5 Tips for Teachers on Starting a Side Business

by Susan Johnston on June 22, 2012
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With the school year winding down, summer can be a great time for teachers to launch a side business — either to make some extra money over the break or to enrich the classroom experience in the fall.

Josh Waldron, a social studies teacher in Virginia, ramps up Studio JWAL, his web-design business every summer. Waldron says his work earns extra cash and improves his teaching.

“Most school districts are putting a greater emphasis on using technology,” he explains. “As I get better with web design, there are a lot of ways I can integrate technology into the classroom.” For example, when his students miss a lesson, they can look up the homework on the class website.

Lillie Marshall, an English teacher in Boston, runs two travel blogs in her spare time. She says promoting and monetizing the sites has given her “an understanding of another career, entrepreneurship, which I’m able to share with students. Plus, I can tell them how important it is to have good spelling and grammar.”

Marshall started her first blog, Around the World “L,” in 2009 during a yearlong around-the-world trip. She later started Teaching Traveling to focus on travelers who teach and teachers who travel.

Thinking about becoming a teacherpreneur? Here are five tips for starting a side business.

  1. Choose a business that matches your passion. Waldron suggests choosing something you already enjoy doing, so it won’t be a mental drain. “If the profit doesn’t match your energy, it’s just not worth it,” he says. “Summer is a great time to make a bit of extra money, but it’s also time that your brain needs to refocus.” Waldron spends roughly 20 to 25 hours per week on web-design projects during the summer months, and he chooses his projects carefully so he can balance the desire to make money with the need to relax.
  2. Establish a personal brand. Whether you’re starting a landscaping business or a blog, a catering company or a cat-sitting service, you need to build brand awareness. Richard Byrne, a Maine-based teacher who’s currently taking an unpaid sabbatical to focus on speaking and blogging projects, says his biggest mistake was not building a personal brand when he launched the blog Free Technology for Teachers. The blog’s popularity grew quickly, but people didn’t realize Byrne was its writer. “I’ve got a marketing problem here if this guy thinks I have a whole team of people,” he says. Byrne worked to build his brand through social media. Now he advises other teachers on platform-building through his online course So You Wanna Be a Leader?
  3. Manage your time. Time-management skills are crucial for juggling teaching and business responsibilities. Marshall uses every spare moment to write blog posts, grade papers, and respond to blog comments; she meticulously tracks her schedule and to-do list using Google Calendar. Waldron says he creates a schedule for summer weekdays to help keep him on track. “Monday, Tuesday, Thursday, and Friday all incorporate two to three hours of work in the morning, some exercise, and then two to three hours of work in the afternoon,” he explains. “The evening includes family time, reading, and relaxation, and Wednesdays are a free day.”
  4. Don’t use school equipment. Teachers’ use of social media and the sale of lesson plans has been a controversial subject in some school districts. “For the most part, there’s nothing that precludes teachers from starting a business,” says Byrne, “but you don’t want to do it on school-owned computers.” Answer client emails or update your Twitter feed on your own computer or smartphone to avoid potential issues.
  5. Understand your value. Under-pricing your product or service means you’ll be working more to reach your income goals. Byrne says this issue is common among teachers who consult with education technology companies. “That’s a great way to make a little money on the side, because a lot of education technology companies don’t have real educators on staff, and it’s important for them to hear from end users,” he says. “But a lot of companies are trying to get something for free, so they’ll give you access to their service in exchange for your knowledge. Don’t give it away, and don’t be afraid to ask for payment.”
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