I’m joined by Angie Herrera, owner of First Class Language School.
We discuss how she used her background as a native Costa Rican to grow her online English school into a rapid success.
Angie explains the ways that non-native speakers can utilize their familiarity with the language and culture of the target niche audience to build a successful brand.
You can contact Angie through her Facebook page at First Class Language School.
[00:00:17.280] – Paul
Hello, everyone, and welcome to the BabelTeq podcast, where we talk about tips and tools for teacherpreneurs. My name is Paul Sallaway and in today’s episode, we’re going to discuss “Leveraging Your Background for Freelance ESL Success”. And to help us explore that topic, I have with me Angie Herrera. Angie has had fantastic success with her online business, which she started this year. So joining us all the way from Costa Rica, we have Angie. Hi, Angie.
[00:00:55.350] – Angie
Hi! Thank you very much for inviting me.
[00:00:59.280] – Paul
My pleasure. Thanks for being a guest on the BabelTeq podcast. So can you tell the listeners a little bit about yourself, where you’re from, where you are now and your experience with independent ESL teaching specifically?
[00:01:14.820] – Angie
Sure. Well, as you said, I am from Costa Rica. I started teaching English as a second language about 10 years ago for different schools in my country, mostly in person classes, in different places. For the past couple of years I had been working on one on one lessons here and there, tutoring kids, things like that. At the beginning of this year, someone posted on a Costa Rican group that, you know, since we were in quarantine, we should post our business online. Right. So I said, well, I have a lot of experience. I should try something, since I had been trying to work for some of these big companies as an ESL teacher and I hadn’t had any luck.
[00:02:08.910] – Angie
So I posted and I got a student who joined me. She brought her friend. Her friend brought her friend. And it kind of started growing like that. In around the month of July, I decided that maybe it was time to dedicate my full time to this. And so I quit my job. I started making it like a priority for me to make posts and advertise.
[00:02:40.620] – Angie
And I started getting a lot of students and more students started to join and it was just growing very fast until right now I have a little bit over 50 students, I think.
[00:02:54.750] – Angie
[00:02:57.000] – Angie
I’ve started to look for help because I can’t handle it anymore myself. So, yes, that’s that’s what I’ve been doing.
[00:03:06.730] – Paul
So you were doing so you were doing the ESL teaching like face to face before the pandemic. Is is that right? Y
[00:03:15.540] – Angie
Yes. On and off, yes.
[00:03:18.060] – Paul
And you said that you tried to work with some of the big online ESL companies?
[00:03:23.970] – Angie
Yes, I had been trying for a while. However, most of these companies are looking for a specific profile. Sometimes they are looking for native speakers. And I am not a native speaker, even though I learned most of my English as an ESL student myself in the United States.
[00:03:45.170] – Paul
So it’s a fact that a lot of a lot of these companies just have an arbitrary hiring rule that if you if you don’t have a particular passport, then you’re not even not even allowed an interview.
[00:04:00.300] – Angie
You’re not even considered. Exactly.
[00:04:02.250] – Paul
That’s tough. Yeah.
[00:04:05.610] – Paul
All right. And and so you started your business earlier this year and it’s been growing amazingly. And so what kind of strategies have you been using to find new students? So you said that a lot of it’s been organic through word of mouth and you’ve been active on the social media platforms like Facebook, I think? Facebook groups?
[00:04:37.830] – Angie
That is correct. Yeah. Yeah.
[00:04:40.260] – Paul
How about advertising? Have you been running ads in any way?
[00:04:45.060] – Angie
I have in Facebook, but I don’t feel like they work very well for some reason. I feel like the people that start liking my posts are not my target audience. And even though I try to targeted it specifically, it usually, I don’t know, for some reason it doesn’t work. So at the very beginning, I have to be honest with you, my goal was to maybe imitate the same model that some of the Chinese or Japanese companies have.
[00:05:11.580] – Angie
You know, I was try to have at the beginning, I thought, well, let’s create a database where I can have a lot of teachers that maybe are going through the same thing I’m going through. And where the parents can choose what teacher they would like. And I had that idea in my head for a while. But then I found a specific audience in my country that I felt like this was more my type. And so I kind of changed plans.
