How Setting Big Goals Changes Your Teacher Business with Michelle Griffo

Setting big goals in your teacher business has always been a scary undertaking because the same negative thoughts keep circling in your mind. “What if I fail? What if I put everything on the line and the world hates what I have to offer? If I set small goals and things don’t work out, it’s no big deal…but if I set a big goal and things don’t work out, I’m a failure.”

Michelle Griffo is no stranger to goal-setting.

As a classroom teacher for 11 years, she learned how to set goals for herself and for her students. But it wasn’t until she stepped out of the classroom and became a full-time teacher entrepreneur that she realized how just how scary it was to acknowledge those big goals and actually chase them wholeheartedly.

Michelle Griffo is a teacher-entreprenuer from Southern California. She graduated with her BA in Business Admin, Teaching Credential & Masters in Education from Vanguard University. Michelle spent 11 years as a classroom teacher & the last 12 years running her teacher business Apples and ABC’s. She’s now the host of a kindergarten teacher membership called The Enchanted Little Learning Corner. Follow her on IG @applesandabcs for teacher tips & tricks.

Important points from this episode

  • Setting big goals in your teacher business
  • The importance of taking risks & not letting fear dictate your choices
  • Balancing motherhood, entrepreneurship, & mom guilt
  • Why boundaries are essential
  • Using data to help you wisely assess when you should leave the classroom
  • How to pace yourself in order to reach your business goals

Setting Big Goals in Your Teacher Business

What led you to where you are now, Michelle?

I’ve been doing Teachers Pay Teachers for 12 years and I have 11 years of teaching experience. Around my third year of teaching, I discovered the wonderful world of Pinterest, which ultimately led me into the world of teacher blogs. 

I noticed that teachers were showcasing their resources online and then I was like, “Hold on. They’re selling things…like what is happening?” And my mind was literally blown.

At this point, I felt like I was really coming into my own and decided to start a blog. I knew I loved bulletin boards, decor, and crafts, so I decided to put my stuff on a blog. It was during this same time that I was going through a really hard season of life and I needed something to pour myself into.

As a single teacher in my third year of teaching I thought, “What am I going to do with all this time?” So I threw myself into the world of blogging and Teachers Pay Teachers.

And while there was already a wave of teachers who had found success on TpT, I was still one of the earlier teacher sellers and one of the first teacher Instagrammers. 

So it kind of all evolved from having extra time on my hands and wanting to just sell a couple of things to something really big. But the years passed, and I got married, had kids, and eventually had a decision to make.

I had only so many hours in the day and I could not keep the same level of intensity with Teachers Pay Teachers, my Apples & ABCs business, and teach.

I wasn’t able to have a happy balanced life (not that it is now), but it was just chaos.

So I had to decide what I wanted to take a risk on and ultimately I decided to focus on my Teachers Pay Teachers business. My resources have always been designed for PreK to first grade, and I recently launched a monthly membership for kindergarten teachers called The Enchanted Little Learning Corner.

When you started your TPT shop, did you have any idea that you’d be where you are now?

No way! I had no idea.

First of all, it seemed like too big of a goal. When you have a profession like teaching where your salary is capped at a certain amount and you know what you’re going to make, you can see yourself move on the pay scale. And to think that I could have my own business and to actually grow and generate a second income…to me it wasn’t even possible and I had no idea.

What I did know was that I loved creating and the creative outlook on it. And I slowly started setting goals and it just kind of took over. 

When I began, there were only a few people who were actually doing TpT full-time. So, I didn’t even know that was a goal I had. I just wanted to make extra coffee money.

At that time, I actually worked at a private school. And because I live in Southern California, the cost of living is very high. While I loved my school, to be able to make my car payment, rent, insurance, and to maybe go to the movies, I couldn’t afford it…unless I had another source of income.

So that kind of drove me to thinking, “What if I could have an extra $500 a month? How would my life look differently?”

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At what point did you realize this was bigger than you could have ever imagined?

So let me give you a bit of a backstory. When you have a Teachers Pay Teachers business and some sort of social media presence, opportunities come up.

