Teaching English online independently is a way for you to earn more, teach the way you want to teach, and work from anywhere in the world.
You can choose your schedule, target learners who you love working with, and scale your business over the long-term.
Sounds great, right?
The problem is this: without online marketing know-how, it will be difficult for you to fill your schedule. You’re also going to need a plan of action to ensure that you make progress with this over the long-term.
This post will give you 16 powerful tips to help you get this right.
And if you are serious about doing this, take my free video training (sign up at the bottom of the page).
Let’s dig in…
1: Get clear on your teaching niche and how you teach
To teach English online successfully, you will need to do think about your teaching niche.
Some teachers are super-specific here. For example, you can teach IELTS speaking preparation to learners from Brazil through your own method.
Others offer general lessons to anyone who wants them. Either way, you’ll need to gain clarity on what your niche is.
Your teaching niche includes the following:
- what you teach
- how you teach
- who you teach
The clearer you are with this, the better you’ll be able to resonate with learners. You’ll be able to tell specific learners, with confidence, that you are the teacher for them.
You might not get full clarity straight off the bat. In fact, this will be an ever-evolving process. But consciously going through this – thinking about your current skills, what you enjoy, and who you would like to work with – will lead you in the right direction.
Don’t let this stage stop you from getting started. Get teaching as soon as you can (more on this later).
Take a look at this for an example of a teacher who got this right.
2: Create a website that is set up for conversions
To sign online students up for your lessons, you’re going to need a website.
Most teachers set their website up incorrectly. They set them up for browsing, not for conversions. They have all this information for people to read, but there is no clear action to take. Learners land on their site, take a look around, and then leave, never to return again.
When creating your site, set it up for conversions. Know what action you want your learners to take and convince them to take it.
The action you choose depends on your current goals. But it usually means one of two things:
- downloading something for free
- signing up for a trial lesson.
Both of these allow you to follow-up with anyone who takes action and you can…
3: Send learners through a funnel to build trust and desire
What’s a funnel?
Let’s look at an example:
I make lessons on my YouTube channel for intermediate English speakers. At the end of each lesson, I include a call to action (CTA).
My CTA is a book that I give away for free. The learner enters their name and email address and I send them my book.
From there, I send further emails that give them useful lessons. I also build desire for what I offer (in the past, one-to-one lessons – these days, it’s my audiobook and online course).
I then present my offer and convince learners to sign up.
Why is this important?
Because if you send learners you don’t know you yet straight to your offer, you conversion rate will be very low.
Learners take lessons with teachers that they know, like, and trust. And giving away free content and following up through email is the best way to reach that stage with your learner.
This means you will need to…
4: Get an email list from day one
Email marketing is the best way to sell your lessons and build an audience over the long-term.
I use email in two main ways:
- To send specific subscribers through a welcoming / sales funnel (as we just learned)
- To send content and product launches to my subscribers
I won’t go into the finer details of why this is all important here, but know this: 95% of sales come from English learners who are on my email list.
5: Use social media in the right way
Social media has changed everything. You already know that.
But for independent teachers, it means that we reach English learners through content that we create. For free.
Social media can be overwhelming. What’s more, online platforms are noisy places. That’s why, when we’re clear on our niche, we can cut through the noise and resonate with the type of learners we want to teach.
Additionally, use sites that you enjoy using. There is no need to join them all. In fact, if you do, then you’ll spread yourself too thin.
Finally, make content that is natural to the platform. Go to minute 3:05 in the video below to learn what this means:
6: Focus on what you do best and what you enjoy
When building an online English teaching business, you might get overwhelmed with all the different ways you can market your lessons.
For example, you’ll hear people say that you need to blog, start a podcast, join every social media channel, make videos for YouTube etc.
Go with what you enjoy doing and focus on that right now. For example, I have a Twitter account, but I never use it. If I spent time using it, it would work for me. But I prefer to spend my time making videos and writing blog posts.
7: Connect with your learners
Going back to your website, make a connection with your learners.
The best way to do this is through video. Your potential students want to know who you and see you in action.
It doesn’t have to be long. It doesn’t have to be perfect. Just get something up there. A simple one-minute welcome video on your homepage can make a huge difference.
If you’re apprehensive about putting yourself out there, read this.
And if you want to learn how to create videos read this.
8: Get teaching as soon as possible
Maybe you have years of teaching experience. Maybe you have never taught before.
Either way, get teaching online as soon as possible. Make this a priority.
The earlier you get started, the better. A lot of learners are looking for conversational lessons and error feedback. This is something you can offer right now. And if you decide to take formal training, you’ll have context for the theory.
If you’re an established English teacher, get used to teaching one-to-one online using the tools available. Ask a current student if they want to jump online with you and take things from there.
9: Always be improving
This goes for teaching and marketing.
With teaching, take relevant courses, read blogs, read books, watch videos, get feedback from your learners and other students, and review your own lessons.
With the business side of things, learn how to market your online lessons, take action, and then refine.
