From Accidental Entrepreneur to Growing Intentionally with Caroline St. Amour (ep 13)

accidental-entrepreneur

Accidental Entrepreneur

TPT sellers, raise your hand if you’ve ever referred to yourself as an “accidental entrepreneur”. So many of us can relate to this phrase because most of us didn’t start our TPT stores thinking it would turn into a real business that brings in consistent income.

Maybe you started out because you were a customer on TPT and realized, hey, I can do this! So, you decided to start creating resources that would help teachers and students while also making a little extra money to pay for your Starbucks. The next thing you know, you have hundreds of resources in your store, and a legitimate business on your hands.

Our guest today, Caroline St. Amour, is a fellow accidental entrepreneur. She started her TPT store after realizing that there were absolutely no resources for French teachers. When Caroline first opened her store about ten years ago, things were a lot different. With the teacher seller space being much less crowded than it is now, resources sold without needing to worry about things like detailed descriptions, well-designed covers, and pdf previews.

As time went on, Caroline realized that she needed to make some intentional changes in order to grow her business. She took my Profit Booster Bootcamp and learned about how important it was to optimize her product listings. Once she took what she learned and applied it, her views and conversions skyrocketed. 

If you want to learn more about my next round of the Profit Booster Bootcamp, where you can learn to get results like Caroline did, you can get all the details here.

3:05 How Caroline first found accidental success as an accidental entrepreneur

8:35 What Caroline has realized that she should have been doing all along in her TPT store

9:52 The results that she has seen since she began optimizing her products

16:17 Tips for how to prioritize all the updates to your products 

Our Guest on This Episode:

accidental-entrepreneur

Caroline is the founder of La Classe de Mme Caroline. She’s a French teacher who specializes in creating French Immersion resources for primary teachers. Caroline has been selling on TPT since 2013, back when there was next to nothing available in French. She likes to say that her store grew in spite of her, not because of her. Caroline is excited to share what she’s learned in the past year!

Kristen
Hey y’all today I get the pleasure of interviewing Caroline. She is the founder of La Classe de Mme Caroline, and my French teacher would probably be appalled at my accent, but I tried. Caroline is a French teacher who specializes in creating French immersion resources for primary teachers.

Kristen
Caroline has been selling on TPT since 2013, back when there was next to nothing available in French. And she likes to say that her store grew in spite of her, not because of her. So today on the podcast, Caroline is excited to share what she has learned in the past year, that’s helped her transition from accidental entrepreneur to growing her TPT business in a more intentional way. Let’s get to the show.

Kristen
Hi, Caroline, thank you so much for being here today.

Caroline
Thank you so much for inviting me. I’m really excited to talk to you.

Kristen
Me too. Well, why don’t we get started, just by telling us a little bit about how you started your business.

Caroline
So I’ve been on TPT since 2013, I’m a French teacher and back then there was nothing in French. I was scrambling around with my other teaching partners who were also brand new teachers and had no resources trying to figure out how to teach the curriculum. When I realized there was nothing in French on TPT, I kind of just started making things myself and posting them. I saw what a lot of English teachers are doing and I was like, ” Hey, I could do that, too.”

Kristen
Yeah, and I think a lot of us kind of started that way, I know my story. I’m not a French teacher, but my story is kind of similar. There were things I needed, and I couldn’t find them. So, I just started creating them, and putting them on TPT. And all of a sudden, I realized I owned a business and that took me a while. I don’t know if you have that same kind of experience.

Caroline
Yeah, I would say in the last year, I feel like I own a business and not just like a fun hobby.

Kristen
Yeah, I’ve heard the phrase thrown around a lot that we are accidental entrepreneurs. Because really, most of us did not set out to start a business, we set out to serve teachers by you know, writing blogs, or we had social media.Then, the store kind of comes out of that, or we’re shopping on TPT and we realize that there are things we don’t have or can’t find, so we start creating them. Yeah, it’s that accidental entrepreneur kind of experience seems really common.

