It’s a natural assumption that you need a website if you want to start attracting and booking private clients.
But let’s pause for a moment and think about whether it’s really necessary to have a website to find ESL students when you are first starting out.
Let’s also think about what a website would deliver for you in terms of helping you sign up paying students.
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Do I really need a website to find ESL students?
When you are beginning your online English teaching freelance career, it’s important to have a focussed niche.
Offering a “general” service to a “general audience” isn’t going to get most teachers very far.
And when you are looking for a suitable niche you are probably going to make a few wrong turns and missteps. That’s entirely normal.
It’s all part of the process of “validating” your niche i.e. testing the market to see if there is a viable demand out there for what you are selling.
When you are at this early stage in the process, a free Facebook Business Page is probably all you need. You just need a place to refer potential students to book a trial lesson or get in touch.
With any luck you will soon have a few students signed up for regular lessons and you’ll have enough confidence in your niche to progress to the next step.
But if a Facebook page is working for me, why change?
Sooner or later, you will reach a point where doing business from a Facebook page means missing out on a lot of potential clients. The Facebook platform is full of distractions. Facebook as a company isn’t interested in maximizing your bookings or visitor conversions. They are in the business of keeping users engaged in their platform, which means showing links and notifications about the latest cat video and other things which might have nothing to do with your business goals.
So should I build a website?
Let’s think about priorities. As a freelancer just starting up, what’s your most pressing need? It’s to get clients, right?
It’s to get your metaphorical cash register ringing and get money coming through the door.
For that reason, your priority should NOT be a generic website.
Your priority should be to create conversion optimized landing pages.
What’s the difference between a website and a landing page?
Think of a website home page as a Swiss army knife. When you arrive at the home page of most commercial websites you’ll see links to product catalogs, news announcements, the latest blog articles, mission statements, Instagram gallery, buttons to take you to job application pages, photos of the new CEO, the recently opened branch office, etc.
The home page of most business websites functions as a “portal” to other parts of the site. It has many roles to serve.
Think of a landing page as a surgeons’ scalpel. It is a tool with one role. To get the visitor to “convert”.
That conversion could be different things, depending on your business strategy. Typically, an email squeeze page will offer the visitor something valuable for free (like an e-book, a worksheet or an infographic) in return for their email address. It might be a demo lesson sign up. It could be a sales page for students to book a single lesson (or multiple lessons) and pay online. It could be a page to promote and sell a course of 10 or 20 lessons either one-on-one or as part of a scheduled group class. Perhaps the conversion goal is encourage visitors to register for an online event like a webinar or live workshop.
Nearly all conversion optimized landing pages have three things in common:
– one message
– one offer
– one “call to action”
You don’t want to give your visitor the chance to get lost on a magical mystery tour of your website. A landing page is a web page which is specifically designed to convert web traffic into desired results.
So do I just need a single landing page?
Well, you could certainly grow your business with a single page. Lots of businesses have made handsome profits selling their product or service through single specialized landing pages on platforms like ClickFunnels.
But a better approach is to have multiple landing pages which support different marketing channels, different funnel strategies and support different stages of the customer journey through your sales funnel.
What is a sales funnel?
The “sales funnel” concept says that most people don’t buy goods or services as soon as they hear about them. In fact, some experts such as Dr Jeffrey Lant believe that most buyers require at least seven “touch points” with your brand before you enter their buyer consciousness. This has been dubbed “The Rule of Seven”.
Furthermore, people usually embark on a “path to purchase” that goes through several stages.
There are people who don’t even know they have a problem.
There are people who know they have a problem but don’t know a solution exists.
There are people who know solutions exist but can’t find them.
There are people who can’t choose between available options.
There are people who’ve made a choice but procrastinate on acting.
An effective marketing strategy is able to deliver a different message to people at different stages of the funnel.
For example, imagine somebody who doesn’t believe they have a problem with their English communication ability. What kind of message would you present to him or her? Maybe a quiz with a potential prize if they get a 100% score would help open their eyes to a few weak spots in their English level. This is a “top of the funnel” customer.
