How to get Online students: 30 students in 30 days

Welcome to the 6th instalment of our Entrepreneurial ESL Teacher Story series where we highlight teachers from the Off2Class community that are growing their own independent teaching businesses.

Today, Chris Rush who has been teaching Business English online since 2012 at Better Business English is going to share his story of how to get online students when you’re starting out from scratch! Take it away Chris!

How-to-get-online-students

 

As I’ve networked in communities of online English teachers, there’s one question I hear far more than any others. Where (and how) do I find students? If you teach online, I’m guessing that this frustration is familiar to you.  I know many good teachers who excitedly switched to online teaching because of the greater freedom, only to quit later, because they simply couldn’t figure out how to get online students. Today I’m going to share some strategies on how to get online students for your own teaching business, when starting from scratch! I used these exact strategies and was able to generate 30 students in 30 days.

I’m certainly no stranger to this.  I’ve been teaching online since 2012, and figuring out how to get online students has been a challenge.  Word-of-mouth is critical, but it’s unpredictable and slow. So what does a new online teacher do?  Usually, more or less what I did:  I made a website, wrote some blog posts, took out a few paid Facebook ads, and emailed every English learner I knew.  I had high hopes, ready to help people while having the freedom of working from anywhere!  And what happened when I did those activities?

The internet didn’t notice.  Not a single student.

With some time and consistency, (years), things did progress.  Incrementally, I built up a student base. But I still had to chase students to pay invoices, and I still had to convince them that I was worth $25 an hour.  I was questioning everything:  Would teaching online turn out to be the dream job I had hoped for?

If someone had told me that it’s possible to start from zero (no students, no email list, no prospects) and build over 30 regular clients, charge more than $35 per hour, and spend $0 in ads, I would have said it was impossible!  

Yet that’s precisely what happened in the first 30 days that I joined italki.

For those of you who don’t know, italki is the internet’s biggest language marketplace. The format is simple.  When you sign up to teach, you get a teacher profile.  On your teacher profile you get to write a few paragraphs about yourself and upload a short YouTube video where you introduce yourself to future students.  That’s it.  There’s no website to make, no blogging to do, no ads to buy.  You set your own prices (italki gets a cut) and fill out your availability.  If it sounds simple, that’s because it is simple.  

I learned that it’s possible to have lots of success with italki. And that it can be your answer to the age old question of how to get online students. But, you need to make sure you excel in 3 key areas:

1. Stand Out from the Pricing Crowd

Many teachers fail on italki because they look at all the competition (over 1,000 certified English teachers), get intimidated, and think that the only way to attract students is to try to undercut everyone else on price.  Not only is that bad for your bottom line, but because hundreds of teachers are already doing that, the competition at the bottom is intense.  

Instead of joining the fray, charge higher prices.  In addition to the benefit of getting more money for the same amount of work, you’ll have much less competition, and you’ll attract the kind of students who will be happy to work with you.

2. Talk to your Students, not about Yourself

This is a mistake I see teachers make all the time.  In both the written introduction and the YouTube video (the only 2 things students get to see and base a decision on), teachers constantly talk about themselves.  Their qualifications, their experience, where they went to school, where they live, and on and on.  It’s really helpful to know this important truth: students don’t care about any of it.  

When a student reads your writing or watches your video, they want to know that you understand them first. A student will always choose a relatable teacher with no experience over a teacher with a stacked CV but who seems stiff.  Every teacher offers “fun and interesting lessons” in their videos. If your video is 3 minutes long, you should spend no more than 15 seconds talking about yourself (and it shouldn’t be the first 15 seconds)!  Instead of talking about yourself, you should talk about the benefits of taking English lessons with you.  What can you help a student do?  Maybe it’s feel more confident when they speak, or ace an English interview for a better job (two things that I promise).  People don’t buy lessons just to learn — they buy the lessons for the potential of what it can do for them.  

