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Samantha Clark is an award-winning artist and lauded author who recently transitioned from an academic career to creative coaching. After a year of hitting her income goals and filling her roster with clients, Sam hit a revenue ceiling.
Sam realized she needed to earn more—a lot more. Especially if she wanted to build up her savings and plan for retirement. But she didn’t know how to increase her revenue without increasing her workload.
On this episode, Sam and I explore strategies for escaping an income plateau, why doubling down on your marketing efforts won’t solve your revenue problem, and how to address pricing and imposter syndrome.
More from the episode
- How thinking small can set you up for tons of work, and not enough income.
- What actually happens when you raise your prices.
- The one key technique that can reduce the time you put in with each client (and preserve quality) while ALSO making sales easier.
- The marketing asset you don’t know you need that not only makes sales smoother but also helps you get over internal resistance to raising your prices.
- Why creatives are uniquely suited for designing and running their own business (and for enjoying it!)
About Samantha Clark
Samantha Clark is an award-winning visual artist of 30 years’ experience, a published author with a PhD in Creative Writing, and a university-level educator for over 25 years.
Connect with Samantha Clark
Click here to view the transcript!
Sam: the more I get into this, the more it strikes me that actually running a business isn’t that unfamiliar. The process is really creative. You just try something and then you see what happens. It’s an iterative process. It’s like writing a book. You don’t expect to get it right on the first draft.
Jessica Abel: What does it really take to become successful as a writer or artist?
There are a lot of destructive myths out there about what a creative career is supposed to look like. We’re told we shouldn’t care about worldly success or money. We’re told that if we’re good enough, everything would magically fall into place. That’s a lie and it keeps us struggling, baffled, and hungry for any shred of information that might shed light on how to keep making the work we love. That’s why I get any two artists or writers or any creatives really together in a room. And it’s a foregone conclusion that the conversation will turn to money and the nitty gritty reality of being a professional, creative.
I’m cartoonist and creative business. Coach Jessica Abel.
In my own life. The studio visit back channel conversations with other artists where we share our insights and hacks anxieties and red flags have been critical to any success I’ve achieved.
And now. I’m bringing that conversation to you. This is the autonomous creative.
Jessica Abel: This time out, we’re talking about hitting an income plateau with your creative business and how to use the tools available to you to keep growing without overworking yourself.
My guest is artist, writer, and creative coach. Samantha Clark.
When Sam and I started working together in the autonomous creative incubator, she had been testing out the idea of coaching writers and visual artists. But she still needed the strategy and tools to pull these tests together into a business model that could meet her income goals without taking more than a day or two out of her week in the studio.
And that’s exactly what we did. We set prices, came up with a goal for her client load, launched a relationship marketing strategy, and Sam filter roster.
But as she settled into this rhythm, she realized what she’d built actually demanded quite a lot of time and emotional labor. She also saw that our revenue goals were way too low. She was paying for her current needs. But she also needed to build up savings and plan for retirement.
Here’s what often happens for self-employed creatives. You come up with an idea for a business. Or for something you can sell. You start selling it. And at first it’s super exciting. People will pay you money. But at some point you realize you’re not making enough money. The most common response is to either add something else, some other way to make a bit of money, abandoning your first idea or at minimum splitting your focus so that neither idea has enough of your attention to thrive.
Or it’s to just keep plugging away at the same idea in the same way. Uh, hoping for different results. We get stuck in the sunk cost fallacy. That whatever we’ve started, that we plunged time and effort into, is what we need to stick with until we can level it up.
But so often that’s the opposite of what we need. The way we were working at first was perfect for starting. It was built to get us to a certain point. But that first way of going about things isn’t designed to keep growing beyond that point, there are structural issues that will slow you down and keep you from hitting your new, higher goals. That’s when we need to pull back and use strategy to figure out a new approach, which is what Sam and I are talking about today.
We’re going to get all strategic right after this.
Jessica Abel: Do you find it hard to talk about your work or make it clear to potential clients how incredibly valuable it is? Have you wanted to find higher paying clients, but have no idea how? Does it feel scary to set your prices at a level that you know you need to hit to make your work sustainable?
If it does, that puts you in very good company, most of my clients. And in fact, most of the creative professionals I meet struggle with these same issues.
You, like them, probably have a creative career that’s based on your passion for your work. Your vision for how meaningful it can be for others and your commitment to a creative life.
You’ve probably managed to score some nice gigs along the way, via referrals, word of mouth, and pure determination.
You’re justifiably proud of your work and what you’ve achieved.
But you face a gap. Maybe a chasm.
You’re stuck on an income plateau and are so busy, keeping the treadmill rolling, you don’t have time to figure out how to grow.
You know you’ve got it in you to hit the next level and the one after that. But you see your career stalling because you’re not launching the ambitious work you envision.
And you want to do it all while taking care of yourself mentally and physically.
First of all. Let me just say that you’re a, bad-ass it is no joke to get as far as you have. But you know what got you here. I won’t get you where you need to go.
That’s why I’m excited to invite you to the simplify to amplify round table, a free live monthly conversation, where we get together to tackle the big questions, celebrate our successes and plot out what to do next.
Running a creative business is no joke. It’s complex. Issues crop up out of nowhere. And more often than not, we have no one to turn to, to ask for help. If you have a creative business at any stage of development from nascent to veteran, you’ll get a ton out of these sessions.
Bring your questions and join me and an amazing group of creative peers who take their business as seriously as you do at the free simplify to amplify round table.
Check out Jessica abel.com/star that’s J E S S I C a B E l.com/star to register for the next session of the simplify to amplify Roundtable. I’ll see you there. Okay, now let’s start the show.
Sam, welcome. Thanks for being here.
Sam: Hi Jessica, I’m really looking forward to this.
Jessica Abel: Yeah. It’s going to be great.
So here’s the thing that happens often for self employed creatives. You come up with an idea for a business or for something you can sell and you start selling it. And at first it’s super exciting. People will pay you actual money and that’s amazing. But at some point you realize that you’re not making enough money.
