22 Actionable Marketing Tips For Independent ESL & TEFL Teachers

Apparently, there are 12 million English teachers in the world. Many millions of them would be working in public education systems and universities, teaching to large groups of children and students.

How many of these millions are independent? More importantly, how many dream of becoming so? Even more importantly, how many are stuck between giving some lessons independently and others as a salaried employee?

Those who are successfully independent are usually those who have enough word-of-mouth referrals to keep their business going.

But what about those starting out? Or those teachers who don’t have enough referrals? How do they get enough business? Here are 22 actionable, practicable tips that will help you get those students in, whether you have an online or offline language teaching business.

1. You are not an English teacher, you teach English to…

When someone asks what you do, you must no longer say you’re just an English teacher. This is a generalist term that sinks you right down among the millions. Think carefully about your chosen niche and to whom you teach best. From now on, everything about your personal branding should be concentrated on whom you teach, and on the benefits you bring them. Here are some examples:

  • I coach French Business executives to present better in English
  • I teach English online to Spanish adult learners
  • I teach English to young children after school and during weekends
  • I train adults in basic English for their holidays or other travel needs

2. Accept your face and then crop your photo

Behind many successful brands are many famous people. When you think of Apple, you think of Steve Jobs. When you think of Virgin, you think of Richard Branson. If you want to market yourself successfully, you’ll have to accept that it will be totally reliant on your own personal branding, on your own image.

The first thing you should do is find a nice, high resolution photo of your smiling face and put it in a circle, just like this:


Go here http://www170.lunapic.com/editor/ to do it quickly and easily, and then use that circle photo in all your marketing tools.

3. Set aside half a day a week, every week, for your marketing

calendarA recurring theme in many of my blogs and reports is the importance and value of your time. It is your most valuable asset, and how you market it will be part of another tip further down. Marketing is a very time-intensive activity. It is an investment. You have to put in the hard yards to get the results (and of course be smart about it too).

These hard yards should be done in a dedicated, intensive period of one half-day during your week, just like your admin work. In the short-term, these hard yards will mean a drop in your income. I’m not going to promise you riches and wonders beyond your wildest dreams. Life’s not like that. But when the marketing takes hold, and people start to come to you, then you’ll get the return on your investment.

How long will it take? It could take a month, it could take a year. It depends on your target market, your offer. But it takes discipline and tracking to make it work.

4. Embrace the power of videos

youtube_icon11What do you do in front of your class? In front of your students? You perform. You’re an actor. You’re on stage. You can utilize this talent and put it into arguably the strongest marketing medium today, which is video.

Today, it is very easy to record videos and upload them online. It’s easy for me to tell you to make videos. It’s not easy to think of the content, get the recording right, edit it, add some graphics. It all takes time (see point 3).

Try writing down 50 videos you could record with actionable tips on how to improve the English level of your chose target learners. Try recording just one, and then see how it goes. Upload it to YouTube, share it with your trusted friends and students, and see what they think. In 6 months, you could have a YouTube channel with hundreds of followers and potential students.

5. Market in your target learner’s language and not just your own

You’re not teaching English to English native speakers, are you? You’re teaching English to foreigners and they have their own native language. So any marketing tool, whether it’s social media, your website or on paper, must be written primarily in their own language rather than yours.

Not only are you meeting them in their own arena, but you’re reassuring them of your own language skills (practice what you preach). Furthermore, you’re creating trust, which is the basis of any business transaction. They are much more likely to trust you if they know that you understand their cultural and linguistic origins.

So if you live in a foreign country and you’re wondering if you should improve so you can get more students, then I would say unequivocally “learn the language”. Learn as best you can, speak as best you can, write as best you can.

Why not learn online, and see how it works – it could help your research for your own online teaching methods (if that’s the way you want to go).

6. Be beautiful

BeautifulSex sells. You know it, I know it. Now before you start getting riled up, I’m not asking you to start parading around naked on your web site.

All I mean is that the human eye is naturally drawn to what it finds attractive. Marketing and communication agencies make huge amounts of money improving the graphics of their client’s websites and other materials in order for them to look nice and make the brand seem more valuable.