3. Nail your Trial Lesson

Here’s a scenario I see often: a student will take a trial lesson with another teacher who charges half of my rate (you can see on a student’s profile who they’ve taken lessons with).  Then they take one with me and before the lesson is even over they book a package, spending hundreds of dollars more than they would have with the other teacher. It’s solely because I know that a trial lesson has to unfold in a certain way in order to make it very easy for the student to say “Yes” at the end.  I don’t know what other teachers are doing in their trial lessons, but I assume they meet and greet for a few minutes, spend almost the whole lesson teaching something that may or may not be helpful to the student, and then at the very end say “I hope you buy a lesson package from me”.  This method may be friendly and congenial, but it doesn’t convert potential students into paying customers.

The key is not to think of a trial lesson as a lesson.  I make a point of not actually teaching during my trial lessons. You know what I do a whole lot of?  Listening.  Just like when they watch the YouTube video, the student above all wants to be heard, understood, and validated. Don’t assume you can solve their problem without listening to them explain it in detail first.  Then, once you understand what they need, repeat it back to them in your own words, and ask them if it’s correct.  If you do this right, your student will give you an emphatic “Yes, Exactly!,” relieved to have found a teacher that understands.  Then, tell them how you can help.  

Below you’ll find a video walkthrough of my italki profile and intro video!  This is my own profile that I use every day to build my student base, and I’ll explain each element step by step so that you can get the same results I do.  This profile gets me an average of five new students per week, and the lifetime value of each new student is over $500 (and growing).

Thanks to Chris for sharing his strategies on how to get online students, when starting from scratch!

If you have any specific questions for Chris leave them below!

55 Comments

  • Cleona Patterson says:

    July 12, 2016 at 6:09 pm

    Clever plug for Italki, also the use of a click through to your video for extending your email list.

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      July 12, 2016 at 6:18 pm

      Hi Cleona, there’s no commercial relationship with italki (and in no way are they sponsoring this), Chris is sharing experiences that worked for him. The same strategies could be used on any tutor marketplace such as Verbling etc..

    • Chris says:

      July 13, 2016 at 4:58 pm

      Hi Cleona! As Kris mentioned, I have no affiliation with italki other than teaching for them and using them as a platform to find students.
      I tried my best to share information that I wish I had known when I started in 2012.
      Regarding the content trade for email address, absolutely! Just as it is on e-fluent English!

    • mike tong says:

      August 24, 2019 at 4:54 am

      This is a good vid, you should appreciate the effort he’s done to make it. Hard to believe that someone could criticise it.

  • Anne McDonald says:

    July 16, 2016 at 5:28 am

    Thanks, Chris! I’ll definitely try it! Anne

    • Chris Rush says:

      July 17, 2016 at 10:28 pm

      You’re welcome, Anne! All the best!

  • Veronica says:

    July 21, 2016 at 9:16 am

    Thanks for sharing your experience. Certainly I’ll put this into consideration!! Very useful info.

    • Chris Rush says:

      July 21, 2016 at 12:45 pm

      You’re very welcome, Vernoica. Glad it was helpful!

  • David Williamson says:

    July 25, 2016 at 5:09 am

    Hi
    I work for 51Talk and love it. I have delivered over 2600 lessons. I always feel a bit wrong about engaging 51 talk students i iEducationworld (my business) and the possibility ofnthem becoming my students in my own business. How should/could I approach this, ethically?

    • Chris Rush says:

      July 25, 2016 at 1:04 pm

      David, that’s a very good question, and it depends upon what kind of contractual arrangement you have with 51talk.
      I can only speak from my experience with italki, where the commission rate is 15%. I know that some are tempted to go outside the system but I am more than happy to pay the commission in order to have all the admin taken care of for me, everything from payment to scheduling to dispute management. In fact, even if a potential student contacts me from social media or email, I will still refer them to italki. It’s so much easier to have everything in one place.

  • David Valle says:

    August 2, 2016 at 11:54 pm

    Chris,
    How do you handle the workload of 30 students? How many students do you typically teach in a week? I currently have 6 students per week and the time it takes to plan lessons and schedule my classes keeps me very busy. For that reason, I really like the off2class platform to alleviate much of the time it takes me to plan and prepare materials.