And the most common thing that happens at that point is either to abandon your focus and add something else on top of what you’re already doing. So don’t keep focusing on whatever you’re doing, but just like add more and more, or just keep plugging away with the exact same thing in the same way, but hoping for different results.
We get stuck really easily in the sunk costs fallacy, which is this idea that once you’ve put a bunch of work into something, then you kind of are obliged to keep putting work into that thing forever, essentially, because it started out looking fine, and we have to stick with that one thing in order to level it up.
And often that is not what we need to do. That’s the opposite of what we need. So most of the time that’s wrong and the thing that we were doing at first was built in order to get us to X point, the point that we’re at, but it isn’t designed to keep going beyond that. And that’s when we need to pull back and use strategy to figure out a new approach.
And that’s what we’re talking about today. And Sam and I have been working together in the Autonomous Creative Incubator for about a year. Now, when we started, Sam had been testing out the idea of coaching writers and visual artists, but needed the strategy and tools to pull those tests together into a business model that could meet her income goals without taking more than a day or two out of her week so that she could continue working on her very serious and quite successful visual art career.
And that’s exactly what we did. We set prices. We came up with a goal for her client load. We launched a relationship marketing strategy and Sam filled her roster. I think you’ve been making your numbers since just a few months in, is that right?
Sam: gradually building. Yeah. So I’ve got a pretty full roster now and people keep wanting to extend. So,
Jessica Abel: Which is great, right?
Sam: which is great. Yeah.
Jessica Abel: people wanted to continue working with you after that initial six months. I think you have a mainly a six month offer correct?
Sam: Yeah. Six months is the minimum commitment.
Jessica Abel: So, but as you settled into this rhythm, you realized that each of these clients actually takes a lot of time and a lot of emotional labor. And, and this is what’s really important, is you realize that your revenue goals were just way too low. Like the goals you set, you were meeting those goals, but they were just not the right goals because you’re paying for your current needs, but you also need to be building up savings and planning for retirement.
Can you tell us about how that, this realization came to you?
Sam: Okay. So the first thing that happened when I was on the Incubator Jumpstart Weekend, which was pretty much exactly a year ago. So happy anniversary.
I realized I had to double what I thought I was going to aim for. So I doubled it. And then I started to hit that revenue goal. So I just to stop a little bit more and now we’re getting to the end of also the tax year here in the UK, it goes from April to April.
And so I’ve been over the course of this year getting much more granular about income and expenditure and so on. Yeah, so kind of a reality check.
I’m 55 and I realized that I have nowhere near enough savings for retirement . I’m of an age now where I’ve seen my parents go through that phase of life where they become more frail and more dependent. They’re no longer alive, but I was aware at the time that at least I didn’t have to worry about them financially because they had pensions.
For a long time I’ve just not been able to even think about that because I couldn’t do anything about it. Just like head in the sand or occasionally waking up in a blind panic at three o’clock in the morning going, what’s going to become of me?
And, yeah, there’s a kind of terror and then a paralysis because you look at how much have I managed to put into that savings account and then you see that, oh, that’ll get me a hundred pounds a year. So I’ve realized that what I had set as my income goal was really coming from a place of scarcity. It’s what I thought I could earn, but it’s not actually what I need to earn. And then you add on top of that what I need for paying tax. Then I need to learn even more. So it’s just like getting really– getting real, actually about what I need to be earning and it’s not about being greedy.
It’s not about grasping. It’s actually realizing that enough is actually a lot more than you think it is because as creators, we’re so used to eking it out and eking out a living that we kind of get stuck there. And it’s very difficult to think beyond that. So even at the time when I was thinking about my income goal, that felt like a real stretch. And now realizing that I need to at least triple that now feels like a real stretch. But the difference is that I do now feel like I’ve got some tools.
Jessica Abel: Yeah. I mean, you have proved to yourself that you could meet a stretch goal quickly. Right. That you turned that around pretty quickly where you were able to actually do something that you did not, you hoped you could do it, but you didn’t necessarily know that you could do it. You hadn’t proved it to yourself.
So now we’re setting a brand new one and it’s a whole other level, but we’re going to look at how to do that. And the, the other thing that goes in– so you’ve proved your offer. You’ve proved that there’s an audience for this. You’ve proved that people want it. They’re willing to pay for it. They’re willing to pay more money than you thought they would for it. All of those things are true.
And then you’re also coming into this still with a set of very specific guidelines, guardrails around what you want to be doing with clients, how you want to be working with them. One of the things we should say here is that your offer is to do book coaching largely in nonfiction, not entirely, but largely in the memoir space.
You also do some coaching for visual artists about their sort of body of work and their idea there. So there’s a, a broad base, but starting to coalesce in a couple areas.
And what’s particularly interesting about your offer is that you do it all asynchronously through writing.
Can you explain what it is that you do just so people get a sense?
Sam: Yeah. So like I mentioned before, the minimum commitment is six months, and I’m working with people who are really looking for really in depth exploration of their practice, really supportive but critical input on the work itself and also exploring the ideas around it, unpacking that. So it might be somebody who’s maybe been commercially successful but has sort of painted themselves into a corner with that because commercial success can be quite a trap.
Or they’ve had another kind of income, they’ve been in education or something art adjacent and they have always been creative and they’re just looking to integrate that back into who they see themselves as now. And I’ve also got people who have a memoir or other writing project that they really need some help with.
And that’s actually just coming from my own practice because I’ve got a memoir out there. So I’m getting clients who’ve read it and resonate with it and come to me. And visual art is my main kind of background, I’ve been an artist for 30 odd years. I’ve taught in higher education for 25 plus years.
So that’s where the clients are coming from. And I work with them on a weekly basis. We have a sort of framework of weekly email correspondence, and then monthly feedback and critique on a work in progress.
Jessica Abel: Right. Okay, great. So that’s like the baseline. And then the important thing here is that we are going to, we need to get you to a higher revenue level, but without putting in a huge amount more time. I mean, I’m sure that you have a little bit of flexibility around that, but you need to make sure you’re retaining several days a week for focused studio time. That’s really important.
