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EPISODE 79

A Tough Love Pep Talk As We Go Into 2024

tough-love-pep-talk

TOUGH LOVE PEP TALK

It’s hard to believe 2023 is coming to an end already, and I know it has been quite the roller coaster ride for many of us in the TPT seller community. We must learn to ride the waves and continue with resilience on the business ownership journey.

As the year ends, it’s been the perfect time to reflect on all the lessons we’ve all learned and where we’re heading in 2024. This last episode of 2023 is about gaining perspective, staying strong, and being the savvy teacher sellers I know we all are. 

Today, we will talk about some of the significant issues faced this year in the TPT Seller community, how to respond to these issues as business owners, the power of focusing on the changes in our control, and a tough love pep talk as you head into 2024.

02:22 The significant issues we have faced in the TPT Seller Community

14:43  The mindset shift required as business owners

16:09 – Letting go of what’s out of our control and focusing on what we can change

17:31 – How to take action and adapt in your TPT store

26:00 – The tough love pep talk you need to enter the new year with a clear mind

0:03
Okay, TPT sellers ready to seek growth in your business? You’re in the right place. Welcome to the Savvy Teacher Seller. I’m Kristen Doyle. And I’m here to give you no fluff tools and strategies that will really make an impact on your sale. Let’s get started y’all.

0:21
Hey, y’all, and welcome to today’s episode of the savvy teacher seller. I’m your host, Kristen Doyle. And as hard as it is to believe in some ways, we are coming up on the end of this year. Since this is the last episode of 2023, I thought it would be a really good time to do a little reflecting on the year we’ve had, the lessons I’ve learned and where I think we’re going in 2024.

0:47
2023 has been a little bit of a roller coaster ride for many of us in the TPT seller community. And that might feel like I’m putting it mildly to you, depending on how your year has gone. But like a roller coaster, ups and downs are really part of the business ownership journey. At the heart of entrepreneurship are two things resilience, and adaptation.

1:11
So in today’s episode, we’re gonna talk about some of the issues we faced this year, and how we, as business owners and entrepreneurs can respond to those issues, choose the right mindset and get to work on the things that we have control over.

1:26
This episode is all about gaining perspective, staying strong, and being the savvy teacher sellers that I know we all are. Is that too cheesy, probably. But it’s true. I picked that name of this podcast for a reason. And I think it is important for us to stay focused and stay strong and keep working in our business. So let’s dive into this episode.

1:50
It is no secret that 2023 has been a challenging year on TPT. And I say 2023. But I think it really started maybe halfway through 2022. So we have had a year and a half or so now of just challenge, after challenge, after challenge. And I’ll go through just a couple of the issues, more than a couple actually, I will go through some of the issues that have been impacting TPT sellers over the last year or year and a half just to kind of refresh your memory.

2:22
First of all, we had personalized search testing, which just resulted in decreased sales for so many sellers. And even those who had surges in sales during testing saw just really volatile sales numbers where they were up one day down the next. And we all felt so out of control as far as what we could do to even try and improve our sales during that time. So that was really stressful.

2:46
Along that same timeframe, we also kind of reached the end of the surge in sales that we got during COVID-19. When that first started and schools were going all virtual teachers suddenly had a need for a brand new type of resource. And there was this huge bubble in demand for digital activities, things that worked well to send home with students just a whole different type of teaching. And we are seeing the decrease of that, lead to a decrease in demand of those types of products.

3:21
In addition, at the same time, there is more competition on TPT than there ever has been before, because so many new stores have opened. And a lot of these new stores have the advantage of all of the resources like this podcast and other TPT seller podcasts and blogs, and courses. All of these things that they can use to grow their businesses.

3:44
And they are seeing success so much faster than a lot of us did, who started out early on without a lot of support or places to learn from. And so a lot of these new stores that are popping up really are big competitors. So that is changing the landscape of TPT.