[00:05:37.980] – Angie
I created some groups for kids, you know, which was kind of the plan at the beginning. But I started targeting my business to people, adults and teenagers that already spoke English but needed to improve it.
[00:05:54.660] – Angie
So I started targeting.
[00:05:57.090] – Angie
Another fact is that our country is very popular for call centers because Costa Rica does have a very good level of English.
[00:06:06.450] – Angie
So I started targeting call center groups and people that wanted to work in a call center but didn’t feel ready to do it. So I targeted those groups in my country and that’s where it all started to grow very fast.
[00:06:22.600] – Paul
That’s that’s a really good lesson right there, I think. And that is you can really help yourself by targeting people in a particular role, a particular vocational role, a particular industry, which is what you’ve done with trying to find students who are looking to get work in call centers. And also you’ve you’ve really focused on Costa Rica as well, so you’ve targeted that geographic area as well.
[00:06:52.790] – Angie
Yeah, I only have students from my own country right now.
[00:06:57.880] – Paul
And you said word of mouth was a big part of your growth as well. Have you done anything to to kind of encourage that or manage that or incentivize that.
[00:07:12.220] – Angie
Honestly, I haven’t I don’t know. My students are great and I try to make the classes as fun as possible.
[00:07:22.120] – Angie
I know that most of my students are like getting out of work when they join my lessons. And I notice that they are tired and I notice that they are maybe upset or, you know, things like that. So I try to make my classes as fun as possible. I try to make them laugh or make them do something out of the ordinary for them, make them think or, you know. So that has been as far as some of my students have told me, that has been the difference for them, because maybe they have studied in many different places, but they never found someone that would, you know, focus on their needs and focus on what they needed in the specifics when it comes to grammar or, you know, just being there and listening to to the to them. And that’s what I’ve been trying to do. Like I said, most of my students already speak English. They just need to improve it. And in one to one classes, they have improved very fast. So they are very happy about it.
[00:08:31.150] – Angie
And they just started recommending me with their friends and family members.
[00:08:36.230] – Paul
Sounds like you’ve got a good local brand happening there.
[00:08:42.250] – Paul
So one of the reasons I wanted to interview Angie today is because I see a lot of a lot of posts in the Facebook groups from people who have non-native backgrounds saying, you know, like, it’s really tough for us to get employment with these online companies, these big companies. And what I think is that, well, OK, perhaps that’s true. But you’re really overlooking some of the advantages which you have yourself as someone from the same language, background and cultural background as your target audience.
[00:09:17.260] – Paul
So I’d really like to hear from Angie about how being a fluent Spanish speaker and being from Costa Rica, how that has helped you in terms of running your business, in terms of dealing with customers, in terms of finding new customers. Can you speak a little about that?
[00:09:35.410] – Angie
I think it has definitely been an advantage. I have the it’s just very smooth. The process is very smooth. They write, they ask for information. I give them the information in the second and a second. They ask for my account numbers and that’s it is just very easy to communicate with them. When we started doing business. It’s easy to tell them what I do, what my focus is, what I want from them. And then when we start working together, it is just as easy.
[00:10:04.930] – Angie
I feel like being able to use my native language with the students is important when it comes to certain areas of grammar. It’s easy for them to understand that if I compare it to some of our own grammatic rules, so it is definitely an advantage in all aspects. I cannot think of anything that will be like a disadvantage in that sense.
[00:10:31.630] – Paul
Right. And I guess it also makes everything run a lot smoother in terms of like talking about billing and talking about scheduling and talking about all those, like admin related things when you can do that in Spanish. That’s that’s obviously a big advantage for you.
[00:10:50.140] – Angie
Very, very easy. Yes. It’s very easy to to accomplish that.
[00:10:55.030] – Paul
And you mentioned that initially a lot of the students that you found were through Facebook groups. Now, these would be Spanish Facebook Groups, or Facebook Groups were the language people were using was in Spanish. So that was an advantage for you as well.
