Using Teachers Pay Teachers to Travel the World
You meet all types of people on the road. Yet, even knowing that, I never thought I would stumble across someone to interview for this blog in the remote regions of northern Thailand. Despite that, sitting at a café at a female nomads meet up, I found myself right next to Christina Cadalzo, Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) extraordinaire.
No matter what remote destination you find yourself in, or how fascinating the experience, inevitably you’ll run into the question, “What do you do?” It comes up even faster in Chiang Mai, a city known for helping spearhead the digital nomad movement.
Christina’s turn came up. “I sell products on Teachers Pay Teachers.” Her sought after products had been fueling her nomadic lifestyle, allowing her to work across the globe.
What in the World is a Digital Nomad?
In case you’ve never heard this “digital nomad” term, you’re not alone. Christina was already living the lifestyle when she found out there’s a whole movement behind it. In short, digital nomads are location independent individuals who work remotely, typically tethered to a Wi-Fi connection, cell phone data card or pursuing a reliable connection at a café or coworking space. Think telecommuting from anywhere in the globe.
While you can find digital nomads in a variety of industries, most rely on digital-related jobs such as web design, marketing, coaching or selling digital products.
Which is where Teachers Pay Teachers comes in. But before we get into all the details behind Christina’s nomadic lifestyle, let’s start from the beginning.
Needing Extra Income
We’ve all seen the posts, “10 Ways to Make Extra Income for Christmas.” Christmas is interchangeable for summer, side gig, weekends or any timeframe where people are looking to scratch up some extra income. An extra income for Christmas post just happens to be the post that created an entire world of new possibilities for Christina.
Right smack dab in the middle of the list was Teachers Pay Teachers. This list was compiled shortly after seller Deanna Jump, the #1 seller at the time, passed the million-dollar mark. The writers interviewed Deanna, showcasing how she built her success selling kindergarten lesson plans. It also coincided with Teachers Pay Teachers still being a relatively young platform, giving teachers a better opportunity to carve out their niche.
Reading this was a 12-year teaching veteran, Christina. Her diverse experience took her to the poorest districts as well as the richest in the New York. Needless to say, she was a wealth of information.
Christina set out to do for the upper grades what Deanna did for kindergarten.
Getting Started on Teachers Pay Teachers
As you know, it can be a little overwhelming to know what products you should start making when you launch your store. On Teachers Pay Teachers, you have lesson plans, crafty items, decorations and more. Then you times that by twelve different grades.
That’s a lot of options.
Christina sorted through the plethora of options, narrowing in on in-depth lesson plans heavy in instructional aspects. Bottom line, she wanted to give teachers the resources to help students succeed in the long run. “Kids need to know stuff.”
Christine Cadalzo TPT opened in the early fall. From October to December her TPT store brought in $400. While respectable, it wasn’t until January that the numbers spiked, getting Christina’s full attention. This makes sense, since teachers are more likely to purchase instructive lesson plans at the start of the semester. It was the day that brought in $68 that validated it for Christina. It was time to lean in and get this store really rocking.
Growing a Store
Here’s the part that most interviews or profiles leave out: the hard, grueling work. If you’re a regular on this blog, you know that all the sellers I interview put in a ton of hours each week to be able to succeed in a competitive market.
Check out how many hours a week Posh Patterns still puts in to keep her digital products rocking on Etsy (and her own store).
When she first opened her store, Christina invested 10-15 hours a week. That’s on top of her full-time teaching job. If a product took two months, that mean over 40 hours of work to see it through to completion. Once she made the decision she was going to quit her job, Christina doubled her weekly hour commitment, ramping it up to 25-30.
To be honest, Teachers Pay Teachers was a different platform when Christina joined. At the time, it was young with enough popularity among teachers for purchasing products. This meant that creating high-quality, relevant products and listing it was enough to gain traction.
We’ll touch a little more on the changes, but know that eventually Christina realized she needed to double down on marketing to keep the momentum going.
Pinterest proved to be the strongest traffic generator. This led Christina to invest time into creating beautiful vertical pins, joining group boards and working toward a more consistent presence. In case you need a laugh, check out one of her best performing boards, “Teacher humor.”
To ramp up her success, Christina leveraged the power of Tailwind. Once I heard that, know we had some serious geek out moments in Thailand. The whole rest of the table looked at us like we were crazy (not saying we weren’t…).
If you’re new to Tailwind, you need to check out how this tool can drive serious customers to your doors.
In addition to Pinterest, Christina also started collaborating with other teacher influencers. One example was collaborating with Charity Preston to do a giveaway on Classroom Freebies. She also launched several masterminds for Teachers Pay Teachers sellers, working to get a lock down on the ranking systems. Up until TPT changed the algorithms, this mastermind spearheaded incredible results for all the sellers involved.
Making Quality Products
I don’t want to give you the impression that you can whip together a quick product and bank thousands. Christina buckled down and built out top-notch products for teachers. The 4th Grade Fractions lesson plan took two months, totaling out at 500 pages.
Christina quickly realized it was one thing to write a lesson plan for her. It was an entirely different beast to write a lesson plan for another teacher. You need to start with the lesson plan. Then you need to go in and explain it clearly so another teacher can essentially see inside your head at what it looks like executed in the classroom. The final in-depth product included screen shots, photos, descriptions and more.
I’m not at liberty to divulge too many details, but know that this one product’s lifetime sales alone could fund an entire year of living abroad.
