Katie Evans is a professional photographer and the Founder of Key To Pictures, where she teaches others how to take professional photographs. She is also the author of several photography books, including The Key To Taking Pictures Like a Professional Photographer. Through her blog, books, live workshops and online courses, Katie has literally helped thousands of people from around the world learn how to take better pictures with their cameras.
We recently caught up with Katie to learn more about her journey as a photographer and as an online instructor, and have her share a few tips to help other online course creators succeed. Here is her story:
From passion to profession
Katie’s interest in photography started at a young age, but for years it remained just that: an interest. When she graduated from university with a Bachelor’s Degree in Recreation Therapy as a young adult, working as a professional photographer wasn’t exactly one of her career goals.
But a few years later, while living in Las Vegas with her husband, Katie got a job as an assistant to an established professional photographer. Thanks to that job, Katie’s interest in photography was re-ignited, ultimately changing the direction of her career entirely. “I found a job as a photographer’s assistant and was able to get trained by a very talented photographer”, says Katie. “I really enjoyed his lessons and the vast knowledge that he imparted.”
Working for a photographer gave Katie the perfect excuse to learn as much as she could about photography and begin practicing her skills. In addition to learning directly from a professional, she started reading books and searching for articles and video tutorials online. “I read countless photography books and scoured the internet for as much knowledge as I could get my hands on”, Katie explains. “The learning didn’t come easy or natural for me. I had so many unanswered questions and felt that my skills would never be where I wanted them to be. But I finally found myself proficient in taking pictures and using my camera to its fullest potential.”
While working as an assistant, Katie honed her skills as a photographer by taking pictures of her family and close friends. “When I started into photography back when I worked as the assistant, I was just taking pictures for my own family. We didn’t have the kids yet so I was just practicing on my husband”, she told us. “Once we had kids I started taking pictures of them and our friends when we were out and about. So it just naturally led to me loving pictures, and people saw that I did it so they wanted me to take pictures for them.”
Her passion for photography and her ability to take amazing photographs did not go unnoticed. With a growing track record behind her, Katie developed the confidence to start charging people for her services. One by one, she began to fill her calendar with photo shoots for paying clients. “From there I just became a professional photographer, taking pictures for other people”, says Katie. “Family shoots, seniors, weddings, newborns, that sort of thing.”
Teaching others how to take professional photographs
Over the next few years, Katie built a thriving photography business, one that gave her the freedom to immerse herself in her passion and earn a living at the same time. “I received so much freedom and enjoyment as I took pictures of my own family and in growing a thriving photography clientele. I could hardly wait to go and upload my photos to my computer after each session”, says Katie. But despite her success as a photographer, the urge to do something other than just taking pictures for her clients began to surface. “I felt an urge to do more with my photography skills but I wasn’t sure what that looked like.”
Around that time, Katie started to notice that DSLR cameras were becoming more affordable for consumers. This gave the average family the ability to purchase a DSLR camera and begin taking pictures themselves. But there was just one problem: most people who bought a DSLR camera had no idea how to use it to its fullest potential. “After four or so years of taking pictures for other people, that’s when people started being able to buy a DSLR camera because it was affordable”, Katie recalls. “But nobody really knew how to use them, and so I would get all these questions from my family and friends – questions that I thought were simple questions – but they just didn’t know anything about how to operate the DSLR.”
In response to all the questions she was receiving, Katie started teaching others how to use their DSLR cameras. In that process, she discovered that she loved the feeling she got from teaching others the skills and expertise that she had worked so hard to acquire. “I found myself falling in love with teaching these skills that I came to know and love so much”, says Katie. She also started using her blog, which up until that point was used mostly just to showcase pictures that she had taken, to publish free tutorials to help others learn how to use their cameras and take better pictures.
Driven by her desire to help more people, the next big move that Katie made was writing her first book. “I wrote a book, which was The Key to Taking Pictures Like a Professional Photographer, and then I just sold the book to people who had these DSLR cameras but didn’t know how to use them”, says Katie. Writing and publishing her first book was a challenging project, but becoming the author of a photography book helped to catapult Katie’s career to a new level, positioning her as an expert on photography in the process.
