Hey there! Thanks for popping into my 5 Freedoms Life. I'm your host, Suzanne Klein, an educator-turned-entrepreneur with a 5 Freedoms Life and teaching you how to have one too!
In today's interview I'm going to be talking to M. Shannon Hernandez, an educator-turned-entrepreneur who is no stranger to change. Teaching from rural to inner-city Harlem, then jumping feet-first into her journey as a business owner, today she runs a six-figure marketing company and is enjoying Financial Freedom. We’ll talk about why she left teaching, her exit strategy, and what her life is like now with this freedom.
Thank you, Shannon, for joining me today on my 5 Freedoms Life.
So, can you give us an overview of what you’d like to share with our viewers today?
I'm here to share that educators have many skills—skills I don't think we realize we have until they need to be put to use somewhere else. I'm excited to talk about how people who are looking for or thinking about something different can use what they’re already great at to make that happen.
Amazing! This will definitely be a power-packed session for our viewers. So, let's just jump right in here; why did you leave teaching? Specifically, was there something you weren’t getting, that wasn’t fueling you, feeding you, or feeding your soul?
You know, I was a teacher for fifteen years and then a college professor after that. Teaching just wasn't fun anymore. And it wasn't that I wasn't having fun or the kids weren't having fun in the classroom; it was all the red tape, the testing, the bureaucracy—it just wasn't fun.
And one of the principles that I live by 130% is JOY FIRST. So any time something is not bringing me joy, I do some deep reflection and see if there’s a way to make it more joyful, or if it’s time to do something else. So really, the fun factor had just kind of gone away.
That totally makes sense, and I'm sure our viewers can relate. So thank you for your honesty.
When you decided to leave teaching, did you do anything while you were still in the classroom to help prepare your exit strategy, so you could start to find that joy and what made sense for you?
I started to think about leaving in October 2012. That came about because I was living in New York City when Hurricane Sandy came through. All our schools were shut down, and I hadn’t listened to the weather people—I actually thought they were lying! So I hadn’t brought work home.
In my book and personal story, I call it a gift from Hurricane Sandy. I had a whole week of no papers, no lesson planning. I had to get really real with myself, and what came of that week was a single sentence that changed everything in my world. I wrote it in my journal: “I deserve to be happy again.” I decided I would teach through the end of the year. And from October 2012 until June 2013, I hired a business coach and spent all my out-of-classroom time building a solid foundation for my business and learning how to do business, because I didn't know.
I'm great at teaching—I have a global brand now, educating people all over the world—and I'm great at hosting events, but I didn't know the business side of things. So I decided early on that I was going to get a coach and I was going to make it work. I was going to figure it out. And I did. And then I left the classroom at the end of June.
Thank you for sharing that. I believe that's the power of a coach, to take you outside your comfort zone and fast-forward your growth. You could have done the same thing on your own, but it would have taken you a lot longer!
And it would have been way more expensive! Teaching is a big energy investment, and building a business is a big energy investment. I was willing to do both for those seven months to get my stuff together. But no way could I maintain that level of excellence in both my classroom and the business—so I said “OK, I'm just going to invest money in a coach, and I'm going to figure this out. Then I can leave knowing I’m up on all of this stuff.”
And it's the marketing I'm gifted at. I didn’t know that before. So that's my gift to the world. And, you know, I've had to pay for other things, like coaching, as my business has grown, but I've never had to pay for marketing. Business coaching is just huge for helping people discover their gifts and advance what they want to do.
Thank you for sharing that. And that makes me wonder... You know your zone of genius is marketing. How did you know that when you were an English Language Arts (ELA) teacher? How did you know that was what you wanted to share with the world?
Well I didn't know, until I built my business really fast and was making a lot of money.
Suddenly I was like, “Wait; I have colleagues who are still stuck in the same place.” I started reflecting on that. I have a gift for words, for telling stories, and those two things will help you sell yourself.
The right words and telling stories. I actually came out of teaching as a copywriter, because I know how to teach people to write. I’d been working with 8th-graders all this time, helping them pass those dang tests.
So I became a copywriter. But that wasn't bringing me Joy, because now I was on other people’s deadlines. However, I realized during this process that I was very good at joyful marketing strategies and helping people grow their businesses. So I made that small pivot, but you don’t know until you're in it, right? Like a lot of things, you learn your gifts when you have the courage to jump and the grit to figure stuff out along the way.
