11 Compelling Reasons Creatives Should Teach (And 7 Signs You Shouldn’t)

[Read to the end of today’s post to get details of a free half-hour coaching bonus ($99 value) that I’m offering to any of my readers who sign up for Danny Iny’s Course Builder’s Laboratory (aff.) before Thursday, January 29th, 2015.]art teacher

Do you have so many paying customers that you’re turning people away?

Are folks pounding down your door for your writing, art or design projects, stage production, or latest musical compositions?

Are you wondering how you’ll ever work through your waiting list?

Or are you still dreaming of that magical day?

Let’s face it.

It can take a while before you start making really good money from your creative work.

If you’re right out of school, you might not mind sitting on milk crates, sleeping on an air mattress, and eating ramen noodles.

But the rest of us – well, we’ve been there, done that and have no desire to go back. 😉

Maybe you’re open to the idea of teaching as an income stream, maybe not.

But consider this: even if you never teach a class, private lesson, or online course in your life, you will still have to educate some very important people –

Your clients, readers, fans, and customers.

That’s right. Because selling, to a large extent, is just educating people.

As artists, we naturally do a lot of teaching, even if it’s just encouraging the younger generation. It’s how creative communities sustain themselves after all.

I’m a huge fan of teaching, and not just because of the income potential. The true benefits go far beyond that.

You might wonder whether you’re cut out for teaching.

You might be afraid that it will keep you from the things you really want to be doing.

But stick with me here. I’d like to help you put these concerns aside and give you some new angles to consider, especially if you’ve grown tired of hearing …

“If things fall through you can always teach.”

Writers, musicians, and artists hear this so often that it’s now a tiresome cliché.

(To be fair, most people have no clue how we creative types make money. It’s the only advice they know.)

You might take it as an insult – as if your friends and family are insinuating that your work isn’t good enough to stand on its own.

But it also implies that teaching is somehow a less worthy use of your time on this planet.

Not true. Especially in today’s environment.

Having the freedom to do work you love requires having enough cash flow to allow you to do so. Teaching is flexible and lucrative. You can be your own boss and finance your own creative efforts.

Teaching allows you to control your destiny, without having to beg someone else to support you or see you as worthy of some industry deal. It’s not the domain of the failures or wanna-bes.

Today, those who can do, teach

The old saying, “Those who can’t do, teach” was never very nice or really true even back when it was popular – and the world is a much different place today.

Years ago, we didn’t have the internet and all its opportunities.

The fact is that now, if you’re a private instructor who’s not helping your students get results, you’ll eventually fail. You won’t make money. People won’t refer you.

You can’t fake it. You can’t hide behind a tenured position.

When you start doing work that touches people and start getting it out into the world in big ways, it’s only natural that people will want to learn your secrets.

They’ll start asking you if you teach.

They’ll want their work to have an impact like yours does and they won’t be sure how to go about it. They’ll admire what you’ve accomplished and want to emulate you.

You’ll have a chance to influence the future.

Teaching can dramatically change your life and your art… once you get past the initial fear, of course.

Why many people never get started

Teaching can be downright intimidating if you’re uncertain. You might want to wait until all your questions are cleared up and you have an iron-clad business plan in place before you even start.

But that would be a mistake, because you’ll never discover the answers to those questions or stumble on that amazing business plan until you actually take action.

It’s common to get stuck on questions like –

  • What would I teach?
  • Where do I start?
  • Do I have to teach things I don’t like to do?
  • Will anyone believe I have the right qualifications or credentials?
  • Where would I find students?
  • How can I work out the logistics?

And it would be a terrible shame if you, like many others, are interested in teaching but never got past these uncertainties to get to the good stuff.

The benefits of teaching that no one ever talks about

If it weren’t for teaching music, I probably never would have become a full-time, self-employed creative.

In my business and corporate careers, I was always a trainer. I went to graduate school intending to be a professor, but grew tired of that after a few years as an adjunct professor.

I was more excited by the thought of running my own business – but I didn’t think I had the qualifications to teach music.

I’m glad I had a mentor who convinced me otherwise.