It should be exactly the same for you.

If your graphics look amateurish, then take the time to improve them. People nowadays are overwhelmed with information and competing messages. They make snap decisions.

Get a logo (your name in nice, stylish handwriting is fine), choose a colour that will be seen on all your materials. Choose a font that you like and looks professional.

Keep it simple. And keep it beautiful.

7. Choose your domain name wisely

A domain name is your website address and potentially your email address. Our domain name is Linguaid.net, so the website can be found at www.linguaid.net and all our email addresses use @linguaid.net.

Linguaid is a company that has several consultants. Linguaid federates us all and is our brand. As an independent language teacher, it’s different for you. You are your brand, and you should consider wisely what your domain name will be.

There is absolutely nothing wrong in making your domain name firstnamelastname.com (e.g. johndoe.com). You are your brand, and such a domain name reflects this perfectly.

If you’re really repelled by this idea, then you can think about your niche and what you do. For example, if you’re an English teacher in Palermo, Italy, you could say www.palermo-english-teacher.com. Something simple that people will understand quickly.

It astonishes me how often this simple thing is done badly. Mostly it’s because teaching is a side activity to something else, for example translations, and the translations’ domain name gets used instead of getting a new one.

Buying a domain name is cheap and fast. Don’t let anyone fool you. It shouldn’t cost you more that $15 a year. So even if you made a wrong choice initially, make the right choice now.

8. Only master 1 social media

choose-social-mediaTwitter. Facebook. Google +. LinkedIn. Pinterest. More will come, even more fail. Everybody saying, should I use them? Are they useful? Will they bring me students?

No, they won’t.

Not if you try to use them all at once.

You’re one person. You have to teach. Your time is limited. In between classes you won’t have time to go on 3 different platforms to see what’s happening.

There are collaborative social software like Hootsuite that enable you to publish the same thing at the same time on these different media, which is great up to a point, but what makes people who are good at social media successful is their ability and willingness to interact with their followers.

Here’s what to do:

  • Scrap the social media platforms that you’re not using 100%
  • Choose one that you really like
  • Set yourself some objectives per week: number of new followers, number of shares, etc.
  • For every new follower, thank them as soon as possible and send them a gift (ebook, free lesson, etc.)

Be the best you can be realistically.

9. Change your business plan

Here is the business plan of a typical independent English teacher:

Set an hourly rate. Sell hours till schedule is full.”

Hourly rates may vary according to the type of teaching provided (individual / group / telephone for example). The problem is that there is no premium on the time with you.

I believe that your time is your most important asset. It’s finite, it runs out, and it’s the paradigm on which your business plan is based.

But I believe you can change that paradigm. You can make your time more and more valuable.

For example, if I were to say to you, to better run your language training business, you need half a day per week for marketing, and another half a day for administration. Suddenly, you have 4 days a week and not 5.

If you want a good quality of life, then you need at least 4 weeks holiday a year. So you’ve now got 48 4-day weeks. Let me ask you a few questions:

  • How much do you need to earn in a week to live comfortably?
  • At your current price, how many hours of training will it take to get there?
  • Now, if you were to add 5% on your hourly price, does it make a big difference? Or 10%?
  • What if you were to do a day-long seminar at a completely different price, how does that change things?
  • What about if you were to sell materials, or self-access elearning with a mark-up on top of your hours, how does that change things?

So look at your time, think about your time. Find ways to alter your time. Before it runs out.

10. Treat your current students as your ambassadors

brand-ambassadorI bet that if you have a lot of experience, then you could write a long list of the students you’ve taught, whether as an employee or an independent.

I also bet that you have practically no contact details on them. No way of keeping in contact with them.

And if you do have contact details, what would you say to them?

The past is the past, and it might be too late to get anything back from it. What is important is the present, and then the future.

Your students are not just your clients, they are your ambassadors to helping you spread the word about your business. I don’t just mean that you need to treat them well (that’s obvious), but you can be proactive in helping them spread that word. For example,

  • Tell them openly that 90% of your business comes from word-of-mouth, and that you’d appreciate any help from them
  • Give them business cards that they could distribute in case anybody asks
  • Give them a gift to thank them for any business that goes your way

It’s not mercenary to talk about your business. If the student is happy, then he or she should feel comfortable in recommending you. But they will forget you and you will forget them.

