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Riches are found in niches

Kindergarten teacher Becky Powell’s side business — creating worksheets for other educators — brings in six figures a year.

Becky Powell

This story is part of CNBC does this Six-Figure Side Hustle Series, where people with lucrative side hustles break down the routines and habits they used to earn money on top of their full-time jobs. Do you have a story to tell? Let us know! Send us an email at AskMakeIt@cnbc.com.

Becky Powell spends an average of 10 hours a week creating digital worksheets that her fellow educators can purchase.

The 41-year-old kindergarten teacher from Beaverton, Oregon, earned $125,500 last year, according to records reviewed by CNBC Make It. She posts her worksheet workbooks, designed to help teach literacy to young students, on her online store at Teachers Pay Teachers, an Etsy-style marketplace.

Powell’s store, Sight Word Activities, currently offers 427 different lists, ranging from free downloads to a set of 20 booklets for $30. When she first started the business in 2015, she earned enough to pay her monthly car insurance bill — about $60 — in a few weeks, she says. After three months, the extra income covered her husband’s monthly student loan payments.

Her classroom was her research laboratory, and her talent for teaching children to sight-read helped her fill a niche on the website, she says. She steps up her side gig each summer, so she can maintain a more flexible schedule during the school year.

Jerome and Becky Powell run their Teachers Pay Teachers stores separately – but all the money goes to one place, they say.

Becky Powell

You don’t need to spend any money to get started, Powell notes: Teachers Pay Teachers offers free and paid tiers for sellers. “Basic sellers” keep 55% of their sales, while “premium sellers” pay $59.95 per year to keep 80% of their sales.

Powell pays that subscription fee, as does her husband Jerome, a full-time software engineer who runs another Teachers Pay Teachers store, called Editable Activities. Her store brought in an additional $51,800 last year, and her expertise in search engine optimization helped Powell get her store off the ground, she says.

Here, Powell explains what you need to start a side hustle, why her side hustle has been successful so far, and how her confidence as a first-time entrepreneur has helped her grow as a person .

CNBC Make It: Do you think your side hustle is replicable?

Powell: Yes, I think so, especially if you combine passion and knowledge of the (education) market. You need these to identify gaps (in learning) and develop your intuition.

What do you mean? How do you build this intuition?

It’s one thing to build a career in a (specific) market. It’s another thing to actually know it, so you have to look for it. You need to find consumers for that market and interview them, so you know it so innately and intimately that you can see the gaps.

Once you combine all of these things, you won’t create something that could work, or could work, or should work. You know it will work.

You started a business without any entrepreneurial experience. Has running a successful side hustle helped boost your confidence in or out of class?

I majored in education, so I never had a business or sales mind. This is not my domain. Jerome helped me understand SEO, marketing and how to put myself in your consumers’ shoes. This is why the balance has been so astonishing.

But I had to overcome the mentality of “What do I know?” I’m not in business.” I now see my confidence manifest in my ability and willingness to teach others.

I’ve helped eight friends and colleagues open their own stores on Teachers Pay Teachers. I never charge them, and I never will – I’m thrilled when those I mentor experience their own success.

Lots of people have side gigs, but few bring in six figures a year. What do you think is the key to your success?

My husband always told me, “The riches are in the niches.” Find the area where you can do really well and refine it.

For me, it wasn’t just about (how to get kids to learn) sight words. It was about thinking about practical activities and readily available tools that would engage them. I really drilled and drilled and dug deeper into the ideas, getting more specific, until I hit the gold at the very bottom.

So it’s not just a niche. It’s about finding your niche within a niche.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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