Category Archives: Tutoring

Posts about freelance tutoring, solopreneurship and creating edtech startups.

Keep what you got

Keep what you got by giving it all away

If I’d tell you that the goal of every tutor is the success of her student you had to agree. The thing is that many tutors artificially hold back their students based on the fear of missing out. Revenue that is.

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on-demand tutoring

The Future of Tutoring: Cloud-based and On-Demand

As you might know, my career in education technology started on the consumer side as an online language tutor (I use the term coach) back in 2008. Skype was fairly new and had not hit the mainstream, Flash-based virtual classrooms were all the rage, and in hindsight, no one had a plan of how to make all this work.

Today Skype is already perceived as dated and new standards like WebRTC are poised to give live online education not only a new boost but finally push it to every desktop or mobile device. But there will be a huge difference between live online lessons in 2008 and those in the years to come.

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Tutors should not blog

Why Tutors should not Blog

I know, that from me, a blogger who started as a language coach back in the days. But that’s the point: been there, done that. If you ask me today as a tutor whether you should start a blog I’d say no. No because I know that you don’t want to blog because you want to keep an open diary of your ideas and experiences but because you want to market yourself and your classes.

If the latter is the case do yourself a favor and focus on strategies that will get you to your actual goal of selling lessons more quickly.

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Mental Bandwidth

The Battle for Attention and Mental Bandwidth

Time. The scarcest and most valued resource we have in a society that quickly shifts into an always on, always connected stage of existence. Yet, a growing group of services is trying to get our attention, may it be for just a couple of minutes or even seconds.

Time. The one thing we cannot scale or elongate. Sure, we can try to getup earlier and go later to bed. We can stay connected on our commute, at the dinner table or at the party. But there is still a natural limit. 24 hours are the maximum of time we can allocate.

And every minute you allocate to a task won’t be available for another one. Sure, you can “multitask” and catch up with the latest news via radio while taking a shower, brushing your teeth or having breakfast. But there is only so much you can do in a minute.

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Apps replace Tutors

Apps replace Tutors at an Increasing Speed – Here is Why

2013 was quite an interesting year in the edtech space. Though still massively overshadowed by MOOC Mania there have been parallel trends that are worth noticing. One of them being the revival of online tutoring.

I will start the new year with a detailed look back on my career for all of my readers who don’t know me from the start. Five years of blogging are a good occasion for that, I’d say. Just so much for now: my journey into education technology started on the user-side as online language tutor. And right from the start we got into the discussion about the perceived value of tutors and therefore the monetary return they could expect.

With more and more tutors entering the global marketplace and software is eating the world, let’s ask ourselves what is the value of a tutor in 2014 and beyond.

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Teaching Business is Personal

In Teaching Business is Personal

On Buzzfeed or Business Insider this post would be titled “10 Leadership Lessons I learned from watching the Godfather”. But as it is a) almost Christmas and b) I am henceforth a bit lazy I’ll give you just one lesson today. And it’s exactly the opposite of what the Godfather would tell you.

In teaching your business is personal. Never ever forget that. People will hire you and stick with you because of who you are as all the rest, the material and content is replaceable. Teaching is very personal which includes the following aspects.

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Economics of Online Tutoring

The Broken Economics of Online Tutoring

Recently, there have been lots of discussions going on around the monetary part of teaching on the Internet or being an independent tutor in general in the Edupreneurs Club. Being a recovering online coach myself I can absolutely relate to the problem of making a living as an independent educator. Yes, the economics of online tutoring are friggin’ hard.

The thing is this: I think many online tutors do not evaluate their underlying business model or, as one of the Club member put it, wonder if you are carrying buckets or building pipelines. My guess is that many tutors are carrying buckets with no bottom.

The following back of the envelope business plan is of course just one of many scenarios and you should run through this on your own based on what you would like to achieve with your independent tutoring service.

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edupreneurs should not give a damn about facebook

Why Tutors should not give a damn about Facebook

There are currently some interesting discussions going on in the Edupreneurs Club, I herewith put away my chef’s hat to share some of my thoughts.

One main topic is Facebook. Like Google, Facebook constantly changes the algorithm that decides which content will be surfaced in your news stream. In case you did not know, just because you like a certain page or are friends with someone does not mean that you will see all of their content shared or posted.

