Is your planning routine broken?

How to Plan So You Can Grow Your Freelance ESL Business

Your planning routine could be a reason why you’re not seeing the growth in your freelance ESL business that you’re looking for.

Pinable: How to fix bad planning

What broken planning looks like:

  1. I make a daily to-do list and work to complete each task. Hello, my name is Aaron, and I’m a recovering ‘to-do listaholic.’  To-do lists are wonderful to help you get things done. They are rewarding too, because it feels great to see your pending tasks get crossed off as you complete them.  The problems with to-do lists are that you don’t have a time limit to accomplish each task on your list – just sometime today, right? And you tend to only focus on the NOW. The urgent. The top-of-mind activities. To-do lists tend to be TACTICAL or day-to-day grind oriented. What happens to big picture or future planning, like say: how will I grow my teaching business? The answer: nothing. That’s broken.
  2. I only plan my lessons. You need to plan your lessons, that’s obvious. But when that is the only planning you do, you’re setting yourself up to fail because your only focus is on the clients you already have, not on bringing in new ones. I have done this too. While planning and developing great classes is vital, and may lead to more business through happy students referring you, you must make time to actively reach out beyond what you have now to bring in more clients.  Planning that only serves your existing clients is broken.
  3. I have no big picture. If you are struggling to just get by, chances are your sense of a positive future is wounded – maybe even dead. I have found that intense struggle tends to trick me into looking inward and downward instead of outward and forward. Have you ever felt like that? But no matter how hard things are for you right now, you have to tell yourself that this will not last. If you keep walking, you will see your situation change. But where are you heading? King Solomon once wrote to ‘give careful thought to the path of our feet so that we can be established.’ (Proverbs 4:26)  The thing is, the path our feet walk on everyday will eventually lead us to our destiny. Have you noticed where your walking today? If you’re only looking down, and not to WHERE your path is taking you, chances are you are going to end up somewhere you don’t want to be. Not looking outward and forward is broken.

Start fixing your planning strategy.

Power up your Planning – To-do lists are great if they have specific time limits and balanced focus to them. Consider adding:

Themes: You are not just a teacher. You are also business manager, and an entrepreneur. You MUST create time in your planning each day so that you spend time in each of these categories:

Entrepreneur: try blocking off an hour or two each day to think big picture thoughts about your business. Where do you want to be in a month? 3 Months? 6 Months? A year? Start developing growth goals, and imagine how your life will be as you accomplish each one. Write these things down, and start working towards your goals each day by asking: what do I need to do today to move me closer to my 1 month, 3 month or year goals?

Included in the entrepreneur theme is the role of salesperson. If you want your business to grow, you need to not only focus on serving your current clients, but you must also promote your services, and spend plenty of time networking. The trick: if you’re not making time in your schedule to do these things on a regular basis (like daily) you won’t see your business grow.

Business manager: What systems do you need in place to help you control and manage your business as it grows? Do you have an effective, written process  to accomplish things like: attendance keeping, billing and collections, creating and issuing user agreements for new clients, curriculum development, tracking where your students are in your course, and when they will finish? What systems will you use to help you provide regular evaluations and reporting? And what about customer service?

You have to create time each day to manage your business, and create processes to follow so that when your business grows, it will not run away from you and fall into confusion or disorganization.  Again: you have to make regular time for this, it won’t just happen.

Set time limits. This is the power move to planning. Instead of just writing out your to-do list, which now includes themes, you should consider adding a time limit for each task. You can do this a couple of ways:

On your computer/mobile device – open your calendar app and move your to-do list there. Set a time block for each item. Example: if you are setting time to prospect for new clients each day, and you should be, set a time limit to the task.  Maybe block off your prospecting time from 8:30a.m. to 9:15a.m. When you set up your next to-do list item after your prospecting time block, add an alarm to the calendar event so that you get a message or a sound to tell you it’s time to move to the next item on your list.

At first, you will feel like this is boxing you in, and for good reason: it is! You will find that giving yourself a time limit to accomplish your tasks, will help you sharpen your focus as well as help you to work faster. That’s what I’ve been discovering as I’ve been implementing this planning system in my own business. So make sure you add time limits and alerts to each of your tasks.

If you prefer pen and paper planning, that works too. To add the time limit feature to paper planning, get yourself a cooking timer, or some other method that keeps time and has an easy to set alarm, and set your time limits that way. I’ve done this too, and it works wonderfully.

Over to you: How are you planning to grow your freelance ESL business today? Is your current planning strategy broken?

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?

freelance ESL Planning

Planning for Freelance ESL Teachers

It’s scary how fast a day can burn by, isn’t it? Have you ever wondered to yourself what  you had done and achieved, but were unable to give yourself a solid answer? I sure have, and it’s frustrating.

I know you know about planning. You are likely used to planning out your lessons, and setting out your schedule for the week. I’m also sure you’re awesome at making sure your students finish their courses by the time you had promised. Old hat, right?

Your freelance teaching business is more than preparing a class, and ending your course on time, though those are mighty important things to be doing. But if you’re not intentional about it, you will find yourself ONLY doing that kind of ‘ground level planning.’  You know what I mean? The day to day stuff.

I have had this happen to me many times. It leaves you vulnerable to things like students moving on,  or what happens if your course suddenly gets cancelled due to budget cuts, or a natural ending like you actually finish the course with your student and they no longer need to work with you. What happens then?  A big shock, that’s what!

Your students will come and go, I bet you’ve noticed that by now, but you don’t have to react to it! Instead, why don’t you try this idea to help you become a proactive ESL freelance teacher and business owner:

Theme your week: I am still learning how to apply this to my business, but I love what Michael Hyatt has to say about it in this podcast/videocast. It’s well worth your time listening or watching, promise.

The idea is to give themes to each day, or group of days each week. To help prepare for and solve the problem of a ‘surprise ending’ to one of your classes, you could try something like giving every Monday the theme of ‘Prospecting.’ While you may have other things to do during the day, you should focus your work around hunting for new students and clients to work with.

That could include hunting for and reaching out to new contacts on LinkedIn. It could be meeting old students for coffee, and checking to see if they had any referrals they could pass along to you. Or maybe it could be picking up the phone and trying to set up a meeting with that potential client you’ve noticed. Whatever you decide to do that day, the overall focus should be about prospecting, or whatever theme you placed on the day. Make sense?

Strategic importance of giving each day a theme: As you adopt this idea and make it your own, it will help you avoid the gravitational pull or tunnel vision of your day to day activities. Just to be clear: there’s nothing wrong with the normal collection of activites we all need to do, but danger lurks when those activities are ALL you do. So try giving each day it’s own special theme, and make sure you have an even balance between short term and long term.

Themes? What themes? Still not sure what themes would work for you? Here are a few I am considering for my planning:

Prospecting: hunting for, researching, and reaching out to new clients. Why? I don’t want my work to run out!  Focus: Mid to long- term planning.

Course Planning: Looking ahead in my course material, thinking about my student’s needs, thinking about how I will deliver course work, writing down lesson ideas in my notebook, researching points I am not sure about etc. Focus: short and mid-term planning.

Social Media/Blogging: I’m still working out this one, but this would be when I think about what I want to write about here in this blog. Reading. Research. Sending updates to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.  Focus: Short and mid-term planning. (I tend to post to social media every day at some point, so that could be a mini theme for each day I suppose.)

What about you? What themes would you assign to your week? Comment below, I’d love to hear from you.