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

How do I find new students?

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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?

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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.

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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!

CPD, ELT, Freelancing

Drowning in information? Grab a buoy!

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In order to make smart decisions about your business and your students you need to be well-informed. So you think, well, I’ll just ask for help on Facebook or Google it. And what happens next? You either get tons of mixed answers that don’t usually work, and sometimes they make you even more lost than when you started. Why is that?

I believe seeking knowledge is of the utmost importance to any freelancer or teacher’s development. However, not all information may be beneficial to us as you must’ve realized. We’ll need to learn to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Yet, we have to know what’s going on around us so we understand what the market is looking for. We need to anticipate our clients’ needs and see the gaps in our market so we know what to offer. This knowledge will give us the advantage we need. This is the wheat.

So you need to stop wasting time with distracting information that is not useful to your current growth and development as a person, professional and teacher.

Here’s a quick guide with suggestions to help you through it.buoy

Ask these questions before you say yes to all that comes to you every day.

Videos/ Webinars

Does this video/webinar have a catchy/interesting title but I have no idea what it’s really about?

If you have no idea what it’s about, there’s a chance you’ll be wasting your time (I’ve been there). I suggest you do a quick research on the speaker/host, their background, and subject discussed before you watch it.

Do I know how I can apply the knowledge to make my business or lessons better?

Once I signed up for a series of videos to find out I had no clue what the teacher was talking about. It was way beyond what I was prepared for. It was a humbling experience. I wasted time, but learned a valuable experience. With so much free content available it’s easy to lose track of where you are and where you need to go. It’s not really free if you’re giving away your time and getting nothing in return. After all, time is your most precious commodity!

Make sure you know what you’re choosing. Check the content, the subject, before you click “join”. Remember, it’s about whom and what you’re learning for. 

Articles/Texts

Is it relevant to my learners, or my current career stage?

If the topic is something interesting, but not relevant, say one of your student needs help with his listening skills and you found a great article on writing skills. We teachers love reading, and we just can’t help ourselves, but it’s not what you need at the moment, is it? Easy! Save it and read it later. Time management is a must for freelancers. So, focus and move on!

Books

Start with the books you already own.

This seems obvious, but before you start looking for ebooks or books to purchase or download, you should organize your bookshelves and your computer. I like to separate them by topics and how they’ll help my career, my business and my students.

This will save you a lot of time.

It’s the same idea as when you get ready to go grocery shopping. If you can’t see what’s in your fridge, you might buy or spend time looking for something you already had, but couldn’t see.

For example, let’s say you have your books separate into Business, Linguistics and ELT. You can further divide them into smaller categories,  and then you can see what you need to buy according to your interests, your learners’ needs, and so on.

This way, if you need a book on writing skills for IELTS, you know if what you have is good enough or if you need to purchase something more specific. Like when a student asked me last week for a romance book to read. It’s filed under ‘ELT, ‘readers’, and her level B1. It took me a couple mins to find it.

Download free samples before you decide to buy a book.

One thing I do and recommend, is to download free samples to see if the content matches your expectations.  You can try: Amazon and ibooks. More and more websites are offering free samples of chapters or pages. Check out if the book you want is available.

Last but not least → Create a study plan or CPD plan for yourself the same way you create a business plan.

The same way you invest in your business, you must invest in yourself. You have to study and be prepared for the challenges and changes in the market and in the world.

Start with a simple plan dividing your goals into areas in which you need to improve. Be specific. The more the better.  Examples: Teaching listening skills lessons, Teaching pronunciation (connected speech), Assessing student’s progress in speaking lessons, Prospecting new students, Discussing money with my students, etc. Don’t worry about the language. Phrase it as you wish. Make it as simple as you want it to be.

When you are specific you can face what’s troubling you and tackle those issues, one by one. You’ll have more clarity. Find a system that works for you. You can use numbers, colors, or any rating scale you prefer. (I chose colors.) Now, its time you gave each item a grade.

eg. Teaching Listening skills lessons – RED

RED Needs Attention  

YELLOW Improving

GREEN Going Well

You can then go further, dig deeper, and ask yourself: what exactly is wrong about my teaching? Is it one of the stages of my lessons? Can it be a problem related to pronunciation and connected speech affecting my student’s comprehension? Is the task to difficult? Fire away the questions! Keep them coming!

Next, you’re ready to search for answers online, in books, webinars, or ask for help on how to improve it. You’ll be focused and ready to dive in and find the answer in this ocean of information because you’ll be better informed of what to look for.

Thanks for reading! Till next time!

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

Now what? (part 1)

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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!