Case Study: How Two Artists Used Online Content to Build their Face to Face Business

Content Marketing Case Studies | copyblogger.com

Colorado-based artists, Lori Wostl and Lorri Flint, noticed that when they attended huge art retreats, the experience was more stressful than relaxing.

So, they founded their business — Art Camp for Women — in order to provide a fun, supportive, relaxing camp adventure for their participants.

They started a blog in order to help them market their camps, and got a sweet surprise a few years later when a huge national magazine called to offer them some amazing exposure.

Let’s talk to Lorri and Lori to find out more about their business, and how content marketing helps them reach their professional goals.

What’s your business?

We are Lori Wostl and Lorri Flint of Art Camp for Women. We run mixed-media art retreats for women, and we write online about creativity, art techniques, and mixed-media artists.

Who are your customers and readers, and how do you serve them?

We have a small but growing niche of women who are interested in mixed-media art (and in attending an art retreat). 

Our “campers” are women generally over 40 who have time and money to spend on themselves.

We’ve got women in our community from all walks of life — we have career women, retired women, empty-nesters, women who have recently recovered from cancer, women who are widowed or divorced … and everything in between!

Was there a pressing problem you were trying to solve?

Our business, Art Camp for Women, started because we wanted to provide an intimate retreat environment and a relaxing experience for our campers. ACFW is all-inclusive, and we provide chef-prepared meals, comfortable and cozy lodging, leading-edge art instruction, art supplies, and daily wine and chocolate.

We provide art retreats on a scale that allows our campers to meet and relate to everyone at the camp — including well-known artist-teachers.

We personally have attended “Big Box” retreats in the past with hundreds of attendees. Although the art instruction we received was amazing, our overall experience wasn’t great.

Unless you went with a friend, you were completely on your own in the evenings — often in a hotel in a strange city, without a car.  We also had bring all our own art supplies, which meant lugging incredibly heavy bags through security and on the airplane.

We also had to arrange and pay for our own meals, which meant eating unhealthy and expensive food in our hotel.

Overall, the experience was exhausting. We are fit and healthy women, and we had to come home and rest up after going on our “retreats.”
 
So we started ACWF because wanted to provide retreats where women could expand their art, be inspired by their surroundings, meet women from all over North America, and be rejuvenated — not become masters of the logistics of travel, lodging, food, and art supplies.
 
What kinds of online content are most important to your business?

On the Art Camp for Women blog, we publish art journaling prompts, free tutorials, interviews, organizing tips, and mixed-media art projects.

We use Pinterest to pin artwork, organizing tips for artists, architecture, travel, art exhibits, and photos from our Art Camps.

We use our Facebook page to direct people to our blog posts, and share links and resources from other writers and artists.  

We also run an email newsletter that features our blog content, regular contests for our community, and special offers.

In the last few years, we have joined a lot of different art groups online, trying to get the name of Art Camp for Women out into various communities. We also read and comment on lots of different blogs in the art community, which has helped us build relationships and market our camps.

What resources or tools did you find most helpful when you were getting started?

We took some classes on blogging and WordPress right at the beginning, and we knew that content marketing would be an important part of our marketing strategy.

We also took some business-building classes with our local Chamber of Commerce.  

This past fall, we signed up for Danny Iny’s Guest Posting course. By putting in a lot of work into doing guest posts, we have seen a spike in our web traffic, and increased our mailing list by more than 200%.

Were you always a business owner, or did you have a more traditional career before you started this business?

We had both worked in the corporate world as executives and trainers, and we have each had our own (different) businesses before we started ACFW.  The traditional careers were fine at the time, but there’s no going back for us at this point.  We like to make our own decisions and change direction quickly if we need to — flexibility is a top priority for us.

What were some of your tipping points or “a-ha!” moments? How did they come about?
 
In the fall of 2011, we were were working at our computers when we received a life-changing phone call. It was the photography editor from Oprah Magazine. They were doing a feature story about self-expression, and wanted to include our Art Camps in the story. Oprah has 3.8 million readers a month, so we were thrilled.

