A few weeks ago I did an intense 2-part #GetStrategy training for online teacherpreneurs, and one of the questions I received prompted this post:

“I have no problem recruiting students on italki. Why can’t I do the same on my own site?”

This goes in line with other questions I have been asked where teachers wonder

  • why nobody wants their free trial lessons?
  • why people don’t buy lesson packages after their free trials?
  • what online teachers should do to be paid (more) when lessons are becoming a hard sell?

These are the questions I will attempt to answer today. Before diving into this whole sales-funnel discussion I must get us all on the same page about a new perspective that I believe online teachers should adopt.

A (relatively) short introduction and a disclaimer

As an online teacher with more than 6 years of running an online teaching business experience I have gone through different stages and have seen different trends in online education. What I share today is based on that very experience and on observing how the online teaching world is changing so rapidly and what teachers must really focus on if they intend to make this online teaching their long-term profession.

In order to scale their business, online teachers need to adopt a slightly different mentality these days, focusing more on marketing (i.e. reaching out and connecting with theirpotential students) rather than teaching itself. After all, the teaching part is easy: install skype >> get your headset (optional) >> schedule a lesson >> teach (I’m assuming the readers already have some teaching experience).

What’s more challenging is what we will discuss today – getting the students, offering a variety of learning packages, and making sure that you’re not going to lose on opportunities to make money when you run out of time to give lessons (or when you students will turn you down because you’re too expensive).

Question #1: How come nobody wants your free trial lesson?

Most teachers have this button on their websites, and it even gets clicked, but the conversion rate is pretty low. That means, that the number of students that actually do sign up for a free trial lesson that you have available on your website is much lower than expected.

Why is it so?

1. A lot of websites offer free trial lessons. They are no longer “the thing,” and so you need to wow your potential students before they are convinced that they want to sign up for your trial.

2. The consumer is much more knowledgeable these days than before. They know that by signing up for free trial lessons they will get only a small overview of what you can actually teach them (which is true). They also know that they will get a pitch, and if they’re not ready to sign up for a package why waste somebody else’s time?

3. It takes a lot of courage to sign up for a lesson. Having a lesson takes a person out of their comfort zone, no matter how much you convince them that online lessons are fun and easy. Plus, a free trial lesson means a schedule adjustment, a back-and-forth (maybe) or an embarrassment about how bad their English (or other language) is. Nobody wants that.

What shall you do about it?

Free trials are no longer as effective as they were, say, 5 years ago. When I started out I would receive several trial lessons inquiries a week, and I was a small, one-person operation. People were curious, and after the lesson they were ready to continue for at least a month (and then see how it goes).

As an online teacher and a marketer you might start thinking of a different magnet to attract your future students. What if you identify a problem that many students have and offer a unique solution in a short e-guide. Your potential students who’re scared of being embarrassed by signing up for your free trial will be more likely to download your guide and learn something new from you in a matter of so many minutes. An e-guide (e-book, video-training, etc.) offers so much more than a lesson because a potential student can receive several things at the same time that he wouldn’t have gotten from a free trial:

  • they get to evaluate whether or not you actually can solve their problem.
  • they get a feel for the quality of your content.
  • they develop a certain degree of trust towards you and the service you provide.

In his post about Selling to Millennials Vincent Carlos pointed out:

“The reason many businesses fail at marketing towards Millennials is simply because they don’t invest time into building genuine relationships with them.” (source)

Selling a free trial is a strategy that has almost no genuine relationship building component, plus it’s vague. You offer a free trial – and what’s in it? Are you going to help your student solve any specific problem? If you still continue offering a free trial you might consider changing the name so it is better packaged and has a specific objective that communicates its value to your potential student.

Question #2: Why don’t people buy lesson packages after their free trials?

So you had your free trial and then you sit there and wait, but the student never responds to you. That is definitely a huge blow to your ego and your pocket: is this student going to buy my services? Are we going to work together or not?

