Deciding to work online is a big decision as a EFL teacher. That’s not to say that it’s sub-standard to physically being in a classroom, but there are some differences which affect the way in which you market yourself.
It goes heavily in your favour that the world of online work has exploded over recent years and it’s pretty much the norm now to have a direct choice between online or in-person teaching. There may be a specific reason why you want to work remotely, or maybe you just feel like a change. Teachers coming home from abroad are increasingly likely to switch to online teaching because they’ve been in the thick of it and are looking for something a little less demanding. Something that’s more controllable than the hubbub of campus life. But, as with anything, there are some factors that can affect your chances of being successful online, and that need to be thought through before you embark on this particular course. You certainly don’t want to strike out alone and then have to re-think your choice.
As well as being responsible for finding your students entirely yourself, there’s work that needs to be done before you can even think about starting to teach. There’s stiff competition out there and you need to prove that you’re serious and credible to be in with a fighting chance, so here are some tips to help you on your way.
First of all, start by taking a look at your own current social media presence. This is where several professional people have fallen down, simply through having professionally unacceptable photos available for the world to see. Check your privacy settings and remove all photographs that you wouldn’t be happy for your boss to see. If it’s public, then it has to be 100% professional. Check that your online CVs (if any) are all updated because it’s going to be confusing if you’re saying different things on different CVs and potential clients are less likely to engage. Similarly, make sure that your credentials are all up to date, you don’t want to miss anything out.
Next, it’s time to start actively promoting yourself, rather than passive promoting (basically relying on students stumbling across your details and deciding to contact you). But you have to be specific here and think about what you want from the world of work:
- Do you want to teach adults or children?
- Do you want to go into a niche area, like exam prep?
- Do you want to go into a specific area like business English, for example. Or tourism or medical, etc. Think about your skill set here and see what fits.
- Put down any experience that you have, however small it might be.
As your client base grows, you’ll probably have the chance as to whether to stay narrow and what you’re focused on, or to broaden what you’re teaching and encompass several areas. For example, a student might start off studying exam prep with you and once that’s done, wants to stay on for regular language coaching or develop more specific vocabulary skills. It depends entirely on what you’re comfortable with and where you see your career going. One word of advice though – don’t be tempted to move too quickly, take a decent length of time to build your reputation so you’re taken seriously, rather than fluttering into several areas of online teaching all at the same time.
The next question has to be whether you’re planning to run your teaching from a personal website or through a freelancer one which basically means that you’re promoting yourself on a pre-existing website. There are benefits to both.
You’ll have broadly marketed services and the clients will come to you rather than you to them. You’ll be backed up by the professionals and they will take some of the pressure off.
BUT, there will be much more competition on these because everyone is jostling for the same clients and you’ll need to really stand out from the crowd to build up a regular stream of clients. Look at the costs as well, some websites charge high prices for the convenience of using them. Some also restrict the amount you’re allowed to charge so the site looks appealing to potential students without high prices to put them off.
The benefits here are that you’ll have all the freedom over how, when and where you market yourself, with no restrictions. You’ll have no immediate competition, rather than being one CV lined up against another and another, etc. You can describe your products and services clearly, exactly as they are and you’ll have full control over how much you charge for each service as a TEFL teacher.
But you must bear in mind that if you go down the path of having your own website, it needs to look 100% professional and slick. No student is going to want to engage with a shoddy looking, mistake-ridden website, so even if you have to pay an expert, make sure it’s professional.
When it comes to what you can charge for your teaching, there’s a number of things that you might like to consider. First of all, get a general idea of what similar teachers to you are charging and make sure that you’re not under-cutting or over-charging. If you’re just starting out then you’ll have to take students wherever you can get them, in whatever time zone that happens to be. Then decide on your hours as well. It might be that you have to start with more unappealing time zones and work your way back to your own one. Where the students are based is a large factor in how much you can charge. With a poorer country there might be a pool of students, but the chances are that they cannot afford much and your services might have to fall in line with the general economic state of their country. Likewise, if you have pupils from a wealthier country then you can probably charge more. Be persuasive and focus on why your services are better than physically attending a school. Namely – flexibility, convenience and the zero commuting time.
The most important thing of all when you’re considering your pricing is to always have your own financial goals in place and always be working towards them so you have a clear line to follow.
Another benefit of working from your own website is that you have the chance of creating a video intro:
- Potential students get to see more of who you are as a person.
- They can get a sense of how you are as a teacher.
- You’ll be more approachable and not just a face in a photo.
Again, make sure its professional. It’s going to be harder for students to evaluate you than if you were standing in front of them so you have to get it right first time.