In August 2016, I uploaded my first paid product on Teachers Pay Teachers, my diagramming cheat sheets. One person bought it that month. (thank you!)
On March 16, 2020, I surpassed the first TpT sales milestone: $20,000 in sales! Here are the best tips I’ve learned along the way.
A few notable milestones:
- I first hit $1,000 in monthly sales with only 19 products in April 2018.
- I had projected to reach $2,000 in monthly earnings in April and May 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic began. :/
- When I hit $20k, I had about 130 products, 14 were free.
- 95% of my sales come from Teachers Pay Teachers, not my blog. I mostly send blog readers to my personal store, through Shopify.
Disclaimer: Some of the following links are affiliate links. I make a small commission from some of the links on this site. You can read my full disclosure here.
My store is Learn in Color. Learn in Color began in July 2013 as a blog, when I was a teenager. Whether it’s color-coded notes or resources to bring history to life (in color!), I learn best in color.
I have two main products. My first products were my cheat sheets, color-coded reference guides for middle school students. The original concept came from “cheat sheets” I scribbled in my middle school notebook with color-coded pens. (I did actually create the original free math cheat sheet, which has some 400K downloads, for myself in middle school!) Some of cheat sheets are available digitally and in print.
The second products I have are movie and book guides, designed to teach history in a memorable way. They all have a strong focus on character-building and practical, real-life application.
Seven years later, my blog has reached over five million people and I have shipped my cheat sheets (physical copies) to all fifty states and a few different countries.
I work primarily at Learn in Color and do graphic/web design on the side at Life in Color Designs. I am currently at Purdue University working on my Master of Science in Education, specializing in Gifted Education.
10 Tips I’ve Learned From Reaching A Teachers Pay Teachers Sales Milestone
1. Design matters
I have had two posts reach several million people in a short period of time. My stocking stuffers list (a super random post on an education blog) reached 10 million people one December a few years ago. An educational graphic I made reached over 10 million people in one week in March 2020. I credit both of these to good timing and clean design.
Humans are visual people. Your small product cover is the first impression your potential customers are going to see of your business. You have to make it count. Because of the small size, less is more.
Avoid hard-to-read fonts. Avoid more than three fonts on a graphic (two is ideal). Invest in some font packs. (Creative Market is my favorite place to find fonts.) Have a specific theme/brand going on with your product covers.
This may change over time as you start to find your style. I wrote a little eBook with all of my design secrets from mixing colors well to finding great stocks photos. Grab it here! 🙂
2. Know your audience
There is a difference between having a blog for personal use and wanting to turn it into a profitable business. When you’re just creating a blog for yourself, you can do whatever you want. When you’re creating your blog to make money, you have to keep your audience in mind. I had a huge blog identity crisis for several years until I finally figured out my niche.
Your audience might not always tell you what they want. It’s something you have to figure out. (I recommend taking business classes/reading business and marketing books on target marketing.)
3. Listen to your customers
I am not an expert in education and I never claim to be. I’ve never taught formally in a classroom.
But I am a student. I love learning and I hated studying for a test and then forgetting everything afterward. All of my resources are ones that I created for myself in school or that I WISH I would’ve had in school. I had originally created my products for a homeschool audience before branching out to a public school audience. That definitely left some gaps in my knowledge!
In my first resources, I forgot to add a spot for students to write their names. (This seems so obvious now, doesn’t it?) They had beautiful but over-saturated backgrounds that people hated because it wasted ink. I also didn’t add answer keys, as I had imagined parents working with the material with their kids. Teachers also liked a mix of open-ended discussion quizzes and objective quizzes, instead of just discussion questions.
Over time, my four-page movie guides have a minimum of 10 pages, with many having 20 pages. My book guides have 20-40 pages. All have a mixture of multiple-choice quizzes and thought-provoking discussion questions. I’ve hired several teachers to help me proofread/improve my products (this goes back to interviewing potential buyers/people in your target market). I have a few go-to teachers now from different states, which varies the opinions I receive.
