Stitching Together an Online Course Business in the Niche of Quilting with Susan Smith

January 24, 2022
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In today’s episode, we have Susan Smith with us and she is going to talk about how she built an online course business around her niche in quilting.

You will also get to hear how she jumpstarted her social media presence with Instagram, why giving yourself a deadline to finish your online course is important, and her top tips for building loyal followers with free lead magnets.

Website: stitchedbysusan.com
Facebook: stitchedbysusan
Instagram: stitchedbysusan
Pinterest: stitchedbysusan

Notes

In this episode, you will hear...

… Susan’s journey into teaching others how to quilt with online courses.

… how she started with Instagram and how she leverages it for her business today.

… how practicing the skill of getting on camera and doing lives helped build her self-confidence over time.

… Susan’s method for organizing her ideas to structure them into an online course.

… why setting a deadline to get your course launched is important to the success of your online course.

… why you should join a community of other courses creators to collaborate and learn more.

… how Susan uses low-end and high-end quilting photos to show her skills and to attract her ideal student.

… why offering a free mini-class is more valuable to consumers in today’s world than other free lead magnets have been in the past.

… how she has structured her course to optimize sales throughout the year.

… the methods Susan uses to build a community around her program.

… why you must be intentional about the type of audience that you’re attracting.

… Susan’s marketing advice and how to get more traffic into your online course.

Resources

Transcript

Jeremy Deighan
Hey, everyone, thanks for coming on the show today. I'm glad to have you listening. And we have an awesome guest with us, Susan Smith, from Stitched By Susan, who's going to talk about her journey into online courses and online business. And I've had the pleasure of talking to Susan many a time in our Facebook community and she's a delight to have conversations with and I'm excited for you to be here today. How are you doing, Susan?

Susan Smith
I'm doing really well. Thanks so much for inviting me.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, definitely. I always love this podcast when I get to hear some course topics or niches that are outside of the realm of marketing, which has always been you know, my main focus, other than design has been, you know, online business and online marketing. And some of my favorite podcast episodes are when I get to talk to others about some niches or topics that I'm not too familiar with, or that are kind of outside that marketing spectrum. And so you teach what I believe is quilting, correct?

Susan Smith
That's correct. Yes, I'm definitely going to be your niche person.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, this is awesome. So I'm glad to hear about your story into your online courses and how you came into this world. So if you could just take a moment to kind of rewind and take us back to what you were doing before you got into online business. And then how did you get to creating online courses around quilting?

Susan Smith
Okay, well, maybe I'll spend just a few sentences describing what I do because it is probably unfamiliar to most people. So I am a quilt maker, but even more I quilt for other people. So what that means is I have this huge industrial quilting machine, it's about 13 feet long. And it has a system of rollers, on which I can roll up like the backing, the backside of a quilt and then the fluffy interior. And then what we think of as the quilt the pretty top part. So all those get layered together.

And then my quilting machine is like a giant 50 pound sewing machine that moves freely on those rails and I basically doodle the quilting on the surface of that quilt and stitch all those layers together. So that's chiefly what I do.

What kind of, I won't say drove me but propelled me toward creating an online course, was this; I began quilting for people about seven years ago. And it didn't take very long before I realized that first off, there was only so much time in my day. I'm literally exchanging my time for my dollars.

And also my machine, being a 50 pound machine, there's a physical limit to how many hours of it I can do. Even though it moves freely on those rails yet, you're still working with that level of resistance. And there are people who have you know, computer driven digitized robotic machines. I don't. I drive mine physically with my arms and shoulders. So you can imagine there is just a limit ergonomically to what I can do.

So, over time, then I began to see, "Alright, I've got to look for another way to kind of leverage what I'm doing." So I quickly realized that there was a niche here that I could fill the gap, if you will. People were interested in this style of quilting, because it's not high end, it's not detailed. It's not necessarily ribbon winning quilting. It's for your couch quilts, for your everyday use, your college kid, your baby quilt, these sorts of things. And I can teach people how to do that. How to develop designs, how to develop their skill.