    • Chris says:

      August 5, 2016 at 12:48 pm

      Hi David,
      Good question. I typically teach 4-5 lessons per day — any more than that and I get burned out.
      In addition to using Off2Class, which as you mentioned helps tremendously with lesson planning, I also have a full range of business-English textbooks that I have scanned and use.
      That way there is a sense of working through the book instead of having to come up with a 100% customized lesson for each student each week — that would just be too much!
      It’s a good supplement to the “one-off” approach of Off2Class lessons. I find that using the two different resources works very well in tandem and to avoid staleness.

      • Kris Jagasia says:

        August 5, 2016 at 1:33 pm

        Thanks Chris! David, also, have you used our placement test? Any time you assign it to a student (or a trial / prospective student) we produce a full list of lessons that you can use to target the student’s language weaknesses. It’s a structured approach to the Off2Class library. You could just teach off the plan, and then blend in your own resources or our topical based lessons as you see fit.
        There’s something about a scanned course book that makes me cringe a bit in 2016 – but that’s just me!

        • David Valle says:

          August 9, 2016 at 8:55 pm

          Thanks Kris and Chris ! I’m in the process of getting my website up and running and the assessment test is a great feature.

      • Jon Oliver says:

        December 13, 2016 at 3:16 am

        Hi Chris,
        You say in a comment above that you have a full range of business textbooks scanned which you use for online lessons.
        What about copyright? This sounds illegal unless all your students are also buying copies of the book…
        Regards,
        Jon

        • Kris Jagasia says:

          December 15, 2016 at 12:54 am

          Hi Jon, interesting question, I wonder where this stands. Since he’s obviously not leaving a copy of the book with the student, or recording it for redistribution, and has just scanned his own copy for his own use (albeit with a student), wouldn’t this be the digital equivalent to showing up to a cafe for a one-2-one and sharing a course book as a reference with a student?

          • Kris Jagasia says:

            December 15, 2016 at 12:55 am

            Anyhow I think all my convincing has paid off and Chris is now sold on Off2Class as a better medium for online lessons than PDFs!

        • Chris says:

          December 15, 2016 at 8:55 am

          Hi Jon,
          Yes, it’s as Kris said. I have one series of books that I bought that I really like, and I don’t distribute the files.

  • Catherine says:

    September 3, 2016 at 5:59 am

    Thanks Chris for sharing your experiences and providing to useful tips! I think you are definitely right about the trial lessons

    • Chris says:

      September 3, 2016 at 9:06 am

      You’re welcome Catherine! Yes, the trial lesson is the lynchpin of the whole thing!

      • Matthew says:

        September 30, 2016 at 6:02 am

        Hi Chris, thank you for sharing your ideas. Plenty of food for thought. With regards to trial lessons, I ask open questions about what the learner is wanting to achieve and then paraphrase and then ask them what benefits they would get if we covered those things…but my conversion is only about 30%. My usual “close” is “is this what you want to learn?”.. what are your thoughts?

  • Helen says:

    October 25, 2016 at 2:11 am

    Well, I am a complete newbie and really am just starting out. This video has given me a bit of a confidence boost.
    Thank you for the “spring-board!”
    Helen

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      October 25, 2016 at 7:09 pm

      Hi Helen,
      Thanks for stopping by! Chris definitely lays out a very sensible and easily implementable strategy!

    • Chris Rush says:

      October 25, 2016 at 9:46 pm

      You’re welcome, Helen! I’m really glad that it helped!

  • Tracey Rutz says:

    October 31, 2016 at 8:10 am

    Hi Kris and Chris,
    Interesting posts, thank you! I am just thinking about getting into some online teaching and am wondering where to start. Although I am very experienced in classroom teaching, what skills would you advise me to look into for online teaching?
    Kind Regards
    Tracey

    • Chris says:

      October 31, 2016 at 5:04 pm

      Tracey,
      Transitioning online can be done very quickly and have an immediate payoff. Personally, I’d start by checking the online job postings at tefl.com to get some experience teaching online — it might take some getting used to.
      Once you feel comfortable, then I’d recommend applying to italki or another marketplace-style learning site, like verbling or cafetalk. There you can set your own prices and have your own students, and it’s an introduction to the world of “teacher marketing” on a small scale.
      Then you can decide if you want to make the full switch to teacherpreneur, with your own website, brand, blog, and courses. Not everyone has this as the end-goal, but for those who do, it’s the way to turn English teaching into passive income.

