Oregon’s Small Town Artist Describes Her Inspirational Business Model

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    About the author: Vinita Pappas is a small town artist from Oregon and the owner of create38.  What follows is her story of how Bloomfire has helped her to create an innovative business model teaching people worldwide about watercolor painting.

    “Why I Love Bloomfire”

    Easy to Start and Use
    Every aspect of starting your own Bloomfire is clearly described and logical. Anyone who has ever used WordPress, Tumblr, Posterous or Blogger can quickly be creating content on their own Bloomfire. I have members who are not computer savvy at all and they have learned to post content without any problem.

    Simple Layout
    The design of Bloomfire is very well done. It’s clean, simple, easy to navigate. It looks fresh and uncluttered.  I like that there is nothing much for me to do other than create content and correspond with the members. I also appreciate the way Bloomfire uses images and icons. My members are very visual oriented as in look first, read later. Simple icons help my members navigate the site.  Post thumbnails draw them in.

    Community Aspect
    The community interaction within my Bloomfire has been pretty amazing.  My members comment on each other’s paintings and even let others know when they will be away from the class due to a trip. The interaction has been positive and encouraging. It works well for me because I feel like my members can “talk amongst themselves” when I am away from the site. Even in the short time that my site has been up and going, I can see that members are learning from each other as well as my instruction. I recently made a “Peer Review” category specifically for member-to-member feedback. Even more quiet members can benefit from the peer communication.

    Works like a Charm
    I can rely on site to be up and running even when I’m away from the computer. Members can join anytime. I can track a member’s participation through their stats.  A quick glance at my Revenue shows the income. Everything is straightforward and clear, no complex formulas or fees.  I receive one check per month which is fabulous for someone self-employed. Instead of having to track small payments from various members, at the end of the year I will have exactly 12 deposits to total. I have had a few questions along the way and every time I send BF an email, I get a fast, thorough and friendly response from the staff.

    Free is seriously affordable. I am on the Pro plan because I like having featured content and the option of content approval. Even on the Pro plan, my profit margin is very high.

    Warm and Fuzzy
    Nothing feels better than knowing that you are making someone’s day by providing quality instruction and encouraging content. Since starting my BF, I get emails like this…

    “Just wanted to let you know that you have brought such great joy to my sister’s life since she started your class!  She truly needed something uplifting in her life and you are THE perfect thing!  You are like a mini vacation every week for her!  THANK YOU!!!!”

    The downsides to Bloomfire are  very few and minute.  For some members, the email notification system doesn’t always work. Usually I think it’s because their email program is blocking the emails. Other than that, I haven’t had any problems.

    There are a few feature requests that I have, but even those are pretty minimal. I would like a small area on the home page to place some text; similar to the promo box that is seen when members are not logged in, but then changes to a custom message to members once they are logged in.  Since my site is very image oriented, it would be nice to have a way to upload images directly similar to the file upload feature.  Perhaps the implementation of quizzes would be helpful. Other than that, everything is working great as is.

    My Journey to Bloomfire
    I am an artist and a few years ago, I began looking at art as a way to make a living. I have done OK with selling paintings and teaching art workshops, but I couldn’t see how this would be scalable to the point of earning a consistent income. Art sales are unpredictable; some of my shows do really well, others not so great. Teaching art to others is limited in its income potential. For practical purposes, the largest painting workshop should be around 20 students. For each workshop, I have to find a venue, advertise, travel, pay a percentage to the hosting organization and then teach. The process has to be repeated each time and as I said, the class is limited to around 20 so there is a cap on my earnings.

    Last year I began researching ways to teach online.  Everything I looked into seemed to come with its own set of complications. I could go the independent route, such as a wordpress membership site, but I was concerned I would be in over my head on the technical aspects.  I also knew a lot time would go into member management i.e. lost passwords, declined payments, etc. The education platforms that I came across were either expensive or just didn’t have a good look about them. An artist needs good design, clunkiness is not an option.

    In November 2010, Mashable posted an article on 5 Ways to Sell Your Expertise Online. The article was pretty useless in my opinion. The three apps mentioned in the article, Litmos, Odijoo and WiZiQ, fell into the clunky category. But in the comments there was a brief mention of Bloomfire. One visit to Bloomfire and I knew this site was different.  I explored every aspect of how Bloomfire worked and couldn’t find anything I didn’t like.  I signed up on Dec. 28 and opened the site to members on February 1, 2011.

    I have had my Bloomfire open to membership for almost 4 months. One thing I find interesting is that several members have corporate careers or are in the medical field, but wish to explore their creativity.  They find that the online class can conveniently fit into their schedule much easier than a traditional class or workshop.   I have seen my Bloomfire grow organically without a lot of effort in marketing. I haven’t spent a dime on advertising. My plan is to invest a portion of my profits into marketing and see where I can take it. I’m excited and optimistic about the growth potential.

    As a diehard fan of Bloomfire I hope that they also grow and find great success while maintaining the aspects that appealed to me in the beginning; simplicity, clean lines, ease of use.  Every once in awhile, you come across a company that goes above and beyond your expectations and Bloomfire is one of those companies.

    -Vinita Pappas,
    May 27, 2011

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