“The book writing process was life changing as it taught me to go after my dreams and not let myself or anyone else talk me out of it. It’s a whole other story by itself, but as it turned out, my new photography book was well received and got some awesome reviews.” Since being published in 2011, Katie’s book has received over 150 5-star reviews on Amazon. Very impressive! Fueled by the success of her book, she also started hosting live in-person workshops to teach other photography enthusiasts.
Creating her first online course
The thought of teaching others exclusively online didn’t cross Katie’s mind until 2012 when her third child was born. Up until that point, she was traveling often to facilitate live workshops, but with a new baby in the family, that wasn’t something that she wanted to continue doing. “Our daughter was born in 2012 and I didn’t want to travel around and do in-person workshops anymore”, says Katie. “So that’s why we put everything online.”
Katie also recognized that she could reach more people by teaching online. There was a limit on how many in-person workshops she could facilitate, but there was no limit to how many people she could teach if she made her training available as an online course.
Since Katie had already written a book and facilitated numerous workshops, creating and organizing the content for her first course was a pretty straight forward process. “I basically just split my live workshop into four segments and created videos for each segment”, Katie explains. Her first course, Key To Photography 101: The Workshop, is essentially the online version of the in-person workshop that she used to facilitate. Her course also includes several downloadable resources, including a PDF version of her book, which help supplement the video lessons.
In order to host her first online course, Katie used her WordPress website in conjunction with a membership software called OptimizePress. Unfortunately, many of Katie’s students experienced technical challenges when trying to access the course content. “On my own site what was happening was my students were getting kicked off or logged off or they weren’t able to navigate the lessons for some reason”, Katie recalls. “So we were doing a lot of behind-the-scenes customer service for people.” As a professional photographer and as a content creator who thrives on being able to express her creativity, providing technical support to her students wasn’t exactly a fulfilling experience for Katie.Content creators should stay focused on creating content, not on providing technical support.… Click To Tweet
It was actually Katie’s husband who, after hearing of her frustrations, started searching for alternative options to host her online course. When he discovered Thinkific, he showed it to Katie, and together they decided that is was the perfect solution to host her course. “We saw that it was very user-friendly and that people wouldn’t have those same problems that we were having with our own OptimizePress site”, Katie recalls. “I love how user-friendly it is and just the whole layout of it. It fits with how people think. So as soon as they get in, they don’t have to spend much time trying to figure out how it works or how it’s laid out. It’s very straight forward and you can get in there and get started quickly.”
Katie has since launched a second online course, a monthly membership program called The Academy, where instead of paying a one-time fee, members pay a monthly subscription fee in exchange for access to over 80 video lessons, live Q&A sessions with Katie and the opportunity to have their work critiqued by Katie on a monthly basis.
Thanks for her online courses, there are now more people who have learned from Katie than she could have ever reached through in-person live workshops. The best part is she doesn’t even have to leave her home in order to help others learn photography! Her video lessons teach her students for her, granting her the freedom to spend more time with her family while still generating revenue for her business. Overall, life is pretty awesome for Katie.
Marketing her online courses
As most online course creators soon discover, simply creating their course is not enough. If you don’t have a marketing strategy to help attract students for your course, all the hard work that you put into creating it goes to waste. If no one knows about your course, no one takes it.
Fortunately, Katie had spent time publishing content on her blog and hosting live workshops before she created her first course, so she did have a bit of an audience to promote her course to once it was created. Publishing a book also played a big role in getting her name out there and attracting readers to her blog and followers on social media. “With my book that came out, that kind of snowballed and I’ve been riding off the coattails of that for a long time. There are a ton of people who bought the book who have been with me for a long time”, says Katie.
Building an audience on social media has also played a big role in helping Katie attract students to her courses. Today, Katie has thousands of followers across multiple social networks including Facebook, Pinterest, and Instagram. She includes a link to her website in her social media profiles, which helps increase the number of people who visit her website, and ultimately, the number of students who enroll in her courses.