Caroline
Yeah, I totally agree. I don’t feel like I’m built to be a business person and yet, here I am.

Kristen
Yeah, it can make it hard sometimes to wrap your head around everything that goes into running a successful business. I know you shared with me that you felt like you had found some accidental success in the past. Why do you say that?

Kristen
Because I did nothing, like I posted my resources and for the longest time, I had those, you know, when the whole Chevron covers were the thing, and you would just put clipart on the cover page. So, those were my covers and then my thumbnails were just like the pulled from TPT from the resource, no preview file and my descriptions had nothing. They’re like here’s a unit for science that you can use. I don’t know how anyone found my stuff, and how I got any conversions, to be honest.

Kristen
Right. I think you started around the same time I did on TPT and I think for me anyway, it feels like things were so much easier then. You didn’t have to do all the things and you would just get sales and I think part of that has to do with how much more competition there is now, which is a good thing for teachers. It makes our job a little tougher as sellers.

Kristen
But it’s a good thing for teachers that there’s so much more out there for them.

Caroline
Yeah, I agree.

Kristen
But it does make it a little trickier for us as sellers because now we have all these things that we need to be doing to grow our business that maybe we haven’t been doing in the past.

Caroline
Yeah, and I’m pretty sure that even when I started like I don’t even think that preview files were around at that point. I feel like I remember them emerging after I became a teacher, I might be wrong on that.

Kristen
I know they certainly weren’t as mandatory as they are now. I don’t know if you’ve heard this statistic TPT has shared, I think people are 60% more likely to purchase, if there’s a preview. And that doesn’t even mean it’s a good preview, just if there is a preview. So definitely something that we have to include at this point.

Caroline
Yeah, that’s what I wound up doing in November, because I had some of my old, old products had those preview. I don’t know if you remember, they had those, like preview collages that people would do just all the tiny little images, and we couldn’t see it.

Caroline
Yeah, it was just like plopped on top. It’s like, look at how many pages are in this document.

Caroline
Yeah, so I’ve had some of those. But other than that, I had never made a preview file until November. None of my products had preview files, because I just couldn’t be bothered. That was a huge mistake.

Caroline
But I took your boot camp, I think in like, October, I think it was the first one you did and you were talking about preview files and all that stuff. And I was like, oh, like, okay, I guess I should do it. So I added, I spent like weeks, and I did hundreds of them. My views and everything, like my conversions have just like skyrocketed since then. I don’t know what I was thinking for the past years.

Kristen
Oh, they make such a huge difference and then once you have previews, if you start going in and tweaking and making them better, you can keep improving that conversion rate. Which is so so good for our sales was also good just for helping teachers to see what it is they’re purchasing. I know we all like to see before we make a purchase. So it’s definitely helpful for them too.

Caroline
That’s kind of what pushed me was I started kind of doing a bit of video previews, as well as PDF previews. But then I thought about how everyone is not a consumer like I am, but I don’t buy resources that don’t have previews. So, why did none of my products have previews? But on the flip side of that I never ever look at video previews. So I decided not to spend my time yet doing those.

Kristen
Well, I think that’s smart. I think the PDF preview definitely needs to come before the video. And then once you’ve got all your PDF previous taken care of, then maybe you can start thinking about adding some video previews in as well.

Caroline
Yeah, to certain things. Not I have almost 700 resources in my store at this point. It’s a lot of work.

Kristen
Your store is huge. compared to mine. I think I have 175.

Caroline
Yeah, and I’ve read done my covers and my pictures and my descriptions and my previews multiple times in the last few years. And it it’s a big job. I definitely suggest that you don’t be like me and that you start earlier.

Kristen
Start doing it right from the beginning. Don’t we all wish we had a TPT big brother or sister to tell us how to start everything so that we were doing it the right way, starting everything off on the right foot before you had 700 projects?

Caroline
Exactly. Especially because like a lot of there is more stuff now for new sellers out there like this podcast and other courses and all that stuff. But back when we started, there was nothing.