Now imagine somebody at the bottom of the funnel who has found your website, they are easily convinced you can help them but for whatever reason they just can’t commit to booking a lesson. Maybe they just need a FOMO (fear of missing out) offer, such as a 10% discount coupon if they book this week.
Landing pages should also complement the marketing channel that brought visitors to your site. For example, if you are working with an ex-student affiliate who is now driving traffic to your site through their social media accounts, an effective landing page message might describe how you helped THAT student to achieve better English fluency. Your landing page message should be consistent with the advertising message which brought them there, otherwise people are more likely to “bounce”.
How can I make a landing page?
DIY page builder platforms.
There are several free and cheaply priced website builders available. Services like WIX, Weebly and Squarespace are DIY (do it yourself) options for building landing pages and even complete websites. Each of them has pros and cons. Nearly all of them offer easy to use, drag and drop page builder tools which allow you to customize your design however you like.
The downside of DIY page builders is that you’ll need to go through a learning curve of working out how to use their design interface. Their available templates might be useful starting points but you’ll still need to put in the work to make them look the way you want for your ESL business. The WIX Business Basic plan is $28 USD / mth. Most of the page builder services also don’t work well in China due to various site elements (like Google fonts) being blocked by the Great Firewall.
Hire a developer.
You can also hire somebody to make a website or build a suite of landing pages for you. WordPress is a popular open source platform for small businesses. You should have no trouble finding a qualified developer on Fiver or Upwork to help build exactly what you want.
Keep in mind that you’ll also need to pay for web hosting and the responsibility for maintaining a self-hosted WordPress site, unlike the DIY options above, lies entirely on your shoulders. The best idea is to make a “support” arrangement with your developer so that they keep the code on your site updated and free of problems.
Managed web hosting can cost anywhere between $5 USD and $30 USD per month. I’ve seen WordPress development quoted from $500 USD for a basic template site up to $3000 USD and beyond for a custom, professional design.
Monthly support and maintenance ranges from $10 USD/month to hundreds of dollars. About $50 USD / month seems like the average for WordPress site maintenance. Typically you get what you pay for and mileage may vary.
Landing page SAAS tools.
A third option is to subscribe to a more expensively priced but dedicated landing page “software as a service” (SAAS) tools. LeadPages is a popular service which offers a library of battle tested landing page designs that you can choose from. InstaPages and ClickFunnels are additional options.
These could all be good choices but be sure to check what integrations they offer with booking calendars if you are sending traffic to a lesson sign up page. LeadPages charges $79 USD / month for their Pro Plan. This is their cheapest plan if you want to make online sales and receive payments (via Stripe or PayPal).
What should I put on my landing page?
Above the fold.
Marketing guru Don Miller, in his StoryBrand marketing training, calls it the “grunt test”. Within 5 seconds, even a simple caveman looking at your site should be able to figure out:
1. What do you offer?
2. How will it make my life better?
3. How can I get it?
Those three questions should be answered by what a visitor first sees when they arrive on your page (a.k.a the “above the fold” portion of your page).
Have a clear, uncomplicated heading. What are you offering? Don’t try to be fancy or cute. Just make it plain and direct e.g. “Sales Presentation Lessons for Beginner Level English Speakers”.
Have a sub heading that reinforces what benefits your client will experience from taking your training e.g. “Improve your English skills and stop losing sales to competitors”. Appealing to emotions in your subheading often works well. But keep it brief.
Ideally, you should have just one call to action message e.g. “Book My Trial Lesson”. It’s OK to also include a de-emphasized “contact us” button somewhere on the page for those cases where visitors need to ask a question. Chat bots can sometimes work well, too.
Because a picture says a thousand words, it’s also best practice to include a “hero image” above the fold. One large, good quality image is better than a bunch of smaller, poor quality images. The hero image should either be yourself (to establish your personal brand) or a photo of your target audience engaging with your lessons.
