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

teach-english-online-post-website-example

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!

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JackBocaJuniors

Falling into ELT and cultivating my passion

JackBocaJuniors

Here I am in Argentina at the stadium of Boca Juniors in 2007. Football (soccer) was my passion for a long time.

 

As I mentioned in my post about becoming an independent teacher, I encourage my students to shape our lessons and choose topics and articles that are relevant and interesting to them.

One student this week chose an article that talked about the following advice – “Follow your passion!” The author had a rather negative view of this commonly given piece of advice and argued that passion is cultivated rather than something that is innate – (“FOLLOW YOUR PASSION’ IS CRAPPY ADVICE.“)

This led to a great in-class discussion and got me thinking about how I got into what I do now: ELT and web design & marketing. I am very passionate about both fields and love what I do.

But, six years ago, I had absolutely no interest in either. I had created a couple of free sites but found it unrewarding. As for teaching, I had no experience of this and expected to get back into marketing after completing my travels. If I had followed my passion back in 2007, I would have become a professional footballer (soccer player). The Premier League’s loss is my students’ and clients’ gain.

I started teaching more out of necessity (easy to find work; could live abroad with my American girlfriend) rather than anything else. I had considered it once or twice as a profession but kind of fell into it without really knowing what it was about. And, I also fell into web design because I created my website for my new teaching business and started to build websites for friends.

I had certain skills that I could transfer over to these two new worlds, and I am a perfectionist so I made sure that I got both right. But, I didn’t go into teaching and web design because I was following my passion; this came later. And what Cal Newport describes as cultivating a passion really resonates with my outlook on my two professions:

“…It requires you to approach your work like a craftsman. Honing your ability, and then leveraging your value, once good, to shape your working life toward the type of lifestyle that resonates with you”.

I love thinking about myself as a craftsman, always improving, always following my own path. He goes on to differentiate between excitement and true passion:

“The sensation of excitement about a particular idea is often a different sensation than the type of deep passion that drives people into a fulfilling career. Excitement comes and goes. True passion arises after you’ve put in the long hours to really become a craftsman in your field and can then leverage this value to really have an impact, to gain autonomy and respect, to control your occupational destiny.”.

Have you followed your passion into ELT? Or has it been cultivated through becoming an ELT craftsman?

Want to Teach English Online?

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Follow Your Own Path

Going alone – Becoming an independent ESL teacher and following your own path

Follow Your Own Path

Asturias, Spain. Following your own teaching and business path leads to wonderful things.

“We make the world we live in and shape our own environment.” Orison Swett Marden

You know the story: Man/woman is fed up with the rat race and his/her terrible boss, escapes his/her 9-5 hell and ends up becoming their own boss and making lots of money.

Sorry to disappoint those looking for a similar story here, but that isn’t exactly how I ended up with my own language school and becoming an independent ESL/EFL teacher. My 9-5 hell could be better summarized as an enjoyable time teaching students in Spain with differing degrees of independence, depending on which company I was working for at the time. My terrible bosses weren’t too bad (especially compared to some of my friends’ bosses), and, well, let’s leave how much I make out of it for the moment (let’s just say that I earn more now than I did back then).

I used to work for different institutes in Spain, teaching English to children, teenagers, adults, and businesspeople. On the whole I enjoyed the experience and liked the people that I worked for. There were certain things (some really important things) that I didn’t enjoy doing or agree with, and I realized that the more people there are above you, the less you can shape your own path.

But now, I am the one who makes the decisions and I am free to shape my lessons as I see best. Because of this I have grown into a much more effective teacher and have created a working environment that I love.

Following your own teaching path

Being able to shape your own methods as a teacher is an incredible thing. I’ve been able to grow and learn so much over the past few years.

Here are some of the methods and strategies that I use (note: this is for general English lessons and not exam preparation):

One-to-one specific lessons – I teach individual lessons (not a limitation that I’ll always stick to) and make the classes as specific to each student as possible. I work on their weaknesses and stick to topics that are relevant to them. It’s also good not to worry about discussing slang and strong language when it is suitable for certain students.

Organic lessons – I have a general plan and certain things that I want to cover for each student, but I go into each lesson with an open mind and let the lesson take its own course. I also encourage my students to take control of their learning and shape their own lessons.

