by Lisa McGrimmon
Planning for teaching crafts doesn't end with developing a fabulous project, securing a venue for your class, and getting students to sign up. There will be several business-related factors you'll need to work out before you start teaching. I do recommend you work these things out ahead of time as much as possible. You'll avoid, or at least minimize, headaches, disappointment, and miscommunication if you can work out the details in advance of your first class.
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First, whenever I mention legal or insurance issues related to your business, I need to clarify that I'm not a lawyer, and I'm not an insurance expert. I can give you a heads up about a few things to be aware of, but I'm not qualified to give you specific advice on these topics. You must talk to your insurance agent, and possibly your lawyer or other professionals directly to deal with these issues.
Teaching your craft can have an impact on your business or personal/home insurance. Teaching classes can represent a significant change in your business, and those changes can impact your insurance. Be sure to talk to your business insurance provider and clearly explain your plans to determine if any changes to your policy are necessary. Keep in mind, if you're teaching in your home studio, that may impact your personal home insurance (not just your business insurance), so be clear about this plan with your home insurance provider as well your business insurance provider.
You may also need to be aware of business-related bylaws in your city, particularly if you're planning to teach classes in your home studio. You don't want to build up a thriving business teaching classes in your studio, only to have it shut down because you're not actually allowed to run that type of business from your home. Visit your local Chamber of Commerce, and they will be able to point you to the information you need about bylaws that may impact your new teaching venture.
If you're working with a partner in any way - teaching at a community center, or a craft shop, for example, both you and your partner will have certain expectations. You'll need to ensure those expectations are clearly communicated, understood and agree upon on both sides. Ideally, you should clarify your agreement in writing to avoid misunderstandings.
How will you and your partner be compensated? Will you pay a flat fee to rent space, and all students class fees will be paid to you? Will you and your partner split the class profits? How will they be split? Will you be paid a flat fee, and the venue that hosts the class will keep all class income over and above your flat fee?
Expectations About Course Materials
Are there any expectations about where students will purchase raw materials for the course. If you're teaching at a craft shop, the shop owner will likely expect raw materials to be bought at the shop. Promoting their products will be a big part of a craft shop owner's motivation for offering classes.
Responsibilities to Promote the Class
Who is responsible to promote and fill the class? Ideally, both you and your partner will be working to promote and fill up the class, but this expectation should be clarified because it can be a source of frustration if responsibilities aren't clear. Generally, the more stake your partner has in filling the class, the more effort they will put into promoting it. If you're just renting a room in their space, they might not do a lot of promote your class. If, on the other hand, they will receive a share of the profits from the class fees, they can be expected to put more work into promotion.
Responsibilities During Class
Who will be responsible for what during class? Will someone at the venue be available if there is a problem with the room? Who will take payments? Who will set up the room?
Your partner may ask you to sign a non-compete agreement, particularly if you're teaching at a craft shop. These agreements are fairly standard, and they are designed to protect the business, but they will limit your ability to teach your craft in other venues. Non-compete agreements can limit your teaching in a variety of ways. For example, a non-compete agreement might specify that you can't teach your craft at another shop within a certain distance from your partner's shop. Or it might simply state that you can't teach that specific class at another shop.
I've never signed a non-compete agreement to teach craft courses, but I did sign two different non-compete agreements back in the day when I taught music. One indicated that I could not take on a student of the school as my own private student within 6 months of teaching that person at the school. That, to me was a perfectly reasonable agreement. It protected the school and prevented teachers from walking away with their students, but it didn't unreasonably limit my ability to use my own skill outside of the school.
The other non-compete I signed indicated that I would not teach music at all within a 50 kilometer (about 30 miles) radius of the school within 2 years of my employment there. At the time, I lived more than 50km away from the school, so I knew if I wanted to take on private students, or work at a studio closer to home, I could do it without violating the agreement. However, if I had lived near the school, I might have found that agreement too restrictive because it would have completely prevented me from using my skills anywhere else.
Read any non-compete agreement carefully. Think about how it will limit your ability to teach elsewhere and make sure it doesn't limit you in ways that are not acceptable. Some non-compete agreements are perfectly reasonable, and others, you might find, limit your own business in ways that are not acceptable.
It's crucial to set up clear expectations between you and your students in order to avoid disappointment.
First and foremost, ensure your class description is extremely clear, so students will know exactly what they are signing up for, and your class will meet their expectations. You might even consider clarifying who the class is not for. For example, if you're teaching a large project that will take several classes and will require students to do a significant amount of homework between classes, you might clarify that your class isn't for someone who's looking for a quick project that can be finished in an afternoon. You can write things like this in a light-hearted way, but it will clarify exactly what a student can expect from your class.
Class fees need to be clearly communicated. Indicate the cost of the class, what that cost covers, whether the course fee includes the cost of materials and if there will be any other costs, when course fees are due and who to pay, and be clear about your cancellation and refund policies.
The business elements involved in teaching crafts can be the source of major headaches and anxiety for a new craft instructor. The idea of negotiating clear terms with partners and students can be nerve wracking, but it's important if you want to avoid misunderstandings and disappointment. You'll probably wonder what terms are reasonable, and how you will go about enforcing those terms.
That's why I love Gwen Bortner's class, How to Teach It. How to Teach It is the best course on becoming a crafts instructor I have ever seen. All of the details around the business of teaching crafts are laid out for you in exceptional detail in the first lesson.
Gwen covers what should be discussed and agreed upon before you commit to teaching a class. She'll tell you how to create a teaching agreement, and she provides a sample teaching agreement you can use as the foundation for your own courses. She'll give you advice on how to determine fees to charge, and what kind of terms you should set out for students. All of that is taught in the first lesson, and there are eight more lessons packed with fantastic, practical craft teaching advice. If you're thinking about teaching crafts, Gwen's class is well worth your time and money.