Five years ago, I was teaching IELTS Writing for the British Council in Vietnam. I started to put my lessons online so that students who missed the class could access them later to catch up. Google soon got a hold of these lessons and they started to get lots of hits. I said that when I got 100,000 visitors a month, I would quit my job and teach online. That happened within a few weeks, and now we are approaching 2 million followers on our various social channels plus millions of hits per month.
There is a vast market out there for teachers who are good at teaching IELTS Writing and want to take help people online. If I were to do it all again, here is the advice I would give to myself five years ago: Are you a teacher or a businessperson?
Many teachers are not prepared for this learning curve and think it is just a matter of setting up a Facebook Page and teaching via Skype.
If you want to get the most out of teaching IELTS Writing online, you are going to have to take your teacher hat off and put on the many hats of an online business owner. You are going to have to learn new skills, such as marketing, social media, content production, business operations, advertising, sales, customer service, and finance, just to name a few. Many teachers are not prepared for this learning curve and think it is just a matter of setting up a Facebook Page and teaching via Skype.
I love this aspect of teaching online because it forces me to continually learn and solve new problems. However, many people don’t like this and should stick to teaching for someone who is comfortable running a business. We have teachers working for us who love teaching online but are not cut out for business, and they make more money than if they were running their online businesses or working anywhere offline.
You won’t make money from day one
The biggest mistake I see people making is setting up an online teaching business and asking their students for money right away. I know you have bills to pay, and you’re probably a great teacher, but the market doesn’t care. If you think the market owes you something and you should be able to make money straight away, you will fail. So, what do you do instead?
Build an audience by giving them vast amounts of value, and then ask for money. You can’t do it the other way around.
Give a considerable amount of value
I didn’t ask anyone for a penny for about a year after starting the first website. Instead, I created at least one precious piece of content every single day and gave it away for free. This helped me create a massive audience of people who were ready and willing to give me money for my services. Build an audience by giving them vast amounts of value, and then ask for money. You can’t do it the other way around.
Take a look at the most popular IELTS videos on YouTube. What do you see? Do you see people clicking on what will get them results or what they want to hear?
We tell prospective students that we do not work with people who want tricks or hacks; we only work with students who are prepared to do the work necessary to get results
The most popular videos offer tips, tricks, hacks, and shortcuts. This is a reflection of what the vast majority of students want. They do not want to hear that it’s going to take a long time to improve their vocabulary; they want you to give them a list of ‘Band 9’ words. They do not want to hear that their grammar is at a Band 5, and they need to work on their articles and prepositions, they want you to give them ‘Band 9’ phrases.
We tell prospective students that we do not work with people who want tricks or hacks; we only work with students who are prepared to do the work necessary to get results. That is quite scary because 99% of students will not want to work with you. That’s fine; work with the 1% of people you can help.
Most teachers who come online, substitute their classroom for a Skype room. This is a complete waste of time because you are not leveraging what the internet is providing. Why would you teach the same lesson on idea generation over and over again to hundreds of students when you could make one amazing lesson, record it and use it as many times as you like? The presentation of lessons should be done in an online course that you can either give away for free or charge for. You can then spend time on the things that can’t be leveraged, such as answering specific questions and, most importantly, giving feedback on their writing.
Watching an online course is a complete waste of time for the student if they don’t do the following three things: 1) Do the thing you’ve taught them in the lesson. If you’re teaching them how to write an introduction, get them to write an introduction. Sounds obvious, but most online courses fall at this first hurdle. 2) Give detailed, individual feedback on their writing. You should correct every essential mistake, tell them exactly where they are going wrong, and precisely what they need to do to improve. 3) Insist they take action on the feedback given. If they don’t, they are not going to get better.
Follow that feedback loop, and you’ll see vast improvements in their writing. However, if you miss out on one element, they will see no progress.
Which is better? Charge them $50 and not give them the attention they need or charge them $500 and help them get the score they need?
Charge What You’re Worth
You are not doing yourself or your students any favours by charging low prices. If you charge low prices, you are going to have to take on a high volume of students to pay the bills. You will not be able to give them the individual care and attention they deserve, and you will end up annoying all of them. You will also be too busy, and you will give up because you’re making very little money, to make a lot of people unhappy. You are also not doing your students any favours by giving them a bargain.
Think about the cost of cheap. Let’s say you’re teaching a doctor who has a job offer from a hospital in London, and they are set to increase their annual income by $50,000 if you help them get a Band 7 in Writing. Which is better? Charge them $50 and not give them the attention they need or charge them $500 and help them get the score they need?
Should you do it?
Teaching online can be incredibly rewarding because you can work with students who you can help, determine what and when you teach, and it can also be far more financially lucrative than working for a school. However, to do that, you need to be an entrepreneur first and a teacher second.