Over the years I helped hundreds of students realize their dreams. I came into my own as an artist and found I loved songwriting. I learned solid business and marketing skills. I connected with influential people who would never have given me the time of day otherwise.

In the end, all that experience became the foundation for this blog (which is my dream business, by the way.)

Teaching is a definite path to mastery of your craft. You have to know a topic inside and out in order to explain it to other people.

Sharing your knowledge helps you as much as it helps your students. Maybe more.

Before the internet, information used to be power. Knowledge is still powerful, but some people tend to hoard it because it makes them feel like they’re “one up” on people. This hurts you as well as others.

Sharing is one of the most important tools needed for personal growth – Victor Wooten, Grammy award-winning bassist, from The Music Lesson.

We don’t do ourselves any favors by hoarding knowledge.

Even many top artists still teach.

Why teaching and creativity go together like chocolate and cherries

There are some very good reasons why, throughout history, artists of all kinds have taught in universities, nurtured private students, and taken on apprentices.

1. There’s solid, consistent earning potential, and you’ll make money doing something you love,

2. You’ll build good karma from sharing your knowledge and changing the world,

3. It’s a virtuous cycle that benefits your wallet as well as your creative work – students and families become fans, and fans of your work become students,

4. It’s easy to get started, there’s low initial investment and overhead,

5. You set your schedule (so you can put your creative work first),

6. It increases your visibility and credibility in your community and industry,

7. You will develop as an artist more than you can imagine,

8. It’s a fantastic way to build your business skills, which will help in everything you do.

9. You don’t have to be an expert. You just have to know one more thing than the people you teach and you can start teaching beginners. You’ll grow ahead of them.

10. Credentials don’t matter because students are interested in results.

11. The most important thing – and the thing that will set you apart from others – is that you care.

Don’t fret if you don’t have a lot of experience; you already know more than you think you do. You’ll realize that as soon as you start teaching beginners.

Now – am I suggesting that you claim that you can deliver something you can’t? Of course not. Keep your promises realistic. If you only want to teach beginners, or only certain styles, then say so – and recommend someone else for students who aren’t a good fit for you.

Whether you’re interested in teaching private lessons in your hometown or you dream of building an online empire, the first step is the same.

Just start.

Don’t wait until you feel “ready”.

We never feel ready for the big things in life.

7 warning signs you shouldn’t teach

As big of a fan as I am of teaching, the truth is that not everyone’s cut out for it. Over the years, I’ve seen many people try and fail. If you see yourself in any of these points, there’s nothing wrong with it – you will just probably want to consider other income streams.

Don’t teach if you know:

  • You’ll resent it because you only want to do your creative work. It’s always obvious to students when you don’t really want to be teaching. Your students deserve better for their money and their time.
  • You’re not willing to open yourself to the sometimes uncomfortable personal growth that comes from teaching. You’ll have off days, you’ll have people you don’t seem to click with, and you won’t always have immediate solutions to students’ problems (especially in the beginning). If you’re not okay with sometimes feeling out of your element, you probably shouldn’t teach.
  • Challenges frighten you and you’re not good at working through your fears. New ventures are uncomfortable. Many people quit because they don’t understand this. You must learn to move forward despite your fears.
  • You don’t care for hard work. Teaching classes, private lessons, or online courses is definitely tough in the beginning. For the first year or so, it can actually be brutal. It gets easier over time, but if you know you won’t put in the upfront prep work, you might want to skip it.
  • You don’t particularly like dealing with people. Teaching is a helping profession. You’ll not only be face-to-face with people during lessons, you’ll have to help them through registering, paying, and any number of logistical questions. If you can’t do this kindly, patiently, and with a smile on your face, you probably shouldn’t teach.
  • It’s not rewarding for you to help others get results. Most teachers thrive on seeing their students shine. If you’re doing your job, you might train someone who’s better than you. If you don’t get satisfaction from helping others succeed, don’t teach.
  • You’re not committed, unreliable, can’t keep your promises, or can’t show up on time. People will be counting on you. You have to show them that they matter by showing up on time, as agreed, and doing what you say you’ll do. Anything less is unprofessional. See point #1.

