"I currently work for a language school as an online English teacher. The students are great, but the pay is not very good. For this reason, I have decided to take my experience and begin something new on my own. My biggest problem in starting up on my own is getting clients. I have read your article, and you gave some good pointers on how to get yourself out there, but I was wondering if you have any more advice to give me about this. *"
It is an exciting time to be an online English teacher. But online teachers face the same problems anyone faces when looking for specific information. The number of websites, companies and publications that cater to ESL teachers and students is staggering. Finding the ones you need, the ones that will connect you with the ESL students you want to teach, is like a wild-goose chase if you have no experience in the online teaching world. So if you want to make the leap from earning a few bucks with someone else’s company to being your own boss and boosting your income, here are a few pointers:
How to Find Private (Online and Offline) ESL Students
Get a WebsiteIn order to be successful, you’ll have to start thinking of your ESL students as clients.
The first step to getting ESL students involves a shift in your mindset. In order to be successful, you’ll have to start thinking of your ESL students as clients. And you have to think of what you do (“Teach English as a Second Language”) as a business. So…what kind of business does not have a website? It doesn’t have to be flashy; it doesn’t have to be expensive; it doesn’t have to be custom-created for you by a top Web designer. It just has to have the information you’ll need to provide to attract clients, which is:
- You name and photo (yes, photos are friendlier, and prove you’re a real person and not some faceless service)
- Your background, experience and qualifications (where you studied/trained; how long you’ve taught; your particular areas of expertise, like TOEFL, TOEIC, English for kids, etc…)
- A description of the services you provide (how long each lesson is; how you deliver the lessons – online or face-to-face; methods you use, etc)
I also strongly suggest you add a blog to your teacher website to show off your knowledge and expertise, maybe write about things that usually confuse students so that you can establish yourself as an expert in the field.
Spread the Word
Tap into the power of your own existing network. Send out a general message on Twitter that you’re available to teach. Post a status update on Facebook. You never know who might know someone looking for a teacher. Remember that friends of your friends may also see your updates.
Promote on Social Media
And now that we’re on the subject of Twitter and Facebook…Social media is no longer a way for college kids to post cat videos and procrastinate when they should be studying. Companies have Twitter accounts, Facebook pages and professional LinkedIn profiles. Contacts on any of these networks are very valuable, as they help spread the word, especially word of mouth (more on that later). Remember when I mentioned how important it is for you to have your own website? Well, just building it is not good enough. You’ll have to promote your services, post interesting and useful things about learning English as a second language to your blog, and connect with other teachers and students on these networks.
Network with Colleagues
You might think of them as the competition, but guess what? I have gotten a lot of students from other teachers who were simply too swamped to take on any more. If you don’t know that many, it’s about time you started socializing with them. A great place to find groups for ESL teachers is MeetUp.com. If you happen to teach at any school it’s also a good idea to let your colleagues know you’re available to teach private students.
First Lesson Free
You might be in an environment where there are a lot of ESL teachers and the competition is fierce. Offer a first lesson free of charge so students can get an idea of your teaching style. Most of them will stay on as regular students. The first lesson is also the perfect opportunity to evaluate your student’s proficiency and see if you’re a good fit.
Post on Community Boards
Leave a flyer on your church bulletin board. Live near any big schools or universities? The students there may not need ESL lessons, but their parents, relatives or neighbors might!
There are groups for ESL students in practically every major city in the world, and you’ll find plenty on MeetUp.com, like groups for foreigners who want to practice English. Join a group and help them practice in a social setting. Then see where it takes you. You will very likely pick up a student or two once you've proved that you know your stuff.
Language teacher classifieds might get you a few leads, as well. Create a profile on TutorAgent or register at My Sensei if you happen to live in Japan. You may also want to post an ad on the Craigslist for your particular area.
Word of Mouth
Never underestimate the power of word of mouth advertising. If you play your cards right and keep your ESL students happy with good results, they will recommend you to other ESL students - it’s a fact. But before you can start reaping the benefits of word of mouth you need to create a good client base. And here’s where the first 8 steps come into play.
There will come a time when you won’t need to advertise as much, or network as much, or post to your blog as much. And hopefully, you won’t have the time because you’ll be too busy teaching your own private students.
But be warned. You’ll have to work hard to get there. Are you in it for the long haul?