Even Artists Need Lawyers: How Kiffanie Stahle Became The Creative’s Lawyer

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Launched on Mighty Networks in 2017, the artist’s Courtyard is a paid membership site offering courses and guidance for artists who want to grow their business with a little legal know-how.

Kiffanie’s Mighty Moment:
“We had somebody join on Sunday, and I’ve got a course that walks through how to create your LLC. Within the week, she posted in the community that she’d shipped off her paperwork. That was a win. I want our members to feel confident that they’re able to tackle tasks they can do themselves and lean on me the rest of the time.”

Kiffanie Stahle always had a knack for turning legal jargon into everyday language.

In fact, she had this gift of translation even before she decided to become a lawyer. Kiffanie started out as an environmental biologist and passionate photographer, surrounded by creatives who had their own independent small businesses:

“I was dating a guy at the time who is a lawyer. Everyone would ask him their legal questions, and he would spout off an answer that was very ‘lawyerly.’ I would say, ‘Mark, do you really mean this?’ And he would be like, ‘Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying!’ I became a legal translator.”

Her talent for understanding and interpreting legalese carried her through law school on a full-ride scholarship. After she graduated, she opened her own independent law firm. Her goal was to continue to serve the population of artists she had come to know and love through her own photography work.

Finding a Niche… and an Audience

Early in her career as a lawyer, Kiffanie noticed a big gap between her law school peers and those in the artistic community:

“There were a lot of creative people who needed a strong legal foundation and they didn't have a resource that was talking about these topics in an easy to understand way.”

In 2015, she launched a blog called the artist’s J.D., a space where creative business owners could find reliable expertise on topics like How to Write a Business Plan, and answers to questions such as Can I trademark a t-shirt design?

Her blog was a revelation: she loved to teach. And artists were there to listen. It was incredibly fulfilling.

From a Blog to Online Courses and Community

Three years into working on the artist’s J.D., Kiffanie decided to experiment with online courses to complement her work in blogging and public speaking.

But she knew it wouldn’t be enough to just offer course content. Without bringing a course and a community together at the same time in the same place, she didn’t think her artists would get the most out of what she could offer:

“Creating a community where I could provide resources and support and have those ongoing relationships with people, was really just a natural fit for the things that I love to do. I didn’t see how I could offer online courses without one.”

While she looked at various options, one platform stood out as understanding how essential a community was to online courses and teaching: Mighty Networks.

Quickly, she was sold, and launched her community, the artist’s Courtyard, out of her own Mighty Network. Soon after, she found this was the most rewarding piece of her burgeoning artist + legal niche:

“I love to teach and see a light bulb go off for my members. There’s a certain empowerment that comes from knowing the law. That’s my mission.”

Co-Creation in Action: Letting the Community Define a Purpose

Kiffanie knew the key to growing her legal community for artists would be to have a clear, concrete mission. She needed a simple purpose and story that people could rally behind.

She was well-versed in Seth Godin and Charles Vogl’s ideas about storytelling and authenticity. But as an expert in all things legal and data-driven, branding wasn’t her innate strength.

But she had an idea. She reached out to her followers to help her define a mission statement that motivate even more artists to join them:

“One of our founding members said something along the lines of, ‘What you're teaching us here is to basically avoid problems. To be able to identify things and know questions we didn't know we should be asking.”

That idea of educating her students to the point where they could become their own legal translators would empower them to identify, tackle, or offload legal problems before they became an (expensive) issue. Or, to put it more succinctly: To put the ease in legalese.

From there, she built out her first sales page to sell her paid memberships that would include both online courses and a community. Today, Kiffanie offers paid membership at two different levels to 56 members:

the artist’s Courtyard – a $4.99 forever option that includes:

  • the artist’s Courtyard Handbook
  • 2 beginner courses, including:
    • The Legalese Translator
    • 5 Must-Do Legal Tasks

the artist’s Courtyard Brain Trust – a $14.99/month or $144/year option that includes:

  • 6 beginner courses, including:
    • Secure your legal foundation
    • The Legalese Translator
    • 5 Must-Do Legal Tasks
  • Private group
  • Friday accountability check-ins
  • Monthly coworking sessions

the artist’s Courtyard Brain Trust with a Guide – a $44.99/month or $449/year option that includes the above and also: 

  • 12 online courses, including:
    • Creating Your LLC
    • How to Hire an Independent Contractor
    • Registering Your Copyright
    • Building an Email List
  • Private group
  • Monthly Q&A sessions
  • Quarterly online workshops
  • Mastermind calls with Kiffanie
  • Ongoing one-on-one guidance

Kiffanie has an impressive 90% retention rate for her members that she attributes to her highly-personalized approach, especially when it comes to her onboarding experience.

Making Onboarding Personal and Delightful

As a lawyer, Kiffanie knows that her members are first drawn to her expertise, but end up staying for the community they find in the artist’s Courtyard, both online and in real life. (Members are categorized by location so local artists can connect in person, too.)

In addition to an email welcome series that encourages members to go to the community, interact, and points them towards specific resources, Kiffanie also sends each new member a hand-written postcard as a personal welcome.

Every Friday, she also makes it a point to look at their profile, social media, website and other public content, and then records a welcome video just for them. She sends it through her Mighty Network’s chat function, simultaneously introducing them to network features while giving them a warm introduction to her community.