That’s why you need a list…

11. How to keep in contact with your former and your potential students

mailchimp…Yes, that list.

Internet marketers the world over say that the most valuable marketing tool you can have and build is your email list. A list of subscribers that know you and are happy to hear from you. That, hopefully, are interested in what you have to offer.

An email list sounds easy to do, but like anything it takes work and a good bit of software. You can’t use Outlook or Mac Mail to send mass mailings (you’ll get blacklisted) and so you have to use a specialised platform.

The best I know is MailChimp (and what I use). You can start for free, and it provides lots of easy templates to use. The most important thing is the forms they provide that you need to integrate into your website;

You don’t have to be in contact with your list on a strictly regular basis. But you have to be in contact. And your list really should include all your current and former students. If ever they see something they like, then they could transfer it to someone who might be interested in working with you.

12. Make a good email signature

Email is the medium of choice now. You’re bound to have some sort of interaction with your students using it. You’re probably using a generic email account at the moment, like Gmail or Hotmail. If that is the case, I would start using a domain name one, like I advocated in point 7.

And then I would work on your email signature. According to what email software you use, it is perfectly possible to create a nice, professional-looking one.

It should include:

  • Your name
  • Your logo
  • A link to your website (or blog)
  • A link to your social media of choice platform
  • Your email address
  • Your telephone number
  • A disclaimer

If you have a particular class, seminar, promotional offer, gift (eBook or webinar for example) you can also put it here.

13. Your blog

I read somewhere that there are 2 million new blog articles published every day.

Every day.

Luckily, there aren’t 2 million blogs a day about language training, but there are still a lot. Today, blog posts are a central focus point for any website traffic generation strategy. Google and Bing are still hungry for them.

So you need a blog. Your writing efforts will get you on the map. Here a few tips:

  • Plan your blogs beforehand. Write a list. Don’t worry too much about regularity. You don’t have to publish an article every week, or even every two weeks. But you do have to have to write them.
  • The longer the better. At least 2000 words.
  • You should focus on content that will be shared, not necessarily content that your learners will like. So make sure your blog is easy to share.
  • Then you have to promote them. The best way is through the social media platform that you’re already working hard at. And sending off a link to the blog to your subscriber list. As time goes by, and your reputation takes off, then people will be interested in you guest posting for them, or even guest posting on your blog.

14. Give and you will receive

GenerosityOn your website, it’s important that you don’t just show people and potential learners what you do. Let’s be honest, anyone can learn a language for pretty much free nowadays

So you’re in a competitive market and you have to do that bit more to get people interested in your lessons.

One way is to give them something that proves how good you really are. In exchange for you giving access to this “gift”, you can ask for their email address, or to fill in a form. This first contact can be the basis on which you start a potential business relationship with that person.

Depending on the volume of people you are getting, you can either set up automated emails to send to them (for example a series of free video lessons) or more personalised ones.

So what can you offer? Here are a few ideas:

  • A series of free video lessons
  • A free mini-lesson with you (perhaps show them a video excerpt of you in action first)
  • A free assessment test
  • A free tool or aid

15. Add social proof onto your website

Social proof is the evidence that other people (your former learners) are happy with your service. In a world full of charlatans, trust is of a premium, and showing other happy learners is an excellent way to gain that trust.

A Nielsen report stated that “Online consumer reviews are the second most trusted form of advertising with 70 percent of global consumers surveyed online indicating they trust this platform”.

So this means you need to put some of these review on your site. Now, here are some of the types of reviews you can use. They are not mutually exclusive, you can mix and match as you see fit:

  • Written testimonials (preferably with photos)
  • Video testimonials (preferably in the native language of the website)
  • Case studies (a story about the learning experience with concrete results and a validation by the learner)
  • Inserting your social media platform into your site (Facebook or Twitter), so people can see your updates

16. Make sure the visitors to your website know what to do

This is something I harp on about quite a lot, but it’s very important. Websites can be very nice and jolly, but sometimes the user is stuck and doesn’t know what to do next. So he leaves.