This often leads to a huge gap between the number of fans total and the number of people who actually see a post. Right now this gap seems to have become wider than ever which made some edupreneurs think whether it was at all worthwhile to invest their time and put the effort in updating their page and trying to grow their fans.

My short answer is no, it isn’t. Here is why.

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becoming a youtube partner

Advice on Multi Channel Networks and becoming a YouTube Partner

A fellow edupreneur wanted to know what the pros and cons of joining a MCN (multi channel network) on YouTube would be. Though you might have never heard of MCNs, you have probably watched content from one of the big ones, nevertheless. There is Revision3, Machinima, TasteMade and a handful of others that usually specialize in one or two particular verticals like gaming, food or comedy.

The premise of the big MCNs is to support creators in the creation of video content on the one hand and get better advertising deals and show sponsors on the other. Sounds good, but won’t work in education.

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Google Adsense Opium

Getting off the Google Adsense Opium

Hello, my name is Kirsten and I was a Google Adsense addict. Well, kind of. But at least I hopefully got your attention. When I started my online teaching brand back in early 2008 I was looking around the interwebs to find ways to generate revenue besides selling live lessons. I read a lot about “passive income” from guys like Joel Comm and ShoeMoney and implemented some of their tactics to Deutsch Happen, my online repository of short video lessons for German learners.

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Jerry Maguire blogging lessons: show me the money

Jerry Maguire Blogging Lesson: Show me the Money

Yesterday I watched one of my favorite movies again after a long time: Jerry Maguire. The hilarious “Show me the money” scene is as good as ever.

So when an Edupreneurs Club member shared an article on Facebook about Make Money Blogging (free backlink juice) today, I thought it might be a good idea to explain the difference between blogging and online marketing.

Because that is what most of these blogs are all about, online marketing – crafting copy to sell (virtual) goods. Blogging is a totally different animal but often gets confused with the latter.

So let’s start with a definition (my definition) of blogging.

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youtube paid channel subscriptions

More Signs for Paid YouTube Channel Subscriptions Appear

There have been rumors about paid channel subscriptions on YouTube for a couple of months, but now there is evidence for that in the code of the YouTube Android app. Which is by the way a good example of why it could be interesting to learn how to code. The journalism of the future might very well be about finding evidence hidden in code.

YouTube also confirmed to CNet that they were looking into new ways for content creators to monetize on their videos besides ad revenue and rentals and that paid subscriptions would be probably part of this strategy.

Of course, YouTube says that they are not prepared to announce anything in the near future but that should not hold you back to come up with a YouTube strategy if you haven’t one, already.
So let me sum this up again: why do I think that YouTube is one of the must be places for edupreneurs?

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wayne's world

Adsense and Tutors – Pros and Cons

wayne's worldFellow edupreneur Sylvia Guinan asked if using Adsense to monetize personal blogs or websites in education actually makes sense. As the answer is a bit more complex I decided to put my answer in a blog post.

There are basically two schools of monetizing educational content. One says that you should rather focus on selling your own stuff on your website(s) blog instead of giving up valuable screen real estate to other vendors. This is also tied to the notion that you should try to keep each visitor on your site as long as possible instead of giving him/her a quick possibility to exit and likely having them buy stuff at a competitors site.

That said, most edupreneurs don’t have much to sell but their online or offline lessons. I know few who go through the trouble of creating downloadable or even physical content that visitors might want to purchase.

Hence, the second school of thought says any money is good money. If you are not going to convince the visitor to buy a lesson with you, you might as well profit and earn some cents through a click on a banner ad.

To me, both options are valid, and as I am in the position of maintaining several blogs and websites I basically use different approaches at the same time.

Different blog, different audience, different approach

Long time readers of KW will remember that even this blog used to have Adsense on it until I decided against it. You can read my post about it in the archives. On the other hand, my Deutsch Happen project is heavily monetized by Google Adsense, so is my latest blog Fair Languages. EDUKWEST has advertisements on it but no Adsense. So let’s break it down for the individual cases.

KW is my personal blog and I don’t feel that ads match this approach. In this case I could also wear branded clothing like sports professionals and insert advertisements in my daily conversations, just like Wayne and Garth.

