3-Step Writing Process Image

My 3-Step Writing Process: Blogging for Online Teachers

According to my writing app, I write between 12 – 15,000 words per week.

This number includes words from articles, emails, social media posting, and other areas.

I have introduced something new into my writing process that helps improve my articles and reduce the amount of mistakes I make.

In the video below, I go through the different stages of publishing something and share my new trick.

Watch in HD!

My Writing Process

Step One

Get your first draft done. Write down all your ideas and don’t worry about crafting the perfect article right now.

This is all about getting your ideas onto paper (or, onto WordPress!).

I like to do this in one sitting.

Step Two

Go through your first draft and make changes. Take out things that don’t work, move paragraphs around, and add in anything that makes the article flow better.

Don’t worry too much about grammar and little mistakes right now. If you see something, change it – but don’t go looking for them.

Step Three

I then read the article out loud like I am doing a presentation. It helps me notice whether the article flows and helps me spot mistakes I make.

(Note: I noticed some mistakes in the video after publishing it – fewer mistakes not less – but you don’t have the luxury of editing your video in this way unless you re-record it.)

You could get someone to proofread your articles. However, for me at least, this will add up and I need a very quick turnaround.

Over to You

Do you have any tips about writing?

Let me know in the comment section below.


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2015 Thus Far

A Quick Review of 2015 (Thus Far)

In this video, I talk about how I am progressing with my goals for 2015.

I will have a full review at the end of the year, but I have been strategizing a lot recently and thought the time was apt for a quick update.

Below you can find the notes from the video.

Build a bigger and better audience

This means to have more English learners who subscribe to my emails, subscribe on YouTube, follow me on Facebook etc. It also means having a more engaged audience. I have changed the way I use social media and email marketing over the past few months. I am looking for conversations, engagement, and interaction in addition to numbers. I have been focusing on Periscope recently for this reason.

Content Scheduling

In 2014, I didn’t have a plan for how often I would post. I changed that in 2015 and, thus far, have kept up with it. I have published at least one video every week for English learners and, except for when I was running a promotion or having a website, I have posted weekly on this blog. Creating content (articles, videos etc.) is how I reach more people in an organic way. Having this schedule stops me from putting things off and makes sure that I post on a consistent basis.

Building and Growing My Courses

I have two courses. One for English learners and one for English teachers. I was thinking about creating a third one as a separate brand, but I decided to double down on what I already had. I’ve been busy this year with working with those inside the courses, improving my sales funnel, and adding to the courses. I’m really happy with how things have gone in this area.

Automation, Outsourcing, and Analytics

I have been using a lot of apps to automate processes and to become more productive (see apps for online teachers). I have also outsourced various tasks including lessons and transcripts. This has been a huge help as it frees up my time. I need to improve upon of the analytical side of my business. I want to have a better overview of where sales come from, for example.

Routines and Timeblocking

My days are quite limited. I only have from 9-4 to work on my business. I sometimes get an hour in the evening and the odd hour here and there at the weekend. Therefore, making my hours more productive has been a priority and I feel I’m achieving this (note: I have been focusing on my health and find this makes a huge difference). I have also become quicker at doing certain tasks. For example, I’m making videos more quickly, not procrastinating as much over small decisions, and generally being more efficient.

Over to You

How has your 2015 been so far? Let me know in the comment section below.


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Learn How to Sell

Independent Teachers: Why You Need to Learn How to Sell

My thoughts on selling have changed dramatically over the past 2-3 years.

At first, I held back. I didn’t feel comfortable selling what I offered. I guess this is because most people think about the worst type of used car salesmen when they see the word ‘sales’. Or Alec Baldwin in Glenn Garry Glenross (warning: strong language).

Selling isn’t something we’re taught in school. It’s not something that we are taught in language schools. But as an online teacher, you’ll have to sell.

What’s interesting is that we’re constantly selling. When I put the case forward for going to my favourite restaurant (an Indian restaurant here in Asheville, in case you were wondering) I’m selling my wife on the experience we’re going to have.

You sell yourself in job interviews.

Kids sell their parents on staying out later.

I read a comment on the Guardian recently that was arguing against selling. He/she did a good job at selling their point of view.

The good news is that there are ways to do this in way where you don’t feel terrible about it. But first, let’s talk about why you need to sell.

Why You Need to Sell

You need to sell because no one is going to do it for you.

Having great lessons or a course that is going to change the world isn’t enough. You need to let people know how valuable your lessons are and why they should sign up.

I know this can be frustrating as the majority of teachers I talk to want to focus on teaching. But the reality is that you need to convince people to buy what you offer.

You need to sell because if you don’t, your learners won’t have confidence in your product or service.

They need to see that you believe in your product (more on this later). If you don’t talk about how amazing you are, no one will think that you can help them. If you don’t get excited about your lessons, your learners won’t. Show enthusiasm for your product/service and don’t hold back.

You need to sell because you need to earn an income.

This is obvious, but worth stating. If you want a full schedule or to have people buy your course, you need to make an effort. You need to get people fired up about what you offer. You need to make sales in order to earn a good living.

And…. you need to sell all the time.

It’s not just our lessons that we need to sell.

Want people to click a link? Sell them on it.

Want people to sign up to your email newsletter? Sell them on it.

Want people to share your post? Well, you get the picture.

Here’s one more example: I get many emails from teachers or business owners wanting me to take a look at their new app, their new site, or their product.

Nine times out of ten the email is generic and doesn’t even include my name. When I get these emails, I delete them. The person isn’t making an effort to sell me on their offering or them as a person.

But someone who has taken the time to learn about me and modifies their message gets my attention. I immediately have more faith in this person and what they have to offer.

Different Ways to Sell

Last night, I watched a live ‘scope’* from someone who I was unsure about.

He is an online entrepreneur who has become successful over the past couple of years. During the live session, I was blown away by how valuable he was – he answered so many specific questions and helped me solve a problem that I had been struggling with.

That ‘scope’ changed my mind about him as a person and the brand he represents.

There was no sales pitch during the stream. But I am more likely to buy a product from him in the future. He was connecting with his audience and selling himself through providing lots of valuable information.

This is an example offering something for free in order to build your brand.