Make sure you know the difference between home pages, landing pages and sales pages for example.

  • A home page is the main page of your website – when you go to johndoe.com for example. It should clearly explain who you are and what you do and have clear links to other pages.
  • A landing page is the page you have created to welcome a new visitor. It could be to propose a test or a video. You inform the user and you want them to do something like sign up or fill in a form.
  • A sales page is where you’re trying to convince your visitor to buy something from you (i.e. English lessons). It usually comes after a landing page.

I use a very good plug-in called OptimizePress that I used to create a sales page for my video training course on generating leads for Business English Teachers.

17. One practical technique to convert a prospective student into a customer

When someone is interested in working with you for the first time, you can’t expect them to sign up with you right away. They need to speak to you first. That means you can’t work via email alone.

I don’t believe in offering a first complete lesson for free. I think that it can undervalue your service. If you want to prove how good you are, then you can do it a lesson of only 15 minutes. You don’t need to do it for an hour.

What I do think is obligatory is to get a test done. The quality of your “diagnostic” is determinant. If you can accurately pinpoint their current level, their target level, their objectives and their current problems (why they are not at the level they want to be), then this should be enough to raise the motivation level to get them to be your client.

This means you need a good test and a good needs analysis. These documents can be homemade or you can use others, but the quality needs to be excellent. They should be completed with an oral test, and a few more questions where you can ascertain what kind of student they will be. Straight on from that oral test, why not give them a 15 minute lesson, so not more than 30 minutes.

This is the very most I would give for free, to recap:

  • A written test
  • A needs analysis
  • An oral test (10 to 15 minutes)
  • A 15 minute lesson

That should be enough to prove the quality if what you are offering and let the student decide if you are good value for money.

18. How to get your prospective student to hurry up and decide

procrastinationProcrastination. Inability to decide. Waiting.

You’ve been contacted by an interested person and you’ve given them a quote and now you’re waiting. They really seemed interested but despite a follow-up email, no news.

What do you do now?

It might be too late. You see, you need to accurately assess their motivation when you’re speaking to them, and you need to make sure you ask them 3 key questions:

  • What could stop you working with me?

This question is designed for you to find out what possible obstacles there are to getting the agreement (for example, the price). Without talking about them openly, you will always be in the dark.

  • What do you think working with me will bring to you?

This question is designed to boost motivation by putting a positive image of picturing the benefits of working with you. You might assume they will answer ‘to help me speak English better’ but in reality, you’re looking for them to explain (or repeat) the real reasons for why they want to learn.

  • When can you commit to getting back to me?

By saying the word “commit” and asking for a date, you put the onus on them to come back to you.

With these 3 questions you should know a lot more about what your prospect is looking for and have more control about getting them to make a decision.

However, you can also use a time “squeeze” to get them to commit. By mentioning that your schedule is fairly full, and saying that you rarely take on new students, you should try to make them feel privileged to work with you, and make them feel under pressure to make a decision. If you seem too eager, then perversely this will push them away.

People go to restaurants with a lot of people and steer clear of the empty ones. So make sure you give the impression that there are only a couple of free tables!

19. Get partners

As an independent teacher, you’re basically alone. That doesn’t mean you have to stay alone. And it doesn’t mean others won’t want to be partners with you.

Partners, whether they are online or in the field, are a very valuable way of building credibility and channelling through interested people to you. Their logos can mean just as much sometimes as testimonials and client logos.

So who can you reach out to? And how? Here are few ideas:

  • Give some classes at the local university or business school and ask them to feed any individual requests to you
  • Find other teachers (languages and other domains) and join up with them in an informal network
  • Seek out anybody that deals with local tourism – tourist offices, travel agencies, cultural institutes – to see if any partnerships are possible. They might have contacts that need English tuition
  • Look out for any associations (online or not) that will help make you look legitimate as a teaching professional. There are lots of national trade associations that help teachers, and these don’t have to be about teaching languages per se.

Partnerships are a valuable source of information, help and advice as well. Remember that it also means you have to give back. Relationships must be formed on a win-win basis.

