How to Teach English Online: What You Need to Get Started

Update 2016: If you want to go through things step-by-step, start my free mini-course that shows you:

  1. what online teaching is all about
  2. how to get students
  3. how to make this work for you.

Click here to get video one right now

It’s great to see such a big interest in teaching English online. I really believe that doing this opens up a lot of creative opportunities for you as a teacher, giving you the ability to go down your own teaching path and teach the way that you believe is best for your students.

In addition, teaching online takes away the geographical restrictions. You can go into any English learning market in the world, which gives you more leverage to charge what you feel you deserve.

And of course, moving online allows you to teach from home or from anywhere in the world.

If teaching online appeals to you, this post will give you the information you need to get things rolling. (Note: The focus will be on one-to-one teaching.)

As I mentioned in an earlier post, I highly recommend getting your first student as soon as possible; it gives you that much needed initial income and experience, and your first student(s) can quickly grow into a busy schedule.

To be able to teach your first student, you’ll need to have a basic setup and have certain things in place. So, let’s start with listing what is required, before going into what is essential to include for the long-term.

Initial Set Up

You will have to include the following in your initial setup: a VOIP service, a payment gateway, a cancellation policy, and although not a requirement, a headset.

Let’s start with the programs we need to have to be able to connect with English learners from anywhere in the world.

Connecting with Students

Firstly, make sure that your computer and internet are fast and working as they should be. There is nothing more frustrating than having a bad connection when teaching.

To be able to connect with students online, the best two options available are Zoom and Google Hangouts. I have moved my students from Skype to Zoom as the connection is better and it has less problems.

Google Hangout has many features, including a whiteboard (through a third party app).

Both allow you to connect with anyone in the world for free. As does Skype, but be aware of the technical problems.

Receiving Payment

PayPal is the obvious choice for receiving payments; it has been around for a long time and most online teachers use it as their payment gateway.

I have used PayPal for years now, and after researching other options, I haven’t been able to find anything else that is as good as PayPal. Getting started is really simple: after signing up, you can easily place payment buttons on your website (more about your website later), and send invoices directly to your students through email.

When you send these invoices, your students will receive a link where they can enter their payment details. This money is then transferred to your PayPal account, which in turn is withdrawn to your bank account.

PayPal typically charges around 2.9% + $0.30 for every transaction, but withdrawing to your bank account is free. (These fees may vary depending on your country.)

A drawback of using PayPal is that it isn’t available in all countries. This link has information about the countries where it is accepted.

Having a Strong Policy

Writing up a cancellation policy is something that every teacher needs to do. Keeping it simple, strong, and actually sticking to it, will cover your back when students cancel or don’t show to your arranged lesson.

Just having a policy isn’t enough; you have to clearly explain this policy to your students, and make sure that they understand what the consequences are when a lesson is canceled, or if they don’t show.

Good Audio

A headset isn’t obligatory, but it certainly helps. Instead of a regular headset, I use the following: these earphones and this microphone.

The value you get from these items is fantastic; the earphones, although very cheap, are really comfortable and they have great audio. The quality of the microphone is incredible, and many professional podcasters use this for their shows.

If you prefer a headset, I’ve heard great things about this one.

When I first meet with my students, I suggest that they get a microphone. This increases the effectiveness of my teaching, and also my enjoyment of the lessons.

Short, Medium, and Long-Term Strategy

Although your network and referrals can potentially bring in a lot of students at first, for the long term, you’ll need to think about your lessons in more detail, and how you are going to bring in students over time.

There are many things to consider; let’s start with the question of who you are going to teach and what lessons you are going to give.

Your Niche

Having a niche, or at least, a general area of specialization is the key to thriving as an online teacher.

If you already have experience teaching certain students, then this could potentially be the niche that you focus on.

Alternatively, you might want to change your area of specialization and start something new. While others (like myself), might just fall into something after teaching your initial students.

There are many reasons to specialize in teaching a certain niche (more about this here), but one of the key reasons is making sure that you are targeting students who can and will pay you what you want to be paid.

This brings us nicely to the next point…

A Pricing Structure

There are two different questions to answer when coming up with your pricing structure: how much do you WANT to earn? And, how much CAN you charge for students in a certain niche?

The answer to the first question will vary depending on your circumstances, expectations, and earning goals. Answering the second question helps you find the niche that fits your income needs.

The going rate for many established online schools is anywhere between $30 and $50 an hour (charging more is definitely possible). To charge these sort of prices will involve you having to think about what type of students you should target, knowing where to find them, and then converting them into paying students.