It just does not feel right thus I decided against it. These days, I don’t even promote my own services heavily on this blog which may change again but I have not made up my mind about it yet.

Deutsch Happen started in 2008 as a side project of my online teaching. On the one hand, I wanted to build my personal brand as German teacher, on the other hand, I used the videos as additional resource for my students in between live lessons. Similar to Salman Khan I saw a rising interest in my videos, so I thought monetizing them might be a nice additional source of revenue. As we all know, Sal never monetized his videos but he also had some cash in the bank from his Wall Street days.
Deutsch Happen monetizes its content in two ways, Adsense on the website and Adsense displayed in the video lessons. The revenue isn’t great but also somewhat an excuse for me to keep on going with the project. Video production is time and cost intensive and doing it completely for free does not fit my hefty schedule anymore.

Fair Languages is a resource site for language learners. Hence, leading our readers to new and interesting language learning products is part of the experience. This can be done via links in reviews or, of course, advertisement on the blog. One way is to generate money is to sell ad spaces to interested companies in the language learning space. Moreover, we display Adsense in the spaces that are not booked.

EDUKWEST is a premium brand as it is very production heavy. It implies that I only accept premium advertisers that match the brand and who are willing to pay a premium price to reach the EDUKWEST audience. Which brings us to the pros and cons of Adsense.

Pros and Cons of Adsense

The pro is of course that it is pretty much “set it and forget it” or “passive income” as they used to call it back in the days. As soon as you are accepted to the Adsense program it is pretty easy to embed the code and get things rolling.

The con is that you don’t have much influence about what people will see in the ad space(s) on your site. It might be related but it could also be Asian dating sites, how to lose belly fat or cheap pharmaceuticals. There are possibilities to go under the hood of Adsense and block certain sites but I think that this is work that does not pay off.

Sylvia also asked if ads interfere with the site and its content. Again, it depends. If you take a look at Fair Languages I think we found a nice way to integrate the ads. As the site is pretty heavy on photos, the ads fit in nicely without disturbing the user’s experience on the site. I suppose, most people don’t even (actively) see them.

Deutsch Happen is much more “in your face” but the site also dates back four years now and does not run on WordPress. Redesigning the site would not make much sense and also potentially screw up our search ranking, so we leave it as it is.

Is it worth the effort?

The above brings us to the biggest problem of Adsense in education. Quite frankly, it does not pay much. Adsense is based on the content it is embedded into and advertising rates in education are pretty low. If you have a blog about insurances you can make up to $50 a click, in education you are lucky to get $1 once in a while. Most clicks are worth between $0.01 and $0.05.

If you take the old rule of thumb that among 100 visitors one of them will click on an ad you can easily predict what your blog or website might generate based on your monthly visitors. I hope you are tracking it! Also keep in mind that Google pays out your earnings based on a €75 / $100 threshold per month. As a result it might take you some months until you get something in your bank account.

Bottom line: I think it is worth to experiment with Adsense. You can’t really break anything and it will get you a better feeling of what your brand is worth. Another positive side effect is that marketers who see that you are monetizing your blog with Adsense may contact you and offer some direct advertising as well. I usually got offers for $80 to $100 for a text link on my blog.


Playing in Someone Else’s Sandbox Rules May Change

SandboxOne of the major topics among edupreneurs, online marketers, blogger and others relying on Facebook traffic is the recent change in what fans actually see popping up in their news stream. I wanted to title this post “Waahaa – Cry Babies want their Facebook traffic back!” but that would have been a bit unfair ;). Nevertheless, I think the issue has been blown way out of proportion.

Let’s start with the basics. When a platform is new the first priority is to get as many users as possible. Therefore the rules are pretty much beneficial for the users. It makes you use the product and hopefully get you to the point where you can’t live without it. A bit like selling crack-cocaine.

Facebook has given page owners a free ride for many years, driving the traffic away from Facebook to their own sites. Now ask yourself, is that something you would do with your blog or platform? Your goal is to keep your users on your site, not leading them away from it to other sites, right? So why on earth should Facebook do it without any benefit?

On top of that Facebook is now a publicly traded company, e.g. they have an earnings call with Wall Street analysts every couple of months. People invest in Facebook on the terms that the social network grows its revenue. Hence, it makes even less sense for them to give you free traffic.