Sam: Yeah, it is important because also it brings me coaching clients, but it’s also the sort of social proof as well that I’m, I’m walking the walk as well as talking the talk, and I can speak from that experience. But as I say, I’ve been getting a lot more granular about where the money is coming from and where it’s going.
And actually splitting off like the art income and the writing income and the coaching income and the expenses. So it takes a while, but I do a separate profit and loss for each one every month. And that’s really, really good information for me going forward when I think about the decisions that I have to make, because although on a revenue level, my visual art is bringing in about the same, actually, when I take out all the expenses. It’s enormous, the cost, and I live on an island, so shipping anything costs a fortune, and the basic costs are much higher. So in terms of bangs for my buck, the coaching is much more time efficient. So that’s a consideration as well.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, definitely. All right so let’s look at what the tools are that you have available for changing your revenue without radically changing the time investment. I mean, you do have one of the levers is time. Like you can decide, okay, I’m going to, instead of doing, trying to do this all on one day a week, the coaching on one day a week, I’ll do one and a half days or something like that. That’s an option, right? The pricing that you are asking for, the cost that to the client can go up.
And that can go along with a customer segment that’s different. So you have two main customer segments. You have people who are doing books and you have people who are doing visual art. And within books there are probably some sub segments in there.
And then there’s also your methodology. So like, how much time are you putting into each individual client? Can you reduce the amount of time that you’re putting into each individual client without damaging and perhaps even improving the client experience?
Jessica Abel: One thing I want to point out here is that one of the levers in your particular case right now is not actually doing more marketing, which is something that’s often the go to for people. It’s like, Oh, I’m not making enough money. I need to get out on Instagram. I need to go do some more stuff, whatever it is.
You actually have more people than you can handle right now, and if you were to bring in, I mean, it may be that you need to be thinking about marketing going, going forward in new groups like maybe changing the marketing you’re doing, but probably not necessarily adding to it because if you bring in more clients and you don’t change anything else, you don’t solve your problem, right? You end
Sam: It’s not sustainable,
Jessica Abel: not sustainable.
You are ending up just like throwing more time at the problem and still probably not hitting that triple revenue goal. It’s just basically impossible where you’re at right now. So probably it’s going to be a bunch of– like all of these things, like all of those things are going to go in.
So the first thing we talked about is the idea of, well, the first thing you and I talked about, because we’ve talked about this previously, was the idea of the methodology. So what are you thinking about in terms of that?
Some things I talked about were like, essentially, you have a very bespoke kind of interaction with each individual client. You write them individual emails and responses on their work and all this other kind of stuff. Some of those things are absolutely necessary for the client experience. But some of the things I talked about with you or things like pre recording or pre writing various parts of this, getting help for admin, et cetera.
What are you thinking about there?
Sam: I think information gathering is really vital here. So what I’m going to be doing over the next few weeks is actually just really time tracking really carefully. How much time am I spending on onboarding clients? How much time am I spending on my visual art clients? And how does that break down over a month? So is it more weekly and then less on the monthly feedback?
And comparing that with the writing clients, because my sense is that there’s something slightly different going on, and that might end up being two different offers, or it might be I decide to go with one over the other. Because with the visual art clients seems to be slightly different.
I think of it more like PhD supervision. It’s really exploring the questions that’s underlying their practice. And I’ve got background in philosophy as well. So we’re really opening up all these questions and throwing lots of other references into the conversation. And it’s less about feedback on the actual work itself.
So I think it boils down to more weekly, week by week, and I can see that that is going to be quite difficult to produce chunks. Or to create a structure because it’s a reaction, a conversation, it’s a dialogue. Whereas with the writers I can see what’s happening is i’m getting more of people with the same sorts of problems. Like, they fall into the same pitfalls.
I can see that there’s more of a structure, a beginning, a middle and an end. They want an output. They want a book. So, it’s a different thing, less open ended. And perhaps that is something that I can get more efficient at, more time efficient at.
Jessica Abel: Right. So we talked about the idea, and this is really powerful too for sales and marketing, is the idea of having a framework. So when you start with a coaching offer, like you have, you’re discovering your way through it.
Basically it’s, you know, I’ve taught in college for many, many years. The first year you’re creating a curriculum, you kind of have a hypothesis about what’s going to work, but you don’t really know until you’re in the classroom.
You start working with the students and you sort of tack and respond live to whatever’s happening in the room. And then over the process of a few years of offering the same course, you put that all into your curriculum.
You know, you basically preload all the things you know are going to come up and it becomes much simpler and smoother to teach the course because you know what it is.
This is the same idea applied to a coaching offer where if you’re going to be dealing with the same basic process with each individual client, of course you have to respond to their work in certain ways, but at a larger level, they’ve got to establish certain kinds of things in order to be able to get through the book.
There’s various– and if you can define what that framework is and you say, I have the blah, blah, blah framework. You give it a name. You talk about the stages of it and this is what will produce this outcome. And here are my testimonials like that’s a really powerful marketing asset. That’s something that’s going to help you charge higher prices because people like, oh, I want access to the whatever framework. It feels reliable. It feels tested.
It feels kind of like a container of people can trust. And it helps you enormously because you’re able to kind of slot people through these various stages and you’re going to have a lot of, you know, and depending on how you do it. Like right now you’re writing individual emails to individual people, but you could easily have some kind of a course platform or like even just pieces written sort of essays, mini essays or something like that, that you can– and you, you use a platform called Dubsado, which allows you to put stuff in people’s portals.
You could give them those things directly access to this stuff through your actual portal. And that way your direct responses to them could be shorter, simpler, more like the next thing you need to do is do this piece of the curriculum. And here’s my response to the past piece of the curriculum and how you did that. So that can shorten the time you’re investing per client.
Sam: Yeah. Yeah. And perhaps so that they are still getting a bespoke experience, that it’s not just automated, you
know, It’s this
Jessica Abel: not just automated.
Sam: Because that’d be boring for me as well.