Conversational English – I focus on conversational English and get my students using their English. Examples of grammar are done with a focus on real English conversation and role plays. I also love introducing real, engaging, and relevant materials before, during, and after the lesson.

Repetition – I repeat things that we have learned in the past by using different conversations and resources.

Language coach – I’m a language coach and not just a teacher of English. I motivate, inspire, and guide my students on their own learning path, recommending self-learning methods that produce real progress.

The above is the basic outline of what my student can expect when taking lessons with me. The feedback that I receive from my students is that they feel that they are making real progress, and I have seen this progress first-hand.

I will go into more depth about my methods in later posts, but for now I want to highlight that setting up my own school and becoming a freelance tutor has allowed me to fully incorporate methods that I have found to be the most effective. My students see real results and that is the value of what I give them.

This wouldn’t have been possible if I was still working for someone else.

Following your own business path

Here are some of the features of my online teaching business:

The best students – I only teach students that fit my teaching criteria. I’ve picked (or fallen into) a couple of really great niches. Being able to target any type of student in the world has HUGE implications for online freelancers.

I work at home – This is really important for me and something that I love doing. Being from the UK, having family in France, and having an American wife means that I may well be moving around a lot in the following years. This type of job allows me to work where I want.

Higher income – I charge based on the going rate for my niches and how much I can offer. The only cut that is taken is from my Paypal, minimal hosting costs, a small amount of advertising, and, of course, taxes. The potential for well-paid classes is massive when teaching online.

Flexible schedule – I set my own hours and decide when to teach and when not to teach. I used to agree to lessons at inconvenient times at first but don’t do this anymore. All my lessons are within 10am and 5pm.

Flexible holidays – I take holidays when I want to. I actually take less holidays now than I used to, but that is something that I decide to do.

I’m my own boss – I love making decisions about all aspects of my business and teaching. No one to put limits on my growth as a teacher and a business person.

I sometimes take the above for granted. I have worked for many companies and language schools and nothing comes close to what I’m doing now. Working from home and being the one who makes the decisions is pretty special.

I have also come to realize that the student-teacher relationship is a reciprocal one. I put up with some terrible students when first starting out as I took on anyone who got in contact with me. That was especially true when working for my different language schools.  I don’t take those students on anymore and only work with people who pay on time, come to class, and make the most out of the time we spend together.

The students that I’ve had over the past couple of years have been incredible. I’ve made some really special relationships with people from all over the world. All my students are good students and there is no need for me to take on the bad apples anymore.

Becoming my own boss and following my own business path have allowed me to have the above.

Steps to take to start freelancing

If you are wanting to follow your own path and teach English online, then there are some steps that you need to follow. Here is a guide to what you will need:

1. A clear vision of your business – What type of lessons do you want to give? How much do you want to charge? What will your cancellation policy look like? What times are you available to teach? How and where are you going to get students from? Thinking through these and other questions will help you create a clear strategy of what your online teaching business will look like.

2. Your own website – Your website is your base and where your students will go first. This is where you introduce yourself, give information about your lessons, convince potential students that you are the teacher for them, and finally have the necessary forms to collect information. It’s pretty hard to make it as an independent online teacher without a website. And make sure that you have your own domain name. (more about having your own website).

3. Other necessary tools – These include Skype or Google Hangout and a way to receive payment (Paypal is my choice).

This is a pretty basic outline of what you will need to get started. Each of these points have already been or will be discussed in detail on this blog.

Becoming an independent online English teacher has allowed me to follow my own path in so many ways. Are you following yours?

Want to Teach English Online?

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Guardian

Are online newspapers a good resource?

Newspapers as a Resource

The Guardian is a popular newspaper resource for online teachers and learners.

I have seen many new English teachers make a beeline straight for the online newspaper when first taking lessons. It seems a great idea at first, right? You choose an article that you think is interesting, send it to the student, they read it before class and out loud during class, then you look at key vocabulary before having a discussion about the topic.

The above lesson plan isn’t very effective for the vast majority of students as the language used is far removed from the student’s desired language use.  Every student that I have taught has said that improving their speaking is their number on priority (non-IELTS students). I always ask the following question before using any resource, “Is the language used in this resource something that my student can use?”

