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

Burnout

pexels-photo-236147.jpeg
Have you become cynical or critical at work?
Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?

Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers or students*?

These are some of the questions you should ask yourself according to the article “Job burnout: How to spot it and take action” (Sept. 17, 2015), by the Staff at the highly-regarded Mayo Clinic, to discover if you’re at risk of burning out or not. (*I purposefully changed the words ‘customers or clients’ to ‘students.’) If you said yes to any of those questions, then this post should help you.

(For the complete article and more information on the subject, check the links at the end of the post.)

Accumulating responsibilities is easy. For freelance teachers, it gets more complicated because we also handle all the administrative and pedagogical aspects of our business. Besides, there’s our professional development, our families and so on. How do we find time for everything? We want to believe we can do it all, but we can’t. So we start neglecting something here, something there. Instead of slowing down, we keep pushing to the breaking point. The good news is that you can prevent it from happening with a few changes in your routine. 

This past week, a freelance teacher asked in a FB group how many hours we worked in a week. The answers varied. Some worked between 5-6 hours a day. Most teachers said that this number was ideal, but since they also worked part-time at schools, they pulled between 8-10h total. There were those who worked 10-12 hours a day, including the person who asked the question. All of those who worked 8+ hours complained about exhaustion. The chance these individuals burn out is real unless they rethink their busy schedule.

Work overload is one of the causes of burnout syndrome. In our profession, much like in healthcare, it’s important to remember that we must help ourselves before we can help other people. We, educators, tend to say yes and help everyone, worry about our learners as we should, but to what extent? There is a balance that we must keep. We can’t go so far as to make ourselves sick! How can we help anyone or make a difference in anyone’s life if we’re bedridden?

What can you do not to fall into this trap? 

1. Set Achievable Goals

Watch the number of hours you commit to work per week. Don’t push yourself too hard! Maybe you can do it for a few months to save some money for a trip, to buy something, but don’t do it for a long time. You’ll regret it, and you’ll get sick!

 

2. Learn to Say No

Sometimes you think you know it all, but when you least expect it, you’ll be reminded about the core values in your life. Turning down that job offer that will cost you two hours of sleep, or saying no to another private student so that you can have time to exercise, may be good ideas for your mental and physical health in the long run. 

 

3. Take Care of Yourself

We neglect ourselves when we are stressed. We’re the last ones on our to-do list. So, make sure you add a “Me time” to your schedule every week. Go out, do something you like. If you work from home, go out! Take a walk and see people, get a massage, go to the movies, get a drink with a friend or a loved one, do something nice for yourself! If you go to your students and prefer to stay in and rest, take a nap, order some food, watch TV, just don’t check emails or deal with work-related issues!

pexels-photo-321576.jpeg

 

4. Reduce the Stressors in Your Life

Here are some examples:

  • Giving yourself unrealistic deadlines will only cause stress. 

Telling yourself that you’ll have time to prepare lesson plans, write articles, and teach full-time before taking a trip.

You should have an idea how long it takes you to prepare a lesson, or to write an article. Give yourself enough time to do what needs to be done. Plan accordingly. If you don’t know how long it’ll take you, double or triple the time to be safe.

  • Not setting boundaries with your students (not having a contract of any kind)

Example: Allowing a student who didn’t pay in advance to attend a class, and then not getting paid immediately after, and then having to ask for payment again.

Charge in advance! No payment = no class = no stress.

Be firm. Have a contract, have rules, enforce them. Students will respect you. You will look professional. Isn’t that your goal? Being firm doesn’t mean being rude. It says I value my work; I value my time and these rules will make sure I can offer you the best service to you. 

  • Accepting a job that you’re not prepared or qualified for

If you’re not sure if you can deliver what is expected of you, it will not only be bad for your nerves but also your reputation.

You should politely decline the offer and if that is the case, recommend a colleague who’s qualified for the job.

  • Accepting a student who doesn’t fit your profile.

Teaching 1:1 requires establishing rapport and trust. If you can’t build rapport from the beginning, it won’t work. Not every student will be a match. If there’s no mutual respect and trust from the start, forget it. Come up with an excuse and move on.

 

5. Body & Mind

Go to the gym, lift weights, do yoga, martial arts, bike, run, just get moving! It’s important to do some kind of physical activity. Any doctor will tell you that. You need to find something you like. I see it now as a necessity, much like wearing sunscreen when I go out, or a hat. It’s about staying healthy and the relaxation that comes with the release of endorphins – our body’s natural pain and stress fighters. So if you’re stressed because of work, go for a run, ride a bicycle, do some exercise, and you should feel better.

Meditation is another way to relieve stress and to improve your concentration. I haven’t tried it myself though, but I know teachers who practice it and love it. They say it helps them focus and relax. Why not give it a try? Here’s a link to free apps that you can try. I have used Calm to relax and fall sleep.

My final piece of advice is to listen to yourself, to your body, and if you’re not feeling well, physically or emotionally, don’t wait! Seek medical help.

For more information on the Burnout Syndrome, and the link to the article I cited:

How to spot it and take action, from the Mayo Clinic.

The tell tale signs you have burnout syndrome, from Psychology Today.

A thoughtful article I recommend from a teacher’s perspective, entitled ‘Learning to Say No’ by Isabela Villas Boas.

Till next time! Thanks for reading!

