How TEFL Teachers Can Make MORE Money! Ten Crucial Tips

Published: 01st March 2010
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Do you think you deserve to make more money from what you do?

Many EFL teachers are happy with their lot and seem to think that being paid pocket money is a fair trade for an enlightening cultural experience abroad. The fact is, their work is likely to be making someone a lot of money.

'Don't get into EFL for the money!' is a common phrase spurted out by teachers and managers around the world.

But why not? EFL is a huge global industry generating millions and millions everyday. It is as good an industry as any to make money in, and many do.

You won't make your first fortune from just teaching, but I can't think of a better starting point for becoming an entrepreneur in EFL. As a teacher, you really get to grips with the nuts and bolts of the business and you can use that positively to go onto to much better things, with real insider knowledge.

What you need next is some entrepreneurial spirit along with plenty of drive and my top 10 tips for teachers who want to finally make some $$$ out of EFL.

By following these 10 ideas, I was matching my former monthly British Council salary within 6 months of start-up. I earn considerably more now and my income is steady all year round.

It is hard work of course but I am assuming that by reading this you are ready to knuckle down. I am also assuming that you are a qualified teacher with experience and speak the local language to some degree.

1. No More Middle Men

'So, why are you leaving?' I asked a former colleague at a good posting in Morocco; 'because I am tired of making other people rich'.

Those words have stayed with me ever since. Generally, you won't get rich working for other people, least of all in EFL where schools can often pick and choose from a whole pool of eager recent CELTA course graduates.

Let there be no doubt, if you want to reap rewards you have to take the risk and set up your own teaching operation. That could simply begin with taking on private students at home, and/or seeking out more lucrative corporate training contracts directly.

Once self-employed, you then leave yourself open to explore more exciting and diverse ways of making money than just teaching.

2. Find Your Niche

So, you are now on your own and you need students. You basically have have four possible income streams for your business to explore, all discussed in this post:

1. teach private students from home

2. get corporate contracts and teach students in-company

3. subcontract in-company work out to other teachers, taking a cut

4. sell products to your students

After working in many different countries, I am confident that there is a market for the above 4 avenues in any city where there is a strong demand to learn English and a reasonably dynamic local economy.

Now that you want to be a player in that market, you have to ask yourself why students are going to come to you and not an established school or another private teacher?

You will need to do your research, but you can do that as you build up your student base and tweak your service accordingly. You will only need a handful of students to get a feel for the kind of clients that you can attract.

In my case, in Warsaw; students came to me for 1 to 1 lessons as I was able to undercut the schools whilst promising them the highest quality of teaching they could find anywhere in the city (backed up by my credentials of course). I also promised lessons would take place in a very comfortable teaching room near the centre of town.

With corporate contracts, I not only offered high quality teaching but also uniquely flexible agreements which allowed them to cancel lessons when they wished with no charge. (They rarely did).

I also offered GMAT preparation courses, which no-one else in the city seemed to be doing. It was my own little niche and I soon got a loyal customer base just for those courses alone. And I was able to set my own price, which was higher than regular EFL courses.

Is there a specialised course you can offer? Have a look at what the schools in your city are offering and look for any gaps. I bet GMAT is one of them!

Knowing your place in the local market is essential to help you make rational and informed decisions concerning the service you offer and how to develop your business in the future.

Ouside of the scope of this article, but important to mention as a way of specialising and furthering your income, is teaching Online via Skype. Click here for an article I have written on this topic.

3. Be Exclusive

Even with only a few years teaching experience, it isn't difficult to advertise and present yourself as offering an exclusive private teaching service for highly motivated students; providing a learning experience which no-one else can offer.

Go the extra mile:

- offer your own materials

- make sure you have learning plans and diaries for each student

- offer to put them on a mailing list and send free lessons

- offer to record each lesson and send them the mp3 file for free

- offer free coffee

- lend students English DVDs on a regular basis; be an informal


The list is endless but make sure you charge at least 35% more than average for private English lessons in your city.

There will be an upper-limit to what the market will allow you to charge. Find it through trial and error but do not undersell yourself; your clients will expect to pay more for such an exclusive service. We all know that people tend to equate quality with higher prices. I can confidently say that I have found that to be pretty much fact in my experience.

Besides, even if 7 out of 10 students who enquire about your services walk away when they hear your prices, the 3 that stay will be worth it. Go on the premise that you are an exclusive service looking for exclusive clients and you will be in the winning situation of earning more than other teachers for less hours.

You just have to ensure that you have marketed yourself widely enough to get a steady stream of enquiries coming in each week. Which leads me to the next point.

4. Get A Strong Web Presence

95% of my students came through the web. Students are far more likely to head straight for google to find a teacher than pick up a newspaper or look on notice boards these days.

It is a good idea to develop your own website, least of all because it shows that you are serious and established as a teaching service.

However, it takes time to achieve high-ranking results on google and other search engines. Therefore, it's very important at first to make sure that you advertise on every possible online classified outlet on the web that's relevant to your target market. (Don't forget to include your website link if you have one). These pages are likely to have high search engine rankings.

Gumtree has country specific sites and I have found it useful, but spend some time looking to see if there are any websites specifically to help students find native English teachers in your city/country. If there isn't one, then there's an idea for you! (We will talk about that another day).

Here is an example of such a site for Poland. I found it very useful at first; about 65% of my students came from that site alone in my first 6 months of going solo.

