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.
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.
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.
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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