business

Why I am transitioning my ecourses to ‘pay what you can’ pricing

All of my eco-printing ecourses are now available with variable pricing. Choose the amount that feels right to you, based on your circumstances and the value of the course to you.

I’m a little nervous to announce this, because I don’t want to upset anyone who has paid the full price. I appreciate you so much, and your support has meant that I can transition my business to this new pricing model, which will help people with less money to still be able to access my work.

 

The seed of this idea

In April this year, during the height of the Covid-19 lockdowns, I was watching my business income plummet and getting ready to apply for government support. Then one night a vision came to me – to create an eco-printing ecourse for everyone stuck at home, using materials we could easily find, and for it to be ‘pay what you can’, because most people were in the same position financially. And so the Iso Dye Club was born.

I originally wanted to let each customer choose their own price, but it proved too technologically difficult. So I came up with a system of levels instead. I also gave away free places to anyone who needed them.

I had no idea whether I’d even earn enough to make up for all the work it took. But I decided to just trust the universe, and focus on generosity, community and connection.

I ended up having an amazing month financially (especially within the wider financial context), and at the time of writing, I have over 500 people enrolled in the course. I am sharing this because I want you to realise that it is possible to have success this way. It is possible to run a business in a generous way, to give some priority to social equality, and to still earn a good income too.

This runs counter to all the mainstream business advice I have ever read. There seems to be an accepted belief that as a business grows it should charge more –  you have probably noticed that online courses are getting more and more expensive. This way of thinking focuses on scarcity and exclusivity.

 

Business models of scarcity and inequality

The general advice for running any sort of creative online business is to charge as much as you can, and then put a lot of effort into marketing it in such a way that people feel like they need it. Sometimes this is done overtly, tapping into feelings of shame or FOMO. Sometimes it is more subtle.

In pricing advice, there is a lot of talk about money blocks, and owning your value, and a general assumption that higher prices are the ultimate goal. More and more, I am questioning this.

Yes, creatives deserve to earn enough money to live on, to be fairly compensated for our work. But there is more than one way to achieve this. We need to dig below the surface and really examine this paradigm of scarcity that we are co-creating. Do we really want our world to head more in the direction of individualism, accumulation of wealth and power, and an ever-increasing divide between rich and poor? Our business models can either support this, or support a different story. And where we spend our money can either support this, or support a different story.

Even Patreon, which in some ways offers more affordable access to creatives’ work, still operates from this paradigm of inequality. Most Patreon subscriptions have multiple tiers of pricing, and the higher tier you are in, the more you get. This may seem reasonable. If you pay more, you should get more, right? But do people with more money really deserve to get more?

Economic inequality is firmly entrenched in our society, and is inextricably linked to power and privilege based on factors such as race, gender and ability – factors that we have no control over. If you are born female in a society where males earn more, if you are born disabled or as a person of colour or Indigenous, do you really deserve less?

Economic inequality is firmly entrenched in our society. It is linked to power and privilege based on factors such as race, gender and ability - factors that we have no control over. Offering variable pricing is one way that I can counteract systemic injustice and make my work accessible to more people.

 

Business models of interdependency and abundance

What if business growth could instead mean that we can make things cheaper and share them among more people, while still earning enough?

My experience running the Iso Dye Club taught me that it is possible to run a business in a generous way - to give some priority to social equality rather than just trying to make money.

Unlike in the Patreon model, everyone who buys my ecourses gets access to all the same course materials, no matter which level they join at. This is a model of abundance. There is enough for everyone, everyone is welcome. We also get to foster a sense of interdependence. The people who pay more, support the people who pay less to be able to join.

It is possible to run a profitable, sustainable business that aligns with our values. It is possible to have a win-win situation. To offer something that is generous and accessible, a good experience for my students, while still earning enough to be a fair exchange for the work I put into it.

I truly believe that we can co-create a more beautiful, equitable world. Especially in this time when old structures are precarious and the way forward is unclear, we have an opportunity to do things differently. It is possible to operate from a paradigm of interdependency and support.

When you buy any of my products, when you comment on my posts or share them, you are supporting my work. This in turn means that I can continue to make, experiment, learn, film, write and create both products and free content. We both give, we both receive. This is interdependence.

It has been a bit scary making this transition. Wondering if I am undervaluing my work, or whether it will be a failure. But then I come back to my heart. I remember what I truly care about and what sort of life I want to live, and the world I want to co-create.