Kristen
And I love how much there is available for us to learn from each other and collaborate now. It’s a really nice change. I’m really enjoying it.

Caroline
Yeah, I agree.

Kristen
So you said one thing that you were not doing before was previews. Anything else that you have recently realized you should have been doing all along and work?

Caroline
Last year was the first conference that I attended virtually because again, I’m in Canada, so it’s more expensive for me to attend. And I was never interested to be honest. I was like this is a side hobby, like do people actually go to this? Apparently they do. So last year, I learned that there was a term called SEO, I didn’t even know that existed until your presentation.

Caroline
So that’s another thing that I’ve been really focusing on, I have kind of a dummy description. I have a dummy description now that I use and tweak. I have a template that I use for my descriptions and it makes it easier to kind of throw in all the SEO things in there. I’ve learned a lot in the last year, but I used to put up blog posts and didn’t know that keywords and all that was a thing and just hope that people found them and they obviously didn’t find them. So, there’s been a lot of changes in the last year.

Kristen
You have been learning so much. I’m working so hard over the last year or so. And it’s been really exciting to hear some of those changes that you have made. What kind of results are you seeing from sort of shifting in your focus to optimizing products? And working on previews and doing SEO? All of those things? What kind of results have you gotten?

Caroline
I don’t have the numbers off the top of my head. But I would say that I’m probably doubling what I was making before. My store really skyrocketed in about, I think 2007 was kind of the upward trend. No earlier than that, but 2018 was definitely my peak year. And then 2019, things went down a little bit. 2021, for me, was actually a very bad year, like I made a lot less than I had in some of the previous years.

Kristen
So many people struggled in 2020, with everything that was going on.

Caroline
Yeah, people weren’t buying the same types of resources with COVID. And maybe even weren’t needing them, like at our schools, they didn’t know what to do with us. When they closed in March, they just were like, you can send papers to your kids every week, you can do video calls if you’d like, but you don’t have to. There was not much going on.

Kristen
Ours were like that, too. It was all over the place. No one knew what to do.

Caroline
It was definitely like, those kids did not learn anything in the last little while because there was really more school happening. So my sales tanked, but I don’t know if it was only because of COVID. I think it was also just because there was just that expectation of more, because I feel like people expect more on TPT. Now in terms of like, the SEO to get your stuff seen because there’s more of it, or the preview files, or the better pictures and the cover photos that aren’t outdated.

Kristen
That’s an interesting thought, that shift I know we’ve all experienced as sellers, I feel like I have to do so much more. But, because sellers are doing more, and we’re presenting our resources, honestly, just in a more professional way now. So many of us are doing that and because we’ve made that shift as a whole group. So, if you aren’t doing those things, then teachers are used to seeing that more, like you said, they’re used to seeing those professional looking covers and quality photos, good previews, all of those things.

Kristen
So if your resources aren’t checking those boxes, especially those of us with really old resources still in our store, some of these older ones aren’t checking all those boxes, it really, I think, at least for me, has been very much worth it to go in and update. Whether I’m updating the actual product, or just updating the cover the thumbnails, the previews, those kinds of things, to make them look more current and professional, so that they can compete.

Caroline
Yeah, I totally agree. I had some products even that were some of the first products I had made and they were class decor stuff and they were like, so outdated. I was like there’s literally no point in me keeping this up, because no one will buy it if it looks like this, I should either take it down or revamp it. So I’ve revamped some of my older stuff.

But then the caveat to that is I find that when I am looking at just kind of updating pictures or something like that, that I will find resources and be like, Oh, but I need to do more with this, this needs more. So then I’m making a lot more work for myself than I plan to.

