I think we have to get past this thought that teachers making money is a bad thing! It infuriates me that some teachers in some states could get a job as a bartender or lifeguard in the summer but are legally prohibited by their job from making great lesson plans to sell to other teachers?
Vicki Davis, The Cool Cat Teacher
How did your blog arise?
I started blogging because I knew I had to teach it to my students. I wanted to learn how to blog so I could teach my students. No other reason. It was eleven years a go and lots of people thought it was a dumb waste of time. However, I decided I would write as a newbie and beginner. Even now, I’m still learning lots and want to share in a helpful way.
How much work went into its design and development?
At first, I spent just an hour or two. The secret is to start writing. You get better over time.
But over the years I’ve spent countless hours, always leveling up. The decision with my blog have been a difficult one. And now I do podcasting, a newsletter, and self publish my own books and materials on Teachers Pay Teachers and Gumroad and it is a big part of what I do too.
How are your books, blog, and products a natural extension of the work you do as a teacher?
For me, I want to be helpful. Teachers are a positive, important part of society. At some point I realized that as furious as the mainstream media made me about how they talk about teachers — that I could be a voice for good.
So, whatever I do, I always ask, “is this helpful to teachers and their students?” If not, I’m not doing it. I consider helpfulness first. Making money is a byproduct of being helpful and doing what you’re called to do.
I share things that I’ve learned. Honestly, most of my best work comes from solving really heart rending, heartbreaking problems. The learning differences of my own children have pushed me to understand how to reach every child. The most helpful work is birthed in heartbreak and tears. That doesn’t sound exciting or fun or like a dream.
But in the end, I’m doing work worth doing. I love helping my own students understand their strengths and beauty. But I hope I’m also helping teachers find their passion, get excited, and do great things. I hope I’m a voice in the growing cacophony of teachers who are determined to take our profession back from the domineers and profiteers who don’t have a clue what we do.
I’ve started self publishing for one big reason — it is better for me and teachers. I started doing the math — I could make a great book, sell it for far less than my publishers were pricing my books, teachers could pay less and I could make more by cutting out the big publishers. Many publishers hire teacher authors and pay them a couple of dollars a book for a $30 book! The books are expensive and teachers are buying these books themselves.
I believe that self publishing on sites like Teachers Pay Teachers and Gumroad like I’ve just done with my productivity book Do What Matters. Then, I can set up affiliates with other teachers who believe in what I’m doing and they can be the “sales” channel for what I’m doing and make a small portion of this.
What ethics guide you in what you do?
The big piece of this (and I can’t stress this enough) is DISCLOSURES!!! As a blogger, you are governed by FTC guidelines.
We teach with our lives and we must disclose all sponsorships and affiliate relationships. You might sell less by deceiving people. But not disclosing relationships will always come back to bite you in the end. This is one thing that bothers me about some bloggers. I click on links and realize they are affiliates. While I’m happy for them to get part of the proceeds for that book sale, they should TELL PEOPLE. When I don’t see FTC disclosures on blogs that I know are making money, it makes me wonder what else they aren’t telling me.
What do teachers need to realize about making money online?
I think we have to get past this thought that teachers making money is a bad thing! It infuriates me that some teachers in some states could get a job as a bartender or lifeguard in the summer but are legally prohibited by their job from making great lesson plans to sell to other teachers? It is their personal time! How does that make sense? Let teachers go home and create things to make our profession better! I’d rather buy products made by other teachers than by some intern sitting in a back room at some publishing company. Because when I buy a teacher’s product, I can message that teacher and ask questions! And they fix their products and update them! (Ask a publisher to give you the next version of their book after it is updated and see what response you get!)
I am put on this planet to help, encourage, and empower people to live better lives as teachers and students. I see this work as a mission and a calling. I have an abundance mentality and think there is more than enough out there — I wish that hundreds of thousands of teachers were doing what I do to make money on the side. There’s enough room for all of us. But it doesn’t come easy.
Honestly, if I didn’t do this work on the side, I couldn’t afford to be a teacher. I have two kids in college and without speaking, books, blog sponsors, products on Teachers Pay Teachers, my newsletter, Facebook page, affiliate deals, and sponsors on my podcast, I would probably have to choose another profession. It is sad, but true. And I’m grateful to live in a country and work for a school that supports me in my dream to not only be a great teacher but to run my own business on the side. It is just who I am and makes me a better teacher.
If a teacher were interested in doing what you do, what do they need to know in order to be successful?
Read books and materials from Pro Blogger, Copy Blogger, and Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World by Michael Hyatt. There are many different models for making money with a blog at the center. But you need more than a blog – you have to send your blog out through social media. And it takes time. Lots and lots of time.