 

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!

Business, CPD, ELT, Freelancing

How much should I charge?

euro-seem-money-finance.jpg

In my post Now What? (part 2), I left you with this FAQ that I’ve seen on several groups I follow. It is a common issue for freelancers in many fields, not only in the ELT industry.

0.43 seconds. This is the time it took to get the staggering number of 11,300,000 results to the question How much should I charge? 

You can tell by that figure that there are thousands of blogs and articles offering advice. So I asked myself, what could I possibly say about that?

I decided to take a different approach. I’ll start talking about 3 pretty common, yet BAD, ideas that may tempt you when you set your price, and why you shouldn’t even try them.

Then, I’ll share my recommendations on the subject, and what I say when someone asks me that question.

pexels-photo-374918.jpegBad Ideas

1: Pulling a number out of thin air.

If you charge per hour, I bet you’ve started with a number, either based on how much a colleague is charging, or a number that somehow makes sense to you, and stuck with it.

Here’s the thing, you shouldn’t pick a random number based on a few hunches without analyzing your costs, your niche, and doing some planning, otherwise your price will be off and you risk losing money in the end.

 2: Reducing your rates too much to compete in your market in order to secure more students.

You have a full schedule and feel happy – at first. You’re teaching 10 -12 hours a day to make enough to live comfortably. After many months doing this, you’re exhausted. Now you realize that working so much has a cost, and the pay doesn’t seem to cover it. Guess what? It never will! That’s why you need to get it right from the start.

3: Not being prepared for a meeting with a prospect.

When you meet a prospect student, you have to be prepared. You have to know all you can about that person. Where they’ve come from, where they are now, and where they wish to go. Without this preparation, you may seem hesitant and lacking in professional authority. They will see that you are hesitant, unprepared, they may ask for a discount and you will either say yes or you will lose that student because you didn’t prepare.

How can you find out about the student’s needs and goals? You have to do a needs analysis. I like to do it during my initial interview, preferably in English, unless the student is a beginner. I don’t charge for this interview. It’s a way to introduce myself, offer my services, and to get to know the student. (more on that later)

Remember, you have a business now – closing deals is part of your job.

So, now that you’ve seen some bad ideas, let’s answer the main question. For that we need to see the bigger picture.

Think about the value you offer, your costs to deliver it, then

put a price on it

Try doing it as an exercise. Just like when you’re creating a lesson. It’s like with any other planning. You need the elements and then you put all the parts together. Grab a piece of paper and jot down a few things: Think about your value, how much you’ve invested in yourself to get where you are – the courses, degrees, etc, the costs you have, and then finally decide on your price or rate. Here’s a quick explanation:

Your Value

Your experience, the investments you’ve made on your CPD (courses you’ve taken, books you’ve purchased, professional events you’ve attended, etc.), all fuel the solutions you develop and bring to your students! If you deliver results, testimonials will follow. This is worth a lot!

Your Operational Costs & Unpredictable Expenses

We have fixed costs (utilities, rent, subscriptions, etc.) and variable costs (wages if you have a secretary or assistant, materials you print on occasion, etc.)

Unpredictable expenses: Any business will have those. Replacing or fixing old equipment, purchasing new materials for class, furniture, etc.

Look up the terminology: variable costs and fixed costs. It will help you. Think about creating a business plan if you don’t have one yet. (Check these links on my post. They may help you.)

Your Market

Are you restricted to a city? A country? Are you global? The larger your market, the more people you can reach, and more importantly, you’ll be able to reach the right students who are more willing to  pay according to your value. When you expand, you can choose your students. Not the other way around. You need to know your market in order to realistically determine your price.

Your Niche

Identifying your niche will help you see your place in the teaching market more clearly. It is easier to put a price on something that you can easily describe. For example, if you teach IELTS preparation courses it’ll be easy to say how long it’ll take them to get their target score and all the specifics involved. On the other hand, if you don’t have a niche and you teach just about anyone who contacts you, then it’ll be harder for you to set either a timeframe or price that aligns with your student’s needs and the type of classes they need. It’ll require a lot of experience, trials and errors to get it right.

 Your Savings

Any good plan involves being prepared for the future. Even though freelancers often work harder than 9-5 employees, we’re probably more likely to skip taking the vacation time we all need to recharge. In order for us to enjoy those days at the beach we must set some money aside. There are also unpredictable events such as sickness, accidents, and making payments towards retirement. We can’t forget that! These have to be accounted for in our hourly rate too.

Final Thoughts

Measure twice, cut once. When it comes to pricing your lessons or your services, this axiom fits perfectly. Don’t be hasty. Think about it carefully. Take it all into consideration. It will pay off. (Pun intended.)

Be careful about offering promotions, discounts and lowering your price too much without reflecting on the bigger picture. Remember we have bills to pay and we have to account for sick days too!

Show your prospects what you can do for them before you talk about price. Offer to meet with them for free. Not a free class. A free meeting. Show them you have a plan (a solution) to help them reach their goal (solve their problem). Then they’ll see your value. Now you can tell them your price.

So, next time someone asks you that question, just say, Do you have an email for me to send you some information about my services? How about we schedule a free meeting to discuss your needs?

PS. Food for thought: Here’s a less than 9 min TedTalk on Knowing your Worth by Casey Brown

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!