Hello and welcome to the BabelTeq podcast. In fact, the very first BabelTeq podcast. This is where we talk about tips and tools for teacherpreneurs. That is teachers who are thinking about a solo career in online tutoring or online language instruction specifically, or people who currently are in that position and have a freelance online tutoring business. In this podcast episode, we’re going to talk about what I think is the future of the online tutoring industry in general and language teaching specifically.
And also I’ll give you my thoughts about why I think that you should embark on a career as an independent online language teacher and what are the benefits of doing that. So given that this is the very first episode, I guess it’s appropriate for me to explain a little bit about what BabelTeq is. So I guess the word, BabelTeq, you might be surprised to know that there is such a word as a “babel”, just like “google” is, is a word though most of us probably didn’t know that before before they launched a company. But “babel” is a word. It means “a confusion of sounds and voices, especially foreign languages”. And to me that sounds well, that that reminds me a lot of many language classes that I that I’ve been in. So I thought that was an appropriate name for a new business. So that’s what “babel” means. And and the “TEQ” I guess that’s just a branding word for technology.
Some people have asked me “why did you use the Q”? Well, why not? Actually, when I got a designer to do a logo for me, the Q kind of reminded me of the “power on – off switch” on a Windows machine. So I thought, hey that’s cool. That works. So yeah, that’s where the “BabelTeq” comes from. So who am I?
I live in Japan. I’m originally from Australia, but I’ve been here in Japan since the early 2000s.
I came here originally to teach Business English, and I did that for a couple of years and then in well, in the late 2000s after a series of events, I started on a new career as a WordPress consultant. I kind of got deep into learning about WordPress as a platform and became really, really interested in that. And then I realized that there were a lot of people who had business ideas, business projects, and that just really needed someone to help them with the technical and marketing aspects of it.
And I realized that I could I could fill that role. And so I started a career from 2008 as a WordPress consultant and marketing consultant. But I have continued to do English teaching as well, more and more as a part time gig. But I’ve always thought about the English language industry, English language instruction industry as something that is kind of ripe for disruption, if I can put it that way. Like this, this model of people getting in their car or getting on a train and then go into a classroom in an office building that’s close to the train station, for example, which is what the situation usually is here in Japan.
You know, and these companies are paying really high monthly rents for buildings that are pretty much vacant most of the day, except for, you know, like a couple of hours in the evening when the students come in and this is really like a prehistoric business model, and I’ve always thought that it’s ripe for disruption in terms of like online tutoring. And I think that, in the last few years, we’ve kind of seen a bit of a sea change towards online tutoring and away from this bricks and mortar model, and I know a lot of people are interested in starting careers, even part time careers or side hustles as language teachers or online tutors. There’s a lot of there’s a lot of attraction in doing that. So I’ve always wanted tofind a way that I could use the kind of skills and experience that I’ve acquired to help people in that situation to really set off on a career of their own. I guess I’ve always kind of admired people who start their own business and who go into business for themself and try to become self-employed. I just think that’s like a very optimistic kind of attitude and positive attitude.
And it’s something that I’ve always admired and I’ve always wanted to be a part of that kind of environment. So in the last few years, I think that the stars have kind of aligned in a way that it’s allowed a lot of a lot of people who want to set an independent course for themselves to do that. Like I’m a member of a few different Facebook groups and I see a lot of stories that are very impactful for me.
The stories of like somebody who’s lost their job recently and they’re looking for a way to put food on the table. And they see online language teaching as a way to do that. Or especially recently with with COVID, you know, a mother who wants to find a way to earn money at night so she can spend the day with her home school children. Maybe a young person who wants to pay off their student debts early. Maybe somebody who wants to make a little extra money on the side so they can take their family on that vacation they’ve been talking about for years.
So a lot of stories like this really stick in my mind. And and I think that online training, online tutoring, online language teaching is going to be a really big industry in the next decade. I really believe that.