So this kind of came at the perfect timing when the pandemic was setting in last spring is when I was really beginning to think, "Hey, I need to find another way to leverage my time more efficiently. I'm not going to be able to earn a living long term," you know, providing a service for people.

So early in 2020 then, I began to start to promote what I was doing. And it's kind of funny because I'm naturally a very introverted person and I was not comfortable on camera or even on microphone at this point. But also early in the weeks of the pandemic, everybody and their cousin and uncle and aunt was getting online, right?

Live IG TV, live on Facebook, all these different things YouTube channels were popping up like, you know, like weeds, and lots of them were not that great. And so I thought, "Well, hey, I can do that well, so why don't I just try. Why don't I just throw my hat in the ring and try too."

So that was kind of my first step. I took about six weeks and I went on Instagram Live every single day, and just did a tiny little snippet. I called them daily snippets literally. So that was my introduction to putting my face on camera, and learning how to, you know, talk a little more smoothly and find my words and not trip over myself, as I was trying to explain things. So that was kind of how I began.

And over the course then of 2020, I formatted, I distilled if you will, my knowledge into what I have now named the Freehand Quilting Masterclass, which is a pretty comprehensive presentation of the skill that I have and showing someone how to go from no skill to building a repertoire of designs. And in fact, learning how to develop their own designs and just giving the freedom that they're looking for in their quilting.

So I launched my course the first time in November of 2020. And I'll be really honest, I have not become a millionaire off that course. But you know, that wasn't my goal, either. My goal was just for it to become kind of my bread and butter so that I didn't have to rely on my hours for money type of service. And in the first year, it did that. It outstripped my service based business. So to me, that's a success. So that's kind of the big picture of how my online course came to be.

Jeremy Deighan
Awesome. We will dive a little deeper into some of these things that were going on during that time. This Freehand Quilting Masterclass, is this different than what you were doing before with the machine?

Susan Smith
No, it is the same type of quilting exactly. So there's kind of this distinction between what we, what we quilters called custom quilting. So it's very specific to areas on the quilt and usually highly detailed and often is the type of thing you see at quilt shows that wins ribbons or see in magazines.

Conversely, you have what I call edge-to-edge quilting, which just means the same quilting design is across the whole surface. And it's much less formal, and more typically what we have on our everyday quilts. And in fact, there are many, many more quilts made that way. So that's the skill that I'm trying to teach that every day, really useful bread and butter style of quilting, but making it beautiful.

Jeremy Deighan
That's awesome and you are definitely a person that we need out in the world. My great aunt quilted a bunch of quilts for us. And I don't know if she used a machine or how she did it. We're staying in a house that my parents own in the mountains, just right down the road from where she lived. We have four or five of her quilts here. And in the dead of winter, those are like gold.

Susan Smith
They are treasure.

Jeremy Deighan
I just love, love, you know, cuddling up next to the TV and throwing on one of those big blankets and having them wrapped around me. I think they're, they're awesome. So thank you for your service and teaching others how to do this, because you know, there's people who want to learn these skills. And it's great that you took that leap, because a lot of people are fearful.

You know, like you said, you're an introvert. I find myself to be much an introvert, you know, put me on a microphone, and a podcast and you would think I'm an extrovert because I love talking, you know, but really like yourself, I'm very introverted. And it does take time to learn that skill to be comfortable with being on camera and to do lives and to do video.

And so that will stop a lot of people, you know, that will keep a lot of people back, but you didn't let it stop you. You said I'm going to do this, I'm going to move forward. And because of that, now you're putting your, your content and your information and your knowledge out to the universe for other people to learn and pass that down. Who knows to their kids and grandkids. So that's, that's pretty amazing.

Susan Smith
The good news about it is, that is a skill that can be learned. If you want solid proof of that, go back and look at some of my YouTube episodes from 18 months ago, like they're embarrassing to watch. But you have to start somewhere, right? And gradually, as you go back and watch yourself and listen to yourself, you know, you turn a little red in the face, but you say, okay, I can do that differently. I need to smile a lot more, or I need to speak slower. And you can learn how to do that and do it well.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, you become, you become a little more comfortable. Like when you first turn on that camera for the very first time, you don't know where you're supposed to be looking and you don't know how to talk and you're kind of nervous. But as time goes on, it just becomes kind of second nature wouldn't you say?