20. Learn from others

Following on from the theme of being alone, there is no shame going out and looking for help. Some help you have to pay for, some will be free. But what you have to realise is that the chances are someone is doing what you are doing already, and probably doing it a lot better.

So why not look for a mentor. Someone who has been in your position and as an English teacher now has a full schedule and no money worries. Perhaps that person will be willing to help you get on your feet and get ahead. They should have lots of techniques that you haven’t even thought of. If you can’t find a mentor, track down several people, either in teaching or outside of teaching, whose opinion you admire and who would be willing to help you.

There are also English teaching associations such as TESOL and IATEFL that you can join and whose role is to help you.

There are several groups on LinkedIn and Facebook that are dedicated to TEFL. And blogs and communities. If you need help, just look and ask for it. And when the wheel turns and people are looking themselves, make sure you return the favour.

21. Track where your students came from

It’s incredible how whenever I ask a teacher where each of his or her clients come from, the answers are vague and unsure.

In marketing, tracking an action is as important as the action itself. In fact, marketing has become something of a spreadsheet profession. Creativity is a little stifled.

You need to keep a spreadsheet yourself which includes one column “Source” so each time you get a new student you can write down where he comes from – your site, a referral, an advert, the Yellow Pages, etc.

Over time, as this file fills up, you’ll start to be able to see what methods are the most successful, and those which you need to tweak or even reject.

You could even add in the prospects too, and write down in another column “won” or “lost” and write down what you think the reasons are for winning or losing the business.

Self-analysis is very hard, it takes objectivity and a distinct lack of emotion. But the figures don’t lie, and they’ll help you progress just as well as any brilliant idea you have.

22. If you can’t do it yourself, get someone else to do it for you

As a teacher, it becomes a habit to do everything yourself, and not find someone else to do it for you. The cost can sometimes be inhibitive as well. So you end up doing everything (and not that well).

You might also doubt your management skills, and worry about what the person will be doing if you’re not there to supervise.

First of all, who can help you? Does it make reasonable sense to get an employee? No, obviously not. You don’t earn that kind of money and you never will. But options do exist:

  • You can subcontract to a virtual assistant
  • You can get someone on work experience
  • You can get an intern
  • You can subcontract to specialised independents like you in their specific domain (e.g. web design, SEO, content creation, …)
  • You can find other English teachers, pool resources and subcontract together

You don’t have to do everything yourself, and it’s all right to depend on others. No one ever became a millionaire by themselves. I know lots of independent teachers who rely on others and are coping just fine.


So the next step is up to you. Take action by implementing just one of these tips today and see how it affects your business as an independent English teacher. Or if you’re thinking about starting out, see how this affects your thinking.

I’d love to hear any comments below to see which tip you think is the most useful!

Please also share if you think it could be helpful to other teachers too.

24 replies
  1. Ibero Tefl
    Ibero Tefl says:

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  2. Amalie Wanders
    Amalie Wanders says:

    Thank you for the article. But I wonder about getting the prospective students to make a decision to take lessons or not. Some people even when asked directly are afraid to tell that they don’t want classes or cannot commit to taking them. For example, I have had some cases when I have talked to my prospective clients, they say that they want lessons and schedule certain times. And when it’s time to have the actual class that I have planned for them, they have excused themselves about why they can’t have the class and then they even have dared not to appear to rescheduled classes. True story. From Costa Rica.
    What to do in such cases?

    • Joss Frimond
      Joss Frimond says:

      Hi Amalie. It’s true that it can be disheartening to have done all the hard work to get students interested and then when push comes to shove, they don’t turn up. This is all part of the conversion process. A client is not a client until he’s signed a contract or paid some money.

      This might be a cultural problem – i.e. it’s ok in the culture of the country you live in to not turn up to things you say you will. But it could also be the conditions in which you make the appointment. Are you forcing them into making an appointment? How sure are you they want to come? Are they saying yes just to make you happy? Think about your approach and why they say they want lessons. There is a big difference between people that are vaguely interested and those that really need them.

