“Now that I work for myself, I decide how many hours I teach.
I decide who I teach.
I decide how much I charge.
I decide which teaching materials I use.
And I decide how much I make every day, every week and every month.
And the best part of all of this is that I have a reliable, sustainable system that continues to grow every day.
It’s so predictable.
And I can turn it on and off with the click of a button.” – Christopher Huntley, teacher and entrepreneur.
“Sometimes you just got to give yourself what you wish someone else would give you.” – Dr Phil
Have you ever heard the “Howling Dog Story”?
One day a young man was out hiking through the woods but became lost. Fortunately for him, after passing through some trees he noticed a rustic cabin with an old man sitting on the porch in his rocking chair, and an ancient looking hound dog asleep at his feet. The young man decided to strike up a conversation with the old timer and get his bearings.
As they chatted, the dog abruptly woke up and let out a painful howl … then went back to sleep. The hiker and the old man continued talking another five minutes before the dog woke up again and let loose ANOTHER howl of pain and promptly went back to sleep. After 10 more minutes conversation the hound woke up for a THIRD time and uttered yet ANOTHER cry of pain before settling back to sleep, just as before.
Curious about what was going on the young visitor asked the old man, “What’s wrong with your dog?”
The old gentleman scratched his chin for bit.
Then said, “Reckon he’s sleepin’ on a sharp nail”.
Surprised by this, the hiker asked “Well why doesn’t he just get up and move?”
The old guy paused for a moment to think.
Then replied, “Reckon it ain’t hurtin’ him enough”.
Many of us have nails in our lives that are poking us. Jobs we don’t enjoy. Jobs that we complain about, day in day out, yet we don’t do anything about them. Limited career developments. Unsatisfactory pay and benefits. Yet we continue doing what we are doing out of habit, convenience or maybe fear of the unknown. All the while, deep down knowing that there are other paths we could take that would give us a more rewarding existence.
In 2020 that “nail” got a lot sharper for a lot of people. Due to the COVID-19 global pandemic, many people in the education sector have had their jobs cut, hours reduced, bonuses removed or lost opportunities that were previously taken for granted. These are challenging times. But a crisis always creates opportunity. If you have been economically affected by the events of early 2020, this could be a wake-up call to consider a rewarding career change.
If you’re currently working for a big ESL (English as a Second Language) company but maybe aren’t feeling financially satisfied, then going solo could be the right move for you.
If you are currently working for a big ESL company, but feel alienated by impersonal, unfair, or arbitrary work policies, then starting an online English teaching business could be the right move for you.
If you are working for a big ESL company but want more flexibility with your schedule, materials, methods and choice of student, then beginning a freelance online English teaching business could be the right move for you.
If you are currently working for a big ESL company but perhaps don’t feel as though you are making an impact with your students due to your company’s restrictive systems and policies, then launching your own online English teaching classes could be the right move for you.
Even if you’ve never worked in ESL before, but you speak English fluently, aren’t afraid of interacting with people and willing to do a little work, then building an independent online English teaching income could be the right move for you.
And if you are wondering how to start an online English teaching business, you’re in the right place. This blog is going to show you how to attract prospective students. We’ll show you how to create an online web presence that converts prospects into customers. And we’ll show you how to keep those students coming back again and again.
And most importantly, we’ll show you how solo operators can survive and thrive in the vast ocean of the ESL industry. Nimble, energetic and hyper focussed “minnows” can beat the big industry “whales” every time, if they know how to play the game. But more about that in future posts. 👍
Table of Contents
The “Rising Billions”
Even before the coronavirus took hold, there was already a steady upward trend in the numbers of people around the world moving into online lessons to improve or maintain their English communication skills.
While developed societies take global connectivity largely for granted, currently still only around 4 billion out of 7.8 billion people in the world have access to the internet. But this number is growing at an incredible pace. According to one estimate, on average, over 600,000 people per day around the world are logging onto the internet for the first time in their lives.
Many of these new users are part of the urban, middle classes of developing countries who have a strong motivation to acquire English skills for themselves and their children. Peter Diamandis, chairman of the X Prize Foundation, calls this class the “Rising Billions” who are poised to contribute tens of trillions of dollars to the global economy over the near future. It has been estimated that by 2030, two thirds of the world’s middle class income earners will be living in Asia.
English is the world lingua franca of this expanding, connected world system. Decade after decade, globalization has been fueling a desire and a need for people around the world to improve English-speaking abilities. Especially in competitive international industries like pharmaceuticals, finance and IT, demand for English training is growing rapidly.
