1:1, Business, CPD, ELT, Freelancing, Online Teaching

How do I find new students?

pexels-photo-408503.jpeg

If you follow me on FB, you know that I moderate Cecilia Nobre’s Facebook group Private English Teacher’s Reloaded. Last month we created a pool and asked: “What’s your biggest challenge as a 1:1 teacher?” Finding new students was voted number 1. It was no surprise to me, actually, since this is a recurring theme among freelance teachers.

I did a talk last September at the ELT event BrELT on the Road-Rio edition, entitled “Transitioning to Freelance Teaching: the Do’s and Don’ts.” In this talk, one of the topics I addressed was how to find new students. To illustrate it, I decided to check exactly how I’d done it.

This was my background at the time: I had been away from Brazil for 12 years, and I was starting over from zero. I had few connections left in my hometown, and I had to try something. I had placed online ads in the US, and it worked well for me there, so I thought, why not try it here? What do I have to lose? This chart was shown in my presentation.

It takes time to build rapport and credibility, but it happens!

Advertising

Placing ads is pretty much like fishing. You need to find a good spot, the right gear, the proper bait, then you throw your line and wait. How long you’ll wait will depend on a few factors: the most important how well you write your copy; followed by where you place it and third when. (Near the holidays it may take longer to get a reply, or during summer break, but don’t get discouraged! In my experience, there’s always someone willing to study in all 12 months of the year.)

Continuing with the fishing analogy, if you use the wrong bait, (wrong words), you will not catch the fish you want. If you choose the wrong spot (wrong platform, site or medium), you may go home empty-handed. If you don’t wait long enough, the same may happen.

Finding students through ads requires patience, choosing where to advertise, how to reach your target audience, and writing to them, not from your perspective! Now, whether you’ll find a student who can pay your asking price is another issue, but it’s got nothing to do with your writing abilities. The problem is that the student you’re looking for may not be there. (More on finding the right student later.)

Let’s go back to the chart for a minute. I want to focus on the referrals. When I did my research, even the teachers who do not freelance full-time said that most of their students came from referrals. What does that tell you?

What I’ve learned in my many years working on and off as a freelancer (since the 90s!) is that we have our ups and downs when it comes to finding new students. What we can’t do is to stop advertising! People must know that we “still teach.” I remember when I was living in Chicago and my Mom would tell me someone asked her if I still offered English lessons! I was surprised that after so many years away, some people still remembered me as an English teacher.

Online Presence

I’ve talked to colleagues who are successful freelancers, and we share the same opinion. It’s essential for you to have a professional website or a blog. You’ve got to have an online presence of a sort. Note I said professional, not personal. You have to separate your brand from your personal life. These days you can’t hide anymore. People must know who you are, what you do in order to find you. A good online presence will give you credibility, and you’ll attract new students that are not from your close circle of friends, family, and neighbors.

I clearly see a shift in the way things are happening now. On the one hand, if we do a good job, invest in our development, we’ll have happy students who will give us new referrals. On the other, we live in a connected world which we can’t ignore. I know many teachers do not want to have a website or be on social media, but I’m afraid that if you’re a freelancer, you will have a hard time finding students if you stay hidden. I used to be on of those teachers.

Some teachers love it, though: they are on Instagram, they make videos on Youtube, they love the exposure. I don’t advertise my services on FB, but others do. I think FB works best for courses than for 1:1 lessons. The reason is simple in my view. There are so many teachers on FB looking for students, that the moment someone asks for a teacher dozens reply… in seconds! Remember that when you’re online so are millions of other people! Do you really want to be competing with just about anyone like that?

If you choose to place an advertisement, think about how you’re going to write it. I have a background in Communication, so I’ll give you some pointers.

• Think about you and your qualifications. Then think about who your target audience is. Focus on them.
• The writing has to be clear and informative. Give specifics.
• Talk about you, who you are, and what you can do for the students. Talk about what you offer, how you work but don’t write too much text either. Make it easy to find the significant information.
• I recommend not to say how much you charge in the ad on purpose. (I don’t) Ask the prospect to contact you for further information. This strategy will give you the chance to explain in detail how you work and your value, not just your price. See: How much should I charge?
• Use a good photo of you. You want to look professional and friendly. A smile always helps. Make sure you choose a nice (neat) background. Preferably of where you teach, otherwise a white wall works just fine.