Rejecting Burnout, and Designing a Life That Works

Juggling a thriving law practice, a blog, and digital community, Kiffanie is no stranger to having more work than time. In fact, at one point, she was almost ready to abandon her business supporting artists that she had put so much care into cultivating:

“I think all of us, as entrepreneurs, tend to get that heads-down hustle. It’s really glorified in the entrepreneurial world. We’re always working, available, producing, and putting things out there. I did that for five years and I was burned out. I was ready to walk away and go work for a law firm.”

Kiffanie took a breath and stepped back to re-evaluate. She stumbled on the concept of taking deliberate breaks at regular intervals, or mini-sabbaticals, and the thought intrigued her. She decided to experiment with one, starting with a week off between Christmas and New Year’s Day.

She set an auto-responder on her emails on Christmas Eve, and took a break.

When she returned a week later, she realized her business was still intact. Then, she saw a dozen emails in her inbox praising her for her healthy boundaries, and more than just intact, she realized that her career could be anything she wanted it to be.

Since her first sabbatical, Kiffanie has structured both her law practice and the artist’s Courtyard around a schedule of six weeks on, one week off:

“During that week off, I don't create any content for our community. I don't post anything on my blog or social media. It's my turtle week, my hibernation week, where I get to do fun things for me.”

She’s also found, happily, that her community members love the setup.

“I give them a lot of stuff and then I give them a little bit of a breathing room.”

Kiffanie has incorporated her sabbatical into her editorial or community design calendar as well. Every six weeks, she introduces a new theme for that session. Each theme has a tangible outcome, like Registering an LLC or Writing a Legal Contract. Then, every week gets broken down into smaller mini-assignments, group chats, live co-working time, and frequent Q&As:

“Each of these bigger projects live within an individual course within my Mighty Network. I indicate whether it's being currently hosted live, or it was hosted in the past. That way they can see how recent the content is, and what the most up to date stuff is.”

Juggling a Legal Practice with a Paid Membership Community

Day-to-day, Kiffanie still runs her own thriving law practice. She checks in on her community about three times a day, engaging with members and answering questions through the app on her phone.

“It’s the only app that’s allowed to give me notifications. It’s important for me to check in a couple times a day, so that if someone's hit a roadblock, they can quickly move on and they don't feel like they're stranded. But it’s so much less work than I thought it would be.”

One of her secrets was to set up a consistent weekly calendar that enables both her and her members to create a habit around the artist’s Courtyard. Here’s her schedule:

  • Monday – Weekly Snapshot with what’s coming and an inspirational photo
  • Wednesday – Live co-working hours or a community Q+A following that week’s lesson
  • Thursday – A new skill or lesson drops online
  • Friday – Video chat where members talk about what did and didn’t work in making progress that week

Attracting New Members Has Been Easier Than She Thought

Kiffanie draws on her existing strengths in public speaking and blogging to grow her membership organically:

“I'm pretty strategic about the kinds of topics that I pitch to conferences. I make sure that they tie into a course that we have in the artist’s Courtyard.”

She regularly passes around an email sign-up list at the conference and makes sure to make her contact information is highly visible during presentations. If someone wants more information about the topic she covered, they can easily find the artist’s Courtyard and instantly access the course.

Online, Kiffanie takes advantage of optimizing her existing long-form blog posts to drive valuable traffic from Google search and organic Facebook shares.

As a self-proclaimed nerd, Kiffanie loves the data analysis portion of her marketing strategies, but other aspects, like brand storytelling are an ongoing experiment. And that’s okay:

“One of my favorite tools to make me feel better about where I am in my business is Archive.org, because I go and I look at my business heroes’ websites from five years ago, and I'm like, "Oh my goodness, my website is so much better right now than theirs was five years ago. I am on the right path!”

3 Key Takeaways from Kiffanie Stahle’s Story of Awesome:

  1. Talk to your ideal members. Whether you’re defining your brand, like Kiffanie was, or figuring out how to structure your community, your future members’ ideas and feedback can be extremely valuable.
  2. Show members value from Day One. Find ways to reach out directly to new members to welcome them and help them find their way to resources that will start helping them right away.
  3. Avoid burning yourself out. Figure out a schedule that works for YOU and set aside time to check in with your community in a way that feels manageable.

Bonus! 5 Must-Do Tasks for Every Creative Business:

  1. Make sure you have a business bank account and an EIN number.
  2. Get business liability insurance. 
  3. Make sure you’re set up as the right legal structure. You need a fence between your business life and your personal life, a.k.a., an LLC.
  4. Make sure you have the right permits and licenses, even if you run an online only business. Pretty much every city or county is going to require you to have a business license. If you’re selling physical products, you need to have a sales tax certificate.
  5. Get comfortable with contracts. That is something that stresses a lot of creatives out because they see it as a power play. Kiffanie likes to talk about it as something that you’re using to make sure you don’t disappoint the other side. “This is what I need from you in order for our relationship to be successful. This is what you are going to get from me.” It’s really a gift that you’re giving to the person that you’re working with, to say, I foresee us having an awesome relationship and this is how we’re going to get there. That’s all a contract is doing.

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