The same entrepreneur also sells hard during a promotion. As do I. But most teachers don’t execute when it comes to getting people inside their lessons.

When I launched my course for English learners, I sent out five emails over four days. On the last day, I sent one in the morning and one just before the course closed.

It was hard to do this because I didn’t want to come across as too pushy. However, I was surprised at the amount of emails I received from those who didn’t sign up but still thanked me for the opportunity.

People procrastinate on buying stuff. It’s your job to convince learners that what you offer can help them. And you need to remind them consistently.

40% of those who signed up for my course made the purchase on the last day. 5 emails over 4 days might sound like a lot, but you’re missing out on a lot of income if you don’t push this.

How hard you sell depends on you, your audience, your product, and how much you believe in what you’re selling.

That last point is key: in order to have the confidence to sell, you need to have confidence in what you’re selling.

I am very proud of the products I have – they have helped change people’s lives. And I think this confidence shines through in my sales pages and emails.

The good news is that you can always improve upon what you have. You can improve your lessons, course, YouTube videos etc. For example, I have just added 21 new videos to my course for English learners. I plan on adding more next month too.

As you get better, improve your offerings, and see positive results, your confidence in what you offer will increase. And when someone who would benefit from your course gets in touch, you’ll have no qualms about telling them how much it will help them.

One last thing: be yourself when you’re selling. Use words you normally use and do it in a way that feels right to you.

Because as an online teacher, you’re selling people on you as a person in addition to the products you offer.

Over to You

Has the way you sell changed over time? How do you feel about selling what you offer?

Let us know below!


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Build Teaching Business on the Side

How to Transition into Online Teaching while Working a Full-Time Job

Build Teaching Business on the Side

Each month, I speak to dozens of teachers about making the transition into online teaching.

While some are able to work full-time on their new business, others have other things – jobs, young children, university, travel etc. – that get in the way.

I often get asked questions like, “Should I quit my job and just go for it?”

In most situations, I don’t recommend doing this. I believe the better option is to build your online teaching business on the side and then make the transition when the time is right.

Before I talk about how to do this, I want to start with a story.

How I Transitioned into Online Teaching

When I was in Bilbao, I created a website called Inglés Bilbao. Although I was teaching in a language school at the time, I wanted to get some private students to earn extra money on the side.

I stuck up fliers throughout the city, posted on classified websites, and invested about $50 in Google Adwords.

After a few weeks, I had a group class of three (earning $50 an hour), and 3-4 other private students ($32 an hour – but usually 90-minute lessons).

As the year progressed, my website started to show up in the rankings and I got more and more requests. I received plenty of referrals, too. If we had stayed in Bilbao, I would have gone full-time with this. But we moved to Valencia and I started the process again.

In Valencia, I added a page for Skype lessons and expanded my reach to other cities in Spain and Italy.

To finish the story: I realized the potential for online lessons and started a new site that wasn’t restricted to Valencia. I built this up while I was living in Spain and then started full-time when my wife and I moved to the U.S.

I managed to build these sites and build up my online presence while working a regular teaching job.

And you can do this too.

How to Transition into Online Teaching

Hopefully, my story highlights that there are ways to get into online teaching without having to quit what you’re doing now.

Although there will be situations where ‘just going for it’ might be the best approach, I feel that for most cases, building something on the side and transitioning when the time is right is the safest option.

Here are some tips to make this process work for you:

Set a Date When You Want to Make the Transition

When I knew I was going leave Spain and move to the U.S., I had a specific goal (20 hours of online teaching) with a specific deadline (January 2011).

If you have something going on at the moment, it can be very easy to have a ‘someday’ mentality and keep putting things back..

For example, after reaching my initial goal, I had plans to expand my online business (products, courses etc.) but I kept putting this off.

It wasn’t until I started setting deadlines again for my specific goals that I actually made progress.

Write down when you want to make the transition and set a deadline for this. Create breakthrough goals too. This helps you break things down so that you can build momentum.

Use Project Management Software

Getting things down on paper (yes, I know, software isn’t technically paper!) takes the pressure off trying to rely what’s in your head.

I use Asana for every new project I embark upon. To give you an example, I’m writing a free ebook for English learners that will fit into my email responder. There is a lot to do here. However, all the tasks, ideas, files etc. are organized inside this app.

I highly recommend using Asana or a similar app to help you stay organized and on top of things. After going through your plan of action, create separate projects in your software and give deadlines for each one.

Build Your Online Presence and Your Audience

You will need an online presence if you teach online. The earlier you start building this, the better.

Don’t get overwhelmed with having to create a Facebook page, YouTube channel, Instagram account etc. right from the get-go. Instead focus on the basics: get a website/web page up there, a business email account (this will come with your hosting), and an email marketing account.

Start bringing people onto your site and into your audience and write for this audience on a consistent basis through email and/or a blog post.

What you write about will ultimately come down to the type of English you want to teach and who you want to target. Understand the problems your audience has and be valuable by solving these problems.

Get Teaching

Write down times during the week when you are available to take lessons. Then, get teaching.

You will learn so much from giving lessons online, even if it’s only one hour per week.

It makes everything real. It helps you practice what to say in a trial lesson. It will make you a better online teacher.

Use the methods that I used in Spain (I go into much more depth with this inside TEOC) and bring in your first learners as soon as possible.

Find Time to Work on This

A job, partner, kids, friends, hobbies, TV, sports… there is a lot going on in our lives that make it hard to work on building your business.

That is why I recommend taking a look at your schedule to find slots during the week that you reserve for this project.

For most, this will be mornings, lunchtimes, evenings, and weekends. You might find time during your working hours too – for example, if your student cancels, get to work. But I recommend setting boundaries, otherwise, your work could suffer.

There might be weekends when you spend hours working but, over the long-term, you will want to make it sustainable.

Beware of Legal Implications

I receive messages from teachers working for certain companies telling me that their contract states that they can’t do their own thing while working for these companies.

In fact, I heard from a teacher that one company bans anyone doing their own thing one or two years after leaving. Crazy!

You don’t want to find yourself in trouble further down the line. Therefore, know if you are legally allowed to do this while working your current job.

In most cases, it’s fine. But it’s worth checking.