Another marketing strategy that has worked well for Katie has been reaching out to other bloggers who have readers that are interested in photography. “I contacted bloggers who have readers who would be a good fit for my workshop and I just asked if we could collaborate”, says Katie. “Or I give them a free workshop or one of my books and ask if they could review it and then spread the word about it.”Asking top bloggers to review your #onlinecourse is a great way to help spread the word. #teachonline Click To Tweet
Whether someone discovers Katie through her book, her blog, on social media, or through the recommendation of another blogger, her number one goal for these people is to get them to attend one of her webinars. “Any lead that I’m getting, I’m funnelling them through a free webinar”, Katie explains. At the end of her free webinar, where she builds trust with attendees by sharing helpful photography tips with them upfront, Katie presents her online course and gives her attendees the link to sign up for her course. Next to word-of-mouth marketing, webinars have been the most effective way for Katie to enroll new students in her online courses on a consistent basis.
The link in her Instagram bio, for example, points directly to her webinar registration page:
Tips for other online course creators
To wrap up our conversation with Katie, we asked her to share a few parting words of advice for other online course creators. Here are a few of the lessons she had learned from her experiences, that she wishes to pass on to other instructors:
1. Teach something that you are passionate about
“If you’re going to create a course, or teach somebody something, you want to do something that you are really passionate about, and do something that you love”, Katie advises. “I have been teaching for four years and they are some days, weeks, even months that I just feel like it’s frustrating kind of the business side of me just because I’m more of a creative person. And if I didn’t love photography and love to teach, I would be done. I wouldn’t still be in it. So I guess for me I would say one of the biggest bits of advice would be find something that you really love to do and then teach that.”
Another benefit of teaching something that you are passionate about is that it helps your students be more excited and more engaged with your content. Great teachers don’t just share information with their students. They transfer their passion for their topic to their students. “If you’re teaching something that you are passionate about, then your student is going to be totally into it too”, says Katie. “You’re going to have such an energy about it and portray something that you love, so it’s going to attract people loving it too.”Great teachers transfer their passion for their subject to their students. #onlinecourse #teachonline Click To Tweet
2. Be consistent and don’t give up
Becoming a successful online instructor is not easy. There are a lot of moving parts involved in creating, marketing and selling an online course. If you’re creating an online course for the first time, there will be a learning curve, and yes, there will be moments when you get frustrated with the process or consider giving up entirely. This is a feeling that all online instructors have experienced at some point in their journey, and Katie is no exception.
“There are going to be some weeks where you just feel like you’re not being heard. But then all of a sudden it’s going to totally work. Things are all going to come into play, and just work out for you”, says Katie. “So don’t give up on the low weeks or the low days. Just work through them and be consistent about it.”
An effective way to ensure you don’t give up when the journey becomes difficult is to have some kind of support network – whether it is other online instructors, your spouse, or even a close friend. Find someone to is willing to support your goals, and offer encouragement when you are feeling discouraged. For Katie, that person is her husband. “For me, it helps to talk to somebody”, says Katie. “So I turn to my husband, we talk it out, like we figure out maybe where the leaks are or where I can improve and then I will just kind of put aside for maybe a day or so and then come back to it. That’s going to kind of like re-energize me and to get me moving again.
3. Talk to your students
The final tip that Katie would like to pass on to other online course creators is to talk to your students. Whether via social media, email, a discussion section in your course, or even on the phone, it is important to have a way to communicate directly with your students and elicit feedback from them.
“I try to talk to my students. I can’t do it in person because it’s online, but I try to talk to them one-on-one through an email or even on a webinar. Because to have that actual interaction with them, I can see that they’re learning and I see that they’re getting it, it just spurs me on and makes me more excited to teach someone else”, says Katie. “Whereas if I’m on one side of the computer and I have no idea if people are even understanding or getting it or whatever, it bogs me down and I feel like, ‘Okay what am I even doing this for?’ But if I can connect with people online and really talk to them and hear their stories even, then it helps move me forward and get past those drudgery times.”
Thanks for sharing your insights with us Katie!
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