[00:11:13.720] – Angie
Yes, I’m to be honest, I don’t know if if there if other countries have the same purposes. My country does. But in my country, we have groups for everything. There are groups for moms that are looking for there are groups for moms that are looking to buy things and we have groups for everything. So when I started looking for my ideal audience and what I wanted to like, start advertising and sharing my my posts, because what I usually use is my own page from Facebook.
[00:11:45.130] – Angie
When I wanted to share those posts from my page, I looked at those groups and I said, OK, I’m going to this is for a kids group that I’m going to start next month. So let’s look for all of the mom groups that I’m in and I’m going to share their if really fast. I pose them on a mom group or a parents group, and I get two or three messages in a day, four the next day and it starts moving.
[00:12:14.080] – Angie
If my class that I’m targeting is like call center or I’m going to do I do some sort of like an intensive workshop once a month. And it’s for people that, again, already speak English but are a little bit afraid of talking for some reason. You know, at the beginning it’s a little bit difficult to just let go of the fear. So for those classes, I target the call center employees.
[00:12:43.930] – Angie
And so I go ahead and I post in all of the call center groups that I’m in, so I post a lot, but it’s it’s been it’s been working.
[00:12:53.650] – Paul
So you say you create some kind of content on your on your page, on your Facebook page, and then you share that in the groups where your ideal students are hanging out. And that’s a strategy that’s worked for you.
[00:13:07.660] – Angie
I usually add like at the heading of the post, my phone number and the rates. So they don’t have to be asking how much or you know, because I’m usually very busy during the day. So they already have most of the information. So they reach me just to, like, ask for schedules and that’s it.
[00:13:25.570] – Paul
So just to get into some specifics with you then, so how do you organize your scheduling like, do you have any, like, scheduling tools that you use or is it all kind of like on an Excel spreadsheet for now?
[00:13:39.400] – Angie
I am actually very old school and I love to have my schedule like in front of me on a piece of paper.
[00:13:45.550] – Angie
So I have like a weekly calendar that I update every week, but also because I have a new teacher helping me. I just created a spreadsheet that she can access as well. And I also found a page that I actually liked a lot.
[00:14:04.960] – Angie
It’s called the TutorBird. OK, yes, it’s very easy. You can write like the schedule of all of your students, how much they’re supposed to pay. You can add the information when they pay you at the end. You know how much money you’re going to get that month, how much money there own you if they haven’t paid in advance. So I really like that one. So I’ve been using those things so far.
[00:14:32.680] – Paul
So do you use TutorBird for handling payments as well, or do you use other systems for receiving payments from your students?
[00:14:43.480] – Angie
As of right now, I’m only using like Costa Rican banks. We have something called SyncPay, which is they can transfer money just with my phone number. It’s very easy, very convenient. So they just have to enter my phone number on their banking system and that’s it. That’s what I’ve been using right now because I am in Costa Rica, my students are in Costa Rica, so that’s the easier for us.
[00:15:11.150] – Paul
But I know that TutorBird allows PayPal and some other because I looked at it the other day to see if it worked OK?
[00:15:22.310] – Angie
And you use, do you Zoom for your online lessons? I do, yes. All of them are through Zoom.
[00:15:29.690] – Paul
Right. Another question that I’ve seen come up a little bit is how do, how do teachers deal with cancellations or rescheduling? Like when you were getting started in this did you have to spend some time thinking about, like, what your cancellation policy would be or your rescheduling policy? And is that something that you put in writing with your students?
[00:15:56.870] – Angie
At the very beginning I didn’t have a cancellation policy because I didn’t even think that it was necessary. And so my students would write and be like, oh, I’m sorry, I can’t join the class today. And I’ll be like, OK, when you want to take it.
[00:16:11.630] – Angie
And I will offer the opportunity to, you know, to take it another time. As my schedule started to get a little bit more hectic, I was like, OK, no I can’t just do this anymore. I need to do something. So actually, last month I sent an email to all of my students and I told them our cancellation policy has changed. If you let me know in advance, I will accommodate you, you know, whenever I can.
