How to find new students

Points for freelance English teachers to consider when trying to find new students.

How to find new students

This is not a post that I would have written without someone asking for it. After all, I’m not an expert in this. I could maybe write it if people were breaking the door down scrabbling for lessons and I had no gaps before next Easter, but as it is, although things are going well for me, people come and go when they have what they need, so I do have some gaps in my schedule and I could take on a few extra clients.

There was a time when I had a waiting list, but that was back in 2013, when my lessons were under-priced and work-life balance wasn’t a thing! I don’t want to go back to those days!

Anyway, when I ask in my newsletter or on my blog what other people want to read about, I do take the suggestions seriously. So when someone asked me to write about finding new students, I decided to share what I know.

1. Do you want to find new students?

I definitely do want to have my own students, and not to work for a school or language site, but some people choose to go down the route of working for others, at least at the beginning. I don’t want to go into all the positive and negative aspects of each option here, but I did write a guest post on whether it’s better to find your own students or work for others. You can find it here.

2. Are there potential students in your network?

Everyone knows people. The first two customers that I got came through people whom I already knew. One was someone that I’d been chatting to in an online forum, and the other was the partner of someone with whom I’d worked in the past.

The people who already know you may well be looking for the service that you offer, but they’ll only be able to tell you that if you let people know about your training. I don’t mean in a pushy way – you don’t want to bore everyone senseless by talking about work every chance you get, but there’s nothing wrong with dropping it into the conversation from time to time.

3. Word of mouth is powerful!

It’s hard to get word of mouth referrals at the beginning, but they really are the best way because you’ve got someone who’s already willing to promote your services. I had one customer who was happy with my work with one of his children, so he asked me to teach his other child too. The same family told one of their friends about me, and through that I got an additional customer. I’ve also had situations where people have told their friends or colleagues about the lessons because they enjoyed them, and then the friends came along too! This is great, because you don’t actually have to sell anything – just make a positive impression on the current customers.

You can also offer incentives for people to tell a friend. I’ve done this before – the referrer gets free credit on their account after introducing a friend (once the friend’s first payment has been received).

Testimonials work too – if people have enjoyed working with you, they may be willing to give you a quote for your website. Ok, it’s not quite like reviews on Amazon, because most people won’t post terrible reviews of themselves on their own site, but comments about your lessons will give people an idea what it’s like to work with you.

4. Where is your ideal customer likely to be?

Think about the various social media platforms, and where the people you want to attract are likely to spend time. Of course, you can only do this if you know who they are. If you say that you want to teach English to everyone and don’t specialise in anything, it will be much harder for you to stand out from the crowd and talk to people in a way that resonates with them, making them want to find out more.

As well as thinking where the customers may be, think about where you like spending time. I don’t like platforms such as Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat, so I don’t use them!

You could use the well-known platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin, Google or Instagram.

You could set up something of your own such as a blog, podcast, or Youtube channel, so that people get to know your content first and hopefully know, like and trust you as a service provider. I don’t give free lessons or trial lessons, but I do make useful information available to people so they can find out about my style and learn something before they have to pay.

Some countries have alternative sites. For example, people do use LinkedIn in Germany, but there is another business networking site called Xing, and as someone who works primarily with German speakers, Xing is a smarter option for me than LinkedIn in terms of reaching people. I believe that other countries have their own social networking alternatives, so if you have the language skills to use those sites, they are an additional way to find people.

You could post adverts on local or national websites.

You could get media interest – journalists are unlikely to be willing to promote your service for free – after all, that’s not news – but if you have an interesting angle on a current story, something which is interesting to the local community, or some knowledge that would benefit their readers, they may be willing to include your website link in their story as well.

You could attend events to promote your services – either local business events, or events where your ideal customer is likely to be.

There are also many online events.

I never had much luck with flyers, but it’s an option if you’re doing something locally, or if you have people in other places who would put them up for you.

5. What makes you unique?

Often, teaching languages is about fixing problems. This could be helping children at school, preparing people for an exam, helping people to feel more confident about using English at work, preparing for a holiday, or making sure that the information people put up on their website is not full of mistakes.

Can you offer a solution to a problem as a package? So not just an exchange of your time for the customer’s money? My business English course does include Skype calls, but it also includes audio messages, factsheets, worksheets and feedback on an exercise to help people complete each module and more importantly, feel confident in each business situation.

In what areas do you shine? I can teach grammar in a way that helps people to understand, whereas other teachers hate doing that. I can’t get excited about language exam preparation, but other teachers focus on this and do a really good job!

Have you experienced problems in any of these areas? I’m sure it helps that I was once really nervous about speaking my second language, but now I do it all the time at work. This helps my more nervous students to understand that I know the struggles they face and have come through them.

Can you think of an idea that is new or somehow quirky? Something that sets you apart? There are people who wouldn’t want to sit down in a classroom, but they would be up for “English for dog walkers!”

Do you have some knowledge from your previous experience or career that would put you at an advantage? I don’t market exclusively to blind people, and most of my students are not blind, but as I have a visual impairment, I know how to create materials that can be used by people with screenreading software, and I can highlight this when I’m talking to potential customers who are blind.

Do you have a marketing budget? Maybe not at the beginning. I put an advert in a magazine and it didn’t work at all, so if you do have a bit of money for advertising, try a couple of things out. Also, is the advertising bringing the right kind of people? New Facebook likes are great, but not so great if they are all people who are only looking for free services. Sometimes the numbers aren’t everything if they aren’t really the people whom you want to reach.

6.How can people get to know you?

Sometimes it’s hard to know which offer to take or which teacher to choose. There are so many people doing this work now. When I started in 2012, online learning was more of a new concept, whereas now plenty of people are doing it.