As well as having your base rate, you should also offer packages at discounted rates. Offering an incentive will bring in more students, and having students sign up for more than one class improves your retention rate and makes things easier for you.

You should also think about how you want to approach giving a trial lesson. Your initial assumption may be to make this free. But, when I did this, it caused me nothing but problems.

For more about pricing, click here.

A Website

Having a website is a must for the long-term. This online presence will become the center of all of your marketing efforts, firstly by attracting visitors to your site, and then converting them through your content, your profile, and your design.

There are a host of options there when it comes to getting your own teaching site. From my experience, and after doing a lot of research, I have whittled it down to three options:

1. Have someone to build a website for you.

2. Use a drag-and-drop template based website builder (my recommendation is Weebly), and create your own site.

3. Use WordPress, and again, build the site yourself (see our free step-by-step guide on getting started)

If you want to reduce the starting costs, options two and three are the best. Both of these options will cost you between $3-10 a month if you keep things simple, and you’ll need to buy your domain name separately (use Godaddy for this).

Weebly is great for starting out. I used a similar website builder for my first site, but moved it over to WordPress three years ago.

WordPress has become the platform of choice for web designers, and I can’t recommend it enough. There are certain things to that you have to learn, but using our guide will help you get started. And, I think you’ll be very surprised just how easy WordPress is to use.

For more information on building a website, see this post.

A Marketing Plan

I always get asked the following question by teachers who want to teach online: “How do I get students?”

There are certain things that you can do to attract students now, while other strategies will bring in students over the long-term.

The most important thing is to know who your target market is and where to find them. Being able to define your audience is the first step. This is often overlooked, but knowing as much as you can about potential students will help you bring them to your website and convince them that they will benefit from taking lessons with you.

Most marketing strategies that are effective in this field can be grouped into two different groups: short-term and long-term.

Short-term strategies include things like advertising and bring immediate results. This is perfect for when first starting out, or whenever you need to quickly fill your schedule. Some of these methods cost a little money, but there are many ways that you can do this for free.

Long-term strategies don’t have such an immediate effect, but once you have these established, your initial work will bring in students for the months and years ahead. These strategies include creating content on your site, improving your site’s search rankings, uploading videos, using social media, and other exciting strategies.

Then there is the ultimate way of getting your perfect students: referrals. Referrals are the most efficient way to fill your schedule, and you should concentrate your efforts on trying to get as many as you can.

Connections and Community

When I started teaching online, I initially had the mentality of being a lone-wolf; I tried to do everything on my own, worked in isolation, and hardly ever asked for help.

But, I have recently changed my approach and have connected with many fellow ESL/EFL teachers. This has opened up a whole new world of opportunities for me. 

Since I have connected with others, it feels more like a group effort. I can now bounce ideas off others and ask for advice when I need it.

And, my long-term goal for this website is to create a space where online teachers can connect and work together to succeed in online teaching.

To find other teachers, use Twitter, Facebook, Google Plus, and LinkedIn. Put yourself out there and start creating relationships.

(Click here to follow us on Facebook)

Materials and Resources

The type of materials that you will use in class very much depends on your niche and teaching style. There are some online courses that you have to pay an initial fee to have access to. However, there are many great free resources that I have found through my contacts.

Here are three examples: Film English (lesson plans based around films), Breaking News English (lesson plans based on news articles), and for something a little different, ESL Hip Hop.

I’ve used the above sites and many others for my general English lessons.

What’s the best way to find these resources? Go on Twitter or the other networking sites and connect with teachers.

Other Considerations

I use Google calendar to keep my lessons organized, and several spreadsheets to record what I have done with my students and for other admin tasks.

Getting started is sometimes the hardest thing to do. That’s why I really recommend just getting your first student and going from there. Having a plan of what you want to do long-term is obviously important too.

You’ll also have to think about how many hours you want to teach per week. One advantage of online teaching is that there is no traveling between lessons, so you can go straight from one student to another (if you do this, go with 55-minute lessons instead of 60).

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  • ELT Headquarters

    Great intro to the topic. Thanks for posting 🙂

  • kris

    Great article. Very succinct. It looks like we’ve followed most of your strategies!

  • Hey Jack,

    This as an incredibly valuable, article, nicely written!

    I’ve been recommending it to friends I know that are into, or wanting to get into online tutoring (and will continue to do so!)

