I’ve been thinking a lot about Sketch Design Repeat over the next few years. What kind of things do I want to offer next? How do I want to show up for my current students? How can I continue to support the surface design community?
And the number one thing that guides every decision I make is my purpose — it’s why I’m so passionate about what I do. And my purpose is simply this:
To make artists’ lives better.
It’s why I’ve always been very vocal about sensitive topics that matter. Like the steps each artist should consider to legally set up their surface design business. Or discussing what a surface designer’s income actually looks like, including being transparent about my own (here are my 2020 and 2021 income articles).
So you might be wondering based on the title of this article, how can I claim to be an advocate for artists when I’m removing the most affordable payment option (ie. monthly payment plan) from our site?
Truthfully, it’s a decision I’ve struggled with for a while as I don’t take the affordability of online education lightly. But there are several reasons why it was necessary.
And that’s why I’m here writing this article because I always try to lead with honesty. I want to share my reasons with you instead of making the decision behind closed doors without offering any explanation. My hope is that even if you don’t agree with my decision, it’ll help you gain some insight into how I make important choices like these.
Monthly Payments Are Time-Consuming
The primary reason for offering a payment plan to students is to give them the option to pay in smaller installments over a period of time instead of in one lump sum, easing their financial burden each month.
However, there’s a BIG downside for businesses that offer payment plans that’s rarely discussed: students who default on their monthly payments.
In SDR’s case, we have up to 8 failed payments from students every single month. And although we’ve automated the process as much as possible, there’s still a manual component for each defaulting payment and we spend 1–3 hours per month contacting students whose payments have failed, working with them to resolve it.
A few hours a month may not seem like a lot, but it adds up quickly: for us it means up to 36 hours of work time lost in a single year due to tracking down payments.
I don’t know about you, but if I had to spend almost one week’s worth of time each year doing nothing but tracking down licensing payments from my clients, I’d end up screaming into my pillow.
Failed Payments Are Mentally Exhausting
Have you ever had to track down a surface design client who failed to pay on time? 24.9% of artists we surveyed in our 2021 Surface Design Industry Survey have.
And it feels terrible, doesn’t it? You don’t want to seem like you’re hassling them, yet you’re only asking them for money they agreed to pay you.
Now think about having to do that up to 8 times every single month.
At first, I handled all the failed payment issues myself. However, it really started to affect me so after about a year I handed the task off to my VA. My hope was that because she was less emotionally attached to the business, she’d be less likely to get burned out. But over time, she too noticed that tracking down failed payments was mentally exhausting.
And since I want to fully support anyone who works for me (including their well-being), I couldn’t ask her to continue dealing with them indefinitely. Basically, the cost of the emotional energy required to deal with failed payments is not offsetting the benefits of offering payment plans for me, my team, or the business.
Payment Plans Are More Expensive
Payment plans have always felt contradictory to me: they’re more affordable in the short term, but more expensive in the long term.
EXAMPLE: For our Pitch Your Portfolio enrollment in May 2022, the course was €460 when paid in full OR 6 monthly payments of €91 — the sum of all 6 payments was €546. So it cost our students an extra €86 if they chose the monthly payment option.
Now you might be thinking, “There’s an easy solution: Just divide the pay in full price equally so students don’t have to pay more.”
But there are a few reasons why most who offer payment plans (including us), don’t do that and it usually comes down to the numbers. Here are the top 3 reasons why we’ve always set the monthly payment total higher than the pay in full amount.
1. To Offset the Payment Processing Fees
You probably already know this, but all payment processors take a cut of every transaction. Usually they’ll charge both a % of the sale plus a flat $ fee. When a student pays in full, there’s one transaction with one fee but when a student is on a monthly payment plan, there are 6 separate transactions (and 6 separate fees) with the payment processor.
The amount we pay for each student can vary widely because it’s determined by a number of factors (where they live, what payment option they choose, etc.) but providing a payment plan usually costs us 2–25% more in fees than the pay in full option.
2. To Pay for Associated Admin Costs
My VA gets paid for all the hours she spends dealing with payment issues each month, which will end up costing me at least a few hundred dollars this year.
3. To Mitigate the Risk of Uncollected Payments
I understand that most of the time when a student’s payment fails, it’s usually a simple mistake like an expired credit card that needs updating.
But occasionally we also have to deal with students who just stop paying — I’ve lost about $1,000 owed for my courses from students either defaulting or refusing to pay. So although it happens infrequently, increasing the cost of a payment plan helps limit the damage when it does.
Healthy Financial Practices Are Important
This last reason is much more personal, but it’s also probably the most influential factor in my decision to no longer offer payment plans. I’m a big advocate of discussing artists’ finances — it’s why I created Artful Pricing & Negotiation, because I believe every designer should have control (and confidence) over their income.
But one part of the equation that often gets left out of the conversation is our expenses. However, if you’re not paying attention to your expenses as they relate to the income you’re generating, you could end up with almost nothing left to pay yourself… and that won’t help you grow your business or give you a chance to make a full time living as a surface designer.
So although it would be amazing if every surface designer out there took my courses, I firmly believe it doesn’t mean they SHOULD. Putting aside the “if the course is a good fit” argument (which is also important), I’d like to share my honest thoughts on investing in any online course. And I can sum it up in one sentence:
If you can’t afford to pay in full, you shouldn’t purchase it… even with a payment plan.
Now I understand I come from a place of privilege and that not everyone will agree with the above statement. And that’s OK.
But I would always rather see an artist keep some money in their pocket so they can continue to pay their bills or run their business (even if it grows more slowly) than overextend themselves with a payment plan they might have trouble paying in the months to come just to take one of my courses or anyone else’s.
I really do hope you appreciated this deep dive into my decision to no longer offer payment plans. Especially because I understand it’ll likely have major repercussions not just for you as a potential student, but for my business, too. For the past 2.5 years, payment plans have accounted for 12–20% of my course income and I made this decision knowing full well that I may have fewer students signing up for my courses in the years ahead.
But I’m totally at peace with that because it will mean less stress for my team, our pricing will be fairer because every student will now pay the exact same amount, and it’s one more way for me to honor my values around advocating for good financial practices.