A Passive Activity

When I used newspapers during lessons in the past I always seemed to be telling my student that the vocabulary and phrases that they come across just aren’t that common for everyday use. Do your students want to speak just like a newspaper reads? If not, then you shouldn’t make that type of language the focus of your lesson.

I advise my students to read newspapers as a passive activity; something to be done in their free time. I push them towards interviews as they are great for learning conversational English, but if they are really interested in world affairs then they are better off reading about them in English. And even then I try to send them to more conversational pieces like blog posts and podcasts.

That doesn’t mean that I don’t use news articles at all, I just use them in a different way. And thanks to a great resource from +Sean Banville, my preparation time has been dramatically reduced.

Using newspaper articles effectively

When I realized that the discussed method of using newspapers as a resource was ineffective I started to break down the stories and rewrite them for my students. I also dissected the topics, thought about the key issues, and created warm up activities and discussion topics related to the story. Then I found Breaking News English and realized that is was already there for me.

With a two paragraph simplified version of a particular news story, over 40 activities, and two recordings, this site has made my lesson planning much easier. I especially love the warm up exercises and find them perfect for my students.

Using stories from newspapers should be engaging and fun for your students. Using news stories in this way has improved my lessons and has ensured that my students are learning the type of language that they can use in everyday situations. Opinons are shared and use role-plays as a way of really getting into the different topics. My students are engaged and learn a lot of language that they can use with their English speaking friends.

How do you use newspaper articles in your lessons and what other resources do you use?

Want to Teach English Online?

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Trial lesson

Offering trial lessons and converting students

Trial lesson

Making trial lessons $1 filtered out the time wasters.

But, I thought that you offered free courses?

This was probably the number one thing I heard during my first year of online teaching. I had offered new students a free twenty-minute trial lesson which the majority of my students interpreted to mean free lessons for life.

Two of the biggest mistakes I made at the start were not charging for the initial trial lesson and targeting students in countries that were much lower down the economic spectrum than the UK and US.

I remember sitting in a cafe, my website and adwords campaign had just gone live, watching the requests come flying in. After twenty minutes and twenty requests, I paused the advertisements and started emailing my eager students back. I think from the initial twenty I arranged ten trial lessons, and from those ten, not one went on to take lessons.

Because I had the word “FREE!” written all over my website, Google also started ranking me for keywords such as, “Free online English lessons” and “Online English tutor free.” After a year of going through a lot of trial lessons, I decided to make a radical change and charge one whole dollar for a twenty-minute trial.

And it worked beautifully. It was a filter that only let through serious students with the capability of making online payments. When I woke up and saw that someone had requested a trial lesson, I knew that the likelihood of them being a time-waster was minimal and that I could go into the trial with a great chance of converting the trial student into a long-term student.

Did the number of requests drop? Absolutely. But I was spending my time and energy on students that I knew were seriously looking for lessons.

I used the 80/20 principle and focused on those who were taking a trial because they were serious about improving their English and knew what was involved. Just that one change got rid of most of the time wasters and released more free time focus on other things that were much more effective. It also made me much happier.

How to conduct a trial lesson and get lifetime students

Through experience, I go into the trial lesson fully expecting that they are going to start taking lessons with me. This is especially true for referrals and those looking for exam preparation.

Here are some things that have worked for me:

1. Expect them to take a lesson – This makes you use language like, “So, how many lessons would you like per week?”, instead of, “So, do you think that my lessons sound right for you?” It also comes across to the student that you are a sought after teacher.

2. Be enthusiastic – Make your lessons sound exciting and make your student know that they are going to progress with you. Keep your explanation of your lessons simple and make them want more.

3. Correct their English – Most students want a teacher who will be able to correct their mistakes. Make some notes on their mistakes and explain a few things. Give some examples and say that you’ll review this in their next lesson. Students love this.

4. “So, do you have any questions?” – I usually ask this question near the end of the lesson. There are usually a couple of questions, sometimes there are none. Once this is over ask the question used in point one and get your calendar ready.

