Deanna Coughlin – Mom, Teacher, School Green Team Leader, & Part-Time Business Owner

 In Entrepreneurial Women, Entrepreneurs, Sustainable Products & Services, Walking the Talk

Being a mom is a full-time job. Being a working mom is demanding. But being a working mom, community leader and entrepreneur – that’s amazing!  Deanna Coughlin is a full time teacher, a mother to two daughters, heads up the Green Team at her school, and runs a side business selling eco-friendly products from the Norwegian company, Norwex. Deanna talks about her experience building a side-business, her outlook on sustainability, and why she believe it’s her responsibility to create a more sustainable lifestyle – not only for herself but also for her family and her students.

Deanna, how long have you been a teacher now?

I’ve been a teacher for fifteen years professionally – it’s always been what I’ve wanted to do. Two years ago I started an independent business selling Norwex’s cleaning and personal care products.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Flint, Michigan,  and then when I was four, moved to Naperville, Illinois,  with my mom and step-dad.  My mom stayed home with us and was really involved in our lives. When I was eight, she went back to school to become a teacher. We then moved back to Plymouth, Michigan, when I was thirteen. After high school, I attended Eastern University where I received my degree in education. I always had the desire to make a difference and to help people. I’ve taught kindergarten, first grade, second grade, and, for the last six years, third grade. I met my husband at university and we married in 2003. We live in Ypsilanti, Michigan – we both really like it here. We have two daughters. Our oldest is 9, now in fourth grade and our youngest is 6, in first grade.

So, how did you get into owning a side business?

I first heard about Norwex from friends on Facebook. Then, my mom decided to host a Norwex party and she invited me. She had been on a mission to be healthier, which included seeking out products that would be healthier for her body. I didn’t know much about the company –  except that you could use Norwex cleaning cloths just with water and no chemicals!  When I went to the party I learned that the company doesn’t make just cleaning products, but they also produce body care and home products. None of their products are made with toxic chemicals.

Their first product was a microfiber cloth  – they work mechanically with water, not chemically. So when you use them, they remove bacteria, dirt, whatever is on a surface so that it ends up on the cloth. There’s micro silver in the fabric that works to inhibit the growth of bacteria or mold. These microscopic organisms can’t survive after 24 hours, so the cloth can be used again and again.

Ever since I had my kids, I’ve paid a lot of attention to the products that we use in our house. We seek products that are organic and natural. So, at my mom’s party, I ordered a few things. Not only was I happy to use products that were safe and free of harmful chemicals, but also, I was amazed at how effective the cloths were. I decided to host a party to earn more products, and later decided I wanted them all!

I was also looking for a way to make some extra money for the family. To be honest, I never thought I would be in sales, but I knew that I really believed in these products, I use everything, so I can speak to how the cloths and other products work. I wanted to share them with my friends and with people who were looking for healthier cleaning and personal care products. So that’s how I ended up starting my side business to sell Norwex.

So, what’s a Norwex side business look like?

When you decide that you would like to sell Norwex products, you become an independent consultant. You receive resources and marketing assistance and a mentor  from the company. It is not a pyramid scheme! You have to be an active,independent,consultant,  but you also benefit from creating a team that has signed up through you. Norwex is mostly sold through parties – in home or online. I almost exclusively do online parties. I set up an event on Facebook and a person who wants to be a host would be my co-host. She or he invites their friends on Facebook to join our event. Friends then choose to join the group and party and then I share information, pictures and videos and people use my website and link to order products. The host gets rewarded with free products based on sales and I get a commission based on the sales of the party.

There are also incentives offered from the company to work and host more parties. For the first year,  I was hosting two parties a week online for most of the entire year. It was really productive but also very time-consuming, considering I have my family and a “more than full-time” job. I decided to step back a little bit this year to work with my existing customer base, plus I’ve started doing a monthly vendor event for the last 4-5 months.

So, are you happy with your Norwex business?  Has it been worth it for you financially?

