Compete with value, not price

Stop Competing On Price to Grow Your Freelance ESL Business

It’s a trap to try and grow your business by being the lowest price service provider, but when you can’t explain the value you add to your clients and prospects price will be all  they care about.

How self-employed ESL teachers can stop competing on price

Know your value – what you do that helps others and how this sets you apart from everyone else. Show how your English classes will help your clients meet their needs, or solve their problems. Most of the time, your added value will have very little to do with the act of learning/teaching English!

Define and deliver on this value, and you will be able leave price wars with other language providers behind…most of the time.

How to determine value: a basic and very helpful definition of value is simply how you and your service helps people. The more you and your business helps people, the more it will grow, and the more valuable it will become for your clients.

Action Step: Can you define how you help others? See if you can write a few sentences about it.  Hint: think deeper than “I help people speak English.” The competition does that. What do YOU do that helps others who engage your services?

Define Your Value from your client’s point of view! This is where you really need to pay attention: Can you remember the last 5 to 10 positive comments you have gotten from your clients? What have they told you they appreciate the most about you and how you serve them? (If you don’t have any comments yet, start asking!) Try saying something like: “I know there are many English teachers or companies out there for you to work with – why do you decide to keep working with me?”

Pay close attention to what they say. This is the value you are delivering to your clients. The answers may surprise you! One of my business’ most frequent comments about why our clients continued working with us was that we always provided personal, friendly, flexible customer service. That’s VALUE from your client’s perspective. It’s valuable because your clients – the people who give you money for what you do, are saying they find it valuable.  I think your client’s definition of value is more important than what YOU think your value added service is. What do you think?

Action step: Ask your clients what they value about what you do, and make a list of what they say.

If you are just getting started, and don’t have anyone to ask about what is valuable to them, you can still do some vital homework:

  1. Find people who are taking English classes – ask them why they are taking the class, and what they value most from the service they are currently using.  (Bonus: listen carefully for negative feedback they may give about the service they are currently using. Maybe you can provide a ‘fix’ for this problem in your own service!)
  2. Read online forums or join online communities of students – see if you can find comments about their most common problems or challenges they face in class. If you listen carefully and patiently, I promise you’ll find valuable information that will help you develop your own value proposition.

Action Step: Look for groups or communities on LinkedIn, G+, Facebook etc where ESL students are hanging out. Join these groups, and listen. (Read comments!) Maybe even consider asking the group questions like: what do you love/hate the most about your English classes? Teacher? Service provider?  Take lots of notes!

What Do You Bring? What skills, knowledge, experience do you bring to the table that could be useful to your clients?  One of my skills is business coaching. My target market was adult business professionals, and as I got to know my students and their needs, we were almost always able to combine English classes with professional coaching and leadership training.  What is weird about this, is at the start I didn’t even know I was doing it. My students started telling me that what we did in class was NOT just English class, but it was helping them to solve problems at work, or helping them to grow professionally. What do you do…and how do you do it that comes uniquely to you?

Action step: list your natural talents or experience. Can this be used in some way to help your students? How?

Over to you: can you explain the value you provide to your clients? Leave a comment, I would love to learn how you are making a difference in the world with your awesome work!

How To Protect Your Freelance Income

3 Steps Self-Employed ESL Teachers Can Take To Protect their Income

One of the worst things about being a self-employed ESL teacher is feeling like your income is on a giant yo-yo. One month your up, the next your down and the culprit is often students cancelling.

The problem with cancellations is that a cancelled class = no payment for that class, unless you set your business up differently.  Here is a simple 3 point strategy to help aleviate the problem of cancellations:

3 Steps to Help Frelance ESL Teachers Protect Their Income

3 Steps to Protect Your Income from Cancellations

  1. Create a Cancellation Policy. If you don’t have a policy, you can’t enforce it later. So before you bring on any more students, sit down, open your word processor, and pound one out. Key ingredients: Cancellation terms – how much time you allow for cancellations to be on time (8 hours is my standard. You?) What a late cancellation would be – less than 8 hours notice. Reschedule Conditions – openly explain if/when you will be able to reschedule if students cancel – late cancellations will not be rescheduled, and will be billed for. I will be happy to reschedule with you before the end of the month if you cancel with more than 8 hours notice.
  2. Create a Payment Policy Another required document is a written explanation of your payment expectations. Clearly state that you charge X in advance for X number of hours. Explain how you want your payment to be made: in cash, via transfer to your bank account, via PayPal etc.
  3. Share, Sign, and Keep Your Agreements. Your policies are useless unless you share them with your clients on or before class #1. I send my students a digital version of my cancellation and payment policies before we even begin working together. On class one, before beginning, I bring out a paper version of my policies and read through it with my students. I then have them sign the documents, as well as a copy. One copy goes to me, the other goes to them.  Remember: If your students don’t sign the agreement, it never happened. Once signed, be sure to keep your copy filed away somewhere safe.