Now that we’ve talked about your time as a teacher, an ELA teacher then a master teacher with people coming or people coming and observing you and now you’re So, now you're jumping into the world of content marketing and the strategy behind that. You help people in kind of a unique way compared to other marketers out there. You look at their content personality, what honors them and what they believe. So let's talk about marketing for a minute, in a way that’s relatable to all of our educator viewers. Let’s break it down into three groups:
A) People who haven't yet found their innovative idea and need help digging it out. (That's what I can help with!)
B) Teachers who already have a product or service that they're selling, but they're still in the classroom.
C) Educators who really don't have an interest in a side business or leaving
teaching, but they want strategies on how to market themselves better.
Let’s be real; how we put ourselves out there, what we say and do, is marketing—what we do either helps our brand or doesn’t. Shannon, can you expand on this? First of all, do you agree with what I'm saying about marketing?
I do have clients who are former teachers. They've already done the part A with people like you, and now they're like, “Oh, but my stuff isn't selling!” or “I'm not making enough money!” Then they come to me. I'm step two in the process. I don't work with newbies. I have attracted a lot of teachers over the years because they can resonate with the story, right? Which is why story is so important to your marketing—telling stories in your marketing.
Shannon, let's discuss what your life is like now. Specifically, can you speak to our viewers about financial freedom. You recently took the 5 Freedoms Quiz on my website and scored 25/25 on Financial Freedom. Definitely at the top there, and that's amazing!
So how is your financial freedom now versus when you were a teacher? Did you have financial freedom when you were a teacher?
No—that’s a big no! I didn't have any of those freedoms as a teacher. My life is amazing now. I know that may sound cliché, but I've worked hard to take the skills I'm great at—teaching and training—and translate that into a global brand. I speak and teach around the world, which I love. We just moved into a beautiful luxury condo on the Hudson River facing New York City, and it's like a dream come true. Bought a brand new car for cash! These are the things that I'm able to do now because:
That’s a big piece of how I help people once they've got a business, but for whatever reason they're not finding joy in it.
But I also know that I can create money anytime I want or need it. And that took a long time, because as a teacher you went to work and were paid ultimately whatever the taxpayers agreed to pay you. Right? Because teacher salaries come from taxes. So if the clause or bill or whatever it's called didn't pass in the legislature, you didn't get a raise. And I just wasn't okay with it anymore. I was not okay with letting someone else decide what I was worth, what my value was to students.
I have a great life. Is it perfect? No. Is it always happy? No. But I don't have to worry about money anymore! I can do amazing things with that money, and I do. I donate to a lot of beautiful causes that I'm passionate about.
Amazing. And that’s the truth of financial freedom: giving you opportunities and experiences you normally wouldn't have. It's all about giving you choices. It's not about being greedy or a consumer—it's really about the freedom you now have. Like you said, you don't have to worry, and that is a true gift, a true blessing. Absolutely.
Well, we've come to the end of our conversation. I just want to ask you for one last piece of advice to educators out there, thinking about leaving education but scared to leap. We know that a teacher who doesn't want to be there is not serving anyone. Not students, parents, administrators—and especially not herself!
You made that leap with a faith that the net would appear. But, importantly, you also had a planned, thoughtful exit strategy. What advice would you give those educators who want to leave, but are scared to do so?
I think there are multiple things to think about. The first is this: not to be morbid, but none of us are getting any younger. In 50, 60 years we'll be gone. We'll be doing something else in the next lifetime, if that's what you believe in. So time is precious. I don't think we should spend any time doing anything we don't love. Period. Anything that does not bring us joy. It's not serving anyone, just like you said. So how do you make the leap?
I always tell my people, my community, my programs: Courage and confidence come after you take action, not before. You can't sit around saying, “I want courage; I want confidence.” It comes from falling down, and getting back up, and figuring things out,and doing it again and again and again.
Then work with a coach—cut your time in half! Work with a coach to find out what you're good at. We've all done this now, so you don't have to sit around figuring it out. Suzanne can help you find your gift, structure your business, and build your operations. And when you're ready to go and need help with marketing and sales, somebody can help you with that.
There are people here who will love and support you through the process, and get behind you 110% to help you make that move. But you've got to take action to do that.
Yes, absolutely! Shannon, it's been a true pleasure and a gift. You are a master and I thank you for sharing your words and your experience with everyone.
Until next time, stay savvy my friends!
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