Susan Smith
It does. I mean it's like anything else in life. You can learn it. You learned how to walk and so it can be learned, and so can quilting by the way.

Jeremy Deighan
I might have to learn because there's no one to make us quilts anymore in our family and it's going to be sad when all these are tattered and worn out and we don't have a nice fresh quilt.

Susan Smith
Well, that is sad. I agree.

Jeremy Deighan
Okay, so you created this Freehand Quilting Masterclass. So let's talk a little bit more about that. When you created this masterclass and you were doing these Instagram lives and so forth. What did that process look like in the beginning?

Were you just taking information that you knew and just putting it down into courses? How did you go about like, creating your outline? Or were you talking to people on Instagram and finding out what they wanted to learn and then putting that into your course? What did those early stages look like?

Susan Smith
Really yes to all of the above. But you know, I didn't know very much about marketing. You know, that's another thing I have learned. And I am learning. That's an ongoing process. But a few things I did.

One was I began, and this would have been before the pandemic, I was offering some classes in my studio in person to three or four people at a time. So that I was learning how to teach, like how to explain things in a way that could be understood. How to explain things in more than one way for people who had different learning styles. And, of course, picking the brains of my students and saying, "What are your questions? What are your stumbling blocks? What are your fears even? And how can I help with those?"

So I was a period of some months, developing the outline of my course. And I was, I'm a fan of Post-It Notes, because you can put small ideas or units on one note, and then you can shuffle them all about. And so I several times changed the sequence of the modules in my course, because I would think, "Well, should I do this first? Or should I present that first? Should they have the knowledge first? Or should they have the physical skill of handling the machine first?"

So I messed around with those quite a bit. And in fact, I'm in the process of re-recording some of my episodes now, because I've launched my course, five times, and I see places I could improve. So I think that too, can be an ongoing process.

But for me, I kind of gave myself a deadline. I was like, by x-date, I want to deliver this course. So I'm going to fiddle with my outline. But at this point, I'm gonna say cut off, that's what I'm going with, and just move ahead and get the thing written and get the thing produced. And then I can always circle back around and improve.

Jeremy Deighan
Having a deadline, I think is a great idea. Because, you know, many of us out there will start a project and without any given deadline, it can go on for weeks or months on end. I've talked to people on this podcast that took them a year to create a course. And only to find out that, you know, they added a lot of information in that course that was unnecessary. So I really like that idea of getting a deadline and creating a product and getting it out into the market, and then adjusting as you go.

Susan Smith
Another thing that I think is really worthwhile is being active in some groups, like your Facebook group, and there are others too, so that you interact with other people who are producing courses. So whether you need to talk about brass tax, like lighting, and you know, sound recording software, or equipment, or whether you just need to talk about how long should my individual videos be? Or, you know, there's myriad questions, and don't reinvent this wheel. Many other people have already gone before, get out there, get involved in these groups and ask questions and learn.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, that's, that's important. Community is definitely something that I preach a lot about. And, you know, it takes me back to something you mentioned earlier, when you're doing these, these live in person trainings, or schools or what have you workshops, you really get to really understand your material a lot more, because you're face to face with people. And you can really see their struggles and what's hanging them up and then how to teach that better, as you mentioned.

So just going back for a minute to these in person workshops, when you were getting three or four people together. Was this something you were just doing at your house? Or were you going to a conference room or something like, how did you get these workshops to happen like that?

Susan Smith
I physically held them in my studio. I have a fairly large room, it's about 20 feet by 16. So I had room to bring in three people. And again, picture I'm working on this 13 foot machine, right? So it wasn't feasible for me to go elsewhere with it, I could only bring in as many people as basically could group around it and see what I was doing. And each of them could have a little practice session. So that's why I made it so small.

And for me, I was a member of a local guild. So that's where I found people. But throughout this time, too, I was focusing on knowing that I was going to deliver a course. I was focusing on building an email list, building some social media following and getting a bit of visibility going at the same time. They kind of need to go hand in hand because you need to have people to offer your course to.

