As a lifelong educator (at least thus far -- six years teaching eighth grade English and eight years as an elementary librarian), I've had many side hustles to make a little extra money when I felt the need: everything from babysitting to bartending, delivering pizzas, and even detailing cars. I've also taken on more traditional "education-adjacent" jobs such as tutoring and working at summer camps.
Maybe it was after reading Rich Dad, Poor Dad -- or maybe it was just being tired after Job #1 and not wanting to drag myself to Job #2 -- but over the past few years I've started to pay more attention to creating passive income streams. This is where I got interested in selling educational products on the site Teachers Pay Teachers. After all, I bought plenty of stuff on there! It was great when I need sub plans or lesson ideas in a pinch; not being a "Pinterest-y" teacher, I loved finding eye-catching elementary materials that I wouldn't have the inclination to create myself.
But while cute fonts are not my forte, my role as a school librarian has me creating many lessons on literacy and computer skills -- two areas that are vital to every elementary student (and even more so since March 2020...). My students seemed to enjoy the lessons, as did the district colleagues I shared them with. Thus, I carved out my own niche on my new store JK Digital Learning Resources: elementary tech activities and PD materials, with the occasional book extension activity thrown in.
Spoiler alert: I have not been able to quit my day job by selling St. Patrick's Day coloring sheets and mouse skills activities on TPT. I do not have a ton of products in my store. I do not love the TPT fee schedule. But what I do love is that once a user has created and uploaded a resource, selling on TPT can be completely passive.
No more effort. No more work. One and done.
I uploaded my first product to a free account in March 2019 and made $20.50 in earnings that year. Tired of seeing $1 and $2 payouts in my PayPal account each month, I started adding more products and have made $86.10 so far this year. (My 2020 goal is $100 in earnings and it's mid-October as I write this.) So still not an amazing dollar amount, but it's forward progress!
Here are some things I've been keeping in mind to improve my sales:
- Stay on top of your niche. Computer skills are essential for today's learners -- pandemic or no pandemic. In my classroom, I've seen that simple abilities like using the track pad on a Chromebook can mean the difference between showing learning or being frustrated to the point of tears. Therefore, I started developing lessons that embedded these overlooked skills for young students.
This summer, I added more ed tech professional development resources and student activities; as a result, September 2020 was my best month of sales ever, doubling my previous best month's earnings.
But ed tech is also an area that changes regularly as learning websites add new features. I just updated my best seller, a Flipgrid tutorial, to reflect the site's 2020 look -- otherwise, buyers would have been searching for the "green record button" I described and wondering what the heck I was talking about! Be sure to check off the box for notifying previous buyers when you update, so they can download the most current version of your product.
- Add more *good* products. I have used every single product in my store with my own students and staff. This gives me a good idea of the appropriate grade levels, the time a lesson will take, and the background information/skills students will need to use a product, so I can describe all those factors to potential buyers and make sure they are purchasing something they can use. (On a side note, I also share my products freely with district colleagues. After all, that's where the products came from in the first place and colleagues share plenty of their lessons with me! Don't be a scrooge to your fellow staff members.)
- Make it a bundle! When people are in the mood to buy, they're often willing to purchase more than one thing. If you put similar resources together in a bundle and offer a slight discount, buyers will go for the deal. Plus, it's like adding a new product to your store without having to actually create one!
- Optimize your landing page. Add a profile picture and a quote. You can also add a banner photo for special promotions. This doesn't take much effort and it gives your store a friendly look.
- Make an attractive cover for each product that is different than your previews. A fellow TPT seller told me to think of your cover picture like to cover of a book. You wouldn't show exactly what's inside the book; rather, you want an engaging image that makes people curious. I've been using the free version of Canva to create some cleaner cover pictures. I've also heard people recommend using "action shots," like someone's hands writing on the worksheet/product.
- Join TPT sellers' Facebook groups. These groups have been super-helpful to me when I have questions -- like, "How can I make my cover photos better?" Plus, it's encouraging to see people having more success selling on the site. Some folks make four-digit numbers on there every month! I don't think that's a realistic goal for me, since I don't have a ton of products and I spend zero time promoting those products once they're posted. (I'm putting the "passive" in passive income lol.) However, there are many sellers in these groups making $50, $100, or $200 a month -- which I think is much more within reach.
- Decide when it's time to go premium. With a $60/yr premium account, sellers keep a higher percentage of their earnings; they also have the transaction fee eliminated on products over $3 and reduced for products under $3. (See TPT's seller fees and payout rates here.) The big question: will your sales cover that subscription cost?
As I was researching this article, I downloaded the free product "Should you upgrade to a premium subscription?" from TPT seller Helix Forms. Plugging in my 2020 numbers thus far, I found that I would have made $11 more if I had been on Premium this year -- so if my sales are consistent over the next few months, I'll think about it for 2021.
Another way to look at the free vs. premium dilemma is described here by Wonder-Filled Days. This blogger does the math on sales numbers for products over $3 and under $3 -- basically if you're selling one or two "over $3" products per week, the premium subscription will pay for itself.
While Teachers Pay Teachers earnings are still a small part of my total passive income, I'm encouraged by my store's growth this year. As I continue to add products, I look forward to seeing those payouts increase!
Have you tried selling on Teachers Pay Teachers or other educational product websites? What have your experiences been?
For more from Jessie, follow her on Twitter!
Visit Jessie's TPT Store: https://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Jk-Digital-Learning-Resources
Check out Jessie's personal finance book Money Hacks for Metalheads and Old Millennials, available through Amazon in ebook and paperback formats: https://amzn.to/30UDHCh ( <----- That's an affiliate link!)