Jessica Abel: Sure. But I mean, if we look at the way we work in the Incubator, for example, I’ve written a bunch of curriculum and I ask you guys to go through the curriculum and then in coaching calls, you bring your questions, you bring your work, I respond directly to the work.
We do it live, sometimes asynchronously, but mostly live, which is different from what you’re doing, but it’s the same basic idea. I mean, it’s the same model where there’s a framework, there are things everybody needs to do in order.
You know, in the case of the curriculum, and in the Incubator, there are things everybody needs to do in order to build the structure of a business that meets your needs.
Everyone needs to do them, but as you know from being in the Incubator, every business that comes through this is separate and different, has its own application for it and so on. So same deal with you. The books and your responses with those individual clients will be very bespoke, but you still have a structure and a framework that you’re putting them through.
Sam: Yeah, so this is the question that I’m, I’m kind of dangling in front of myself over the next few months is, does this take me in a direction that I didn’t anticipate, which is more towards the book coaching and out of my history of being a visual artist?
So yeah, I don’t have to make that decision in a hurry, but it’s one that I’m kind of contemplating at the moment.
Jessica Abel: Right. And the fact that you’re doing time tracking about this is going to be so helpful with that. Cause I know that you enjoy your visual art clients, and I know that you are really good at that. But it may not be the thing that solves your income plateau problem.
Sam: Yeah, exactly. Because when I’m thinking about this in terms of the time it takes out of my studio practice that focuses the mind, doesn’t it? Because would I rather be talking to this really interesting artist about their work? Or would I rather be getting on with my own?
Because that’s the payoff.
So, knowledge is power. So knowing how much time it’s taking out of the studio and making the decisions based on that rather than a kind of vague feeling. Because it also means that I don’t get into a position where I feel resentful. want to ever get in that because that’s why I decided I wanted to set up my own business.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, because you were feeling really resentful towards academia. And even though you loved your students, the structure of it was so exploitative. You were just like, I have to stop. And I absolutely, I’ve seen that so many times. I totally understand that.
I mean, one thing you could say is like maybe your visual art offer is a back end offer where if somebody who’s really cool comes to you and you want to work with them you can set the price higher. You can say it’s going to be X amount because that it needs to be that in order to justify this focus and time from me. But I want to be able to do that. That could be something that you basically have in your back pocket.
Sam: Yeah, I mean, I’m thinking maybe I don’t invest the time in marketing that side of things because my work can do that marketing for me if people are interested and they have a look and they go oh she does coaching. I wonder if she does artists.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, I mean, you might have
Sam: That’s another way of just sort of streamlining what I have to do in terms of marketing.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, I do think that in order to make your book coaching offer more, clearly valuable to the right people, you are going to need to change the language on your landing page and the way you talk about what you’re doing so that you’re talking to writers, they know that they are in the right place, which means visual artists are going to look at that and go like, I guess I’m not in the right place, right?
You’re not necessarily like that is going to reduce the number of inquiries you get around that directly through a coaching page. Again, you have other opportunities to speak to people. You can get referral based business.
It doesn’t need to be– again, if you sort of like willing to take your foot off the gas with that and just let that happen sort of organically and say, like, I’ll never take more than say one client at a time in that category in order to make sure I’m not overloaded. You could fill that slot or not, and it’d be fine essentially.
Jessica Abel: But that gets to the second piece, which is like when you look at streamlining productizing an offer, which is what we’re talking about in terms of creating some kind of demi curricular approach, like a sort of hybrid curricular approach. It does point to this big question of like your customer segment.
Who are you trying to sell to and trying to identify a customer segment that is going to be the easiest lift for you. Entertaining, cool, intellectually challenging, but also they have money to pay. They’re happy to do it. They love working with you. They sing your praises. They tell their friends. That’s what you want. And I think you do have some clients like that and identifying who those people are. And then thinking, well, how do I get in front of more of those people?
Sam: Yeah. So some of them are people who’ve been trying to write a memoir for
quite a long time and they have this monster and they need a structure for it. They need to find its arc, its narrative arc and find out what fits and doesn’t fit. I’ve got people who’ve perhaps done a lot of short courses, like short writing courses, and they get feedback maybe on 2000 words at a time or something like that.
So they’ve got all these small bits of writing and they want to find something more with a longer engagement to allow them to develop something of book length piece of writing. And I’ve also got really interesting clients coming in who are academics who want to write for a wider audience. And that might include a bit of memoir, a bit of personal narrative.
But also bringing in some of their scholarship and their field of research that they’re, they’re
knowledgeable and passionate about. And there the people I really love working with because they, yeah, they’re just brilliant. They’re so fascinating.
Jessica Abel: Yeah. But I’d also look at the, I mean, I know you’ve mentioned before that you ended up with a couple of doctors, for example.
Sam: Yeah, Yeah, yeah, yeah,
I’ve got one, one woman who’s a physician. Yeah,
Jessica Abel: So people who are professionals who have a lot to share about their history. Coming from a different world from you, not from academia, not from art, but coming from somewhere else, but they have really interesting stories to share and they have money to spend on it.
I think the same way that you’re saying knowledge is power and that you need to spend some time like looking at your numbers, your time tracking numbers, your PNL numbers about– PNL being profit and loss statement in case anybody’s not familiar with that.
How much money are, is coming in from each line of business? Identifying the, in the same kind of way, which clients are the– where was it easiest to sell your offer? Like who didn’t blink when you said the price and were like, Oh, great. Who are those people? Find more people like that
And look at their, their work, certainly, thinking about do they have a massive project or do they have a bunch of bitty things that they want to put together into a project?
That’s more of a curricular question than an audience segment question, you know, a client prospect segment question. So thinking about how, even asking these people who are your best clients, ones you like the best, again, who are easiest for you in terms of sales, who didn’t question prices, all those kinds of things, how did they find you?
Go ask them where they found you. Ask them where can you get it in front of other people like them. Use them as a resource to find other prospects like that.
Sam: Yeah, that’s interesting because I do ask people and some, quite often they can’t remember. But they seem to have been lurking for a while. So it seems to sort of slow penetration and I’m getting quite a few North American clients, which is a mystery because actually my book doesn’t have an American publisher.