Kristen
it can definitely be that way. One thing that I tried to do for that is just tell myself like, this is what I’m doing today. Whatever that is, whether it’s all I’m doing today is updating the cover and the thumbnails. Then I’ll put all those other things I realized need to be done on a to do list in my Clickup, so that it’s there for me whenever I get ready to work on that stuff. It also helps me a lot to batch what I’m working on. If I’m in like cover and thumbnail mode, then it’s hard for me to shift gears into SEO. I need to be in one lane and focus on multiple products.

Caroline
Yeah, I agree with that. But, then I’m also kind of like well if I don’t do it now then I don’t know if I’ll come back to it. Because those old old products like I had one it was like classroom jobs and it literally just says classroom jobs for your French classroom includes 23 jobs. That was that was my description is literally two sentences. And if I don’t, exactly and if I don’t fix it now, am I going to prioritize it later? Probably not because it’s one of my lower end items, it’s not something that is high priority to me, so I may as well just do it now.

Kristen
There’s two sides to that, that choice for sure. And I can see both of them being good and valuable depending on what’s going on.

Caroline
Yeah, I routinely fall down rabbit holes. Tell my husband, my husband’s like, what is it now? Because I think I’ve redone my covers three times in the last year to maybe four. I’m finally happy with how they look, so we’re good now.

Kristen
I am there, too. I’ve redone mine twice in the last year and I thought I was gonna love what I did the first time. But two or three months later, I just didn’t. Now I’m at a point where I’m really loving it. Maybe the lesson there is don’t redo your whole store at one time, do like 10 products and live with it for a couple of months.

Caroline
Yeah, I agree. Because the first ones that I did, I didn’t like the way that I had made the title, I added the title and stuff. And I also got much better at taking photos. My first photos were not that great and didn’t show that much, and now I have a lightbox. It looks better, but then that was now my third time in the last two years taking photos of my products.

Kristen
You said something about prioritizing and how some of those lower sales products, the ones that aren’t your best sellers, how they can just get pushed to the bottom and you might not ever get back around to it. Can you kind of talk a little bit about how you prioritize and how you decide what to work on when?

Caroline
I usually try to start with my best sellers, I have a lot of big, big bundles that are French phonics or science resources and things like that. Because these are the ones that I want to make sure the conversion rate always continues to stay high. Usually if I’m going to do something, I’ll do it to those, for example, even though I made preview files in the fall, I’m redoing them now because I saw your video or you talked about the widescreen and I was like that’s genius, because mine were in portrait.

Caroline
And I was like I need to do that and so I I’m like now like, Okay, well, I’ll start with these ones, because these are the ones that sell the most and get the most views. And then one day I’ll get to those classroom jobs and alphabet posters that nobody buys.

Kristen
Yeah, those at the bottom of the list and get there eventually. I am kind of doing mine the same way, I still have a lot of previews that are vertical portrait orientation letter size previews, but my best sellers are the ones that I’ve started with going kind of from the top down, switching them over to the 16 by 9, the widescreen previews. And I do really like the way it looks and how much easier it is to read, especially as you’re scrolling it.

Caroline
Yeah, I totally agree. When you talked about that, I was like that’s genius, I need to be doing that.

Kristen
Well, I have to give full credit. I actually got that idea from Danielle Hall. She is the one who told me that she had switched over to the landscape preview and how much she liked him and I went looked at her store and I fell in love with it too.

Caroline
It’s making its way down because I am in a mastermind and I brought it up in my mastermind group two weeks ago. I showed them one of my new ones that I had done and they’re like that’s great. I think almost everybody in the group was like, hey, look, I did one and this is what it looks like and I was like, I feel like an influencer. And it wasn’t even my idea.

Kristen
All those ideas they spread so quickly in our community. I always like to leave everyone at the end of an episode with an action step of some kind. What would you suggest that everybody listening do first to start optimizing those older products?

Caroline
Oh, that’s hard, because I find that it depends on what needs to be done. I would say if it needs an update, like the product itself needs an update, I would do that first. Then obviously if you’re updating it and the look changes and all that you got to redo the pictures and the covers and all that. Start with the product itself if it needs an update, if it doesn’t need an update, then I would look at the pictures and the preview and then probably finish off with the descriptions because that’s my least favorite part to do.

