teach english online - get started

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

Update 2017: 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

teach english online - get startedIt’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.

Teaching English online takes away the geographical restrictions. You can access 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.

If teaching online appeals to you, this post will give you the information you need to get things rolling.

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 Your Students

teach English online using ZoomFirstly, make sure that your computer and internet are fast enough 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 fewer problems.

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

Both allow you to connect with anyone in the world for free.

If you’re looking for a simple solution – something that everyone has heard of – check out Skype. You are limited by what you can do, but the connection has improved a lot over the years.

Receiving Payment for Your Online Lessons

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

I have used PayPal for years now, and after researching other options, I still use it.

(Note: if you’re going to create and sell online courses, you might want to use something else in addition to 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 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 can be 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.

Keep it simple and stick to it. This 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.

In most cases, Apple earphones (or the equivalent) will be sufficient.

When I first meet with my students, I suggest that they use earphones or an external microphone too.

This increases the effectiveness of my teaching, and also my enjoyment of the lessons.

To Teach English Online, You’ll Need to Get Students

Being an independent teacher means bringing in students yourself.

In this section, I’m going to break this down and give you some short and long-term strategies.

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 Teaching Niche

Being clear on your teaching niche is the key to thriving to bringing in new students.

It’s not just good enough to say that you teach English online.

Get clear on the following:

  • who you want to teach
  • how you want to teach
  • what area you want to teach

Let’s say you want to focus on teaching conversational English. Great. But how are you going to teach this lesson? What type of learners do you want to teach? What materials are you going to use?

Having clarity on this helps you give the best lessons you can and it helps you attract the types of learners you want to target.

Having said all that, don’t let this stage put you off from getting started.

Your niche will evolve over time and it’s impossible to know what type of teacher you’re going to be without any teaching experience.

There are many reasons to work towards becoming specialized 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

pricing online lessonsThere 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 $20 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.

Sell Courses Too!

At this stage, it’s worth noting that there are various ways that you can bring in an income when you teach online.

Watch this video to find out more about this:

A Teaching Website


My website is at the center of everything I do

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 and the user experience you create.

There are a host of options 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:

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 in 2012.

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.

Create a System that Will Convert Learners

teach online system

A system that works

A big mistake I see teachers make is that they create their website without any type of system in mind.

A learner will land on their site, take a look around, and then leave.

What we want to do is to create a system that will convert learners into paying students.

We can do this by setting up our site so that our visitors take action by:

  • requesting a trial lesson
  • downloading something for free (and adding learners to our email list)

Choose one of those options and create your site so that this is what they do.

For example, when a learn visits my site I tell them to download my free book.

Once they download this book, they get added to my email list. I send them useful content and information about my lessons and courses.

If you focus on giving one-to-one lessons, you can tell your learners to request a trial lesson with you.

Put a big CTA (call-to-action) on your homepage, about page, blog posts… any page that you create.

Once you have this system set up, you’re ready to bring learners onto your website.

How to Bring Learners into Your World

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. For example, you can post on sites like Craigslist and offer your services.

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, and using social media.

youtube teach english online image

I love creating videos on YouTube

For example, I create videos for my YouTube channel. At the end of every video, I tell my learners to download the book that I talked about before.

There are some videos that I made back in 2014 that still bring in a constant stream of students.

How much content you create to help you build up a passive system depends on your goals, where you currently are with your online teaching journey, and what you offer.

You may only want to use the short-term methods that I mentioned before.

I can’t talk about getting new students without mentioning 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.

Just ask your current learners if they know anyone who would also benefit from your lessons.

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 me 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 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.

Tools You’ll Need to Teach Online and 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.

I save my lesson plans to Evernote.

I use WaveApps to track the financial side of things.

I run my email list through Active Campaign

… I could go on and on. To me, this is the fun part. These tools make our life easier and make teaching online fun.

A quick note on getting started:

This is often the hardest part.

My best advice is this: don’t wait to be perfect because that will never happen.

Teach to get experience. Create videos to learn how to make better videos. Start marketing your lessons now.

And read this if you want to learn more about making this transition.


What to Do Now?

If you are serious about teaching English – or any subject – online, and you really want to make this work, then check out The Teach English Online (Course).

If you’d prefer to get something for free from me first, get my guide below!

Thanks for reading. Please share if you found it useful!


If you're curious about online teaching, get my free video series on how you can get started. Click the button and enter your details to get instant access to video 1!



  • 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. http://www.languagebusinessmarketing.com

  • 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!

      • Alvert T

        I Precious, I am Albert from Beijing Mei Xiao Education Co. Ltd. (OneKid Online American School). We are looking for English teachers to teach Chinese children English (Grade Per-K to Grade 5) for both full-time and part-job. The payment for the part-time job is 14 to 21 dollars per hour(Negotiable). If you are interested in this job, please send email to me. My email address is: albert@onekid.com.cn

  • Nice article, Jack! I shared this to my friends. For my fellow Filipinos here, check http://www.bizmates.ph. 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 http://www.kidsesl.net/2015/02/teach-english-from-home.html

  • 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 ( http://www.mainichieikaiwa.jp).
    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.

  • Ibero Tefl

    Work in Argentina ESL positions, ESL teacher positions in Buenos Aires: A TEFL certification course is highly recommended for anyone looking to teach English abroad, including recent university graduates, licensed and experienced teachers, and professionals seeking a career change. Through our program, there are millions of ESL jobs and opportunities in Argentina or Worldwide. Earning the Íbero TEFL certificate benefits recent university graduates and ESL instructors by providing them with the basics and the foundation to succeed in the ESL classroom. English Teachers enrolled in a TEFL course will learn how to plan effective English lessons, manage a classroom, and teach English language skills including, writing, pronunciation, speaking and grammar. Our graduates will automatically benefit from ESL teacher positions and jobs in Argentina, Latin America or anywhere in the world. – See more at: http://www.iberotefl.com/

  • Eric Stevens


    Thanks for the guide you have taken the time to put together here. It has been helpful to me as I am sure it has been helpful to others. One thing I would like to add here for your readers is to check out preply.com which is a website for tutoring online or in person. There appears to be a good demand for English as a second language tutors there and you can setup a profile for free. It looks like a good place for someone to get a start with relatively no investment and to get some experience as well. Thanks to your article and other resources I have ventured into TEFL online with my own website anyone who wants some ideas can view it at: https://proenglishschool.com


  • Summer

    I’m currently looking for Native English Speaking Teachers who can teach my students online from different countries. Please feel free to email me for more details at partners@englishonlinestudy.com. would lve to help you get started. Thank you.

  • Buddhudah Time (Buddhudah)

    You tell them the very basics but you don’t say any requirements they may need for business and international standards! Seriously man how can anyone with no credentials just go and teach ESL?

    • What are the requirements for someone to teach independently?

      • Buddhudah Time (Buddhudah)

        Yes exactly, I believe you have to have TESOL Cert at least?