Probably about four or five years ago, I was a brand ambassador Ambassador for Oriental Trading Company, which meant I was part of a team of teacher bloggers who used the Oriental Trading Company resources in my classroom to create stuff.

I was also receiving Instagram Partnerships where I was paid by companies to endorse specific products on my IG page that were relevant for my audience. 

And I was helping co-host the Teach Your Heart Out conference.

There came a point where all of a sudden in my Apples and ABCs business there were all of these other opportunities knocking at my door.

And I took a step back and realized, “I want to be with my kids. I want to be at home. We want to grow our family. These opportunities won’t always be here, but I’m going to take the risk that teaching will always be here.”

Even now, being out of the classroom is not my permanent plan. And the only thing that has kept me ok with leaving is knowing I will have an opportunity to go back, reapply, and hopefully there’ll be a classroom waiting for me somewhere.

But when the opportunities were so exciting, things that interested me in the business world meshing with education, and my store was supplementing my income, I couldn’t pass them up.

The truth is, I waited a while to risk leaving my job security. I worried that if I jumped in right away, my store would tank. And because I was planning to leave my career and shift in a different direction, my husband had to be on board.

So I waited until I knew I could count on a certain amount of income that wasn’t going to change based on the data and projections I had made. And while we can’t always project exactly what our business is going to do, once it was really, really safe, I felt super comfortable, and I had tons of opportunities, that’s when I did it.

At that point, I didn’t feel as risky because there had been enough consistency over the years to let me know this was a good decision.

What were your fears? Did you ever second guess your decision?

Oh 100%!! I was so scared that I was making the wrong choice, and I kept thinking, 

  • “What if I fail horribly?”  But even in that, I could tutor or do something in the world of education.
  • “What if my store tanks?”  But that wasn’t probable.
  • “What if I want to go back and I can’t get hired again?”  While that could be a legitimate fear, I don’t think that’s 100% realistic either.

So even with the checklist of things I was scared of, I felt like there was an answer to each one.

The biggest fear for me was “What if I become out of touch with what kids need in the classroom?”  But with a kid who’s literally in the grade level I create content for right now, this isn’t an issue. I’m still running off of ideas that I just never had time to make when I was still teaching.

I also was worried that my audience would think I was not credible anymore because I’m not in the classroom. Yet, no one has given me feedback to say that matters. If you’re creating content or curriculum for that age level that you’re experienced in, you’re relevant.

I think that’s just something that was in the back of my mind.

How do you deal with negative thoughts?

As far as social media, I’m not perfect, but it’s a lifelong struggle. I feel like I have a pretty healthy relationship with those negative thoughts and negative people because social media is not real life. The truth is, people are just under a tremendous amount of stress and I try not to take it personally.

I also put boundaries up on what I share about my personal life. So the goal is for my audience to feel like they know me and if I give them 40% of my personality, they actually know that part of me.

But, all the stuff they could say that would actually hurt my feelings, I’m not bringing to social media. So there are barriers and anything I’m really going through in my personal life I’m not talking about.

Then if people have negative things to say about the curriculum, that’s fine because I don’t take it personally.

As far as any other feelings related to work, it’s good to have friends to vent to. I think whatever profession you’re in you have to constantly check yourself. Even if you’re in the classroom you have different types of thoughts that you have to keep in check as well.

Have you ever struggled with balancing motherhood & being an entrepreneur?

This week has been a nightmare! This is real life and that means there are going to be good days and bad days, good weeks and bad weeks. The balance between motherhood and life/work as well as the working from home aspect (like a lot of people have experienced in the last couple years)…it is almost a full-time job trying to keep myself balanced.

Balance has been out the window this week. I haven’t met any deadlines because my babysitter has been sick. And things just come up, so you have to reshuffle.

Typically, I set overall monthly goals and weekly goals that align with what I am trying to do with the intention of being far enough ahead that when things like this come up and screw everything up, I can shove things around in my calendar.

But it’s hard not to beat myself up.

For instance, today I’m super distracted, I’m not present with my kids, and I just want to be alone to work, and as a work at home mom. And I’m constantly re-evaluating the boundaries that are constantly changing.

Making curriculum for teachers is only about 20% of my job; 80% is email, marketing on my phone, etc. So as I’m making my goals for the week and plotting out what I’m going to do each day, I know I can go to the park and secretly be emailing.

