You can either teach lessons online or build an online business.
The day I realized this simple truth, my attitude towards my work began to change. Then I read Tara Gentile’s post about her own mindset shift, and it made so much sense.
Today’s post is for all of us who at some point in this journey have found themselves confused and lost. We take courses, watch youtube videos, listen to the “gurus,” but we’re lost in the world of online teaching and wonder if we’re doing it all wrong.
We blog, podcast, webcast, vlog, instapost, do facebook live, but at the end of the day realize that all we’ve done is created an online busyness, not business.
We spend hours trying to get the stupid plugin to work, the image to fit on the screen, the paypal button to display the coupon code, the photoshop to cooperate, but when the night sets in we second-guess ourselves and wonder, how are all these pieces going to work together?
Do I even know where I’m going?
In the world of online teaching two mutually exclusive terms are often confused. People look at teaching lessons online as something really similar to building an online business. What is the difference anyway?
The one factor that begs more attention is the mindset shift. Let’s dig in!
Most of you are aware that it doesn’t take too long to gain traction teaching online. Set up your account on a large language learning marketplace, upload your video, and within 90 days you go from zero to busy and make $2k.
This lifestyle is ideal for vagabonds, digital nomads, people who love adventure and enjoy making enough money to support all of the things they have on their bucket list.
Let’s say you want to backpack Europe or Asia and make some cash while you do it. Perfect! Spend nights at a hostel, teach 3-5 hours a day, and take off for the rest of the day exploring new sites.
Perhaps you’re not really into the globe-trotting, but you still enjoy the freedom and flexibility your work brings, so you just turn on skype in the morning, do a few lessons during the day and shut off your computer at night.
Excellent choice for an introvert.
Ready to build an online teaching business? Check out my book (+ a free journal).
When you just teach online you probably find some or all of the following points true:
*** You don’t have any particular niche, just teach whatever your student asks you to do.
*** Typically you never say “no” to a student because that would mean saying “no” to cash – who does that?
*** You stretch yourself too thin, then realize you should work less, raise the rates, get a full schedule of students, then repeat.
*** You find it extremely difficult to take a break/a holiday and make money at the same time.
*** You may have created a course or written a book, but you don’t know how to sell it, so you just sell it to your students, who may or may not be eager to buy.
***You’re probably building a website or writing in a blog, but it targets a large audience, not a small group of people.
People can enjoy traveling the world and living out of (or in?) their suitcase, and so online teaching is a perfect option for them, until they want to turn it into a business.
This is when the trouble sets in because in most of the blogs for teacherpreneurs there’s always little distinction between the two, or it’s mostly assumed and never explained.
Here’s what will happen when you decide you want an online business after all, but are still in the “online teacher’s mindset.”
Building an Online Business with Teach-Lessons-Online Mindset.
At some point in this journey of an always-working-never-resting teacherpreneur you ask yourself,
- “Where is freedom in it?”
- “How come I can’t afford a vacation?”
- “Where do I get new students?”
- “What am I going to do when this student drops out?”
- “What if there’s not enough students for me next month?”
I believe that the chosen few of us who have reached the proverbial nirvana will very unlikely ask these questions (or worry about the answers).
But I went through a lot of worrying in my several years of online teaching. I had to create so many incentives to get the students in, and then they weren’t even always the students that I loved working with.
So you decide to stop this nonsense and actually build a business, i.e. create systems that “make money while you sleep.” You are still in the “teach-lessons-online” mindset, so here’s what happens:
*** You choose a niche. Maybe. Most often it’s a category, not a niche, and it’s still hard to give up the thought of, “What if I can’t get enough students in my niche, and then I would need to teach XYZ that’s not my niche?”
*** You create a course. For now you’re not answering the why question or think of how to sell it. As long as you have it, you’ll sell it, right? And you will, to your 10 students, and they will use it for the next 5 months you’re teaching them.
*** You begin “getting yourself out there.” So after 5 lessons a day you blog three times a week, create videos, do some podcasting and post all of your cool stuff on social media. Every day.
*** You might wonder if perhaps you need some training, and you may buy something people say has worked wonders for them. You believe them. You take this course. You’re still too busy to think of why you need it.
