so you think you can teach?

Contrary to what you might think ("Oh, you can just show up, people watch you do your thing and you take their money...") a great workshop actually takes a lot of detailed planning to ensure that everything from the content and slideshows to the catering and location are taken care of.  While every workshop is different, there are certain elements which carry across the board from one to the next.  I'm going share with you some of how to make your burning desire to teach translate into a valuable learning experience.  I'll use the example of a "couples posing workshop" as my example but y'all are bright kids and can translate this into teaching about babies, Photoshop, riding a unicycle, making origami chickens, whatever...

I'm going to put a shameless plug in here and say that I am for hire whether you would like to start teaching a workshop on photography or fire eating.  I will not only help you develop your workshop but will assist with everything from getting the catering and swag bags prepared to ensuring that you have all the necessary releases, permits, licenses and visas required to safely and legally run your workshop.  Additionally, I will sit down with you and go over your course one step at a time to ensure that your content is relevant, interesting, and thorough from a consumer standpoint.  I can assist you with identifying your target market and developing your marketing campaign and materials, and lastly, look after collecting exit interviews/service surveys.  Call me.  ;)  But I digress...

Who will buy it?
Unlike the field of dreams, just because you build a workshop doesn't mean people will come.  The first step you need to take is determining if there is even a market for whatever you are teaching.  Ask yourself: If the information is available for free online, why would people pay for it?  is someone else teaching this already, and if yes, when? where? what am I offering that's unique? what are other people charging for similar workshops?  if one doesn't exist, are people actually interested?  You need to spend some time understanding who your market is - do they expect you to have a formal education?  X number years of experience?  How much do they have to spend on professional development and what does that say about who they cater to as clientele?  If you do not have a clue about who you are selling to, you may waste your time researching and writing a workshop that no one will actually pay to attend because it's too obscure, too expensive, too common, etc.

Who will sell it?
It's entirely up to you whether to sell on your own or partner up with a presenter, facility, or host.
If you decide to host your own workshop, do you have the resources required to promote yourself?  Are you able to manage all marketing, sales and registrations?  Can you afford the risk of not working with a local organizer or host, especially if you are presenting someplace not in your own area?  If you are invited to teach and do not already have a contract that you use, you will need to define your expectations for the host/facility - are they handling all the marketing, sales and finances and paying you a fee regardless of how many people attend?  Or are you paying a rental fee?  A percentage of your gross sales?  Will you allow one or more representatives of the hosting organization to attend at a reduced or no cost?  If the host is taking a percentage or charging a per-participant fee, is their cut representative of the amount of work they are doing to facilitate or develop the workshop or would your profit margin be greater by just paying for your own rental facility and selling on your own?

Be the student.  ALWAYS.
If ever you have been to any kind of class, it shouldn't be too difficult to step into the shoes of a participant.  Doing this allows you to design the type of workshop experience you'd like to create, whether it's low-key and practical or frou-frou and elite.  Consider: Is it a catered event or do people bring/buy their own food?  Is the catering pizza and beer or crumpets with tea in real teacups? Would my subject be best learned in a classroom with computers or in a farmer's field?  Or both?  Does it need to be taught in a big city or can it work in a smaller centre, and how will travel needs affect my willingness and ability to attend?  If I'm in a computer intense workshop or a workshop with live models, what size of group will allow me as a participant to maximize my learning?  What topics are covered and are they relevant to my own business and creative goals?  Considering things like this will help you determine what your hard costs are going to be which in turn will affect how you set your pricing.  Remember that the type of experience you offer should be reflected in your pricing - you cannot expect people to pay top dollar for a workshop held in a cramped space with take-out pizza served on disposable plates any more than you can expect to make money off a workshop priced affordably but held in a 5-star hotel with lobster tails served on antique china for lunch.

Where and when.
Let's assume you have determined that you need a large room that will accommodate up to 50 people at tables that is located within walking distance of a park or green space.  You know that you need 2 full days to cover your material and that between May and September a good portion of your target market reserves Saturdays for shooting weddings and Sundays for recovering but that most of them probably have day jobs that would prevent them from attending a weekday event.  Traveling in the dead of winter in Alberta is unpleasant as is shooting outdoors.  Wedding season starts up in May, so you decide on doing an April workshop so all your content is fresh and relevant.  That means to allow 10+ weeks of lead time will have you selling the snot out of your workshop by no later than the middle of January.