  • Tracey Rutz says:

    November 1, 2016 at 5:34 am

    Thanks Chris for your response and taking the steps you say seems to make sense.I have seen some online jobs at TEFL.com so will maybe start there. Many thanks again.
    Tracey

  • Willie says:

    December 14, 2016 at 7:48 pm

    I appreciate the input here. It gives us some confidence to venture out on our own. My main question is materials. What materials do you use and how can I find the materials I want to teach with my system of teaching.
    Thanks again
    Willie

    • Chris says:

      December 14, 2016 at 10:49 pm

      Willie,
      That’s exactly what Off2Class is for — it’s an entire database of materials for teaching English!

  • RW says:

    January 9, 2017 at 2:51 pm

    Hi there! I just watched a webinar hosted by Chris Rush. Fantastic webinar, by the way. During this webinar, he talks about a link to a cheat sheet for an ESL trial lesson. Would you be able to provide me with the link to the Cheat Sheet?

  • Eamonn says:

    February 20, 2017 at 10:23 pm

    Hi Kris. The link you provided doesn’t have cheat sheet on it. It’s just a link to the Google form where Chris talks about what will be in his webinar last October. Do you have a link of the actual cheat sheet?

    • Kris Jagasia says:

      February 21, 2017 at 6:52 am

      Here you go Eamonn: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0Bw01NQFTz4DCaVpISkl4VUFCdTg/view
      Kind Regards,
      Kris

      • Eamonn says:

        February 21, 2017 at 8:48 pm

        Thanks Kris, and thanks Chris! This is really helpful, free information for the aspiring ESL entrepreneur and I commend you for it.

        • Chris Rush says:

          July 2, 2017 at 11:32 pm

          You’re welcome!

  • Robin says:

    July 1, 2017 at 12:26 am

    Wow … what an excellent and targeted Italki profile lesson!
    Thanks Chris!
    Robin

    • Chris Rush says:

      July 2, 2017 at 11:33 pm

      You’re very welcome, glad you found it helpful!

  • D Biswas says:

    July 18, 2017 at 5:44 am

    Hello Chris,
    I get it that you have been teaching Online for sometime now. I was intrigued to see that your special area is Business English. I am just starting out and have plans on that area specially. If you do not mind, may I please ask something about that niche?
    I just wonder what are the points these candidates struggle with? They have come for Business English, so they definitely have some command over their speaking and writing skills. I am just curious to know what their struggles are.
    If you could give a few pointers it would be immensely helpful.
    Thank you
    Deb

    • Chris says:

      July 19, 2017 at 12:27 am

      Hi, Deb!
      Every learner is different, and presents their own individual strengths and weaknesses — it’s impossible for me to give a definitive answer to your question!
      It does happen often that people choose me because they know they need English at work, and then when we actually discuss their needs we find that they are actually most comfortable discussing work topics, and what they really need is general English — and when that happens we sometimes never do any business English at all!

      • D Biswas says:

        July 19, 2017 at 12:51 am

        Hello Chris,
        Thanks for such a detailed reply. That is also what I have experienced so far. I have not started online yet. But I have found this to happen in face -to – face classes also.
        This has made me wondering which area I should focus on when I go online. I have been following some experts in the area of online English teaching and they all tell us to be specific and fond pain points. But my little experience tells me it is English in general that they require, which is a broad area. I am very confused.
        Thanks again.
        Deb

        • Chris says:

          August 26, 2017 at 11:33 am

          Deb,
          There is a difference between what people THINK they need and what they ACTUALLY need.
          My students choose me because they think they need business English, when most of them really just need general English. But there’s no disharmony. When they need business English, we do that. Otherwise we focus on communication through grammar, conversation, pronunciation, etc. You’ve got to know what they think they need and also have the flexibility to teach them something outside that if that’s what they actually need. Just be sure to make it clear to them how it’s in their best interest.

