Chapter 1: A Tale of Two Careers
For decades, I’ve led a strange but successful dual-career in both technology and the Arts. It’s not always been easy and I sometimes get a bit of creative whiplash, but I wouldn’t change my journey for anyone.
In my tech career, I was a “Senior Systems Administrator”. That fancy term just means that I was a well-paid geek. My job was to manage hundreds or thousands of computers and mobile devices for the companies that hired me. I was good at my job, but — after twenty years of delivering technology solutions in high-pressure situations — I began craving something different.
Like, you know, a lot less stress.
Surprisingly, I began to write about technology instead of doing technology. Even more surprisingly, Medium reached out and offered me a contract to become one of their original technology writers. In that capacity, I authored a still-popular series here called “The Firewall”. Pretty cool.
Simultaneously, I’ve also been a professional actor for decades, something you can do when you live and work in Los Angeles. As an actor, I’ve been a longtime member of SAG/AFTRA and had the incredible opportunity to act on some notable TV shows as my old (and embarrassing) acting reel will reveal. In addition, I’ve spent decades producing live old-time-radio theater and teaching improvisation and acting classes.
While the pandemic didn’t impact my technology writing career, my work in the arts was instantly shut down. Starting in March of 2020, no one was going to in-person classes, workshops, or live events. Still, I needed a way to keep earning a salary and keep a roof over my head. I got nervous and was bad-tripping about what might happen to my family and me financially if I didn’t improvise a solution.
“Relax,” I told myself. “If ANYONE is in a position to understand how to combine technology and art, it’s you.”
Thankfully, that voice of reason was right. 👍🏼
Chapter 2: An Important Realization
One night, early in the pandemic, I woke up in the middle of the night and was too nervous to fall back asleep. I meditated to calm my mind and, when I did, I realized something important:
Because everyone around the world is now working and connecting virtually, there’s never been a better time in human history to be a working artist or an entrepreneur and gain paying followers and fans from all over the globe.
Because of technology, I no longer had to compete with much larger brands in my hometown for local business. Instead, I could spread the word online and gain new students, customers, and attendees from anywhere in the world. All that was required for folks to join me was a high-speed internet connection, a decent webcam, and the ability to pay me some money.
Artists & Entrepreneurs: This Is Your Moment
Hear me on this: if you’re an artist or entrepreneur, now is the perfect time to create and offer an online class, workshop, session, or performance that shows off your talents! Right now is the perfect time to earn money while working remotely from your home, office, or studio.
That means all of the actors, dancers, improvisers, writers, painters, sculptors, musicians, and chefs of the world. It also means all of the trainers, teachers, facilitators, coaches, and mentors, too. And, while we’re at it, let’s add in the therapists, social workers, mediators, and counselors of the world, too, since there’s a ton of demand for you folks right now.
Start thinking about what you can offer to the world. In the meantime, I’ll spend the rest of this article describing in detail HOW you should offer it.
Chapter 3: Sharing My Tools To Save You Time
This article will walk you through the most difficult part of the process: choosing the right platforms and learning how to make work together for you. I know a thing or two about that because I’ve already invested time, research, money, and a large dose of trial and error to learn how to monetize my online classes and workshops. By sharing what I’ve learned, you’ll be able to avoid some of the mistakes that I made and the costs that I paid.
The upside? Working on Zoom can be profitable. From March through December of 2020, I grossed $21,866.50 from teaching virtual classes and workshops. That’s for 43.57 weeks, working about 3 hours a week at virtual teaching and about another hour a week for prep time. That’s a $125.27 hourly rate. Not bad for a side hustle during a global pandemic.
The 10,000 Foot View
Let’s start with the big picture: there’s no SINGLE platform right now which allows me to…
- host my virtual events
- sell tickets to my events on my own website
- ask important questions & collect important data from my attendees
- automate reminder emails to my attendees
- market my events
Therefore, because our ideal solution doesn’t exist, we’ll pick different platforms which are each best-in-class at accomplishing our goals and use them all together:
- First, I schedule my classes, workshops, and trainings in Zoom, a best-in-class video meeting platform. I copy and paste all relevant information about each Zoom meeting into a Google Doc including calendar links and links to actually attend via Zoom.
- Next, I sell tickets to my events via TicketSpice, a best-in-class ticketing solution. Once TicketSpice confirms payment, it gives my customers the correct Zoom information to attend my virtual classes. Even better, it sends email reminders leading up to the event to all paying customers.
