Making a Living With Hand Lettering (Teaching)
A lot of people assume that in order to make a living at something, your income must all come from one source (like client work or products only). But you can be a lot more creative than that.
Sure, it’s great to have a significant amount of revenue coming from one source consistently, and that’s certainly a goal, but ideally you want to be diversified. That way if one source of income slows down, you’re not completely out of luck.
My hope with this series is to get you thinking about the different ways that you can make money so you’re aware of the possibilities.
I want you to read below with an open mind. Even if you’re not wanting to teach right now, at least make yourself aware of some potential ways you can monetize (some are not what you’d expect).
First, I want to address some common hurdles to teaching.
The One Thing You Need To Teach
By this point, assuming you’ve been working with clients and selling products already, you have certainly learned a whole lot.
You may feel like you’re not qualified, or good enough, or smart enough to teach. Most of the time, you’re picturing someone smarter than you who you look up to. “They’re a good teacher.” you say. “They know way more than me. Who am I to teach?”
This is a common feeling, but there’s something very important you must remember: you’re not teaching the masters.
All you need to know to teach is more than any other one person.
The Level 9 Struggle & Why You Win
Let’s say this person you pictured when you think of a great teacher is a Level 9 in your field. Maybe you consider yourself a Level 4. You’re okay but certainly not a master.
This is actually a great position to be in. You’re in a prime spot to teach the newbies or to teach the Level 1 people how to get to Level 2. If you’ve been there before, that means you’ve learned things. If you’ve learned things, you can teach!
The disadvantage for the Level 9 master is he is so far removed from the Level 1 person that he’s out of touch.
Imagine asking a billionaire how to make your first thousand dollars. The mindset required to be a billionaire is so far removed from your first thousand dollars, that they would be nearly incapable of giving you practically applicable advice as a novice in business. The billionaire can tell you how to make a million (because that’s small to them), but their mindset and context is so far removed from making that first grand that they really can’t speak your language.
You understand the early struggles better than a master does. This is what qualifies you to teach.
Similarly, you’re able to speak the language of the newcomer better than someone who hasn’t been in that position for years. You intimately know the fears and struggles of this person because you were recently in their shoes.
There has never been a better time for you to teach!
Don’t Wait to Teach
You might be afraid that what you could teach is too basic. You might be worried that everyone already knows what you have to teach or that someone more knowledgeable is going to come along and ridicule you because they already know what you’re teaching.
But remember: they’re not who you’re teaching! Also, they have better things to do than ridicule someone for teaching basic concepts they already know.
There’s always someone who can learn something from you. Don’t wait until you’re an expert to teach.
You might think you need to be an expert to teach, but it’s actually the other way around. People are seen as experts because they teach.
- Share everything you learn.
- Teach everything you know.
Give it all away.
“Wait a second, Sean. I thought this was about making money? How can I make money if I’m giving everything away?”
I’m glad you asked.
Establish Your Authority
If you want to make a living with teaching, people need to perceive you as an expert. They need to know that you’re the go-to person for your speciality.
In order to be seen as an expert, you need to teach. That’s why you need to give it all away.
The more you teach what you know, the more people begin to perceive you as an authority on that topic.
It doesn’t happen overnight, but it will gradually.
We’re going to talk about ideas for making money with teaching in a moment, but the first thing you must acquire is authority. This is why I have teaching as the third part of The Trifecta.
Through the sharing of client work and case studies and designing and marketing your products, you have a tremendous number of opportunities to be sharing along the way. You can be writing about client work, you can be making videos of your design process, you can be showing behind the scenes of what it takes to launch a product—all of this is building your credibility and establishing you as an expert.
Once you’ve built a reputation through sharing what you know, you now open the doors to profit from teaching.
Choosing Your Niche
At this point, you’re probably reflecting on how meta this whole post is. You may also be thinking, “But Sean, how can I teach hand lettering if you’re already teaching hand lettering?”
Actually, I have some very good news: you want competition. Think about it. If I were so afraid of competition, would I be encouraging more people to compete with me? I should really keep all these secrets to myself!
But I’m not worried. In fact, competition is a good sign because it’s market validation. It’s proof that there’s an interest. What you don’t want to do is go into an industry where no one else is successful yet.
The fact that hundreds of thousands of people have visited LearnLettering.com, nearly 50,000 people subscribe to the email list, and thousands more have enrolled in the Learn Lettering class is very good news for you.
First of all, the market is big enough. Secondly, the resurgent interest hand lettering continues to grow. There is room to niche down even further within hand lettering.