If this topic interests or excites you and you want to learn more, I highly recommend Charles Eisenstein’s books, Sacred Economics and The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know Is Possible, and his ecourse, Living In The Gift.

Let's be brave. Let's do better. I trust you to pay what you can.

 

How the variable pricing levels work

Each ecourse on my website now has several price levels. The lowest levels are concession places for people who need extra support and can’t afford the full price. If you can, I encourage you to pay the full price ‘Tree’ level or higher. This allows me to earn a fair income from my work, and also to offer concession places. In turn, this keeps the ‘pay what you can’ pricing model sustainable. But if you can only afford the lowest levels, you are still very welcome.

If you can afford to pay the higher levels, you are supporting other people to access my courses through your generosity. You are also supporting me to continue creating free content as well as new ebooks and ecourses.

The world is changing, and perhaps we need to let go of the idea that people with lots of money deserve more, and people with less money deserve less. No matter what level you can afford, you will get access to all the same course materials. There is enough for everyone, and I trust that you can support or be supported, as you need.

When you decide on a price level that feels fair based on your circumstances and what I am offering, you’ll know. It will feel right in your heart.

2019 year review: going full-time in my handmade business, plus my advice for other makers

Here’s a breakdown of this year in my business, for any other creative biz owners or if you are just curious about what it is like making a living as a maker!

I’ve been running Gumnut Magic for a few years now, but this was the year that I went properly full-time. No more side jobs to guarantee some money for the week. By January 2019 I had grown my business enough that I felt confident in ditching this safety net. I’m glad I took my time to get to this point though – it would have been really stressful to be fully dependent on it earlier and would have taken away much of the fun and joy. For anyone just starting out, I recommend growing your business up slowly and not expecting it to pay all your bills straight away.

 

My focus this year

This year I made and launched my first ecourse, Living Colour. It took much longer than I expected to put together (6 months longer!) because of technical difficulties and quite a few uncooperative eco-print bundles. It was a frustrating process, but the whole time I kept thinking that it was better to take longer and do it well, rather than rush the process.

I’m glad I made most of the content before I launched the course, because I wouldn’t have been able to cope with the stress of trying to get each week’s videos done in time. I know some people prefer to launch a course then start making it but that wouldn’t work for me.

That said, once the course had begun I kept filming extra lessons to add in, partly because I wanted to make it really good value for my lovely customers and partly because it was fun! The downside of this is that the course ended up a bit too big and overwhelming, covering too many different topics. So this led me to explore the idea of breaking the ecourse up into smaller modules, the first of which was the Soy Milk Binder module that I released in November. I think it works better to have a more focused topic at a lower price point, so more people can afford it and they can buy just the modules they want. But I will still keep the full ecourse available for those who want a comprehensive introduction to eco-printing.

 

What else I worked on

Besides the ecourse, I had some other streams of income. I ran a few workshops and kept selling my ebooks and also eco-printed clothing and fabric. I also got one of my ebooks translated into Spanish. I was really interested to see how this would go, as I’ve had lots of people asking about translations, especially into Spanish. But I haven’t sold that many of the Spanish ebook. Enough to cover the translation service, but not much more. So unless something changes, I won’t be getting any more translations done. Although I loved making my work accessible to more people, it doesn’t feel like a good use of my time.

That said, some areas of my business aren’t directly profitable or are somewhat inefficient – selling eco-printed clothes and fabric packs is definitely a hard way to make money. The dyeing process is very time intensive, then I have to photograph each item and create a unique listing for it. But I actually think of these products as having a different purpose than making money. Eco-printing the items is a way to practise my skills, and I can also photograph them to share on Instagram and my blog. It‘s also a way to find new customers by getting more of my work out there. Someone searching for clothing might find my etsy shop, then decide to buy an ebook instead. And, pragmatically, it also gives me something to do with all the fabric and clothing that I will be eco-printing anyway. It’s nice if I can sell them, but I make more money through teaching. And I also get a lot of joy from the teaching. This wasn’t the direction I thought my business would take when I started out, but I am so glad that I listened to what my audience wanted and also what I enjoyed doing. I started up as a clothing business, but I have been pivoting more and more each year towards teaching. Don’t be afraid to change your business structure, especially if you realise that something else might be more profitable, more enjoyable, and more wanted by your audience.

