It’s been almost six months since my last post. I’d say I’ve been in the midst of a tug-o-war between my professional and artistic life, but in fact there really hasn’t been a contest. What irony: I quit my job to pursue a career in weaving, and the immediate result is that I’ve done practically no weaving of my own for the last five years. Everything I’ve done for the last five years, all day, six days out of seven, has been focused either on developing, teaching, or marketing classes about color in weaving, and the seventh day has basically been spent doing laundry and spending time with Jamie.
That sounds kinda grim, but it’s not! I’m loving what I’m doing. This is so much better than working at Google, even though I’m getting paid a lot less, have no job security, and the usual litany of self-employment woes. I love doing research, I love teaching, and I love all the amazing new things I’m learning every day. Not just about weaving, but about running a business, marketing, customer service, hiring and working with contractors, bookkeeping, advertising….the list goes on and on. Every day it’s something new, and I get to pick what I want to work on.
And while it’s still a bit overwhelming, the workload is starting to get less all-consuming. In the beginning I was working 60+ hour weeks for months at a time; now, the load is less, maybe 50-55 hours a week. And this week and next, I’m taking my first absolutely, positively, not-working vacation in nearly five years. It has taken a LOT of work to get to the point where I feel comfortable doing that, but I’m feeling really good about it.
Where does the teaching business stand?
I had (not a typo!) eleven thousand enrollments in my classes last year. I taught a total of four classes (two with Janet Dawson), plus one free prerecorded class, and some people took multiple classes, so I actually taught eight thousand weavers.
Think about that for a moment. Eight thousand weavers.
If I were teaching the traditional way, in physical classes, to groups of five to twenty weavers, I’d have had to teach at least four hundred classes to reach eight thousand weavers. A hundred and fifty more to teach all eleven thousand who enrolled. If I’d taught a packed-to-the-gills three-day workshop every single weekend of the year, it would have taken me eleven years to teach all those classes.
But the beauty of online classes is that – if you design your classes the right way – you can teach a lot of students without compromising the quality of the class. In fact, the classes can actually be better quality with larger groups, because more students lead to livelier discussion groups and more people sharing photos of what they’re working on = more inspiration for other students. It isn’t easy and you have to study how to design classes specifically for online learning, but I believe that – for topics such as mine – a good online class can be greatly superior to the traditional 3-day workshop.
(My students seem to like my classes, anyway; in the post-class survey for Make Your Colors Sing, my “big” class on color in weaving, 86% of the students rated it 9 or 10 out of 10 YES!! when asked if they’d recommend it to other weavers. This makes me very, very happy; I put a lot of blood, sweat, and tears into the class, and I’m glad to know it paid off.)
The other thing that is wonderful to me about the numbers I just quoted is that I taught the vast majority of those students for free. Janet Dawson and I taught the Stash-Busting Scarf Weave-Along (3,000+ students) over three weeks, then pitched students on our longer course Stash Weaving Success. After Stash Weaving Success, we taught the free Discover Color Weave-Along (5,000 students), after which I pitched Make Your Colors Sing.
The Weave-Alongs were intended as “tasters” to give people an idea of what our classes were like, but they were also meant to be stand-alone, free classes that delivered serious value. Many people actually paid $20-25 after the classes to retain lifetime access to course materials because they found them so valuable. Janet and I not only gave away quite a few video and text lessons, we did a month of live lectures and Q&A sessions, and spent considerable time answering questions in the class discussion groups. It was a full-on class and we took it very seriously as a class, even though we weren’t getting paid for it. If I’d enrolled in it, I’d have expected to pay at least $40-50 for it. And we gave it away for free.
It did pay off for us, in that quite a few people signed up for the follow-on class. But I’ve had quite a few people tell me that I should charge for subsequent weave-alongs, because I’m giving away far too much value for free.
I’m not totally ignoring that advice, but I’m not leaping for it either. Because I think one of the most beautiful things about teaching online is that it creates a business model where I can teach eight thousand people a substantial, month-long class about color entirely for free and still make a good living. My parents were scientists, and one of the values they instilled in me was that discovering and spreading knowledge is one of the greatest things you can do. So while I do need to make a living, I also love the idea of being able to gift knowledge for free. So, at least for now – I’ll continue the free weave-alongs.
Enough about the business. I’m writing this blog post because, for the first time in nearly five years, I am actually ON VACATION (and not a working one!) and thus have mental bandwidth to think about other things.
Which of course can lead to only one question: Where are the cats??
Here is Fritz, demonstrating the best way to get adoration (sit on whatever the silly human was paying attention to – then it will have NO CHOICE but to pet you!)
And here’s Her Royal Highness, Tigress herself, in a photo I call “Two Zen Masters” (despite the fact that neither of them is Zen!):
The poem reads
Never give up
No matter what is going on
Never give up
Develop the heart
Too much energy in your country
is spent developing the mind
instead of the heart
Not just to your friends
but to everyone
Work for peace
in your heart and in the world
Work for peace
and I say again
Never give up
No matter what is happening
No matter what is going on around you
Never give up.
– His Holiness the XIVth Dalai Lama
Tomorrow I will be winding two new warps, one to go onto Maryam and one to go onto Grace. I’m actually planning a complete reconfiguration of both looms – the 12 modules currently on Grace are going into Maryam (still threaded – I haven’t TOTALLY lost my mind!), and the four modules currently on Maryam are going into Grace. Plus, I bought four more modules which are going into Grace, for a total of eight modules in Grace and 12 in Maryam.
Of course, that means threading or tying on 2,640 + 1,760 = 4,400 warp threads (plus winding, beaming, etc.). Perhaps I’d better read that poem again!
…And with that, I’m off to other things!
Wanda Milwee says
I was reading a friend’s post about her many varieties of tomato starts and of course wondered if you were still trying out new varieties. I’m glad your blog appeared today – just a few hours after I sent an email to you to see if you were still doing your blog! I don’t want to miss anything!!!
Maurine Adrezin says
Tien – You are amazing.
Paula Bernstein says
I have taken your free offerings as well as at least one of your paid courses, they have been wonderful. Your attention to detail is truly appreciated, as is your collaboration with Janet.
I heard a great segment on NPR’s program How I Built This (host Guy Raz). He interviewed Rick Steves, the “travel guy extraordinaire.” Take a listen if you want “encouragement” to continue the mix of giving away knowledge & being profitable.
Respectfully & looking forward to your future work,
Victoria Neighbors says
Hope you had a great vacation. You deserved me time after all your work on Make Your Colors Sing. I have never finished a class with so much information to work with. It was great. Many thanks. Yes, it was also great to see so many others and the work they did.
Keep up the great work’