Getting Started As an Online Teacher

Getting Started As an Online Teacher

English learners are moving online in ever increasing numbers.

They spend hours on YouTube watching videos in English; they use social media to connect with other learners; and they buy lessons and courses from online teachers.

If you’re thinking about becoming an online teacher, there are two main ways you can do this:

  • work for a company that finds learners for you
  • go independent and do the necessary marketing to bring learners into your lessons

My focus is on the latter.

To help you understand what this is like, let me tell you the story of how I made the transition into online teaching.

My Story

My wife and I moved to Bilbao, Spain in 2009 to teach English.

I managed to find a position in a local language school but I wanted additional income through private lessons.

I created a website, put up fliers around the city, and I soon had 5-7 private students. I was earning 2-3 times as much per hour than what the language school paid me. I would have gone full-time with this, but we moved to Valencia the following year.

I did the same thing in Valencia, but this time I also offered lessons online.

I had learners from different cities in Spain and one from Italy. I enjoyed teaching from our apartment and not having to travel around town. Again, the pay was better too.

We thought about staying in Valencia for a few years, but we decided to move to the U.S. (my wife is from Connecticut) to put down roots.

This is when I decided to have a go at making online teaching a full-time thing.

I created my third site that was specific to online lessons and started marketing for students a couple of months before we made the move.

Within 2-3 months of living in the U.S., I had about 20 teaching hours per week online. I was earning more than I had in Spain and very content with how things turned out.

That was in 2011. Since then I have introduced group lessons, sold products related to the IELTS exam, created video training courses, and started a popular blog and course for English teachers.

There are so many ways to earn online. I want to describe a few so that you can take advantage of them, too.

The Different Ways to Earn as an Online English Teacher

Most people think about one-to-one lessons when teaching online. And this is where I recommend teachers start.

It is easier to bring in clients when you teach one-to-one, there is no product or course you have to create beforehand, and the lifetime value of your clients is high.

How much you charge for your lessons depends on many factors. I started with the rate I charged in Spain, but doubled this after 18 months. If you’re unsure about what rate to charge, know that it is easier to raise your rates as opposed to decreasing them.

Group lessons are harder to get going. You need to find two or more learners who can commit to the class at the same time.

I taught group lessons last year using Zoom. This is a platform that has a reliable and strong connection, and allows you to embed videos, share documents, and share your screen during lessons.

You can work asynchronously with your learner using applications like Google Drive and SoundCloud.

I’ve provided writing and speaking feedback for many of my learners. To give you one example, one of my students had a job interview and had to give a presentation. He uploaded his slides to Google Slides and a recording of his presentation to SoundCloud. I corrected his presentation and gave him feedback on his delivery, pronunciation, sentence structure etc.

Doing something similar might appeal if you have difficulties finding quiet times to teach. You can also add these type of services to your one-to-one/group lessons.

Selling products on your site is easier than ever and more passive than what we’ve discussed so far. You’ll need a larger audience for this as the customer lifetime value is lower – learners repeat one-to-one lessons on a weekly basis whereas most products are a one-time purchase.

Then we have online video courses. This is my focus these days. The courses are hosted on my two websites, and I use a WordPress plugin to manage payments and material delivery.

If this sounds too challenging, there are other platforms like Udemy where they take care of hosting your course and collecting payments. It’s wise to do your research on platforms like these as they heavily discount courses and you will still need do a lot of the marketing yourself.

Finally, you can earn through affiliate links that you post on your site and elsewhere. Affiliate marketing is where you promote products and courses that aren’t yours. If someone makes a purchase from your link, you will receive a commission anywhere between 10-75% depending on what you are promoting.

With all that in mind, let’s talk about how you can make the transition into online teaching. I will also share some tips on how to do this successfully.

How to Get Started

To make this simple, I am going to talk about how you can get started teaching one-to-one.

As you’re moving online, you’ll need an online presence.

I recommend investing in a website and an email marketing service right from the start.

Some teachers prefer to solely use social media. The problem is that social media sites come and go, profiles / pages / groups get deleted for no reason, and algorithms change.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t use social media. Quite the contrary. But having focusing on platforms you own ought to be your priority.

The thought of creating a website might be daunting, but the good news is: it’s easy to do these days. If you still feel overwhelmed, get someone to build the site for you.

On your website, you need a contact form of some kind. This is where learners start the process of taking lessons with you. Usually, they’ll want a trial lesson before they commit to sending payment.

You can connect this form to your email marketing provider. The reason why I suggest you do this is because email marketing is the most powerful way to stay in touch with your audience and sell something next week, next month, next year etc.

Other things you’ll need:

  • A payment provider (start with PayPal)
  • Teaching software (Skype, Zoom, Google Hangouts etc.)
  • Lesson plans/resources/methods (they are everywhere, including here)
  • A teaching niche (what do you teach? How? To whom?)
  • A marketing plan (see below)

Setting this up is a lot of fun and you’ll find many apps that will help you stay organized. You also need to think about how you want to structure your new teaching business. The two options open to most teachers are: going self-employed or registering a business.

Calling someone in your local area who is an expert in these matters will help you decide what options are open to you (note: I’m not a legal professional).

How to Get Students

Once you have a site/page where learners can request a trial lesson, you need to attract learners in your niche to this.

There are countless ways to bring learners into your world. Let’s explore a few of the more effective options.

The first thing to do is work your contacts. Ask ex-students and friends who are learning English if they would like to chat on Skype. Ask people to share your site. Let people know you’re teaching online.

Advertising and posting is another option to explore. I have ads running all the time because they are effective. Posting your services on sites that allow you to do this can work too. But you’ll need to make your post stand out and post often to see results.

Using social media is very effective. But you have to do this in the right way. Just posting links to your articles won’t get you far. Interacting with learners and sharing useful posts will build your audience and get people interested in what you offer.

Posting on your site (blogging) will help you reach more learners too. Again, there are right and wrong ways to do this – but the main thing to focus on is making your posts as useful as possible. If your articles help people, they will get shared. Search engines will bring up your site if you set this up in the right way.

Using platforms such as YouTube can potentially help you reach learners in huge numbers. When you upload videos, you are leveraging a platform that has 4 billion views per day.

YouTube is a big part of what I do because I want to build a large audience. When starting, focus on one or two, experiment over time, and stick with what works.

Making the Transition

If you currently have another job right now, or if you are busy with something else, then you can build your teaching business on the side and then go full-time when you are ready.

Some only want to do this part-time. Others want to take over the world. No matter your goals, write them down and set a deadline for when you want to achieve them.

How quickly you reach your goals depends on many factors. But the process is enjoyable and the rewards are there for those who are committed to it.