    Cheers again

  • Clarisse Cesar-Wilson

    Hi Jack. I discovered about you on Linked. Honestly, your article is the only article I found that really inspire me. I have been contemplating about starting my own online English tutoring website and your articles are really helping in my preparation. Keep it up and more power to you 🙂

  • Marissa Richardson

    Thanks for the informative article.


  • Sandy

    I like your article… maybe we could colaborate. I offer FREE website design for teachers.

  • Precious Antonio

    I’ve been wanting to get into teaching English, but have felt overwhelmed every time I attempted anything. Your posts have helped me feel less anxious and more excited about this venture. Thank you!

    • I’m glad I’ve helped. It is overwhelming for teachers as the majority don’t know anything about online business, marketing etc., and that is where I like to help. Additionally, if you currently have something at the moment, then you can make a slow transition into online teaching which takes a lot of the pressure away.

      Thanks for stopping by and posting!

  • Nice article, Jack! I shared this to my friends. For my fellow Filipinos here, check They offer the highest rates per hour.

  • Re Ea

    Hi! I was wondering if anyone has had success using a free web platform to start such as wix or weebly. I would prefer something a little easier because I am super overwhelmed by all the info on siteground.

  • Cathryn Arden

    Great stuff. I think it’s great advice for anyone who wants to teach from home. I also found some teach at home companies and posted them here

  • Vincent Conti

    All of these posts are old! Can I really earn a little money teaching english online? Thanx

    • Hello, Vincent. I still post on a weekly basis, just check out my blog. Also, feel free to get in touch with me to ask me any questions you have about teaching online (contact form above).

  • Stephanie Csaszar

    You mention that there are many free short-term strategies for marketing but you don’t name any other than advertising. Could you supply a few specific tips?

    Stephanie, Owner and Lead Teacher of Modern English

  • Rebecca Espinosa

    this might be a totally ridiculous question, but I just recently graduated with a PE and coaching license and I wanted to get a tesol minor but in the end decided not to…other people I have spoken to about teaching online have told me that I absolutely need to be certified in english teaching…is this true (for every audience)?

  • Anton Pavey

    Hi, there. This article is straight to the point and easy to read and understand. I found it extremely helpful, thanks.
    Just one thing. As I tried to sign up for a PAYPAL account, a business one anyway as it seems I wouldn’t be able to receive payments with a personal one, it said they would have to confirm my identity, which means my business would have to be registered with the government which it is not as I mostly do freelance work. What are my option here. I’d love your feedback and advice. Thanks.

  • Kanhonou Gbetondji Herve

    Hello !
    Thanks for these great insights.
    I have just started working from home as an online English teacher at Mainichieikaiwa (
    I like the flexibility and freedom of home-based jobs.

  • Moris

    Hi, I posted something yesterday and I cannot see it here now. Was it deemed as non-publishable or was there any other reason? I made sure it went in because after I had posted it I came back (still from my mobile device where I had posted it) and noticed that it was indeed entered under my name,
    By the way, my post was in no way intended to diminish the intent of this blog, I find that the purpose is legitimate and anything to help others find ways to earn a living by doing something they like doing is commendable. What I think I did is put some perspective into it because there may be the perception that teaching English online (as basically any other endeavor might be) is a reliable way to make steady money. Perhaps there may be cases out there for which this may hold true; however, many people such as myself who want to do it because, first, we love teaching and second, we could really use an extra income, may not be able to breakthrough unless you maybe dive into it head on. I had started asking USD20.00 back in 2006 when I did my first attempts to work this way which I thought it was reasonable (based on research done at the time) and my experience and knowledge, but then I realized it was not quite that simple. So, I basically ended up teaching for something around USD 10-15 which is the most I’ve made, an hour.
    So, I don’t know how the perception is that someone can charge as much as 30dls even if we are talking about those individuals who would pay for the money. I think you said it, marketing plays a HUGE part but this only works if, again, you go into it head on… So, do it because you love it and you could use the extra money, but don’t quit your ‘day job’ just yet.
    Thanks and hopefully this one will stick.
    Cheers and happy teaching!

  • Stacy Harris

    Thank you, Jack! As a newbie to the online teaching world, I really appreciate this information about getting started with the ‘big picture’ in mind. It’s a very helpful article to get the basics and go from there. 🙂

  • Like the post. I am trying to remember the auto scheduling software; you can add it to your website and students self-book and it gives them a limited time to cancel (like a few hours or so). This way, you get your payment and you can pretty much set your hours as needed. There are two I remember that were recommended, but can’t recall them.

    • Is Calendly one? That’s the one I use and reocommend.