And btw, sliders are out! There is empirical proof that most people don’t like image sliders, and they don’t convert as well as a single static image. They are annoying, consume browser resources and your message just gets buried on slides that nobody will see. If you want to add a bit of “eye candy” to your header, there are better options like parallax scrolling or Ken Burns effects.
The elevator pitch.
I like to immediately follow the “Above the Fold” block with what I call the “Elevator Pitch” section of your page. You’ve probably heard of that imaginary scenario where you step into an elevator with a millionaire sales prospect. You’ve got just 15 seconds to deliver your “elevator pitch” before the doors open again and you’ve lost your chance. What do you say? Well, the best elevator pitches contain at least 3 elements.
Name the enemy. Articulate the problem which is holding back your potential student from getting to where they want to be. It shows that you care enough to have done your research and you empathize with their plight.
Explain your solution. Tell the student how you will solve their problem. You don’t need to go into specifics (yet). Just give the big picture view of what your lesson program covers and what the outcome will be.
Show the “promised land”. Paint a picture for your visitor of what their life looks like AFTER they’ve taken your lesson program. Use emotional words like “joy”, “relief”, “freedom” e.g. “Imagine the pride you’ll feel when a foreign client signs a contract after your smooth sales presentation”.
Make a compelling offer.
By now, your site visitor should be primed to hear the details of your offer. This is your opportunity to explain the features and benefits of your program. Remember to tie every feature to a benefit e.g. “Week 1 – we cover the basic outline of a great sales presentation. You’ll never be confused again about what to say to a new customer”. Remember that people don’t buy “features”, they buy “futures”. They want to invest in buying a better version of themselves.
If you think hard about your offer, there are nearly always possibilities to sweeten the deal by offering additional value in ways that won’t cost you much. For example, “students who complete my course will also get exclusive access to my monthly Business English Learners webinar”.
Please watch the video below. ClickFunnels founder and marketing expert Russell Brunson does a fantastic job at explaining in more detail the concept of the “compelling offer”.
By this stage, a certain percentage of your site visitors will be ready to convert. So it pays to show the call to action again, after the “Compelling Offer” section.
Those page visitors that aren’t ready to convert are balking because they have some objections. Remember that an “objection” isn’t a “no”. It simply means that you need to do more work on persuading them.
Your landing page should pre-empt objections and answer them.
Almost all objections can be categorized as one of the following four questions.
Is this offer worth whatever I have to sacrifice to get it?
Is your offer worth the asking price? Can I get it cheaper elsewhere? Are there any hidden costs? Can I cancel any time? You should include a section or banner on your landing page which addresses these questions.
Even asking for something inherently “free” like an email address, potentially has a cost for a student if they are worried about being spammed.
Address this objection by sharing case studies or anecdotes of how your lessons have delivered real economic benefits for your students, saved them embarrassment or delivered cherished, lifelong memories. Remind them of the Gucci fashion brand slogan “Quality is remembered long after the price is forgotten”.
Is this offer really suitable for someone like me?
Many times I’ve spoken to students who mistakenly believe that a certain Japanese ESL company ONLY offers courses for “high level” English speakers (which is actually not the case – they offer lessons for all levels). Potential students might have misconceptions about who your lessons are intended to benefit.
The best way to overcome this objection is through testimonials from real people who match the demographics of your target audience. A perfect testimonial has a photo, such as a social media profile image, a name and preferably their age, occupation or location. It makes whatever they say about your service more credible and more relatable.
Will this offer deliver on its promise?
People inherently fear “buyers remorse”. There are studies which prove that fear of loss is a more powerful motivator than opportunity for profit.
One of the best ways to address such fears is by showing a self introduction video on your landing page. People prefer to do business with other people they know and like. “Knowing” and “liking” leads to trust. A short video where you talk about how you can help your ESL students goes a long way to creating that connection.