My resources aren’t perfect. Sometimes I have typos or miss totally obvious things. I’m always working on improving my products. Some months I spend more time revising and improving products than I do creating new products. Continually be willing to listen to customers.
4. Create something that matters
When you’re creating your products, think of your why. You’re not just creating sight word worksheets, you’re teaching first graders how to spell and you’re saving teachers time.
I’ve learned about this type of branding from several different business courses and books. To get started, I’d recommend Simon Sinek’s Start With Why TED Talk.
5. Always be willing to learn, but use your own judgment.
So many people have said you have to have hundreds of products to be successful on TpT, others have said you need to buy expensive courses. Taking advice from others is so important, but use your own judgment before taking it.
One of my favorite movies is The Pursuit of Happyness. In one poignant scene, Chris buys his son Christopher a basketball for his birthday. Chris tells Christopher he wasn’t a good basketball player, so Christopher probably won’t be. Dejected, little Christopher gives up playing. He then tells his son,
“Don’t ever let someone tell you, you can’t do something. Not even me. You got a dream, you got to protect it. People can’t do something themselves, they want to tell you you can’t do it. You want something, go get it. Period.”
I am always learning. Whether it be from the top-selling Teachers Pay Teachers, blog articles from successful entrepreneurs, or even everyday people I meet, I always love learning. Learning from others is important, but that doesn’t always mean listening to all of their advice. (even mine 😉 )
I’ve seen some suggest that blog posts should be about 500 words because of short attention spans. Almost ALL of my top blog posts are about 2,000 words and provide enormous value to the readers. This isn’t to say all your blog posts should be 500 or 2k words – find what works best for YOU and YOUR readers.
6. Work hard, be patient, and work smart
If you’re reading this, I’m going to assume you’re a hard worker who is dedicated to building their brand. 🙂 Sometimes, stuff just isn’t working. It’s incredibly hard to let something go that you’ve poured a lot of time and money into. (Read about the sunk cost fallacy – you see this sometimes on Shark Tank when people have poured their entire life on a product that people just don’t want or need.)
But if something isn’t working, you have to be willing to adapt. As I’m typing this, the coronavirus has thrown everybody in a mess and there’s so much unpredictably surrounding it, which includes lower sales for almost all sellers.
In more normal circumstances, people could not be buying from you for a variety of reasons.
- The product is unclear. (This is one I see a lot with new sellers – what is the buyer getting?)
- The market is too saturated. (Find a niche that isn’t tackled. If there’s a similar product out there, that’s okay, but why is your product better or different?)
- Buyers just aren’t finding it. (Why? Use applicable keywords and detailed product descriptions.)
- The images are not eye-catching. (Check out my design eBook for proven design tips.)
7. Create detailed descriptions of your product
What does your product do? What standards does it address? How does it help teachers? How many pages does it have? What exactly are buyers getting?
Be as detailed as you can in your description and fill out all options – page numbers, answer key (even if it’s NA), standards, etc.
8. Find your niche
Some markets, especially for early elementary students, are heavily saturated. As a music teacher, you might have fewer potential buyers, but you have less competition! In order to succeed, you have to niche down and find a unique selling proposition: something your competitors don’t have. What makes YOUR products unique? Why should they buy from you and not your competitor? Ask yourself these hard questions or interview people in your target market.
9. Don’t put all your eggs in one basket
Pinterest was my go-to for the first 5 years of my blog and was consistently 90%+ of my blog traffic. When Pinterest began changing its algorithms, like many others, my blog traffic took a major hit. I realized I had to adapt quickly. I began diversifying and focused on building up other sources of traffic (Google, Facebook) and my email list.
10. Love what you do/give more than you take
For the first few years, I was probably making about $2 per hour I spent on my blog. This isn’t sustainable or ideal if you’re wanting to make money on my blog (and I could’ve monetized it better had I known what I was doing, which is why working smart and knowing when to change things is important), but I think my genuine passion for what I do has been evident in what I do. With many of my favorite bloggers, it’s clear they truly love what they do.