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The Freelance Teacher

The Freelance Teacher

Why Is It So Hard To Achieve a Decent Fee or Lesson Rate?

Hi! Welcome to this special corner of  EFL Magazine where you’ll find answers on how to raise your freelance teaching business into a financially secured career. If you’re looking for advice from a sympathetic freelance teaching colleague on how to attract new students (and perhaps more importantly why you don’t), write to Janine Bray-Mueller, a marketing enthusiast.

For the first edition of the EFL Magazine, here is how marketing relates to this question:

Why is it so hard to achieve a decent fee or lesson rate?

The Market Value of a Teacher’s Work on the Global Market Place

It is hard to set your fees higher when everyone else prices theirs at a low level, especially when you’re new to teaching. It feels arrogant to suggest your services are worth more than a teacher who has been teaching longer than 10 years.

It’s a small part of a problem that plagues most teachers — the value of teacher’s work on the global market place.

We have the potential to create life-changing transformations for students on many levels.

This can be intellectual, financial, personal recognition or satisfaction, just to name a few. But most teachers often have an attitude that their work is SO important, it should be made available to EVERYONE. Consequently, the trend is to under-price rather than accept a reality-based price for lessons and seminars that has to be and should be charged. As a result, pricing slips into an almost unconscious ‘price-fixing’ rule within our teaching community that in turn feeds insecurity and fears of survival. Can I pay the rent? Put food on the table?

Are you earning enough?

This underlying fear and insecurity drives many freelance teachers fighting over the little work still available in schools and institutes. However, in Europe, the going rates are € 8 – € 25 an hour. If you are the bread-earner in your family then these rates won’t pay your bills! The alternative is to become a professional freelance teacher — an entrepreneurial freelance teacher.

Find your own paying students, set up your own teaching service and go it alone!

I made this decision many years ago and have never looked back!

But please remember… A business is not a business unless it earns money!

The market economy evolves in a purely supply and demand environment and if any freelance teacher is going to survive, they must decide whether their business is a hobby or a professional teaching service. Setting up your freelancing shop won’t have students beating a path to your door without the help of signposts (marketing) showing the way. Waiting for the word to spread is a waste of your time. It only serves to steadily deplete what money is available in your bank account.

Yet it’s no surprise to hear teachers are too busy teaching. We all know that, but…

It’s soooo easy to forget the question of earning enough to cover your expenses while you prepare for your next lesson or seminar, that is ummm… until the postman drops the next bill into your letterbox.

Teachers must actively work at marketing their teaching service if they want students to find their door. To do this, all freelance teachers have to do the groundwork for stating their business case to the world. But what about…

…the ethical problem teachers feel about marketing?

I know many teachers in Europe who became a freelancer ‘by accident’ because schools and institutes saved on overhead costs or ‘outsourced’ the work. Skilled and experienced teachers found themselves with a pressing need to earn sufficient money for a decent standard of living. They had to teach and find new students and run a business at the same time. Not surprisingly, they were wholly unprepared for this new way of life — and blocked any ideas of marketing as unwanted memories of sleazy practices (spamming and telephone terror) sprang to mind.

Can marketing be ethical?

It is ethical, if you want it to be.

First off, remember that marketing is an umbrella-term. Marketing includes anything a teacher can do to create business — anything a teacher does to reach, to get, or to keep students or customers (repeat business). Selling, on the other hand, is getting students to part with their money.

This is what marketing will do for a freelance teacher:

  • It’s called marketing when a teacher’s offer is brought in front of the right students who are interested in what they teach. It’s marketing when the offer raises students’ awareness about what they do and the kind of teaching service they give because how will students know what they teach, the level, the specialisation, the location, the prices, etc. if nobody tells them? If teachers are invisible on the teaching market and cannot let students know about their business, how will they find them?

That brings us to another aspect about the marketing offer. How do teachers construct their message as in USPs (unique selling point), branding and positioning of their teaching service on the market?

  • Marketing helps teachers lay out their message to students interested in what they teach. A private student or business customer wants to know if a teacher is genuine. They want to find a teacher they can trust and not have to keep looking for one endlessly. Prospective students want to decide if they’ve made the right choice. They’ll study for example, the prospectus, business cards, and websites. Each message should convince students without fluff and hype.

Is that unethical?

I don’t think so.

Marketing has solutions that go an inch wide and a mile deep

Here, for example, are three sources of information to help new students determine whether to hire you or not. When you are preparing this information for the first time, you may realise the job is not as simple as it looks. They hide a multitude of (marketing) problems:

  1. A prospectus is never the same but all include these four pieces of information: text describing your experience and qualifications, the uniqueness of your methodology, your (teaching) philosophy, and of course, includes prepared and planned testimonials.
  2. Business cards have an inherent problem; prospective customers easily throw them away (who hasn’t?) then forget about your existence. What can you do to make them worthwhile keeping?
  3. Is your website different from other teaching businesses? Research the Internet and discover how indifferent they are! How will a student decide to hire you other than you are the closest or the cheapest? What information do students look for and want to find on your website, and how do you go about getting that information together?

The initial question was how to achieve decent fees or lesson rates? The answer is manifold. There are dozens of ways to look for work and find students, but if you want a dependable method to bring you into direct contact with new students and lay the secure financial foundations to your teaching business, you cannot avoid marketing. For a successful career as a freelance teacher, marketing has to be planned together with your other daily teaching activities.

So, when…

  • You don’t know where to begin…
  • You aren’t sure how to put the pieces together…
  • You don’t know how to stay motivated because marketing isn’t your thing…

Send me an email and I’ll answer it in the next EFL Magazine edition.

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2 Responses

  • Caio Albernaz

    Dear Janine, This is such a great article! It provided me with many ideas, mainly in regards to my prospectus and website. Thanks, Caio


  • Janine

    Hi Caio, Thank you for your compliment. :) Would you care to let me know what ideas came up while reading the article? That would be of great interest for everybody. Of course, if you have any questions you'd like answered about your prospectus or website, do write in and let me know. Janine