Jeremy Deighan
So you've got this guild you're a part of, you're able to get these people in and you're able to get them together, do these workshops. And then you said at the same time, you're building that following, building that social media. So do you think that it's important to start with that early on? Start with building that following and that email list early?

Susan Smith
The email list? Absolutely. To me, social media comes second. Except in my case, I'm working with a craft that is quite visual. And so it was very helpful to me to be able to post pictures of what I do. That picture establishes my skill level that I know what I'm doing, right? So I did use social media and still do to this day. As time goes on, I'm getting more and more focused about it.

So for example, I was talking earlier about the difference between custom high end detailed quilting versus the edge to edge, simpler quilting that I teach. Pictures are more spectacular on that high end stuff, you know, they'll, they'll garner often more likes, maybe even more follows. But the simpler stuff represents what I do and what I teach.

So I have learned over time to only put in a sprinkling of those high end ones to sort of establish, yes, I do have this skill. Yes, I know what I'm talking about. But mostly I post. I talk about, I give tips about things that relate to my ideal student, because that's the person that I want to be attracting,

Jeremy Deighan
How are you pulling those people from social media into your email list?

Susan Smith
I have a few ways. I experiment with that. And again, this is definitely a learning process. But I have a couple of lead magnets we call them in the in the marketing world. So basically, it's something free that I offer. And you have to give me your email address in order for me to provide it to you.

So I have a couple of those freebies. And one of them is actually a class, a 40 minute free class on a particular quilting motif that's kind of well known and popular and semi traditional. And I've updated it a little bit and I'm like, "Here, I invite you to take this free class, my compliments. Just give me your email address, and I'll send it to you." So that's one of my big, successful ways. That has worked well for me, and I've had other lead magnets, but that's been my favorite.

Jeremy Deighan
Okay, so you think that offering some sort of free class is a good way to offer as a lead magnet to get people into your list? Because I've had this conversation with a lot of people and 50 percent of the people say they think it's a good idea. Others don't believe it's a good idea. So you think that this is definitely something that has helped a lot?

Susan Smith
It's working for me, you know, being in the marketing world, it seems like in the last two or three years, consumers have gotten more savvy about the marketing that's being done, right? So just I find, that just offering a tiny checklist or little PDF that they can read is not enough value. People are swamped with offerings like that. So I found that I had to offer something a little more substantial to get their interest.

But again, I did it with the goal in mind of who am I trying to reach? And what bridge, you know, do I want them to kind of crossover? So the class that I offer free is the style of quilting that I'm going to teach. So I show how doable that is. How step-by-step, how learnable it is. And this is kind of a, the first building block in that student coming to the realization, "Hey, I can learn this, I'd like to learn more. Maybe I want your masterclass."

So that's kind of how I use it. It is geared toward grooming them. I don't know if that's a good word to use, but grooming them to be the ideal student because I want to reach those people that want to learn this style of quilting.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, that makes a lot of sense. That's, that's a great analogy. And I think a great idea to do that. Because you're showing them value. You're showing them that you have the knowledge and you're showing them what they can learn and how they can go about it.

Anyone who goes through a 30 or 40 minute course like that, you, they're pretty much hooked at that point. They're excited, they've watched the videos, they want to learn more. And now when you go offer your other courses, that'll definitely help I believe.

So that brings us to the next question is, how are you making sales and how are you getting traffic into these courses? Are you just promoting on your email list or do you have some kind of special offer? Someone finishes the free course that they get your course? What does that look like?

Susan Smith
I do talk about it in my email list. My current model is that I am launching my course three times in 2022. And the reason I've chosen that is because I want to be quite involved with my students, as part of what I'm selling is my involvement, my input connection with me. So I'm only running it three times in this year.

So there's a period of lead up time, in which I'm talking about it, showing pictures about things that I offer, I have a pop up Facebook group, that's like a three day challenge, where I offer some of my content for free, and again, all aimed toward these same topics that I'm going to be teaching and helping them to master. So they can get in there and ask questions, and I'm in there and do lives. So there's a few weeks of that lead up, that kind of buzz that I'm creating.