And I think now is is a really good time to be looking at building an independent brand for yourself, building a base, building clientele, really learning the ropes of what it means to be an independent online teacher. And so I’ve always wanted to be someone who could help that transition for many people. So that’s that’s where that’s where BabelTEQ came from. And I now have a blog with a few articles on there, which I think are relevant for people who are in this particular situation, who have these particular goals.
And I hope that they’re helpful and provide value for that set of people. So, yeah. So what does it mean or, what does the future hold for online tutoring? Well, I think in general, I think you’ve got to look at what some people have called the “Rising Billions”. So what does that mean? Well, around the world, there are billions. Yeah, literally billions of people who are increasing in economic wealth and prosperity year after year.
I saw, I saw and infographics by I think it was Statista which showed that in 2020 fifty four percent of the global middle class, depending on how you define that, of course. But fifty four percent of the global middle class was based in Asia. But by 2030, so 10 years from now, that number, fifty four percent they’re predicting is going to rise to sixty five percent. So sixty five percent of the global middle class or two out of every three people who you might define as middle class will be in Asia.
And that’s a pretty significant number. And I think a lot of us know that in Asia, people in Asia, the Asian culture has a very strong emphasis on skills and education. And so rising prosperity plus this desire for skills and education means that there’s going to be a lot of demand over the next decade for people who can provide training, who can provide education services in particular niches, which includes, of course, language instruction.
So the Internet… Internet connectivity is growing every year, so not only have we got this growing wealth effect, we’ve also got the continued expansion of the Internet. I saw a stat which when I first saw it, I thought, that’s got to be wrong. The statistic was something like six hundred thousand people per day around the world are logging on to the Internet for the first time in their lives, and I thought “what, that can’t be right”.
But when you when you do the math it actually it checks out. The Internet is just growing at such a fantastic rate that a lot of people who’ve never had access before are suddenly getting access to this global marketplace. Now, a lot of these people are, of course, logging in via mobile networks as well. Keep that in mind. And the world is becoming more mobile, like mobile devices are taking up bigger and bigger share of Internet traffic every year.
So those two things, so rising prosperity, rising global prosperity, underpinned by a desire for a cultural desire in many places for training and skills and education, plus more and more access to the Internet means that, it seems obvious to me, in the next decade, this can be a big demand for online training services. Specifically, I want to talk about language instruction. English teaching. ESL. English is the global lingua franca, like it or not, so English is the global language of business. Like if somebody from Swaziland wants to talk to somebody from Vietnam and do business, they’re not going to conduct business in French or German.
The global language of business is English, and that applies to a lot of industries like aviation. If you want to get a job as a pilot, you need to be able to speak English. If you want to get a job in the medical industry, you need to be able to speak English. So that’s just the reality. So globally, there’s a huge demand for English. For commercial reasons. So now globalization, I think, is a huge driving force behind the demand for English language training services, and I realize thats taken maybe a bit of a hit or it’s in a bit of a holding pattern at the moment, especially in some industries like aviation, like hospitality, like global education services, because of the coronavirus and and COVID.
But you’ve got to think that at some point in the near term, we’re going to come out the other side of this. There will be a vaccine coming at some point. You’ve got to assume. And when that happens, there’s going to be a big snap back with some of these industries in terms of in terms of expansion, in terms of hiring, in things like airlines, hospitality, education industry and so on.
So when these companies start hiring again, they’re going to be looking for people, they might be looking for the people that they’ve laid off in the past. But, you know, a lot of these people have moved on with their lives as well, which means that they’re going to, in many cases, need new people. And the people that they are going to need are going to require a certain base level of English skill.
So when the coronavirus crisis abates, I think it’s going to be I think it’s going to be a very big opportunity for anyone who’s providing vocational English training services to these types of industries. So I would really encourage people to think about niche markets, think about vocational niches and what types of industries are going to require their employees to haveertain a certain functional level of English ability in the future and try to position yourself in a way that you can benefit from that in terms of the kids market.
