Gabbi Lancaster spent most of her life working as an after-school art teacher for kids and adults, but always struggled to pay her bills. When COVID put an end to her side job as a house painter, she invited all of her contacts to a private Facebook group where she would provide art and creativity prompts, and suddenly had over 300 signups.
Now, at Art of Flow, she provides her members with fun and explorative art exercises designed to help them trust and connect with their innate talent. She nurtures and supports those with a yearning to be creative so their unique artistry unfolds and emerges naturally.
Today, Gabbi joins the podcast to tell the story of how she turned her private Facebook group into a thriving membership business, getting over her fears, and the therapeutic power of art to change lives.
- How Gabbi pivoted during the COVID-19 pandemic to provide a unique offering to aspiring artists without a mailing list or any other tools.
- What happened when Gabbi pulled the trigger and turned her Facebook group into a membership business – and why it was okay that her 300 signups turned into 40 paying, founding members.
- Why it’s okay to not have everything ready as you launch your first membership.
- The beauty of jumping and knitting and your parachute in freefall.
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- “I didn’t go out, intending to attract people who needed emotional support, but a lot of people say it’s their art therapy. I’m not a trained therapist, but it’s been a therapy for me, as well.” – Gabbi Lancaster
TranscriptRead The Transcript
Shelli Varela: Gabbi Lancaster, welcome to the It’s a TRIBE Thing podcast.
Gabbi Lancaster: Hi, Shelli. So happy to be here. Thank you.
Shelli Varela: So good to have you, so good to have you. Can we start with who you are, what you do, and who you serve?
Gabbi Lancaster: So, I’m Gabbi. I’m a painter, mainly intuitive art. It’s just brought me so much freedom and joy in my own creative journey that I’ve had a very strong calling to share it. All my adult life, I’ve shared at, taught at, to adults and children. And my membership is for adults, mostly women have joined the membership. There’s a handful of men, but it’s mostly women somehow that I’ve attracted. And it’s for people who want more creativity in their life who want to paint and it really helps people build their confidence and personal, unique expression and trust in themselves.
Shelli Varela: I love that. So, there’s a couple things that I’m going to get you to tell your story, but a couple things as I’m listening to you, I’m like, Oh, that’s just so good, because we are trained to quantify and qualify and fit into a box and make sure we have everything laid out in a certain kind of way. And what a beautiful gift it is to say like, not only let’s not fit in the box, let’s actually crush the box and be who we are actually meant to be. And the phrase that you just said that was like, Oh, that’s just it, you said, like, just learn to trust yourself. So, how did you come to be the person who has the membership? Like, can you take us way back, and let us know what your journey looked like, because I know that your story is going to inspire so many others?
Gabbi Lancaster: Okay, I’ve spent most of my life, since I had children, I’m working as an after-school art teacher, I ran kids’ classes three sessions a week and an adults’ class one night a week. I was drawing and painting and studied painting after high school, but it wasn’t my career. I didn’t sell my art until much later, probably only eight or nine years ago did I start exhibiting and working as a professional artist, but I’ve been teaching for a long time, really 30 years since I’ve been teaching up.
And in my relationship, my partner didn’t have a very high paying job, and we just struggled every single month to pay our bills. We weren’t on top of it, we were borrowing to cover the electricity bill and everything, but we were okay. We had some family support, but yeah, there was just never any way for savings or anything like that. And a year and a half ago, we separated. And I guess something really snapped in me, and I knew that I needed to step up and really take responsibility. And I got an extra job house painting.
So, I was house painting every morning before kids’ class and on my days off, which also meant no time for my own creative painting, but it was great to know that I could pay the bills. I only did it for three months, and then COVID hit. And when COVID hit, my children’s art classes were canceled, my adults’ art group was cancelled. And on the last night of the adults’ group, I had 15 people, and everybody was saying, what are we going to do for how long that we’re in lockdown? Nobody knew what was going to happen next. And it was pretty upsetting because we were halfway through a term.
So, I said, I’ve got this online kind of program I made a few years ago, I’ve got this thing up my sleeve. It’s 28 days of art and creativity prompts, do you want to try it? We do it in a closed Facebook group, and they all said yes, they wanted to be in. So, I got home and opened it all up on my computer and rewrote some of it and fixed it up and then put it up there. I started the Facebook group, I invited those 15 people, and I emailed all of my contacts.
And I didn’t have anything, like a mailing contact list, it was just anybody who’d ever done a class with me, or my friends and family, the parents of my kid, children, students, just everybody that I could. And I kept saying, pass it on, tell your friends, whatever. And 300 people signed up, 300 people joined in our Facebook group, and it was called Art of Flow at home. So, Art of Flow was the name of my adults’ art classes, the in-person art classes. And maybe I can talk a bit about why Art of Flow is in the name because of that flow state.