And then I present the course and I say now, here's my offering. And it runs for, you know, six weeks or six modules, and you get x-number of classes, and so many hours of video, and so many live Q&As with me. And at the end, here's the skill level that you'll have. And so that's kind of one grouping, and then I give myself a break of a week or two. And then I start that lead up process again toward the next launch. So that's my current model.

Jeremy Deighan
And you said that you are going to be a little more active. So is all of your community aspect in your Facebook group?

Susan Smith
All my live Q&A sessions currently are in my Facebook group. And you know, I'm experimenting. People do it different ways. Some people do it in YouTube, some do it in Zoom. And there's there's really different ways to do that. I've opted to do it in Facebook, though it's not as interactive in terms of the students are not on camera with me yet.

I can be at my quilting machine, which is huge. And we can be interactive in that way. They can post pictures, and show me you know, questions that they have and problems and I can respond to that. So currently, yes, most of my activity is in Facebook.

Jeremy Deighan
Okay, cool. So if someone signs up for this class, they're not just getting videos to watch, but they're actually getting a community, they're getting lives, they're getting trainings, and all these extra things with it too?

Susan Smith
Correct and I have an ongoing community too of students, alumni, if you will, of students who have been through the class, and some of them are very active in there and post pictures and thoughts and encouragement. And so you get that little community too, of people who are working on the same type of stuff.

Jeremy Deighan
Okay, very cool. Looking back, you know, through since you began, and since you brought your business online, what would you say has been one of the bigger mistakes that you've made? And how did you like overcome that mistake?

Susan Smith
Oh, boy, I might have to think about this one for a few seconds, Jeremy. One thing I wish I had done differently, is the way that I approached promoting myself on social media. It's quite natural to want to promote your best, your finest work. And so doing a lot of that did two things. It brought me in work, that I didn't love. This high end custom, which is kind of taxing physically and from a design perspective. And it brought me people as followers who wanted me to do their quilting services, but weren't quilters didn't want to learn from me. Does that make sense?

And so that I have learned to pivot, I need to be intentional about what I'm posting and what type of audience I'm attracting. And just to give you a small statistic, since I've been focusing on attracting the right people to my email list, the ideal student, my email open rate is consistently over 50%.

Jeremy Deighan
Oh, wow.

Susan Smith
Which is way out of the ordinary. And so I feel like that's because I'm reaching the people who are interested in my YouTube videos, in my podcast episodes, in what I'm teaching in my style of work so. So that's a pivot I've made over the last six months.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, that's, that's an awesome answer. Really drilling down, the person that you want to work with, I think is very important. Because everything that we post, everything that we do online, whether it be through Facebook, or Instagram, or a blog, or a podcast, needs to speak to the individual that you're trying to help. And it's very easy to put out information that is the wrong client, the wrong person that you don't want to have. And so I like that answer because I find that it's, you know, very valuable to make sure that you're taking the time to make sure that you are getting the right person into your universe. And obviously, that's improved.

That may answer my next question, which was, what is something that you've done recently that has worked very well, that has just been a great game changer in your business?

Susan Smith
So I have alluded a couple of times to the fact that I too, have a podcast, and it is also interview based, but it's very much entertainment. I guess it's not specifically about teaching the quilting that I do. I interview other quilters and sometimes other crafters and we just have these light conversations about what inspires us and lessons that we've learned, you know?

On the surface of it that does not lead directly into my goal of selling my courses. However, that creates massive networking and community and friendships for me, which I really value. I only launched my podcast in April of 2021. So it's fairly new. But boy, I have enjoyed, I have thoroughly enjoyed that process.

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah, some of the people that I've met on this podcast, you know, I've become friends with, we've, you know, networked, we've helped each other. There's been times where I've went into their groups and did some training, or they came into my group and did some training.

So I feel like the podcasting, like you said, you know, sometimes we get on these podcasts and you think to yourself, "Like, is this, you know, helping? Is this like, reaching anyone? Is this doing anything for the business?" Because like you said, it's not a direct correlation to income coming in. But I feel like it has really helped grow my authority in the field and show other people that, you know, I know what I'm talking about, but also those relationships, and that networking has been superb. So I love the podcasting, it's probably one of my more favorite mediums.