      For those people that don’t turn up, are you following up with them afterwards? Are you friendly or mildly threatening? Language teaching is all about developing a relationship – a professional one, but still a relationship. If they are not able to envisage developing this kind of a relationship with you, then you must ask yourself why.

      • Peter Reid
        Peter Reid says:

        I am currently setting up a teaching business so this article very useful. I have had private students in the past and had this “no show” problem sometimes. I had mostly students of a particular nationality at one point – one day I had 8 hrs of lessons booked but one of my students was having a party. They were all friends, so they all went to the party and didn’t even contact me to cancel. This was incredibly frustrating (and I lost other bookings because times were blocked out). As tactfully as I could, when a student cancelled or no-showed twice I would tell them that unless they pre-paid I would not be able to take their booking and that if they cancelled in under 48 hrs they would lose their money. I also made it very clear that if they turned up with no money I would make them a cup of tea, have a quick chat and then they would be going home. It sounds a bit ruthless but if handled tactfully and explained clearly from the start it will a) weed out time wasters & b) minimise wasted time and lost booking opportunities.

    • David Contreras-Sáez
      David Contreras-Sáez says:

      First of all, great article. Second, I face a similar issue here in the Dominican Republic, like Amalie does in Costa Rica. People are very enthusiastic on the first meeting and even book a slot in your schedule, some “fade out” and will not return phone calls or emails, even after “swearing” that you’re the one they’ve been waiting for and love your attitude, methodology and everything else. Like Joss says, it is a cultural issue, at least here. Most people don’t like to say no when no is due, or to seriously commit to something thy actually NEED. To try and aliviate some of the discomfort that this provides, I’ll add some of the tips on this article to the ones I already use, like a brief sample class. And to agree with Peter, establishing a set if guidelines is paramount. Here, it is imperative that you get paid upfront and I have a short, to-the-point “contract” that states all terms am conditions, including cancellations, rescheduling and so forth. Let me know if you’d like me to share it with you. It’s not for all markets, but it certainly has worked for me here, and adapted so.

  3. rob
    rob says:

    A very informative article! I will be implementing many of your suggestions.
    Although I think your ego got the better of you in the final step.
    I fully agree that there is no shame in delegating work to someone more equipped to complete a certain task. However, I know a number of large ESL schools that have thousands of employees, each beginning life with a solitary teacher. To state in your article that a teacher will never have enough money to employ a single person is inaccurate to say the least.
    Otherwise, congrats on a great article! 🙂

  4. Jim Watt
    Jim Watt says:

    Thanks for your post. I am glad to find new ways to expand my network and continue helping people to reach their goals. Time to start setting aside dedicated time for this effort! Cheers!

  5. donnella
    donnella says:

    Thanks for the great article. I have a few clients that work with me twice a week. This is the first blog that gave practical advice on building a business and growing my customer base.

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    تبلیغات آنلاین says:

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  7. Philip Tambe
    Philip Tambe says:

    Thank your very much for this precious insight on these marketing ideas. Very effective. I learned a bit of it today. Next step is to implement it.

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  9. Katya
    Katya says:

    Like a lot of people at this time, I’m being forced to reconsider what I do and how I do it. Your article makes such sense and is a real eye opener, full of good and logical advice. Thanks very much for this information and I’m off to start using it: so I teach English to who exactly…?

  10. Amanda
    Amanda says:

    Fantastic helpful marketing tips. Really enjoyed it and learnt a few new things. I was shocked by one sentence though. “Does it make reasonable sense to get an employee? No, obviously not. You don’t earn that kind of money and you never will.” Why did you say that?!

  11. James Liu
    James Liu says:

    Excellent writeup Joss!
    Teaching is only effective if you plan a lesson that makes sense and keeps the student engaged. If you are working with prepared material it is just as important for you to be an expert in what you are about to teach. The best teachers go beyond the material and find props, videos and games to improve the lesson. During my teacher training I used to get fed up spending hours every evening before my next lesson planning out the purpose and potential problems of every tiny step, analysing every detail of the grammar and making sure everything I did stuck to the lesson’s aim. It was so overwhelming. All the hard work, however, paid off big time. I had such great lessons as a result (with amazing student feedback) because the purpose of the lesson made sense!


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