[00:16:42.290] – Angie
But if I’m already sitting down and you write to me, I can’t come to the class. Sorry. I had to because I’m already sitting down because sometimes I was paying a teacher to cover for me and she was already waiting for the student. So I feel that is very important. You need to know that your time is valuable.
[00:17:01.220] – Paul
[00:17:02.540] – Angie
Yes, that is very important that from the beginning you set a cancellation policy.
[00:17:08.030] – Paul
I agree. OK, um, so have you have you put any thought towards maybe like creating a Facebook group of your own, like something for your students maybe to interact in, or are you going to go in any in any directions with social media yourself, aside from your Facebook page I mean?
[00:17:30.900] – Angie
I haven’t thought about it, no. It sounds like a good idea. But I usually have like a monthly class for all of my students to join and we talk about whatever we think of
[00:17:43.900] – Paul
[00:17:44.610] – Angie
For example, we talk about Netflix and everybody can talk. And, you know, sometimes they’re just like chillin, drinking a beer and talking like they’re talking to friends, but in English. So that is what I have been doing to have my students connect with each other when they take individual classes.
[00:18:00.930] – Angie
But yes, I think it would be a good idea to have some kind of community created.
[00:18:07.020] – Paul
Yeah, I think I think that I think it’s probably a good idea to to build these kind of connections between your students because learning a language can be a lonely business sometimes. And if you’ve got other people, other people doing the same thing to you, it certainly makes it more likely that you’re going to stick with it. And which is good for you as a business owner and as a teacher.
[00:18:30.390] – Angie
Yes, actually, I have around 30 adult students and around 20 something I don’t even know how many. Twenty three, I guess, kids? And so I realized, well, I’m creating these monthly classes for my adults. What am I doing with my kids? So last week I decided to send them a post and I was like, OK, it’s pizza day on Saturday. You need to buy these ingredients and we’re going to connect on Zoom and we’re going to make a pizza.
[00:18:59.190] – Angie
And all the kids loved it. And it was so rewarding they were sending me pictures that night, showing me how their pizza turned out and their moms were so happy, too. So I found another way to connect my kids with another kid because they’re usually taking their classes on their own.
[00:19:21.060] – Paul
Sounds great. I love Latin American food. So when you have a Latin American cooking workshop, let me know and I’ll join in.
[00:19:28.318] – Angie
[00:19:32.910] – Paul
All right, so and as we’ve as we’ve touched on, so your business is growing quite quickly at the moment and I believe you have some exciting plans in the near future to recruit some additional teachers to take on these extra students. So can you tell us a little bit about about that and where you see yourself maybe one year from now, where you see yourself perhaps five years from now? What’s that? What does the future hold?
[00:20:04.800] – Angie
Well, it’s a question that I’ve been asking myself for the past few days, because to be quite honest with you, maybe I’m a little bit of a negative person towards myself.
[00:20:17.880] – Angie
So I was like, I never thought that this was going to happen. So I never had, like, a plan for my future or whatever based on this. But now that I see I see it happening on a year that has been so difficult for so many people, I keep thinking, well, this year was so good, maybe next year is going to be even better.
[00:20:40.080] – Angie
So I just hired a teacher. She’s going to be helping me mostly with the kids.
[00:20:46.730] – Angie
She’s really good. I’m very happy because I am very, very tired. My schedule is very full. I was having 13 hour days and I’m really tired. You know, it’s very tiring to teach, especially when all of your students are at a very different level and they all have different needs. So. I have this new teacher. She started this week, and since she started, I’ve been feeling so much better and I have plans to hire another teacher to help me out with the adults because I am confident in everything that I can teach my students.
[00:21:23.750] – Angie
But I want them also to have the ability to talk to somebody else because I feel it’s necessary. You just can’t talk English to just one person. I feel like it’s it’s not enough sometimes, depending on your level. So I do want them to talk to somebody else. I’m looking for another teacher right now. I’ve been conducting some interviews and trying to find the best fit for us. And I’m hoping to need another teacher for January because I am actually on a I have some people on a waiting list right now.
[00:22:01.040] – Angie
They’re waiting for a spot. I don’t have any more room. And so I need to find more teachers.