Taking the Jump, Landing in Paris
Some point around 2013 or 2014, after 14 years teaching, Christina realized that she was caught in the bureaucracy. This wasn’t true teaching anymore. It probably hit about the time she was summoned to a pointless meeting, then required to memorialize the meeting that the light bulb went off: she was only there for the health insurance.
She looked over at her Teachers Pay Teachers platform and realized she wasn’t tied to her job anymore. She had options. That was the day she decided that come summer, she was done.
Without even knowing what a digital nomad was, or the trend sweeping some circles of the entrepreneurial world, Christina booked a one-way ticket to the world’s most romantic city, Paris. At the time, she figured if she was going to be unemployed, it might as well be in a place with the Eiffel Tower as a backdrop. Laptop in hand, she perused the cafes and put in a few hours of work each week. All the efforts she put in the year prior paid off as her listings continued to sell.
She confided that first landing she didn’t really know what she was doing. She would hang out at cafes but wasn’t really putting in dedicated time work time. She might hit four to six hours a week. Luckily, all the work she invested earlier that year paid dividends. Her products kept selling, and her lifestyle in Paris was a drastic reduction of cost from living in New York.
Recommitting to Teachers Pay Teachers
After spending a fair amount of the summer in France, Christina returned to New York to compete in a marathon she signed up for before purchasing her flight to Paris. That’s when the reality hit. She had bills. She needed to work to pay the bills.
If she wanted the travel lifestyle (and eating in general) to work, she needed to ramp up her store. This time she did it from Madrid, Spain. To get things rolling again, since sales had started to taper off, she did an intensive three-week drive into launching marketing campaigns. As mentioned, Pinterest was a huge driver for sales.
Affording to Travel Long Term
I know you’re secretly trying to do the math, calculating out how much Christina needed to bank to keep her suitcase on the move. It’s less than you think. One thing that is hard to fathom is that many times you can live on the road for less than it takes to operate a household in the states, especially New York. They aren’t known for an overly affordable cost of living.
I’ll tell it to you straight. Christina’s income took a dive from her teaching position at the posh school in the richest district. In fact, she makes half of what she did. I can also tell you that she works far fewer hours than she was clocking during the school year. Full-time teachers seem to invest far more hours than we give them credit for.
Here’s the secret that digital nomads use to fuel their adventures: it can cost less to live abroad.
When my husband and I traveled throughout Southeast Asia, our expenses (including airfare to other countries, transportation, and the works) came in around $2,000 a month. That was for the two of us. That’s a fraction of our monthly costs living in San Diego, CA. Times that by twelve months, and the two of us could live comfortably (sometimes beachside) for $24,000 a year.
It’s an interesting phenomenon to consider.
Common Misconceptions to Watch Out For
I imagine if you’ve made it this far into the post that you’re intrigued by the lifestyle! I can’t blame you. I’m in love with it as well.
But it’s not as easy as it seems in a post. Isn’t that always the case?
Let’s tackle the reality of getting going on Teachers Pay Teachers (TPT) today. One, it’s a more crowded marketplace now than it was when Christina launched her store. That’s not to say you can’t make it (you can). You need to really invest into your marketing to stand out from more established stores. These social media marketing tips can help you build your own audience.
I prefer to think of platforms like Etsy and TPT as a place to complete the transaction, but where you bring the audience. As you complete more sales, compile good reviews and serve your clientele, you’ll start ranking higher.
Which brings me to the other challenge…
The second big challenge is that TPT is less transparent about their ranking factors than other platforms. About a year ago they changed the algorithm, effectively pulling the rug out from a lot of the veteran sellers, including Christina. Now it’s a bit of a guessing game how much your keywords, reviews, and other factors influence where you show up in search results.
Next, we have the reality of investing twenty, thirty, forty or more hours into a product that falls flat. Christina shared that recently the latest product she created fizzled out in the sales department. When she did the math on her returns, she calculated that she made $0.50 an hour. That’s the risk you take. Sometimes a product can bring in close to $20,000 over its lifetime, whereas others flop.
To help prevent doing a deep dive into a really in-depth 500-page product that flops, Christina is working on breaking a full lesson plan into parts. If one of the parts does well, she’ll move onto the next section. If they all keep building momentum, then she’ll create the full lesson plan for the higher price point. Then she built out bundles, which historically have performed well. This was a great way to minimize your risk of investing too much into an ill-performing product.
That’s not even diving into the misconceptions of being a digital nomad. For that post, head over to my friend Chelsea’s blog Hashtag Tourist.
Where is Christina Today?
I ask myself this all the time. It seems to always change. Last fall I met her in Thailand. For the spring she sauntered around Barcelona. During the summer she headed south of the Equator toward Chile. When I ask about where she will be this fall, it’s too far out to plan. After all, the digital nomad way revolves on only planning a few months at a time. I know this from my ten months living as a digital nomad in Asia. If my husband and I knew where we would be in a month, it meant we were really planning ahead. It takes a lot of work to travel that much!
When I first met Christina at that café in Northern Thailand, she was still testing out this digital nomad style. She wasn’t quite sure what the path ahead entailed. Fast-forward six months to when I interviewed her in Barcelona (despite my best efforts finding a good flight deal to Spain, this interview had to be over Skype) Christina had decided to continue this nomadic lifestyle long term.
While she’s still experimenting with new products on TPT, she’s also exploring other income routes. A lot of it stems from the fact that she is a constant learner, always eager to uncover new things and diving into new topics.
Have You Tried Teachers Pay Teachers?
Are you currently selling on TPT? What has your experience been? Let me know about your efforts in the comments.
If you’re curious how you can set yourself a part from all the other stores out there, check out these marketing tips!