4 Common Fiber Workshop Pricing Models

As the #FairFiberWage discussion continues on Twitter, Facebook, Ravelry, and individual blogs, lots of great questions are coming up. This article addresses some, while talking about payment and pricing models that have existed or do exist for workshops in the fiber arts.

This is by no means an exhaustive list! But it’s a starting point that describes some of the models out there.

  1. The Old Routine.

In this model, an organizer completely hosts the class, collects all fees, handles logistics including travel, lodging, and promotion, and pays instructor a set fee (typically ranging from $300-$1000 per day) by the end of the workshop event. This tends to work well for festivals, guilds, and shops, and will generally tie in readily with most workshop models already in use by these types of groups. Pricing in this model typically allows for an event organizer to break even at 8 students in a class charging each participant somewhere between $75–150 a day (or $40–90 a half-day); this is a generally well-accepted price range for classes across North America. If the full complement of 15–20 students is reached, most organizers turn a comfortable profit. In some cases, special pricing may be available upon request, such as for events lasting one week or longer. I call this the “hosted model” on my class list, and it’s the model for which I gave lots of detail in “What Does It Cost To Hire Top Talent In The Fiber Arts.”

Pros for an organizer: you know what your costs will be and can budget for them well ahead of time; this model is well-understood and accepted by the most experienced teachers; you have the option to set your pricing to students and potentially turn a profit. Also, you’ll get teachers with reputations, followings, and promotional skills, so hiring them will provide you with promotion for your entire event at no additional cost to you.

Cons for an organizer: if classes don’t fill to your break-even point, you’re still on the hook to pay the teacher and the logistics. On the other hand, this model usually also allows for no-fault cancellation at a point before anyone is out of pocket, but that may end up being an all-or-nothing proposition.

Pros for a teacher: you know you’ll make your baseline pay and cover your expenses; depending on contract details, you may not go out of pocket for travel and lodging and have to wait for reimbursement.

Cons for a teacher: classes that don’t fill get cancelled and you make nothing, you may find classes hard to promote depending on the organizer’s efforts and options, you often have no say in what classes are chosen, and you usually have to book far in advance, meaning late cancellations can have a big impact on your earning potential.

2. Make the Vendors Teach.

In this model, vendors already working at the event may be offered a stipend in exchange for teaching classes, or may receive other consideration such as a waived booth fee. The thinking here is that vendors are already on site, already absorb the cost of being there as part of their plan to vend, and have a vested interest in seeing the market do well, so education is part of their mission. Teaching fees in this model can range from a few dollars per student to flat fees that are generally in the $100–200 range, or commensurate with what a booth fee is to vend. You’ll generally see this at smaller, more regional events, craft fairs, and the like, and the price point for classes will tend to be very low, like $20/half day and $50/full day.

Pros for an organizer: fewer logistics than The Old Routine; classes very cheap with little up front cost.

Cons for an organizer: you’re not likely to get a truly professional teacher (you might, but it’s not likely); teacher won’t likely have “draw” of their own to help your event; classes often don’t pay for themselves; hard to justify promoting classes. Another gotcha is that people will agree to this because they really want to make it work — but they don’t know yet what it will take to actually make it work. So your risk of problem classes and dissatisfied students is much higher. Also, people who had a bad time in a class just about top the list of negative publicity you don’t want for an event (or as a teacher, but I digress). This is also the model where I’ve seen the most gossip and “office politics” if you will, as a vendor/teacher combo will have to load in and load out for their booth *and* their classes and nothing makes fiber event drama faster than loading in and out.

Pros for a teacher: well, not much; this mostly works for someone who is a vendor who is willing to teach. I have sometimes seen teachers looking to get started as specialists agree to take these sorts of jobs because they’re local and won’t have travel and lodging costs, or because they’re accompanying a vendor with whom they have a separate agreement about costs, and potentially other compensation. Many fledgling teachers try something along these lines in hopes of building classroom skills, contacts, and a following.

Cons for a teacher/vendor: What you hope to do is make up for either having to close your booth to teach the class, or pay someone to watch your booth while you teach. Few professionals who specialize as a teacher are able to make this work for them — and for folks who specialize as vendors, it doesn’t tend to be worth it for anything other than very short (an hour or so) sessions. Both vending and teaching are huge commitments. Some industry powerhouses are able to pull it off, generally by having a team they can count on — but having staff adds to the cost of what you’re doing, and you can probably make a better return on their time from producing goods for sale.

