Focus on Your Market

A Myth every Self-employed ESL Teacher Must Bust to Succeed

There is a powerful myth that sits quietly on your shoulders right now if you are a self-employed ESL teacher. You can’t see it, but you can feel it and hear it if you listen carefully.

This myth is holding you back right this instant, and it needs to be destroyed, and never allowed to sit on your shoulder again. Do you want to know what this myth is?

Myth: “I need to work with every single person who requires my services!” This myth speaks the loudest when you’re first getting started, doesn’t it? It screams at you and grips your chest with nervous fear every time you look at your cash starved bank account, when all you have left is $9.47.

“Get anyone!” “Take anyone’s money who is willing to pay you for your work!” “Do it yesterday!” It screams.

Do yourself a favor. Stop listening to this lie. It’s fear based, and it will cripple you in the future.

Instead, you need to switch yourself out of fear mode, and believe me, I know exactly how this feels and how scary it really can be when you need to bring in clients and fast. But stick with me for a second. Breathe.

Short-term thinking that is fear based, like ‘I have to work with ANYONE’ may help put cash into your hands today, but it will end up slowing you down and actually COSTING you more money in the future. I’ll explain that in just a minute.

Even though this myth screams loudly, to really succeed as a self-employed/freelance ESL teacher, you need to first think carefully about WHO you want to serve.

Define your Market. Who do you want to work with as a self-employed ESL teacher? Remember: “I want to work with everyone who needs to learn English” is the wrong answer.

You need to be laser focused about who you want to work with. Chances are, you already have worked with the group of people who will end up being your ‘niche’ or target market.

Think carefully about the last 5 – 10 groups of students you’ve helped. Now answer these 3 questions to help you focus on your target market:

  1. Who do I love helping? (Adults? Business professionals? Students? Kids?) Be as specific as you can. Try to form a mental image of the last student or group you absolutely LOVED being with.
  2.  Use your talent and abilities: What do you know about today? What are you naturally skilled at? Maybe you’re a rock star with children, or maybe you have business experience that you can easily bring with you for an adult business English course – be aware of what you have to offer, know your strengths, and make sure you are using them when you settle on a target market.  If working with children feels like you’re running up Mt. Everest – stay away from working with kids!
  3. What’s the need? If you can pair ‘love doing it’ and ‘I’m already good at it’ with ‘There’s a big need for it’ you’re golden! Seems elementary, but make sure you can identify a need for your services with the group of people you want to serve. You can easily do that by TALKING with people who belong with the group you want to serve. ASK! Listen. (Don’t sell yet. Just listen.)

Don’t try to catch everyone! If you try to throw your net out and catch EVERYONE who wants to learn English, here are a few things you’ll experience:

Your Expenses will rocket: If you try to work with everyone, can you imagine how much you’d spend on course materials that would suit children, teens, and adults? (Assuming you’re trying to catch everyone means you’re also needing to service EVERYONE with great material.) I can already hear my wallet screaming in protest, and we’re just talking general English materials. What if you get a student who needs business English? What if you get students after that who need Legal English help? Can you see the dollars flooding out of your bank account? Ouch! Don’t try to serve EVERYONE. Focus instead on one group of people. Maybe you love working with kids. You’re patient, you’re dynamic, and you know how to engage them with what you teach. If that is you, focus on only having kids in your schedule as you grow. You’re not looking for teens or adults, focus only on bringing in kids to your business. You’ll only be hunting for ‘kid friendly’ course material which will equal savings for you!

The same is true for adults. My business was built around adult business professionals, so that meant we weren’t looking for kids, teens, or anyone else who was not an adult working in a business. We had focus.

Having focus will mean you say no to some potential clients. We often did say no to ‘non-business’ prospects, but remember this: when you say ‘no’ you are really saying ‘yes’ to what is more important to you. In our business’ case, our ‘yes’ was reserved for business professionals. Our material expenses were ONLY for business English courses.

Lesson Planning Nightmares You’re going to totally rock your freelance business. I know it. You know it. (If you don’t know it, consider this a good psych session – you’re totally going to rock your business!)  Now imagine your world with several business English groups, a group of 5 and 6 yr olds, and a few groups of high school students who need some tutoring help to pass an English exam. Your lesson planning time is going to be crazy busy, and difficult to handle.  When you focus on one group or niche, you will save yourself planning time because everyone in your classes should be working with the same (or near same) materials or subject matter. Make your life simple, and focus on one group of people.

In my business courses, I found that students everywhere were interested in general business themes like planning, time management, leadership, and effective delegation. What worked in one class could often be shaped to fit another with little to no extra work on my part. Yes, I did customize the work for each class, but often I could pull in themes from other classes and make them fit for new classes because they all had  a business focus. This saved me time and extra work.

Wide groups are hard to get to know. Your goal is to serve each client like nobody else has. EVER. That means you need to get to know THEIR needs deeply, and I’m not just talking about language level.  How would you finish this sentence: I happen to teach English, but I really……. (Fill in the blank with how you really add value for your clients.)  For me and my business, we added value by turning our classes into professional development sessions for our students. (We were focused on adult business professionals.) Often our classes were around business themes that were of immediate need for our students in their careers. For example: we worked with a manager who was having trouble delegating to her team members. We learned about her need by getting to know her well. Our classes used business lessons around the theme of delegation that helped her improve her English skills while also helping her improve her professional skills.

Your Goal: Serve your clients and add value to your relationship with them BETTER than anyone else.  You can’t do that well if you’re working with a wide variety of students.

The Truth: I need to work with a group of clients who I LOVE to serve, where I can use my skills and talents, and where I know they need me.

This is true even when you’re just getting started. How could you use this today to help you grow your business?