4:02
We’ve also got political changes going on and tighter district restrictions, where lots of districts are requiring teachers to implement the curriculum with fidelity. I know every teacher’s least favorite phrase, that phrase it makes you feel like you have to suddenly become a robot and just teach out of this book that maybe doesn’t meet your students needs. But there are so many more districts tightening down on restrictions, not allowing teachers to create their own content or use content we’ve created for them because they are requiring them to stick to that district curriculum right now.

4:35
We’ve also got teachers who are suddenly learning that they can use AI tools to generate their own lesson plans, create their own worksheets, they can even pop content from chat GPT into Canva and get it to look cute and so that is changing what they need us for as TPT sellers because there are some of the things that we’ve done that they can do themselves now.

5:00
And we absolutely cannot forget about the economic impact. So I did a little research leading up to this podcast to make sure I’m giving you current information. And while we may not currently be in a recession, according to the traditional definition of a recession, which is two consecutive quarters of down economic situations, I won’t go into all the details.

5:21
But what we’ve seen is inflation is actually slowed down recently. But it is not feeling that way to most Americans, at least. And I’m speaking specifically about the American economy right now, if you’re in other places, though, this is probably affecting you because most TPT sellers are selling to an American audience primarily.

5:39
So it doesn’t feel like inflation has slowed down. And a big reason for that is that pricing on necessities. Things like food, and housing, are astronomical right now compared to what they were before COVID. So even though inflation as a whole has slowed down, that pricing is still much higher than it was before COVID. And it’s affecting pricing on the things that we have to have, things like our groceries and our mortgages, and rent and those sorts of things. Interest rates specifically are insanely high right now.

6:12
So lots of things that are happening, even though inflation has slowed down. Americans specifically are spending a lot less on things that aren’t necessities right now, because those necessities are so expensive. One article that I read suggested a big reason that we are not feeling good about the economy, even though it’s starting to look a little bit better, is that for the last three years, we have been told over and over that we are headed toward a recession, we’re anticipating this recession coming. And that makes everyone nervous.

6:43
There’s also a ton right now of political tension and division. And that makes people feel unsettled. We just as a country, we don’t feel safe and settled insecure right now, especially when it comes to the economy. And when people are weary, they just aren’t frivolously spending or shopping without you know, really thinking too hard about it, they’re weighing their purchases a lot more carefully. They’re cutting out things that aren’t necessities. And that definitely affects us on TPT.

7:14
So as you can see, it is almost a perfect storm right now, of things that are just coming at us from all angles. And I don’t share that to make you feel like we are just hopeless. I hope you don’t walk away from this podcast feeling hopeless. But I do want you to realize it is not just you or your store. I see the phrase a lot in Facebook groups where sellers are worried that their store is broken. That they just have run their course that no one likes their stuff anymore, what am I doing wrong?

7:45
So I want you to realize it’s not just you or your store. And it’s not even just TPT, I know we like to point to something we feel like we can control or we can get angry at or we can you know place the blame somewhere. But there are so many things beyond any decisions that you or I or anyone might disagree with TPT on. And there will always be things that we agree with and things we disagree with TPT on, that’s just the nature of business.

8:09
They are making decisions from a different perspective than you or I would. And so that is normal. But I want you to just keep in mind that we have a whole bigger picture outside of my business or your business or even TPT. A whole bigger picture of things that are making it tougher for sellers, regardless of whether you’re brand new, or you’ve been around a long time.

8:31
So just recognize that these things are going on. And it’s also important to realize that is normal in business. And that change is also normal in business. So we are in the business of selling products to people. This loosely ties into kind of a retail type business. And if you think about it, there are regular ebbs and flows in the marketplace.

8:54
I’m sure you have heard on the news over the years, different seasons where they will talk about, you know, what retailers are hoping for this Black Friday season or this, you know, holiday shopping season to make up for the rest of the year and things like that there are these regular ebbs and flows in the marketplace, regardless of what business we’re in. And TPT is no different.