Enjoy it and Celebrate Your Successes

There are times when I do get stressed about my online business. When I do, I just ask myself, “How can I do this while having fun?”

Switching off from it all helps too. Turn off notifications and set boundaries for when you do your work.

Celebrate your successes no matter how small. And enjoy it. This is a lot of fun and I’ll never take the freedom that comes with having my own online business for granted.

Over to You

Have you made the transition into online teaching? Are you currently making this transition?

Please leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Thanks for reading!


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Free vs Paid

Free vs Paid: How to Find the Right Balance as an Online Teacher

Free vs Paid

If you are an online teacher, you will already know the importance of giving things away for free.

This includes articles/ebooks you have written, videos you have made, trial lessons, and your time.

But how much should you offer for free? How much time should you spend helping others without payment? And what content should you reserve for paying clients?

This post lays out some guidelines on how to strike the right balance between free vs paid content/lessons. But first, I explain the importance of helping learners for free.

Why Offer Content and Your Time for Free?

The reason behind creating free content and helping learners is simple: it helps you grow your teaching business.

For example, my YouTube channel has nearly 50 videos now. A percentage of those who come across one of my videos will take further action by either signing up to my email list or by purchasing my course.

This is called content marketing and if you do it right, it can be very powerful.

Although the content you create is free, it still has to be high quality. Creating things that are valuable will help you reach more people, show your value to prospective clients, and ultimately result in more sign-ups.

In addition to free content, you can also help learners directly.

One of my earliest posts on this blog talked about charging for a trial lesson. If you are just starting out, you will most likely offer this for free. You can also help learners directly by answering questions on social media and through email.

Again, this is showing that you’re a real person, that you’re there to help, and it offers a glimpse into the value you offer.

Starting conversations with learners in your niche is one of the most powerful ways to sell something. That is why I have systems in place so that I can start as many conversations as possible (more on this later).

A good example to highlight all of this is the free samples on offer at Farmers Markets. These samples attract you to the stall, let you know how good the product tastes, and you soon enter a conversation with the seller.

And as you’ve been given something for free, you feel guilty about walking away without buying something. This is the reciprocity principle and it applies in the ESL/EFL industry too.

I hope you can see how important it is to help learners for free. But….

Nobody Wants to Be Taken Advantage Of

There are learners who will take a trial lesson without any intention to pay for future lessons.

There are learners who will ask you a thousand questions but will never buy anything from you.

There are learners who will read every article you have but will never send money your way.

And when the above happens, it can be discouraging, especially when you’re first starting out. You’ve just given your time to help someone and you get nothing in return.

Another concern is finding the balance between free and paid content. If you give away too much, won’t learners just take the free over the paid?

If you struggle in this area, the following will help…

Filter Learners

Filtering learners helps you spend most of your time on those who are able and willing to pay for what you offer.

This starts with your niche. For example, if you advertise in countries where credit card ownership is non-existent, you won’t get anything back in return. Therefore, targeting learners who are able and willing to pay is the first step.

You can also filter after the fact. For instance, you don’t have to administer all trial lesson requests – you can filter out those who you know won’t be able to pay for lessons.

There is a limit to how much you can filter – search engines, for example, will show your site in different countries – and the filters that you put in place will ultimately come down to you and where you currently are with your teaching business.

Create Rules

I receive so many emails and messages from learners who want to chat on Skype or elsewhere. If you have an online presence, I’m sure you get this too.

What I do in these situations is reply stating that I don’t have conversations with learners on Skype and send them a link to my landing page to get a free ebook. I let them know that they can ask me questions through email after signing up.

(Note: I use TextExpander to make this process much quicker.)

Think about rules that you can apply for the different situations you face.

Find the Balance Between Free and Paid

If you offer one-to-one or group lessons, you don’t need to worry too much about how much content you give away –  live lessons involve much more than what content offers alone.

In fact, the two can supplement each other: you can take the lessons plans you used with your learners in class and repackage them as articles, videos etc. It’s what I did for a long time on my old teaching site.

If you sell products, then you will no doubt have thought about exactly what you should give away for free and what you should reserve for your paid product.

You will probably have thought, “If I give away too much, nobody will buy my course.” But you also know that you need to create valuable content specific to your niche to grow your business.

Tricky, right?

One thing to note is that people buy for convenience and structure. For example, I came across a really useful video on photography and decided to buy the book they offered straight away. I did this knowing that I could have found most of the information on their YouTube channel for free. The book was laid out in a logical way, gave me exactly what I wanted to know, and saved me a lot of time.

This also shows how important it is to create valuable content: I bought the book because I was really impressed with the initial video.

Additionally, the course/product you offer can include support and feedback just for those who sign up. There is so much that you can add to a product than what you can include in an article on your blog.

Finding the balance between free and paid can be difficult, but don’t be scared of putting out free content that will help those in your niche. In my experience, the more you give, the more you receive.

Two Types of Learners and Finding Your Balance

There are two types of learners: those who will potentially buy your lessons/courses and those who won’t. And as I talked about earlier, you can filter learners in various ways so that you are spending your time more efficiently.

However, there is a lot to be gained from helping learners who will never buy anything from you.

Giving away free content and responding to emails from those who can’t afford what you offer just seems like the right thing to do.

And when you do this, those who you help are more likely to share your stuff which, in turn, helps build your brand.


Providing free content and interacting with your learners is vital if you want to build your brand. How much free stuff you put out there depends on you and what you’re trying to build.

My own take on this, as I have talked about before, is to give as much as you can. This not only helps you sell more of what you have to offer, but it also helps you learn more about those who are in your niche. However, I do this on my own terms and think about ways that I can scale the free content and advice that I put out there.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this, so please leave any comments you have below.


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Build Trust English Learners

Six Ways to Build Trust with English Learners Online

Build Trust English Learners

Let’s say you have a website, you know your lessons are valuable, and you have a marketing plan that will bring English learners onto your site and social media channels.

It all sounds great, but….

You won’t get paying learners/customers if you don’t gain the trust of your audience.

As teachers, it’s vital that we make our potential clients confident that we are going to deliver for them. And working online makes this more challenging.