- Lastly, I build calendar events on my website using Squarespace, a best-in-class, website building platform. Each calendar event markets my upcoming virtual events. To save time, I use a neat tool called an iFrame to display my TicketSpice pages as if they were pages on my own website. #MagicIsReal
It’s easy to summarize and it’s easy to use but takes a while to explain everything in detail, so grab a cup of java and have a seat. This will be worth your time, ok?
The Video Platform to Use: Zoom
I use Zoom because — compared to the competition — it’s fast, easy to use, and it offers features that help set it apart: Virtual breakout rooms! Seeing up to 49 people on screen at once! Sharing a virtual whiteboard! Easily recording meetings to the cloud for sharing online with participants and others!
But the biggest feature that sets Zoom apart is this: it’s free to download and use for anyone who joins a meeting. It’s also free to use as a host if you’re hosting an event for 40min or less! That gives it an advantage over other solutions like Ring Central, WebEx, and Microsoft Teams.
Criticized early on about its security — for good reasons — Zoom’s finally arrived as a more mature and secure product and platform. The company provides regular software updates to fix bugs and they’ve increased the security controls that are provided to both hosts and users. More importantly, they now take the time to educate customers on how to make their meetings secure.
Using Zoom’s best practices, I’ve been offering all of my private classes, workshops, training, and facilitation securely on Zoom with not one problem since February of 2020. Early on, I paid for the $150 “Pro” plan and haven’t regretted it once.
The Ticketing Platform to Use: TicketSpice
When I decided to monetize my virtual work on Zoom, I had to find a ticketing platform that paid me quickly, was both affordable & easy to use, which offered great tech support, allowed me to collect important information about my attendees, automated emailing reminders to my paid attendees, and easily managed my live-streamed, pre-recorded, or virtual events.
If that sounds like a tall order, you’re 100% right.
As a theater producer, I’ve spent over twenty years using ticketing platforms for my events like Eventbrite, Brown Paper Tickets, Goldstar, LaughStub, TicketSpice, and Stellar. When it launched recently, I even tried Zoom’s newest service: OnZoom.
But only one of those platforms currently has all of the features I wanted and a bunch of others I didn’t realize that I needed: TicketSpice.
TicketSpice is the brainchild of its parent company, WebConnex. Here’s why I think it’s best-in-class:
I Get Paid VERY Quickly. TicketSpice pays me THE NEXT DAY for any money I’ve earned during the previous 24 hours. Now, instead of waiting to be paid after my virtual classes, workshops, or events end, I get right after people register and pay to attend.
The Fees Are Inexpensive. TicketSpice charges a fee of $0.99/ticket. That’s it. WePay, their credit card partner, charges a 2.99% handling fee for any credit card transactions. By comparison, Eventbrite, LaughStub, and Brown Paper Tickets charge more. While OnZoom charges less, for now, I’m told both by employees (and the press) that the company will start charging a fee for this service sometime this year.
Visit my Google Sheet to compare and contrast the various services, see what you’d potentially earn, and visit each company’s linked webpages to read about their fees:
Ticketing Platform Fees Comparison Chart
Sheet1 Enter your class, workshop, or virtual event information in the two yellow fields below: How many tickets are…
Only Paying Customers Can Attend. I don’t share my Zoom meeting information publically. There’s no need because I only want my paying customers to attend. TicketSpice makes this easy: once a purchase is confirmed, the customer is given all the information they’ll need, first on-screen (in the blue box below) and then via email. As my classes are sold in monthly packages, I also provide my attendees the convenience of adding the Zoom meeting info right into their calendars, shown below in the green box:
International Customers Welcome. Because TicketSpice accepts all major credit cards, people from anywhere in the world can and do pay to join my events, regardless of their local currency. It’s seamless and now permits me to brag that I’m teaching internationally!
Easy To Use. Yes, there’s a learning curve. There always is. However, if you can build a document in Microsoft Word, Apple Pages, or Google Docs, then you can easily build a TicketSpice page in 10–15minutes… even faster if you use any of the company’s pre-made templates.
No Hidden Fees. Some platforms charge a “convenience fee” to customers. TicketSpice allows you to pass on those savings to your customers or keep them for yourself if you desire.
Best-in-class Tech Support. Here’s something I almost never say: TicketSpice’s tech support is absurdly good and unexpectedly fast. Need help setting up a page? They’ve got tons of instructional videos or… you can quickly message tech support right on their website (below, at left). They usually get back to me within minutes. No, that’s not a typo: minutes. So forget about waiting on hold for 30–90 minutes at a time or opening tech support tickets with endless back-and-forth emails. TicketSpice even allows me to go back in time to see all of my previous tech support “conversations” (below, at right):
Collecting & Using Valuable Customer Info. Because it helps my business, I ask attendees to provide details like gender/pronoun preferences, birthdates, email addresses, and cellphone numbers. Your needs might be different. Cool. What’s important is that TicketSpice makes adding requests like these easy. It also automates emailing my customers. No other ticketing platform I’ve used makes those two things possible.
