How to Grow Your Teacher Business with Tanya G. Marshall

Have you considered leaving the classroom in order to grow your teacher business, but you are afraid to take the leap? Well, you are in good company!

The idea of leaving the classroom to pursue your own business as an entrepreneur is becoming more and more common. There are so many options for you to pursue. But what if you are a single parent who provides the sole income for your household?

My special guest on the podcast today is Tanya G. Marshall, The Butterfly Teacher. She shares her story of becoming a single parent unexpectedly and how she found herself in a very toxic environment because she was trying desperately to become a better provider for herself and her son.

Tanya’s passion for encouraging other “wannabe” entrepreneurs is absolutely contagious and her insight into helping you grow your teacher business is invaluable.

Tanya G. Marshall, The Butterfly Teacher, taught elementary for 12 years. She specializes in literacy instruction & culturally responsive/inclusive teaching for upper elementary students.

Tanya is also a mom to her inquisitive and energetic son, Caleb, who always beats her in board games! When she isn’t helping other teachers or designing curriculum and learning activities, she enjoys trying new foods with family & friends, being outside in nature, or curling up with a good book!

Important points from this episode

  • How tragedy made her the sole provider for her family
  • How race impacted her teaching career
  • How she makes more money working fewer hours
  • Why you need to know your numbers
  • The productivity tip that changed everything

How to Grow Your Teacher Business even during difficult times

Tanya’s story

Well,  my personal story has so many twists and turns.  I actually did not go to college to become a teacher…I wanted to be a writer.  So, I got my degree in English.

I married my college sweetheart and we had a son together. When my son was only five months old, my husband passed away unexpectedly from a heart attack. 

At that time, I was working for an unemployment specialist teaching people how to write resumes and cover letters using my English degree.

I have always been active in my church and I’d taught Sunday School and Vacation Bible School for years. Before my husband passed away, he would say things like, “You should be a teacher. I see you being a teacher! I think you should look into it!”

Of course my response was, “No, I only want to teach in a church.”  But, when he passed away my reality and thought process shifted. I realized I needed a career that wouldn’t interfere with me being a good mom.

As a single mom, teaching was just the best choice at that time; but it turns out it was just the best career period because I fell in love instantly with being a teacher and I have not looked back since.  

As a single mom, how did you supplement your teaching income?

Well, the good thing about having an English background and loving writing was that I could be a freelance writer and editor. Every industry needs a good writer, a proofreader, and someone who doesn’t mind sitting down looking over grammar mistakes. 

So I was able to find that type of work online pretty quickly, even with companies like Pearson, who gives out standardized testing.  I spent a lot of time grading student writing tests submitted through standardized test companies and that allowed me to work from home on my own schedule outside of being a full time teacher. 

I would wait until my son went to bed or I would wake up in the wee hours of the morning and do freelance writing or editing and that was what started my side hustle journey.  

At what point did you start your TpT shop? 

This is one of the more difficult parts of my journey.

The school I worked in the first eight years of my career was a high poverty school that had very low resources. We received a lot of hand-me-downs  in terms of bulletin board supplies and curriculum.

So I was already making a lot of materials myself to save money because I couldn’t afford to spend my paycheck going and buying things at my local teacher supply store.  One of my co-teachers kept telling me about this website called Teachers Pay Teachers.

She said, “You need to be on it because I can see you blowing up and thriving because your ideas are so creative! You need to get on there.” 

Of course, at that point, I just scoffed at the idea. I was a single mom working as a full time as a teacher, and I just didn’t need anything else on my plate.  I decided to continue my random freelancing activities. 

Well one day, she comes in my classroom with this little booklet she made and said, “I made $100 off this.” I don’t know why but it was a light bulb for me.  I thought, “You made $100 on this? Ok, I need to check out TPT.” 

I opened my shop in 2016 and my first month I made $3 and some change. But the next month I made $500+ in sales and I realized this was it.  

How long did you end up staying in the classroom?

Where I live, unfortunately, there are still schools that have never had black teachers.  As a Christian, I believe in loving all people, so I have friends from all backgrounds. Several of my friends, who are also prayer partners, kept saying, “We don’t want you mad at us, but we nominated you to be hired at a school that’s never had a black teacher.” 

After much prayer and consideration, the school contacted me and I accepted their offer to become the first black teacher at this elementary school. I loved it because I love teaching and I love all kids, but it turned out to be a very toxic environment to work in.

It was extremely painful to push through because I did not feel that I was supported by the administration.  But I loved teaching the kids.  And just like so many other teachers, they stay in these toxic situations because they love the kids.

