Why Should I Target Intermediate/Advanced ESL Learners?

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In this episode I explain why many independent ESL teachers are missing an opportunity if they don’t target intermediate / advanced level English learners.

I look at two of the main misconceptions which teachers have about the advanced student market.

I also list five ways that freelance ESL teachers can deliver exceptional value to their online students and justify high hourly rates.

[00:00:15.365] – Paul
OK. Hello, guys, and welcome to the BabelTEQ podcast, where we talk about tips and tools for teacherpreneurs.

[00:00:22.895] – Paul
My name is Paul Sallaway and in this episode, I want to answer the question, “Why should I target advanced ESL learners?” So this is going to be a short episode. No guests. You’re going to have to listen to me. So sometimes I see ESL teachers on the Facebook groups who say they want to target beginner, low level students. And usually this is for two reasons. One, they say beginners are easier to find. And two, they don’t see why someone who already speaks English fairly well would pay for private lessons.

[00:01:09.575] – Paul
So I think the first part is easy to address. We have this thing now called the Internet. And the Internet is ideal for one thing in particular, which is aggregating niche markets. So it doesn’t matter if you’re into dog yoga, if you’re into paleoanthropology, if you’re into collecting Roman coins, if you’re into pastafarianism, whatever your niche is, there’s a community for you. And as a service provider, there’s an opportunity for you to tap into those communities.

[00:01:46.805] – Paul
And it’s the same with advanced ESL learners. So if you’re an advanced ESL speaker in, like, I don’t know, some country, you might not know a lot of people around you who are the same level. And so you might not have that opportunity to really maintain and improve your skills. And similarly, before the Internet came along, if you were an ESL teacher in a local community, then I would say, yeah, you have a point. Maybe it’s hard to find these advanced speakers to to make your business viable,

[00:02:23.675] – Paul
But we don’t live in that world anymore. We live in a world where distances don’t matter. For online learning, I’m talking about. And it’s relatively easy to find people in all of these niches now if you know how to craft a message to them. And so I think that that point isn’t really valid.

[00:02:49.865] – Paul
The second point is the one about “I don’t see why someone who already speaks English well would pay for private lessons”.

[00:02:59.405] – Paul
And this is what I’m going to call the “Advanced Skills Fallacy”. And what it’s saying is that once you’re proficient at a skill, you lose interest in improving those skills. When you get to a certain level, you plateau and that’s it. That’s where you’re happy to stay. Now, that may sound at first realistic, but that’s not how things actually work.

[00:03:28.925] – Paul
People who get to a certain advanced skill level usually only get there because they have high motivation and they’re prepared to to work hard to get there.

[00:03:41.435] – Paul
They can see what the tangible benefits are in having that skill. And they work on improving and and maintaining those skills. And I’m going to use an analogy here, which is which is golf.

[00:03:59.705] – Paul
So I don’t know how many of you play golf. I don’t know how many of you are interested in golf. I’ve played golf, you know, on and off a few times. I’m terrible at it. I would love to get better.

[00:04:13.145] – Paul
I think it would be a great hobby to to take up if I had, you know, more time especially. So one day. It’s on my “bucket list”.

[00:04:21.425] – Paul
But I would definitely benefit from taking some lessons in how to be better at golf because I think I’m doing everything wrong. So but how much would I be prepared to pay on an ongoing weekly basis for those golf lessons as an absolute beginner? Well, I don’t know. Maybe twenty bucks per hour, perhaps thirty bucks an hour.

[00:04:46.835] – Paul
I don’t know how much golf golf trainers charge for one on one lessons. You know, maybe I might have to find some friend who also interested in and coming with me and maybe the two of us to pay the fee for a trainer. I don’t know, but I’m not really going to fork out more than that, I think, for golf lessons. The tangible benefits to me are not worth more than paying 20 or 30 bucks an hour. Maybe this sounds familiar to a lot of people who are teaching English to beginner students.

[00:05:29.695] – Paul
Now, I want you to think for a minute about how much does a PGA Golf Pro pay for their golf lessons?

[00:05:41.545] – Paul
So you might be thinking to yourself, what are you talking about? Like, why would a PGA Golf Pro pay someone to teach them how to play golf? Well, you might be surprised. I was kind of surprised that most PGA Pros, most professional golfers DO pay for training. They do pay for lessons.

[00:06:05.155] – Paul
Most of them actually have more than one trainer. They have trainers in particular aspects of their game. There’s an excerpt here from Golf Digest, I believe it is. And someone in that magazine was talking about how much as a PGA Pro he pays to his trainers. And this is what he said.

[00:06:32.725] – Paul
He said “Most players pay their trainers an annual salary of about 50 grand, 50,000 US dollars. And that’s for full time, hands-on work. I pay my swing coach 200 dollars an hour plus expenses if he comes on the road. This is pretty standard. My short game coach gets one percent of my tournament winnings and my mental coach gets five grand per quarter. So five grand for three months and five percent of all my top 25 finishes”.

[00:07:09.985] – Paul
So you can see in this article he’s talking about swing coach. He’s talking about short game coach, a mentor coach. And I think some of these PGA Pros even hire, physical fitness coaches and so on. So these are people who are already VERY good at what they do, but they can see tangible benefit of going from the 98th percentile to the 99th percentile.

[00:07:39.805] – Paul
If you’re a PGA Pro, that might mean over the course of a year, improving your game by a couple of strokes, a couple of shots. And those two shots could be the difference between being a mediocre golf pro or one of the elite, one of the top 10, top 20 players.