So, I know that a lot of people are very focused on China and I guess part of that is because, like, “if all your know is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”, that’s the old saying. And I guess a lot of people got their start in the online English language training business because they were hired by Chinese companies and there are various reasons why, China is kind of like the, you know, the dominant market for online English at the moment, that there’s just a lot of Chinese people for a start.
That’s the obvious one. But there’s other reasons as well. I think that a lot of people have got their beginnings in the industry through working for the Chinese companies. But I think that perhaps that’s led a lot of people to believe that there’s ONLY China, which is not the case. I don’t remember the exact numbers. But if you look at like the number of people who are studying English globally and you look at how many people stay in China, China is like something like 15 percent of the total global market.
I could be wrong about that. But I think those were the numbers that I remember seeing. So, you know, so in terms of, in terms of the kids market, yes, China’s a very important market. But there are other opportunities as well around the globe, like there are other Asian countries like Japan, which I know very well, Korea, Taiwan and other Southeast Asian countries. Then you’ve got like South America, you’ve got all of Europe, Middle East, you know.
So around the world. Everybody wants their kids to succeed in the future. That’s just like a natural parental instinct. And there is also, I think, an instinct for parents to put the future of their children ahead of whatever short term desires they have. So my sense of it is that the kids English market is very resistant to economic challenge. So it’s very like recession proof, if you want to put it that way. I know that people who are teaching English to kids at the moment are in a lot of cases struggling because there has been a big influx of people, a big influx of teachers, I should say, into the industry. So the whole demand supply graph has moved.
And that’s certainly a problem. But long term , I think that you’ve got to assume that the kids market is is always going to be there and its just going to continue to grow. Is the competition going to get tougher? I think yes, I think it is. As more and more people move into online teaching and as more and more companies appear in this space, it is going to get tougher.
And it’s going to mean that if this is your target, if teaching kids is your target, then you need to think about how you can carve out a particular niche within that market.
And/Or how you establish yourself as a unique brand, so establishing a niche means that you do or you service a particular part of the kids market, that the big companies aren’t getting to. And that could be like, for example, children who are growing up in bilingual families who need to take entrance exams for higher education or something like that. So it’s very specific or it could be that you are applying more of a broad brush approach, but there is something about the way that you present your lessons, the way that you present your business, that sort of sticks in the mind of people so that you’re if you’re branding is particularly unique and really resonates with people. And I know providers who have very memorable brand appearances, so they’re very consistent about the way they present themselves. And so I think you’ve got to be either of those two and perhaps BOTH to really do well in the kids market going going forward.
So which brings me to my last point, which is why do I think you should start your own online business now and not work for school?
Well, I’ve already laid out that I think it’s a very target rich environmentext in the next decade. This is going to be a growth industry for sure. I have very few reservations about saying that, which means that I guess you’ve got two choices.
You either work for a company, you work for school, or you lay the groundwork now and start to build your own brand, your own business. So why not work for school? Well, that’s I mean, that’s a completely fine option, I think, for a lot of people. I think if it depends, depending on what your personal circumstances are like. If you know that you’re only going to be doing this for six months to a year, you know, maybe you’re doing the around the world backpacking thing and you just looking for a way to make a little bit of money week to week.
And that’s the extent of your ambitions. And I would say, fine, you know, it’s I think in that case, working for a school is probably the right choice. Working for a school means that that company takes care of finding your students. You know, you don’t have to worry about don’t have to worry about the marketing aspect of it. It also means that they take care of providing the curriculum. They take care of customer service, all those things, all those things are dealt with for you.
And you just got to turn up at the right time and log on. And you get paid for your time.
The downside, I think, however, is that I have heard more and more stories of disturbing stories about the way that these companies treat their employees or they’re not even classed as employees. Actually, independent contractors is I think is the more correct term of how they’re categorized.