If you can find some way to let people get to know you, how you work, what you offer etc, and they like it, they are more likely to sign up for things that you offer.

If they love your Youtube channel, were helped by a blog article, or look forward to your podcast every week, it will build up a sense that you aren’t a complete stranger to them. Then, if they need help, you’ll be top of mind.

This is clearly more work than sticking up a few ads, but it’s planning for the long-term. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the first website that gave me a lot of customers changed its rules, which meant that I couldn’t rely on it any more. Facebook pages can be taken down. If you build your own audience on your own platform, you are more in control.

7. Can you offer things at different price points?

Sometimes people can’t afford one-to-one lessons, but they would be able to afford something like a book or a video course. Alternatively, people may want to buy some of the cheaper products before committing to lessons. Have you got something that you could offer at a lower price point?

Some people will tell you to create group programmes or self-study courses. Self-study courses are great, but they’re not really my thing, so I can’t comment on that. I found a reluctance in my audience to take part in group programmes (they tend to be professionals with specific problems that they want to solve in a one-to-one setting), but your audience may be different, so it’s worth considering.

8. Joining communities or building your own

When we talk about things like Facebook, I don’t just mean setting up a page and posting there. Facebook groups are powerful. They give you the chance to meet people who have identified themselves as being in a particular group or having a particular interest.

Some people’s use of Facebook groups is really bad – it won’t work if you just spam every group you can find with an advert about your services. But if you build relationships, give good advice, help people out, share useful information, and become the go-to person for your particular niche, you can grow your network and potential customer base in a way that isn’t pushy or offensive. I don’t usually do things that would require a lot of one-to-one time, but if someone has a quick question, I’ll try to answer. If someone has a more general question, I might answer it in a blog post, and then other people can benefit from it too.

You may also want to set up your own Facebook group. Ok, again this is more work, but it gives you the chance for people to get to know you and what you offer. Sometimes people are more willing to interact in groups rather than on pages, particularly if they are interacting in a language that is not their native language. You just need to be clear about what the group is for (i.e. it’s not for free English tuition!) and whom you most want to help in there.

The other thing to consider is the type of group that you want to join. My first thought was to join groups about learning English. This did work for me on business networking sites, but the ones that I found on Facebook were very big, poorly managed and full of irrelevant content. Sorry if you manage a big Facebook group about English learning – I’m sure there are some great ones out there, but I didn’t find them.

I had better luck when I thought about what other groups my ideal customer would be in. German groups for small business owners are a good fit for me. If you want to teach children locally, is there a parents’ group that you can join? If you train people who are going on holiday, can you find some travel groups? If you offer English for dentists, can you find some dentist groups? Try to get past the fact that people are looking to learn English, and think where else they might be. If you do, you won’t find yourself in a group flooded with other English teachers, and you will stand out, because you might be the only person offering that service in the group.

9. Monitor how people find you

Anyone who knows me well won’t be surprised to know that I have a spreadsheet that monitors where people first heard of me. It updates automatically, calculating how much money each channel brought me, and what percentage of the total income that is. I don’t want to invest loads of time or money in something that clearly isn’t working.

10. It’s ok to work with other teachers

I did a post about working with other teachers but basically, they are not just your competition. If Someone were offering a service that was similar to mine, I probably wouldn’t promote it, but if someone’s doing an event or someone wrote a really helpful post, why not share it? They may do the same for you! Also, if you find someone whose blog or podcast you like, there may be guest opportunities, which can be mutually beneficial, because they get you both in front of new audiences.

11. Things that have worked before may stop working

Facebook pages are a good example of this. I’m not saying that they don’t work any more, because they do, but in the beginning, I knew that most of the people who had liked my page would see my posts. Now, you can still have success with organic reach (people seeing your post without you having to pay for it), but it is harder.

I used to advertise on a site that was bought up by another company and stopped offering adverts for goods and services.

I know a teacher who was using Blab, but then Blab closed down.

Even if you find a “winning formula”, don’t put all your eggs in one basket because things change and you need to adapt along with them, trying new things out, stopping things that don’t work any more, and doing the things that work best for you.

12. You never know who’s watching or who might find you in the future!

I got one customer because one of her friends interacted with one of my Facebook posts. She didn’t know about English with Kirsty before then.
Another customer found me because of a blog post that I had written six months previously. This same customer then went on to refer me to someone else, but I didn’t know that when I put the post up! I didn’t see immediate results! Actually that’s one of the hardest parts when it comes to looking for new students – you can do a load of marketing activities and you may not see any immediate results.

That’s why it’s so hard to write a post like this – like the tortoise in the hare and tortoise story, slow and steady wins the race. There is no easy answer to how to find students, and unless you find people who want to stay for a number of years (I do have a couple of those), finding students will always be on your to-do-list because people go and will need to be replaced.

This has got very long, so I’ll stop here. I hope some of the tips were useful to you. Feel free to add more in the comments.

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Achieving results online with adult language learners

If you enjoyed this article, you may also be interested in my book about teaching English to adults online. You can find the book, “Achieving results online with adult language learners – by Kirsty Major” on Amazon or iBooks, or you can read more about it here.

In the 40 chapters of the book, you’ll find several articles that I have published online, along with exclusive content that can only be found in the book. I talk about my experiences of setting up an online language teaching business, what I’ve learned, and how I’ve dealt with a variety of challenges, both in terms of organisation and running the lessons.

book front cover

Author: Kirsty Wolf

I am an English teacher and a language enthusiast who also speaks German and Romanian. I help motivated professionals to improve their English so that they can communicate confidently and authentically.

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