Sara Jonckheere - Founder of Sara J Creations

I think I am more productive because I have small chunks of time to get my work done. Sometimes when you have the entire day to get things done, it is easy to do other things and delay the work thinking you have plenty of time.

Raised by two Michigan educators (one who left the profession to be a stay-at-home mom), Sara Jonckheere knew at a young age that she wanted to be two things when she grew up – a teacher and a mom. She attended the University of Michigan – Dearborn and received a bachelor’s degree in education with a major in language arts and a minor in mathematics. She returned to UM-D a few years later and earned a Masters of Arts degree with a Reading Specialist endorsement. During this time, she taught in a public school in the suburbs of Detroit. After a year teaching fourth grade, she co-taught a 1st and 2nd grade multiage classroom for three years. The last three years of her teaching career were spent in a second grade classroom.

In 2012, her first daughter was born and Sara quickly learned that she needed and wanted to be at home with her baby instead of in the classroom. In the hardest decision of her life, she resigned from her job and became a full time stay at home mom. A year later, her second daughter was born. Sara spent her days feeding and changing babies, singing and reading at library storytimes, and visiting and exploring local cities, parks and zoos with the girls. Her new lifestyle was a change from being a classroom teacher but she knew it was the most important job she would ever hold.

While at home with the girls, Sara missed teaching and being in the classroom. After spending time on Pinterest, she discovered a website called www.teacherspayteachers.com. It was an open marketplace for teachers to create and sell their digital resources and activities to other teachers. Intrigued by the idea, Sara began researching the site and what it would take to open a digital store and start selling resources. In 2013, she opened her online storefront, Sara J, and started selling resources and activities for lower elementary classrooms. In the summer of 2014, Sara began her blog to share her teaching and parenting ideas. Sara enjoys creating and being a part of the education world again, while still being able to spend most of the day with her young daughters.

Where did the idea for Sara J Creations come from?

I spent a lot of time on Pinterest during late night feedings with my daughter. I was fascinated by all of the teacher blogs and resource ideas that I was finding. I kept thinking, ‘where was this when I was in the classroom?’ Over and over, I would click on a link that would direct me to the site www.teacherspayteachers.com and I was intriqued. A whole site devoted to teachers selling their work to other teachers? It made so much sense. In the classroom, you are constantly teaching using resources created by publishing companies. It made so much more sense to pay a teacher who is in the classroom every day and knows what works and doesn’t work with the students to create resources than some big publishing company. Teachers have great ideas all of the time and why not let other teachers recreate their successful lessons and activities instead of reinventing the wheel? I started thinking of lessons I had done in the classroom that I could sell in my store. Then I started thinking of all the ideas that I wanted to use in the classroom but didn’t have the time to create. I took the plunge and opened a store and keep adding digital resources to my store a little at a time.

What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?

Each day is different but the focus of each day is raising my daughters. My business is second to them even though most days I would love to sit uninterrupted on my computer all day and get a ton of work done. I try to get up at 7:30 before my girls wake up at 8:00. If I’m lucky enough to do this, I try to get in a YouTube yoga video to start my day. Then, the girls get up and I start my vicious cycle of preparing a meal and cleaning up the kitchen that lasts all day. My youngest goes down for a morning nap and my older daughter and I play, clean up the house and get ready. Some mornings we run errands or go the library for storytime. Lunch time and then afternoon naps for both girls. Sadly, most days this is when I shower and get ready! I pick up the house and do any jobs I need to get done as quickly as possible and then I spend the rest of naptime working on Sara J Creations stuff…creating activities, marketing, networking, blogging, etc. The girls get up and they play while I make dinner and then my amazing husband comes home and I can finally breathe and finish cooking while the girls are entertained. We eat, play as a family and then at 7 we start baths and bedtime for both girls. I then spend the rest of the night working on my to-do list for Sara J Creations. That is what most days look like, but there are definitely days where we watch a few too many Mickey Mouse Clubhouse episodes so I can check in on business stuff during the day while the girls are awake. There are other days where I tutor or teach religious education at our church and the girls are with my parents.

