The business side of workshop teaching

In my last blog entry, I wrote about how interns/teaching assistants can maximize the opportunities that such professional opportunities can offer them. Since then I have received a few comments and queries based on what I wrote (including two that are at the bottom of that blog entry.) This week I want to answer another professional development question, in this case about photography workshops, which I saw posted in a forum. It was one of those rare questions that I see on line which I actually feel qualified to answer.

The question was how much to charge to teach a workshop, including all the preparation time to create and refine the material that is at the core of such a workshop.

I teach a lot of workshops across the country and around the globe and I have blogged about the teaching/student side here on The Wells Point. This was a bit of anew question since it came from the business side. My answer noted:

Teaching workshops is not easy money. Workshop teaching is a service and like any service profession it takes practice. Lots of practice. Many people who think they can teach workshops forget this fact. It takes YEARS to master workshop teaching just like it takes years to master photography.

When I am developing a new class I ask myself how many venues are there where I can teach this class? If I can’t come up with half a dozen I will not develop the class since the return on the investment of my time will not be nearly enough. I would love to be paid for all the time and effort involved in developing each of my classes by the first venue that hires me but that will not happen.

The first five times I teach a class I am ironing the bugs out. The next five I am fine tuning it to match the needs of my audience. From then on I am “in the groove” or “hitting my mark” or whatever you want to call it. Though each class repeats certain components, I am constantly tweaking each new class to fit the age, education, experience level, and length of time of the class. It is definitely as much art as science and it keeps me on my toes.

I think good workshops are a lot like good stock photos, they can reap rewards over and over. Like good stock photos, workshops need to be created within the context of the market. And like a good stock photo, no one pays you up front to make it but if you make a good one it has something of a life of its own with a decent earning potential.

If I sound defensive, I am! I think I am getting a bit testy about people who think they can teach workshops simply because they are an experience photographer. When the assignment market dried up years ago, thousands of photographers (including me) flooded the wedding photography market and drove the prices down. Some of the same photographers (including me) are now moving into the world of video. In both markets, I can imagine the established practitioners saw us coming and held their hands up over their heads trying to shield themselves from the onslaught. If you look at the photography workshop market you will see much the same thing in the form of an influx of people who may or may not be good teachers flooding the market and driving prices down.

The irony is that I am now one of those people holding my hands up over my head trying to shield myself from the onslaught that is crashing all around me. Though I am worried, I like to think will survive since I am established as a good teacher. I am less clear how others will do as they join the over crowded market.

What would I say to all those new arrivals? If you want to teach workshops, treat it like a business, which takes time to develop. You are delivering a service to customers who pay dearly for that service and they have high expectations of you. Teaching involves practice and mastery. It is as much or more about the students experience as it is about the teacher. If you want to teach workshops, good luck. If you want to sit around and tell war stories, go to a bar.

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