So, 300 people joined, and it was really fun. I realized also that the program, it was something that I spent a lot of time on when I wrote it a few years earlier, but it just never wasn’t the right time. When I put it out there, I wasn’t ready, and I don’t know, maybe the world wasn’t ready or something.
Shelli Varela: So, what was the response like to that 28 days because you said, you set up a private Facebook group, you’ve got 300 people who put their hand up and say, yep, I’m in. So, what was it like?
Gabbi Lancaster: Amazing. So many people, hundreds of people were sharing an image of their artwork every day. And they weren’t always paintings, like some days, it was a walk in nature with a heightened awareness of what you’re seeing, and something about taking a photograph, or collecting things, natural objects, and making a mandala, and then photographing that. And then, some of the days were different drawing and painting exercises, but they were all very simple.
So, it really worked well for absolute beginners, and also for people who had experience that just wanted some kind of structure. And I still feel like that in general, about the membership that it’s for people at all different levels. So, yeah, it was amazing. I was spending hours a day, loving everything and commenting, and people were commenting on each other’s, and I was just blown away, completely blown away by the response.
And every now and then, I’d think, is there something else that I could do with this, like what? And it was around about a week before the 28 days was ending, people were starting to say, well, what are we going to do in May? And I’m thinking, I can’t keep doing this for free. Like, this is fun, but. And so, my ex forwarded me an email from Hay House from their mailing list about a course on membership businesses. It was this guy I’d never heard of, Stu McLaren, running this free workshop on how to run a membership business. And I had never considered any kind of online business before, or I just had no idea, but I knew as soon as I saw that, that was something that maybe that was possible. Now, I’ve got 300 people in this group, and it was so organic how that happened.
And so, I signed up straightaway for Stu’s free 3-day course, I think it was three webinars. And it was in a few days’ time, so I woke up at 5am to listen to the first webinar, watch and listen. And I’m not a good morning person, but I’m doing it in bed by taking notes. And I knew that I just understood straight away that that was possible, that if I could get over my fear of being the front of something, because also my history or something in my past, I was shy. So, at school, I was the girl who didn’t come to school on the day that I had to do a presentation or a speech in front of the class, I just would not show up that day.
And I have done lots of work on myself to overcome it to be able to teach, but still, even after teaching all these years, not with children, but with adults, I have nerves every time before every single class. Am I prepared enough? Is it good enough? I have that feeling every single week. So, probably, my biggest fear was just speaking in front of a lot of people, because in the 28 days in that Facebook group, I didn’t do anything like Facebook Live. The way I structured it was I sent them an email every day, and I put the prompts in a Facebook post every day, but there was no talking, and so, anyway…
Shelli Varela: But you must watch the reaction in the group and just thought, Well, okay, but I can’t not do this.
Gabbi Lancaster: Yeah, exactly. And listening to the first day of Stu’s webinar, I just knew that I had to try it. And I knew that I kind of thought, well, maybe it wouldn’t work, but I just had to try it. And then on the second day, I couldn’t wake up at 5am. And also, it wasn’t good for my absorption of the information, I’m just not good at 5am. So, I missed the live, and I watched it on replay. And I knew that by missing the live, I was going to miss the secret, or this kind of extra thing that he puts in just for the people watching live. And it did bug me a little bit, like I already had FOMO that I was going to miss something, but I just couldn’t get up.
So, I watched it, I remember writing notes, and I still have those original notes. I was frantic with all the information and took it like, I don’t know, very seriously, and realized that I’d missed something and then could see from people’s posts the next day, even that day in the Facebook group, that it was the founding members launch. And I started to dig, what is this founding members’ launch? What does that even mean? And kind of, because also, it was COVID, and I wasn’t working, I had all this time. And I’d follow people on what they’ve done.
And somebody had very kindly shared in her comments a screenshot of her founding member launch email. And I read it and I thought, I can do that. I can write an email to the 300 people in the Facebook group, saying, I’m going to try this, I’m going to try this membership idea. And if you want to keep working with me and while I’m learning how to run a membership, I’m going to charge $15 a month, and I’ll send, instead of a daily exercise, it will be a weekly exercise. And I didn’t know anything about Facebook Live, so that wasn’t a part of it. And whoever wants to keep working with me, that’s what I’m going to do. So, I called it the Art of Flow Creative Community. I think that was a bit confusing that the two groups had similar names. For some people, it’s still confusing; for some people, sometimes, but I like the name, and I didn’t want to change Art of Flow to something else.
Shelli Varela: It seems like it was working for you also. So, how did the launch go? So, you decided to say yes, you saw the founding members’ email, you’re like, Okay, I got to pull the trigger on this.