A benefit of digital marketing is that you get constant feedback on what works and what doesn’t. For example, if you advertise on Facebook or Google, it tells you how many people clicked on your ad and, if you set it up correctly, how many people converted.
If you don’t get the results you want at the first time of asking, make changes. For example, ask yourself how you can improve your ad headline, image, text etc., how you can the page people go to when they click the ad, and how you can improve the sales process.
Don’t say, “This doesn’t work.” Say, “What do I need to change to make this work?”
10: Set a deadline for when you want to do this full-time
If you’re serious about moving online, set a deadline.
Say, “Six months from today, I will be teaching English full-time online.”
Without a deadline, you will keep putting things off. You won’t make it a priority in your life. Don’t do this someday – have a specific date in mind.
With this date, you can then set yourself mini-deadlines. These might include:
- Setting up your website
- Contacting 10 ex-students to tell them about your new lessons
- Getting relevant video equipment
- Signing up for email software
- Taking specific training that will help you get this right
11: Know that you will need to hustle to get learners at first
Earlier, you learned that learners click the link at the end of my YouTube video to download my book. From there, they go through a specific sales process.
This all happens on autopilot.
Thousands of learners watch my videos every day. Hundreds download my book each week. But it took me a while to get to this stage.
Making videos on YouTube is a great example of what I call a long-term marketing method. You won’t get results in the first few weeks or maybe months, but once things start gaining momentum, you will attract learners passively over time.
At the beginning, however, you will need to hustle to get learners.
Get that email list set up and then:
- help learners on a one-to-one basis in groups on social media and include a CTA
- get in touch with old students or anyone you know who would benefit from your lessons
- post on relevant websites offering your services
This is just the tip of the iceberg. But know that you will have to work at this to make it effective.
12: Don’t worry about getting your pricing right straight away
“How much should I charge for my lessons?”
Many teachers get stuck here. But let me take the pressure away…
… you can be flexible with your pricing. What I mean by this is that you can:
- increase your prices
- offer different prices for different learners
- offer discounts
In 2014, I doubled the price of lessons for new students. I had a high demand for lessons at the time and the price increase didn’t affect my schedule. In fact, charging higher prices is a way to attract learners who buy based on value rather than cost.
If you are flexible with your pricing, don’t include numbers on your website.
As for what type of salary you can expect from teaching English online, this varies greatly. But know that you can scale this to wherever you want to take it (more on this soon).
13: Don’t worry about bad apples
A big concern for new online teachers is not getting paid for their lessons – that a learner will take a lesson and then disappear without paying.
Always ask for payment up front and explain to your learner that their lesson is only reserved once you receive payment.
You’ll get learners that request a trial and don’t show. And learners who come to your trial lesson without any intention of paying for future lessons.
This makes you feel like you’ve been taken advantage of. Here is what to do:
- see if there is anything that you can learn from this experience and make relevant changes
- forget about it and concentrate on the bigger picture
Certain learners will try and get as much free help as possible. How you respond to this depends on you. I talk more about free vs paid lessons here.
The key is to not let it affect you.
Here is a video that talks about this in-depth:
14: Make connections
In 2013, I made it a priority to connect with as many teachers as I could.
When I was starting out, I saw other online teachers as competition. But one day, I got on Skype with a fellow teacher and we talked about what was working for us and what we were struggling with. From then, I made it a priority to connect with as many teachers as I could.
Connecting with other teachers helps you in several ways:
- you can learn from others and get support from those who have been there and done it
- it helps online teaching feel less isolating
- you get your name out there and your content shared widely
There are countless groups on Facebook to join. Just make relevant searches, join them, and get involved.
15. Save time by using ready-made lesson plans (and get organized!)
A common question I receive is this, “What lessons plans can I use in my online lessons?”
What resources you use depends on your niche. If you’re teaching IELTS preparation for example, then you’ll need materials specific to this.
For general conversational lessons, there is so much out there. For example, Film English has lesson plans based on short films. Breaking News English has in-depth resources based on latest news. Do a search for ESL Ted Talks and you’ll find countless plans. And if you want ready-made lessons that are interactive, check out Off2Class.
Over time, you’ll build up your own library of resources. Use Evernote to help you organize them.
16. Know that there are many ways to earn
Teaching English online isn’t just about one-to-one lessons. You can also:
- sell online courses
- offer group lessons
- hire other teachers
- promote other products (affiliate marketing)
- offer feedback on writing and speaking
Over the long-term, most teachers look for ways to earn more of a passive income. This has been my experience too.
It’s worth thinking about what you want to create over the long-term so that you can the necessary steps now to achieve those goals.
BONUS: Take action and get started as early as possible
Earlier, we talked about the different ways to make this transition.
No matter when you want to make this your full-time thing, start today.
Look at your goals (and your deadline for achieving this!) and then be smart about what you should focus on right now. For example, if you want to build for the future, start growing a following by email and social media.
Put stuff out there, learn, and make changes.
Online teaching has changed my life. I am in control of how I teach, when I teach, where I teach, and my future earnings.
Sign up below to learn how you can do this too.