Today meet a dear friend of mine, Shelley Smith! She is not only an excellent musician, and a South African mom blogger over at Rocking the Playroom, but she’s also a whizz on the computer and, if you’ve been waiting for the right person to come along to design an online course for you, she’s the one.
- Tell us about yourself, a bit of background.
Hi, I’m Shelley, I’m a mom of two boys, aged four and one, and the founder of TeacherToo, where I help people to design, develop and teach online courses. I work from home with my husband Garren, who also has his own business.
At TeacherToo, I help bloggers and other online entrepreneurs (both new and experienced) to build excellent online courses. Offering an online course can be a very lucrative strategy to monetise your blog, or to earn an income while freelancing or working from home. I bring my experience in teaching, instructional design and online/web design to help my clients build the very best online courses possible – courses that will bring them repeat and referral business, which will sustain and grow their independent ventures.
TeacherToo is part of my own business, Action Light, where I help entrepreneurs and small businesses to set up beautiful Squarespace websites.
- What were you doing before you started this business?
I’ve had my own business since 2009, when I started Action Light, but I have changed direction a number of times since then. Some of the things I’ve done include writing volumes of training material for corporate business skills programmes, writing Science and Technology textbooks for the school Senior Phase, and designing and developing e-learning programmes. Garren and I also developed an online learning web application to deliver and manage e-learning. Recently, I got into blogging more regularly with Rocking the Playroom, where I share preschool music lessons for parents and teachers.
Some might say that my serial entrepreneurship is “flaky”, but I see it differently – my business has adapted and evolved to give me the lifestyle I’ve desired at each phase of my life. Needless to say, I LOVE being an entrepreneur!
And I’m so excited about TeacherToo, because it’s a combination of all my favourite things I’ve done in the past.
- Is your business full-time or part-time and why?
My business is full-time, in that I don’t have another job, but I only work about 20 hours a week. I have been inspired by Cailen Asher’s 3-day work week movement, where she teaches female entrepreneurs how to design their lifestyle to work less, but be way more effective in the time that they are working, and way happier in the 4-day weekends they get!
- How do you juggle the responsibilities of being a mom with your work?
It really is a challenge, and just when I think I’m in a good rhythm, then things change! So I’ve had to be very flexible in the way I organise my life. If something isn’t working, then I make some quick adjustments, or I change my expectations of the situation. For example, when my oldest is on school holidays, it’s a challenge to fit in all of my work tasks (even more of a challenge than usual!). There have been times when I’ve been very frustrated about this, but then I just have to stop and ask for help with childcare. I am incredibly lucky that my mom and mother-in-law are willing to help with the kids, and my husband generally works a 4-day week with flexible hours, so he looks after the boys a lot. And then at the times when I can’t get help, I’ve had to just change my expectations of the situation – by cancelling some tasks off my list and prioritising only the most urgent and important tasks. And enjoy the fun time I get to spend with my kids of course!
I’ve also had to get help with many of my business tasks. While it’s not in my plan to hire any fulltime employees, I outsource things like my bookkeeping, and my social media management to the wonderful Pin Pal Media.
Of course, all of this takes a lot of planning, which does not exactly come naturally to me. I’ve tried a lot of planning methods and I’ve spent a lot of time planning, which isn’t ideal – I’d rather be DOING! That’s why this year I’ve decided to use a simple planning system by Steph Crowder. It’s a 15-minute process, using just pen and paper. If you’re interested, you can get her guide.
Also, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve committed to working only a 20-hour work week, which has forced me to be more productive in the work time I have, but to also switch off from work outside of that time and really enjoy my kids and my lifestyle. I’m still working on getting this right, but prioritising a good lifestyle (which involves life and “work”) helps keep things in perspective.
- Do you have a business plan? If so, can you share a bit about your strategy to make it successful?
Yes, I can confidently say I do have a business plan, because I’ve used the New Year’s enthusiasm to put it all together! It’s probably the most planning I’ve ever done, and this time I am focussing in on something that bores me to tears – finances!
While business is not “all about the money,” you’re not going to have a business if you don’t have money, so I’ve realised that if I want to help people to build great online courses and keep living this beautiful entrepreneurial lifestyle, I am going to have to do some boring old accounting!