Let’s say you are one of the people who have spent time and effort on building your brand outside of Facebook over the years you were most likely not shocked at all or even surprised as it (or something similar) happened before and will happen again. The thing is, you are constantly playing in someone else’s sandbox and surprise: it’s not you who makes the rules. Here are two examples.


If you spent time on trying to get your page ranking on Google for related search terms you might have been hit by the infamous Panda update back in early 2011. It was so bad that it took out two big players in the education space, my favorite platform TeachStreet and the just newly refocused Mahalo. And even today algorithm changes affect startups. Just read the latest New York Times article on the matter.


Like Google, YouTube is experimenting a lot with new ways to display and surface “relevant” content on the platform. I have been hit by the changes at least three times with my Deutsch Happen channel over the past years and even big YouTube stars like Mystery Guitar Man saw huge drops in audience and hence revenue.

But you know that all of the platforms offer you to get traffic in return. Google has Adwords, YouTube lets you promote videos and Facebook now lets you promote posts. Hence, if you really, really want (need) the traffic, there is an option for you.

As a long time reader of this blog you will know that I have always advocated that edupreneurs need to learn about the processes behind the scenes of technology they use. If you have at least a bit of an idea on how funding or even an IPO affects the destiny of a startup you cannot be surprised by such changes.

In August 2010 Andrew Lewis coined a phrase that is still true today:

If you are not paying for it, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.

Have you ever sat down and truly asked yourself if you were willing to pay for Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or any other free service you are using on a regular basis? If the answer is “No, I won’t pay” then you have to ask yourself whether the startup actually built something meaningful at all. Which leads to the next question that when you don’t see any real value in the service, why should others?

A handful of edupreneurs like André Klein, Koichi and myself have always preached that you need to invest into your own website (sandbox) as it is the only place you are truly in charge of. All the rest is nice as long as it works and if it stops working you simply move on. The goal is that you need to get your audience to come to your site on their own because they want to, not because they might see a Twitter, YouTube or Facebook update pop up in their cluttered stream.

If you want to have something that catches their attention, get them to sign up for a newsletter. This way you are directly in their inbox as long as they choose to be on the list. You want direct contact, not filtered through a middleman.

Facing the Realities

On the other hand, the new Facebook algorithm might also have some positive side effects as it clears up the news stream from all the noise.

As a side note, when I take a look at both the reach and engagement graphs of my established pages Kirsten Winkler, EDUKWEST, Deutsch Happen and Deutsch Sprechen I have not noticed any significant drop in either graph on any of the four pages mentioned. The only drops I see are the ones I am familiar with, e.g. not updating the page or usually on weak days like Saturday.

All in all the number of likes your page got never reflected the actual number of engaged fans, anyway. The same is true for Twitter followers and YouTube subscribers. It’s a vanity number, nothing more. The new actual number of people “seeing” your Facebook page update also reflects how many people really visit your page or group in the first place. Taking the Edupreneurs Club as an example we have 200+ members but each posts gets seen by 7 to a maximum of 35 members. And that’s about the engagement I noticed over the months. There are about 10 active members and some lurkers. The rest joined but never came back.

This means, if people choose to visit your page anyway on a daily or weekly basis by clicking on the link on the left side, then all is well. If they just liked your page and never returned, anyway then you didn’t lose anything at all. You just get a realistic number of how many people actually care about your stuff. And yes, sometimes reality hits you hard, bro.

Picture by waterbridge via Morguefile


Paying it Foward means You give a Loan not a Gift


I feel that I need to explain the phrase “paying it forward” a bit as I am pretty sure that most people think about it as an altruistic move, a gift in the hope that someday, someone will come and pay back. Spoiler: that’s a fairy tale.

You read and probably will read about this concept a lot. I wrote about it just last week, André Klein wrote about it on Learn Out Live and many successful entrepreneurs in the Valley are talking about how paying forward eventually landed them good jobs and other opportunities.

What they and I did not tell you is the mindset you need in order to make “paying it forward” work. It’s not about serendipity, it’s about business. Paying it forward means that you are giving the other person a loan that you expect to get back with interest on top. And this means that you need to calculate the risk of paying it forward in the first place.

