Let’s face it: Being a teacher right now carries a lot of stress these days. There’s still much uncertainty about the health risks of teaching in the classroom, and it makes sense that some teachers are thinking about a career change in the not-too-distant future.
For years, teachers’ roles have been undervalued, and now COVID-19 has made being a teacher even more overwhelming as we try to navigate this pandemic and still teach our students. As a former educator turned entrepreneur, I am happy about my transition from classroom to conference room, but I know it can be a scary move to make – especially in the middle of so much uncertainty.
I was teaching at Cambridge University when my military husband’s next deployment was back in the United States. At the time, I intended to further my teaching career here in the US.
I did love teaching. But what I didn’t love was being institutionalized. There were so many rules and rigid regulations to follow, and before long I felt completely burnt out. I was doing everything on autopilot most of the time, and though I loved connecting with my students, and I didn’t feel like I was making a real impact.
The decision to live abroad made me realize that I wanted to help other teachers like me who were also living in another country. So I founded my first business, ELEInternacional, with a mission to help career-driven men and women pursue enriching careers as certified Spanish teachers abroad.
I learned a lot as I transitioned from teacher to entrepreneur, and these lessons are what helped me build a 7-figure business in just three years. Here are my 5 best tips for teachers who might be considering leaving the classroom to become a business owner.
1. Start with what you know and love.
When I started my business, I took inventory of all my teaching experience and knowledge as well as what I loved about teaching. I had dual Masters degrees in e-learning and education and extensive experience teaching Spanish, so I applied those concepts to my business and recognized the need for other Spanish teachers to do what they love and still travel and live abroad. I took what I knew and loved and I used that to find a problem that I could build a solution for. This is what made my business successful.
Start with your strengths and passions to build a good foundation for success. You’ll feel more confident and you’ll also be happier doing something you love instead of trying to do something just because you feel you’re supposed to.
2. Be willing to take risks.
The academic world is rife with structure and rigidity. And there’s also a lot of certainty, because you have rules that keep things regulated. But entrepreneurs don’t have as many rules and regulations blocking them in.
Shortly after I moved to the US, I was offered a position at a local university. But I had already started to develop my business and it was growing. So I had to make a tough decision whether to follow the comfortable route or to take a risk on myself. My husband helped me weigh the pros and cons, and even though there were no guarantees, I knew that being a business owner was what I wanted.
It might seem scary to take risks and challenge the status quo, but being an entrepreneur requires innovation and growth. It means taking a chance and seeing potential outside of your comfort zone. And even if you fail, there’s a lesson for you to learn.
3. Adopt a growth mindset.
A growth mindset is probably the number one key to becoming a successful entrepreneur. One of the reasons mindset is so important is because it provides you the opportunity to show up in positive ways in your business. You are more creative when you look at problems and failures as lessons in how you can do better.
In my years of teaching Spanish, I realized early on that the students who learned to speak the language easily were the ones who had a growth mindset.They recognized that mistakes and failures were stepping stones to a better path and they were always willing to try again.
When I started my business and left the academic world, I had to adopt a growth mindset and look at everything with an open mind. I was no longer being told what to do, what to say, and what to teach. That meant I was responsible for every choice I made, even if it meant I made mistakes.
Recognize that everything is a learning experience and a lesson. Learn from your mistakes, be resilient, and look at things from all angles until you find what works.
4. Carve your own path.
It’s easy to get lost in the incredible number of resources out there for new entrepreneurs. It’s almost overwhelming how much information there is. But the truth is, so much of it is either cookie cutter formulas or methods that won’t work for you. And even if they do work for you, you should still follow your own path; business is never one-size-fits-all.
When I first started, there were a ton of courses and programs I took to help me. And I hired a bunch of coaches because I thought that would help me strengthen my business. It did, in some ways. But ultimately, it was when I learned to carve my own path and find my inner confidence that I truly succeeded.
When you come from academia, you’re used to a certain structure and way of doing things. So entrepreneurship feels very different and uncomfortable. But if you can learn to listen to your instincts and trust yourself, you’ll find a way to make it work for you and still stand out from the crowd.
5. Find a support system.
Being a teacher is typically a solo profession. Yes, we have teachers’ aides and assistants, but so much of the work is still put onto our shoulders alone. And there are even teachers who use their own money to pay for supplies for their students.
Being an entrepreneur is a bit different. You don’t have to do it alone, even if you’re the only person in your business. And you shouldn’t do it alone. In fact, connection and collaboration is the greatest currency when you’re a business owner.
Nowadays, you can find meetups and virtual networks for all types of businesses and niches. Facebook groups, membership sites, and local networking events are a good place to start.
And remember: A good support system doesn’t just include a network of business colleagues and acquaintances. It also means finding a team you can work with, delegating to people you trust, and collaborating with people who enrich your life and your business.
Ines-Ruiz Navarro is an award-winning entrepreneur, motivational speaker, and founder of several successful businesses, including the Conversa Spanish Institute. As a former Cambridge University lecturer, she’s used her expertise in academia and entrepreneurship to build successful online businesses, and has three masters degrees in E-learning, Education, and Neuromarketing. In 2018 Ines was recognized by the Stevie awards as a “female entrepreneur of the year” award winner. You can read more about Ines as she shares her journey on her site, diaryofanentrepreneur.com.