Gabbi Lancaster: Yeah.
Shelli Varela: What did it feel like? And then what happened?
Gabbi Lancaster: Oh, it felt so terrifying, just putting it out there. Like, I was so scared, sending send on that email because nobody might want to join, or maybe lots of people might want to join, either way felt terrifying. And if they joined, what was that going to mean? But I’d also, I guess, hearing the way that Stu shared other people’s success stories, I did start to think maybe that could be me, maybe it could work.
So, 40 people joined. So, I got 40 founding members, because out of those 300 people in the group, quite a lot of them dropped off from doing the daily prompts. So, I don’t know the numbers, I didn’t count it or anything like that, but definitely over the 28 days, there was a drop off of engagement and people doing the daily prompts. So, yes, 40 people who were very engaged and regular signed up to be founding members, which was really exciting.
And so, I started a members’ only group, but I kept the same structure. I didn’t have any fancy tech things. My website was Weebly. So, it was…
Shelli Varela: Super simple.
Gabbi Lancaster: Yeah, super simple. And I’ve been with Weebly, since I don’t know, oh, gosh, 15 years or more. So, I was still on like a free… So, I had to change it from a free website because they started putting their ugly logo on. So, I think I paid $6 or $8 a month for my website.
Shelli Varela: So, let me ask you this. So, this is an interesting story path. So, you were shy, you didn’t know if you wanted to do it, just life circumstances. COVID, you’re like, well, everybody’s got time, I’m just going to put this out there. You maintain your truth to yourself, which is like I don’t really want to be the face of something, I don’t want to go live, so started sending out these daily emails. And lo and behold, you get 300 ravenous people, and we’re like this is amazing. And you get the opportunity to love on and engage on, you finally have this lunch. What was the best surprise that you never saw coming, when you now are a membership site owner, because there’s so many people listening right now that are sitting on the edge of who you were before, were you like, ah, I don’t know, I don’t want to be the faces. It’s terrifying, if I get nobody. It’s also terrifying, if I get lots of people. What’s the best surprise that you enjoy now that you never saw it coming?
Gabbi Lancaster: Gosh, I guess I’m still always surprised. Every time I do, now I’m doing live demos and things like that, and I’m nervous every single time before I do it. And I’m always surprised at people’s response, I’m surprised by all of the deep engagement, so from simple things like that they loved the exercise and that doing the exercise uncovered something more in their own process, so what beliefs that they could do. So, lots of people being surprised by doing something they thought they never could, but more deeply, the best and biggest surprise is when I share things that are really sometimes a bit hard to share or personal, or something that I’ve struggled with, and have it like a heart to heart when people really resonate with that. And some of the very personal messages that I get from people about how it’s helped them, that’s probably the most amazing part of it, like knowing that it’s helping people.
And the member seems to have quite a lot of people who are really on personal development paths. And a lot of people also who have different mental health struggles. And that was a surprise, I didn’t go out, intending to attract people who needed emotional support or something, but a lot of people say it’s their art therapy, but I’m not a trained therapist, and I don’t put it out there as if it’s a therapy, but it’s been a therapy for me, as well. So, I suppose it’s natural,
Shelli Varela: Which is funny, right? Like so many people, especially during COVID are experiencing isolation and want connection so desperately and what amazing timing, not only for you to start a business, but start a business that helps people feel connected and seen. So, that’s awesome, friend. If you had one piece of advice to give somebody who’s thinking about starting a membership, but is not quite sure, what would you tell them now, knowing what you know?
Gabbi Lancaster: Really, it would be just to go for it without having everything ready. I think that, and I watch a lot of what’s happening in the TRIBE membership group as well, and I know we’re all so different and have different levels of when we’re ready, so you have to feel some kind of ready, but if I’d have waited till I had everything perfect and ready, I still wouldn’t have done it, because I’ve been doing it for nine months, and it’s still not perfect and ready. So, I think that learning as you go, learning as I went along was so important. I would never have launched if I waited till I was ready.
Shelli Varela: I tell you just like I have done a couple founding members launches as well, and it is a sacred bonding experience. And I will say one of the most enjoyable things is jumping and knitting your parachute in freefall, and scary it might be, I’ve never been disappointed in the enthusiasm and the connection and the buy-in and the support. And just people like us do things like this, like let’s figure it out and build it together and it’s just so rewarding. So, thank you for doing the work you do so needed in the world.
If people are looking to connect with you online and be part of your community, where’s the best place to find you?
Gabbi Lancaster: The website is artofflow.art. That’s probably the easiest way.
Shelli Varela: Awesome. Thank you so much, Gabbi. We appreciate you.
Gabbi Lancaster: Thank you, Shelli. It was fun being here. Thanks.
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