cohort work and study partners, which didn’t meet her needs.

    “There was no one-to-one support,” she explained. “There was nobody looking at what you did.”

    Seeking balance — not a full-time job

    In addition, although Samantha knew the direction she wanted to go, she was concerned about starting a new business and balancing that with her creative work.

    The Clearing by Samantha Clark
    The Clearing by Samantha Clark

    Working with other people rounds out her creative practice, but she didn’t want her coaching business to be her full time job. She wanted it to “run alongside my creative work, which is my main priority.”

    It was time to harvest the fruit of her lifelong dedication to the arts and her practice

    Because Samantha’s prior experience with a coaching program was so negative, she was initially skeptical of and cautious about the Autonomous Creative Incubator.

    In the end, it was her partner who tipped the scales for her when he was skeptical of her joining the program. She laughed, explaining, “I just thought, well fuck you, I’m going to do it. You don’t get to say what I do with my career. You don’t get to say how much I can earn.”

    Where Samantha uncovered the key to her success

    One of Samantha’s most important aha’s in the Autonomous Creative Incubator was the moment she realized that a high-ticket offer was easier to sell than a lower ticket offer. High ticket allows her to take on fewer clients and meet her goal of maintaining her mentoring and coaching business as a complement to her creative artwork rather than letting it take over.

    “It’s actually easier to sell a higher ticket offer. That’s really counterintuitive, but when you understand it, it does make sense….

    If you’re selling a £200 course, you have to get it in front of thousands of people to make enough sales; whereas to sell one £2,000 coaching offer, I don’t need to get it in front of thousands of people. It makes the whole thing feel more achievable.”

    TRYING TO COME HOME by Samantha Clark
Lace, light fitting, soundtrack, 2000.
    TRYING TO COME HOME – Lace, light fitting, soundtrack, 2000.

    As someone with a long history in the art world, Samantha regularly chats with colleagues and friends, many of whom are now department heads, curators, and working artists. And, during those conversations, it felt very natural and easy to share with them what she was doing and ask them to keep her in mind for colleagues or grad students that might be a good fit for her coaching services.

    “I have a lot of contacts. I don’t call them contacts. I call them friends, but they’re in the same business. And in a way it’s a development of what we’ve always done. As creatives, we’ve always helped each other out and thrown opportunities each other’s way.”

    Another invaluable aspect of the Autonomous Creative Incubator was the opportunity to get direct support on business tasks she was working on.

    “My initial reaction at the beginning was, wow, this is intense,” she said. “But it was kind of reassuring. This was proper meaty stuff. I can really get stuck in and get a lot out of it.”

    She valued the individual feedback on her work, especially “a rough draft of a sales page or a first stab at a value proposition. It’s really valuable to get some eyes on that work and some feedback on it, especially when you’re really uncertain and trying these things out for the first time.”

    This real-time, specialized feedback helped Samantha hone her offering and quickly prepare all the components needed to send it out into the world.

    One day for client work, the rest for art

    Samantha’s two main concerns about the Autonomous Creative Incubator were: would she make back the cost, and would it be possible to balance having a mentoring/teaching/coaching business with her art career?

    Fortunately, the answers were yes, and yes.

    By using relationship marketing as her main marketing mode and creating high ticket offers that don’t require as many clients, Samantha is able to protect her time.

    Samantha Clark | The Quiet Coach

    Now, she spends about one day per week on client work, coaching and mentoring other artists and writers, and a bit of time on other days reaching out to her network. She said, “I’m really enjoying the work that I’m doing. I get some really interesting clients. They’re just amazing. It’s like having all the good bits of teaching and none of the bad bits.”

    She’s able to “help people to reconnect with a creative practice that in many cases has been sidelined.” She said, it’s very “satisfying to help people find a creative path forward.”

    Flurries, Gouache and pigment ink on paper, 56 x 85 cm - Samantha Clark
    Flurries, Gouache and pigment ink on paper, 56 x 85 cm

    Hungry for your own escape?

    I asked Samantha who she’d recommend the Incubator to, and she said that she’d recommend it to people with “horrendous jobs that are eating them alive.”

    For creatives, this description can ring especially true in corporate and academic jobs that are heavily bureaucratic—and unfortunately, many universities and colleges fit that bill.

    “I would recommend this program to anyone, like me, who is feeling stuck in an academic job that isn’t giving them any joy and satisfaction anymore and is making them wonder why they ever got into teaching.

    Because when you get to a certain level in your career, the things that you love to do are not the things that you get to spend your time doing anymore.

    And that may be a time to reevaluate and have a rethink about how you use your skills and how you get paid for them.”

    There are so many talented, diligent, hardworking people who have spent years in academic institutions, sharing their gifts freely. But over time, they’re finding themselves moving away from teaching and mentoring and into increasingly crushing work.

    If you’re ready to return to the aspects of your job you loved (and miss), the Autonomous Creative Incubator might be perfect for you.

    Perhaps it’s time to think about what skills and expertise you aren’t currently able to express in your life, and whether those skills could possibly hold the key to unlocking more autonomy and creativity.

    Talented, committed, motivated peer group + meaty materials = returned investment

    One of Samantha’s favorite things about participating in the Autonomous Creative Incubator was that the people in her cohort were a “really interesting, talented, and highly committed bunch of people who really shared and supported each other a lot.”

    That supportive community of peers plus the quality of the program material were invaluable to Samantha and contrasted with her previous experience in the previous program she joined. She said, “I really liked the quality of the materials that you developed. I thought they were really well put together, and plenty to come back to, and refer to again.”

    For people who are on the fence about whether or not to apply to the Autonomous Creative Incubator, Samantha thought that they should take a look at what they might be able to earn back.

    “If somebody was hesitating about a level of investment, I’d suggest they just do some sums….I paid back the investment of the Incubator before the end of the six months. And I really, really, really, wanted to do that. That was one of my goals because that was important to me to feel that I could justify the investment.”

    While not everyone who participates in the Incubator can or will earn back their investment so quickly, Samantha’s experience provides a glimpse of what’s possible when one is experienced, motivated, and committed.

    Ultimately, Samantha now knows what she needs to do in her business to maintain space and support for her creative work—high-ticket offers and relationship marketing form the bedrock—while providing quality mentorship and coaching to students who need her expertise, and earning enough that it all feels well-balanced.

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