At some point in their careers a portion of teachers consider selling their lesson plans on Teachers Pay Teachers (TpT). As you know, we’re not the highest paid profession. Many teachers really need to supplement their income just to avoid eating ramen every night. Some side hustle is needed. Is TpT the answer?
Here’s the Short Answer to the Question: Should I sell on TpT?
Selling teacher resources on TpT is an opportunity that affords the possibility of replacing your teaching salary. However, it is a long game — you will spend hundreds of hours creating products for a low return on investment in the beginning. If you don’t need income immediately and have the patience to wait out the initial slump AND like making lesson planning resources Teachers Pay Teachers can literally change your life.
How it Works (the Numbers)
Let’s look at the basics. Teachers create lesson plans and many other resources, such as clip art and classroom decor — even video content — to sell. Let’s say that you create a math lesson for solving quadratic equations. The average single lesson plan sells for about $3.00. There’s a reason for that price point, as you’ll see below.
As you can see with the chart above there’s a significant difference between being a premium seller and a free seller. Let’s crunch some simple numbers (after all, I’m a social studies teacher, not math!).
If you upload a resource and price it at $3.00 as a free seller you’ll net $1.05: 45% of the price ($1.35) minus the $.30 transaction fee. The same product would net you $2.40 as a premium seller, 80% and no transaction fee (because it’s over $2.99). The premium seller made more than twice as much!
There are 2 schools of thought on whether to join as a premium seller right away. On the one hand payouts are SO much higher when you’re a premium seller. On the other hand, who wants to shell out $60 bucks before they make a dime?
I was super conservative and waited to make $60 selling on TpT before becoming a premium member. This caused me to leave a lot of money on the table in lost revenue, but it was proof of concept that this moneymaking model could work.
If I had to do it again I would become a premium seller right away. Not only do you keep a lot more of what you sell, but for many having skin in the game is a motivator. You will work more consistently and maybe not give up when it’s hard because you want to make back your investment.
Questions to ask Yourself
Selling on TpT is not for everyone. Following are some questions to consider before embarking on this endeavor.
Do I need money immediately?
In order to achieve substantial compensation — which I know is different for everyone — let’s say more than $100 a month, it will take months. If you are in desperate need of cash now selling on TpT is probably not your solution. Consider teaching for VIPKid, teaching night school or working in Sephora (that’s what 1 of my colleagues who loves makeup does).
There are lots of ways to make money immediately. Options run the gamut from the gig economy (Uber, Uber Eats, etc) to selling items you have on eBay to tutoring, painting houses just to name a few. That’s a whole other article for another day.
Do I like creating digital products?
There are a myriad of resources you can create and sell on Teachers Pay Teachers. The common denominator for all of them is that you will be sitting in front of a computer and probably learning some new tech skills. The tech part is not hard, just things like learning to “lock down” your resources so that they can’t be altered, how to create “covers” for your products, things like that.
It’s not the tech that will hold you back. If I can do it anyone can. However, some people really hate sitting in front of a computer. One product will generally take hours, sometimes many hours, to create. If this sounds awful, if you prefer being more active TpT may not be your jam.
Can I stay motivated for an extended period without immediate gratification?
This one is what I find the hardest part of my TpT journey. When you start a new business it’s exciting, you’re stoked and ready to take on the world. You work and work and work. You watch videos, read articles on all aspects of product creation.
Then you recieve your first check. It might be $12, it might be $40 your first and second month. It might be a big fat $0. In order to succeed you have to keep making more resources. You might forego Netflix, reading, and other joyful activities in order to make those damn lessons that nobody’s buying!
You might have to tweak your niche to find a good one. It’s disheartening. You could get lucky and hit on a great product that takes off. That’s not the norm. Or you might create a suite of resources for the NYS Regents exam that become obsolete because a worldwide pandemic hits and state tests were cancelled(ahem). You will make money, but it’s a long haul and many teachers quit before they get traction.
Do you like to learn new skills?
Teachers Pay Teachers has become more competitive in recent years. Teachers who started back in 2012 did well almost without trying because they got in early. They didn’t have to create covers, make previews, market their resources, make distance learning products. You do.
Which is fine. Even though there are more sellers than ever on Tpt there are also more buyers. There’s also school accounts, another way to make money, that didn’t exist a few years ago. If you don’t like to get out of your comfort zone and learn things teachers are not schooled in (like marketing) your store will not do as well.
What do you teach?
As mentioned, TpT is rather competitive. Some topics are more saturated than others. If you teach AP Chemistry, psychology, sociology, areas where there are a smaller number of teachers it will be easier to stand out. The most crowded areas are the elementary grades. There are literally millions of resources for sale in the lower grades. That doesn’t mean you can’t succeed; it just may take you more digging to find an underserved niche.
My story so far
I didn’t even know Tpt existed until about 2017, 15 years into my teaching journey (they’ve been around since 2010). I bought a few things now and then. Then a couple of years ago I started looking for a side hustle and it was on my short list.