9:18
What most businesses experience this is kind of a typical business trajectory is a season of growth, followed by either a plateau where you kind of level out and you’re not really growing but you’re not really losing sales either. Or they may even see a season of loss. There may be a little bit of a plateau and then a drop. And then we kind of rinse and repeat. This is kind of how we get this roller coaster that we are on as business owners.

9:43
We go up the hill we kind of sit at the top for a second we decrease a little, we go back up the hill. And that is a typical trajectory for businesses to have these ebbs and flows, to have highs and lows in your sales. And what’s been really unusual about TPT up into till recently, is that TPT has been on a steady growth trajectory for a very long time or was for a very long time.

10:08
We had a little dip when COVID first started, as we were having to kind of scramble and figure out what to do. And what happened then was sellers adapted and adjusted. And then we had another climb. And really, aside from that COVID dip, up until now TPT hasn’t had a prolonged season of decrease. And it’s just been the steady growth trajectory. So it’s important to know that decreases or plateaus are normal. And the fact that we haven’t had them is abnormal. So just keep that in mind.

10:40
The other thing to keep in mind when it comes to this whole concept is that if those seasons of decrease are normal, then the seasons of growing again after a decrease are also normal. And we are headed for one of those in the future.

10:55
Now, when it comes to this kind of down season we’re in right now, your mindset is so very important. Successful entrepreneurs have to be able to weather the low seasons, recognize when they need to pivot, and to stay focused on making progress, rather than wallowing in the fact that we are having a tough season right now. And I know that might be a tough thing to hear when you’re frustrated.

11:24
But I really think it is so important for us to you know, feel the feels, let ourselves have our moments of frustration and things, obviously, recognize the things that we’re frustrated with and that those are all valid. But then focus on the mindset, shift your mindset toward what can I be doing? Where do I need to pivot and stay focused on the things that will actually help you grow, rather than worrying about the things that are kind of out of your control anyway.

11:52
My husband and I were watching a movie this past weekend, called The Martian, it’s a movie from 2015. So I’m going to assume people have either seen it or didn’t want to see it by this point. It’s been out for eight years. But fair warning, there’s a little bit of spoilers coming. I’m not gonna go into a ton of detail. But the basic premise of this movie is that astronauts are on a mission in Mars and catastrophe happens.

12:18
Of course, this is at the very beginning of the movie, so I’m not really spoiling anything. Catastrophe happens, and one of the astronauts is thought to be dead. And the rest of the astronauts leave him on Mars, because they are trying to save themselves, they know they can’t go back and get him without risking their own lives. They think he’s dead, so they leave him on Mars all alone.

12:38
Turns out, surprise, surprise, he is alive. And now he is stuck on Mars alone with no communication with anyone. And so he has to figure out how to survive on Mars until someone hopefully can come back for him. And they really are anticipating this being like several years before anyone can come back. So that’s kind of the general premise of the movie. And there’s something that he said at the very end of the movie that came to mind, as I was outlining this episode.

13:07
Matt Damon’s character at the end of the movie says, and I’m going to just quote, at some point, everything’s gonna go south, and you’re gonna say this is it, this is how I end. Now you can either accept that, or you can get to work.

13:23
Now, obviously, we as TPT sellers are not going to die on a deserted planet incompatible with human life. But I have heard a lot of worry from sellers, that this downturn that we’re in this little phase that we’re going through right now means that selling teaching resources as a viable business is coming to an end.

13:44
Essentially, I’ve heard people saying this is it. This is how TPT ends. Friends, I do not believe that that’s true at all. I believe that every business will end if we don’t adapt, and pivot and try new things. But I don’t believe that this has to be the end for TPT. I think it’s very important for us to adapt to pivot, like I said, to try new things just like Matt Damon’s character did in the movie.

14:12
So there was a situation in the movie where he tried something. He had this great idea, sounded good to me. I’m not as sciency if he is, but a lot of science terms being thrown around. And it sounded good to me. And he goes and he tries this thing, and let’s just say it does not work, it blows up in his face. And what he does then is he doesn’t give up and decide, Alright, I’m done. I’m gonna just die here on Mars. He goes back to the drawing board, he makes some tweaks and he goes in.