Give it some time. If you don’t get replies in 5-7 days, delete it and rewrite it. Something is off. Change the text, your photo, or where you placed your advertisement.

Do a Google search in your country for private teachers in the language you teach. See what comes up. Then, check where these ads were placed. Now go and place yours there! That’s what I did, and it’s always worked for me.

Final Recommendations

1. It starts in the classroom. Keep doing a good job. Keep learning, keep getting better at what you do. Your students will notice. They will learn, and in return, they will bring in new students.

2. Show yourself to the world, but do it your way! You should always be comfortable. Just don’t stay hidden.

3. Keep it up. If you have placed ads, don’t stop running them once you reach a desired number of students.. (I made that mistake once!) Things happen. People may change their plans, their priorities, or lose their jobs. If one or two suddenly stop taking lessons from you, then what? How long will it take you to get two new replacement students? 2, 3 Months?

Don’t wait any longer. Go find your students!

Till next time! Thanks for reading!

1:1, Business, CPD, Freelancing

Now what? (part 2)

pexels-photo-313690.jpeg

In my previous post I proposed a reflection to put you on the right track to become a successful freelance teacher. Once you define the who, where, what, and how to start your teaching business, it’s time you thought about the more practical aspects involved. It’s time we talked about money.

pexels-photo-462383.jpeg

I don’t know about you, but I was never very interested in numbers, let alone finance. If you’re like me, you’ll know what I mean.

For you to succeed as a freelancer, however, it’ll be really useful to understand where your money is going. Not only will it help you run your business more efficiently, but you’ll also know when/how much to save and invest back into your business.

If you feel overwhelmed, you should hire an accountant straight away. At the very beginning, though, you may not need to do that depending on your income, where you live, and the tax laws in your country.

For those of us in Brazil we have the option of becoming a Micro Entrepreneur (MEI) and we can register online for free. In addition, there’s SEBRAE, a non-profit entity which offers free advice over the phone and in person for small business owners. They are pretty helpful. For Americans, The US government (SBA) offers a similar service. Their 10-step guide is worth checking out.

Regardless of our location, what we all need is to be informed.

See what’s available in your town. If there’s not much where you live, start by checking the online courses posted below. There are many other courses to choose from.

The point is, we have to know more about our business, our clients, our market, and all the legal requirements to operate. We have to pay our taxes, and think about our retirement as well. Without this knowledge we may not last long and we’ll lose money for sure.

To give you a better idea, I made a list of expenses that should help you see where your money goes.

accountant-accounting-adviser-advisor-159804.jpeg

  1. What are your costs to get to your students? (Include transport & time);
  2. If you work from home, make sure you include: electricity (e.g. A/C adds a lot to our monthly bills in Brazil), internet, monthly subscriptions like ZoomOff2Class, or any other service related to your classes;
  3. Materials you buy: books, tools, paper, ink, anything you purchase and use in class;
  4. Paid courses you take for your advancement, paid events you participate in, CPD (Continuing Professional Development) investments in general;
  5. If you have your own website, add the costs with domain & hosting to the list;

We’ve just scratched the surface here. This list includes your overhead expenses like utilities, others like investing in your CPD, and of course you should account for the unpredictable expenses like fixing or replacing broken equipment, or not being able to work when you get sick. You need to be prepared. You need to have a business plan, a contingency plan in place.

I suggest you try one of the courses below to learn more about business and finance. I recommend these online platforms: Coursera and Future Learn. Coursera offers many paid programs, but you can audit almost any individual course for free. Just search the catalog using the course title, click enroll, and a window will pop up. You’ll see at the bottom of the screen “audit the course”.

Entrepreneurship – Wharton/ Coursera

Entrepreneurship Strategy – HEC Paris/Coursera

Starting a Business – University of Leeds/Future Learn

Next, I’ll talk about a FAQ: How much should I charge?

How would you answer that?

Thanks for reading! ‘Til next time!

 

1:1, Business, ELT, Freelancing, Online Teaching

Now what? (part 1)

pexels-photo-262488.jpeg

I know the feeling. The excitement when you realize you found something you think is going to work for you. I’ve felt like that many times. The last one was with Pilates. I took a trial lesson, thought it was great, and then signed up for a month. I then did it for a few more months and stopped. Before that were my art lessons, which I truly enjoyed! I took 3 courses in a period of a year and a half and that was it. Fast forward a few years, and now I have tons of paint, brushes, paper, etc, all gathering dust in my drawers and boxes.

