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.
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.
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.
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!