Here’re 3 possible explanations that keep this student from buying:

1. You may not have communicated your services well. When I coach online teachers I ask them about the process of disclosing their prices. Usually what happens is a student will ask them how much they charge per hour during the lesson, and the teachers are tempted to tell them right there and then. At that point the student has already made a decision (or, using the marketing vocabulary, they’ve made an emotional commitment) whether or not to sign up for classes, and no matter what deals they offer after the lesson, the student will stick to his/her commitment. Case in point: never disclose your price information during your free trial. In your free trial, try to show as much of your expertise as you can, teach your potential student something valuable. When asked about prices let them know that you have a variety of packages and you will email those to them as a follow-up.

2. Your follow-up is lousy. Let’s face it: not every teacher is ready to write a follow-up email. It’s good to have a ready-made template for follow-ups after the free trial so you include everything you need to include and don’t beat around the bush. Apart from that, you must include your price chart or the description of your packages as a separate document so the student can see that you’re serious about this business and offer slightly more than just “lessons.” If you wish to learn more about free trials (and check out the follow-up email template, among many other things) please read my article here.

3. Your packaging. The challenge for online teachers is not only marketing, but sales. Selling “lessons” isn’t as appealing because it’s hard to package them. If people want lessons they’ll go to some huge online market place, but if they came to your website they want something more. Packaging services into products is a challenge, but you need to learn to do that in order to sell your lessons. Think of what you do other than teaching: do you have a blog, do you provide your own materials, do you correct homework, etc.? Another issue might be that students think you charge too much for your lessons. This is when packaging becomes crucial. Think outside the box and make your teaching experience the best VIP service there is.

Question #3: What should online teachers do to be paid (more) when lessons become a hard sell?

We hear online teachers these days talk about creating courses, group classes, training sessions, seminars, e-books, etc. While creating a course or any other different product is definitely worthwhile and will help you raise your salary and keep the money coming in, the main challenge still remains: who’s going to buy it? When you work 1:1 you don’t have that huge a following to attract. You might sell your course to a couple of your 1:1 students a month, but how many new students do you pick up and how many of them will be willing to buy courses?

Here’s where list building becomes crucial. If you are an online teacher, have your own website and intend to be in this business for some time (and ideally move away from per-hour-wage strategy) you need to build a list. In a way, your list is your biggest asset because these are the people that are already interested in what you do and with some careful thinking and planning you can turn these people into your paying customers if you get to know them better, share your valuable insights and experience with them and create a product, program or service that fits their needs and budget. Selling really becomes easy when you have a large pool of prospects to sell to.

So where do you begin with your list-building?

There’re 3 options to think about (for more check out my free list builder manual and course at the end of the post).

  • Paid advertising (Facebook): this has a wide reach and can attract a lot of leads, but you will need to learn how to do it right. Before doing your Facebook campaign you might learn how to position your offer and how to build a sales funnel that will help you control your sales process.
  • Paid advertising (specific websites): this is usually a better option in that you don’t have to figure out how to make your ad seen. Choose the website that has a similar focus to your niche, but isn’t your competition. Such types of ads are better because you get a better traffic than facebook without having to learn the life-hacks. All you do is choose the right website. People will click on the ad and sign up for your free course or guide.
  • A free (or low-cost) e-course on Udemy or any other market place. This will not cost you anything, but if your course is really good you’ll be able to reach quite a bit of students. The downside of it is of course the fact that these students aren’t exactly on your list and you can’t directly promote to them. However, you can add your website and your social media information to your profile, so those who are interested in what you offer will definitely check them out.

Whether you do paid advertising or create a course your goal is to make an opt-in experience as easy as possible. To increase conversions think of a creative way to encourage people to sign up (create a magnet, like an e-guide or an e-course that will solve your potential students’ language problem/s).

I hope this post was helpful and informative. Do you know of teachers who struggle with selling their lessons on their own websites? Feel free to share this post with them. Want to learn more about email marketing for online teachers? Download my free list builder guide and get access to my free course here.

Elena Mutonono

You’ve been reading a guest post by Elena Mutonono

Elena Mutonono transforms teachers into teacherpreneurs. She runs email marketing training for online teachers, both in groups or in a 1:1 setting. Elena also does accent coaching for non-native English speakers. Check out her blog here.