This year, I also spent a lot of time doing the usual marketing things of course. Pinterest was the biggest driver of traffic to my website and I did put a lot of energy into pinning there and creating new pins of my work. As part of this, I tried to write a new blog post at least once a month. I also grew my Instagram account from 6k to 13k followers – finally passing the mystical 10k, which lets you see extra analytics and get the ‘swipe up’ feature in stories. After several years in business, this year I really noticed that I started reaching critical mass with my marketing and exposure, where it is now somewhat self-sustaining. If you are still in the early stages of your business, know that with consistent work over time you will start to see this too.

 

What I loved

I am so grateful for the opportunity to just focus on Gumnut Magic this year. I am so much happier and more resilient when I don’t have to do any other work, even if it is just part time. Over the year my energy and contentment grew a lot, partly from other changes I made in my life but also hugely from not having to do any draining part-time jobs any more.

I also loved how much time I made this year for different creative outlets. I sewed lots of fun fairy clothing and also took up nature journalling. It felt great to nurture my creative self and make time for things beyond work.

 

What was hard

This year I really noticed how much I dislike having lots of things on at the same time, especially when they are time-dependent things. When I was running my soy milk binder module live, I also had a lot of other work and life commitments. I felt really stressed and pulled in lots of directions. But I also realised that I have more capacity that I think, to hold lots of things at once. I still don’t like it and would rather structure my life differently, but it is good to know that if I need to, I can do it. But the best thing about being my own boss is that I can choose how to structure my business. Going forward, I will be more intentional with my planning to avoid having all the things happening at once, and give myself space and time to get things done, with less time-dependent pressure. It is so important to structure your business in the way that works for you. There is no ‘right’ way, and you can choose which options feel best to you. If you set up your business to be mostly full of tasks and workflows that you enjoy, you will be so much more productive, which leads to being more profitable and successful. Not to mention more content, which is something I value as much as profit. If I just wanted to make money, I could go get a regular job!

I also struggled with Instagram in the second half of the year, seeing a significant drop in the number of likes and comments even though my audience was growing. I know this is partly because I wasn’t posting as much and wasn’t always putting a lot of effort into my photos. But it is also something I have seen other creative businesses struggling with. Going forward, I have decided that I need to stop focusing on creating so much content specifically for Instagram, and instead use it more as one place to share photos and information that I am also putting elsewhere. It can be a huge time drain otherwise that is not necessarily worth it. For those starting out, I would advise being mindful of your use of any social media platform. Try to discern what effort is actually useful, and what is taking away from time you could be putting into other areas of your business, such as making more content or products.

 

Plans for 2020

I’m really excited for 2020. I want to change some things in my business, and also make more time for rest and play. I’m going to be launching a second business soon, which will be a home for all my other creative work – collage, sewing and magic. And that will be more of a hobby business, just for fun, rather than one that needs to pay my bills. As Gumnut Magic has grown, I have noticed that eco-printing now feels a lot more like work. I still love doing it, but I generally do it for a very specific reason and sometimes in stressful circumstances like needing to get an ecourse lesson completed by a certain time. So I am making more space for things that can just be nourishing and fun. If I make money from them that’s nice, but it won’t be my driving force.

In Gumnut Magic, I will be releasing the rest of my ecourse modules throughout the year. I will probably release them each individually as a live course, which will then stay open for enrollments for people who want to do it in their own time.

I have also been working on some new ebooks all about running a creative business. As you many have noticed from reading this, I actually enjoy the business side of my work quite a bit! And just like with eco-printing, I would love to share what I have learnt so I can help other people who are just starting out. If there is anything specifically you would like to learn about, please leave me a comment.

I would also like to write another eco-printing ebook, which could be about mordants or soy milk binders or something else entirely. That may or may not happen, but again, if there is a topic that you are interested in learning from me in this format, please let me know. Ebooks tend to be a very big project, because of all the experimentation and research that has to happen even before all the writing and photographing and compiling. But I also find them a really satisfying thing to create and I love being able to provide something really useful.

I’d also love to make a few more Youtube tutorials. I am still very new to that space but it feels like an interesting thing to explore more of.

And overall, I want to structure my days and the whole year in a spacious way. With time to play, to explore, to experiment, to try new things. Time to tilt into one area of my business, and then step back and focus on another. The biggest thing I will be taking from 2019 into 2020 is the knowledge that this is a priority for me. Nourishing my creative self and having space and time, with as little pressure as possible. This helps me to keep this business sustainable and fulfilling. And in the end, that’s what matters most to me.