But I was on a podcast with a very well known memoir coach in the States. So I think that has slowly seeped out there and has brought me a few clients.
Jessica Abel: Right. And so for marketing wise that’s a really good point. Maybe that’s where these people are coming from. Maybe it’s not, but the idea of using a borrowed audience is so important and looking where can you go and partner up with somebody else who has the audience you need, ideally somebody who’s not doing the exact same thing that you’re doing. So like a memoir coach, it’s great that she had you on her podcast, but frequently, if you’re a direct competitor, that’s not going to work out.
Sam: Yeah, I wasn’t coaching at the time.
Jessica Abel: Right. You weren’t coaching at the time. Exactly. But like coming on as, as a memoir writer on a memoir coach platform. Sure. But also people who are in more general writing kind of groups who are just trying to get support for their writing, people who are trying to figure out– they’re taking little classes at local places on autobiography or something like that.
You definitely could partner up with people who are kind of life coaches, who are career coaches, people who have other specialties. How can you sort of give them something they can use with their clients that would help their clients and help them with their clients? That’s the question in terms of getting in front of those new people.
And like I said, it’s not necessarily a question of more marketing, but it probably is a question of taking your attention off of something that you’re doing now and focusing it in on getting in front of people, like groups of people who are the right, who contain the right clients,
Sam: Yeah, I’ve got a couple of workshops coming up later this month with an organization. It’s a charitable foundation named after an Orcadian. I live in Orkney and there’s a very famous Orcadian writer, George Mackay Brown and there’s a foundation.
And so they asked me if I would run a memoir workshop. And so I said, yeah, of course. And so I’m doing two. They just started advertising it, I think two days ago, and they’re already like half full already,
both of them.
that shows that there is, there’s interest in that.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, I think there’s enormous interest in this. I know several other people who work with nonfiction writers and there’s enormous interest in figuring out how to tell your story. My husband, Matt is a comics coach and frequently ends up working with people who are doing memoir comics. Like it’s just a,
it’s out there. It’s a thing people want to be doing.
So there, there’s a ton of opportunity as a coach to be selective about the clients you’re working with. And create offers that are really valuable that people are willing to pay money for.
So let’s look at the raising prices question, which is tied to these others. So you have to raise your prices. We know that, right? That is a basic level that’s going to have to happen. I know you are going to be doing the math about how much I’m thinking about when and so on. What are your thoughts about that so far?
Sam: isn’t it funny how difficult that is? I did already raise my prices once, you’ll be glad to know. And nobody batted an eyelid. I didn’t raise them astronomically, but it’s not been an issue. Because of the length of… time that I work with people, I can’t do it overnight.
So I have to plan ahead with, with how I can implement it. So I think that can probably happen alongside rethinking what my offer is going to be, rather than I just turn up in the next sales call and just add a zero on the end of my price tag and see what happens. I mean, I could try that. You never know.
Jessica Abel: I mean, I recommend that. I think there’s, you know, just add a
Jessica Abel: zeros. See what happens. You know, why not?
Jessica Abel: Think big, don’t think small. certainly for any, any new people, you can go and just put up your prices right now. Like you could just go and change your prices that are available to whoever comes to talk to you, who’s fresh in your world. That’s the new price. And then with the new existing people who are re enrolling, you need to figure out what a path is to get those people on– raise prices on them to a certain degree.
Usually you’re going to give them a break anyway, because they’re reenrolling but you, you know, you’re going to want to raise those prices over time to get– because if you’re working with people for a year or more.
Jessica Abel: It locks you in at these older prices.
Sam: Yeah, that is the drawback. So what I’m doing at the moment is I’m offering them a discount on the re up. So it sort of softens the step up to the new pricing. Because I’ve got people who are moving from the old price to the new price. So they’re paying a little bit more, but not that much more. But yeah, they are, as you say, the, the payoff is I don’t have to go and find another client.
Jessica Abel: Right. Yeah. Which is, which is
Sam: Especially if it’s somebody I really like working
with and they’re interesting.
Jessica Abel: Huge and worthwhile. If you’re working with somebody who you’re not crazy about, just give them the new price and be like, that’s the price.
And if they pay you, okay.
Sam: Okay. And that that deals with the resentment factor
Jessica Abel: Right. Then you just
Sam: yeah, suck it up.
Jessica Abel: about this now.
Sam: I feel fine.
Jessica Abel: Yeah. Yeah. No. And honestly, it’s a good way– like if you have a situation like that, we’re joking, but it is, as long as you don’t hate working with the person, cause you do not have to continue working with people you hate working with. But if it’s fine, but you’re just not excited about it. If you offer some new price, it looks crazy to you, to this person.
And they’re like, yeah, okay. That’s a major validation for you that that price could work so it’s kind of an opportunity in a sense.
Sam: Yeah. I mean, the more I get into this, the more it strikes me that actually running a business isn’t that unfamiliar. The process is really creative. You just try something and then you see what happens. It’s an iterative process. It’s like writing a book. You don’t expect to get it right on the first draft.
You get something down and then you go, right, well, that bit works, but that bit’s not so good. So let’s come back at it again. Or, you know, you do a painting and you block it in and it’s a mess, but you don’t panic because, you know, I’ve been here before. It’s fine. I’ll hang on and I’ll work it out. And each time you come back in and you make some adjustments and each new time, it’s more information.
And the more I think about it, the more I think, yeah, well, actually running a business isn’t that different. It’s really creative and experimental. You can just try things and see what happens.
Jessica Abel: Thank you for saying that. I think that is so true. And it’s something that I think artists really have a hard time understanding until they try it. It feels like number one, you have to know everything. You have to get it right. You know, if you aren’t getting it right, if things aren’t totally working out, it’s because you’re a failure and you’re terrible at this and you’re never going to be good at it. But it is really iterative.
And it is really like, figuring these things out. And when things kind of click into place is also very creatively satisfying, realizing you can do stuff.