Fast forward to the summer of 2019 and I took a crack at making a resource. It took FOREVER! I watched a zillion YouTube videos and read blog post how-tos. When it was finally done I found out that your first resource must be a freebie. “WHAT? I just killed myself for at least 10 hours to make this thing and I’m supposed to give it away?!”
“Your first resource must be a freebie.”
Sigh. Okay if I want to play in TpT’s sandbox I have to follow their rules. So I created a 2nd product to list as my freebie, then listed the lesson I orginally created. And I waited. And waited (remember, it was summer). Nothin. Forget this, there has to be a better way to make a buck.
I gave up for a few months and started looking at other options. Then my daughter, a math teacher, began uploading worksheets and they started to sell. “Joan, your didn’t give this a fair shot, let’s try again.” And I committed to going hard, head down and creating 50 products (I read somewhere that’s a magic number).
In January I made $92.62 — almost hit the $100 mark. Not bad! February I made $222. What?! I doubled my earnings, holy cow. But remember, I’m putting in hours every day. Set my alarm an hour early and worked before school (not fun, but got used to it). So the hourly wage is still well below minimum wage. The pandemic hit in March, double whammy. None of my products were made for remote teaching AND I got COVID. Luckily, I was not hospitalized, but it took me months to get my energy back.
Fast forward to 2021. I now automatically make all of my resources both print-friendly and digital (you don’t have to do this). In March I missed $700 by 3 dollars. I now have 200 products in my store. But it’s STILL early in the journey. It takes time to get reviews on your resources, and that social proof equals way more sales.
So I STILL have to be patient and wait for reviews on many products. And wait. And wait. Most days I’m confident that I will reach my goal of matching my teaching salary. Since I’m a 19-year teacher in New York that’s six figures. Will I reach it this year? Nope. Have to wait. Next year, who knows?
Frequently Asked Questions
How and when do I get paid by TpT?
You get paid once a month for the previous month’s sales. Pay day is generally the 10th of each month but no later than the 21st.
Teachers Pay Teachers works with a third-party vendor, PayPal, to distribute earnings. So you will need a PayPal account in order to receive your earnings. If you earn more than $50,000 in a month (please-be-me, please-be-me) that is the maximum amount that PayPal will send in one shot, so you’ll get multiple payouts. I’m good with that:)
What about sales tax?
All sales taxes are paid out by TpT and you don’t have to worry about it. This is HUGE. There has been a big push by states in the last few years to collect sales tax from online vendors. Every state has their own unique sales tax percentage and structure. If seller-authors (that’s what we’re called) had to deal with it that would be a nightmare!
Do I need an LLC and a business bank account?
Definitely not. That being said, it is a good idea from day one to separate your earnings and expenses from other sources of income. I have a dedicated credit card used only for TpT related expenses. So at the end of the year it’s simple to calculate everything that I spent on my business.
I do not like accounting related chores, but they are a necessary evil if you’re going to be self-employed. At some point there will probably come a time when Freshbooks or other software will make sense. However, to start keep it simple.
Do I have consistently make resources?
No. This is the beauty of the seller-author side hustle. You can choose to work hard for a period of time and then slack off as life gets in the way. Perhaps you’ll do most of your work in the summer. Of course, the more resources you have the more chances for sales. But you are your own boss and set your own schedule.
There are other digital side hustles that require consistency. If you chose to start a business on social media, or YouTube, or podcasting, or blogging it’s important to put out content on a regular basis. That’s not the case with TpT.
The only caveat to that is marketing. As you progress with your store you may want to build an email list and start pinning on Pinterest. These require you to show up regularly in order to be effective.
How do I get started?
You can get started by signing up as a seller. Simply log on to TpT. There is a search bar you can use to navigate and sign up with a free or premium account. There are no requirements to upload a resource right away. It can sit there for months if necessary.
Spend some time searching around the site. What type of resources are you interested in creating? Check out what’s there. Don’t be discouraged by the sheer number of products listed. You will find your little corner.
As I mentioned earlier, the first product you upload must be a freebie. Every seller has to have at least one. It’s won’t feel good at first, but it’s actually a marketing tool for you. You want your freebie to be awesome so that anyone who downloads it will come back for your other products.
I hope your questions about selling on TpT have been answered! I am so happy that I didn’t quit and am excited each and every day by the opportunities. I’ve learned skills that can transfer to other endeavors should I choose. It’s also made me a more effective teacher. I’m always looking for new, engaging lessons that also increase students’ skills. It’s a win-win.
You get to choose your goals. Perhaps $200 a month would pay the car lease and make you happy. Then you can create a handful of resources and spend very little time on your business. Conversely, you can set big hairy, scary goals and work your butt off. Or anything in between. It’s your call.
When you become a seller-author download the TpT app on your phone. Every time you make a sale it “cha-chings”. I never get tired of hearing it. As a matter of fact, it cha-ching’d twice while I was writing this article:)
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