Gorgeous Landing Pages. My TicketSpice landing pages (here’s one example) are graphic heavy, easy for customers to use, and allow for all kinds of social media sharing and SEO optimization. You’ll notice that there’s no branding of other companies at the top of my ticketing page. That’s intentional: I’m there to sell myself and my skills, not my ticketing company’s brand. Other than a small logo at the very bottom of your sales page, you won’t see TicketSpice banners, ads, or logos.
The Final Word
I’m incredibly impressed with TicketSpice, both as a technologist and as a longtime user of the platform myself. Selling tickets to my in-person and virtual events on TicketSpice is simple, affordable, and the company is insanely fast at paying me what I’ve earned and at answering my tech support questions. I’ve never had a customer complain about using their system. My only complaint? I wish I’d found them sooner: I’d have saved a lot of time, money, and heartache by using them instead of their competition.
The Website Platform to Use: Squarespace
If you’re looking for a platform that makes hosting, building, and publishing a website really, really easy: then there’s no better platform than Squarespace.
Yes, I know that about a third of all websites on the Internet are built on WordPress. I also know that WordPress is relatively inexpensive compared to SquareSpace. But WordPress takes much more time to use. Here’s one example:
On WordPress, I’ve spent hours researching the right plug-in to do the right thing that I need for my website. Then, I sometimes find that I have to pay extra for those plug-ins. Then, those plug-ins need updating which means regular administrative time to check and update them.
No, thank you. Time is valuable: I’d rather pay a bit more money to save a ton more time. So should you.
Chapter 4: Putting It All Together
Here is the solution I use that gives me the very best of each platform. While I encourage you to read this from any device, please ONLY do this work on your laptop or desktop computer: it just isn’t the kind of work to do on a smaller screen.
Setting Up & Using Zoom
First, I set up my event in Zoom. This includes picking the days, times, and length for my event. Here’s one example, an improv class for beginners, which runs every Wednesday for four weeks from 4–5:30pm:
Once my event is set up, I’ll copy/paste the crucial calendar information into a special Google Doc to use in a later step. Let’s focus on the calendar links above, in the orange rectangle. Right-click on any of those links. When you do, you’ll see that you can copy the calendar invite link. Do that for each calendar you desire and copy the links into your text editor.
Although it looks like Zoom’s iCal links are missing, they’re actually not. They’re just hidden, so let’s go find them. Click on the “Copy Invitation” link that Zoom provides next to your event’s “Invite Link”. You’ll see it — two images above — in the green box. When you click that link, you’ll see something like the following appear on your screen:
In the red box above, is the iCal link to your event. In the blue box above is the link, meeting ID, and password for your event. Copy and paste info from both boxes into your Google Doc.
Setting Up & Using TicketSpice
TicketSpice provides tons of easy-to-read help pages to get you started on using their platform. However, here’s a short tutorial that I’ve created myself which I think is worth following because it’s designed to work seamlessly with Zoom and your website.
First things first: make sure that you sign up for and create your own account on TicketSpice. Once you’ve signed, click the blue “New Page” button to create your first ticketing page:
Next, provide some initial information about your event:
Now, choose one of the “themes” TicketSpices offers. Themes are there to help you quickly style and automate your event ticketing page. Think of them as you would the templates found in Microsoft Word, Google Docs, or Apple Pages: different themes feature different visual designs. TicketSpice provides themes features one or more individuals, spotlights an organization, or for those organizations needing to host a fund-raising event.
Once your theme is chosen, here are my recommendations to create a successful ticketing page:
- give yourself a nice big header image
- follow with a description of your event
- provide a bio and a photo of yourself and demonstrate why you’re qualified to host this event, class, or workshop
- set your price(s)
- grab any useful information from your attendees that you’ll need to use (I ask for gender & contact info, birthdates, and more because I use all of those during my classes)
Regardless of which theme you choose, TicketSpice will automatically add the billing info portion at the bottom of your page so your customers can enter their credit card info. Then, you can save, preview, and publish your ticketing page.
You’ll be asked to pick a payment gateway. To start, use the WebConnex gateway. Later, you can elect to switch to Stripe, PayPal, or others that TicketSpice supports.
When you’re finished, you’ll have something a page that looks like this, an actual ticketing page which I created for an upcoming improv class that I’m teaching.