Susan Smith
I agree. And I consume them as well. So, you know, what goes around comes around?

Jeremy Deighan
Yeah. Oh, yeah, it you know, it's just a different type of medium. I enjoy blogs, but you have to have time to sit down and read. Same thing with a YouTube video like I, if I need to know something, I'll watch a YouTube video, but I have to take the time to sit down and watch that video and do nothing else. Whereas I can be out for a jog or driving in my car and listening to a podcast and filling the brain with, you know, entertainment or education at the same time.

So just, you know, one last question, I just wanted to ask you, is there anything that you could talk about regarding marketing or getting traffic to your, your course? This is a question that I get often, and there are so many different ways to get people into a course. Is there anything as far as marketing that's working out or anything that you like other than the podcasts that you feel is really helping to get traffic into your course or make more course sales?

Susan Smith
Well, I'll tell you something that I'm working on right now. And honestly, I don't have the results in yet, so you know, we might have to check back in, in six months or a year and see how it's working out. But based on my experiences over the last few years, I'm pretty confident in this.

What I'm working on is establishing a content calendar. So this will cover both what I send out on my newsletters, and particularly what I do on social media. So whether it be Tik Tok or Pinterest or Instagram or Facebook, small posts, and I'm kind of blocking in buckets for lack of a better term.

So on Mondays, I'm blocking in wins. So the win could be, you know, a project that I've finally finished, it could be a problem that I've solved. And I'm planning these in advance. So when I have photographs of quilts of some of my recent work, for example, I'll look at those photos and think, "Okay, how could I put a win spin on this? Is this something I learned? Is this a problem that I solved?"

Another bucket might be connections, so posts that have questions like, "Do you prefer cotton threads or polyester threads? Or would you rather listen to a podcast or an audible book?" So questions like that, that establish you know, that people answer and it brings engagement and connection. Lots of other things you could put in connection posts.

So I'm kind of blocking out my months with, you know, Thursdays have this, and Sundays have that and Mondays have the wins, etc. And then I am actually pre-scheduling a lot of that, so that I can batch it much like we batch our podcast productions, and do it in advance.

And it just helps me to keep the focus on why I'm posting. I'm not just posting what I did today with no particular intention behind it. So I'm posting today, something that shows what I've learned, what you can learn, what this could do for you. And all of this just establishes this relationship, establishes my visibility, establishes my skill in the field, and then invites people to learn from me. So again, it's not a specific correlation, but I feel like over time that is going to provide real value and therefore attract people into my classes.

Jeremy Deighan
Awesome. I love it. I think that's really cool. That's a great idea. I might have to steal that one.

Susan Smith
I would be happy to share more info about it. It's, it's actually proved really fun. It was daunting when I first thought about, you know, pre-scheduling a whole quarter of a year in posts, but I'm really getting into it and loving it.

Jeremy Deighan
Nice, awesome. And just thinking to that person out there who hasn't created an online course or who's in the early stages of their business, is there any advice that you could give to that person who's listening today?

Susan Smith
I have a quote on my wall in my studio. And it says this, and it's by Jenna Kutcher. "Moving forward with imperfect action will get you closer to the finish line than waiting for perfection to strike." So that will always be my first and foremost advice, is just do it. And you can always come back and improve later, just get it done. Get it out in the world.

Jeremy Deighan
Perfect. I love it. Susan, thank you so much for your time today. I think this has been awesome chatting with you and getting to hear your story. And if people want to find out more about you and your business and the things that you have going on, where can they do that?

Susan Smith
Well, the simplest is just to go to my website, which is stitchedbysusan.com. But if you're interested in checking out my podcast, that can be found at podcast.stitchedbysusan.com.

Jeremy Deighan
Perfect. Well, we'll make sure that we link all of that up into the show notes. And so make sure you head on over to the show notes page of this episode. And you can click on all the links and go find out more about Susan and her business. And I appreciate you coming on the show today. And I just look forward to your continued success in the future.

Susan Smith
Thanks so much for having me. It's been a real pleasure.

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