Here’s your ultimate cheat sheet to becoming an online English teacher. It’s a step-by-step guide of how to get your first paying student quickly. Of course, it’s only one approach, and other successful online teachers may have their own ways, but the following provides a good place to think about how to get started.
Keep your goal in mind. While you would eventually like, say, 10 to 15 regular students, when you first start, keep it simple and do-able. So your goal here is to get ONE student. Aiming for one student is not only simple and do-able, but it is also a massive first step, because.
1. getting one student makes you a teacher, so it changes your mindset a little and also gives you the confidence to get more students: “I’ve already done this, so I can do it again”
2. your one student may well recommend you to their friends, relatives, neighbours, work colleagues, classmates, Facebook friends, pizza delivery girl, and so on, so you can get more students through referrals.
1. Sort out your software: install Skype and set up a user account.
2. Sort out your hardware: obviously a computer of some sort with a webcam. Ideally, get a decent headset as well, because this will help reduce any background noise, such as the sound of your typing and background chatter if you want to teach from a coffee shop.
3. Check your Internet speed. Make sure your Internet connection is fast enough. We’d recommend a minimum of 1 megabit per second upload, maybe a little more if you are using an HD webcam. Use speedtest.net to check the speed of your connection.
4. Create a PayPal account if you haven’t got one already. You can use this to receive payments online and these can then be transferred to your bank account. (Note that while PayPal operates in lots of countries, there are some where it doesn’t yet operate, so you’d need to find an alternative, such as Western Union).
5. Decide what you are going to teach. Teaching a niche of some sort is better than deciding to teach ‘general English’ or ‘conversational English’ because you get paid more, you have a far clearer idea of what to put into your lessons, and you have a far clearer idea of who your students might be so it’s easier to find them. The two most lucrative areas for English teaching are Business English and exam preparation, so carve out a niche for yourself in one of these areas. If you’re going to teach Business English, what kind of business people do you have in mind? People in customer care, health professionals, sales representatives? Do you have any particular business background to help you decide this? If you’re going to teach exam preparation, which exams? IELTS, TOEIC, TOEFL are very popular and students need to know how to get the best mark. You can find huge amounts of information about these exams along with lots of preparation materials online. Deciding what to teach is crucial, because now you know what product you are going to offer, who your potential students are, and what kind of materials you need.
6. Register on italki.com. Italki is a marketplace for online students and teachers, where students can find teachers. If you have teaching certification, you can register as a professional teacher, otherwise register as a conversational partner. Add a video and a description to your italic profile, and mention your niche clearly. Keep your fee low at first. You can raise it later once you have built a good reputation. While you won’t get the best pay rates via italki, it’s a good way to get started and find students quickly. But don’t stop here! Keep going…
7. Create a Facebook page for your online teaching business. A Facebook page is separate to your profile, although it’s a good idea to link them. You can create a good-looking Facebook page in minutes. You should also describe your teaching service there.
8. Find Facebook pages related to your niche. If you’re going to teach IELTS, search for IELTS groups and pages. If you’re going to teach business professionals, search out groups and pages related to this profession. Incidentally, it’s much easier to search for exam preparation groups and pages because their acronyms (IELTS, TOEIC, TOEFL, FCE, BULATS and so on) make great search terms, another reason why exam preparation is such a good idea.
9. Contribute to these Facebook pages and groups. Read the discussions in the groups and find out what people’s problems. Using your Facebook page profile, contribute to these discussions: give advice and tips, answer questions, engage with your learners, post useful information. You may find your first student at this point, as people contact you via Facebook for a lesson. If not…
10. Create a Facebook advert for your teaching service. Facebook adverts can be directed to highly targeted markets using people’s interests (another reason why you should teach a niche. These adverts will appear in people’s news feeds. You don’t need to spend a lot on Facebook adverts, and they can be very effective.
That’s really all there is to it. Points 1 through to 8 and 10 are fairly quick, but point 9 is where the donkey work comes in. You need to get noticed, so don’t sit back on this one: make the effort to contribute and you will get a positive response.
Here’s an infographic of the process we describe here. Click on the image for the full size graphic and feel free to print it out.
In the longer term, you’ll also want to set up a website with a blog, as this will help raise your profile and credibility as a teacher. There’s a great article about how to do this by Jack Askew on his site.
Good luck with getting your first student, and, as always, please feel free to comment below on what you think of this list, whether you’re just starting out or an old hack like me!