But a lot of these companies have HR policies that would make working for them kind of unsustainable in the long term. Like I’ve heard of people who maybe get get fired for something as arbitrary as, you know, missing a day because they had to attend a funeral or they have one or two complaints because they took a sip of water during the lesson or just, just silly things like this. So if you work for a company, I think you’ve got to be prepared to deal with a lot of workplace issues that would upset, I think. A lot of people. Whereas if you have your own business, then I mean, that just becomes a non-issue.
Also, even like just getting a job with some of these companies in the first place can be more challenging than you’d think. So it seems like a lot of the online companies have very arbitrary recruitment criteria like, you know, even applying their recruitment criteria to things like gender or ethnicity or age, things like that, that really shouldn’t be a part of the hiring process.
So if you’re going to work for a school, you know, justkeep in mind that. That’s part of what you have to deal with as well.
But I think that beyond that, you also have to remember that if you’re working for a company, if you’re working for school, you don’t really have any control of your income stream.
You don’t own the relationship with your students. So at any point in time, the company can cut you from their roster. It be something completely unfair and arbitrary. But you’re out the door, so. All that time and that emotional effort that you may have put into building relationships with students… you don’t really have any control over that. The company, the company owns that relationship. And the student might be, they might like you as a teacher. But if they’ve got if they’ve got a financial investment with the company, if they’ve bought, like, you know, 50 or 100 lesson tickets or something, they’re not going to bail on that just just because they like you. And for some reason, you’re no longer there. They’re not going to follow you out the door necessarily. They might, some of them might, I guess. But but for the majority of cases, you know, students are going to stick with the company that they’ve signed a contract with.
So, that whole instructor-student relationship, you don’t have full control over, which you would have if it was your own business, if you were a freelancer.
And I think that this kind of reinforces something that I read about recently, which was a study, by some universities, University of Chicago, MIT, Carnegie Mellon, they did a study about what makes people really satisfied, happy with their with their working situation. And they found that there are three things.
There are three things that really make people satisfied with their working lives.
One is autonomy. So this means being able to control your own working situation, being able to make decisions over your working environment.
Autonomy. If you if you’re self-employed, you have that autonomy. If you’re working for a company, you don’t necessarily. You have to teach the students that you’re given. You have to teach the material that you’re given. You have to teach at the times that you’re told to and so on. So autonomy is a big factor.
The second that they found which had a big effect on people’s work happiness was a sense of mastery of your craft. So mastery is a sense of progress, a sense of improving our capabilities. I can say, from personal point of view, that I always feel happiest at the end of the day when I feel as though I’ve learned something new, when I feel as though I’ve acquired some new skills that I didn’t have at the beginning of the day. Now, a lot of these big ESL companies, I don’t think that they provide that. May be in some cases, they they offer some training and advancement opportunities. But I think that’s the exception rather than the rule. I think when you’re a self-employed person, when you have your own freelance business, you are definitely learning on the job all the time. That’s just that’s a reality. You need to learn new things about your craft everyday. You need to learn new things about running and managing a business every day. And it’s tough. It’s hard work. But you do, I think, get a sense of satisfaction out of doing that.
And the third point that this study found was that people are yearning for some greater purpose in what they’re doing. So people are motivated by the desire to work towards serving a greater cause. OK, so that sounds a bit a bit touchy feely. maybe. But I think it’s true that the reason a lot of people get into particular industries is because that they have on some level a desire to make the world a better place.
So like I can say in my own case, I was interested in doing Business English teaching because I like the idea of talking to business people and business professionals from other cultures and maybe helping them to achieve success in their field and engaging in some kind of cross-cultural exchange. I mean, that that was kind of appealing, an appealing ideal for me when I when I started teaching English. And I think that in the case of working for some of these big companies, it’s kind of sad to say that people quickly, quickly lose sight of those ideals, the things that may have driven them to be curious in the first place, because I think a lot of these companies have very … what can I say? They have systems in place that lead instructors to think more about avoiding criticism than actually achieving excellence. Let’s put it that way.