Lots of people tell me they want to do what I do and my response is, “No you don’t.” Unless you like getting up at 5 am and writing when your family is playing Monopoly in the den, you probably shouldn’t do it. Anything that you do well is a sacrifice!
What are you so passionate about, you could talk for hours? Do you love to write? Do you love to shoot videos? Do you love to talk? What is your favorite form of expression? Because you don’t have to write it. You can talk it, blog it, tweet it… there are so many forms of expression.
What is your best advice to someone who is willing to take that first step and start a blog?
Whatever form you choose YOU MUST BE CONSISTENT and be in it for the long haul. It doesn’t take days or months— it takes YEARS of hard work. YEARS. Sure, there are overnight sensations, I guess. But I’ve never been so lucky. I’ve always found that consistently sharing and being helpful day in and day out for years is the strategy. Starting about eight years ago, I’ve shared pretty consistently 2-3 times a week. I write 1,000 words a day every day but Sunday. For example, recently, I’ve been investing a lot of time in my free newsletter and share content there that I don’t share on my blog. Because I’m sharing great stuff you can’t get anywhere else online, about 1800 people a month join my newsletter list. It is a different way of being helpful than blogs but it involves writing and I love writing.
But in the end, people say how do I “get” Twitter followers? How do I “get” blog followers? How do I “get” money for my blog?
And those are totally the wrong questions. If you ask those questions — which are selfish in nature — it just doesn’t work in the teacher community. There are lots and lots of amazing people and amazing voices clamoring for our attention. But I pay attention to the real people who are honestly helpful and love kids.
The question is — “How can I help as many people as possible?” “What is the most helpful thing I can do with my time?” How can I be consistently helpful in a way that is easiest for me? And “What is my calling in life?”
Because really your blog, YouTube channel, podcast, newsletter, or whatever you do, is an extension of who you are and what you are called to do. There’s a whole lot of work it takes to get to a point of profit. And there are lots of scummy websites who will tempt you early on to do unethical things. Weekly, some questionable essay writing or “proofreading” service offers up to $300 a link for me to embed their links in my blog (without disclosure, of course).
If you blog “for the money” that is a slippery slope as it may lead you to make decisions that will harm your good name and credibility. Right now, any product on my podcast or blog or that I tweet, I can honestly say I’d recommend them anyway. And if I’m making money for recommending products I LOVE and teachers are getting great products to use — that is a WIN WIN WIN for everyone. I see no downside.
What is a realistic timeline — if a teacher is willing to work hard at developing a blog, how long would it take to earn a consistent monthly income from it?
Consistent monthly income? It depends on what you’re doing because so much in education is cyclical. Back to school is a big time and so advertisers like to do a lot then and at the beginning of the year. Honestly, I can deliver great results for advertisers any time of year because of the reach of my blog amplified by social media and my podcast are consistently strong.
If you’re selling products, it will depend on what time of year those products are being purchased by other teachers.
When you release a book or a course, people buy when you make updates or when you’re releasing the course.
So, steady income requires steady work by you and that is very hard to do when you’re a teacher. Can you consistently create new great products? Can you consistently create great stuff? For consistent income requires consistent action on YOUR part. Blogging is a not a set it and forget it income mechanism.
It took me a good five years before I was making some income off my blog but I may have been a bit of a slow starter. It took me a long time to learn how blogging works. It just did. Nowadays there are lots of books and resources and people who can help you that didn’t exist 11 years ago when I started.
I’ve seen some people do great things in 2-3 years of very hard, consistent work.
And remember, that a blog is just a backbone of what you’re doing. There are many ways to make income. Each educator should examine their own calling, their talents, and their own abilities and create in the medium that suits their own style.
But the biggest advice is to be YOU. Don’t be a Brian Sztabnik or an Angela Watson or a Vicki Davis — be YOU. Be uniquely YOU. Do what YOU are called to do in the WAY you’re called to do it. There is definitely money to be made in this business. it can be done. It isn’t easy but it is rewarding and worth it. I see it as a win all the way around! Helping teachers. Helping kids. And helping my own family in the process and supporting my desire to be a full time teacher — which honestly, doesn’t pay enough money although it pays tons in the kind of wealth that matters most to me. Teaching is a noble calling. And we can bring that noble calling to our blogging and make some money too.
I’m starting a mastermind group for teachers interested in building a blog and creating their own sense of wealth. Whether you are starting from scratch or have a blog already in place, you’ll find the community and resources to take you to the next level.