5. Wow Your Clients On First Contact

Don't put your lesson rates in your advertising. Instead, have a 'standard prospective student letter' ready to send to all those who enquire about lessons. Always write a short personal note thanking the student for getting in touch, then copy and paste the letter below the message in your email.

This letter is your chance to justify your high prices and really impress the prospective student with your qualifications, experience, lesson procedures, your curriculum and all the extra services mentioned in no.3. It should inform the student in no uncertain terms that you are the teacher they are looking for and more!

In my letter, I always made it clear that students are 'selected' for my exclusive courses on their level of enthusiasm, motivation, willingness to work hard, complete homework and attend every week. This worked really well in Poland, giving a true air of exclusivity to my teaching practice. However, you will have to test your local market conditions before adopting any radical approaches.

6. Be A True Pro

Now you have students coming through your door, it is time to deliver everything you promised and more. This is so they will continue coming for lessons and to encourage positive word-of-mouth marketing.

Dress in business attire; it shows that you mean business and will help to make you more convincing, and with the higher prices you are charging, you have to be that at very least.

Show that you are highly organised. Have a diary and notebook on the table; let the students see that you have great admin skills. It will help them to feel more comfortable with their assumption that you know what you are doing.

Never show emotion; tired, tetchy students can test the best of us. Remain calm and business like at all times.

I have heard a number of teachers claim that private students are just too unreliable to rely on as a main source of income; they cancel at a moment's notice or come for a few weeks then quit.

Wrong! If you approach the business of taking on private students casually then your students themselves will approach your lessons casually. Get a strict cancellation policy and go through it with them at the very beginning.

If your service is worth paying for, they will understand that you are a professional and accept your conditions. Don't waiver on your policy; be consistent with it and your income will be protected. This will also raise your professional credentials in the eyes of your clients and will actually help raise the profile of your whole teaching practice. It shows you mean business.

7. Go Corporate

The corporate market is different as you will be competing against a great deal of larger and well-established schools, so as I mentioned earlier, make sure you are offering something that they are not.

City-wide mail shots and cold telephone calling can be very effective but nothing beats turning up at reception. Even if the secretary turns you away, you can at least get a name to try and arrange a formal meeting with.

For this market, you must have a good website and good copy in the local language. I actually went for English only simply because I was targeting companies who had grown tired of the schools sending them false native speakers (a big problem in Warsaw) and wanted to deal with natives face to face. I only did this because I knew my market very well. The chances are that in most local markets, people will search on google in their local language.

Corporate contracts are well worth the hassle as they often involve large groups of long term students.

8. Subcontract

Once you have a few corporate contracts, back out of teaching one of them; tell the HR department that you feel 'one of your employees is even more qualified and experienced to take their groups'.

Now, go out and find a good willing teacher and give them a class, pay them a fair wage and take a good cut.

At this point, you should be getting direct enquiries from companies, some may have even come through your private students. When they call, make an appointment to go and meet them. Put your best suit on and off you go.

When you meet the HR manager(s) face to face, tell them that you are not currently available to teach them yourself but you do have two or three excellent native English teachers who are, that you have personally trained. (Make sure you do!).

You are now on the way to having your very own training company. You are selling your own time as well as other people's. You are making money from your teacher(s) while you concentrate on making money from your own teaching.

Maybe one day you won't have to teach at all! (If you don't want to).

9. Create And Sell Products

Selling your time is never going to make you rich as there is a ceiling on how much the market will allow you to charge for it and their are only 12 or so working hours in a day to play with.

You need to sell products and your student-base are a good target market to begin with.

Most of your students will need to buy a coursebook to study with you, make sure you are selling them; do a deal at a local book shop or try to register yourself as a retailer.

You can also sign up with Amazon's affiliate sales program and have their products available on your website. Choose all of the main EFL coursebooks that your students may want to buy and direct them to your website. When they click on a book and pay through amazon, you will get a small cut.

A very good idea is to record each lesson and store the mp3 files on your PC. After 10 weeks, offer to compile them on a CD for the student at a reasonable price. You will need the student's permission to record the lessons of course but many are willing. However, you might want to do this for free to justify the exclusivity of your service, as mentioned in no.3.

Developing your own materials and selling them to your students opens up a whole exciting venture. There are endless opportunities here. I compiled hundreds and hundreds of the typical mistakes made by students in conversation and turned them into a book. I had a fair number of takers.

Selling summer courses to your students can be quite lucrative. It isn't difficult

to build up a working relationship with one or two of the summer school providers in your home country and become an official or unofficial agent.

If you can deliver students then summer schools will more than likely be interested in you. Make sure you get all of the promo-material and have it on display in your private teaching room at home or when you or your subcontractors teach in-company.

These are just a few ideas for products you can sell as part of your teaching business but I am sure you will come across many exciting new ideas yourself.

10. Brand Yourself

All of the previous points need tying together to form a marketable whole that is worth something in both essence and in cash. This is why you need a brand.

Your brand can be a school name or even your own name but it must be brandable as a logo and all of your potential, current and future clients must see it on your website, emails, letters, business cards and even in your private teaching room. You should start using it from the word go; before you get your very first student.

After pushing your brand, people will start to associate it with your exclusive private teaching service, your corporate training and your products.

Now all of your efforts are actually worth something, and if you keep moving forward with drive and determination, you might be able to sell your business one day, open new branches or franchise it out.

Just be sure not to end up like the thousands of mediocre schools out there that always cater for the lowest denominator. Of course, there is a reason they do that, but the market for average EFL schools is saturated. There is way too much competition in being regular nowadays. Be different, ethical but business minded, and innovate at every opportunity.

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