14:43
It feels like in the movie, the very next day, with a new plan, fixing a couple of things that he had messed up and just trying again. And that is so important for us to keep us on that type of a mindset when it comes to our TPT business. If we try something and it’s not working or if the thing we’ve got always done is not working, then we need to go back to the drawing board, make some tweaks and try again. And if that doesn’t work, make a few more tweaks and try again.

15:08
Because that mindset of continuing to work continuing to change and adapt is what will keep your business growing and successful instead of letting it just die off. Think about the tech world. I’m going to use Apple as an example. Apple did not suddenly say, All right, that’s it, we’re done. This is how it ends. When people stopped buying iPods.

15:34
Did they? No, they pivoted, they came up with new offers. And they grew with the changing tech, they realized that we don’t need a separate device for music anymore. So initially, they added some more things to iPods to see how that would work. Turns out, we really didn’t want that either. Or maybe we did for a little while. But now they’ve pivoted to where all of their music stuff, it’s on our iPads, our iPhones and our laptops. So they’ve just shifted and grown with the tech and embraced it rather than giving up because the thing that they were doing isn’t working anymore.

16:09
So as TPT sellers, it’s really important for us to focus on the things that we can control, and make sure that we are adapting to changes rather than worrying and stressing ourselves out about what we can’t control. So let’s talk about what some of those are.

16:24
We cannot control the economy, we cannot control district politics, we cannot control AI, we can’t even control TPTs decisions. And that can be very frustrating, especially for someone like me, who likes to be in charge and in control of things. But what we can control is our own businesses, we can control our products, what we are creating how we are creating them, formats that we are using, different content that we are covering, we can control our products.

16:55
We can also control our marketing, whether we are using social media or email or something brand new, we can also control where and how we sell our resources. So there’s a lot that is within our control. Even when we feel like a lot of other things are spinning out of our control. And like Matt Damon said in The Martian, it is time for us to get to work. So let’s talk about some of things that you can do to get to work depending on the different things that might be affecting your store.

17:31
So if it’s the increasing competition in the TPT marketplace, then what we’re seeing there is less demand, but more products on the market. And that means that our products need to be better than ever. And when I say that, I’m talking about both the content of the product itself, and the way that we’re presenting those products on the product listing page.

17:56
So this means our product covers and thumbnails need to be top notch, they need to really be giving buyers a sense of what they are getting and selling them on why it’s going to help them. Same is true for our previews. If you are not putting previews on products, you really need to be doing that. And you need to be creating them strategically, so that it makes your products standout.

18:20
And then of course, we want to make sure that we are using our product description well to describe the product, and to improve our search rank on TPT. When it comes to SEO or Search Engine Optimization, we need to make sure we’re using more unique keywords, we’re taking advantage of those long tail keywords, those longer phrases. And we are continually checking our SEO and updating our titles and product descriptions to make sure we’re staying relevant to what people are searching now.

18:47
I know I’ve shared in the past that there are several of my product lines, where the product itself is still very relevant. But the way that teachers are searching for it has changed multiple times over the 10-11 years that I have been selling on TPT. And so I have had to go in and tweak the cover, and the description and the title to match up with what teachers are looking for now.

19:15
Because as you know, a lot of times in education, we are doing the same things and calling it something different some new initiative comes out. And we are referring to things in a new way, even though we’re essentially doing the same things we always have. So I’ve had to make sure to adjust and adapt my resources so that they will still continue to sell.

19:33
One interesting thing about that is I have even changed from A to B to C and then gone back to A or B sometimes, because we just keep shifting back and forth in the way that we refer to things.

19:47
Let’s talk about the effect that COVID has had on our sales. So we’ve definitely got some changes in what demand is for and if you did well during COVID, because you added lots of digital products or maybe you had a store full of digital products already. And so they sold like hotcakes during COVID because teachers desperately needed that.