Luckily, there are many things that we can do to build trust online, and that is what I’m going to explore in this post, starting with first-impressions.

Make a Good First Impression

First impressions matter.

When learners land on your homepage, click play on YouTube or see your promoted post on Facebook, they instantly form an opinion about you.

If they get a bad impression, they leave/stop watching/ignore your stuff. Therefore, your website should be visually appealing and look professional.

This is because when a learner lands on your site, your design is crucial for getting him/her to stick around and learn more about what you do. People can judge a website in milliseconds.

Now, it’s important to point out at this stage that you may not get this perfect first time. But you should always be taking stock and looking at ways to improve upon what you have.

In addition to your getting the look right, you have to engage your audience with content that is going to impress them.

If you solve a problem that your learner has, then they will want to learn more from you. Having content that is useful will help you build a teacher/student relationship, and this will result in more sign-ups for your lessons. This goes for content on your site and elsewhere.

I have also learned that the way in which you present your content helps too…

Make a Connection through Video

So, now that we know a good-looking website with useful content, let’s move on to the best way to get your message across.

From my experience and research, there are two important factors here: personality and video. Learners want to know the person behind the content and they want to see that person in action.

When I advertised my one-to-one lessons more prominently on my site, my conversions increased once I included a video on my booking page. And since I started focusing on YouTube for my new brand, I’ve received many more requests for lessons without plugging them in any way.

What I recommend is having video across your site. This is easy to do these days and, if your first videos aren’t perfect, you can always replace them at a later date. Again, this is striking a balance between perfection and getting started.

And don’t be scared about sharing small details of your personal life here and there. This shows that you are a real person and it will help you make a better connection.

Be Consistent

Consistency plays a big role in gaining trust, especially if you are building an audience over the long-term.

As I revealed in this post, I lost a little momentum last year. I wasn’t consistent with new videos, posts, and emails, and I know that I lost the interest and trust of some of my learners because of this.

When you’re consistent with your online lessons, email responses, blog posts, YouTube videos, social media posting etc., your learners and potential students see you as someone who is trustworthy and committed to what you do.

And when it comes time to advertise your lessons or launch a new course, people will know that you’re going to deliver on your promises.


As I expand my online business, I am looking to outsource my work more and more.

One area that I want to keep under my control as long as possible is email communication. This plays a crucial role in building trust and, ultimately, getting more sign ups.

I use TextExpander to help me with this, but I spend about an hour a day responding to emails and comments.

Giving a response within 24 hours shows that you care and that you are someone who takes customer service seriously. And we all know that when buying something, customer service plays an important role in our decision.

In addition to building trust, reading comments and emails helps you better understand your audience. In my series of automated emails that go out after someone signs up, I ask a variety of different questions. These answers have given me great insight and they have helped me build better products and courses.

Give, Give, Give

No one likes to be taken for a ride.

And, unfortunately, there are many learners out there who like to take advantage of teachers who offer things for free.

An example of this is the trial lesson. Learners have been known to request a free trial lesson even though they have no desire to pay for future classes.

A potential problem with this – in addition to giving free lessons all the time! – is that you can start to feel exploited, making you less likely to give your time to help others.

However, there are two types of people that matter to us online teachers: those who will potentially pay for your lessons and courses (the potentials); and those who will never pay for anything (the nevers).

Don’t let the second group put you off, and instead, make it a win-win-win situation by giving as much as possible.

You win because you build trust with the potentials and also feel good about helping others. The potentials win because they receive great content, trust you, and then go on to take lessons. And the nevers win because they get really good content.

That doesn’t mean that you have to give lots of trial lessons – over time you will learn to filter free trial lessons, for example – but you do need to give in order to build trust and to receive in return.

My favorite way to give is through my blog posts, videos, and social media posts. Interacting with learners, as discussed before, is another way that you can give to receive.

Use Testimonials and Add Social Proof

There is only so much that you can say about yourself to build trust. That is why getting others to do this for you is crucial.

The most common way to do this is through testimonials and/or case-studies. With my online courses, I have never directly asked for testimonials. But if I receive an email from a happy customer, I ask them if I could use their email as a testimonial on my site.

With one-to-one lessons, asking is much easier. The best time to do this is at the end of a good lesson.

Going back to a point I made earlier, a video testimonial is much more powerful than a written one. However, they are harder to get.

In addition to testimonials, you can also build trust by showing off your numbers. If you have a substantial amount of Facebook fans, Youtube or Twitter followers, put something on your site so that people can see this.

Over to You

Please leave your experience of building trust in the comment section below and, if you have further tips, please share them!


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Starting a New Brand

Building a New Brand for English Learners (and Why I Started Again)

Last autumn, I stopped posting content for English learners on the website I started back in 2010.

The reason?

I was going in a different direction with my teaching and wanted to build a new brand that matched this.

I created my first site, JDA English, to promote my online lessons. When a learner landed on JDA English, the one thing I wanted them to do was to sign up for a trial lesson.

However, 2014 was the year I made the transition away from one-to-one lessons into selling online courses and group lessons.

And this is where To Fluency was born.

In this post, I’m going to talk about how things have progressed but, firstly, I want to go through the naming process.

Naming the New Website

One of the biggest reasons why I started a new brand was because I wanted a name that better fit my vision.

The name of my original site came from my initials. Although I wasn’t thrilled about it, I went with JDA English because I wanted to put focus on me as a teacher.

But with the change of direction, I felt I needed something new to get excited about, and that is why I made a fresh start.

There is a history behind the name To Fluency that I haven’t talked about before. In 2008, my wife and I started work on a website where language teachers and learners could meet, and we called it To Fluency. Teachers would be able to post a profile, set their prices, and have learners sign up with them. The lessons would take place in a virtual classroom hosted on the site.

The website never got completed – although, it came pretty close – and I let the domain name go, only to buy it again last year.

I feel the name helps get the message across that learning English is about the journey, and that there are certain things that learners should do on this journey to fluency (more on this later).

One thing to note is that it doesn’t have English in the domain. Having this would have been preferable but it wasn’t a big enough issue for me.

Making the Transition

In many ways, creating this new website was like starting all over again.

For example, I had to create new social media pages and a new YouTube channel. For anyone who has tried to build these profiles, you will know that it takes a bit of time and consistency.