What’s that got to do with freelancing, you may ask? Well, it’s about commitment.

These are examples of things I really liked doing and I still quit them! The difference is that these were hobbies, not what I chose to do as my sole source of income.

Things will come at you when you least expect, so you must be prepared for them if you want to thrive (or survive) as a freelance. If you’re serious about making it a career for yourself, you can’t approach it as something you’re doing just to make some extra cash on the side. You need a plan.

So, how do you start?

I will start by asking you some questions and later I’ll answer them myself, based on my own experience. (I invite you to post your answers below in the comments).

1. Being Professional

Do you feel prepared to teach? Have you been formally trained? If not, do you know how to find the help you need? Do you know about any free opportunities to develop as a teacher? How about paid development/training courses for teachers?

2. Defining your niche

Who would you like to teach? Who wouldn’t you like to teach? Have you thought about that? Would you be teaching 1:1, groups, online, face-to-face?

3. Finding your workspace

Where are you teaching: at the student’s place, yours, online? Would you a rent a space?

4. Course Creation  (materials, lesson planning, syllabi, etc.)

Can you produce your own materials? Do you know how to create a syllabus that will address your student’s needs? Can you write your own lesson plans? Would you use a coursebook? If you say yes, do you know how to choose a suitable coursebook? How can you adapt coursebook lessons? If you teach online, can you still use a coursebook? Should you? Would you change your online course format? How about ESP lessons?

5. Assessing your students’ progress

How are you going to assess your learner’s progress? Are quizzes and tests enough? How else can you check if they’re learning? Where would you find tests/quizzes/ rubrics? Do you know how to make/use a rubric? How often are you going to assess your learners? How should you assess pronunciation? How can you assess writing? What if the classes are online? What changes?

In my view this is how a (freelance) teacher must start. By asking questions and being curious, we should look for answers and ask for help. This is the way to grow, learn and become better teachers. We have to keep asking questions. Freelance teachers have to ask more questions and be even more proactive.

There are many puzzles to be solved as there are questions to be considered regarding course creation, methodology, assessment and so on. These are just some that came to mind.

Next, we need to talk about the business, marketing and PR side of freelancing.

Do share what you think. I’d love to hear from you!

Thanks for reading!

 

 

 

1:1, Freelancing, Online Teaching

Ready to Sail?

sail2Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover”. – H. Jackson Brown Jr.

I chose this quote to start blogging because it represents how I feel about my career choices and how I feel in general about life.

There are many things we don’t do in life because we’re afraid to even try. We don’t dare. We think we can’t do it and we believe in that inner voice that gives us bad advice sometimes. And then we think too much. We wait, we wait, and then we realize that chance is gone.

What happens then? We regret it. Many times we do make the right choice, but other times we didn’t even try to see if we were right. But, how can we know if we don’t try?

If those words make sense to you perhaps it’s because you are at a point in life where you are thinking about shaking things up a bit, am I right?

I won’t lie to you. The journey ahead won’t be easy at times. You may want to give up. You’ve been warned. Many have and many will. But if you don’t, and you do succeed, it can be truly freeing and rewarding because it will all be because of YOU. Your choices, your decisions and your hard work.

One important thing I’ve learned is that you are not alone.

You don’t have to go through it alone. There is a huge community of people out there willing to help you grow and learn. Just like me. I’ll talk more about it in my next posts.

But first things first. You have to ask yourself: am I ready to be my own boss? Am I ready to be patient and wait to see results? Can I afford to wait? Do I have the people skills to negotiate with my clients about money, payments, and all of the financial obligations involved and still keep a good teacher-student relationship? How about marketing? Think about all of these questions. Don’t rush to answer them yet.

On this blog I’ll be sharing some of what I’ve learned as a freelance teacher, teaching groups, 1:1, face2face and online, and I’ll also give you some tips on how to develop your own skills as a teacher.

Until next time you can watch me chatting with my colleagues Cecilia Nobre & Lachesis Braick about some of those issues here:  https://www.facebook.com/cecilia.nobre/videos/10155373202091447/?t=40