So a lot of these companies have very … well, I can’t think of the exact word, but they have they have systems in place where if you do the wrong thing or you say the wrong thing, even though it might be subjective about whether or not that you have said the wrong thing, if you get too many customer complaints, for example, the company will punish you in some way. So what it means is that the system is set up in such a way that people behave towards avoiding criticism or avoiding punishment rather than putting the interests of their student first. I think anyone who’s interested in or anyone who wants to becomeeacher a teacher, anyone who’s kind of attracted to the whole teaching or training profession is on at least some level attracted because they want to help other people so that their motivation is to help other people to succeed. Help other people acquire a skill that they didn’t have before. So working for yourself means that you have that you have those those three things, you have those three elements, you have autonomy in your career, you have the ability to master your craft and you can retain this sense of purpose in what you’re doing. And I can’t say that those three things are always present when you’re working for a bigger company.
Therefore, I think that if you’re attracted to the idea of working for yourself, that if you’re interested in this idea of becoming an online language instructor, I think now is is a good time to get started.
So which leaves me with the final question. How can I start?
Well, is it easy? No, it’s not. You’re going to have to do some work. That’s that’s the truth. Is is it worth it? Absolutely.
So the good news is that there’s never been an easier time, probably in the history of mankind to start a business. If you own a computer or even maybe not even that. If you own a mobile device and if you have an Internet connection, then you can start finding customers.
And that is actually that’s the only fundamental requirement of a business is that you have customers. So if you’ve got some kind of computer or mobile device, if you’ve got access to the Internet, that means you have the ability to go out there and find customers. Now, of course, if we’re talking about languages, English language instruction, then you need to have that skill as well. So if you’re a native speaker, then congratulations. If if you’re a non-native speaker and you’re still in, you’re still in the market as well.
If you’ve got the Internet, if you’ve got a computer device and access to the Internet, then you can start a business. There are so many social networking platforms available now. So Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube, it costs nothing to make a video of yourself and put that on YouTube. It costs nothing to shoot an Instagram story and put them on Instagram. It costs nothing to open a TikTok account. It costs nothing to get a Twitter account.
So all of these things are available now, which people never had in the past. All of these things are available for you to go out and find customers, connect with customers.
Also, remember, if you’re teaching online, you’re in a twenty four hour, seven day a week marketplace, which is a really big advantage, which means that you can you can start your business, you can start your side-hustle outside your normal working time.
Right. So if you want to start your business by getting a few students on the weekend, you can do that. If you want to start your business by getting a few students late at night, after you’ve finished your nine to five job, you can do that. So it’s a 24 hour, seven day a week marketplace, so that’s another great advantage of this.
And also, I should add that teaching, training, instruction it’s it’s kind of a cool business in a way, because it’s a kind of service, well, any kind of personal service, I guess, meets this definition as well. But it’s a kind of business where people always come back for more because skills have an expiry date. If people aren’t continually training and practicing their skills, they forget them, they disappear. So people who come to you for lessons, they’ll want to come back again and again. It’s a repeat business. It’s repeat income. It’s not like building a fence for someone where you build a fence and then, you know, that’s it, they’re done. You won’t see them again till they need another fence, maybe in 10 years time.
With personal services and particularly with with training and educational services, you get a lot of repeat business, which is great for establishing a reliable source of income.
So just to just to wrap up.
I believe and I hope that the takeaway from this is that right now is a great time to start building a business. I think the next decade is going to be very exciting for anyone who has ambitions to be an online instructor, an online language instructor, any kind of any kind of online tutor. I think now is the time to start building a brand because it’s only going to get more competitive and now is the time to start building a customer base, too. So all the tools are there.
So just to end with a quote. This is a quote that I found that I particularly like. This is from the American president, Abraham Lincoln, who said that “things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle”.
OK, guys, get hustling.
Thanks for listening and I hope to to produce more of these audio podcasts in the coming weeks. So stay tuned. Thank you.
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.