Sam: I mean, if it’s the one thing that creative people are good at is we are good at being independent learners. That’s one thing 25 years in art schools has taught me. We know how to learn, you know, and if you can know how to learn, then we’re not learning how to look after your needs, pay your bills, not have an old age in penury.
Jessica Abel: Please!
Yes, yes, yes, absolutely agree. And I think also artists are good at being uncomfortable, trying stuff that’s uncomfortable. And we don’t necessarily recognize that in ourselves but when you’re putting artwork out you’re doing stuff that you don’t quite know how it’s going to land. We have done that before. It’s not like a situation we love, but we can do it. We know how,
Sam: Yeah, it’s good, it’s good, training in being uncomfortable.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, sure is right.
Jessica Abel: At the top of the show, I invited you to the free simplify to amplify Roundtable, where I meet monthly with a group of awesome creative professionals just like you to dig into the challenging questions that come up all the time when you’re out there on your own, trying to run a small business and make it work.
This is just a quick nudge.
If you’re listening to this episode and questions are popping up for you. If you’re thinking about how what we’re talking about would apply in your case, or maybe new ideas are bubbling up.
I got to say the simplify to amplify Roundtable– Star for short. — is the perfect place to get more clarity.
So save your zoom window at jessicaabel.com/star. And let’s get your questions answered. And get your creative business moving in the right direction.
It’s free. It’s live and I’d love to see you there.
So open up your phone right now and go to Jessica abel.com/star to save your spot.
Alright, back to the show.
Jessica Abel: so in terms of raising your prices, I think we probably covered almost everything here, but basically what I want to highlight is when you’re raising your prices, I mean, of course you can just change the number and you just be like, it’s this other number. But the ways that you can help that stick for yourself and for other people are by primarily clarifying your value proposition.
So your value proposition for anybody who doesn’t know the term is this like a statement of what the sort of top outcome people, your clients will get from working with you combined with how what you do is different, like how your path to this outcome is different from other people’s path.
And so clarifying that value proposition so it’s something that’s very appealing to the right people, but it really speaks to those people. It’s very on point. The more you do that. The more new pricing, higher prices, even ridiculously higher prices. Like, I want you to go do the math on like, that triple, triple your revenue number with the same number of clients and see what your pricing would look like.
I want you to know where you’re going with this. But even those astronomical prices, or what feel astronomical to you, can work if you have a value proposition and can deliver on that value proposition that really, really speaks to that audience. And so what that ties to is a bunch of other stuff we already talked about right niching down on the type of customer segment you’re really going to focus on.
You can’t speak to a customer segment with a beautiful, perfect value proposition, if you’re trying to speak to too many different kinds of people. So that’s number one and number two is figuring out what exactly the outcomes are that you are achieving with people and the framework piece of what is your approach, what is your framework for doing this, what are the things that you see is the most important?
When you have that, and you have the segment, the people you’re trying to speak to, those are the ingredients of a perfect, awesome value proposition that will do so much work for you in terms of getting these higher end sales to happen.
Sam: Yeah, and I think that’s where testimonials and off boarding interviews with clients, I can really just have a good long conversation with them about what they got out of working with me and what made them decide that that was something that they needed and what worked for them. And just, again, gather that information and use that To help me decide the way forward
because you don’t have to, you don’t have to guess you can ask people.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, exactly. Like what was most valuable for you? And the more people you work with, the more you know about that. And again, being careful to filter for outcomes you want to provide, cause there may be things you do early on where you’re like over delivering with stuff and people love that, but they loved something you did, but you don’t want to do that.
So you’re allowed to filter that out and say like, okay, that’s great, but that’s not what I’m doing Anymore. Or the wrong kind of client or whatever it is. Right. So you’re still using that, just that discernment among
like the kinds of responses you get to decide what actually is most relevant for you. How does that feel to you?
Sam: It’s all a work in progress, isn’t it? And yeah, time to start doing another draft.
Jessica Abel: Yeah.
Sam: I love that. Anne Lamott talks about shitty first drafts. You just get that shitty first draft out. Yeah, I’ve got the shitty first draft now. So let’s go back and have a look at what’s been happening and revise.
Jessica Abel: You actually have a pretty awesome first draft, so it’s a nice place to start from.
Sam: Thank you.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, I mean, I talk about the idea of hypotheses and everything you do in a business is a hypothesis of some kind. Like, I believe that if I do this in this way, it’s going to work. That it’s going to bring in this kind of income that I’m going to get these kinds of clients, blah, blah, blah.
And then you go out there and you, you test it. It’s what you’re talking about in terms of being creative and testing stuff is you go out there and you see, is this true or not? And the whole thing could be wrong or one little piece of it could be wrong, or you get a result and you’re like, Oh, that’s not quite what I expected, which is basically where we’re at here. Then you go back in and you build on top of that hypothesis with the new hypothesis. And that’s basically what we’re talking about here.
And it is important that you don’t have to do it all at once. You can do each of these things and you can kind of be leveling up each part of this business one at a time.
Once it’s up and rolling, you can look at each piece of it independently to a certain extent. Although as we saw here, they are all interconnected, right? Like the first thing you’re going to need to do is decide about that customer segment and what type of offer you want to focus on.
Sam: Yeah. And that might include letting go of some parts of a kind of identity, you know, having been an art educator for 25 years. That was the original, what originally brought me to thinking about coaching, because I know how to do that. I’ve been teaching for years. And it was the thought process was, well, what are the things that I love about teaching? And what are the things that I don’t love about teaching? And how can I build something that doesn’t have all the grading and the institutional claptrap and all the metrics and whatnot, and has all that lovely, juicy conversation about art and ideas and people who are really interesting and interested and passionate about what they’re doing.
So yeah, let’s do coaching. But then what has happened because I had, I had a book published was that I was getting writers coming through the door. And it’s like, fine, yeah, I’ll give that a go. See how that goes. So although I feel I’m on less certain ground with the writers, I’m prepared to dig in and learn how to do that better.