I keep trial lessons short (10-20 minutes). I see some teachers offering a one hour trial lesson (and for free!), which I think is crazy. Twenty minutes is enough time to showcase your teaching skills, get to know each other, sell your lessons, and answer any questions. If your student is still unsure then you could offer a discounted first (real) lesson, which is something that I have done in the past but don’t do anymore.

The follow-up

If your student says that they need to think about it and that they’ll get back in contact with you, then you need to be proactive. In these situations, I send an email straight after the trial summarizing your lessons and what you have talked about. I then follow this up with a quick chat on Skype a few days later (if they are online).

This has worked for me, maybe not always straight away, but sometimes six months later I see them online, ask them how their English learning is going, and see if they would like to try and start again with you. I’m pretty selective about who I do this with as some students were just put off by the price. It’s no use chasing students and spending lots of time following up if you know that they aren’t going to take lessons with you. But, if you have lots of free hours, you might want to do this a little more in the beginning. Just know that they aren’t likely to be the best students long-term.

The no-shows

Even the most enthusiastic students, those who seemed really excited during the trial lesson, don’t show. I have a knack of knowing which students are going to show and which are going to fall off the face of the earth after agreeing to a lesson. It’s hard for me to dissect this, but over time, you’ll be able to do this too.

I usually send the invoice just after the trial and send them a link for the cancellation policy. I explain that the class needs to be paid well in advance of the lesson and will send a quick email if this hasn’t been done the day before.

I usually plan some admin to do during this hour, so that if they decide to no-show, I’m not just sitting there scrolling through some random article until my next class.

If they don’t show then I send them an email telling them that they have missed a lesson. If you don’t hear anything then good luck getting that lesson fee! If they reply and say that they are sorry and want to try again then use your cancellation policy and don’t budge. There might some circumstances where you give them another chance or half-off the next lesson, but these should be few and far between. Be strong and ask for payment within 24 hours (for both classes), otherwise, you’ll cancel their lesson. You don’t want to be waiting for your student for a second time.

This sets the precedent right away and stops you from wasting time chasing students who are just going to flake out anyway.

To summarize:

1. The first stage of converting students is making sure that only serious students sign up for a trial in the first place.
2. Use the advice above to convert as many students as possible.
3. Be strong with no-shows (time wasters) and don’t waste too much time chasing.

I hope that this post has helped and I would love to hear from you other ESL onliners about how you conduct trial lessons and how you convert as many students as possible.

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Lyle

Choosing your teaching space and limiting interruptions

Lyle

This guy can make quite the noise. He also pops up out of nowhere!

From Monday to Friday at around 1pm, and again 10 minutes later, my 12lb dog sounds like he wants to rip someone’s head off. I never knew such a small dog could sound so angry and ferocious. The nice, friendly mailman pulls up and drops off our mail, and then 10 minutes later pulls up across the road.

He didn’t use to be like that. He was fine and friendly towards our old mailmen. But, one day when we were all outside our temporary mailman decided to approach our little dog and start acting like a dog: barking, running around, and looking aggressive. Ever since he associates mailmen and their trucks (and even their sounds) as the number one danger.

This means that my beautifully created downstairs office is now left unused. It’s terrible to be in a lesson and have your little dog barking like a madman. So, I’ve moved upstairs into the spare room away from the ferocious little beast.

Having a good space to teach in is a challenge. Most of us don’t have a separate wing where everything is peaceful and without interruptions, so we have to try to work with the best that we’ve got. Other potential interruptions can be the telephone, people knocking on the door, children, partners, and I’m sure you can add some more.

Achieving interruption-free lessons.

I overcame the barking problem by moving upstairs, far away from the noise. This also took me away from the centers of action (living room, kitchen etc.) and the front door. My wife also needs to walk upstairs to pop in for a quick question (the stairs being the barrier) so I get less interruptions from her during the lessons too.

I also try and block my lessons from 12-4pm. This allows me to get into teaching mode during the afternoon and it means that those who want to contact me know that it’s best to do this in the mornings. This could easily be switched to mornings or evenings depending on your situation and the time-zone of your niche.

I have toyed with the idea of getting an office space, but there haven’t been many available within walking distance of where I live. I also have managed to overcome interruptions by having a good space at home.

