In our previous Teaching English Online post I discussed the most common question I hear from teachers contemplating online ESL teaching, “How to get students?” In this post I would like to discuss the second most common question, “How do I earn good rates for teaching online?”
ESL students have lots of options…
The past five years has seen tremendous growth in live online teaching, especially in ESL. There are now a plethora of sites, large, medium and small, which offer ESL lessons by video-conference software. Some of these sites charge their students as little as $10-15 per hour. For those of us looking to start our own online ESL businesses (and survive off them), this price point is a challenge. So how do you differentiate yourself and earn a living wage from your online ESL business? The answer relies on relationships and quality. (I discussed the importance of relationships in my last post).
First, a couple considerations…
You’ll need focus when attracting and building your student list. Your focus will likely be a natural extension of a past or current career teaching in a traditional classroom. As a rule of thumb, don’t focus on students from a geography or demographic that is unlikely to be able to afford your rates.
In the beginning of your voyage as an online ESL teacher, you will be tempted to accept every student that wants lessons (regardless of the pricing they are willing to pay), as each student adds to revenue. However, remember that your existing students will recommend you to new potential students. If you take on these new students, you will only be able to charge the new student what you are charging your current students. It is always easier to drop your prices than to raise them.
Setting up a professional yet simple website / landing page is vital to instill confidence in potential students. Here is a great online ESL-focused tutorial by Jack Askew.
You’ll also need some great lesson content to run your lessons.
How to implement quality into your online ESL business
Students will pay more for a personalized, high-quality ESL experience. This is your key defence against getting pushed into low teaching rates by all of our competitors.
Quality starts from your first interactions with your prospective students. I recommend opening your new student relationships with an initial free assessment where you can learn your student’s goals and come up with a tailored learning plan for your student. After your initial assessment, prepare a professional looking report outlining your understanding of the student’s goals and your plan to achieve them. Prepare an easy-to-use template and customize it for each student assessment.
Professional and personalized communication is also key. Providing a personalized ESL learning experience is one of the best ways you can differentiate yourself against the online ESL schools. Think of yourself as an ESL coach rather than a teacher and send encouraging communication accordingly. Make note of what a student tells you during the lesson and follow it up with a quick email. Students definitely appreciate a short email that inquires about the job interview, vacation or family event which they discussed with you the previous lesson. This is an approach that big online ESL schools can’t take due to their high volume of students and the relatively thin margins they are working with, between what they charge students and pay teachers.
Similar to the initial assessment report, you should periodically send your students progress reports. Again, it is essential to set up templates that you can tailor easily for repeated use.
The most important element of quality is to use engaging lesson content. In future posts I will explore the relationship between lesson content and quality, but for now, consider all the different ways you can personalize a lesson. Retain personal information about a student’s life, and use it in following lessons. ‘Did you enjoy _______? (insert: name of film, book, event etc. mentioned the previous lesson) is much more engaging than, ‘What did you do yesterday?’ Student notes will also make it much easier to relate examples and exercises to the student’s job, interests and family. It is a simple and obvious strategy yet it demands good organizational skills (or a steadfast memory!)
James Heywood is an online ESL teacher and is the co-founder of TurksLearnEnglish and Off2Class. After years of
teaching in language institutes and private schools, he made the leap to online in late 2012. He has taught a variety of ESL students online including young learners, adults and adolescents in one-on-one and group settings. Off2Class (lesson plan content for private ESL teachers) was launched to provide lesson content resources targeted to teachers running their own private tutorials.