          • Kris Jagasia says:

            August 26, 2017 at 12:19 pm

            Chris, you just nailed it!
            There are so many teachers that get in contact with us and ask things like ‘do you have Business English, Medical English, Finance English etc…’ then when we dig a bit deeper we learn that their students are at a pre-intermediate or elementary stage. We’ve always held the belief that there really is no sense in introducing very technical vocabulary and constructs when the student can’t for example, express basic conditionals or tenses.
            I would say 9 times out of 10 it makes sense to focus on basic grammar and weave in Business/Medical/Finance themes into the lessons.
            Kris

  • monica iriarte says:

    October 16, 2017 at 12:57 pm

    Oh! Thank you so much for this article! I will try this method to get additional students. And yes, I totally agree that we cannot get discouraged with the 1000+ teachers already teaching online, and we should most definitely charge what we are worth. There’s a lot of work and dedication that I personally put into my assignments/lessons as I mostly work with students one-on-one. Again, thank you for your valuable tips!
    Monica @englishwithmonica

    • Chris says:

      October 16, 2017 at 2:49 pm

      You’re very welcome, Monica! Glad you enjoyed it!

  • Linda Hopkins says:

    November 7, 2017 at 12:20 pm

    Great post. However, when I applied to teach on italki, I received this response:
    Unfortunately, your application was declined due to the large volume of teaching applications we receive, we are not able to accept every application, and regret that we must decline your application at this time. We will contact you if we would like to review your application again in the future.
    So back to square one!

    • Chris says:

      November 7, 2017 at 12:52 pm

      Sorry, to hear that, Linda! Yes, italki receives lots of submissions, and I believe the student-teacher balance is much more heavily weighted toward students than it was when I wrote this article 16 months ago.
      A couple of tips for you:
      1. It’s easier to get approved if you apply as a professional teacher rather than as a community tutor.
      2. The large number of applicants means italki can be selective — you might have better luck if you improve your profile text and video and try again.
      3. Italki isn’t the only teaching marketplace out there. There is verbling too, and probably others — see what you can find!

      • Linda Hopkins says:

        November 7, 2017 at 12:57 pm

        Thanks for the feedback. I did apply as a professional teacher, but alas! I will look into verbling – thanks for the tip.

  • kika lendel says:

    July 8, 2018 at 8:30 pm

    Greatings Chris,
    Lendel here, Please a, very much interested to teach online but am face with the issue of having teaching qualification.. I have attempted to apply in italki, verbling and some others but am require to provide qualification.
    Please can you kindly provide any teaching marketlace which i apply to teach without any qualification?
    Thank you

  • Kris Jagasia says:

    July 19, 2018 at 12:17 pm

    Hi Kika, have you thought of applying to an online school such as VIPKid to build up your qualifications?

  • Kareen says:

    May 12, 2019 at 2:11 pm

    Great information. Thanks! What editing program did you use to make your teacher profile video?

    • Chris says:

      May 16, 2019 at 10:09 am

      Thanks Kareen! I used a mac-only program called Screenflow. The windows equivalent is called Camtasia!

    • Chris says:

      May 16, 2019 at 10:12 am

      I read your commend too fast — Screenflow is what I used to make the walkthrough. To make the actual video I used iMovie, which comes installed on every Mac. Any basic, free editing program can do the 3 things that I’ve done: 1. jump cuts, 2. add images, 3. background music. Hope that helps!

  • Joseph says:

    August 1, 2019 at 5:36 pm

    Hi Kris , Thank you for this beneficial article 🙂 In fact I have an online language school legalized and registered within the EU.
    I am trying to find students for the school , Would it be possible to apply as an organization to italki ? have around 50 teachers working with me.
    Thank you in advance

    • Chris says:

      August 7, 2019 at 10:03 am

      Hi Joseph, glad you liked it! As far as I know it isn’t possible — italki is more for freelance teachers than schools.

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