Because at the moment it’s a bit like, I wrote my book this way, and it kind of worked, it took me a long time, so let’s give it a go. But there are probably a lot more efficient ways of writing a book and that I can help others to do it. And so they don’t make the same mistakes that I made.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, very much so. And that you’re discovering those things through the process. As you said, you’re seeing yourself talk about the same things over and over again. You’re already noticing those patterns and that becomes that framework slash curricular kind of element that you can build on.
Great. Awesome. We do have a couple of great questions. There’s some people here with us live and I would love to hear your questions about your own business pivots you might need to make, revenue ceilings you have that you are facing.
So if you want to post a question in the chat, please do or raise your little zoom hand and I will call on you. And while we get that going, I’m going to address one question from Sarah. I don’t know if Sarah is here. Sarah Hagel. I don’t think she’s here, but I will go ahead and answer this question cause I think it’s a really good one.
She said I’ve tried starting a membership and having an online course. I haven’t seen any revenue growth from these things and it was so much work. I gave up real quickly. I’ve done tons of ideal client avatar exercises and those don’t seem to translate into income either. What’s the magic pill here? I’m thinking it’s a clear service I’m offering and even when I think I’m super clear and have something people want, it doesn’t seem to translate.
So yes, absolutely. Memberships and online courses tend to be a go to for artists and educators, writers, people who have a kind of like education course background. They kind of come from that either from teaching or as students. Those are things that feel like, yeah, this is the natural next step. And I see people having businesses doing these things and therefore it’s a business I can have and I do it.
But one of the things that I think is really unclear to most people, especially from the outside is how hard it is to make a business that is around an online course or a membership that has a very relatively low price point.
And when I say low price point, I mean like under a thousand dollars. I don’t mean $79. I mean, even what look like expensive courses. It’s really hard to get those to function to actually reach enough.
You know, we talked about how the difference between what we think is enough and what is actually enough is just like way off. And how many seats in an online course that costs $200 do you have to sell to make your enough number? I mean, it’s dozens at least per month. And that means having an audience of tens, twenties, hundreds of thousands of people. That’s what we don’t see. That’s the invisible labor of having a course business or a membership business is having an enormous audience and doing a lot of content marketing to all of those people.
So yes, Sarah, you are on the right track. That the answer is a clear service that has a clear customer segment that is priced at a level where when you sell that service, you’re able to actually make a living from it. And the idea– she says here, it doesn’t seem to translate, when I have something, it doesn’t seem to translate. That’s a value proposition question.
Do you have a way of talking about what it is that you’re doing that’s going to be very appealing to a certain group of people because it reflects the outcomes they want. And you’re getting there in a way that’s really uniquely you.
I have a thing that I do for people with people to help them figure this stuff out called the Business Brainstorm, which I will post a link to it in the chat. And this is something that Sarah should do because she has a business and needs to pivot it to some different format. And that’s what this does. So this form is to help you sort of investigate what it is that’s going on in your business and how would you want to shift it to a different model?
Basically what we’ve been talking about with Sam, where it’s hitting some level, some ceiling, and you need to break through to the next level. Do you have anything you want to add to that Sam?
Sam: No, that seems to make a lot of sense to me. I think what surprised me when I was first on the Incubator was the, which now makes complete sense is that it’s easier to sell something that’s high ticket and high price than it is to sell tons and tons of something that’s quite low price simply because you’ve got to sell so many. Yeah, whereas I can get one six month client and that’s a big chunk of income for me.
Jessica Abel: Yeah, exactly. Artists, again, scarcity of mindset coming into this feeling like nobody’s going to pay me money. I can’t do anything that’s worth a lot of money. There is no money out there. Nobody has money. All of those kinds of ideas around money prevent us from thinking big that way, I think, often.
And then the go to is like, whether it’s a service or a product, thinking I need to do something that’s going to be very inexpensive so that I can sell it, which is fine. You can sell a few, but it’s not going to support you.
And so that’s the flip because you can, selling a few is fine when you’re selling something that’s high price. We’re all as individual people capable of that. We can do that. We can find the connections. We can do the kind of marketing you’re doing where you’re on a podcast. You’re doing a little workshop. You’re speaking to people in your network and just talking to them about how what you’re offering and seeing if they know anybody who’s interested and it’s just very straightforward.
Last month on the Creative Business Design Lab, we talked to Sarah Marie Lacy, who’s a portrait painter, and we talked about relationship marketing. We talked about networking and how to use, like how to get to the people who could be the great clients. If you missed that one, it’s really, it was a really good one.
So again, anybody who’s here, if you are hitting an income ceiling, I want to hear about it. Really. I’d love to hear what your questions are about that and be happy to answer them live. Meanwhile, I will go to another pre submitted question. A little bit tangential, but it’s related to what we just talked about in terms of like pricing and scarcity and so on.
Jessica Abel: So Eleanor asks, I’d love to hear both your thoughts about finding a balance between our business bringing in the income we need, making time for essential creative work, aligning with our values, especially if those values are to enable people on lower incomes, perhaps like us in the past, to have the same opportunities. Is there a stage in business where you can bring in equitable or tiered pricing, or should this be built at the beginning? Do you have any thoughts about that, Have you had–faced that?
Sam: Yeah, I’ve been looking at, you know, a part of my kind of research is looking at who’s out there that’s doing something that seems to have integrity and is well put together and looking at the language that they’re using and so on.
I’m seeing people like, for example, there’s a memoir coach and she charges good fees, high fees– in that range, quite chunky fee, but she also has like a scholarship program that’s named for, I think, a friend of hers or something.
And so she’ll offer a free place, but she can only do that because she’s earning enough from the other clients that allows her to then offer a free place to somebody. Or, you know, you could offer a discounted place so you can leverage the wealthier clients that you have to help you offer support to less advantaged clients or marginalized groups.
and you can actually make that part of who you are and your offer that somebody who’s coming in, let’s say a wealthy physician wants to write a memoir, and they’ve got enough money, and they see that actually you are also helping, putting a percentage of that to supporting a woman of colour to come in and write her story. So that is, that can be part of what you’re offering. They get to support that.