So, try and think what space is best for you and what times you’ll receive the least interruptions. And, if you do get interrupted, make the interruption part of your lesson (asking my wife for something to show an example of a request), apologize, and move on.

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Niche Featured

What’s your niche?

Niche

Do you have a teaching niche?

Let’s get our business brains on while we talk about niches.

I see a lot of online teachers giving general lessons without really being specific about what they do. Conversational lessons are the most common, with some offering business English along with exam preparation.

But, it usually stops there. To really stand out from the crowd you should focus on one, two, three (or more) niches and offer yourself as an expert in this/these specific niche(s). This isn’t to say that you have to make your whole website just about your niche, as you can achieve this through having different areas on your website.

We are going to talk about ways to think about your niche and how this can help you.

All about niches and how it brings your students

Why is it important to focus on a niche instead of giving general lessons?

Firstly, having a niche makes what you offer much crisper. You are able to get what you offer across clearly, and your content will resonate will those who you are targeting.

Focusing on a niche gives you expert status in that field; your value is much greater to those students than just any other teacher. You know what works for those students, what they are looking for, and how much they are willing to pay.

In addition, focusing on one area of English makes lesson planning much easier; having to plan for learners of different needs and levels increases the amount of time you spend working outside of your classes.

In my case, I have spent a lot of time teaching people from Spain and know exactly what mistakes they are going to make in terms of pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. The same goes for Russian students, IELTS exam preparation, and business English. I am in the process of creating sites specifically for these learners.

Having these niches greatly helps my referral rate. As I offer a lot of value, my students talk about me with their friends. They tell them that I am worth the cost of the lesson and my value is much greater than someone without this specialized knowledge and skills.

There are so many different niches out there. The best way is to start with what you have experience in and what you are interested in. If you are new or would like a change of direction, think about which niches are profitable and fun.

Some students might be profitable, but can also cause problems. Getting that combination correct will greatly improve your income while also ensuring that you enjoy what you do..

Exam preparation as an example

From my experience, focusing on exam preparation is a great area to be involved in. Students have a sense of urgency because the test means so much to them.

Some learners have to take an exam so that they can work, study, or just move to a new country. They have a lot riding on the outcome of the test which means that they are more focused. Homework is done, they don’t miss as many lessons, and they are looking for someone with experience and the skills to help them pass.

I met a girl who focused on teaching pilots who needed to pass an English test to be able to fly. These students generally had the money to pay for her high rate, were impressed by the fact that she had the experience of the exam, and needed lots of lesson really soon because their exam was coming up, an exam which is really important to potential pilots. They also referred her to their other  pilot friends because she helped them pass this test.

As someone who has prepared students for exams, there is no better feeling when you help someone move to a country abroad or allows them to study in an English speaking country. I stay in contact with my students and see pictures from Australia and other countries where they have moved.

But, this is just one example. There are hundreds of different niches that you could concentrate on.

Be your niche(s)

Imagine that your expertise is on teaching business English. In this case, your website and pictures should look professional, and the content on your site should be business related. Branding yourself is a lot of fun and the rewards make the initial effort worth it in the long-run.

You don’t have to limit yourself to one niche. There’s nothing stopping you from creating two, three, or more websites, each focusing on a different niche. Or, you can split up your website into different sections creating content for each area that you teach.

Offering specialized lessons will help you find more students, help you focus on your teaching, and can potentially help you charge a higher rate. So, what niche will you choose?

If you need help choosing a niche, see my follow up post to this here.

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I love teaching online, and I love helping others do the same.

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APP Feature

Being there with your student

Shouldn't You Be Working?

StayFocusd is a great APP for those who need help focusing.

As well as teaching online lessons I have also been on the other side of the webcam. Taking Spanish lessons has given me great insight into what it is like for a student to take online lessons and having that experience has made me a better teacher.

The one thing that is the most annoying as a student is when the teacher isn’t really there with you. It’s just so obvious when they’re going through the motions and not really focusing on what you’re saying. I want my teacher to pay special attention to the mistakes I make and give me different ways of saying what I have just said. And it’s surprising how many teachers I have taken a trial with that clearly have their mind elsewhere. In fact, some have been truly terrible.