Calculate your expenses and hard costs.
Let's say you've decided to skip the host and throw a DIY deal.  You've found an upscale banquet hall in a central area with a full weekend available in mid-April that doesn't conflict with Easter or Spring Break.  You decide against full catering to keep costs down, but want to serve coffee, tea, and bottled water - don't forget to budget for creamer, filters, stir sticks, and sugar. You decide that instead of making everyone work with just one model, you are bringing in 4.  You may need to pay your models, HMUAs, and possibly costume purchases/rentals plus items for your styled shoot if you cannot get them sponsored.  You may need to consider hotel costs if they are traveling.  If you are just doing a straight up information/lecture session, you may only need to have some photocopied handouts or even just email a PDF afterwards which cost next to nothing, but if you are holding a more elite event, chances are good you should consider proper printed materials as well as putting together swag bags or prize draws, which you can try to have sponsored but you might have to pay for (or a combination) so include this when you're figuring out your expenses.

If you are traveling out of your own municipality, do you require a license?  If you are traveling out of the country, have you factored in the cost of a work visa for yourself?  Add those in before setting your workshop fee.  You should also factor in a salary for yourself, so you don't end up working for free.  The minimum amount you're willing to work for is up to you, but $250/day (clear after all expenses) isn't an unreasonable expectation for a presenter and for any NEW workshop built entirely from scratch I like to use a 4:1 preparation to presentation ratio.  So 2 days of presenting + 8 days of prep = $2500.

Decide what to charge.
You've tallied up your expenses and hard costs so you already know the minimum amount you need to break even.  So let's assume your hard costs plus salary for this workshop are $5000.  If you could sell out every possible one of your 50 spots at $100 you would break even, but there would be no room to undersell the event and nothing built into the budget in the event of unexpected expenses.  One way to "break-even" finance your workshop is to assume a 50% attendance rate, with a 25% OH SHIT margin added on top.  In our example, this would equate to a minimum of 25 participants at ~$250.

There is no "correct" amount to charge but the important thing when deciding what to charge is that you don't just pull a number out of your ass - your pricing needs to cover your costs as well as reflect the experience you are offering.  Some presenters will charge $2500/participant for a one day workshop and others will charge $100; one would assume that at the $2500 workshop you'll get some pretty sweet giveaways, and that at the $100 workshop you'll be brown bagging it.

Be the student.  Again.  To plan your content.
Now that you know when and where, to how many people, and for about how much you are selling your workshop, you need to tease out the key topics of your workshop so that people will know what you are teaching.  Are you teaching camera skills?  Just posing? Business strategy? All of the above?  What should people walk away knowing at the end of each section you are teaching?  A simple way of determining this is to quickly throw together an itinerary (don't worry - the times can and will change as you go along!) and outline how much time you plan to dedicate to each area.   Think from a student's perspective what you would most like to garner from the workshop content.  If teaching pose-flow is your thing, allowing students to shoot will interrupt the flow; if you think you'd like lots of portfolio shots schedule more time for participants to shoot; if you'd prefer a little more business guidance, cut back on posing and shooting time a bit.

Sell sell sell!

Now that you know what you are selling, your job as a marketer is about to kick into high gear.  You will spend several weeks advertising your workshop.  Your job will be to find the forums or groups where your target market is spending time, place ads in papers or online, advertise in magazines or on blogs where your market is likely to frequent, etc. etc.  Striking a balance between promoting your workshop and just irritating people is a very fine line, too, so it might not be as easy as you think.  You might want to consult with a professional who can assist with where you ought to advertise, how to design a campaign, how to write copy that will attract the participants you think would benefit, etc.  You may also wish for that company or individual to look after your ticket sales/registrations so you can spend your time focussing on fine-tuning your course content.  Remember that the wording you use will affect how your workshop is perceived - selling a $1000/day workshop and telling people their instead of they're getting free cupcake's with an apostrophe is not good...

