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Former Teacher Finds Success as a Coach

Kimberly Palmer

Maia Heyck-Merlin, chief talent officer at Achievement First, an educational nonprofit, noticed that her fellow educators often struggle with time management and organization. Many of them spent the vast majority of their days in the classroom with few bathroom breaks, let alone time to respond to emails from colleagues or text messages from parents. "No one was thinking about organization for people who worked in schools," she says.

As a former teacher herself, Heyck-Merlin's gut instinct led her to create a workshop to teach others how to be more "together." She soon launched her company, Brass Tacks, and began teaching workshops and coaching clients one-on-one. Her book, The Together Teacher: Plan Ahead, Get Organized, Save Time!, will be released in June.

Like many full-time employees, Heyck-Merlin, 34, doesn't want to leave her position to pursue her side gig; she loves her job, and much of the work overlaps with her organizational strategies. While she recently scaled back her hours at her nonprofit job to handle the increased demands of her organizational work, she has no intention of giving up either. Financially, she's making it work, too: While she had to sacrifice some income stability by replacing part of her steady paycheck with less-predictable client work, she says that risk is worth the reward of feeling like her work is helping teachers do their jobs better.

U.S. News recently spoke with Heyck-Merlin about how she juggles her side career and what she's learned. Excerpts:

How did you get started?

I've always been a pretty organized person who has too much to do, and the only way to juggle is to be organized. Over my professional career, I've worked with a ton of very smart, very capable folks, but the issue of being together, which goes beyond being organized, was getting in people's way. So even as far back as a decade ago, I would have staff members over [to coach them]. There's a ton of stuff out there on organization, but nothing that teaches it well. I'm a teacher at heart, so I figured out how to teach it. Then I started coaching executives, just as I had friends and family.

How did you find clients?

People heard about it through word-of-mouth. After the Relay Graduate School of Education (in New York) asked me to be an adjunct professor, then it ballooned. I'm a pretty reluctant entrepreneur.

How do you juggle your coaching and consulting work with your day job?

I love my job and have no desire to leave it. I've been doing both things for five years, but in a limited capacity. I might have worked with one or two clients at a time and done a couple big presentations a year, and have been very transparent with my [bosses]. They approved it because it's helpful for their branding, too.

Then, I pulled back to 80 percent time to write my book in 2011, and I will soon shift down to 50 percent. Family time is from 5:15 p.m. to 7 p.m. My daughter goes to bed at 6:45, and then two evenings a week I'm immediately back on the phone coaching clients or interviewing teachers from 7 to 9:30 p.m.

Are you able to make up the income you lose from reducing your schedule?

I did take a pay cut to reduce my time; I'm managing less people. I'm currently projected to make up the pay gap with workshops and clients, but there are no guarantees. I carefully made estimates based on the last year and increased demand, but am I worried about it? Absolutely.

For the first four years, I didn't spend anything on my business and just pretended the money didn't exist and put it away. In the past year, I hired an intellectual property attorney, professional photographer, and created a more robust website, so I've invested more heavily back into it. My goal is not to get rich and make a lot of money--I just want to continue my same quality of life.

Your schedule sounds pretty busy. How do you stay motivated?

I keep getting more and more requests from teachers in particular, which is the group I care most about. They say, "Thank you, now I think I can do this job for longer." Teacher sustainability is a big thing. I feel compelled to pursue something that I think is missing, and nobody else was doing it.

Twitter: @alphaconsumer

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