*** If you can’t invest into a paid program then most of your free-from-teaching-and-getting-yourself-out-there time is spent on youtube, learning from all the “gurus.”
*** You wonder how long it’s going to take before you get to that “tipping point” where your business just takes off.
*** You are very busy building your business, but the busyness doesn’t get you closer to the business.
*** When you don’t have too many students, you reduce your price so you can be more appealing to your customers.
Then in the middle of the night you ask yourself, Do I even know where I’m going? Do I have a road map? Am I spending my time wisely? Am I even building anything?
The key question you should ask yourself before starting any new venture is:
Do I want to make meaning?
Meaning is not about money, power, or prestige. It’s not even about creating a fun place to work. The meaning of “meaning” comes down to making the world a better place.
Usually it takes something drastic to wake us up. In my case, as I wrote in my book Flowers in the Frost, it was a complete loss of my “online teaching busyness” due to the economic and political instability in the countries I worked with.
The 5 lessons a day were gone. The students were gone, one by one. I didn’t have the work for the teachers. I had no work left for me either.
I began asking myself the question I never had the time to ask.
The question that should have been asked in the first place.
The question that was stifled by too much noise of running around looking for students.
In one of my favorite movies, You’ve Got Mail, the main character Kathleen Kelly (Meg Ryan) faces the closing of her small business, her mother’s bookstore. She’s done all she can to save it, but she realizes that the store has to be closed anyway.
Wondering what her new life is going to look like she writes,
Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life. Well, valuable, but small. And sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave?
In my case I realized I hadn’t been brave enough to ask myself the tough questions and change my “teach-lessons-online” mindset to a “business owner” mindset.
What is a business owner mindset?
*** You know your place, your unique niche and your own, unique audience, your ideal client.
*** You know what you do, and if you don’t you stop, think, strategize and move forward.
*** You know where you’re going, and so you no longer have to run around covering all the bases.
*** You can take a vacation (!) and make some money while you’re away.
*** You’re no longer boot strapping but investing into programs that you know for sure are right for you at this point and will give you the highest return.
*** You’ve felt the liberating feeling of saying “no” to clients that are not your fit.
*** You’re not afraid to collaborate because you know your own place, and no longer view others as your competition.
*** You’re excited about investing into your business, hire people and scale.
*** Every piece of your social media content, your videos, podcasts or blog posts fits in the bigger picture of your business.
*** You don’t worry about charging more than everybody else.
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This week I asked this question in my Opted Out group on Facebook:
What is the #1 thing you wish to learn about online teaching.
The majority of the comments went back to the importance of having a road map for your business:
I think what would be great is some sort of road map. Eg. what steps you need to take and when. Last year I spent an awful lot of time focusing on the wrong things that didn’t help because I didn’t have a road map. Like what you should first do when you consider online teaching (focus on choosing a niche) etc.
… if we don’t have a road map, we will never be in the right place and progress. […] having a sense of direction is a real timesaver.
Tools are great, but they’re useless without a plan.
In the beginning, it’s difficult to stay focused. There are so many things to do and to learn, and you get distracted by all those shiny objects (tools, random tactics, “gurus” telling you what to do). You start to think ten steps ahead (MailChimp or Convert Kit? Podcast or blog? WordPress or Squarespace? I need X followers! I need a logo! I need a cool domain name! etc.), and you waste time on things that aren’t yet relevant.
Just as any journey starts with identifying where you are right now before you decide which direction you want to take, teaching online begins with calling yourself what you are. Call yourself an online teacher, and your destination will be different than if you call yourself a business owner.
My encouragement to you is, start thinking of yourself as more than just an online teacher. You want it, you work hard to achieve it, so you might as well call it what it is. Speaking your dreams out loud makes them more real — they’re no longer a figment of your wild imagination, they’re true. “I’m a business owner. I’m a business owner. I’m a business owner.”
Then ask yourself how your life as a business owner would be different? Imagine it. Write it down. Draw it.
Then live it. Don’t wait for “the time when…” — live it out now. The sooner you see yourself as a business owner and begin acting like one, the sooner you will be what you’ve wanted to be.
*** The post was updated in March 2021.***