How to Become a College Instructor
Today’s “I Want to Be” Series features Tiffany Merritt, a work at home mom who juggles two jobs, working as a review and givaway blogger and college teacher. (She teaches world religion classes online.) She is a married mom and has two daughters, ages 3 and 5 months.
How long have you had your business?
I do two different things from home that generate income. The first one is my faculty position at University of Phoenix (U of P), and the second one is my work at the blog Stuff Parents Need (SPN). I've been working for University of Phoenix since early 2008, and I've been blogging for SPN since September 2009.
What led you to pursue it?
U of P: I have a MTS degree in Theological Studies and wanted to find a way to really put my degree to work. At the time I started with University of Phoenix, I did have a full-time job in higher education, but my degree was only somewhat relevant. This was a way for me to feel more connected with my discipline. When I decided to leave the full-time work force in 2010, having this work opportunity in my pocket was one of the main reasons I was able to let go of my other job!
SPN: I was home on maternity leave with my first child in the fall of 2009, and I really enjoyed reading blogs. I had an especially easy newborn, and to be honest, I was a little bored at the time. So I decided to try my hand at writing blog posts since I enjoyed them so much. What I would give to feel "bored" again every once in a while! :-)
Are you full time or part time?
I work from home part-time; however, since I have two different income-generating lines of work, there are definitely days when it feels closer to full-time. I currently only teach one class at a time for U of P (2 is the standard), and while everyone is different, a good rule of thumb is that it will take you 10 hours/week to teach one section (that's once you get the hang of it...you'll spend close to twice as much the first one or two times you teach it). I'm not really interested in teaching additional sections for U of P or in making my work for SPN full-time. What I'd really like to do is find a way for SPN to become more profitable so that I can work smarter, not harder.
How do you market your business?
U of P: No need to market. I am offered contracts on a regular basis, and it is up to me to accept or reject them.
SPN: The niche of my blog is product reviews and giveaway, so I spend a good deal of time (and money!) marketing those in order to attract more readers. I have hired a Virtual Assistant and she works 5 hours/week for me doing a lot of promotion of my posts. I likely would have quit without her help, as she handles so much of the stuff that I really don't enjoy about blogging. Hiring an assistant was the smartest thing I've ever done for my blog. I also regularly receive pitches and sometimes try to turn PR requests into more sustained relationships that are beneficial for both parties. Sometimes folks say yes, and sometimes they scoff when I won't publicize for them for free.
What is your favorite part of the business?
U of P: I get so excited every time I have a student who is really enthusiastic about the topic and who pushes him/herself to learn as much as possible. Teaching a student like that is a joy.
SPN: I am learning SO MUCH about marketing and social media. This is a completely different field than my academic and professional backgrounds. It feels like a brand new career, and that's exciting.
What one question do you get most from people about your business?
U of P: How did you get hired without a PhD? I can only speculate about why I was hired without having a PhD. First, remember that I was hired BEFORE the market tanked. Perhaps I wouldn't be as competitive today since more people are looking for work. I also believe that the fact that I earned my Master's from Harvard University didn't hurt. Sometimes folks will give you instant credibility (deserved or not) when you have a prestigious degree. Finally, it may have been the case that at the time they were just short on candidates to teach religion. I remember hearing from PhD holders in English, even in 2007, that they weren't making it to the interview round because the candidate pool in their field was so bloated. So to summarize, I believe I had good timing and good credentials.
SPN: I get asked on a weekly basis how I manage to get so much "free" stuff. Free stuff is when a company sends me a product, and I say "Thanks!", and that's the end of that transaction. I have NEVER had that happen. EVER. I take product testing very seriously and put a lot of time and thought into my reviews. When a company sends me a product I do work for them in exchange. So to anyone who sees blogging as a really easy way to get "free" stuff, I hate to bust your bubble, but just like in life, there's no such thing as a free lunch in the blogosphere.
What advice do you have for others who want to get into a similar opportunity?
U of P: If you have at least a Master's degree and you think you'd genuinely enjoy teaching, go ahead and apply! But know this: you will work hard for the money, and the pay isn't amazing. I make a much better hourly rate as a blogger, but blogging work is not consistent, so the pro of the teaching gig is that you know exactly how much you are going to earn. With blogging, it can be feast or famine. And you have to put in a great deal of work before those paid opportunities come in. I'm just now starting to earn enough money to pay myself. For the past year, I've been earning only enough to pay my assistant (and sometimes I had to dip into my personal accounts to pay her, as well). That's not to say that you can't climb higher and faster than me, but even so, it's a big 'ole mountain to scale, I promise, and not a way to generate income of significance quickly. You've got to really love writing and love building relationships (with readers as well as with brands) in order to stay with it.
What websites or books do you recommend for tips?
The book I read recently that really helped me think hard about how I wanted to "balance" the career part of me with the mom part of me was Good Enough is the New Perfect.
To learn more about Tiffany, stop by her review blog, Stuff Parents Need, her Facebook page, or on Twitter.