If I had over 10,000 subscribers on YouTube, I would have thought twice about making the change. But when I started the new site, I had 1,000, and although I knew it would be a lot of work, I decided to go for it.

There were many things that made this transition easier. This includes:

– having my old social media profiles to share posts from To Fluency
– having over 5,000 learners subscribed to my email list
– having good traffic to my old site that I could redirect to my new one

Looking back, I made a couple of mistakes when making the transition.

Firstly, I lost a bit of momentum in the months leading up to the launch of the new site. There were times when I didn’t send out an email to those on my list for a few weeks. And secondly, I didn’t build up any excitement before launching.

Because of this, my email open rates dropped, and it has taken a few months to build them back up again.

But having an email list has allowed me to bring over followers from my old site to my new one, and this is another reason why prioritizing email is important.

My Goals for To Fluency and a Quick Update

To Fluency is all about helping English learners make fast progress to fluency in a way that is fun and sustainable over the long-term. I talk about learning methods, motivation, goal setting, and getting into the habit of learning English.

Over the past seven years of teaching, I have learned that lessons can only get a learner so far, and more needs to be done outside of the classroom. Those who make progress are the ones who use English on a daily basis and make English part of their lives.

The feedback I have received from my videos has been really positive, and I’m excited about seeing how far I can take it.

From a business standpoint, income comes from the To Fluency Program (an online course) and although not substantial right now, YouTube advertising.

In my yearly review post, I talked more about my goals and what I want to achieve with this brand, including:

– building my audience
– selling more courses
– posting on a consistent basis

Things have started strongly in all three of the above areas.

I’ve put a lot of focus on YouTube and videos in general. Video marketing is getting more important and powerful each year, and I have a structure so that I can crank out videos on a consistent basis.

I’ve just hit 650 subscribers on YouTube, with 90 coming in the last week alone. I’m really pleased with this, especially because I only started posting videos on a consistent basis in January of this year. My new goal is to hit 10,000 by the end of the year.

At first, it can feel like you’re doing a lot of work (new videos, social media posting etc.) without gaining any momentum. But if you stick at it, things start to click, and that is what I’m seeing now.

Additionally, I’m putting my efforts into areas that are working (80/20 principle). Therefore, I’m concentrating on three social networks while keeping the others ticking over, going all in on video, and spending time communicating with my audience through email and elsewhere.

Over to You

Having a substantial email list gave me a head start with this new adventure, but as I mentioned, it was like starting again with YouTube and social media.

I’m starting to see everything come together, and momentum is building. The ride has been enjoyable so far, and I’m looking forward to building my brand over the coming months and years.

Are you building a brand at the moment? If so, share your experiences in the comment section below.

And if you haven’t done already, click here to get your free guide to the tools and resources you need to teach English online.

Thanks for reading!


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Equipment Tools Videos TESLO

How to Create Videos: The Equipment and Tools You Need


Equipment Tools Videos TESLO

With my YouTube Channels, social media profiles, and online courses, I’ve made around 200 videos over the last 12 months.

And in this post, I’m going to talk about the equipment and tools I use, along with alternatives to suit every budget.

A big part of my process recently has been to make it as easy as possible to start shooting a video; I have put my DSLR camera and lavalier mic away for the time being.

And because of this, along with speeding up the post-production process, I’ve brought down the time it takes to create a video for my English learners (from the initial idea to the uploaded video and post) from around 6-8 hours to about 1-2 hours.

So, with that in mind, let’s look at what you’ll need to create videos, what I use, and the alternatives out there. And we’ll start with something you’ll definitely need if you are going to feature yourself in your videos: a camera.

Camera Options

Most people already have a perfectly fine camera for shooting high quality video: a smartphone.

Using Your Smartphone

The benefits of using a smartphone are plentiful: you always have it with you, the quality is great (newer models), you can easily share video straight from your camera, and there are several apps that you can use on your phone.

If you do use your phone, then there are a couple of things you need to think about:

– how to improve the audio
– how to stabilize the camera

I have found that the iPhone earphones improve the audio quality (there is a mic on there), but there other options like this lavalier mic (cheaper options are available).

For some of my short and more relaxed videos, I just hold it up and shoot. But in most cases, you’ll need to think about where you can put it to get the shot you want. I’ve been using this tripod with my phone, and it’s a lot of fun as well as being functional. Alternatively, you can use a regular tripod with an adapter, or get a desk tripod if you are shooting from your desk.

If you are just starting out and have a smaller budget, and already have a smartphone, this might be the best camera option for you.


Logitech C920

Photo: Amazon.com

I’ve been using my webcam for the majority of my videos recently.

The reason for this is because it’s the easiest way to start shooting; it’s always there just sitting on top of my computer at an angle that I like (it means I don’t have to tidy my room before recording!).

The quality isn’t quite as good as a smartphone (not with the webcam I have), but with a few tweaks, the videos look good – a big part of video quality from my experience is how you export your video (more on that later).

The webcam I use is the Logitech C920. It works best on a PC, but there are some tweaks you can make so that it works on a Mac too (this is the app I use). It normally sells for $70-90.


The most expensive option is a DSLR camera. This is the camera I used when I first starting making videos (note: I have the t3i). Personally, I found it too much work setting things up and shooting this way, especially because I had to put everything away after recording. For me, it just created too much friction.

However, the video quality is amazing, especially if you get a good lens. Just like the smartphone and the webcam, you will need an external microphone as the sound quality is poor when using DSLRs.

I may go back to using this camera for future videos, but for now, my smartphone and webcam are perfect, and allow me to get more videos uploaded.

Microphone Options

Whatever camera option you go for, you’ll need an external microphone. Sound quality is important, and you just can’t get high quality sound from a camera/webcam/smartphone alone.

Shotgun Mics (DSLR)

One option that came up during my research for an external microphone was a shotgun mic (it sits on top of your camera), and this option from Rode is a popular choice.

I know other teachers who use a shotgun mic, and it will give you great audio if you have the budget for it.

Lavalier Mics (DSRL + Smartphone + Computer)

Lavalier Mic

Photo: Amazon.com

An alternative is to get a lavalier mic (this clips onto your top). You can connect it to your computer, an external recorder, or directly to your camera.