Let me just give you a free idea: I teach some brush lettering in the Learn Lettering class, but you could teach an entire course focused exclusively on brush lettering! You could do a course just about making looping, timelapse videos of your hand lettering for Instagram. People want to learn how to do this stuff!
Spend some time thinking about your unique angle. In the Learn Lettering Master Class, I teach hand lettering infused with business because those are the areas where I have expertise. I have more than a decade of business experience. I’ve worked with clients, I understand licensing and design contracts, and I’m using the fact that I have a art and business skills to my advantage.
Have you noticed that this series is very different from other content you’ve seen in this space? Have you noticed that this is different than other art blogs? That’s because I’m not trying to compete with other blogs!
I’m leveraging my unique advantage and you should be too. My advantage is that I’m a talented artist who is also extremely knowledgable about business. I want to not only teach you the drawing skills you need to know to improve, but also the business knowledge you need to actually succeed in the real world.
What is your niche?
Ideas for Teaching to Make Money
Alright: finally the good stuff you’re looking for. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I want to get your gears turning. I want to get you thinking creatively about the various ways you can bring in an income.
- Host a Workshop
- Teach an in-person workshop in your local city. Sure, you might get asked if you’re prolific enough, but don’t wait to be asked! Go talk with a venue owner and work something out. Connect with local artists and art groups and put something together yourself. You don’t need 50 people, start small.
- Once you’ve taught a workshop or two, guess what? Those become case studies. You were taking photos during the event and documenting it, right? Write up a recap blog post about the experience. Get testimonials from the attendees. Bonus points: shoot video of them! They’re now vouching for you and your next event.
- After you have a few local events under your belt, you can now start looking wider that your own region. By this point, you may have even had people reach out to ask if you’ll come to their city to teach a class. After all, you have a proven track record. This is the power of case studies and teaching what you know.
- Write a Book
- Don’t be tempted to think too broadly here and get overwhelmed. It doesn’t have to be a book about hand lettering in general. Get specific! What about hand lettering? With what tools? In what context? With what message? The sky is the limit. Pick something specific.
- Self publish it. This is a whole topic in and of itself, but the book you write does not have to be traditionally published. In fact, it doesn’t even have to be physical. With a few hours of research, you can learn to put together an ebook.
- Sell the book on your own site and bundle it together with some other resources, articles, or tools. You’re not limited to the pricing model that a publisher or Amazon puts on you, so price it according the the value your students will get.
- Remember, the more specific and niche you go, the more limited your audience will be—yes—but also the more you can charge. because what you’re offering is specialized, the value is higher (we talk more about pricing on value in the Learn Lettering Master Class).
- Produce a Course
- Obviously that’s what I’m doing with Learn Lettering, right? But I didn’t start out with a course. Some people might make creating a course sound super simple, but trust me it’s not! For the original version of Learn Lettering, I worked hard and saved up my money from client work and spent six months producing the course. It’s not easy.
- I also started with writing blog posts, publishing a guide, doing videos, and teaching a workshop before I ever even thought about doing a course. The nice thing about doing a workshop first is you get to be hands-on with people and really learn what their struggles are and what they want to learn.
- Use the experiences you glean from teaching a workshop to create a course that will really resonate with people.
We’re just barely scratching the surface here, my friend. These were just a few ideas of many on just one of the three methods in The Trifecta.
I hope this has helped open your eyes to the possibilities.
Most people don’t think about these things. Most people don’t understand this stuff. That’s why they’re so astounded when they hear of someone making a living as a hand lettering artist.
It’s probably why your friends and family don’t believe in you. Maybe they support hand lettering as your hobby, but really, you know they want you to get a “real job.”
Well, this is a real job! No, it’s not like people imagine when they oversimplify it. You’re not always going to be able to be holed up in a room drawing letters. It truly does take effort!
- If you’re going to host a workshop, that takes planning, preparation, and proficiency.
- If you’re going to write a book, that takes discipline, design, and determination.
- If you’re going to produce a course, that takes time, training, and technical know-how.
Sorry, I couldn’t help but do alliterations there.
The point is this is real work, and it’s a real job. Not everyone else understands and they may ridicule you, but hey—they’re in a 9-to-5 and we’re doing what we love.
Has Your Hand Lettering Spark Fizzled Out?
Okay, we’ve gone through some pretty heavy topics so far. I’m going to lighten things up a bit in this next one.
Some days, you wake up and you’re motivated and excited to create and take on the day!
Other days… not so much.
What do you do when your hand lettering spark has fizzled out?
On the next page, we’ll go over 5 ways to stay motivated and driven.