So, you’ve made it: you’re a certified TEFL teacher, having completed a course (preferably with The TEFL Org…). You have access to job boards, maybe you have a contact or two somewhere that you could ask about finding work in a school.
What if, though, you want to go it alone? Every year, thousands of new TEFL teachers decide to try the self-employment route and go online, building a base of clients themselves, setting their own prices, and – crucially – their workload. It sounds great. Well, everything but having to do tax self-assessments, but that’s a different blog post for another time.
How do you build that client base as an English teacher, though? The online space is the place, and nowadays there are so many great ways to get your face out there as a TEFL teacher. It can be daunting, though, so we’re here to arm you with the best advice possible.
If for some reason you don’t trust our advice, you can definitely trust Carl, whose webinar on this very topic is a real stand-out.
Let’s get into it!
Online marketplaces and teaching platforms
A good middle-way between working for an online company and being completely freelance is to use an online marketplace. These websites allow you to create a profile, set your own rates and hours, and find students.
You’ll still need to promote yourself within the marketplace – with lots of other English teachers to compete with you need to stand out if you’re going to attract students. Creating a strong introduction video can be a great way to do this, but you’ll also need to put careful thought into how you price your lessons. If you go in too high initially then you might find yourself struggling for clients.
Verbling, italki, and Preply are three popular marketplaces for EFL teachers to advertise on. Each one takes a commission, so make sure to find out how much this is and what their requirements are.
If you watch the news, you might think social media is the bane of our existence. However, it’s a crucial tool for building a roster of clients, and if you’re good at using it, the benefits will immediately become obvious.
Which social media sites yield the best results?
Instagram has become a more versatile platform in recent years. In thee past, you could only share images, but now there’s the option of videos and reels and business accounts to really help you reach people.
Reels function in a way that’s similar to TikTok – or if you’re of a certain vintage, Vine. These short video clips are fantastic for connecting with audiences, because they’re easily digestible for the idle scroller, but also easy to find – provided you use hashtags and Instagram’s audience tools, which will allow your content to come up for people who are interested in languages.
The old faithful – that is, uploading images – still absolutely works. Again, hashtagging is important, but it’s also an easy way to advertise your rates, your credentials and the kind of work you want to be doing.
As is the case with all social media, make sure to follow accounts with similar ideas, as well as big TEFL companies. Being part of a community is far more likely to yield results than remaining aloof from the rest of the TEFL world.
Creating competitions on Instagram is always a winner. You could offer discounted rates, for example, to one of the followers that shares a post you’ve created. That’s a great way to get attention. Attractive images and interactivity are always a good idea; although an important note would be to never upload pictures of students unless you have their permission!
Setting yourself up on Facebook is another great way to build an audience. The first step, TEFL Org tutor Carl says, is to build a page for your business. Here, you should have pictures, contact details and examples of the kind of work you do. Facebook will also tell potential clients how quickly you respond to messages – so make sure you’ve got Facebook Messenger handy to answer any queries.
Once you’ve got a client base, it’s a great idea to set up a Facebook group. Here, your students can correspond, ask questions, and get updates directly from you. Joining groups is also a good idea: the ‘TEFL, TESOL & English Teachers: Resources and Jobs’ page has over 168,000 members at the time of writing, and it’s one of numerous TEFL industry jobs that will keep you abreast of industry trends, as well as connecting you with other teachers and, again, potential clients.
Call us biased if you like, since we’re big news on YouTube, but the world’s premier video-hosting website is a great resource for TEFL teachers and aspiring TEFL teachers alike.
From a client-building point of view, YouTube stands out. For one thing, you can use the platform to deliver the kinds of lessons you want to give to students – or perhaps, already are. You can determine your understanding of particular types of material (a niche is important!), much like I Taught English Abroad guest Claire Mitchell has done, specifically in the world of IELTS and exam preparation.
Alternatively, you could be like MC Grammar, and gain notoriety for rapping about the English language. For this, you will need only the best beats.
It may now be owned by the owner of Tesla, but if you’re about TESOL, you’re going to want to get on Twitter.
Yes, it’s probably harder to navigate than Instagram, Facebook or YouTube, but there’s still great value in finding an audience on Twitter. Hashtags, again, hold the key. If you’re looking to follow other TEFL teachers or institutions, hashtags like #TEFL, #TEFLTeacher and so on will yield results. Finding that community is vital because you can strike up friendships and partnerships as part of a big online culture.
To cut through the noise on Twitter, we’d suggest keeping it brief and coherent. Having links to your Instagram or YouTube pages is a must, and Twitter is particularly fruitful if you’re able to upload short clips demonstrating an English principle or advertising your services as a teacher. Video, these days, is king.
While you’re on Twitter, it’s important not to be sucked in by “the discourse”. Keep your professional page just that – professional. So, no arguing about TV or politics, if you can avoid it (we know, it’s difficult…).
How to market yourself as an online TEFL teacher – Webinar with Carl
TEFL Org tutor Carl has years of experience teaching English online and marketing his services to students.
In this webinar recording, he shares his tips and advice to help you find online students and build your client base..
For more videos from our tutors see here.
