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!