How do you bring ideas to life?

I constantly have a list going of ideas that I have for products to create. I also have a composition notebook where I write ideas and draw sketches of products I want to make. I also think of ideas that I need for the girls I tutor or the first graders I teach religion to each week and make those first. After I’ve tried them out with my students, I often post the items in my store.

What’s one trend that really excites you?

The trend of downloading digital documents for the classroom is amazing to me. I had no idea this was an option when I was in the classroom. The possibilities are endless. On www.teacherspayteachers.com alone there are resources for PreK through college. Teachers have resources available at their fingertips that they can instantly download when they realize they need an activity for their students. There is no more reinventing the wheel. If another teacher spent the time creating an activity that your students could use, you don’t have to spend the time creating it yourself. And your hard earned money goes to a teacher who could always use some extra money.

What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?

I think I am more productive because I have small chunks of time to get my work done. Sometimes when you have the entire day to get things done, it is easy to do other things and delay the work thinking you have plenty of time. When it is naptime, I know I have two hours to get my work done. It makes me more productive because I know I have a limited amount of time before the girls are up. If I am in the middle of creating a product, I try to devote naptime to that exclusively. If I start checking in on my store or my blog, I quickly eat up all of my time and get nothing created. I try to schedule my time. Spend one naptime writing and scheduling blogposts and then the next day I spend the entire naptime creating, no blog time allowed.

What was the worst job you ever had and what did you learn from it?

My first job was at a dry cleaners. It wasn’t a horrible job but there were aspects that were bad. I was excited because I got to use a cash register (a secret desire of mine from a young age.) The worst part was that we had to empty everyone’s pockets before we sorted the clothes. Sticking my hands in strangers’ pockets – gross!!! Give me a classroom full of germy seven year olds any day! I learned that working in a dry cleaner was definitely not something I wanted to do any longer than I needed to!

If you were to start again, what would you do differently?

I wish I had known about www.teacherspayteachers.com when I was in the classroom. I wish I knew I would have my own store and sell the ideas I have in my head. I wish I knew I would have a teacher/mommy blog. I didn’t take pictures in the classroom and it would be so helpful for marketing purposes if I did. If I opened my store again, I would purchase clip art sooner to make my products more visually appealing right off the bat. Since I wasn’t making much, I was only using free clip art and fonts that I could use commercially. Once I started spending money on awesome clipart, my products started looking better and selling better. Cute sells in an early elementary classroom.

As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?

Lists, lists and more lists. When I have a lot to get done, I make lists. I make lists of what we need to pack for vacation. I make grocery lists. I make to-do lists for the week. I make list of products I want to create. I make lists of blog posts I want to write. I love checking an item off of a list when I’ve completed it. It helps keep me organized and helps me to not forget anything that I might have a deadline for.

What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?

Pinterest. Before I started Sara J Creations, I used Pinterest in my personal life. Recipe ideas, activities to try with my kids, decorating ideas, craft ideas. The usual. And then I discovered the importance of Pinterest for directing traffic to my store or blog. We are visual and I think teachers are especially visual. We see a picture of a classroom and think, ‘I could try that.’ Creating a business account and creating pins for my products has helped market my store in a way I never imagined. I think teachers, parents, homeschoolers, and more can find my resources faster on Pinterest than they probably could searching for it directly through TeachersPayTeachers. I’ve also discovered the importance of collaborative boards where teachers can work together to create amazing teacher related Pinterest boards.

What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?