But it’s a constant struggle. I don’t really know of anybody who actually has it perfect. I feel like everybody is just trying to figure it out and it’s always changing.

What’s one important lesson you’ve learned that you wish you’d known when you first stepped out of the classroom?

I wish I could have told myself, “Don’t be scared of setting big goals in your teacher business.”

I’ve had these looming goals that have been high up there for years. And with the recent launch of the Enchanted Little Learning Corner Membership (which was the hardest thing I’ve ever taken on), I just wish I hadn’t been so scared for so long. Because now I’m thinking, “What if I would have taken a bigger risk back then?”

The sky really can be the limit, yet I boxed myself in. I just wish I would have believed in myself earlier in my journey, and learned to take risks confidently.

This membership thing was so scary because it wasn’t working behind the scenes with a brand that no one would have known about. I put it out there on social media that I’m doing something and everything was me.

I put 100% effort into it; I didn’t put in 75%.

I knew my audience trusted me because they buy the resources I make, but did they trust me enough to let me help them in a bigger way where they’re committed to a monthly membership? That was the scariest part for me.

So I would have been braver in what my goals were and I would have set them on a timeline with actual numbers.

Now that you’ve seen how amazing setting big goals in your teacher business can be, does it make you want to set more?

100%, and I already have a couple of things I can foresee that I would want to do.

One other thing that I discovered after setting big goals in your teacher business is pacing yourself AFTER you accomplish a really big task. That is what I did after launching the Enchanted Little Learning Corner. I realized I needed some space and that I didn’t need to take on something else at that point.

Do you have any words of encouragement for teachers who are on the fence about leaving the classroom?

My encouragement would be more advice…look at your data.

  • what are your bills
  • what is your income for teaching
  • what are you bringing in on TpT
  • what other options are on the horizon

You just have to look at the numbers and assess whether or not leaving the classroom is a wise decision; then devise a back-up plan just in case. If you always have the option to go back to the classroom because jobs are plentiful, then really there isn’t much risk in leaving.

However,  sometimes when I talk to my peers, they tell me that jobs are scarce where they live. So thinking through your career options and how you plan to make ends meet is crucial.

So many times, we think we know what our bills are, but we’ve never truly looked at the data, looked at those bills, and really broken down line by line what is required of us financially.

Then once you’ve seen the numbers in black and white, you can make a timeline. You need to think like this, “It may not be this year, but in two years my goal is to leave the classroom and here is how I plan to achieve that goal or bank up the necessary money needed to quit.”

Michelle’s Exit Strategy Plan

When I started my TpT journey, I was working in a private school. As I started seeing my TpT business growing, I realized that I needed to start working at a public school.

In the public school once you’re tenured, you can share a contract with someone and work part-time after you’ve been in the position for two or three years. So I set a plan in place even though at the time my numbers weren’t high enough yet. But I knew by the time everything played out, it was going to work.

So that’s exactly what I did. I went to a public school, finished my 2 years, completed my part-time contract and then at that point I said, “Okay, I’ve given myself so many safety blanket years and it is time to do this.”

For me, it wasn’t a scrambling one-year decision.

It was plotted out and planned out! 

If you can’t teach because that takes too much time, could you shift to working for a curriculum company? Could you sub? Is there a way for you to take a part time job in education while investing in your own business after hours?

For me, the way I was able to do this was by sharing a contract. 

And at that point, I had to have balance and there was no balance. So that’s when I knew it was time to pick one or the other, and I didn’t want to let the opportunity of running my own business slip through my fingers.

It’s so hard to make that decision because having your own teaching business and teaching in the classroom are so different, yet they both include the overarching goal of helping kids learn.

And this whole movement of educators creating their own curriculum just opens our world to different types of jobs and it’s so exciting to see and experience. 

The future of education is so bright and I’m thankful we’re a small part of it!

The truth, you never know what you’re going to encounter when you step out and take one risk. And although setting big goals in your teacher business is scary, it is so worth it!

Be sure to follow Michelle on IG @applesandabcs & check out her website for more fantastic teaching tips! 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!!