Friday, August 21, 2009

!0 Reasons to Teach What You Know

I’m a confirmed believer in the benefits of teaching what I know, but I know many of us especially in the Caribbean, amongst us creative people, often fear others ‘tiefin’ our ideas and designs. This is not just felt when talking about teaching – it’s so strong a fear I’ve seen it cause makers to not put their products in promotional campaigns or in free expos for fear of being copied!
I’ve heard that fear expressed beyond these warm Caribbean seas too, and aside from the real deal when you’re investing large sums of money in a new Line and making your break for the Big Time, when ok, if someone steals your project then, it’s real problems, well other than that, I just think we lose out every time we entertain that fear.
So, today I’d like to share with you my thoughts on the fallacy of this and how sharing your ideas, skills, knowledge and designs through teaching can benefit you so much more.
Once you can look at what’s behind these fears, and dissect them a bit, they do tend to lose their potency, so, that seems like a good place to start:
1)    It’s My Idea/Design/Product, Mine and Mine Alone
No offence, but I seriously doubt it. I’m not saying none of us have ever great and even unique ideas, but the reality is most of the time it’s a twist on something that’s been done before, something you saw online, in a magazine or even at the same shop where you sell your creations.
Are YOU copying? No, most likely not. But you’re being inspired by seeing things or by experiencing a design trend that’s showing up around you or that’s flowing in the ‘ethers’.
And that is your first step to letting go of the fear. It’s natural to be inspired – to see something and think “WOW! That’s cool, I like that, I want to make things like that”.
The key is to take what inspired you and change it in some way to bring something of your own unique design and art sense into it. Others will be inspired by your products and follow much the same process
2)    I MUST be unique to stand out and make sales
No, not really.
Trends, Fashions, Fads. These are the things that get noticed and get promoted beyond and even without your personal effort at promoting. If you can design within, alongside, around, Trends, Fashions and Fads (TFFs), then you are likely to be able to tap into the mainstream consumer pool.
3)    If I’m not unique others can and will copy and will compete directly with me
Ok, yes, this is also true, we’re all trying to squeeze a space on the bus, but you don’t have to be completely different.
It’s only necessary to ensure that your personal style and or your personal skills give your product something that is a little different and let your overall style still comfortably fit the TFFs.
This difference might be a technical skill you have that allows you to add a feature others don’t have, or it might be your choice of materials – maybe materials you can get that others haven’t yet discovered, colours that are slightly unusual, etc. Or it may be personalization that links it to you – decorative perhaps – that builds your brand recognition too.
4)    So don’t bother with the really unique products then…
I didn’t say that! My mother used to say “All things in moderation” – how true a phrase!
If you err on the side of just being part of the TFFs then you are placing yourself in as much risk of easy competition as you can. Not a good idea.
But there are two paths here
a)     You’re a good maker, but designs and unique ideas don’t come easy
Ok, so in this case, you will not be looking to invest a lot of your time, money and promotional materials in developing new, unique designs and items.
Instead you can use both your skill to set your general production above the competition, and also to do a high end line where the quality is superb and in this line  create uniqueness with simple slight pattern changes or embellishments.
You can market your quality, or if you have a skill that’s not common, market that aspect.
b)    You’re an artist at heart and in ability and production work is the ‘bread & butter’ that pays the bills
Fine, in this case, do a small number of individual WOW art pieces and of course you can include an artistic touch in your main production too.
Market the Art value of your products.
Both of these options make use of the desire consumers have to own top quality and designer goods. It’s like Haute Couture and Off the Rack – the average consumer buys the Off the Rack goods but it’s the Haute Couture that sets the value that can be obtained.
And aiming for the best we can do, stretching our skills beyond the bounds of our comfort zone is what will keep us competitive and if we get it right, ahead of our competition and growing.
5)    So what has all this got to do with TEACHING?
My take on teaching is all wrapped up in understanding the points above and  accepting that there’s plenty of room for commonality amongst us, and for sharing, inspiring, being inspired, adapting in your work and so on, without it being a danger to your sales; on the contrary, these can be good things.
And once you can accept this, you will find yourself presented with a whole new opportunity for growth personally and in business – through teaching what you know.
6) Making Money
This probably at first seems like the most important motivator you might have for deciding to teach: Most of us, certainly those of us in the Caribbean, find ourselves in the doldrums during the summer months, if not then, at some time in the year when your market is slow. If you plan ahead, you can offer workshops and short courses and get some good extra income in during an otherwise lean time.
7) Building Status
Once you start to teach things (providing you do it well) you gain status as some level as an expert or authority in your area. This, if used well in your promotion, increases your products’ marketability. And does it ever make you feel good.
8) Deepening Your Understanding
This one may not be so obvious, but I find that each time I go through the process of developing a workshop or course, I develop a clearer and deeper understanding of my processes. This can result in better production methods – more efficient, more reliable, and less costly for instance.
The process of actually teaching is amazing in it’s ability to give back to you also – I am yet to experience not learning something new about what I’m teaching or how I teach every time I run a class. The questions your students ask and the ideas they contribute are a goldmine of value for you.
9) Gaining Customers
Teach well and generously and many of the people who learn from you will end up being your customers – a good workshop tends to build admiration for the teacher and by extension, their products. 
10) Self-Propelling Marketing
These direct customers then talk about you, your products, the fun they had at your workshop or how useful it’s been to their business development and so make your next workshop’s marketing and your product marketing so much easier and more successful. There is nothing like a word of mouth recommendation from a happy student.
So that’s my 10 thoughts on why you should give teaching what you know a go of it! What do you think?
Have you taught, or do you teach?
What’s been the best benefit to you?
Share your thoughts and experiences with us!

And if you've enjoyed this post, please do share it on your favourite networks. 
I'd love it if you subscribe too - email and RSS feed subscription buttons at the top of the post :)


  1. Helen, thanks for emailing me - I'm copying your note here - not sure why my blog treated you so bad and wouldn't let you comment! Must be the rain...

    "FYI, I wanted to leave a post about this blog and it wouldn't let me. I don't know if the problem is here or if there is any problem at all, but I just wanted to say NICE JOB!"

  2. brilliant! thanks! great article :)