I do like that I can determine how much and how often I want to work. I think it was a good decision as far as being able to make money on the side of my full-time job. It works well for someone who either wants to work part-time or someone who has a family because you can determine how many hours you work and parties can be in-person or virtual. It offers great flexibility. And, if you do home parties, it’s just one night for a couple of hours. These were convenient for me because I could work after my daughters went to bed. Plus, I’m an introverted person – I’m more comfortable on the computer. With a 35% commission, you can average around $300 for a party, which can really add up. Keep in mind that, like any business, there’s an up-front time commitment because you have to get your posts and photos and videos and everything the way that you like it. But then, you can cut and paste from one party to the next, so then it’s less time consuming.

So you think that your business helps spread sustainability?

Yes, it does! As far as sustainability – it’s very important to me. I mentioned earlier that my mom is really health-conscious and she looks carefully at what she’s eating and using in her home. That’s super important to me too, but it’s not the only reason.  I’ve always felt this need to be helpful and responsible to the environment

By using and selling Norwex means  my family and my customers aren’t contributing as much into waste streams and landfills. We use our cloths and a few cleaners that are eco-friendly. Also, when it’s time to replace a Norwex cloth, rather than throwing it out to end up in landfill, you can send it back to Norwex and they will recycle it properly.

So all fits into a lifestyle that includes sustainability. And, sure you still need detergent and a heftier cleaning product, which Norwex also makes, but they are made from eco-friendly ingredients. For example their laundry detergent is a totally free and clear detergent; the bathroom cleaner is a cleaning paste that lasts forever and doesn’t have toxic ingredients. So, selling these products obviously makes me feel like I’m helping to spread a more sustainable model of living. t’s about making a small difference, but every little bit really matters.

It’s important to influence what we can – at home is where we can really do that.

I also bring sustainability into my work. I run the green team at my school to teach my students about being stewards of the earth. I teach them the importance of simple things like recycling and caring about how their actions matter. Then they take that home becauseit matters to them, and they teach it to their families.

If we can teach people about sustainability, they gain knowledge and then it becomes hard to ignore how important it is. green team is a group of students – second grade through fifth grade, two from each class, that fill out an application toshow that they’re interested  in being on the Green Team. They have to do five green or earth-friendly actions in order to be considered because they are essentially a role model at the school. We meet once a month at lunch and we pick one thing per month that we want to work on. At the beginning of the year, we explain what can be recycled, how we recycle,and the studentsreport to all the different classrooms in the building. nother month we might choose to  raise money to adopt an animal in the World Wildlife Fund, plant native Michigan plants in the  courtyard, or sell reusable water bottles at school.. Every month we try to do something to show that actions matter.

Who started the Green Team at your school?

Myschool’s former principal,myself, and anotherteacher about eight years ago. When that principal left, a parent helped out and, for the last years, I’ve been running it with the help of another teacher. Farrand Michigan green schoolfor the last seven year.. For the last five years, we’ve achieved the highest level that you can earn and we’re very proud of that.

What are some other ways you live sustainably?

Other ways that we live sustainably in our home are that we replaced all of our bulbs with LED, we shop locally when we can, () and I drive an electric car. We use the NEST thermostat – a smart technology that helps you monitor your energy use. Most importantly, my husband and I have taught our daughters to think about their impact when making choices.

Why is it important to teach your children about making smart choices?

I think It’s important in a family to teach your children what is important and show them that you are making smart choices to take care of the environment. We talk about the food we buy, like our choice to buy organic, particularly produce and meat. Right now, I’m looking for a water bottle for the girls – something that is reusable, BPA-free, and designed well so that we don’t need to constantly replace. Learning about the choices that are out there makes you a smarter consumer.

Here on Earth, we’re not always going to have all these resources available.  After having kids, it was clear to me that I couldn’t continue to think about just myself. I needed to think about my family and future generations. We can’t be short-sighted. We have to set an example for future generations. Technology and circumstances will change, but the change that makes the world better has to start with us.

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