20:05
You might need to shift gears a little bit now that teachers are back to the classroom, now that a lot of them are telling us in teacher Facebook groups, and by the things that they are purchasing that they are trying to get away from so much screen time, because in 2020, 2021, 2022, we had this big boom of kids doing more work on screens. And so a lot of teachers are purposefully pulling back on that, because they’re trying to lessen screen time for their students.

20:36
So if you did well, because you have a ton of digital products, it might be time to start adding print versions into your digital only resources, in the same way that so many of us had print only resources and in 2020, we rushed to add digital versions to them, because that’s what teachers needed. So it might be time for that to go the other direction.

20:54
The other thing to look at is what are teachers doing and using right now. So that you can adapt the resources you already have to those things. It doesn’t always mean you need to create a brand new resource, you may just need to take what you have and adjust and adapt it and fit it to what teachers are looking for now and what they are doing now in their classrooms.

21:14
Now, I know a lot of sellers are really concerned about teachers who are using AI tools to create their own lessons. And I have seen the posts in teacher Facebook groups as well. Or someone asks, how many of you are using AI? Or what AI tools are you using to create lessons and there’s these floods of comments. So I think it’s important to recognize that AI is here, it is not likely to be going away. And that teachers can and are using it to create some of their own things.

21:42
Now, there are a couple of things at play here. First of all, there are these teachers who are using it to create their own things who never would have bought from us in the first place. Because they’re the do it myself kind of teachers. And they’re now getting a little bit of a shortcut to what they were already doing. I’m not worried about them at all. Those teachers were not our ideal customers to begin with. They’re not now, nothing has changed.

22:04
But there are teachers who have been buying things on TPT because they didn’t have time or know how to create it, who now are able to use AI to create things. And the rise of AI using among those teachers is going to mean that our products need to get better. We are going to need to create things that cannot easily be replicated by an AI tool.

22:26
So that means if your bread and butter right now in your store is something super simple. Like addition worksheets, for example, you need to be thinking about how to make your products more unique, and specialized. Make them things that the average teacher either wouldn’t be creative enough to ask Chat GPT, or whatever other AI tools to create for them. Or something that just has your own very unique spin on it, that teachers will be happy to purchase from you because you’ve made their life so much easier.

22:59
You might want to think about adding in extras, things like lesson plans and teaching tips that really can only come from an experienced educator. One big issue with AI tools is they are not perfect, and they get things wrong. So I think teachers will still be looking for the experience of educators like you and I who do have classroom experience, who know how students work, who know how to be a good teacher, know those things that Chat GPT just can’t ever know.

23:29
All right, and let’s talk about the economy a little bit. Like I said earlier, there’s nothing we can do about the economy. But we can adjust and adapt to the fact that teachers are spending a lot more carefully right now. I want to caution you against feeling the pressure to just drop all your prices as low as possible. Because that is not good for anyone. And it is going to lead to a point where teachers get so used to seeing things that are really low priced on TPT, that if we try to sell things at the prices that they are worth, for the time and effort that we are putting in, then we aren’t able to sell at those good prices anymore. And we are stuck selling in the bargain basement.

24:08
So don’t feel that pressure to just drop all your prices as low as possible. Instead, you want to make sure that you have products for all of your product lines or all of your topics, subjects, grade levels, whatever it is that you cover, make sure you have products in each of your kind of categories in all price brackets. I know in the past teachers have loved buying big bundles where they’re getting a big discount, but that seems to be kind of falling out of favor right now, as teachers are preferring to buy smaller things.

24:40
And that is something we see happen a lot when inflation is going on. It’s almost backwards thinking in terms of you know, I’m going to buy these $10 things instead of getting the bundle for $8 Where you could save by buying the bundle but a lot of teachers, they would rather do the little bit at a time instead of the big numbers.