This is the one thing that I have worked on the most as a teacher; I want to be in the moment with my student. I want them to know that for the time they have with me they will have my full attention and focus. I don’t want my mind to wonder so that I am picking up all the mistakes that my students make.

This is a potential problem with online teaching as the distractions are right there in front of you. It’s so easy to open another tab and look at your emails, check your social networking site, search Ebay, check the weather etc. And because your student isn’t physically with you, it’s easy to think that they don’t know. But they do, and it’s not good for them or for you.

How to focus

Zen is not some kind of excitement, but concentration on our usual everyday routine. – Shunryu Suzuki

Multitasking is just so much easier to do nowadays. I sometimes have moments where I have more than five tabs open at any one time on my computer and all I seem to be doing is just clicking from one to the other. I sometimes open up websites automatically without really knowing that I’m doing it. I’ve done this in the past during lessons. There was a time when I would just automatically check the weather or go to some other site only to be jolted back to the lesson when one of those dreaded (and incredibly annoying) automatic videos started playing, and it’s awful when this happens during a lesson.

The thing about multitasking is that you’re not really doing two or more tasks at the same time, but instead you’re switching between tasks. As the quote above says, a lot of joy can be taken by just concentrating on what you’re doing. I feel much better during and after lessons when I am fully focused on my students.

There is an app that I use and it has helped me greatly with being able to focus. For Chrome users this is called Stayfocusd. This allows you to block websites during a set time period, and for those who want to get work done in general, you can set limits on the amount of time you spend at certain sites.

So, before a lesson I start the application which stops me from going onto the sites that I visit the most. I don’t always need to do this now as it has trained me to focus on what I’m doing, and now all my concentration is on the student and the lesson. I say completely, but nobody’s perfect – my mind does wander at times and it is something that I’m always trying to improve. I find that it is more difficult with advanced students who like to talk while beginners don’t give you a moment to let your mind wonder.

Being with Your Student is Much More Fulfilling

Knowing that you have given your student your best for the full amount of time is a much better feeling that just going through the motions. It’s not an easy thing to do and takes practice, and it gets especially hard if you overextend yourself.

If you are having problems with focus then use the recommended application above and be aware of the times when your mind starts wonder. You’ll be a much better a teacher and you and your students will get much more out of your lessons.

Have You Thought About Teaching Online?

If you have ever considered teaching online, or if you are already an online teacher, be sure to join other teachers who have signed up to receive my free updates and resources.

I love teaching online, and I love helping others do the same.

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I will also send you my best tips about how to become a successful online teacher.

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“You do what?” – We’re not mainstream yet

Even though there have been major changes in the way that languages are taught, many people upon hearing “I teach English online” suddenly look confused. Soon after their intrigue kicks in and barrage of questions are released:

“Is that possible? Where are your students from? How do you teach them? How do they pay you?” etc.

Although many people are making a great income by teaching online, it seems that we online ESL teachers haven’t reached the mainstream yet.

When I first started teaching I only wanted enough money to buy plane tickets to visit my girlfriend in America, pay my parents some rent money, and have enough left over for going out. I didn’t see it as a career option and never thought that that it would end up being one.

Barriers

The only barriers to creating a good or even great online income from teaching ESL are the barriers that you yourself put up. I have limited myself in the past from making more money because of doubts, hesitation, fear, lack of ambition at the time, and countless other reasons/excuses.

I have gone through a lot to get where I am now. The mistakes that I have made have sometimes been small and other times been large. Some mistakes I have learned from and moved on, without any real damage being done. Others have had more of a longer lasting effect (this to come).

Throughout my posts I want to share my own experiences and mistakes. I want to outline what I have learned and explore new ways that we can improve our teaching, our websites, and our marketing.

Growing as a Teacher

I have got to the stage where I make my living doing what I love. I am my own boss, and more importantly, I am independently developing better ways of teaching to make sure that my students make the progress that they desire. Growing as a teacher by following my own path and being a freelance English teacher is, for me, the most incredible thing about what I do; but, without the income, this wouldn’t be possible.

Thank you for reading my first post and I hope you stick around.

Want to Teach English Online?

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