[00:08:03.145] – Paul
It’s those professionals in that elite class who get the big money, of course, the endorsements, the prize money and so on. And so I think that analogy also applies to English learners. People who learn English, especially for their job, their profession, for their career, maybe they need English, for dealing with colleagues in an international company, or they have high value clients who who don’t speak their language. They need English to talk with them.

[00:08:35.875] – Paul
I think all of these people, all of these potential students are very motivated. They’re willing to put in the hard work.

[00:08:43.105] – Paul
Side benefit is it’s also very easy for you to communicate with them about the administrative administrative aspects of taking lessons like invoices and so on and scheduling and all that kind of stuff. So I would really encourage independent ESL teachers to think about going after these these advanced learners like upper intermediate and advanced learners, because I think that that’s an opportunity for you to make more money per hour for your hard work.

[00:09:15.555] – Paul
And so how do we actually get them, though? So we know we should be getting these advanced learners, but how do we get them? So I think the first thing that we need to do is have a very specific and well targeted message. In a previous podcast, I talked with Tara Cull, who is an independent ESL teacher, and her target market is landscape architects around the world. So that’s a very, that’s a very narrow vocational niche market.

[00:09:51.715] – Paul
And her message is specifically for those English learners. She doesn’t just say I’m here to teach advanced learners. I mean, she says I’m here to teach advanced learners in this market; advanced learners who are landscape architects and who need to improve because they can see real career benefits from improving their English ability.

[00:10:17.865] – Paul
The other thing we need to do after after getting a really laser focused marketing message is, of course, we need to deliver exceptional value.

[00:10:29.475] – Paul
And now it goes without saying that we need to deliver good quality lessons. And I’m assuming that most of the people listening to this podcast are already very experienced and well qualified ESL teachers. So I don’t need to go into exactly what that entails; delivering high quality lessons.

[00:10:52.185] – Paul
The other thing that we need to do is have lesson material that is customized and relevant for our target markets needs. So, for example, if my target market was radiologists, radiology professionals who want to improve their English ability, I wouldn’t just go in with a standard, you know, grammar textbook or any even just an advanced learner textbook.

[00:11:21.765] – Paul
I would look around and see if there’s any material out there, any learning material that is specifically intended for that target audience. And in fact, there is a textbook, at least one that I know of, that was written for radiologists. So that would be an easy way to get started with curriculum for that group. But even if you don’t find anything that’s published, you have the option to go and create some custom curriculum as well.

[00:11:52.395] – Paul
And in a future podcast, I intend to have someone on the show who will talk a little bit about that process of of creating curriculum material. Yes, it does take a little bit of work. And, you know, it probably takes a little bit of time. But remember that once you do create this custom curriculum, that becomes a point of differentiation between you and everyone else. You know, no one else can can do exactly what you’re doing now. You’ve created a unique selling point for yourself. So think of it as an investment, you know, in an asset that you can use to market yourself.

[00:12:37.905] – Paul
So we need to deliver good quality lessons. We need to have lesson material that’s customized.

[00:12:42.915] – Paul
The third thing, which I think we should be doing is holding our students accountable for their goals. Now, this comes back to, not so much the teaching aspect, but a kind of coaching aspect.

[00:12:54.355] – Paul
And I think this is something that we can do for for all of our learners, but particularly for high level learners, is work with them and find out what their goals are, set some kind of roadmap together and hold them accountable for that. Likehomework. Check it. Make sure that they do the the pre work that they’re supposed to do before your lesson and the post work they’re supposed to do after your lesson. You can set them quizzes, get them to fill out a quiz and and submit it to you. There are lots of ways that you can hold your customers accountable to achieving their goals. And they will appreciate you for it because because we all need that little bit of motivation sometimes to stay on track. We all need that little bit of a pep talk.

[00:13:42.405] – Paul
Another thing which we can do is provide detailed feedback. I would say if you have got a one to one training program with an advanced learner, maybe like once a month, give them a one page PDF, breaking down the progress they’ve made so far and the weak points that they still need to work on. So it’s amazing how having something tangible that you can actually print out, hold in your hand how much of value people place on that as opposed to something that’s just said or spoken.

[00:14:16.215] – Paul
So having a tangible feedback report on progress is one way that you can add value.

[00:14:24.525] – Paul
And I would say the fifth opportunity is to provide some kind of community for your niche market. So this is where Facebook groups really comes into its own. Facebook is very popular. Lots of people have a Facebook account.

[00:14:38.575] – Paul
So like if you have got people in a very niche community, you know, they want to be with like minded people who have the same or similar level. For example, if my hobby was vintage car mechanics, I don’t want to join a Facebook group where people are asking questions like, “How do you change a tire?” Right? I would just become bored with that. And it’s not adding any value to my time.

[00:15:04.455] – Paul
But I would be interested in joining a group where people are answering questions like, you know, “How do you change the engine block on a 1974 Holden Kingswood HQ sedan?” Something like that.

[00:15:16.185] – Paul
My first car, by the way.

[00:15:18.585] – Paul
So I think that we can provide community as well.

[00:15:21.465] – Paul
So those are just five tips on how we can deliver exceptional value to high level English learners and really justify charging a much higher rate than you would for the lower level English learners.

[00:15:39.135] – Paul
So I hope that’s been helpful. And so, as always, visit the the BabelTEQ blog at b-a-b-e-l-t-e-q dot com for more podcast episodes like this and other articles which provide tips and tools for teacher entrepreneurs. And so until next time.

[00:16:04.245] – Paul
Take care. Bye for now.

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