About 10 years ago I got into crocheting. I felt like this was one skill I had to work on if one day I wanted to be a “good wife and a mother.”

The project ended up being a total disaster because in my over-confidence I thought I would start with the most ambitious task: I wanted to crochet a poncho from a magazine I’d bought.

The beautiful poncho remained as a magazine image, and mine was a huge flop. It wasn’t as cute as the original and the hems somehow didn’t look even. So wearing it would have made me look as though I had absolutely no clothes and had to resort to putting rags on my back.

Apparently, my ambition had run ahead of me and ruined a perfectly enjoyable experience. Needless to say I never took to crocheting and now ask somebody else to crochet a cute coat for my kids.

What does this have to do with teacherpreneurship?

In my communication with online teachers one of the challenges I see them facing is the overwhelm. It paralyzes their thinking and makes their work bland, unattractive and as a result ineffective.

This may be a sobering thought: but most of the overwhelm is self-inflicted. That happens mainly because online teachers “start crocheting a poncho too soon,” which means they begin with hard projects when they aren’t at all necessary.

You may not have thought of it that way, but prioritizing is a skill we need to survive. If we don’t know how to prioritize we’ll spend hours working on a project without completing it.

Experience makes prioritizing easy, projects – less overwhelming, results – more predictable and goals – achievable.

While online teachers may have plenty of knowledge on how to teach their subject, we’re all novices in the “teacherpreneurship” field, so as beginners we tend to listen to random tactics developed by people in other industries and try to implement something with little judgement.

However, whatever sounds good may not necessarily apply, just like the poncho I crocheted may have looked gorgeous on the page, and scary on me. The irony of the poncho project is I really didn’t know what was wrong with it, I don’t know even to this day.

Thousands of online teachers get into the teacherpreneurship to discover that their efforts don’t pay off, so they ditch the whole thing altogether or continue wobbling hoping that it will “correct itself” as we go.

In this post I’m going to focus on 3 “poncho projects” that online teachers take on too soon and show what should be given priority instead. Most of these are based on discussions I join in my facebook group (you may join too, it’s free) or I draw them from my own 8 years of online teaching.

#1: I must automate my business.

Teachers love the idea of automating stuff. So much so that they just want to automate for the sake of automating. How do I automate scheduling with my paypal, with my email sequence, with my website login, etc.

Hours (or days) into this automation, the issue of finding students and growing your fan base still remains. Why automate if you only have 5 students?

I know automation is a beautiful thing, and it helps greatly, but when you talk about online teaching, the priority should be on finding students, and by that I mean:

  • Narrowing down your focus so your content appeals to a certain group of people (aka finding a niche).
  • Creating specific materials that your readers may find useful.
  • Engaging with your readers on social media.
  • Becoming more visible through collaboration, joint events and guest posting.

There are simple tools that can make your client intake easy, but when it gets to be too complicated you can regroup and create a new system as you grow. No need to sweat unnecessarily.

#2. I can’t create content until it’s perfect.

Perfection is viewed by many teachers as a desire for excellence. But when studied more carefully, perfection is rooted in our deepest fear of failure.

In her book Better than Perfect: 7 Strategies to Crush your Inner Critic and Create a Life you Love, Dr. Elizabeth Lombardo writes,

“One of the bigger ironies of this mind-set is that, despite the name, perfectionists don’t think they’re perfect at al. In fact, because “perfection” is the only acceptable level of success – and the reality is that no one is “perfect” – deep down, perfectionists tend to view themselves as failures. And so they focus on how not to feel like a failure.” [p.16, bold font added.]

It’s OK to fail in front of your classroom where half of the students are on their phones anyway and won’t even notice.

It’s totally different flopping online where anybody can read your stuff and leave their nasty comments.

So we let “perfection” win by telling ourselves, “I’m just going to wait until I get it just right, figure out my niche exactly, write the post that will be attractive enough, etc.”

We take one class after another waiting to make something just “a bit more perfect,” yet the slimy perfection beast just greases our hands and leaves us empty again. We can’t achieve it. The more we learn the less we know.

The antidote that Dr. Lombardo suggests is to stop working out of fear, but focus on our passion:

  • Think of how much your reader will benefit from what you know.
  • Share your passion for the subject.
  • Write as though you’re speaking to just one person.
  • Make your content (blog post, podcast or video) actionable and applicable.
  • Focus on the receiver not on the giver (you). Perfection is a way of selfishness. We can’t share until we feel it’s perfect. Ask others for their input. Likely, people will give you actionable tips to improve and won’t notice the glitches you obsess about.

#3: To be a successful online teacher, I need to create a course.

Courses are big these days. Create an intensive master class, sell a couple of hundreds at a $100 price point and you don’t have to work for a few months. After all, that’s what that rich guy said in his exclusive, *always-live* and *always-running-out-of-spots* “How to become rich online” webinar.

There were a few things that the get-rich-quick webinars won’t mention however:

  • It takes years of work and sweat to get to that kind of a result.
  • Some may have lost health and family in the process.
  • Often people shut down some businesses before a successful launch ever happens.

Online teachers these days are dragged way too easily into the idea of “passive” income. I imagine that teaching 5-7 hours via skype contributes to this and at the same time dims our judgement so we pay hundreds of dollars to buy a course on how to create a course.

But even after the course is done, the question sets in that should have been asked in the beginning.

The question that will keep you awake at night.

Who will buy my course and why?

So before you start making imaginary thousands of dollars on the first launch of your first course be sure to answer the following questions:

  • Why do you want to create this course in the first place?
  • Who is your audience and why would they prefer your expertise over others?
  • What problem(s) will your course help solve?
  • Do you have a small audience already?
  • Do you really have to create a comprehensive course and why?

If you want to test out your idea, start with a small product (course). Put it together and upload it on udemy or other market places for free. See what response you get, improve and build something better that will serve your audience best.

BONUS: Read these 3 stories told by teacherpreneurs who created and sold their small product.

If you’re at a loss, join my community and ask your “poncho” questions there before you spend all the time on courses or projects that either never get sold or never get visible (due to your desire for perfection).

What about you? What takes most of your time (and focus) away from teaching? Any other “poncho” fans out there, not just me, I hope 🙂

Elena Mutonono

You’ve been reading a guest post by Elena Mutonono

Elena Mutonono helps teacherpreneurs discover smart online teaching through the power of email. Join her free email list builder course for teacherpreneurs and receive 7 emails with actionable tips that apply specifically to online teachers.