Showing your licenses, qualifications, influencer endorsements, industry membership badges are also ways to build trust. Building rapport through social media is another effective trust building activity.
Why should I act now?
Too many business owners worry about what the competitor down the street is doing to steal their customers. In reality the biggest enemy of the vendor is customer procrastination. Don’t underestimate the tendency for clients to put off a purchase decision for as long as they can.
The best strategy to overcome this objection is “fear of missing out” (FOMO). Create a compelling offer with an expiration date e.g. “20% discount if you book my course before the end of the month” or “Registration to this webinar closing soon. Limited places”.
How will ESL students find my landing page?
Having a great landing page (or website) isn’t going to help you much if nobody ever sees it. So you’ll need to think about ways to promote your site.
But won’t the Google search engine send me free traffic?
It might send you a few. But this isn’t 1998 any more. The World Wide Web is a crowded place. Lots of well established websites are out there competing for the same search keywords which you are hoping to target.
It’s best to assume that in the first 12 months after launching a site, over 90% of your visitor traffic is going to come from your active marketing efforts, not passive search traffic.
Email gives businesses a way to reach thousands of potential customer leads at very close to zero cost. That means email marketing still has one of the best returns on investment (ROI) of any promotional channel.
There are lots of email marketing platforms to choose from. MailChimp is one of the most popular. It has a free plan for up to 2000 email subscribers, heaps of tutorials and is quite user-friendly. Other popular services are Active Campaign, AWeber, ConvertKit and Drip (just to name a few).
Every independent ESL teacher should be working on building up their email marketing subscriber list.
Direct message marketing.
Messaging services like Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, WeChat and LINE are another great way of letting your audience know about your landing page. You’ll probably need to put some work into creating a social media connection first, but once the potential student has accepted your message request, you’ve got a direct way to tell them about your site.
LinkedIn outreach marketing.
Speaking of social media connections, LinkedIn is an awesome channel for finding and reaching out to potential clients. People who have profiles on LinkedIn are generally serious about improving their career prospects. That makes them ideal students if you are targeting a vocational niche like Medical English or English for IT professionals.
Social media marketing.
If you would rather take a more “scaled” approach to your marketing efforts, it’s hard to go past Facebook Ads. Mark Zuckerberg’s platform offers some insanely powerful demographic targeting capabilities.
You should definitely create a Facebook Business Manager account (it’s free), generate a Facebook Pixel (a snippet of code that sends analytics to Facebook) and install it on your landing page as soon as possible. This is will give you the ability to retarget people who have already visited your page. Remember the Rule of Seven, I mentioned earlier?
Search engine pay per click marketing.
Pay per click (PPC) marketing is a simple concept that made Google rich. It means that you, as a business owner, can show text ads with links to your landing page whenever someone enters a matching search term into the Google search engine. When it’s done correctly, PPC marketing is a great way to get student leads quickly.
The key difference between Facebook Ads and Google Adwords is that people don’t usually conduct keyword searches to find funny cat videos. Social media is a good tool to creating product awareness for customers near the top of the sales funnel.
Google text ads on the other hand, are seen by people who already have a strong “buying intent”.
They know they have a problem they need to solve, and they are actively looking for a solution. They are “warm” sales prospects.
YouTube is a strange beast. It’s part social media platform and part search engine. Time spent on watching video continues to rise as a percentage of our time online. According to an online video viewer survey across selected countries in August 2019, more than 50% of internet users spend at least 4 hours per week watching online video.
Instructional YouTube clips such (a.k.a. “How to…” videos) are some of the most searched and most watched content on the platform.
TikTok is the new kid on the block. Some ESL instructors are finding success at promoting their brand by offering short, easily consumable English tips via the platform.
Podcasting network marketing.
Podcasting is a marketing channel that often gets overlooked. Audio blogging (as it was originally called) shows no signs of going away and if anything gets more popular every year. Audio content allows the listener to multitask. A recent study showed that while 49% of podcast listening happens at home, 22% happens while driving, 11% at work, and 8% while exercising.