24:58
So if you have any huge products right now that aren’t a bundle of smaller products. So you’ve got a $50 individual product in your store. And that $50 product is the only way for teachers to get that content, then you might consider breaking it into some smaller products, and bundling those. So what you would do there, is you would create your smaller individual products, upload those to TPT. And then if you add the word bundle to the title of your huge product, then TPT will prompt you when you look at your product listings page to convert this to a TPT bundle. And then you can choose the products that go into it.

25:38
And by doing that, you’ve still got your big bundle in your store. But then the teacher can buy just the pieces that they need. And you may actually increase your sales right now by doing that, because we are seeing teachers lean toward buying smaller things instead of huge bundles at the moment. So that is something you might consider if you do have those big, big products that aren’t available in smaller product form as well.

26:00
All right, as we come toward the end of this episode, I want to encourage you to stay focused, and to adapt and adjust in your business. It is so so important for us to tune out all of the noise. And all of the woe is me comments that we might be seeing in some Facebook groups.

26:20
Personally, I’ve noticed that when I see a Facebook post in my feed asking if anyone else’s sales are down right now, I need to not click on the comments and not even pay attention to that first one or two comments that Facebook is showing me, I need to scroll straight by. Because if I click into those comments, and I’m constantly reading other people saying their sales are down, this will just send me into a downward spiral of despair, honestly.

26:49
And it is just so important to keep in mind, that the things we put into our mind, are the things that come out in our feelings and our actions. And so if we are constantly immersing ourselves, in other people in the community who are feeling down about sales, this can really start to make us feel down about our sales as well and keep us from being able to be productive.

27:13
So for me personally, it is important that I protect my peace, and that I scroll straight past things. I’ve had to leave some Facebook groups where there is just more negativity, then productiveness. And I am not saying that we need to just pour confetti all over things and just radiate positivity right now, when we are stressed, and sometimes frustrated about things. I’m not saying that at all, hopefully you know me well enough by now to know that I am definitely a realist when it comes to things.

27:45
But it is so important for me just not to spend my time on listening to and thinking about all of the things that are going wrong, I need to be focused on the things that I can do. I need to be focused on being productive, and I need to protect my peace personally.

28:06
As the world and the educational landscape change, we have to change with them as business owners. So it’s important for you to stay in tune with changing trends in your educational niche, stay on top of new research and anything else that could affect what products are selling well and which ones aren’t. And then make sure that you are taking that new information, those things that you’re learning, and you are adapting your products so that they continue to be successful.

28:33
Regardless of what business we’re in TPT or otherwise, staying profitable and successful in business really does require us to change and to adapt. We have to be willing to test new things to fail. And to try again tomorrow, just like Matt Damon did in the movie I was talking about earlier.

28:52
There are like I said, so many reasons that the last year or year and a half really have been tough. And I am unfortunately not predicting a miraculous recovery as soon as we roll into 2024. But keep in mind there is so much that we can still do to be productive and to grow our businesses. And we have so much potential still as teacher sellers.

29:13
Make sure that you are practicing resilience, you are adapting and adjusting, and that you are spending your TPT time focused on the things that you have control over and focused on getting to work and doing the things instead of spending our time worrying and stressing ourselves out over the things that we don’t have control over.

29:32
As I close out this final episode of 2023. I want to extend a heartfelt thank you to you, my listeners and your support of this podcast. It means the world to me and it really does keep me going and keep me coming up with ideas and recording new episodes throughout the year.

29:51
If you haven’t already, please take a couple of seconds to rate and review the show before you close out your podcast app today. It means so much to me and I promise I read every single one. I wish you all the best in 2024 in your business and in everything else, and I will talk to you soon.

30:11
I hope you enjoyed today’s episode. If you did, please share it with another teacher seller who would also find it helpful. For more resources on Growing Your TPT business. Head to Kristendoyle.co/TPT. Talk to you soon

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About Your Host

Your host, Kristen Doyle, has a decade of experience selling on TpT and has made all the mistakes so that you don’t have to! As a web designer and the go-to SEO expert in the TpT world, she loves helping TpT sellers stand out in the crowd & grow their businesses with passive income strategies.

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