First of all, can I afford it? Working for free takes away time that you could use to earn money right away. Therefore, you need to ask yourself if there is a chance that the time you invest in a project or person is going to result in revenue or another opportunity down the road.

Secondly, are there other side effects of paying it forward that might help you to achieve other goals? Will the work strengthen your personal brand, will you reach new potential customers or are there other positive outcomes on the horizon?

Those are of course all factors you cannot predict without fail, but you should be able to see if there is the potential that something might result out of it.

Going back to my post about Today’s Campus, I could not predict that making 200+ video interviews and other webcasts would lead me to becoming Innovation Editor but I knew from the start that it would help me build my brand in the online education space which would lead to some opportunities like joining startups as advisor, offer consulting services or talk on events, eventually. It was a calculated investment with a medium risk as I invested the time and effort in my own project. Nevertheless, it took away (a lot of) time that I could have used to teach online or work on an online course etc.

Second example: building this blog eventually led to paid columns on other blogs which besides the obvious monetary effect also helped to build my overall reputation. But again, blogging and building an audience took time that I could have used to generate revenue as an online teacher.

To sum this up: always evaluate your potential return before you get engaged into paying it forward, especially when you get involved in a project that is not yours. At least unless you are absolutely fine with investing time and effort without any potential (financial or reputational) outcome but Karma points for the afterlife.


Put it all on Blue or Split your Bet – Thoughts on Facebook Marketing

RouletteOn Saturday a group of members from the Edupreneurs Club got together in a Google+ Hangout. Initially I thought we would be talking about the different online payment systems and the need for platforms as a middle man or better put to put the middle man out, but a big chunk of our talk was dedicated to Facebook and if it is worth putting time and effort into the social network.

After we finished our talk a lot of comment threads around the topic have popped up in the Edupreneurs Club. George Machlan of My ESL Friends stated

I guess that I was surprised how little our community of Edupreneurs like/respect FB. I too have serious concerns about the value of FB, but is it simply that we have not learned how to effectively use it?

Mau Buchler from Tripppin wrote

After the G+ hangout in which we trashed platforms and expressed our disdain for FB as a marketing tool, I got to thinking: FB is a platform, but we seem to fail in using it as a marketing tool for education because, in part, that’s not what its operational structure was built for. Nevertheless, it works pretty well for what it was built for: sharing info.

and Jason Levine aka Fluency MC commented

Underestimating the power of FB is a dangerous thing, indeed…

As you can see, we got a mixed bag of comments around Facebook and its impact on our online teaching businesses. So let me add my two cents to the stack.

First of all, I think we need to step back and ask ourselves: what is the reason we are using Facebook. I have the feeling that many edupreneurs are afraid to say “I want to make money.” – but if this is the reason you are on Facebook with a page, group or personal profile then the measurement for Facebook’s efficiency is what ends in your pocket or PayPal account.

If you got thousands of likes / fans but you are not able to sell something to these people, then Facebook does not deliver and probably makes no sense to spend time = money on. As André Klein pointed out for him the Facebook conversion sucks (pardon my French) and I can state the same. A like on a picture or video or survey does not convert into cold cash hence if making money is your goal, Facebook fails.

Let’s think about those likes for a second. Firstly, most people on Facebook don’t take a qualified decision before they click the like button. It’s like people on Twitter who follow thousands of people – it is impossible for them to actually know what is going on in their stream. And if people like 100 or more brands / pages on Facebook you can imagine what their news stream looks like. Your message = new article / video or what ever simply get buried underneath an avalanche of kitten pictures, inspirational quotes and marketing talk. If you don’t get spammy and post an update every five minutes there is no realistic chance that your message gets through. Plus Facebook only shows your update to a part of your fans which again lowers your chances.

This means only your core group of true fans who visit your page or group “by hand” are the ones who count here. And I can say that for my 2150 Deutsch Happen fans it boils down 25 true fans = 1%. If I add the 4800 subscribers of the Deutsch Happen YouTube channel to the total number it only gets worse.

And even if you set your goals lower and “only” want to drive traffic to your website or blog Facebook often does not deliver, either. And it’s obvious as Facebook does not want their users to leave the site. FB has done everything possible to train users not to feel the need to leave the platform in order to get what they want on the Internet. Hence, the winner is always Facebook – you create and deliver the content and Facebook is profiting. The return for you and your brand is marginal.