And the thing is, now that I’ve tackled these figures head on, I find myself inspired! Because my financial goals are linked to my business goals, and by focussing in on where I want to be money-wise, I have a nice clear path of what I actually have to do to get there. Clarity people. You can’t beat it! 😉
But in terms of making my business plan successful, I’ve realised you’ve got to have a good balance of work that’ll bring in money now, and work that’ll see returns in the future. So a good balance between reality and dreams.
With that in mind, for 2018, I plan to continue my freelance website development work, so that this can provide the income I need before TeacherToo is profitable. And this is the advice I give to anyone starting a business – find a revenue stream you can rely on, even if it’s not entirely your “dream job” – it’s going to get you closer to where you want to be.
It’s also my new year’s resolution to keep a regular eye on my cash flow and profit/loss statements and to assess that against my goals.
I say my goals rather than my goal, because I’ve set three different goal “options” – a good, better, and best goal. My good goals cover my expenses, plus a bit extra to cover the time I’ve put into the business. My better goals go a step beyond that, and my best goals are those “shoot-for-the-stars” type goals that I’d be thrilled to achieve. The thinking is that my good goals are realistically achievable, and even if I just reach these goals, I’d be very happy. But if I do achieve these goals, I’ll be motivated to try and achieve my better and even best goals. That way, I’m still being realistic, but also stretching myself and aiming high.
I also like this approach because it allows for some flexibility, and I think any good plan will allow for some flexibility to suit the situation at hand. So part of my strategy is to have weekly planning sessions to assess how I’m performing against my goals, and if need be, I’ll adjust my goals.
- How do you get clients/market yourself?
I’ve set up my website (using Squarespace) that is the centre of all my marketing efforts. I’m focussing on content marketing, which means writing blog posts and promoting them across social media.
A major part of my marketing is to build up my email list, and to interact with my subscribers on a regular basis. I’m using ConvertKit (affiliate link) for my email list management and I think it’s great. I’ve recently offered an e-book called The Whole Nine Yards of Online Teaching as an opt-in freebie, so if you’re interested in building an online course now or in the future, then sign up to my list and you’ll get the e-book for free, and receive my emails with other online teaching tips and advice.
On the social media front, I’m focussing on Pinterest, but I’ve also had some success with Reddit and begrudgingly, Facebook!
- What’s your biggest challenge right now?
I feel like I have so many ideas, but I just don’t have enough hours in the day to implement them all! And that’s probably a good thing, because time limitations mean that I can only implement the best ideas.
Another challenge is to make every hour of my work time count, so there’s no room for procrastination, frivolous fluff, or my biggest issue, perfectionism! I’m trying to value progress over perfectionism, so that I’ve got something to show for every hour I work, which I really do find challenging.
- Did you need a lot of money to start off? And how long was it before you made a profit?
When I started Action Light, I didn’t need too much money to start – just enough for a laptop, internet connection and a few online expenses. Of course, then I had to factor in my salary! I made sure that I set a salary that I would pay myself each month, and generally, I was able to pay myself this full salary.
Now with TeacherToo, I have invested a bit more money in things like email marketing services, social media management, and some online courses to help me with various aspects of my business. It’s not a huge investment, but I want to make sure I recoup these expenses and then be profitable – that’s why I’ve done all of this financial planning!
- What makes your business unique from other brands?
Where TeacherToo stands out is my focus on good teaching strategies for online courses. I really want my clients’ and students’ courses to apply the best teaching principles and use the best technologies to really make an impact on their students’ lives.
But I do all this in the context of building a teaching business, which involves serving a clear audience, marketing, and good old sales!
I believe that good teaching makes good business sense, because it will lead to transformed students, repeat business and lots of referrals from raving fans.
So what makes me unique is that I can offer other entrepreneurs my teaching and instructional design expertise, as well as all the lessons I’ve learnt on my entrepreneurial journey!
- Share with us your social media links and website.
TeacherToo Website: https://teachertoo.com
Signup for my free e-book, The Whole 9 Yards of Online Teaching
And if you’re interested:
Action Light (website design in Squarespace for small businesses and online publications): https://www.actionlight.co.za/
Rocking the Playroom (music lessons for pre-school and primary school kids): https://www.rockingtheplayroom.com/