Furthermore, as AI replaces more routine manufacturing and administrative jobs, people everywhere are appreciating the importance of developing global communication skills to survive and prosper in the “knowledge economy”.
Welcome to the Global Classroom
Even within that global mega-trend for learning English there has been another mega-trend toward online education in general and online language learning in particular. In the last two decades, the world has seen a blossoming range of video communication tools become ubiquitous household services for staying in touch with friends, family, and colleagues. Inevitably, more and more people each year are feeling that these tools are the natural medium for language training as well.
The advantages for English learners are obvious.
Convenience – take lessons anywhere (and thanks to worldwide time zones, at any convenient time).
Variety – rather than be limited to the training vendors in your immediate neighborhood, you have access to niche vendors around the planet. Everything from “English for Scientific Conferences” to “English for Sci-Fi Cosplay Conventions”!
Time efficiency – no more rushing through traffic or taking crowded public transport to get to your language classroom. Just log on and you’re good to go.
I sincerely believe that one of the long-term COVID-19 induced changes in worldwide behavior will be an even faster adoption of such modern learning methods. The days of brick and mortar language schools are numbered. A whole cohort of new users were introduced to tools such as Zoom, Skype and Google Hangouts for work and study situations where they were never considered as “serious” options in the past.
So “the trend is your friend” as investors like to say. The demand for learning English is trending up. The adoption of online learning technologies is trending up. Language teaching is poised to become one of THE growth industries of the 2020s.
Recurring Income is the BEST Income
One of the great things about selling a training service is that skills, like delicious fruits, are a perishable asset. If we don’t keep practicing a skill, the human mind forgets and our skill becomes diminished. Language skills not only need to be acquired and improved but also maintained. This means repeat business, potentially for years. Unlike building somebody a fence, where it’s a churn and burn exercise (burning the customer lead I mean, not the fence 😁 ), once you have a satisfied language learning client, they are likely to keep coming back to you again and again.
And the beauty of being your own boss is that you don’t have to worry about a company administration and their often “black box” lesson scheduling systems getting in the way of building a satisfied clientele. Companies will often allocate students to instructors not necessarily on the criteria of what’s most desirable for the student but what’s best for minimizing costs to the organization. When you start an online English business of your own, you avoid intermediaries getting in between you and your customer. All the hard work you put into building customer relationships brings benefits back to you, not anonymous company shareholders.
Also, when you start an online English lesson business you open up possibilities to do other things within the training field. For example, document proofreading, presentation skill training or even partner with study abroad and homestay vendors. The only limit is your imagination.
The Parable of the Turkey
At this point you might be thinking to yourself, “Yeah sure. I get it. Teaching English is a boom industry. But does that mean I should take the leap of becoming an independent online teacher? Isn’t that a bit risky?”
Fair enough. If you are working for a big ESL company right now, you might be willing to put up with a lot of disagreeable things in return for the security of having some guaranteed lessons. Or you might have a steady pay check doing something unrelated to ESL that gives you at least a sense of stability.
If so, I want to remind you about the parable of the turkey. Every morning the turkey woke up and was fed a generous amount of grain. Every night the turkey went to sleep dry and safe in the barnyard. The turkey had a comfortable life. And then, one day, without warning, he became Xmas dinner. 😲
We can never see what’s just around the corner. “Safety” can be illusionary. Sometimes the “safe” choice is the risky choice. The best kind of economic security is through having direct control over your income stream. Owning your own business, with a steady stream of your own customers is one reliable solution to that problem.
Nobody is suggesting that you need to immediately chuck your day job or your existing ESL gigs and jump in the deep end. In fact, that’s nearly always the wrong strategy. One of the things that makes personal service business like language teaching such great business opportunities is that it can be done with extraordinarily little capital investment or overhead. Dip a toe in the water. Choose your niche. Validate your strategy, your message and your offerings by signing up two or three students and get feedback. Scale once you get momentum.
Never Been a Better Time to Start an Online English Teaching Business
Hopefully by this point, if you were on the fence about whether to start an online English teaching business, I’ve convinced you that there are exciting opportunities to be had. All it requires is a little planning. You can save time, expense and frustration by following the advice of others rather than reinventing the wheel for yourself. If you follow the ideas outlined in this blog over the coming months, you’ll have a head start on your journey.
Sooner or later, the world will return to “normal” or whatever the “new normal” looks like. Online language training is going to be a part of that world. Worldwide interest in teaching English online as a career option is booming. The only question is whether you want to be one of the leaders or be one of those left behind.
“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.” – Abraham Lincoln
What’s your biggest fear holding you back? Leave a comment.
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.