On the other hand…

Signs you have the right stuff to succeed at teaching

What you may lack in experience and confidence, you can more than make up for it if you have these personal qualities:

  • You’re brave. You can move forward despite your fears, even without having all the answers.
  • You’re willing to work hard, knowing that it will get easier.
  • You thrive outside your comfort zone.
  • You care deeply about people and your craft.
  • You’ve have some personal experience to share.
  • You’re a good listener.
  • You go the extra mile.
  • You’re naturally empathetic.
  • You think on your feet and change on a dime.
  • You’re willing to start small, start right away, and adjust as you go.
  • You’re willing to market yourself – get simple business cards, a website, brochures, and tell everyone you know that you’re teaching.
  • You’re willing to be creative when it comes to logistics. You think win-win and partner with others – like community centers or churches – with a list.
  • You’re able to set boundaries (limit the days & times you’re available, for example.)

It doesn’t matter if you start teaching with all your desired ducks in a row. What does matter is that you have the right attitude.

Are you ready to change your life?

My decision to start teaching put me on a path I never imagined.

I really thought I’d end up in corporate America for my whole career, dabbling in hobbies on the side to keep my soul fulfilled.

But instead I grew as an artist, became a skilled business owner, met people and went places I never dreamed I would go, and eventually started helping my fellow creatives in their businesses.

I have no doubt that teaching will open the same kinds of doors for you, if you’ve got the desire.

Everyone starts where you are now, at the beginning.

Start today. Take that first step that will get you moving in the right direction.

I promise you won’t regret it.

Danny Iny’s Course Builders’ Laboratory (aff.) closes tomorrow (1/29/15) at 11:59 PM Eastern time. If you’re interested in the course, but don’t know how you can make it work for you, then I’m happy to help!

I’m offering a free half-hour coaching session ($99 value) to any of my readers who sign up. Just email me your receipt and we’ll schedule the call.

Click here to register – and whatever you decide today, start teaching someone something!

About Leanne Regalla

Leanne is a writer and musician and the founder of Make Creativity Pay. She's on a mission to help creatives of all types to pursue their art without going broke, living in their cars, or starving to death.


  1. This a great blog to help creatives figure out whether teaching is for them. You are spot on in the reasons to teach or not to teach. I was pretty tense about starting my teaching business, but I did exactly as you pointed out. I started with beginners, and worked up from there. That first few years were definitely brutal, but I learned tons about what a student needs. To this day, I continue to tweak lesson plans so students get good results. And, it’s definitely not about credentials – it’s about caring enough about a student to make sure he/she succeeds. And, you are also spot on about defining one’s area of expertise. When we are passionate about what we teach, it just keeps growing. It’s one of the most rewarding professions I have had, and am so glad I made the leap!

  2. Susan Palmer says:

    Great article! I started teaching guitar lessons when I was 14 and I’d only been playing a few years. I was so excited to share what I had learned with other people. Teaching requires a lot of creativity because you are identifying and solving people’s problems, and each student is different. I view teaching as another branch of my art where my students are my canvus. 🙂

    • That’s a great way to look at it, Susan. I have students who are starting to teach at 16 or so, I tell them it’s the best job in the world (in general) but also much better than flipping burgers when you’re in college.

      Thanks for stopping by! 🙂

  3. Zarayna says:

    Thank you for analysing and clarifying this subject, Leanne.

    I am a great fan of Danny Iny – he gives away great content like Jon but at the moment, I am trudging my way along another route at the moment.

    However, I just had to say thank you because your post has helped me and undoubtedly will do so even more in the future.

    Kindest regards.

  4. Anthony Metivier says:

    This is a great post and an important one. I really loved giving lectures and free-form seminars as a university professor, but became disillusioned when I taught high school students for a year. Although I really wanted to teach students at that age, my absolute lack of knowledge about structure helped very few despite the energy of ideas I could bring. Dead Poets Society looks fun on the screen, but getting students to seize the hour I could not.

    • Haha! I get it, Anthony. One of the toughest classes I ever taught was a 101 freshman business class. About a third of them were on the ball, the others just really weren’t sure yet why they were there – or where they even were for that matter. 🙂

      Thanks for stopping by!

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