Podcasting apps are very popular in China, with more than 400 million people in the country said to have listened to a podcast in 2018.
Producing a podcast for English learners in a specific niche could be a brilliant way to promote your brand.
Social media influencers are a powerful way of spreading word about your services. You don’t need to sign a million dollar deal with Kim Kardashian. There are plenty of micro-influencers (even nano-influencers) in specific niche markets who could be worth approaching for a promotional agreement.
In China, influencers are called Key Opinion Leaders (KOL) and their endorsements can be very influential over educational product buying decisions.
Affiliate marketing isn’t just for Amazon. If you have a self-hosted website there are various plugins which you can set up to register “affiliate partners” for your landing page. Each affiliate can access a coded URL link (e.g. mysite.com?ref=1) which they then promote on their own social media networks.
If somebody clicks through on those links to your page and becomes a paying student, the affiliate plugin records a commission payable to the affiliate. Commission rates can be whatever you and the affiliate agree. It’s a win-win-win system for you, the affiliate and your student.
When should I think about scaling up my site?
So if landing pages are the priority for getting started, at what point should you think about a more “full featured” website? I would say that when your business has grown in scale to the point where you want to start adding additional services and creating a more value added experience, that’s probably the right time. Some of the following might be cues that it’s time to upscale your web presence.
Hiring other teachers.
With any successful solopreneur business, there will come a time when you need to decide whether you really want to keep doing everything yourself, or whether it’s time to hire extra staff. Some people frame this as the difference between “working in your business” vs “working on your business”. If it’s time to recruit extra help, you will probably need a staff recruitment page and an “About Us” page to explain more about who you are.
Presenting an ESL courses catalog.
One way of defining your brand identity is by creating a truly unique in-house curriculum and set of lesson programs. It should help you sell your services to a niche market if you can showcase your course outline and provide lesson plan “teasers” to potential students.
Selling self-paced study courses.
Passive income is the Holy Grail for many solo ESL teachers. Wouldn’t it be great to make extra income while you sleep late or sip margheritas by the pool? If you have an online course which students can purchase and complete at their own pace, that’s a definite possibility.
A series of online videos and follow-up quizzes can be a great “upsell” product for students who have already completed a course program. These are hot prospects for your course since you’ve already built rapport and trust with them via your live lessons.
Selling a self study course will usually require investment in a learning management system (LMS) plugin such as LearnDash for WordPress.
Leveraging content marketing.
Relying on search engine optimization (SEO) to send free traffic your way is a problematic strategy. But when it’s done well, with effort and patience, it can pay off handsomely. It’s a “long game” approach.
Effective SEO requires a lot of small optimization tweaks on your web pages. But the most important requirement is to offer valuable and unique content for a target audience.
That means creating well produced blog articles and audio/video media on your website. Great content will attract organic backlinks from other sites over time. Content marketing also attracts the right kinds of visitors; students with the type of language problems you can solve.
Building your reputation and authority through a solid body of original content helps to establish your credibility as a service provider, leads to better search engine results and generates lots of additional opportunities to grow your business.
So in summary, having your own website to find ESL students is an essential step in building a unique personal brand. But the first priority in getting to that stage should be conversion optimized landing pages which support your online marketing efforts.
There are various options for creating landing pages. These include page builder platforms like WIX, hiring a web developer to create a WordPress site or using a dedicated landing page service like LeadPages.
Ultimately, whichever option you choose should help you to convert web traffic from your marketing campaigns into potential students and then paying customers.
Have you tried to build your own website or landing pages for a marketing campaign? Leave a comment below to let me know about your experience.
The author of this post lives in Japan with his wife and family. He has taught English part-time (online and off) for more than a decade. He is passionate about WordPress consulting, online marketing and using the power of the internet to help people achieve their dreams.
He thinks that until you’ve tried sashimi tuna with wasabi, soy sauce, hot sake and a cold beer chaser, you just haven’t lived.