During my two years working at that school, I prayed a lot about whether or not I wanted to go to another school. I knew if I transferred I would have to put up with something else. 

At this point, I started wondering if it was time for me to stop side hustling and begin thinking about making this a permanent exit from the classroom. Oh my goodness…I cried. In fact, I want to cry now just thinking about it. 

I loved teaching the kids and I loved creating learning resources, but I just emotionally and mentally could not continue working in this toxic environment was for the teachers. I just couldn’t take it any more.

What would you suggest to someone who is in a similar position?

For me, it was twofold. 

There is my faith, which is my bedrock. When you consider leaving what seems like a secure, permanent full-time job and you don’t know what’s around the bend, it takes a leap of faith because there are so many questions that are unanswered. 

I started waking up and dedicating time for silence and solitude to journal, to meditate, and to pray so that my mind and emotions could stay healthy through all the uncertainty. This daily practice allowed my mind to be clear for the second part and that was looking at my numbers. 

I’m a spiritual person, but I’m also a practical person.  I started a serious budget where I tracked every expense because I wanted to know exactly how much I needed just to survive each month. I also wanted to know if I had enough in savings to cover anything outside of that basic number.

I was already planning and tracking…and that became my focus. 

I started aggressively putting money in savings so that I had a little bit in savings to pull from If I needed.  I used coupons, I tracked everything with budgets, and I had so many yard sales that season.

I was getting rid of things so that I could build up my savings because I knew I needed to meet a certain number in order to make this happen.  

So how did you grow your teacher business to where it is now? 

For about four years, from my last two years in the classroom when I really knew I had to get out of this school, and then the first two years of working from home full time for myself, I had to be ruthless with my budget.

We did not go on vacations and we rarely went to restaurants.  We rarely did anything because I wanted to be sure I was clear on the difference between our needs and our wants.  By applying most of my income to needs, we had plenty of financial margin and cushion. 

So those four years were tough. My income went from way up here with benefits and retirement to dropping exponentially. And honestly, there were times I thought, “I can’t believe I just did that.”  But we found joy in simplicity and minimalism which was great because we began enjoying life with less.

Now as an entrepreneur, I make double the amount of money I made as a teacher. I get emotional talking about it because if you would have told me four years ago, “Tanya this is where you are going to be financially when you become an entrepreneur.” I would have been like, “Child please.”

For me as a widow and single mom, this is where I really get emotional. I got to sign up to be a room mom for my son’s classroom and every time they had a field trip or special event I got to be there.  I never could do that as a teacher because I was working full-time. To have my son look at me and say, “You are going to be there, right?” is worth it all. 

The shift in him knowing I’m available more often now has been amazing. Especially during 2020, when schools were shut down and the job of having the option as a mom to say, “I’m not going to work this month because I’m going to focus on helping my son with this crazy transition.” 

We were able to make it through because I was able to give him my full attention.  I knew I could take a month off and just focus on being a parent to him. And to me, that’s what it’s all about; to have that freedom and flexibility was well worth it.    

What did you do about insurance, retirement, and taxes?

Health insurance, retirement, and taxes were my three giants because they scared me the most.  And here’s why.  As an employee, I trusted my employer to take care of those things for me.

I never applied much brain power to how much was going into taxes, what percentage of this is going for health insurance, and all these details.  I just let other people tell me how much to pay for this resulting in a specific outcome. 

When I had to make those decisions myself, I literally got a three subject spiral notebook and divided one into health insurance, one into taxes, and one into retirement.  Then I humbled myself, and asked questions of…

  • everyone I knew questions about how they found health insurance. 
  • other entrepreneurs in Facebook groups
  • people in my church and around my neighborhood

Every time I could find a book on taxes or insurance at my local library, I would check it out.  I think I read about 8 books on taxes, and let me tell you those books are BORING!!  

I paid money to hire a CPA coach me and teach me what I needed to know. I did this before I spent money on fancy logos, bells, and whistles in my business. Now I am so thankful I took the time to get on websites and to ask people for help. 

My CPA has been teaching me that the type of home you live in, the type of business you have, and the county you live in can all have an impact on your taxes.  Also determining whether to file head of household, single or married, all of those details are essential. 

It’s worth doing the boring work, researching, reading these books, humbling yourself and saying, “I don’t know anything about this. Can you teach me?”  That has been a real game changer because once I realized, “Wait, these aren’t giants at all!  These are just pieces of the puzzle.” I was able to make progress.

If you are concerned about these things and wonder how to grow your teacher business in spite of these things, spend time learning. Check out books from the library, go to reputable websites, and become informed. 

What would you advise other teacher entrepreneurs to invest in immediately?

