This is a guest post written by my colleague Chris Rush, an online teacher of Business English. Chris has been teaching online since 2012, but this year he decided to take on a new challenge of growing his students’ database on italki. While I see the benefits of using an online market place in the beginning, I personally have very little experience using it as I built my clientele around my brand.
But I’m always really interested to learn how others grow their business on other platforms, and I thought this story might be helpful to you as well. One lesson I learned from this story is even when you’re in a big market place you need to stand out. It’s the same whether you have a website or whether you choose to set up your profile elsewhere. What are your takeaways from this story? read and share in the comments! Thank you, ~ Elena
As someone that’s been teaching online for a few years, I’ve developed a pretty reliable method for getting students. LinkedIn has been my social network of choice when it comes to how to promote myself, but recently I thought I would try an experiment.
After a tip from another online English teacher I decided I would try italki. For those of you who don’t know, italki.com is the world’s largest marketplace for language teachers and learners. You can teach any language you want. Just create a profile, set your prices, and learners will find you. It’s free to create a profile, and italki gets a 15% commission on your sales.
While LinkedIn is great, it takes time to build relationships. You have to send lots of connections, and then nurture them through messaging campaigns (which can’t be automated). In the end, it’s not all that different from building authority through a reputable blog: When you’ve got it, it’s a great feather in your cap, but you can’t establish yourself as an authority overnight. It just doesn’t work that way.
Being a teacherpreneur is very much like running a little company. You’ve got to decide on your strategy, build your list, make your website, manage social media, and publish awesome content (regularly). The payoff is worth it, but it’s an investment in dozens or hundreds of hours before getting the results. It’s daunting and many (or most) give up somewhere along this journey.
Well, if the standard teacherpreneur route is like running a company, then italki is like having a booth at a flea market. There’s not enough room for blog posts or websites — all you get is a little table to show off your wares (in this case an intro video and a few paragraphs of profile), and the marketplace, italki, provides the traffic.
And you do get traffic, starting on day 1. Every day, students interested in purchasing lessons from a teacher will see your profile. For those without a blog, a website, or a social media following, this is a huge advantage. Remember, this is a flea market. The English teacher next to you may have a blog and a big email list, but in this place, their table is the same size as yours.
I tried to take advantage of this by crafting my video and profile as carefully as possible, and now I’m going to share the results of 90 days on italki, starting from absolutely nothing.
The First Two Weeks: Low Prices and Low Confidence
I was officially an italki teacher on April 1, 2016, a Friday. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I set my prices at $20 per hour. In my first full week, I had 6 trial lessons (a shorter lesson at a lower cost), and converted 3 into paying students. So I went from zero to 3 students in just a week!
In my second week, things started to happen much more quickly. My first 3 students booked their first regular lessons, and in addition to them, I taught 13 trial lessons, and converted 7 of them into paying students — over 50%! Plus, I had two students buy regular lessons without even having a trial.
After doing 16 trial lessons in two weeks, I was starting to get used to it. I was gaining confidence in myself and in what I was offering — after all, people were buying lessons and leaving positive feedback. It was time to raise my prices!
Weeks 3 and 4: First Price Increase and More Students Than I Could Handle
Many teachers have a hard time raising their prices. On italki, I didn’t. It’s a marketplace, and there are scores of teachers. Students have no obligation to commit to just one. They can (and many do) take lessons with multiple teachers at a time, or frequently switch from one teacher to another. In this environment, I didn’t feel like I would be “leaving anyone hanging” by abruptly raising my prices, so that’s what I did. Up they went to $30 per hour.
This had 2 results that confirmed I was doing the right thing: The first is that more than half of my original paying students were happy to pay the new, higher price, even though the service they were receiving was exactly the same. Secondly, the higher prices did absolutely nothing to stop the influx of students. In fact, I was drowning.
In my first week I taught for 3 total hours, and in the second week it jumped to 13 hours. In week 3, I taught for 20 hours, and the fourth week was 24.5. Everyone’s threshold is different, but I learned in weeks 3 and 4 that this was just too much teaching. I needed naps every afternoon and I was tired all the time. The good news was that it was the end of the month, and time to get paid. My first payment from italki was for $858.10. My valuable lesson from 30 days was to teach less and charge more, so it was time for another price increase.
Weeks 5-12: Second Price Increase, Sustainability, and Scalability
By this time, I was no longer intimidated by selling my services in trial lessons. In fact, I was really enjoying it. Although my closing rate at $40 an hour is much less than it was at $20, I was still selling enough to have a net increase of students. And after such a busy first month, I took a much needed break in my second month, severely restricting my teaching hours and taking the time to catch up on some other things (like list-building and content creation)!
In my first 4 weeks on italki, I made $858 teaching a total of 38 lessons. In my most recent 4 weeks, I’ve made $2,223 teaching 71. At roughly 3.5 lessons per day (call it 5 hours of work) I still have time to build my business on the side. That means doing all of the teacherpreneur small company things like creating content and determining strategy — the things that will make it possible to do more than teach.
Conclusion: How to Stand Out
At the flea market, you’ve got to have your table set up in a certain way if you want to catch a customer’s eye. All the details are important because potential customers don’t have a lot of information to base decisions on. Not making eye contact as people walk by? They’ll keep walking. Don’t have your items organized in a neat and logical way? They’ll go to the next table. The positive side of this is that it only takes a few tweaks to really make your table stand out. I’m stretching the analogy, but it’s hard to overstate how much of an impact your italki profile has on your bottom line, for better or for worse.
If you want to have a profile that attracts students, here’s what you need to keep in mind:
Focus on the benefits: In both your profile copy and your video, resist the temptation to talk about yourself too much. It’s natural to think “well this is introduction is about me” but really it’s not — it’s about your students, and how they’ll benefit from taking lessons with you. What makes a handmade coffee mug attractive isn’t how it’s made, but the thought of drinking hot coffee out of it on a cold morning!
Define your audience: Your profile will be way more effective if you choose a specific audience and speak specifically to them. You may think you’re reaching more people, but the reality is that trying to speak to everyone makes your message bland and uninteresting. Think about the flea market. You’ve got the lady that knits cute oven mitts, the guy that stitches leather journals, and the potter who throws those vases. That’s who you want to be — the specialist that people come to when they need what you sell. Nobody visits the table of the person trying to sell a little of everything.
Make a darn good video: You don’t have to be a professional videographer to make a video that will make you very attractive to students. Make eye contact with the camera, have a neutral background, and make sure you speak slowly, loudly, and clearly. Studio time not necessary.
Obviously, there is a lot more to say on how to make a great profile, so I’m going to pull back the curtain and give you an insider’s tour of my own italki profile! This is the exact profile that got me the results above, and it gets me more students every day. I made a video to walk through each element step by step to show you how to maximize your results.
By following the advice in the video, you’ll be able to maximize your student engagement even if you don’t use italki. It’s a few simple steps that could make the difference between having the booth that’s jammed with people just waiting to buy from you, or having the one three tables down, all alone, looking over at the full booth and wondering how they do it.
Chris Rush has been teaching business English online since 2012. In addition to teaching on italki, he runs Better Business English for learners and also helps English teachers make the transition to teaching online.