I used to use a lav mic connected to this external recorder, and then I synced the audio to the video during post-production. Things can get really expensive here (especially with wireless systems), so getting a $25-40 mic that connects directly to your camera is something you may want to start with.

And as I mentioned earlier, if you are using your smartphone, there are lavalier mics available for this too.

Desktop Mics (Mainly for Webcam Recordings)

As I’m using my webcam at my computer, I now use my desktop microphone.

I’ve had the Audio-Technica ATR2100 for a few years now and I still love it. The only drawback is that you need to be physically close to your desk, or wherever your mic is, when recording video. My stand-up desk helps me stay close enough to my microphone when I record.

If you’re not going to create videos with your face in them, – for example, a presentation style video using power point – then a desk microphone might be your best option.

As you can see, there are many audio options available, and what microphone you get will largely be influenced by the camera you have and the type of videos you want to film.


Photographers and video makers constantly talk about the importance of lighting.

Shooting outdoors usually offers great lighting for your videos, but background noise and the weather can cause problems.

Therefore, you will most likely prefer to shoot indoors. If you’re in a well-lit room, then this won’t be as much as an issue. However, even if you have great natural light indoors, you may want to shoot video at night where everyday lights won’t suffice.

I decided to buy the Cowboy Studios kit, which is a bargain for what you get. There are DIY options for $10-20, but I decided that spending an extra $30 or so was worth it.

When I film, I place two lights either side of my desk, and because I’m far away from the back wall, I don’t need a back light. If you are filming against a wall, you can use the third light just behind you to eliminate shadows.

Post Production and Presentation Style Videos

Let’s talk about editing now as this is a big part of creating videos.

I use ScreenFlow and can’t recommend it enough. You can record your screen or from your webcam, it has everything you need for editing videos, and then you can export a video directly to Facebook, YouTube etc. It’s for Mac only, but I hear that Camtasia is a good alternative for PC users.

Alternatively, the free video editing software that comes with Macs and PCs is getting better and better. I’ve also played around with iMovie on the iPhone, and there is quite a lot you can do with this app.

Earlier on in the post I talked about how you export videos is important for video quality; if your software allows, bump up the bitrate. I export mine at 10,000 – 20,000; the file sizes are bigger, but the quality on YouTube and elsewhere is much better.

One more thing that you might consider getting is presentation software, preferably something that allows you to record presentations and export them as a movie file. Keynote (Mac) and Power Point have these features. If your software doesn’t, you can get around this is by using screen capturing software like ScreenFlow.

So, What Tools Do/Will You Use?

There are other things that you might need (animated intros, music files, extra gear), but the above will suffice in most situations.

No matter what you use, content is still the most important thing. But with the cost of creating videos decreasing, the barrier to creating something that looks and sounds good has been blown away over the past few years.

What equipment and tools do/will you use to create videos?

Leave your answers below (and please feel free to link to your videos)!


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Interview with Teacher Diane

Interview With a Location Independent Online English Teacher – Teacher Diane

Teacher Diane is someone who I have been following online for the last year or so.

So, it was a nice surprise when she reached out to me to connect. I soon realized that I wanted to give her the platform here at Teaching ESL Online to share her story and the valuable advice she has for other online teachers.

In our interview, Diane shares with us her experience of being a location independent online English teacher, and how she has managed to build up a large student base.

As you’ll see, she has some creative ways (and tools) to teach her lessons and make videos for her followers.

Here is the interview (watch in HD):

If you would like to teach English online, click here.

What We Discussed

Diane started teaching English five years ago, firstly in Brazil and then in Chicago. After two years of teaching in the language school in Chicago, she got the travel bug and decided to start her own website so that she could teach and travel at the same time.

Making the Transition

Diane was a little hesitant at first, but started with an old student and realized that she could do more online than in the classroom – screen sharing, links etc. – and she found that is was more comfortable to teach at home.

Diane uses a Wacom Tablet for her teaching, writing and drawing on this tablet. Her learners can see this on their screens along with her webcam.

She also uses the tablet to make her very unique videos for Youtube; here is an example:

Bringing Learners onto Her Website and Into Her Lessons

Youtube has been one the best sources of students for Diane, and she places a link at the start of each video and also in the description box under the video to bring people onto her site.

We then talked about putting ourselves out there on video, and how it can be strange to hear your own voice at first. I know this can be a concern for teachers when starting out, but this does become easier the more you do it.

Diane now schedules her posts on Facebook and batches this work every Sunday. She has three types of posts: a question post, something humorous, and then a post with a link back to her website.

She uses Facebook to build her brand and also to give more exposure to her videos and other materials.

Planning Lessons and Hiring Other Teachers

Diane has a tailored approach to her lessons where she is specific to each student, although she does have certain students who fall into a similar category. She has build up many resources over the years.

Diane has contracted other teachers to help with her workload, hiring teachers who she has met on her travels.

Plans for the Future

Diane’s plans are to focus on marketing her website and learn more about SEO and social media marketing.

She plans to create other sites for specific types of learners (English for doctors, for example). And in the long-term, she wants to write a grammar book and open a language school in the US.

Summary and Over to You

It’s great to see how successful Diane has been with her online teaching and her site does a great job at converting learners into paying students.

One thing that I took away from our interview is this: if you put quality stuff out there, work hard at it, and stay consistent, you are going to get rewarded.

At first, it might seem like you’re doing a lot for small reward; but as you build up momentum, you’ll start seeing some really good results, and have opportunities to hire others and expand just like Diane has done.

Please comment below to let me know your thoughts on this interview. I’m really interested to read what you have to say about this.

About Diane:

Diane is an English teacher from New York with over five years of experience teaching English to students from all over the world.  She is the Founder of teacherdiane.com, a website that provides personalized English lessons on Skype.  You can watch her English grammar tutorials or follow her Facebook group, Learn English on Skype.


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Yearly Review TESLO

A Yearly Review and a Plan for 2015

Yearly Review TESLO

Back in January, I wrote a review of 2013 and set some goals for 2014. Here are the goals I had:

– Start a podcast
– Create more videos for Youtube
– Focus on my email list
– Get more specific with my niche
– Do group lessons
– Create courses for English learners
– Create a guide for teachers wanting to move online

Quite the list, right?

