Teaching English Online: Finding Your Niche

The world of online teaching is vast and diverse.

Across the globe, people are learning English for a wide variety of reasons. There are children learning the very basics, teenagers preparing to study abroad in an English-speaking country, and adults trying to get ahead in business by improving their English. And some are learning for very specific applications, such as for the medical field and aviation.

Students prefer to hire teachers who can specifically cater to their needs, so within this big market teachers need to find their niche. In this article we’re going to take you through how to discover yours, from the very beginning of your online teaching journey to targeting specific learners!

Getting started: what you need

The basics you need to get started teaching English online are:

  • A 120-hour TEFL qualification from an accredited course provider
  • A good internet connection
  • And a computer/laptop with a high-quality webcam

But there can be some additional requirements, depending on the employer, such as:

  • A BA degree in any discipline
  • Criminal background check (particularly if working with children)
  • Evidence of English proficiency if you’re a non-native speaker
  • Nationality (typically UK, Ireland, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa)
  • Specific experience (eg. some platforms specialising in teaching children will ask you to have experience working with children)

A woman wearing a headset teaching online


Gain initial online teaching experience

It’s important to have realistic expectations when you start teaching English online. As a newly-qualified teacher with zero experience you’re not going to immediately fill up your schedule, nor will you acquire students out of thin air.

Our advice is to start off by working for an online teaching company. This is the easiest way to gain initial teaching experience, with a lot of the hard work – such as sourcing students and even lesson planning – done for you. You’ll gain confidence, skills, and an understanding of the online teaching landscape, which will set you up well for later ventures.

It’s true that you won’t earn as much teaching for an online company as you can as a freelance teacher. But trying to establish yourself as a freelancer when you have no teaching experience is going to be an uphill struggle. Online teaching success doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time and hard work!

Broaden your experience

There are a lot of different online teaching companies out there specialising in teaching different learners. It’s a good idea to apply to several – this way you will have more work coming in and you’ll also be able to broaden your experience.

You might have a very specific idea about your niche, but during this period when building up experience should be your focus it can be helpful to cast a wide net. We hear from a lot of students who say they only want to teach adults because they perceive children to be harder work. While discipline can be an issue with younger students, adult learners can be significantly more demanding clients, so it’s a arguably a bit of a misconception!

Websites such as italki and Cambly are great places to get experience working with different kinds of learners. They both have large pools of students who are aiming to learn and improve their English for a wide variety of reasons.

Take this time to try your hand teaching learners of different ages and abilities. You might be surprised by what you enjoy and what you excel at.

Consider your strengths

Once you’re feeling confident about the experience you’ve gained it’s time to assess your strengths and do some research.

What sort of learner have you found you enjoy teaching? Children, teenagers, or adults? Have you preferred teaching students at a beginner, intermediate, or advanced level? Are there particular nationalities you’ve found you work particularly well with?

Consider your own experience outside of teaching. If you previously worked in a business setting then that will set you up well for going into Business English. Fresh out of university? English for academic purposes could be your niche. Have you hired someone or been involved in the recruitment process? You could focus on English for interviews and job applications.

Illustrations related to marketing


Promoting your services

Once you have an understanding of your target market you need to reach them. If you’re going to move into freelance teaching then your success is largely going to depend on two things: your teaching skills (of course!) and your ability to market yourself.

First things first, you’ll need to get set up with a website. Your website will be created with your target market in mind, appealing to their needs and demonstrating your relevant skills and experience. Our 40-hour Teaching English Online course will talk you through how to do this if you don’t know where to start.

Next, you need to advertise. See our previous blog post about how to promote yourself as an online teacher for lots of helpful tips and ideas.

The most important thing to remember when promoting yourself is to be specific. Being vague about what you’re offering, or spending on advertising that isn’t effectively targeted, won’t yield results. You need to consider how best to appeal to the students you want to hire you, where do they spend their time online, what are their needs, and how do you communicate with them?

One thing to consider if you’re aiming to focus on teaching children is child safety. A lot of parents would prefer to use an online company, which will have safety protocols in place. So if this is the route you’re going down then going freelance may not work for you, instead you’ll want to focus on working for online companies that specialise in teaching children. It’s still possible to increase your earnings, though – as you build your experience you’ll be eligible to apply for higher-paying roles inaccessible to newly-qualified teachers.

Additional income streams

Lessons aren’t necessarily the only income stream for online teachers. If you have particular skills – or are willing to acquire them – then there are additional ways to make money and stand out.

This can include creating supplementary material to sell to students, building online courses for learners, and even YouTube videos. These options all depend on your ability to both create valuable content people want to buy and being able to build a large audience, so you’ll need to be specifically thinking about lead generation and building an email list.

These additional income streams are more suitable for experienced online teachers who’ve built up a reputation for themselves. But it’s always good to think about your long-term goals, especially if in order to achieve them you’ll need to work on other skills to get you there.

With a bit of planning, patience, and hard work you can find success as an online teacher – the opportunities are out there waiting!

Looking for more information about teaching English online? Check out our Definitive Guide for everything you need to know.

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2 thoughts on “Teaching English Online: Finding Your Niche

  1. Good Morning,

    I have previously completed a 4 week university Tefl qualification. I have previous experience teaching at a summer school, and also privately. I am interested l going back to TEFL teaching on line. I do not have a university degree, although l am qualified in Health and Social Care for young people to level 5 NVQ. I would like to know how many companies there that would hire me, without a degree. I am happy to complete a TEFL refresher course.
    I am native English and a very young at heart 56 year old mixed race female. I am passionate , reliable, and trustworthy. I can get references.. l will be moving to Bulgaria in approximately 20months. could you give me some advice.
    Regards Gwen

    1. Hi Gwen, it sounds like you’ve got some great experience and qualifications already. In terms of finding work teaching English online, not all online schools and platforms require applicants to have a university degree – check out our post on How to TEFL online without a degree.

      If you do feel that you would like a refresher before you start teaching English again, it might be worth looking at our Teaching English Online Bundle – this includes our popular 40-hour Teaching English Online Course, online teaching practice sessions over Zoom, plus 3x Lesson Plan Packs.

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