From Public School Teacher to Small Business Owner
Contributed by Idea Collective Member:
A fledgling Small Business owner
Avoidance. That was my strategy the weeks before I quit my job as a public school teacher in May 2016, before I even had a small business owner vocabulary.
I had no idea I would create an LLC two years after I quit teaching. Heck! I didn’t even think I’d become self-employed.
While there was a huge learning curve transitioning from teaching to small business owner, that didn’t hold me back from accomplishing my goals.
This post is for you if you’re considering transitioning from employee to small business owner or you’re already a small business owner and you’re looking for inspiration.
Deciding to Quit
I contemplated quitting my job as a public school teacher for two years before I finally cut the cord. It took a little mental coaxing on my part to work up the courage. I wanted more freedom and creativity in my work, but I wasn’t sure how to quit without having another job lined up.
Here’s how it went down.
The principal emailed me asking if I’d like to teach 8th grade dual language (full immersion Spanish with native English and Spanish speakers) in Fall 2016. Of course, irony was patting me on the back as I read the email. I had vied for this role for the past four years.
Was I crazy for wanting to quit after everything I worked so hard for? Crazy for giving up my passion of serving the students I cared so much about?
You can understand why I had avoidance issues at the moment. I had to contemplate my sanity before marching on into that office and making it official. It was a solid two weeks before my principal sent me a follow up email asking me the same question:
Email from my principal
Hi Nikki, let me know as soon as you can about teaching 8th grade dual next year. We need to start working on schedules right away.
One Step Closer to my LLC
This was her second email, because, well, I avoided responding to the first one. Did I really have to quit? Her second email popped up while I was on a field trip. This was it. I knew it was time.
A teaching-assistant I was friends with was driving back to school separately before the fieldtrip ended and I asked if I could go with her. She knew about the email and gave me her best pep talk before I took the plunge.
We arrived back at school within a few minutes. My friend and I parted ways.
I walked into the principal’s office and said, “I got your email and I can’t take the offer. I’m moving on to a new endeavor outside of education.”
It might have been less than a two minute conversation, but my adrenaline skyrocketed. I was terrified of the unknown. I did NOT have a job lined up, but I had three months of summer paychecks to figure things out.
I was TERRIFIED. I walked out of her office shaking like a little dog going to the vet. Only I was going back to my classroom to tell my friend I officially quit. I didn’t feel any relief, just a sense of urgency to figure out what was next.
A colleague of mine connected with me with a part-time interpreting role, but when I say part-time I mean very part time.
I had to find my bread and butter.
My experience with unemployment
Technically I was unemployed and the only thing I knew was employment. I didn’t plan to become self-employed, let alone start an LLC. So, how did I do it?
First, let’s take a brief moment down memory lane. I had actually been unemployed once for real in 2010. I got my master’s in education in 2009. Teaching jobs were difficult to find at that time, and I only got one offer to teach first grade bilingual. My experience was all high school, so I lost my teaching job after graduate school and become unemployed.
I worked retail for a year because I couldn’t stand unemployment. It took just about a year to realize I was NOT a sales person. Luckily, the high school where I did my student teaching had a temporary position for me so I taught there for a year from 2011-2012. Luck struck again, or so I thought, and my friend referred me to her school as a bilingual/ESL teacher in 2012. That was the job I had for four years…the one I told you about…the one I quit.
Interestingly, when I was between jobs in 2012 I started a tutoring business with a whopping 5 students! I created a website and everything. Even though it wasn’t a successful business, that experience really served me in 2016!
From unemployed to self-employed
The main reason I quit teaching in the public school system was because I wanted more freedom and creativity in my work. By the way, if you’re a teacher and you want to quit teaching, check out this post here.
Having had a go at a tutoring business I knew that could be one of my sources of income. This time around, social media had grown quite a bit. Instagram became a thing and YouTube was more popular than it was in 2010. I understood the power of social media, so I got on both platforms to provide value to English language learners.
I even had a business plan! Well, a mental one anyway. My entrepreneurial spirit was starting to fire up, I just wasn’t conscious of it quite yet.
I looked into online teaching, too, because I had heard of some online education companies. What I didn’t know was that a whole online ESL market was exploding in China, but I found out pretty quickly.
Breaking the Employment Mindset
I had researched and applied to some 50 online schools in the US and got maybe 2-3 interviews and zero offers.
I applied to one online ESL company in China and got an offer. I had no idea that was going to take me down a path of becoming an independent contractor and eventually lead me from self-employed to small business owner. Not only that, but I also ended up making more than I did as a brick and mortar teacher due to multiple streams of income.
One Small Change is all it takes
I had no idea one small bite can lead to a myriad of opportunities and that’s what this small bite did for me.
After getting hired at this online ESL company in China, VIPKid, I realized I had a lot of experience I could share on my YouTube channel, but this happened by accident.
The company did a contest and I created a video for the contest. We had to create a montage of memories from our classes in 2016 to celebrate the new year. I uploaded my video to YouTube. Sadly, I deleted the video for some reason, but that’s beside the point. I learned something extremally valuable from the one little video.
The Power of YouTube for Small Business Owners
I posted my video to YouTube and forgot about it for a month or so. When I checked back it had over 16,000 views! Woah! I just found my niche.
From the get-go, after quitting my full-time job, I knew I wanted to create a course to offer my community, I just wasn’t 100% sure what my course was or who it would be for. Originally, I started creating content for adult English learners, but I soon found out that it was a very saturated market and I struggled to get students.
Finding this new niche was extremely exciting and it made sense for me. I had mentored and coached teachers before. I decided to create helpful tutorials and training videos for other teachers therefore creating a recruiting and coaching business.
From one stream of income to multiple streams of income
The more videos I created, the more teachers I helped. This led to another company hiring me as a brand ambassador and trainer, leading to me creating my own course and coaching program for teachers.
When they say one door closes and another opens, they’re right! If you’re contemplating taking a risk, do it.
If you’re contemplating making your first YouTube video, don’t hesitate.
Due to taking the risk to quit teaching here’s where it led me:
From Public School Teacher to Small Business Owner...Is it really that easy?
While this blog post portrays my experience in a step-by-step storyline, please know that this was not as smooth as it sounds. That’s why I’m here in the Idea Collective Small Business Incubator. Their mantra, “Don’t grow it alone!” is exactly what you need as a small business owner. It’s the best group I’ve joined since starting out in 2016.
While not everyone is made for small business due to the ups and downs, it’s definitely a plus when you’re free to make the decisions in your workplace. When you have a group of people like the members in the IC rooting for you, all the better!
I’m at a point in my business where I had to pivot, just like so many did in 2020. Luckily, the members of the IC are lifting me up, teaching me so many skills, and offering solutions to my small business struggles.
In my next post I’ll share why I had to pivot in 2021 and what that looks like in 2022. You’ll learn the strategies I’m using and why I’m not giving up despite my income taking a hit.
Online Spanish Teacher and Tutor
Nikki is an experienced teacher and tutor, leading kids to success in language learning since 2005. She’s helped K-12 students master English and Spanish using a mix of a traditional teaching style combined with gradual immersion.