I wrote a 2014 goal update back in May, and in this post, I am going to do a review for the year – talking about what I’ve done and learned – and then look forward to 2015.

Before we get into this, I just want to say that this kind of stuff gets me all fired up. Going through my year and analyzing it, and then planning for the next year, is so much fun for me.

Maybe more importantly, it shows me what I have achieved and gives me the information I need to build my plan for 2015.

2014 in Review (What I’ve Done)

The first couple of months of 2013 were all about building and planning, building and planning. I created a free guide for English learners that blew up on social media – well, at least in English learners groups – and this added a couple of thousand new subscribers to my email list.

And then one day in March…

A Course for English Learners on WizIQ

Wiz IQ Course Artwork

In March, I put together a course for English learners on WizIQ.

It consisted of five live lessons, guides, videos, and other resources. The course was focused on helping English learners move from an intermediate level to an advanced level through goal setting, using the right learning methods, and making English an every day thing.

Other courses would have been safer (grammar courses, vocab courses, business English courses etc.), but this area of English learning/teaching is what I’m most passionate about. And putting it on a platform like WizIQ, where the set up process is pretty minimal, meant that I could validate this course without too much risk.

Both the sign up rate and the feedback I received were very encouraging. I decided to repeat it in June on the same platform, and had similar success. I would later take this course and put it on my own platform (more on this later).

Videos on Youtube

Youtube Example English Teacher

Although I haven’t created videos on a consistent basis, I have put out around 15-20 videos for both English learners and teachers. This was one of my goals for 2014.

What I found most difficult was starting the video workflow; the way I had things set up, there was a lot to do. I was also spending too much time in post-production and it started to become a bit of a chore. This is something I’m going to change in 2015, which should allow me to get more videos out there and have more fun making them.

Considering the lack of momentum, the number of views and clicks to my site have been quite promising.

Group Lessons

I have experimented with group lessons this year too. After a successful first round of group lessons (conversational lessons with 3-4 learners in each group), I decided to focus my time elsewhere, mainly creating two new courses (see below).

Email Marketing

I have added thousands of English learners and teachers to my email newsletter this year, and focusing on this area was the right decision to make.

I have managed to achieve this through creating free resources for learners and teachers to download. Downloading the resource also signs you up to the email list, and I made this more prominent on my various websites and social media channels.

Email is the best way to keep in contact, interact, and send offers to your audience. In my opinion, no other method comes close.

A Course for English Teachers



I finally set a deadline for this course, and on the 12th August (one day late!) I opened up The Teach English Online Course (TEOC). It has been a huge success – the feedback and the results of those taking the course have blown me away.

Receiving emails from teachers telling me how my course has helped them change their life means so much to me, and this has given me confidence to promote it as I know the value in this course.

It was a hell of a ride putting this course together (more on that later).

To Fluency

To Fluency Main Image


I started a new site for English learners in November, and also introduced a new course. The To Fluency Program (TFP).

To Fluency is the product of me nailing down my teaching niche (another goal) and focusing solely on one area. I took the course that I wrote on WizIQ, adapted it to my own platform, expanded on it, and then put it out to the world.

The results and feedback have been great again. There was a lot of worked involved, but having the experience of creating and launching a course on my own platform (TEOC) meant that it was much easier the second time around.

Podcasting Goal

I know that I will start a podcast one day, but 2014 wasn’t the year for it. I don’t feel too down about it, as podcasting is just one way to reach a large audience. I have a few ideas about my podcast written down in Asana, and will look at doing this again in 2015.

This was the only goal that I had set at the beginning of 2104 that I didn’t end up doing.

What Worked Well and What I Learned

For me, 2014 has been the year of new courses, the webinar, and email marketing.

Creating two courses on my own platforms has been a LOT of work. It involved:

– Writing and recording the courses
– Designing two new websites
– Integrating a membership plugin
– Dealing with 1001 small problems to get everything set up
– Dealing with mental barriers holding me back
– Producing the sales materials for the launch

What I can say is that it has been completely worth it.

The reason I decided to create these courses on my own platforms and not elsewhere was because of the control it gave me. Using other platforms restricts the flow of your course, what you can include on the sale page, the checkout experience, and just so much more.

Courses rock. But what else have I learned?

Live Webinars Are Amazing

Live Webinar JDA English

One of my webinars for English learners

I have held various live webinars for both English learners and teachers this year, and LOVE the buzz of presenting live to a big group of people.

I’ve probably done around 20 live events in total, and I still get that nervous/excited energy in the minutes leading up it. I have used webinars to give away free advice and also to get people to sign up to my courses. I realized how powerful they can be after my first one; around 75% of course sign ups for the WizIQ course came from the webinar I did.

I see many more live webinars in 2015!

(To find out when my next one is for English teachers, click here)

Setting Goals With Deadlines Makes a Big Difference

I hit the deadline for TEOC because of one reason: after my deadline I was taking three weeks off to have a rest and also to look after my son.

I knew that I couldn’t really get anything done during my time off, and the thought of not completing this goal on time, and knowing that the course would have to be put back weeks, really kicked me into gear.

As with most goals (per Parkinson’s Law), I left a lot to the last minute. In fact, I recorded my course, designed the whole site, and integrated everything in just 14 days. It was hectic, but I was completely focused and nothing was going to stop me from completing it.

From this experience I learned the power of setting goals with real deadlines. When it was time to plan for my English learning course, I set a deadline and told my mastermind groups about it. A couple of weeks before the set date, I had thoughts about putting it back. But the deadline kept coming back to me, and I realized that if I was serious about my teaching business, and to prove to myself that I can meet deadlines, I had to get it completed on time. And I did.

Two books that I read earlier in the year helped me realize the importance of setting goals: How to Completely Change Your Life in 60 Seconds and The Success Principles.

You Can’t Do Everything Yourself

Control is probably my word of 2014. As you probably already know, teaching online and doing your own thing gives you control over many areas, including: where you teach, how you teach, and what you teach.