Jessica Abel: I agree, but I also want to go back to the first thing you said, which is the reason this memoir coach can do that is that she’s charging a lot of money and has a steady flow of clients. Like right now you have a very full roster. You have more clients then you really want to be handling at the same time, especially without a sort of productized offer.
Jessica Abel: You don’t, and it’s not bringing enough money. You don’t have room for this. You could not take
Sam: Not now.
Jessica Abel: Client right now, it would not be fair to you. And one of the things that– there’s a coach who I really, I love her work. She’s really great. Her name is Kelly Diels, D I E L S. And she’s a feminist business and marketing coach. And one of the things that she talks about is that you are an under resourced person now and there’s no justification for you– like the same way you would not to a client ask them to, you would not want them to invest in coaching if they couldn’t afford it. You can’t afford to give your coaching away or give your service away if you can’t afford it. You can only do that if you can afford it.
And the way that like even for me, like I don’t have a lot of room in my business model at this point to be offering scholarships or low cost anything, but what I do is stuff like this, which is free. And so this is me coaching. So you’re here in the room, you’re watching this thing. I’m doing coaching now. This is what it looks like.
And so I’m able to like, if people are not able to join the Incubator, for example, they can still get a lot out of this experience. And so there are ways, you know, I write articles, I show up on podcasts. I do a lot of stuff for that’s freely accessible, ungated stuff.
And that’s my way of helping people who can’t afford to work with me at a higher level, and that’s fine. I don’t want, you know, it’s part of my values. My ethics are that I will never try to talk somebody into spending a bunch of money and working with me if they don’t have that money available.
Sam: Yeah, I was interested in what Tara McMullin was saying about, that she’s not doing content marketing, she’s putting out content. And that’s interesting as well because I’ve got a lot of value out of her podcast and her articles and stuff. It’s really good, juicy stuff. It’s a lot in it, but she’s not got any money out of me.
I bought her book, but apart from that. You can think about that in terms of the content that you’re putting out as being a public, you know, it’s a service to
Jessica Abel: Yeah. And what I put out mostly is content marketing. Tara is an interesting case because I think that she’s struggling to figure out how… not struggling, but she is going through the process of figuring out what her revenue is going to look. Where’s revenue going to come from? If going to come through promoting something through content and then you making sales, where’s it going to come from?
And she doesn’t really know. Basically, she’s a freelance writer right now. She has a, another business that’s bringing in some money, but like from her business that’s related to what she used to do as a coach and as a membership leader. It’s wide open there. I’m very interested to see how that plays out, but it’s definitely not a known quantity yet. Talk about experimentation. Right.
Jessica Abel: Oh, there’s another question here. Okay, great. Just popped in. So Anne says, I often have a problem with pricing and the imposter syndrome. How do you justify to yourself and your client a price raise? Samantha touched on that. Older established customers who are used to your price and you’re stuck with them, it’s pretty difficult to raise your prices.
It can feel like if the offer doesn’t or can’t necessarily change the service and the service stays the same. I’m a teacher of English to young French speakers. And there is a fact that older clients almost become friends. It’s so hard to ask for more money from them.
So how have you handled the, I guess, the messaging around raising your prices for existing clients?
Sam: I just said I’ve raised my prices. That’s it.
And nobody blinked, really. If I had to, I guess I would just say, well, this is my first year of business and I’m really working out the time that it takes and I have to, I have to price things realistically. And that’s the time that it takes. But actually nobody’s asked me why.
Jessica Abel: I’ve always found that too. I’ve always found that whenever I raise prices, we think people are going to be getting up in our face saying like, well, that’s ridiculous. Who are you to blah, blah, blah. I think the people who would say that are people who are not actually our clients.
Like they’re, they wouldn’t buy anyway. And that in general, people who are my clients want me to be successful. And be able to make a living and all those kinds of things.
Now as a, an English teacher to young French speakers, there is definitely going to be a… that is a commodified offering. Like there are a lot of English teachers. And so it may be difficult to raise your prices beyond a certain level because they can look around and say like, well, so and so has X price. Why don’t you have X price?
And that is a value proposition question. Right. And a lot of this stuff about it, justifying it to yourself, justifying it to your clients is the value proposition. It is saying like, this is the outcome you’re going to get from this. My methodology is this. That’s why this is important. That’s why you should be working with me. That’s why you should pay premium prices. It’s a thing that many, many people don’t understand. But they don’t understand the value of it.
They look at value proposition and like, Oh, that’s a marketing thing. It’s way more than that. It’s way bigger. That’s why we spend so much time on it in the Incubator.
Sam: I think what’s interesting for me is that my clients who haven’t batted an eyelid about me raising my prices, I think that’s because they see the value of what I’m doing for them. So, the question would be to ask them what that value is and get them to name it and then, understand what my value proposition is.
Jessica Abel: Yeah. And the parallel for that with teaching or something is imagine the difference between somebody who’s like a tutor who’s like around and just tutors people on about stuff versus like, I don’t know.
And I don’t know if this is actually a premium thing or not but like a Suzuki method violin teacher, somebody who’s trained and certified in something very specific and can bring this well known framework to bear on the education. That’s going to be a very different feeling. And it’s going to be an easier sell because it’s like, Oh, Suzuki method.
It’s not just I’m a violin teacher. It’s I’m a violin teacher who has this particular ability to bring to bear.
All right, that’s great. Great questions there. Thank you for bringing those. Sam, thank you so much for being here and being my guest today.
Sam: Thank you so much for giving me a really juicy free coaching session. That That was great.
Jessica Abel: Thanks everybody for being here with us and have a great day. I’ll see you later. Bye bye.
Jessica Abel: Thank you so much for joining us today for the Autonomous Creative.
Our show is produced by Matt Madden, our production coordinator is Lousine Boyakhandjyan, and our production assistant is Rhiannon Sunday. Music is by Matt Madden, and I’m your host, Jessica Abel.
You can find all our takeaways as well as any links and extras we mentioned today plus transcripts, in the show notes. Find everything you need at acpod.show.
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