How To Grow Your Online (Teaching) Business Without Becoming a Self-Promoter»
Leaving the Sinking Ship
I’ve heard many times from my colleagues that they feel society doesn’t give enough respect to their teaching efforts and that this is reflected in their salaries and in the way schools are organized.
Classes are over-filled. Budgets are cut. Staff is overworked.
This is why many teachers are looking for other teaching opportunities online.
For some it’s a refreshing awakening into a world of endless possibilities. Others simply don’t know where to start!
In my recent book “How To Teach Online Without Selling Your Soul” I portray the picture of the independent online teacher, who works not for a school or for a company but only for the benefit of himself and her students.
This is to guarantee a maximum of flexibility and minimize certain financial or professional compromises one might face while working in a more conservative environment.
Sizing Up The Elephant
Many people start out by registering in one of these online teaching marketplaces that claim to connect teachers looking for students with students looking for teachers. This is what I did, too.
Sometimes you have to pay a fee just to get listed (don’t sign up!) and others are free but even then, after a while you begin to wonder why you are paying relatively high commissions while the marketplace provider doesn’t really seem to be doing anything!
And after a while you might find yourself in a shockingly similar position like the one you tried to escape by going online: Salaries are low. You feel that your hard work is not appreciated. Only now, it’s worse. You don’t simply have lessons on a consistent basis. No! Now you have to compete with hundreds of other teachers, each self-promoting themselves to death and pushing prices down while all that you get from the marketplace provider is some measly rating-system and a not-always-fully-functioning virtual classroom software. (I’m sure hat not all online teaching marketplaces are bad, but I simply haven’t seen one that is awesome, either!)
Looking at all of this in retrospect, it is hard for me to understand why I put up with it in the first place.
One of the obvious reasons is that the marketplace provider promises to hook you up with students. But even then, it’s not like you get something for free. You have to work hard just to get started teaching.
So in the end, it’s not less likely that students will find you if you aren’t listed on the marketplace. Instead it will be more likely for them to find you if you go independent!
“But that means that I have to do all of this evil marketing, right?”, many people ask.
This is what I though first. But actually, you can’t sink lower than fighting directly or indirectly with your colleagues over who “gets” a student can you? Shouldn’t we have some sense of self-respect? We are supposed to be educators, no?
So, yes. You can only win by leaving the marketplace. And, in fact, it’s not that you’re actually leaving it. You’re entering the real market, instead. (Many online learning marketplaces try to make you feel that you’re lost without them. That’s bogus!)
Standing on The Market With Cold Hands And Wet Feet
Now you’ve left. Gone, the warm and fuzzy feelings of the forum. You’ve left the herd. Now what?
Maybe you’ve already built a little homepage somewhere and installed a contact form and payment buttons.
But what to do next? Should you put yourself on the pedestal and start shouting “Lessons!!! Lessons!!! Education for Everyone!!!”
Do you have millionds of dollars of spend on advertising. No, sir.
So, what to do? After all, you’re not a marketer, right?
And my answer is: If you’re a great teacher, you’ll be a natural at “marketing”, not in the way economics students think but in a more essential and original way!
“How I learned to stop worrying and Love the Market”
The skills which make business people succeed in the “market” and teachers succeed in the classroom aren’t as different as they might seem at first glance.
In order to sell something you have to make your potential buyers see the value.
In order to teach something, especially if it’s difficult, the learners has to see a certain value in what is being taught, and if this perceived value isn’t there, the teacher has to help create it.
In other words: If you’re teaching algebra and your students don’t care about it you have to advertise it.
If people are already wildly interested in what you got to teach, you’re lucky.
It’s the same for starting your online teaching business.
You have to find ways to get people interested.
And, since you’re an awesome teacher you know that bending the truth won’t help. Empty promises and approaches like 100% money back guarantee won’t cut it. You have to actually make them feel the value!
This is why immediately after having set up your homepage you should start a blog! Get accustomed to posting consistently (hard at first, easier later) and try to let people see the value that you (hopefully) perceive in what you do.
Sometimes I wish that my high school teachers would have had to do this as part of their training. Because when you start to write a blog about what you do you start to think differently about it.
You start to ask questions like:
- “What is it that I have to give?”
- “Why should anyone bother listening to me?”
- “Would I be interested in this person?”
- “How can I make this more interesting?”
And it is at this point that you start doing the real “marketing”. Even if noone read your articles you still would have the advantage of having asked yourself those questions and come up with new creative ways of thinking and doing.
Self-Promotion vs Service Promotion
We all hate selfish people. The self-promoter is the worst kind of them. Because they don’t ever seem to shut up about how great they are. Especially on Twitter on Facebook this species has found a new breeding ground.
So, while many people recommend that if you market something online it should be personal – (making it too impersonal would be pretty bad and boring, so this is a no-brainer) – don’t make it all about you!
And this is actually a very important point. For, if you go independent and you write a blog about what you do, trying to make people see the value and get to take lessons with you, there is no school, headmaster or Ministry of Education to hide behind.
This is certainly true and this is why many online teachers start promoting their person, buying a domain with their name and taking it from there.
While that’s not really a bad idea I would actually suggest not to focus too much on your person. To keep you from falling into this black hole of navel-gazing and tooting your own horn, come up with a project title, give your website a funny name and inject it with your personality, instead.
This way you can keep the doors open for new ideas (and other people) and you won’t get in the way of your own progress.
Something that I can’t fully explain is that when you don’t make everything about you you are infinitely more resourceful. It’s the same phenomenon that when other people are in need of help we can give lots of advice but when we suffer from the same thing ourselves we are as helpless as the beetle on its back.
Call it altruism or whatever. It works.
Again: Don’t be afraid of filling your project with personality.
But don’t make it all about you!
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