One failure I’ve had is to compare myself to other teachers who are selling their products online. I see the success of others and I think why am I not making the money they are? Comparing myself to others is just a negative downward spiral. I start thinking my products aren’t as good, they aren’t as visually appealing, they have more products posted than I do, they have more followers, etc. But at the end of the day, I can’t do anything about any other teacher sellers. I only have control over me, my store and my products. I do the best that I can and try to stop comparing myself to others. There are some amazing teachers that, deservedly so, are making a lot of money from their products. Everyone’s story is different. Some teachers have been at it longer. Some teachers work on their store full time every day now that they aren’t in the classroom. Some teachers have a one and a two year old that need their attention for most of the day. It is what it is. I am happier and more successful when I focus on my store, what products I plan to add and comparing my sales to my sales from other months or years.

What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?

A sound barrier behind the driver’s seat of the car that blocks out noise and distractions for the driver – aka a small child screaming at the top of her lungs. And right after that, how about a car seat that buckles itself so that I am not twisting, untwisting, loosening and tightening straps on a constant basis. Create this and then contact me. I’d be happy to test it out for you!!

Tell us something about you that very few people know?

I used to be a cheerleader in middle school and freshman year of high school. If you know me now, that doesn’t fit my personality at all. In fact when my husband first found out about it when we were dating, he would give me a hard time and joke about me being a cheerleader. He was so surprised. I’m an introvert and I hate being the center of attention at all costs. So why I liked standing in front of a crowd and cheering, I have no idea.

What software and web services do you use? What do you love about them?

I create all my products on Powerpoint. I thought Powerpoint was just for presentations and then I learned through other sellers on TpT that it is the easiest way to create documents. Once I figured that out, I’ve made the switch and never looked back. It is so much easier to manipulate text and pictures on that program. Then you can easily save it as a PDF and save each slide as a jpeg. I also use Adobe Pro to password protect and flatten all my files. I use PicMonkey.com to edit pictures and add my watermark to it. It is VERY simple to use. I have Photoshop and there is such a huge learning curve and it just isn’t something I want to devote my time to right now when I can edit a picture with just a few clicks on PicMonkey.

What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?

If you are interested in selling your resources online and becoming a teacher-author, I can’t say that I’ve read a lot of books on the subject. However, there are lots of great blogs out there with advice from others who have done it. There is so much to learn as far as creating, marketing and copyrighting your products. One blog that focuses on this is http://tptschool.com/ but much of his advice is relevant to any online digital resource, not just education related.

What people have influenced your thinking and might be of interest to others?

As a teacher, I think you are often influenced by teachers in your life. The same would be true for me. My parents have been the biggest influence on my life and who I’ve become. Many teachers I’ve had through the years have influenced me and made me the teacher I was (am…I am still a teacher even if I’m not in a classroom…I just have to keep reminding myself.) On this TeachersPayTeachers journey, the founder of the TpT website, Paul Edelman, has inspired me. A former teacher, who came up with this idea for teachers to actually be the ones to create the activities their classroom needs and then sell it to other teachers who might have similar needs. He has grown this site and his idea. He even sold the company to a publishing company and then bought it back from them.

Another influence in my creative journey has been Deanna Jump, who is a kindergarten teacher and the top seller on TpT. She has made over $2 million dollars and her rags to riches story is amazing. I think what has influenced me the most about her is when she points out that every time she sells a product that is a teacher. A teacher who is making the choice to spend his/her hard earned money on her product. A teacher who might be going without something else she or her family needs for the good of her students. I try to remember that every time I make a sale. A teacher out there liked my product enough to spend their money on me, my product, my business, my vision, my family.
Deanna’s blog: http://mrsjumpsclass.blogspot.com/

Connect:

Sara J Creations’ Store: http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Store/Sara-J-8034
Sara J Creations’ Blog: http://sarajcreations.blogspot.com
Sara J Creations on Google+: plus.google.com/110712471630833473894
Sara J Creations on Twitter: @SaraJCreations
Sara J Creations’  Bloglovin: http://www.bloglovin.com/blog/12575129
Sara J Creations on Pinterest: http://www.pinterest.com/sarajcreations/