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 ONLINE? START HERE...

Well, hello there! I've been teaching online (independently) since 2011 and I'd LOVE to help you do this too. Curious about working from anywhere in the world and on your own terms? Just click the button below to get started!

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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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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.

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.

WANT TO TEACH ONLINE? START HERE...

Well, hello there! I've been teaching online (independently) since 2011 and I'd LOVE to help you do this too. Curious about working from anywhere in the world and on your own terms? Just click the button below to get started!

how-to-teach-engish-online