Know when to pull the chute
Sorry to spill the beans, but the dirty little secret behind early-bird pricing is that it's not because we are super nice guys and want to give everyone a chance at a wicked discount but rather to give ourselves the ability to gauge whether we need to cancel the workshop or not.  If you have not gotten to your minimum quota by the time early bird sales are done, you need to carefully evaluate why your workshop isn't selling as well as you would like.  Is there another competing workshop by a cheaper or more experienced presenter appealing to your clients?  Are you priced too high that people cannot afford it?  Are you priced too low and people think it's too cheap to be worthwhile? Have you been promoting the event or just waiting on a wing and a prayer for it to go viral?  The end date for your earlybird sales should be far enough back that you can adjust your tack and sell harder to meet your quota if you're close, or to cancel or postpone it if you are way too far from your goal.

Be the student.  Again.  To write your material.
Your course content should have a natural flow to it.  Hopefully that flow was identified when you put together your itinerary/outline, so it's just a matter of beefing it up.  Your course content should also be interesting and engaging - if the content is so boring people are apt to nod off, you need to make sure you break it up, mix it up, keep it dynamic.  Getting people up and down out of their seats, injecting lots of humour, asking for audience response are all good ways of keeping your audience engaged during the "lecture" part.  Consider things like doing an ice-breaker at the start of your workshop to kickstart participant networking, ensuring that your participants will have adequate instructions, space, and time to follow through with in-class activities, and build time for water/pee/smoke/lunch breaks into your schedule.  Design your handouts and slide presentation in a way that makes them easy to follow/relate.  Avoid being too vague with your topics - if you plan to just stand up there and make shit up on the spot because you think you know it so well, people are going to figure it out.
Check, check, and triple check.
The days leading up to your workshop, do a thorough once-over of everything you need.  Do you have your handouts printed and your swag bags stuffed?  Did you remember the cream and sugar?  Do you have the required license/permits/visa?  Is all your equipment (computers, projectors, cameras, lights, etc.) cleaned, charged, and ready to go with all the necessary cables, batteries, and cords?  Are your models and HMUAs all still coming?  Things like confirming your catering, doing a final head count, sending out a reminder to your participants about what to bring will help you ensure that you've left nothing to chance, and your day will run as smoothly as possible.

The fine print
A random collection of things you might wish to take into consideration, in no particular order:
  1. Models. When choosing your models, make sure you select ones that relate to what you are teaching - bringing in a petite model to teach techniques intended for voluptuous women, 3 homophobic males to teach couples, or someone who is shy to pose for glamour nudes isn't going to work very well.
  2. Food.  Allergies prevent some people from attending altogether - make sure you inquire and let other participants know if they should (specifically) avoid bringing peanut products - and dietary restrictions for personal reasons need to be considered if you are bringing in catering.
  3. Potty mouth.  Sure, maybe you drop the f-bomb on a regular basis, and while you're teaching a workshop on PS retouching it's probably not going to be a big deal if a few slip, but someone teaching family photography probably shouldn't be telling Mom how fucking hilarious her kid is in front of said fucking hilarious kid.
  4. Sex. At Hooters you are welcome to put boobs in people's faces, but as a presenter your personal conduct should always be clean and professional.  It's always best to avoid sexual innuendo lest your humping of the furniture be taken out of context and reflect negatively on you  or worse, result in legal action if it is misconstrued as predatory.  This applies regardless of your gender and sexual orientation.
  5. Competition.  Some photographers like to restrict the participants to those who live a minimum distance from proximity of their own city or area.  This is to avoid training their own competitors and reducing the risk of losing clients to them, though honestly chances are good that if you don't teach them someone else will and would still steal your clients, so you may as well take your neighbour's money, too, no?

Be the teacher.
(yeah, that's all I got - I have to assume you know your shit well enough and have all the necessary credentials, experience, and applied knowledge to teach it so you're on your own here...)

Be the student.  One last time.
Learn from your students how to be an awesome teacher!  Once you have completed the workshop, it is REALLY important to follow up.  Have a "how did I do?" card in the swag bag or provide a link to an anonymous online survey they can do at home after the workshop.  As much as it might terrify you, without this feedback it will be impossible for you to know what you did well and what you can improve on.  Ask questions from your perspective if you were a student like, was it worth the money?  Was the content well organized?  What can we improve on? That sort of information is pure GOLD for when/if you decide to teach again as it will give you precise instructions on how to fine tune your workshop to meet or exceed expectations next time.  And if you get nothing but glowing reviews, then you know you've got it right!

I am sure I've forgotten a million things, but this should at the very least give you a running start.  Now go share your unique perspective and knowledge with the world!