How would you like to get a book review that goes like this,
“It is hands-on, very clear and concise, and full of the information you don’t want to hear. But it is exactly what you need to hear.”
This is one of the Amazon reviews of our first book.
I wonder how many of us are willing to hear what we need to hear, even when it hurts? In my new book, Flowers in the Frost: The Untold Stories of Online Teaching, I’ve been reflecting on enticing and illusive messages about teaching online:
- Quick and big money
- Freedom to travel
Yet a few months into teaching online we find ourselves overwhelmed, stressed out, confused, struggling financially and resenting the thought of teaching yet another student who gripes about our prices. Then we wonder if something is wrong with us.
It’s because of this confusion that I’m sharing these 10 painful truths that online language teachers need to know. They aren’t popular, but most of my clients have struggled with them.
I want you to know, my dear online teacher, that you are not alone and by no means are you deficient.
Truth #1: Skype lessons are a dead-end street.
They are common in the beginning (for a short time). But eventually they drain you. You’ll learn that taking one more student and getting money isn’t bringing you as much joy. You’ll discover that exhausted people cannot fully enjoy their work.
Also Skype lessons don’t scale. You can’t X10 your income and work half the time if Skype lessons are your main source of revenue. Of course you’ll want to “create an online course,” but selling it will be a problem because your busyness with Skype lessons will prevent you from building your audience that can buy the course and recommend it to others.
Truth #2: Your first product/course/brand/website/niche is a rough draft.
I remember how this truth hurt me. I wanted to make something epic, on the first try. I’m currently on my 4th try (which begins to look like what I’d wanted back in 2008 when I first installed Skype to teach a friend from another town).
Behind me are dozens of products, programs, workshops, failed and successful launches. Though many were in the “beta” form, my workshops still helped online teachers find clarity and direction for their businesses.
But I realized through the process that whatever I have now may not be my long-term flagship program, and that’s OK.
Truth #3: 1 year isn’t enough to make your business sustainable.
1 year is a great time to find and grow your audience, discover what they need and how you can best serve them. So if you have a stable job this year but think you’ll be starting your business in 1 year, think again. Unless you want to wait 2 years at least, begin your work today.
Truth #4: You can work less and make the same amount of more. But would you?
I can see people nodding their heads, “Sure, I want that!” But just like endless Skype lessons have their cost attached to them, so does building a scaleable business. Not everyone is ready for it. Not everyone is willing to call themselves a business owner and stick with their idea even when the work gets uncomfortable and confusing.
Truth #5: Social media is to amplify your message first.
It’s a free mouthpiece to make people aware of your brand values and core message. It helps connect with your audience and build relationships. But it’s not a place to post student recruitment requests.
Note: before you speak about your core message and brand values you need to discover them. You might rely on luck, but I wouldn’t.
There is a clear, step-by-step process that will help you nail your niche, ideal client and brand values, and it will be best done in a community or with a coach.
Check out Christina Rebuffet’s podcast on why she decided to hire a coach for her business.
Truth #6: Lack of focus disrupts your future.
Ever felt like you have 100 things you need to do every day, and you don’t even know where to begin? How do you solve that? Let me guess: google + youtube? In the end you’ll add another 100 things to your list.
Then you’ll be paralyzed by all the choices you have to make.
Don’t wait. Go find help. Find one coach, mastermind, community that you can trust. Read their work, posts, watch their videos, join their programs. I found that when I start looking for help, I find it. When I live in denial I’ll get deeper into confusion and overwhelm.
You can join our Smart Teacher’s Library so we can grow our businesses together and inspire one another (might as well, since it’s not a short journey anyway).
Truth #7: Doing nothing isn’t the same as getting ready.
I hear a lot of online teachers are “getting ready.” Someone contacted me for coaching a few months ago, but when I responded with several options, the person remembered a few projects that had to be finished that month. I followed up a month ago, and the plan now is to start working in 2019.
We believe that some time in the future our schedule will open up and we’ll be able to do all these things we want to do now. So we wait, get ourselves busy, find honorable excuses, when in essence we do nothing.
Then we say to ourselves that we’re “getting ready.” Then we get mad at ourselves because we’re not moving forward.
Truth #8: Research only helps when you write a dissertation.
When I wrote my Master’s thesis I had to consult 50 “sources,” create the bibliography, draft an outline, and then write. This is how many aspiring online teachers think of running an online business. Except 50 sources turn into 100. Then you can’t move.
Think of learning a language: you don’t need to know all the rules to start speaking. Online business works the same way: learn one thing, apply, observe. Tweak, rinse and repeat.
Truth #9: Working on vacation isn’t vacation.
That was one of the dreaded things that prompted me to rethink my Skype-lesson-driven model (the full story). I couldn’t take a break. Stopping a conversation with friends halfway and sneaking out to do just one more lesson made me feel terrible. No more.
Truth #10: Your tribe is more than the numbers.
5,000 “likes” doesn’t mean 5,000 sales. It doesn’t mean that you can invite all those people in a membership program, charge them $1 a month and get $5 k. Your “tribe,” your audience is not a group in striped pajamas with “numbers” branded on their backs.
They are real people that you need to find and get to know. There are no shortcuts here. You can’t edit this process to make it fast and easy.
I think understanding what is true and saying it to ourselves is the first step into a new world. Working smarter isn’t about creating a passive source of income; it’s a deeper, more courageous look into what we do and why we do it.
It’s recognizing that teaching a language is more than correcting mistakes or hustling Skype students. It’s building a business that welcomes and fosters creativity and enthuses your clients with the same passion for language.
The post was updated in March, 2021.
Some very useful tips for a teacher who is starting a career as an online teacher
Glad you enjoyed it, Bakary!
I’m in the process of having my website built and I was anguishing over a page not being exactly what I’d like. This post reminded me of what you’re always telling me, it’s not going to be perfect and, most of all, it doesn’t have to be. It has to communicate and generate conversations.
Why do we keep forgetting these simple truths? Don’t know but thankfully you’re here to keep reminding us with lovely posts like this one. Thanks. 🙂
Elfin, I feel like I have to remind myself of that, constantly. Sometimes we just need to let go of what we’d like things to be and embrace the imperfect and messy now because that’s all we have. Thank you for your thoughtful comment, as always!
I’m coaching a group of teachers to get into the online teaching industry. I always tell them to loosen up and leave their fears behind, to aim for a doable product (profile, video introduction, lesson plan) rather than struggling for a perfect one. I’m sharing this article with them!
By the way, you are one of the teachers who inspired me to bring forth my online teachers’ training course. Thanks a lot, Elena!
Paola, thank you for inspiring me, too! I’m happy when people apply what they learn, not just let it sit and marinate, waiting for the “perfect” time that never comes. So glad you find this post helpful. I was wondering if you would be interested in learning more about my new book (I’m sure it will help your teachers and beyond): http://www.bitly.com/fitfbook Thank you!
I am also a tutor and as a tutor, I agree with all the points that you have mentioned in the content above. I really enjoyed your article. Thank you for your sharing.
Thank you, Steffen! I appreciate you stopping by <3
Enjoyed all your comments – found all info amazing – I wish to start teaching English to young students I shall be in touch and will follow your advice.
Thank you for being so generous with your info.
Kind regards Glenda
Glenda, I appreciate your response. Will be looking forward to hearing from you on the progress with your online teaching!
Paola, thank you for inspiring me, too! I’m happy when people