Bigger Picture Risks: A few times, I’ve seen this model fail to scale in interesting ways. One such involves if an event starts small, with an inexpensive venue, and then changes venues to someplace larger and more expensive. Attendee expectations shift dramatically, and ad hoc instructional sessions lose appeal — folks start asking for principled classes. But they don’t expect to pay much for them. At the same time, vendor fees go up. And the next thing you know you have all kinds of structural issues and perception problems, often within the folks who are working the show, like vendors and volunteers. My advice: price sustainable from the start, and you’re more likely to find your event can survive growth and transition .

3. The Old Routine, Graduated

If you take model #1, The Old Routine, and make one small change, you get another pricing structure that is gaining in popularity. What change? Instead of a flat fee, the instructor receives an amount per hour that ramps up depending on how many students take the class. For instance: if you have 1–8 students in your class, you’ll get $50 per class hour; for 9–16 you’ll get $75; and for 17+, $100. Actual amounts may vary, and these are used only to explain the model of graduated pay. However, they happen to work out to a point right in the middle of the range that The Old Routine usually pays.

Pros for an organizer: everything you get from the Old Routine, plus potentially the chance to lose a little less if classes don’t fill.

Cons for an organizer: Same as with the Old Routine, plus some teachers flatly refuse to work for a graduated fee.

Pros for a teacher: being willing to share some risk of a not-full class can make it possible for you to teach in markets you otherwise wouldn’t be able to afford to work in.

Cons for a teacher: same as the Old Routine, but you might come home with half pay if the top end pay is equal to, or less than, your flat rate.

4. I Don’t Even Wanna Pay Anything Up Front For This Class.

Did this one get your blood boiling when you read the title? It shouldn’t! This is actually my most profitable and low stress model a lot of the time. And the only thing it costs organizers in most cases is a space — and sometimes not even then.

I call this the “grassroots model,” and it’s very similar to one Jacey Boggs Faulkner shared with me in 2011 when I hired her to teach at my small event using The Old Routine. All an organizer does in this case is tell me the dates and the place, and make sure the available space will work. I handle the registration, the promotion, my logistics to get myself and my stuff there, and absorb every up-front cost but space. Students pay me directly and I interact with them directly before, during, and after class. Generally speaking, I’ll need 8–9 hours in a class space per day to do 6 hours of instruction, and students will each pay $100–150 per day depending on a variety of factors (do I have to get a hotel and eat in San Francisco? It’ll be pricier than if it’s half an hour from my house and I commute). In exchange for the organizer finding an event space, and potentially drumming up some local interest (like asking the folks at their library knit night) the organizer (and sometimes a guest) can take the class at no cost. If class minimums aren’t met by the time travel has to be planned or someone has to go out of pocket, it’s typically a no-fault cancellation.

Pros for an organizer: usually very little work; can sometimes even get a custom class made to order (“We’d like half a day on joins and half a day on spindles, please!”); can bring a top teacher someplace where you don’t have any existing events.

Cons for an organizer: you do have to be sure you have a space, and if there isn’t enough local interest, the thing could get cancelled.

Pros for a teacher: you’re in charge of most of the decisions. Don’t wanna stay at the cutrate motel? Fine; it’s your choice and your business where you stay. You have tons of stuff that has to be shipped? Fine; build that into your price. You usually need more than a salad after working on your feet all day? That’s not going to be a fight either. You also usually get to talk turkey with the individual organizer and pick the right class lineup for the expected audience.

Cons for a teacher: you have to have a web site, a solid online presence, understand e-commerce to some small degree, maintain multiple ways of taking payments from consumers, absorb the customer service load, and absorb all the costs on the front end.

I work with all of these except for #2, “Make the Vendors Do It,” because I usually can’t find a way to make those models cover my costs — but also because I’m a specialist teacher with 40 years of experience in doing the stuff I’m teaching, the author of a popular book on the subject, and someone who’s out here working and publishing in the field constantly. In other words, I have a brand — and brands are worth something.

Do you use another model? I’d love to hear about it, and I’ll take questions, too. I’ll be sharing this piece via other social media, and will discuss there — but if long form answers are called for, I may bring that back to medium for the next round of talk.

Thanks for reading! If you enjoyed this piece, please click that little green heart and let folks know, and take a look through some of my other articles.