Social media is fantastic for building an audience if your goal is to be a self-starting TEFL freelancer. However, if you’re able to budget for some paid advertising, you might find you’re batting away clients with a stick, because your workload has become full.
Paid advertising online has the benefit of being engineered towards a specific audience. If someone has been looking at TEFL materials online, for example, it’s more likely they’ll see you through paid advertising than through an organic social media post.
So, what forms does paid advertising come in? Let’s investigate.
If you want someone to search ‘TEFL teacher’ and find you on the first page of results, Google Ads are the way to go.
Through a combination of cookies and algorithms, your Google Ad can pop up in people’s browsers, depending on what they’re trying to find. Also, the traditional Google search still has immense power; getting your name amongst the top results is going to get you business.
Not only that, it definitely creates an impression of professionalism. Having Google Ads shows you care about finding customers, and potential clients are likely to be impressed by how easy it is to find you.
Another advantage with Google adverts is that you can see the data in real-time; how well your advert is doing, how much it’s driving views to your website (we’ll get to that) or social media pages etc – it’s a combination of market research and actually dictating the market simultaneously.
Does it cost? Absolutely, but if you’re wanting to build a client base quickly, Google Advertising is worth looking into.
Do you know how many people are on Facebook in 2022? Apparently, 2.9 billion. Not all of those people are your auntie leaving comments on your night out pictures, either.
Facebook still holds real power online – as we’ve covered, it’s a great platform to grow a TEFL business, and there are hundreds of thousands of members who are active on TEFL discussion groups.
So, Facebook advertising makes sense, especially in that context. It’s specifically targeted, so people who are interested in TEFL, like pages involving Teaching English and the like, are more than likely to see your name pop up when they’re browsing. That creates excellent potential for growing your business.
Create a website
You’re going to have to create a website, by the way. It really is a pre-requisite if you’re running a TEFL business, for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s a statement of intent – potential clients are going to be reassured by a good-looking website, which contains a portfolio of your work, and contact details. Another reason is you can centralise all your content; you’ll set up an email address, link to your social media pages, and give clients something to read if you’ve caught their attention with a social media post, for example.
Not only that, but your website can become a booking system. You can set your rates, and advertise them on your website. Having a space in your own name online is plainly beneficial.
Carl, our web whiz and tutor extraordinaire, explains that finding a niche is a key to success, and your website should illustrate that. Which part of the TEFL world do you excel in? Give people reasons to come to your site above anyone else’s.
“All my marketing revolves around my website”, Carl tells us. “For me, going through a website, building a website and marketing all around that website, having my niche inside the website name works for me.”
A great piece of advice from Carl is to give incentives to potential clients through promotions. As he says:
“Offer deals on your website. I started offering free trial lessons – I would give 20 minutes, half an hour free lessons, where I’d give them a tiny bit of help, and I would let them know what I do really well.”
So, great: you want to build a website. But should it be hosted on a platform, or hosted by you outright? And what’s the key driver for traffic? Let’s discuss.
Hosted or self-hosted?
Do you want to be part of something bigger or stand out on your own? That’s the question.
If you’re one name among many, there are advantages. For one thing, you won’t have to build – or hire someone to build – the infrastructure around you. It’s all done already. If you’re part of a company, but setting your own times and prices within that structure, people are likely already heading to that internet space.
However, self-hosting has a ton of advantages. And there are lots of services and plug-ins that take mean the hassle of building a website isn’t a fraction of what is used to be. What’s more, as Carl says, you can choose a domain name that features your particular niche.
You’d decide on the look, you could have the analysis from adverts at your fingertips and, as covered, everything can be in your name and centralised to that one website.
The choice is yours.
Write blog posts
Ok, great; you’ve set up a website. What now?
Well, to maintain site visits, assert your voice as a TEFL teacher and give your take on the industry, keeping a blog going is a major plus. The TEFL Org has a weekly blog – you’re on it right now – and it’s a fantastic opportunity for us to discuss major trends within the TEFL industry, promote something we’re proud of, or cover frequently asked questions within the world of Teaching English.
Through a blog, you can even have guest posts from friends within the industry, you can advertise something new you’re doing, or just ascertain your “voice” that you use with clients, to inspire confidence.
We’re not saying it should be like LiveJournal in the mid-00s; nobody wants to know your favourite pop-punk albums and in what order. Keeping a TEFL-relevant blog, though, pays dividends.
Gumtree and other classified ads websites
Finally, we come to Gumtree, Craigslist and other classified ads websites. In the good ol’ days, you might’ve put a notice in the paper for English lessons, but it’s all online now.
Fine: it’s not as glossy or exciting putting up a classified advert as it is having a website, but the likes of Gumtree are still very useful. After all, people go on to these classified websites with a specific goal in mind: if they want to know how to teach English as a foreign language, and aren’t sure where to start, what better sight than your name and business popping up?
There’s still value in these things, whether you’re selling your sofa or trying to start a business. The likes of Facebook, Google et al are great, but there’s nothing wrong with adding to the number of eyes on your business through classified adverts on the internet.
Interested in finding out more about teaching English online? Check out our Definitive Guide to find out everything you need to know – from what qualifications you need, where to find jobs, and how much you can earn.