The next time your student cancels late and asks you to reschedule, remind them about your cancellation policy. “I’m sorry, but my cancellation policy is to only reschedule classes cancelled with more than 8 hours notice.”  Be kind in how you say it, and let them know that you are happy to reschedule when the proper advance warning is given.  You may need to ‘teach’ your clients to follow your policy a little at the start, but I’ve found that with one instance, most clients learn to cancel on time.

IMPORTANT: This policy will only protect your income under two circumstances: 1. You charge in advance. If you aren’t, you should be. 2. If you enforce it. There will be special circumstances, but in general, you should always stick to your guns. If you don’t respect  your time, nobody else will.

Important #2 – What to do if you’ve already started If you’ve already started working with a client, and you don’t have any policies in place, it’s not too late! At a natural cut point – say the end of your next class, let them know that you are making some administration changes in how you work. Give students your policies and ask them to read them carefully.  Tell them that in two weeks, give them a specific date, you will bring these policy changes in for them to sign if they agree. From that point on, you will manage your classes according to your policy. Done.

Over to you: what have you done to protect your income as a self-employed ESL teacher? Share your strategies in the comments below!

Use LinkedIn To Grow Your Freelance ESL Business

3 Ways to Use LinkedIn To Get Company ESL Clients

When you think of growing your freelance ESL business, what do you think of? If the first thing that comes to mind is ‘company classes’ then I bet you have also discovered that catching corporate clients is far easier to say than do.

3 Ways to Use LinkedIn to Grow your ESL Business

3 Ways to use LinkedIn to Get Corporate Clients.

  1. Define your target. What company do you want to serve?  How many employees does your ideal client have?

Shift Your Thinking: Stop trying to catch a company. Instead, focus on building relationships with people IN your target company. Pull out some paper and start a list. Do you know anyone who works in your target company? This is a repeated point, but it is true: people prefer to do business with people they already know, like and trust.

Nobody? Use LinkedIn to help you begin building your network.

A Word of Caution: Usually the bigger the company, the more difficult they will be for you to work with due to their business systems. I have found that businesses with over 250 employees tend to have intense processes for payment that could force you to wait anywhere from 30 to 90+ days before they pay you. If you can handle that, great. But I bet you need income faster than that, so pay attention to employee counts! Generally, smaller companies are friendlier, and easier to deal with.

When you know the company you want to work with, see if they have a company page on LinkedIn, and follow it. (Is your target a multi-national? Try looking for a local company page. It may or may not have country specific profiles.)

Use the search tool inside LinkedIn, and set it up for company searches. (Click on the button on the left hand side of the search bar and select ‘Companies.’) Then type in the name of the company you are interested in serving and start your search.

2. Focus  Before you do anything else with the results that come up, look to the left of your screen. You should see a few search customization features like: Relationship, Location, and Current Company etc. These are free, so use them!  Focus on first and second level relationships as well as Group Members, by selecting each. Location: pick the place (Country + City) where you live. If it is not listed, don’t fret! Click “ADD” and write in your city or country.  Result: a smaller list of people you can start reaching out to.

3. Join More LinkedIn Groups to be where your prospects are hanging out. Groups are powerful ways to open connection possibilities. When you join a group, you gain access to its members. When you send an invitation to connect to someone not in your first level of relationship, but who belongs to the same group as you, you can list your group in common as a reason to connect. I have found that this usually opens the door for me.  With no group in common, you will need to prove your relationship with this person some other way, like an e-mail address. You likely don’t have that, so use groups as a ‘thing in common’ whenever possible.

Warm up before you connect. Before connecting with someone you don’t know, see if you can follow any conversations they might be involved in if they are in the same group as you. Engage them in conversation if you can – but around group topics. Like their posts. Comment on them with a focus to add value. Let them get to know you a bit before you try reaching out.

Send the Invite: When possible always try to write your own invite request. Make it short, but HUMAN sounding. Try something like: “I’ve enjoyed talking with you about topic X in group X, would you like to connect with me?”

If they accept, well done! But stay calm. Don’t try to sell them anything yet. Focus on building relationship. Keep engaging them in group conversations. Try sending them links to articles they might find useful based on what you learn about them. Then, after you have built up a little rapport, start talking about your business — based on THEM not you. .

There you have it! Use LinkedIn to help you find your target company, narrow your search down, and build your prospect network.