Kristen
We’re gonna work on SEO and we’re gonna get you there. I’m the exact opposite. I take my products because I know that the bones inside are usually still good. So I take my products from the outside in and I work on the photos and the cover and preview and the description. In fact, probably the title and the description are the first things that I edit because I feel like those are easy. But I am the SEO person.

Caroline
That’s a good point. If you are looking at it from the SEO side, definitely that’s what you’d want to start with. But I’m just thinking of my 2013, really, ugly stuff. Actually, I redid one of my products and what prompted me to do it was I went back to work after my mat leave in June and two teachers in my school had some of my French question posters in their classroom. Every time I walked in during lunch today, I’m like, oh, they’re so ugly. Why are these still up? So I had to redo it.

Kristen
There have been so many times I have updated a product solely because I saw it on my notifications that it had sold and I had that Ugh response, have to go update.

Caroline
I feel that.

Kristen
When you’re embarrassed about it, every time it sells, it’s a good cue that you need to update the whole product and not just the cover and the thumbnail.

Caroline
And that’s why I’ve kind of like I’m moving away from doing the decor stuff, because as much as I had a lot of fun with it, almost 10 years ago. It ages really quick, it’s not the same as curriculum.

Kristen
And I enjoyed making classroom decor to probably about 10 years ago, like you. But I did learn that it would sell really well for a couple of years, and then it would just start to drop off and I’d have to keep cranking out new ones.

Caroline
Yeah, you’d either have to update the old ones to keep the views and the sales and all that data or start from scratch, and then have all these old ones that you’re like, Well, what am I going to do with it? Because nobody is going to buy these.

Kristen
Yep. I’ve kind of shifted over to mostly curriculum stuff, too.

Caroline
I’m the same, the only exception to that is, I do make some teacher planners. And I’ve definitely taken a few out of my store, because I think that they needed to be retired, they were ugly. But I make them for myself, then I posted in my store, and then all of a sudden, I have 10 that I need to update every year.

Kristen
Yeah, I think I stopped making anything that requires yearly updates. Because I got tired of doing them.

Caroline
I just added a flip calendar to my calendar resource, that is a really old product because I wanted it. And I added the years up until 2034.

Kristen
Because then you don’t have to keep coming back.

Kristen
I love it. That’s kind of what I did with my teacher planners that I added, I think I’m good through 2025. And then I’ll have to update them again.

Caroline
That’s why just stopped like over the years, I just did less and less. At the beginning, I used to have the date on the cover. So I took that out and then I used to actually go in and make the monthly calendars with the numbers in them, which was a huge pain. So, I stopped doing that and I just added a little circle so that people can write the number in.

Kristen
I think it’s so smart to think through it. Like how can I make this less work for me to update every year but still good and helpful for teachers?

Caroline
Yeah. And it’s basically take all the dates out, except for the one calendar at the beginning.

Kristen
Well, thank you so much for talking with me today. It has been such a fun chat and I really loved getting to hear some more about your story, and how you’ve grown your business over the last 10 years from that accidental entrepreneur to really being so much more intentional with what you’re doing in your business. And seeing how it pays off has been so exciting for me to hear about. Tell everyone where they can find you.

Caroline
You can find me on Instagram at @mmecaroline, I’m always happy to talk to TPT stuff. So definitely reach out and I’d love to connect with you. And thank you, Kristen for having me, this is a lot of fun and I’m so glad that I could join.

Kristen
Thank you so much for listening to today’s episode. If you can relate to feeling like an accidental entrepreneur, and you loved this episode, share a screenshot on Instagram and tag us at @kristendoyle.co and @mmecaroline.

Kristen
If you want to learn more about the profit booster boot camp where Carolyn learned to be more intentional about her TPT work, you can get all the details at https://profitboosterbootcamp.com/ or in today’s show notes.

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