“I’m just not a salesperson”
I can count the number of independent language trainers I know that are good at selling themselves on one hand.
Language trainers are often nice, friendly people. Strong on communication skills, comfortable in their working teaching environment, and petrified when it comes to thought of picking up the phone to call someone they don’t know.
They spend countless hours traveling back and forth from classes, preparing classes, attending training, going to conferences for ideas, browsing online for tips. Yet barely any of this energy goes into developing a sustainable, independent income.
Trainers often always start out dependent upon one school where they learn their skills. Then, once they develop experience and confidence, they might become independent to be able to work with several schools at a better hourly rate. This involves more freedom, but also more pressure, and often, much more travel.
Many trainers would like to have their own business, picking and choosing clients (not being a sub-contract to schools), and maintaining a tight but profitable schedule that brings serenity and fulfilment.
In reality, there can often be a torrid mix of sub-contracting, one or two corporate clients, translating, university / business school classes and evening classes with children that can put any busy executive’s schedule to shame.
I know it seems easy to seem negative: work is hard enough to get at the best of times. Language trainers are often horribly underpaid and their expertise considerably undervalued, especially as many people feel that all you need is to be a native speaker and that magically enables you to be a professional language trainer.
Bring Added Value
It is exactly for these reasons that I think it is so important for independent language trainers to work on their sales and marketing and they should do this by establishing very clearly where they bring added value., where they can make a difference compared to any other language training offer out there. They can do this in several ways, and the key thing here is sticking to strengths and key selling points. For example, if you’re a language trainer, I would recommend:
- Being known as an expert in a very specific area – a niche so small that they become a big fish in a small pond. For example, rather than being known as a legal English expert, how about being known as an American Corporate Legal English specialist.
- Engaging people through social media, which has really become a “face” business – it’s about the individual, not the organisation or company itself. So you can make a real difference here. By sticking to one form of social media like Twitter (too many is too time-consuming), it can be a fun and rewarding experience. Having professional videos on your website is also a great sales tool as it really brings out your individuality.
- Controlling the pedagogical engineering. This sounds complicated, but it isn’t really. What I mean is that you can promote yourself as original and daring as you want when it comes to methods and support material. Schools should really be sticking to the same guaranteed methods and support materials that they train their in-house trainers to use. Sometimes by getting outside the box, you can have an interesting advantage.
- The capacity to say “no”. By defining a target learner or client profile, it can actually be easier to say “no” to a prospect than a school, that has a range of trainers and can usually cater to more needs. You need to think carefully about capacity and scaleability, and if a training project is outside of your scope, then “no” can word.
Yet most of all, it’s about acceptance. Independent language trainers have to accept that selling is a natural and compulsory part of their business. Without gaining clarity on this issue, without addressing the fear of facing the unknown (can you choose who you work with, can you give up working as a sub-contractor, will companies want to work with you, how many times can you be rejected before giving up, etc.) they will be stuck in a rut of unfulfilled ambition.
It’s not a life for everyone. Taking the plunge is hard and it can take up to a year before the results start to come in. Yet surely that is better than a half-life of working dispiritedly for others wondering what might have been?
The difference between independent language trainers and language schools
Lastly, I fully believe that there is a place in the market for both schools and independent trainers (we work with both at Linguaid). Both provide valuable services, but I also believe that they shouldn’t be in competition with each other.
I’d be very interested to know your thoughts on where you see the pros and cons of business clients working with an independent trainer compared to a language school with several trainers on their staff? Comments below please!