Three months after that call, Art Camp for Women was the first item listed in the February 2012 cover story, “Express Yourself! You from A to Z.” 

Our web traffic went from fewer than 100 hits a month (and sometimes far less) to more than 500 hits a day. In the first two weeks after the magazine was released, we had 4,000 hits on our site, and the average length of a visit on our site was over three minutes.

Oprah magazine’s editors called us because we had a great website, and because we were findable in the search engines. And when they called, we were ready.

Since then, we’ve seen a lot more diversity in the women interested in coming to Art Camp. We’ve also had better teachers and artists interested in working with us. The experience also raised our confidence quite a bit — we really felt like we were playing on a whole different level.

Our only regret is that it would have been great to have some professional photographs ready — we sent the O editors the photos we had, but they didn’t use them.

What does your business look like today, and what’s next for you?

We have always been a business that operates in the black, and we have no company debt.  

In the fall of 2012, we organized an online campaign for 2013 to both acquaint us with possible Art Camp teachers, and to grow our mailing list.

Our biggest business goal is to keep increasing the number of fully-attended Art Camps we run each year. We’re also expanding our camp locations, and and we’ll be doing camps in the tropics and in Europe.

We’re focusing on building our blog audience and our email mailing list.

Personally, we want occupations that contribute to the demographic of our choice, (women artists and art lovers) with a comfortable income and flexible working hours. We also have a huge commitment to having fun while always learning something new.
 
What advice would you give to bloggers and content creators who are trying to build an online audience?

Build a viable mailing list and use it.

Follow-up — stay in regular and timely contact with your list.

Always say yes to an opportunity and then figure out how to do it.

Don’t be afraid to give away tutorial information and actual (physical) gifts. It is a low-cost way to build your mailing list and grow your following.

Be willing to drop something that doesn’t work — even if it’s your favorite part.

After every event, or at regularly scheduled times, evaluate what worked and what didn’t. Make sure to do your evaluation in terms of dollars — not just emotions.

Make your photographs as professional as possible. You never know when Oprah may come calling!

About the Author: Beth Hayden is an author, speaker, and social media expert who specializes in Pinterest marketing. To find out how to get more traffic to your website or blog using Pinterest, grab your free copy of Beth’s e-book, The Definitive Guide to Driving Traffic with Pinterest.

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Comments

  1. I too have had bad experiences at retreats; bad food, poor entertainment, no equipment etc. It goes to show you, that if you provide a solution to a problem, you can build a profitable business.

    Lori made a good point, business owners MUST spend money and time on their websites, education as well as their marketing. Lots of small business owners get offended when told they must invest in themselves and later on, wind up frustrated.

    I wish these ladies much success and may be going to one of their retreats soon LOL!

  2. “After every event, or at regularly scheduled times, evaluate what worked and what didn’t. Make sure to do your evaluation in terms of dollars — not just emotions.” This is very important. Kudos to you or recognizing the value in evaluating what worked and what didn’t. Most small business owners don’t do this. They don’t see the value of it.

    • Amanda, Thanks for reading, I do think this is one of the most important practices that has us grow and change as we need to. Thanks again.

  3. Good stuff! One of our clients is an artist so I can definitely respect and relate – seems like an awesome thing they have going on. I especially like that she said there at the end to not be afraid to give things away. I think more and more people are coming to almost expect something for free every now and then. It’s a tough pill to swallow at first but definitely worth the marketing (relational!) reward.

    • Justin,

      It is true! People love to get stuff! and they feel special when you send them something. The cost compared to print advertising is effective. Thanks for reading.

  4. I agree with their idea of being a professional before you get noticed. It’s easy to work professionally with customers if you act as if you are a top notch business from day one.

  5. “Always say yes to an opportunity and then figure out how to do it.”

    I’ve heard this many times and in many ways and it always rings true.

    Of course, if that opportunity is Oprah, it doesn’t take much thought!

    Congratulations on getting the traffic you deserve.

    It just goes to show that you don’t have to have 5,000 hits a month before you get noticed, you just have to have something worth sharing.