I got a CPA right away.  I honestly didn’t even think I could afford a CPA.  I had always done my own taxes because the tax software you can buy is pretty intuitive, and at first, I was tempted to continue doing that. But then I thought about all of the different schedules and different sections of the tax form I didn’t (and don’t) understand.

At this point, I was building my TPT shop and also teaching English online with VIPKid. I wasn’t sure how everything would work since I was an independent contractor with VIPKid and an entrepreneur in the rest of my business. I realized this might affect my taxes and I wanted to be sure I was filing everything properly.

That’s why I found a CPA and just made the investment right away. 

Did you hire a lawyer for your LLC?

For that, I found a lawyer in a different state that makes templates and contracts that can be valid and used in different states. 

I asked my CPA her thoughts since she had become someone I trusted. I told her I was thinking about buying these contracts and putting them to use here in Georgia, but I was unsure as to their validity.

She happened to know an attorney to ask just to be safe.  Without me having to pay, that attorney got back in touch with me and said these are valid contracts. 

She told me I would need to get a notary, but that the templates were valid. I didn’t go to an attorney’s office; I just used that attorney’s knowledge and bought her stuff online.  (Here is the lawyer I recommend.)

Have you ever struggled with balance? 

I think that word is dangerous because it gives us this visual image of things being even across the board and that’s where guilt comes in.  I now look at work and life in terms of projects and percentages of my time. 

As an employee, I had to log 40 hours of work…even though as a teacher I often had 60 or more hours.  So much of my work day was filled with what I now see as fluff including car lot duty, cafeteria duty, and all the non teaching duties that were made to just keep me there for a certain amount of time.

Then when I became my own boss, I struggled with the mentality that I must work at least 40 hours per week.  That really hurt me because as an entrepreneur my work isn’t really broken into hours as much as it is in projects. Some projects get finished faster while others take much longer.

I could have a solid productive work day that lasts four hours and I can look around my home and see there are other things in my life that need attention. I don’t need to beat myself up with guilt that today I worked 4 hours, yesterday I worked 8 hours, and the other day I worked 6 hours.  I don’t track that anymore. 

The essential question is, “Am I getting things done that are supposed to be done?” If the answer is yes, then I am satisfied and move on.

Now I look at my life as being balanced when I spend quality time with my son and get projects done. I no longer feel the need to track the hours or minutes spent.

You can do the same thing to grow your teacher business, but it will require you to take a hard look at whether the tasks you are completing are actually propelling your business forward.

What’s the best productivity tip you used grow your teacher business? 

Turn OFF the notifications on your phone…especially social media notifications. 

It’s simple to turn them off! Just go into settings and toggle that one button that says turn off all notifications.  Yet as simple as the task is, the mental aspect isn’t so easy because we all have FOMO or fear of missing out.

I turned them all off because they are just distractions.

When you get that notification from Instagram and click on it thinking, “Oh! Someone posted something!”, you catch yourself still on Instagram an hour later staring at what someone else is doing in their life and her business.

You discover you’ve lost an hour of time you could’ve been learning how to grow your teacher business and moving the needle forward. But instead of feeling inspired, you find yourself feeling caught in the comparison trap.

Instead of celebrating the big and small things happening in my own business, I was focusing on what everyone else is doing. Turn it off; you are not missing anything.

Do you have any last words of encouragement? 

I want to say just how much I wish this podcast had existed when I started because I would have been binging it! This is the type of thing I craved hearing. 

I was desperate to know things like…

  • Is this even possible or am I jumping off a cliff?
  • What are the actual practical nitty gritty things to grow your teacher business? 
  • Can someone give me some practical tips? 

This is perfect.  I love this conversation.

Also, I want to mention my physical self-care.  As an entrepreneur, I’m here alone all day, so it’s important for me to take a lunch break, get out of my house, and take a walk.  I focus on eating healthy foods, walking, and drinking water on a consistent basis.

As odd as it may sound, this is an act of courage because you feel like you have to work constantly. 

My mental self-care has involved me seeking out friendships online. I had to make time for that type of connection because I missed being around my colleagues so much. In the beginning of my entrepreneur journey, there were days I would cry because I missed being able to pop my head out my classroom door and yell across at my co-teacher during my planning period. 

Making your physical and mental health a priority whether you are still in the classroom or an entrepreneur, is vital you you being able to grow your teacher business. You can and will be successful, but it will require you taking good care of your greatest asset…yourself.

Be sure to follow Tanya on IG @tanyagmarshall & check out her website thebutterflyteacher.com! Also make sure to share any of your takeaways from this episode by tagging me on IG @classroom_exit_strategies. I’d love to celebrate with you.

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