Personally, I also like control over every aspect of my business, which meant that as my business expanded, so did my working hours. But I relinquished some of this and hired others to help me on my projects. One of the tasks that I hired someone else to do was to create transcripts for TFP. It was worth every penny.

In addition to hiring others, I also spent a lot of time in September and October automating as much as I could and setting up systems. I started using tools such as Asana and Evernote much more, and also invested in other applications too.

Relationships Are Everything

I started two separate mastermind groups this year, and both of these have helped me greatly. Meeting on a regular basis with like-minded people has given me so much inspiration, knowledge, recourses, and accountability. Starting in 2015, I’m going to bring members of TEOC together and facilitate mastermind groups for teachers inside the course.

I have continued to build relationships in 2014, and have made the conscious effort to put customer service right at the top of my priorities. I answer every email I receive (usually within 12 hours), and actually love this part of what I do.

This year I met my first reader of this blog in person, and I would LOVE to meet more of you in 2015 too. So, if you’re around the Asheville, NC area, hit me up.

Invest in Yourself at the Right Time

Imac 21.5

I have made some pretty substantial investments this year. In addition to courses that I have taken, the books I’ve read, and software I have started using, I have also invested in a very powerful iMac and a stand up desk.

The books and courses have been focused on automation, outsourcing, productivity, and goal setting. The iMac has helped greatly with productivity – video creating in particular is much quicker and easier to do now (before I could only have one application open at once). And the stand up desk was bought because sitting down all day wasn’t doing me any favors.

It has taken a change of mentality to make big investments, but I am starting to see that when they give you back more than what you paid for them, it’s completely worth it.

There Are No Limits to Your Earning Potential As an Online Teacher

One-to-one lessons, group courses, video courses, affiliate marketing, high end consulting… the list goes on and on.

When I first started out, I had no idea where everything was going to lead. And for a long time I had no ambition of expanding. But now, I have very limited one-to-one lessons due to the success of my courses and other products. One-to-one is the best way to start your online journey; it brings in money right away and you can learn from your audience.

But once you are in the position to do so, expanding into other areas gives you even more control over your teaching business.

My Most Popular Blogs Posts in 2014

Tips and Resources for Planning Online

Bringing things back to this site, the three most popular posts (in terms of visits) were:

1. 19 Successful Online English Teachers Share Their Tips and Resources for Planning Online Lessons

2. Four Platforms You Can Use for Teaching English Online

3. My Interview with Rich Kiker

The first one was a big collaborative post, so no surprises that it was the most read. The other two were interviews (in fact, posts 4 and 5 were video posts too).

Which was your favorite post?

Goals for 2015 and How I’m Going to Achieve Them

Let’s talk about goals now.

I have set five big goals that I want to achieve in 2015, some of them work related and some of them personal. The business goals focus on my income and my reach, and I have broken these bigger goals into the following steps and strategies:

Building a Bigger (And Better) Audience

This is a continuation of my 2014 goal. I want to keep this going with the same kind of momentum, and build an audience of English learners (and teachers for this site) that is 10 times what it is now. This is a huge goal, but one that I think is attainable.

I want this to be reflected mainly by the number of email subscribers, but I am also looking to expand on social media too.

But I don’t just want to build an audience. I want to build a community. I want English learners who join my site to feel part of something bigger. And that was a big reason for rebranding; going from JDA English to To Fluency helps me with the message that I want to get across.

Content Schedule

In 2015, I am going to introduce a posting schedule, with posts, videos etc., going out on a specific day of the week and on a consistent basis. This all goes back to having deadlines and getting things out there on time.

I’ve never been convinced about whether there is such a things as writer’s block – I see this more as resistance, as Stephen Pressfield writes about in The War of Art. Having a content schedule will help me push through any resistance to creating content.

Additionally, I am going to make content creation easier to start. Writing down post ideas (and having them accessible within Asana), as well as simplifying my video recording setup will help me with this.

In terms of the content I’m going to create, I have looked at my popular posts and have found some common features of those posts, and will create content based on this analysis.

(What do you want me to write about on this blog? Leave your feedback here)

Keep Building and Growing My Courses

After creating and selling a course there is the temptation to go straight to the next one. But my strategy for the first three-six months is to solely focus on improving the courses I have now and bringing more people into them. My new course can wait until later in the year (can you guess what it’s going to be? Hint: it might not be ELT/ESL related).

As I mentioned before, the positive feedback I have received has made me truly believe in the products I have. But I don’t want it to stop there: I want to constantly improve the courses and add more things based on what people inside the course want.

And in terms of sales, I am going to use the 80/20 principle (something I wrote about here) to ensure my time and energy is being spent wisely.

Automation, Outsourcing, and Analytics

With two websites, two courses, and another website on the way, things can get a little crazy. That is why in 2015, I’m going to bring in more people to help me, especially in the areas that I struggle with.

Additionally, I am going to look at more ways to automate a lot of my tasks and run more in-depth analytics. I’ve been guilty of trying to do too much of this manually, and this just takes too much time. I’ve already set up some automatic reports to be sent to my email address on a weekly basis, which should hopefully stop me from checking stats at various times during the day (and avoid the black whole of checking in on your analytics).

Routines and Time blocking

Time Blocking

I’ve noticed that I’m most productive when I block out my time. When working for yourself, it’s too easy to get caught up in the big picture stuff when you should really be focusing on getting things done. And at times, you stand there in front of your computer without knowing what you should be working on. Therefore, I have set up a work schedule that I intend to stick to, obviously allowing for it to evolve naturally.

(note: time blocking is where you know exactly what you’re going to do throughout your day helping you focus on the one task that needs to get done. It was introduced to me by one of my mastermind group members.)

I have come up with a schedule that allows me to keep up, and hopefully get ahead with, my posting schedule, while giving me time to teach, do webinars, strategize, work on projects, do email, and a whole host of other tasks.

A Final Note for You

My blog here has gone from strength to strength in 2014, and nothing makes me happier than when I receive a success story or an email thanking me for my posts.

Thank you so much for being part of Teaching ESL Online (if you are new here, click here to join the community). It’s been such an amazing ride so far, and here’s to it continuing!

Wishing you all a successful 2015.


Please leave comments, questions, or anything you want to post in the comment section below.


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