A competitive job market means more online English teachers are opting to find their own students as freelance ESL teachers.
Online English teaching used to be reserved for large ESL companies, but more teachers are marketing themselves and attracting their own student base.
Unfortunately, many aspiring independent ESL teachers believe it's too difficult, however, it's never been easier. This guide is designed to show you exactly how to become a successful independent online English teacher - from scratch!
So, if you're tired of applying to ESL companies or earning too little at your current teaching job, follow this step-by-step guide and make it happen.
This article assumes you have the necessary qualifications and experience to teach English to foreign learners. If you don't have a TEFL certificate yet, read this article first and get adequately qualified.
Why become a freelance ESL teacher
Freelance English teaching has many advantages.
While transitioning to independent teaching has its challenges, the benefits, in my opinion, make it worthwhile.
The main reasons ESL teachers choose freelance teaching are:
Set your own rates
One of the most appealing aspects of English teaching independently is you can set your own rates.
While some ESL platforms like Preply do allow you to set your own rates, they also take a cut, meaning to get exactly your worth means charging even more, which can turn students away.
This has led to ESL teachers struggling to make upwards of $25 per hour on teaching platforms. However, as a freelancer, you're much more likely to earn $25-$35 per hour teaching.
Keep 100% of your earnings
English teaching platforms take a cut of every dollar their teachers earn.
Ultimately, you're often paying the platform between 10-50% to use their platform.
Sometimes, ESL platforms take 100% commission for trial classes or first lessons.
That's a lot of money out of a teacher's pocket.
Teaching as a freelancer means you keep 100% of the money you earn. No question.
Manage your own schedule
Often English teaching platforms hold you to strict schedules and can dish out punishments to your performance rating or deduct money if you change that schedule.
Managing your own schedule through direct communication with your students means rescheduling is a lot less stressful.
Be your own boss
Who doesn't want to be their own boss?
The advantage of answering to no one but yourself is a pursuit worth chasing.
Grow into a business
Going independent is a long-term game.
You will put in more work at the beginning, but if you do it right, it'll become easier, requiring less work with more reward.
Of course, becoming successful at this means you can scale your teaching website into a business. You can hire teachers to help with your schedule (of course, teachers you trust).
Finding your teaching niche
The most successful freelance English teachers are the ones who specialize in a particular ESL field.
This is because students often have particular goals and seek teachers who align with them.
For example, I began my ESL career as a general English teacher. However, it wasn't until I took this online IELTS course and started to specialize in teaching IELTS, that my career boomed.
Best niches for ESL teachers
Teaching niches are one of the most important and overlooked aspects of ESL.
There are a number of niches that will increase your demand overnight.
The most in-demand ESL niches are:
If you speak two languages, that can be a huge advantage and be used to define your niche.
The articles below are useful if you're curious which ESL niche is for you.
How to get ESL students
The biggest challenge for independent English teachers is acquiring enough students to maintain a full-time workload.
However, by learning and mastering student acquisition skills, you can fill up your schedule with eager students and make a good living.
How many students do you need?
The majority of ESL students seek between 1-5 hours of lessons a week.
If all your students only wanted 1 hour per week, then you would need 40 students to fill your full-time work schedule.
That's a lot of students. And that's why I highly recommend enticing your students into 3+ lessons per week.
Depending on your niche, you may also have short-turnovers.
For example, student training for an exam, may not require lessons post completing the exam.
This turnover means consistent marketing is required to acquire new students.
But how do you do it?
New student acquisition
Bring loyal students
Before we talk about acquiring new students, it's important to mention your current students.
Some students will want to continue lessons with you outside of the current teaching platform.
While most ESL companies strictly prohibit discussing private lessons outside of the platform's schedule, it might be worth discussing with the platform any possibility to acquire the student. Especially if the student is going to discontinue lessons upon your departure.
Search for loopholes or ways you can keep your student without breaking any policies and maintaining respect for the company.
Here are the best ways to acquire new students as an independent ESL teacher:
ESL teacher website
A professional website is the number one tool you can have as an English teacher.
However, many teachers shy away from creating an ESL website as they feel it will be expensive or time-consuming.
But that's not the case. Website hosting providers like BlueHost.com are offering up free domain names with hosting plans.
Follow this step-by-step guide to creating your own ESL website from scratch.
Fiverr is a freelance marketplace platform.
It's widely used, but highly competitive.
The benefits of Fiverr is it's free and easy to start.
However, the downside is the amount of ESL competition on the site means class prices can be extremely low.
Facebook Business Page
A simple way to start ESL freelancing is to create your own Facebook Page.
While it may only take 5 minutes to set up, having a Facebook Page will allow you to connect with students and promote yourself to them.
LinkedIn is a great resource for independent English teachers.
You'll want to revamp your profile and ensure you have "Freelance English Teacher" or something similar as your title.
Make sure you optimize everything on your profile to attract ESL students - yes, that includes your profile photo.
Marketing for independent ESL teachers
There are two main methods for marketing yourself to ESL students: organic and paid.
As independent English teachers, you will likely need to balance both methods.
Organic is where students find you. This is often done through searches, whether students find your website on Google or profiles on social media.
As a freelancer, you should always be striving for organic, however, it doesn't happen overnight. Ranking on search engines takes a lot of time, effort, and care - but it's the payoff is well worth it.
Ways to get organic traffic:
- Create an SEO optimized website
- Optimize your social channels
- Write helpful content for ESL students
Paid refers to ads and paid promotions. Paid marketing is great as it can work instantly for teachers, however, there is always the risk of throwing ad spend away.
Due to this, it can be more beneficial to hire an Ads Specialist to run your ads for you. I've personally had success with this, so feel free to reach out via our contact page for more details.
Paid ways to market yourself:
- Facebook Ads
- Google AdWords
- LinkedIn Premium
Paid Marketing vs organic
I fundamentally believe both methods should be used by serious freelance teachers.
Paid marketing is best when you're starting out, but always work on your organic game, for new students to trickle to you in the future.
Best video call platforms for ESL teachers
I highly recommend flexibility when it comes to your choice of video calling platform.
Some students might not have access to a certain platform due to their country's restrictions or perhaps they are just more comfortable on a certain platform.
After all, you don't want to deter students by adding another unnecessary step. Instead, adapt to their needs.
Some popular video calling platforms are:
Is freelance ESL teaching worth it?
Freelancing as an independent English teacher can be extremely rewarding.
While it does require a lot of motivation and hustle, freelancing is often the gateway to an exciting career that isn't limited by ESL platforms' commissions and schedules.
As a freelancer, you'll be required to learn more skills like marketing and general business management. However, approaching this with enthusiasm will go a long way towards your success.
Remember, not every freelance English teacher is successful, but following the steps in this guide, using your head, and wanting it bad enough - there's nothing in your way to becoming a successful independent English teacher.
The rest is up to you.
Do you need help creating an English teaching website to showcase your talent and attract students?
We can do it for you!
Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org to see how we can help.
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