[00:22:07.670] – Paul
Great. So you’re really transitioning from working in your business to working on your business. In other words, like taking a bit of a step back into a more of organizational role rather than doing all of the classroom time itself, which, as you said, can be very draining. If you if you do a lot of it.
[00:22:28.220] – Angie
And it is it’s scary because it’s my baby.
[00:22:32.450] – Angie
You know, I have been working, even though it hasn’t been for that long. I have been working very hard. And I I just want the best for my students. I’m trying to find the best for them. So there’s a lot of competition as well in my country. So I want to position myself as one of the best learning centers.
[00:22:53.950] – Paul
Sure. Yep. I understand.
[00:22:56.660] – Angie
So, yes, maybe that in the next five years I want someone to ask in those groups, like “What is the best place to learn English?” And I want everybody to answer the name of my business. That’s my goal for five years, let’s say.
[00:23:12.830] – Paul
All right. Well well, maybe to to wrap up here.
[00:23:19.310] – Paul
So is there anything else that you’d like to add before we before we finish?
[00:23:26.300] – Angie
I guess not not specifically. OK, I, I want to add I have found a very good page for teaching adults as well. It’s very easy because all of the classes are already planned. And I feel like most of the times in these ESL groups, a lot of people are looking for like a good curriculum, you know, just to follow it. And so I’ve been using Off2Class.
[00:23:53.370] – Paul
OK, yes, I know that one.
[00:23:54.710] – Angie
I’ve been using it for about three months. And it has been a very important change with my students because now they have homework and now they can see everything better. I don’t have to spend hours and hours planning, so maybe look for something that is affordable to you. I know that there are other options that are more affordable, some options that are also free, but. Don’t, I mean, don’t wait for the big companies to call you. You can wait for a very long time, try to look in your community.
[00:24:31.550] – Angie
I’m pretty sure there are a lot of people that would love to have you as a teacher. So just keep trying. Try to focus on yourself, as Paul was saying. Find something that defines you. Find something that gives you an advantage over other teachers and use that. Use that. Because there is no other teacher in the world like you. So you can have big companies compete. That’s on them. It’s OK. But you’re a different teacher, so try to focus on that and try to build your business on that.
[00:25:03.500] – Paul
OK, well, great advice there, Angie, we should mention the name of your business or the name of your company. I don’t think we’ve done that so far. Can you tell us what that is?
[00:25:12.470] – Angie
Yes, it’s called First Class Language School.
[00:25:15.200] – Paul
First Class Language School, OK. And and so maybe some people would like to connect with you. Maybe they’d like to talk to you about some of those job opportunities that you have coming up.
[00:25:27.980] – Angie
[00:25:29.060] – Paul
What’s what’s the best way for people to get in touch with you?
[00:25:33.200] – Angie
I feel like my Facebook page is the easiest. I check it every day, so I feel I think I am the only First Class Language School, I want to think I am.
[00:25:46.520] – Paul
We’ll post a link on my blog for the for the show notes anyway.
[00:25:51.090] – Angie
[00:25:51.620] – Paul
So people can go there. All right. Yeah. OK, so first First Class English? That’s right isn’t it?
[00:26:02.210] – Angie
First Class Language School.
[00:26:04.250] – Paul
First Class Language School. Sorry, yes. All right. Well well, we might wrap up there then. So thank you very much, Angie. It’s been it’s been great chatting with you. And you’ve got an exciting some exciting times ahead of you.
[00:26:17.990] – Angie
Thank you. Thank you very much. I hope it’s I hope to talk to you soon as well. And I appreciate you believing in us and trying to help us with this kind of content. Thank you.
[00:26:30.980] – Paul
My pleasure. All right, guys. So if if you’d like to listen to more great interviews like this one and read some blog articles with more tips and tools for teacherpreneurs, don’t forget, you can find all that at BabelTeq.com. And if you want to make sure that you don’t miss out on any content, be be sure to sign up for the newsletter as well.
So until next time. So thanks for listening. And bye, Angie.
[00:27:09.910] – Angie
Bye, thank you very much.
[00:27:11.800] – Paul
OK, bye everybody. bye-bye.
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.