Be a Private English Teacher: Business Skills I have learned

Photo by @Agence Olloweb

Photo by @Agence Olloweb

I've learned some new skills since moving abroad teaching English. Since I did not study business, the concept of teaching English as an individual business never really crossed my mind. Sure, I knew teaching English makes a lot of money, but it was not until I made a few mistakes that I realized I would need to improve my business skills. On top of all the travel, life, and teaching skills I have learned, I can now add many business skills. I have realized being a successful private English teacher it involves a lot of entrepreneur skills. So here are ten skills/facts I’ve learned thus far:


1. Time is money, and until you work for yourself, you don't see the ins and outs or have a lot of control. When you work for someone else, you don't make your hours or set prices for how much your skills are worth. When you are a private English teacher, you have to factor prep time, transportation time(walking, metro, and more walking), and between 1-2 hours per class. Time is money, realize this.


2. Hold to contracts, even if they are verbal agreements or over texts. Better yet, something I have now learned, get everything in writing and make sure everything is understood. Agree on what is acceptable for missing class or being late. Make it a two-way street. If you are late, charge less for the agreed amount per hour. If the student is tardy- charge more to teach past the hour(if you have the time) or don't teach past the hour. No show, make it clear that you will still charge for these classes. As a private English teacher, operate the same as a business or academy. For an academy, you pay upfront for your classes, if you miss your time, that's your waste.

This past summer, I agreed to teach a college student Monday-Friday for one hour during June. A weekly gig meant a serious amount of monthly income, and I was excited to give lessons to a true beginner. The student was late or missed class and told me short notice practically every day. There was conflict about his tardiness and absence, and the student quit. It happened before the month finished after 3rd week. I demanded the father pay me for his son's last-minute canceled classes and upcoming classes. Remember, time is money. Be firm and don't be allowed to be pushed around. While the father didn't end up paying me for the last week of classes, he paid for the classes his son missed. I'm going to hound on it again, "get it in writing" and "time is money."


3. Be easy-going with your long term private-classes. One of the privates that I give business lessons over skype will sometimes cancel day-of. Sometimes life happens, and I have to cancel on her too. She pays me in advances over the Spains version of Venmo, called Bizum. Which brings me to a future post, "Be legal while Teaching in Spain."


4. Find out your countries mobile transfer banking system. Venmo isn't always available, and being able to request your payments for classes is very helpful. With a click of a button, you can request and receive payments for your classes, so you never have to worry about getting paid. Some systems have reminders for the payee if they still don't click the accept charge button. To keep track of payments and classes, make a simple spreadsheet to track money received and past lessons.


5. Reputation is everything. If you give great private lessons and are professional, chances are they will share your contact information.

It is especially true in Bilbao, País Vasco, and Spain because of the culture here. Spain is a high-context culture, an intercultural communication principle that a culture that has high family values. Other high-context countries that will impact private English classes are Mexico, Greece, Araba, African, and Chinese. So arrive on-time, give great lessons and reap the rewards.


6. Be different. There are so many ESL teachers around the world.

One of the fantastic things about ESL, I think EFSP or English for Specific Purposes. Not everyone who teaches ESL comes from a brick and mortar school, aka public or private k-12 teaching. Use your previous experiences to teach private classes in the field of your degree or past work experiences. Using gorilla marketing, make a basic poster offering lessons in English for specific purposes.

This upcoming school year, now that I'm legal and starting for the start of the school year, I will be doing this. If you are in Spain, you will soon find out or already know that there is a saturation of teachers on websites like TusClases. These teachers are also usually here illegal and drive down the cost of lessons. Also, this goes for Facebook posts. While Facebook is a great place to get private lessons, unless your the first few people to comment, it can be difficult. So be unique and be different than everyone else.


7. Set limits of what you will teach for what you will charge. If the student or family increases what they want out of the classes, either say no or increase your rate.


8. Charge about the same as your competition. It will vary by cost of living, supply, and demand. By cutting your price, you are hurting everyone else. Don't undercharge and charge for your service provided. If you are new to town, network with other ESL teachers to find out how much they get paid per hour. Figure out how to be different and charge the highest amount and back it up with how your classes are better. You are TEFL certified, and you are a professional.


9. Don't be scared to say no. If you come across a gig that involves complicated or long transportation time, you will dread giving these classes. In the long run, it will affect your mood at the private, thus leading to a bad reputation. And word gets around quick. So say no or make it work in your favor by providing the courses online. Say no if you are too busy or swamped. If you don't have the time to put in your full effort, it will hurt your reputation. If you're already able to pay your bills, it's not worth it to ruin your reputation giving another class you don't have the time.


10. You have to figure every local person you meet could be your next client. Therefore make sure to conduct yourself with this in mind when you're out and about.


Be curious. Be courageous. Be chivalrous.