Paste in Your Zoom Info
Earlier, I asked you to save key information from your upcoming Zoom classes, meetings, or workshops. Now’s the time to grab that info and paste it into TickeSpice in three or four strategic places. I created a template in Google Docs that I can use over and over again. Grab a copy for yourself or grab the one from my public Dropbox folder:
Dropbox is a free service that lets you bring your photos, docs, and videos anywhere and share them easily. Never email…
After you’ve added your personal touches to my template, you’ll want to paste the info you’ve put there into your TicketSpice page. Here’s a video explaining how and, more importantly, where to do that:
Setting Up & Using SquareSpace
My SquareSpace website has a calendar page. Yours should as well. If not, please make one and start using it. My calendar pages allow me to market and advertise my upcoming classes and workshops in simple and graphically pleasing ways.
But there’s a particular method I use when setting up a new calendar event… Instead of retyping everything about my virtual event that I’ve already added into my TicketSpice, I do something else that saves me far more time: I open up a magical portal!
I’m joking, but only sort of.
In technical terms, what I do is called using an “iframe”. In practical terms, it’s exactly like having a magical portal. TicketSpice provides an easy-to-read technical support page on how to do this, but I wanted to provide a short video tutorial of my own so you can see what it looks like and how to set it up.
In my video, you’ll note that I paste a short block of HTML code into my Squarespace iframe that looks exactly like the text you see here:
<iframe src="https://improveisation.ticketspice.com/202103-improv-playground/" width="100%" height="2100px" scrolling="yes" frameborder="0" border="0"></iframe>
You’ll be copying and pasting the same code into your website. My TicketSpice page is shown in bold above. When you set up your iframe on your calendar page, just replace my URL with yours. It’s that simple! All we’re doing with our code is telling Squarespace to please display our TicketSpice website as our calendar event. It’s kind of magical, and here’s what it looks like in real-time when you set it all up:
By the way, if you’re already committed to using WordPress, Weebly, or Wix, TicketSpice still loves you: their tech support page has info on how to create an iFrame on many major web hosting services. Plus, since HTML is an open standard, you should be able to use an iFrame no matter WHO hosts your website. 👍🏼 👌 🙌🏼
So there it is:
- First, schedule your classes, workshops, and trainings in Zoom. Make sure to copy and paste all relevant information about each Zoom meeting into a Google Doc for use later. I always grab calendar links and the links to join my Zoom meetings.
- Next, create graphically pleasing payment pages on TicketSpice just like this one to allow people to purchase access to your Zoom events. Use the video tutorials I’ve provided in this article. Then, once TicketSpice confirms payment, it gives your customers the correct Zoom information to attend your virtual classes. Even better, if you tell it do so, TicketSpice will send reminder emails to all paying customers.
- Lastly, use calendar events on your personal website like this one to help market and advertise your upcoming events. To save time, use the power of an iFrame to display your TicketSpice pages as if they were pages on your own website.
Chapter 5: Two Final Ideas To Consider
Set Yourself Apart
Although the pandemic will eventually end, working remotely will certainly not. Therefore, take the time now to differentiate yourself. Set yourself apart! Be different and awesome! If you’re a yoga instructor who wants to teach online, then offer courses that your competition is not.
A personal example: I teach improvisation to performers and actors. I also teach applied improvisation to corporate and non-profit teams around the world. But so do about 14,354 other talented people.
Therefore, I do a bit of research and then try to offer classes and workshops that my competition does not. For example:
- I offer classes geared specifically for kids aged 9–16
- I offer classes geared specifically for educators
- I offer classes geared specifically for parents
Find a path that works for you. Be willing to experiment. Keep what works and get rid of what doesn’t. Then, give away some of what you do for free.
Give Some of it Away
When the pandemic hit, I offered free, weekly classes for kids across the globe for a whole month. The first week, I had about 10 kids. But word spread: kids told other kids and parents of my kids told their friends who then signed up their kids. By the end of the month, I had 25–30 children joining from all over the world. It was glorious.
Before the last class, I announced that I’d be continuing classes but for a reasonable fee. About 70% of my students disappeared by the next week. And that’s OK. The 30% that stuck around, kept paying for my classes for the next 6–9 months.
I gave up earning for one month, in order to earn for the rest of the year. IT was the best thing I did in 2020. It also made me feel better about giving something to the world that the world REALLY needed more of last year: fun, community, games, joy, laughter, and teamwork.
If those kinds of things interest you or your kids, then I invite you all to join me online:
Change Through Play
These weekly improv classes are open to BOTH children and adults who are newer to performance improv and want to learn…
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