    Charles Kassotis

    • Charles,
      Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment. It works for us to ‘play to win’ all the while remembering life is a game!

  6. Awesome niche market and incorporation of new technologies! Can’t wait to see how you adapt to future trends. Great to see people who think on their feet about this stuff.

  7. Mike – thanks so much for taking the time to read and comment. We hope to be around long enough to adapt to many, many future trends. Thanks again.

  8. Good to hear that Lori and Lorri realised the value of professional photography; most businesses (small or large) choose to ‘save’ by not investing in a professional photographer. Good, quality images say a lot about the brand value. Great write-up!!

  9. It’s always good to see how others make blogging work successfully. I see that my biggest weakness is building the email list.

    • Dan, Thanks for reading and commenting. This (the e-mail list) was the hardest thing to just start – and basically the least expensive and best return on any practice we have taken on. We have women show up that have been reading our newsletter for years…

  10. Lori, excellent work. Have you considered possibly expanding (or adding on) another camp for both men and women that follows the same approach as the women’s only camp? It sounds more zen-like to me than just woman-specific.

    I, too, loathe these camp experiences and would prefer to go to something a little more relaxing and giving of the chance to just meet other artists and talk one-on-one with the speakers and presenters.

    • Jay, Thank you for taking the time to comment. We have considered ‘co-ed’ and couples camp. We have to grow first! Our biggest cost by FAR is lodging. If we have rooms that can’t be shared because of gender…well, I guess you can figure it out.
      There are a few other reasons, but again – “Make sure to do your evaluation in terms of dollars — not just emotions.” comes into play here too.
      Thanks again.

  11. Wow! Everything about this case study makes me happy. I love that they focused on the experience, not just the actual teaching portion, and created a whole new successful standard for art retreats!

  12. F.F. Thanks for the note. Creativity is in everyone and needs more than a paintbrush – the whole thing contributes to art! Thanks again.

  13. Sounds like fun. A few more years and I’ll be ready to go.

  14. Phyllis! Don’t wait tooooo long! LOL. Thanks for taking the time to comment.

  15. Lori W-

    You’ve got a great looking website. I really like the use of art throughout.

    With thousands of views monthly, I’m curious why your friend count on Facebook is under 800. I take it that you do not direct people to Facebook, just the reverse — is that right?

    Also, I see your random drawing materials. Nice idea! You offer the button for “I’m playing for …”. Do you have people doing that? I found only two using Google.

    • Jim,
      Thanks for commenting. You bring up some interesting points. One of which is unspoken. We get so busy we forget to check in to see what is doing what! We know the flow from one media to another shifts from time-to-time, but we haven’t reevaluated in several months. Thanks for the heads up!

  16. Amazing story Beth. Just great advice and a personal message which I need to share with my Girlfriend today when I go back form work. reading all this huge posts while at work in West Midlands in United Kingdom :)

    Reading your message gave me some great thoughts about building community and creating connections that matter. Like you mentioned my gf is experiencing a less than 50 hits to her blog every day and she’s very upset about ADLAV her Art and Design blog which focuses on creating information designs.

    Thanks for the share and this will definitely pass on to my @FernandoMedia community

    • Thank you for taking the time to comment. What your comment brings up is that we have deliberately chosen to use connection as the place to start making our offer – it may be slower, but it is much more satisfying than starting from a place of persuading and convincing and all that other ‘sales’ stuff. thanks again.

  17. Archan Mehta :

    I like the fact that you have combined your artistic bent with sound business logic and technological know-how.

    Congratulations for your achievements and keep up the great work you are doing here. Have a good one.

    • Archan, Thanks for taking the time to comment. We are making the effort to love what we do. It seems sometimes that we have to know everything about everything…what we have found out is that there are people you can ask!

  18. Hi Lori,

    Just wanted to thank you for this lovely article and for taking the time out to share. It was so nice to hear about and see your blog and hear about the positive benefits you’ve seen in it. In my job I’m tasked with creating original and engaging content for a blog which is on the website of one of the best food photographers in India and whilst the stories are great I’m struggling with translating the experience into words!

    M