A 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.
Since I have started to teach online back in the days every platform I used more or less stated that “This is a shared effort. We will go out there and find students, but you also have to try to get some on your own.” In most cases it boiled down to the fact that the platforms were not able to find enough interested students = clients unless they bribed them with huge discounts, free lessons and what have you. Right from the beginning, this set the wrong tone as those students were spoiled with low prices and would never pay full price down the road.
On the other hand, teachers were pretty much on their own in their marketing efforts, lesson planning and delivery etc. You can also say that they essentially wasted time and effort in a project that would never swim.
Which brings us to the ant and the grasshopper. The fable does not work 100%, but let’s put it this way. The ant worked hard and prepared for the winter, bringing in food and getting its home ready for the hard times to come. The grasshopper had better stuff, more fun stuff to do. It is not as if he did not work. He played the fiddle and had a jolly good time. But that work leads to a dead end, unfortunately.
The thing is, I have to state that I know too many promising and talented online teachers who wasted two or three years of their time on trying to make a platform-based concept work instead of concentrating on building their own business, their own client base, their own following / fans etc. That is actually great for those platforms, but not for the teachers.
Fortunately, there are also shining examples of teachers (ants) who really made it. Koichi is of course the über-rockstar, but there is also Nina from EnglishBrno who has managed to build a great business based in her home town and on the Internet.
I said it a thousand times: the key is to build your own brand on your own turf. Get a domain, start your own website and online shop. Lead social media efforts to your own home, not to your platform accounts, they come and go. Heck, even my favorite platform TeachStreet went belly up and was sold to Amazon. What do you think happened to all the teachers who relied on the leads from there and who did not build up their own marketing in the first place?
All those services, platforms and marketplaces are just features who might make your life easier in one way or the other, but never ever rely on them to get your business going. They don’t care about that, like it or not. You are on your own.
And if someone tells you the opposite, send him / her this video.
To give you one final item to think about: why do you think Udemy is doing rather well compared to similar services? Because they took the effort to find experts who already had a decent following and offered them a service that would make it easier for them to sell products in the form of self-paced online courses to those fans and followers.
The experts brought their clients with them and through “cross pollination” with the other experts and their following on the Udemy platform they were able to build a decent marketplace.
Picture: Illustrated by Milo Winter (1886-1956) (Project Gutenberg extext 19994) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons