Teaching English online can be a convenient way to make some additional money, but what if you have the ambition to maximise your earnings and turn it into your main source of income?
You’ve probably read about how this rapidly growing TEFL sector offers flexible working, the opportunity to work from home, a goodbye to lengthy commutes, and many more perks that sound great. It’s not too good to be true and for those prepared to put in the work the rewards can be incredible.
If you’re looking to stand out in this market, increase your earnings, and become a highly sought after online English teacher then we’ve got ten top tips to help you get started. Let’s dive in!
Understand the industry
First things first, it’s a good idea to learn a bit about the industry you want to get into.
This year, according to the British Council, the number of English speakers and language learners will hit 2 billion. And when you consider the fact that 60% of the world’s population (and growing) are now active internet users, you can understand why the demand for online English teachers is continually increasing.
When The TEFL Org was founded back in 2008 the online teaching industry was nothing like it is today. We’ve seen incredible growth since then and these days around a fifth of our course graduates opt to teach English online rather than abroad. As the industry rapidly grows and innovates, the opportunities for qualified English teachers increase, which leads us onto tip #2…
Get a good TEFL qualification
If you’re going to teach English online then you’re going to need to get TEFL certified.
Can you teach online without one? It might be possible to pick up some work but it’ll be a challenge – most online platforms and students will require or expect you to have a TEFL qualification. Anyway, you’re reading an article about how to succeed as an online teacher, not how to get by doing the bare minimum.
The industry standard is a 120-hour TEFL qualification, so it’s advisable to take a course offering at least those hours. Accreditation is very important, so be sure to look out for accreditation from government or government-affiliated bodies (fun fact: The TEFL Org is the most accredited TEFL course provider in the UK). Don’t be tempted by those unbelievably cheap courses you can find on Groupon – not only are they not recognised by many employers, but they won’t adequately prepare you for teaching English online.
Stand out with professional development
Here’s the thing: a significant amount of online English teachers don’t have the ambition to increase their earnings and become a top online teacher. They’re happy to make some additional income and work a handful of hours a week. There is nothing wrong with that – online teaching is wonderful for its flexibility – but if you’re aiming for success you’re going to need to stand out from them.
The best way to do this is to ensure you’re always learning and developing. An advanced TEFL course – like our Teaching English Online or Teaching Business English courses – is great to have on your CV and will help you stand out from other teachers with similar qualifications.
Specialising and finding your niche is important when it comes to branding (more on that soon) and increasing your earnings, so look out for related courses. Professional development will help you become a better teacher, which in turn will attract more clients and command higher hourly rates.
Get set up with the right equipment
You don’t need to break the bank to get the right equipment, but you don’t want to cheap out. All you really need to get started is a computer/laptop, webcam, and headset.
Many laptops have in-built webcams but don’t just assume you’ll be fine using one of those. In fact, most of these in-built webcams don’t offer great quality and aren’t ideal for teaching English online. What you need is a dedicated, external webcam that’s at least 1080P, which will make the world of difference when it comes to picture quality.
You also need to ensure that your internet connection is fast enough for teaching online. A speed of at least 10mbps is generally recommended – you can test yours easily here. If your internet isn’t fast enough then you’re going to run into problems that will cost you money and turn off students, so if you’re running a little slow you might want to get in touch with your internet provider to see what can be done.
Work for a teaching platform
If your end-goal is to make good money teaching English online and be one of those in-demand teachers, then there are two things you need to focus on from the start: building up your reputation and experience.
Working for a teaching platform (like those listed here) is a great – and easy – way to get some initial experience teaching English online. Some platforms will provide all the material for the lessons, saving you on time spent on lesson planning. But beware: while convenient, solely working for platforms like this will hamper your progress as an online teacher (and therefore earning potential) so make sure you’re also giving yourself opportunities to create your own lessons and materials.
Online platforms will take a cut of whatever your students are paying for your lessons, so if you’re thinking of long-term success then you ultimately want to focus your efforts on creating your own business and working independently. You might not necessarily stop using these platforms completely. In fact, some online English teachers will continue working for platforms, even if they’re well-established independently, because it can be a source of stable income.
Develop your brand
As we’ve just mentioned, you’re able to earn a lot more money working as an independent teacher. To do this successfully you’re going to need to put the time and effort into cultivating your brand.
This means you’ll need a website and social media presence (see our 40-hour Teaching English Online course for details on how to set this all up). On these platforms you can communicate your expertise and specialisms, which will be marketed and tailored to your target audience, whether that’s business people, students preparing for IELTS exams, or parents of young learners.
Having a strong brand really is key to being a successful online teacher, but finding your niche and your own voice is something that can take time. Don’t worry about getting everything together perfectly from day one. What you start off with will naturally evolve as you progress as a teacher and discover what areas of the industry you enjoy the most.
This ties into your branding and will help with both client retention and attracting new ones. The more creative and innovative you are, the more you’ll stand out from other online teachers.
You’ll want to carefully consider how you set up your virtual classroom and the software you might use for it. Using an online whiteboard can open up many opportunities for creativity and conducting engaging lessons students will love. And don’t forget about games – there are so many ways you can incorporate fun activities into your lessons. Explore some of the software out there than can be utilised for online teaching and don’t be afraid to think outside the box.
Some of the most successful online teachers create fun and informative content for YouTube, Pinterest, and other platforms. This can be a great way of attracting clients, who will almost certainly Google you before choosing to hire you. If they’re able to see that you’re putting out creative and engaging content then they’ll be sold. To create this sort of unique content it’s useful to pick up some Photoshop and video editing skills – YouTube is a great place to learn how to do this, just search for related tutorials.
Set your fees and know when to increase them
Knowing how much to charge is important for any independent online English teacher. Charge too much at the start and you’ll struggle for clients, charge too little and you’ll be inundated and undervaluing your services.
You need to really think about what you’re offering students: your experience, what sets you apart, the level of support you offer, the course materials you’ve created, etc. Putting a price on your worth can be tricky, but it needs to take into consideration all of these factors. Have a think about how much time you spend lesson planning, how much you’d need to earn to make a full-time wage, and how much you’d ideally like to be earning. These calculations can help you arrive at a figure.
But when is the right time to raise your fees? If you’re fully booked up and in a position where you’re in demand then that’s an indication that it’s a good time to increase your fees. It’s possible you might lose one or two clients if you increase your prices, but most will be happy because they understand your value. And those that leave can be replaced by others who are willing to pay your worth.
Always have a backup
Our online courses manager, Thomas, has been teaching English for 31 years and his advice to newly-qualified EFL teachers is to always, always have a backup: “Make sure you have plenty activities in your bag. Sometimes you plan a lesson and the students do it really quickly and then you have nothing left to do.”
Plan your lessons well and make sure you’ve got some additional activities up your sleeve in case your student whizzes through. Your student has paid for a lesson that lasts a certain amount of time, so it’s not acceptable for you to cut it short just because you ran out of materials. Be prepared!
At the end of the day, if you enjoy something you’re more likely to put in the hard work and effort required to succeed. Don’t just be money-oriented in your goals and ambitions – being happy in your job is something that’s just as important to strive towards.
There are so many different opportunities to be found in the online teaching market – get out there and explore them, find your niche, and what works for you.
Remember that if you’re having fun teaching English then chances are your students are as well. And that’s going to keep them coming back for more!
Find out more about getting TEFL qualified and take a look at our range of courses.