Does that mean you should call it a wrap and leave Facebook? No, basically you can’t as everyone who is not on Facebook today automatically seems to be kind of weird. Also, it is important to stake out your claim in the social media landscape. Even if you are not planning to use it right away it is important that the account belongs to you. A good example is the evolution Google went through in the past months. Hangouts did not exist a year ago and on Saturday we had our Edupreneurs Club meeting on it. Linking it to the E-Teachers Academy YouTube account then allowed me to stream it live and record the talk with only one click. All because I secured the different social media assets (Twitter, Facebook, YouTube & Google) years ago.

Hence, even if Facebook is not performing the way you actually want it to you cannot risk to do nothing. But you need to decide how much work you are willing to put into the social network risking that it might never play a major role for your business.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote an article about Facebook’s potential to create a true world currency with Facebook credits. And though they dropped those credits in favor of third party payment options I still think that it is possible that Facebook can become an e-commerce powerhouse. All it takes are some big brands that train their customers to buy via Facebook which also means that the payment process needs to become far more frictionless, similar to Amazon’s “One Click” payments.

As soon as this happens people will also shop around for other offers, e.g. the stuff you offer via the social network. That’s why I started the experiment with André Klein and set up a market page for my Deutsch Happen project.

To sum this up: in most edupreneurial use cases Facebook stinks as it has no interest in sharing its user base with you. Likes are vanity numbers that basically mean nothing when it comes to true engagement and sales. Nevertheless, Facebook is still a crucial part of your social media marketing mix, just don’t get high on the numbers and split your bet / time on other tables as well. And always put the biggest chunk on your own table / website. If you make the rules you will always win.

In my next post I will talk about social proof and how these Facebook likes might be not as useless as they appear to be after finishing with this post.

Below you can watch the recording of the Edupreneurs Club Hangout.

Picture by The Jenson Society, NY, 1910 [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

becoming a YouTube Partner

Is a YouTube Channel a Key Success Factor for Edupreneurs?

YouTube PartnerMy old friend George has just rebooted his Edupunk / My ESL Friends venture with the premise to finally earn a living from teaching English on the Internet. Hurray to that!

Of course, offering live classes on the web that have a price tag attached to them is a magnitude more difficult than offering them for free and even free classes are often not overbooked if we take a look around the various platforms that still exist.

So he asked for some ideas to market the classes in our Edupreneurs Club on Facebook (if you are interested to talk about making money teaching online and professional exchange in general, that’s the place to go and we are always happy about new members and their input).

My advice was to use YouTube as a marketing funnel, and as I think the reasoning behind might be of interest to the readers of my blog as well, here is a slightly extended version of my answer.

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Follow the Money – Be an Egoist to become an Altruist

Here is a short one, but I’ll work out this thought in a lengthier post this week. I see many educators creating content in order to support learners from less favored corners of the earth. They want to make this world a better place.

Though this is an admirable attitude, it also often leads to dead ends and the shut-down of promising projects. The reason: no money comes in.

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Easy Button

Sorry, but No, You CAN’T Make Money Online NOW

Easy ButtonSomehow I ended up where it had all begun, life goes in circles, I guess. The post featuring the ant and the grasshopper seems to have struck the nerve of the edupreneurs out there, it even landed on the agenda of tomorrow’s review:ed with Christopher Dawson.

What caught my attention and what serves as a basis for this post is a blog post by Dr. Nellie Deutsch over at the WizIQ blog titled “Make Money Teaching Online Now!”. Though probably great for search engine ranking, I have to say that the title and blog post are somewhat misleading. I am also not sure which kind of online educator it tries to target.

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Ant and the Grasshopper

The Ant and the Grasshopper – Why (most) Teaching Platforms fail

Ant and the GrasshopperA good friend asked for some advice where to find teaching platforms or portals in the ESL space that actually attract paying students. The problem is that he is not asking the right question.

The question has to be “How can I attract more students.” – The platform you deliver the actual lesson on does not matter at all if you are not able to get students on your own. Guess what: platforms don’t care about that part of the deal.

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