Selling for freelance ESL Teachers

A month or so ago I surveyed freelance ESL teachers, and almost 74% of respondents said they were struggling to bring in new clients/students.

That’s a big number, and it should encourage you! If you are struggling to sell your services, you’re not alone!

Great! But not being alone won’t help me pay the bills, will it?

No it won’t, but maybe a few tweaks to how you approach sales will help.

You’re a teacher, but you’re also a salesperson. “I’m in sales.” That’s not something most teachers say when they’re asked what they do, is it? Think about your own response if someone asks you what you do. What do you say? “I’m an English teacher.” Or “I’m a teacher.” Pretty common responses, right? That’s likely what I would say too.

Consider this: if you are a teacher, you are a full-time sales person, and you likely already rock at it!

“Ha! Right!” You say.  “I suck at sales. I’m struggling to get new clients. My empty bank account is proof that I’m a terrible salesperson.”

Hang in there for a minute. You did read right. I said you likely already rock as a salesperson, but maybe you haven’t noticed it before. Here’s a hint: Your most common marketplace is your classroom, and your product is the Simple Present tense, or a new vocabulary word. (Or whatever else you are trying to sell…I mean teach.)  Your customers are your students.

You are already a salesperson! Here are 4 ideas to help you transfer your rockstar sales skills over to making money!

1. Qualify your Prospects!  You don’t want to try to do business with everyone who may want English classes, just like you don’t want to teach an unorganized crowd of students. Think about how your class is organized for a minute: in most circumstances, your students are organized according to their skill level, fluency skills, and overall ability with English, right? You hopefully won’t have a beginner student sitting in on your advanced conversation group. In other words, your students are qualified or screened before they are assigned a class. (Or they should be!)

The same is true for your sales efforts. Don’t try to catch everyone! Instead, start by filtering your prospects. Look for:

A. Can they afford you? State your fees clearly in your marketing and website if you have one. Don’t make prospects call/write you to find out how much you charge. That sucks!  If your prospect knows how much you charge, they can decide if they can fit you into their budget or not, and you’ll save time (most of the time) by not having to explain how much you charge – they will know before they call you.

 B. Do they have the time to work with you? When you communicate with your prospect, be sure to convey optimal class times with them. Perhaps you could point out that you structure your classes to 2 days a week of 1.5 hours each class. (If you do, of course.) Let your prospect know how much time per week/month they should commit to working with you, and inform them of your cancellation policy. (Yes, you should have one.) That way you will help them notice if they ‘have too much work on their plate right now’ to start classes with you. It’s terribly frustrating to get a student to start with you only to have them cancel after a few classes because they just can’t keep up with their workload AND your classes.

2. Focus on Building Relationships. Do you cold call your students? Or do you take time to build a warm relationship with them before AND as you start teaching? I bet you are a great teacher who works hard to create and nurture warm relationships with the people you teach. You likely don’t just dive into your lesson without taking the time to ‘visit’ with your class first, right?

“How was your weekend?” “What are you working on this week, any big projects?” “How was your trip over the weekend?”

Great teachers know that teaching is all about building relationships with their students, and selling your services is too. Don’t jump to the sale, even if you are feeling desperate for one. Take a few minutes to build rapport with your prospect before you begin talking business.

You can easily and quickly build rapport with a prospect by: 1. Showing up to your meeting with them 5 minutes early. (NEVER late.) 2. Dress the part. If this is a business setting, dress they way you see others in the company dressing. (You should visit the location before hand if you can and observe.) Follow their dress code. 3. Make sure you look together – visit the bathroom before you meet your prospect, is your hair in place? Nothing hanging from your teeth? Tie on straight? Check! That’s part of the idea of arriving early. 4. Make sure your breath is not toxic. Chew some gum or suck on a breath mint before your meeting – and spit it out before your prospect arrives. 5. Make great eye contact, and have a firm handshake.

When you’re in the meeting, take time to interact with your prospect. Do you see pictures of family members on their desk? A picture from a trip? A cool sculpture or painting? Mention it. Ask about it. Engage in ‘small talk’ a bit.

Teach them how you work. You are the expert about how you work. You better be able to explain the material you use, and why. Can you talk about your methodology, and why you use it? Can you discuss the administration side of your work? How reports and exams will be, and when they can expect them? Know your business inside and out, and be ready to teach it to your prospect. Always check for questions.

Close the deal. If you do a great job on qualifying your prospects, building relationship with them, and teaching them about how you work, the final stage of closing the deal should come naturally.

After you’ve explained how you work, and they signal there are no more questions, calmly take them to the next step – try saying something like: “If you have no more further questions, would you like to set up a free demo class for this Thursday at 7:30a.m. so you can see how it feels to work with me?”  Basically, assume the close will happen. If they aren’t ready to say yes, patiently go through the previous steps again. Check, or probe for more questions.

After your demo class: After you rock your demo class, and you will, check with your prospect about how they felt. Also ask them if they have any more questions after working with you. Do your best to answer any and every question they may have, and then….drum roll…..close the REAL DEAL. If they indicate happiness with your demo class, and that they have no questions, feel free to invite them to start working with you like this: I have Tuesdays and Thursdays open at X. When would you like to begin?

Over to you: how have you started new classes with prospects?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s