You have been teaching with platforms for a while. Due to changes in circumstances, you want to go independent. You have built a website and sent many LinkedIn messages. But the response is lukewarm and the number of paying students is low.
Now it is time to pause and ask – why this happened and what do I do next?
This blog lists common reasons why some teachers are having issues recruiting students for private tutoring, despite all their efforts. Then it explains a process for teachers to address the right problem for the right clients, at the right time. The process eventually leads you to be a global expert in your niche area. That positioning helps you attract the right clients rather than chase the wrong clients.
Source of image: https://www.behance.net/gallery/129154179/Hints-From-GradesFixer
Why I can’t find enough students as an independent teacher?
A key reason is a change in the macro environment, a major policy shift. One example is the ‘Double Reduction’ education policy issued by the Chinese government in July 2021. These policies restrict the time and opportunities for tutors based outside China to teach Chinese children through platforms. This caused a slowdown (in some cases, shutdown) of some big education companies’ K12 tutoring businesses. Consequently, some parents started to see tutoring by non-Chinese teachers as not essential or not approved by the government. Some went to look for alternatives. Another example is a drop in travel English during the slowdown of international tourism due to the 2020 pandemic. It is important to notice these general trends as it’s very hard to swim against the tide.
The second reason is an increase of options for your students or clients. After the double reduction education policy, many Chinese parents looked elsewhere for their children’s English language needs. The alternatives for them are books, audio, videos, local Chinese tutors (who speak fluent English if not at native level), and English native speakers who live in China. A better strategy may be to provide value to solve the right problem for the right clients with less competition. We will get into that process in the next part: ‘What to do if I can’t find enough students as an independent teacher?’
The third reason is the perceived risk when clients compare platforms and independent tutors. Big platforms enjoy the advantage of having better branding, better supporting systems (eg. payment), a more expensive (hence perceived as more valuable) curriculum, and a dedicated sales team. An independent teacher might not have these resources, to begin with. Therefore, from a student/client’s perspective, the perceived risk of seeking a private tutor can be higher. To compensate for that perceived risk, an independent tutor has to offer something unique, something different, something a platform can’t offer. We will get into that process in the next part.
The fourth and most common reason is the mismatch between what your clients/students want and what you offer. Your tutoring may not be the most effective way to solve an essential problem they face. Or your tutoring may be excellent, but it solves a non-essential problem they have. For example, let’s say, you are teaching English to a child who shows disruptive behaviour during learning. You quickly recognise the core issue and communicate it with his parents. You work out a solution to help this child with the learning behaviour issue. You have recognised and solved the right problem before your clients were even aware of it.
If your potential clients don’t respond to you warmly, or you have built a website that fails to attract paying clients, don’t be annoyed, be curious. Understanding why some clients don’t come to you helps you move closer to those who do arrive.
This is a great starting point as an independent teacher. When you embrace a mindset of curiosity and resilience, you have won half of the battle.
What to do if I can’t find enough students as an independent teacher?
This is my suggested process. It all boils down to finding the right clients, at the right time, and solving the right problem for them. After (and only after) you nail this down, it is time to build a website or send messages to promote your teaching.
Step 1: Pack your treasure bag
Step 2: Ask who might like the bag
Step 3: Test your treasure bag
Step 4: Create your user profiles
Step 5: Choose your strategic positioning
Step 6: Design your pedagogy
Step 7: Test your pedagogy
Step 8: Write your business plan
Step 9: Build a website
Step 10: Review and replenish your bag
Step 11: Be a global expert
I will walk through steps 1-3 in this blog.
Step 1 – Pack Your Treasure Bag
The first step is to recognise your value and celebrate your success by doing a personal inventory check.
You have a passion for education and have accumulated knowledge, expertise, and network relating to it. Now it is time to examine the value and strength you have gained from the past, to prepare for the future.
Each of them might look disconnected and random. The real magic begins when you mix and match your individual assets to achieve a collective synergy. This is your unique treasure bag, something only you have.
In my treasure bag, I can mix and match my language (Chinese and English), cultural (Chinese and English, cross-cultural communication) and professional (business strategy, start-up business, learning design and in-person/online experience design) skills. The choice I made is to serve online English-speaking teachers to support and grow their independent teaching business.
Your treasure bag is extremely powerful with the right client, and you know how to mix and match the ingredients, to solve the right problem.
However, it doesn’t work with everyone and that is perfectly fine. Our job is to find out who will absolutely love your bag and grow the likes of these. Let us take your treasure bag and continue the journey to ask, “Who might love this treasure bag?”
Usually, we start with our existing clients, those who are happy with us, who stayed with us for a long time, who always respond very quickly and warmly towards us. If you feel you have found the one who loves your bag and only yours, jump to step 4 – create your user profiles.
If you don’t have such fans from your existing client pool, we can form a few hypotheses who might love your treasure bag and test each one out.
Let’s take Lucy as an example. Lucy (a hypothetical person based on a few real clients I interacted with) is an American woman who married a French man and lives in Paris. She adores reading and had worked in the children’s book publishing business before she became a full-time mom. Three years ago, she began to teach Chinese children English online via platforms and now she would like to launch her independent teaching path.
In her treasure bag, she has language and cultural skills (English and French). Her professional skills include book publishing and online teaching. Also, she has extensive experience interacting with children, in person (with her own children) and online (with her platform students). Most importantly, she loves reading, with her children and her students.
Lucy formed several interesting theories about who might love her treasure bag:
American moms living in the USA who want their children to learn French
French moms who speak English and want their children to speak English
French moms of Chinese cultural heritage who want their children to enhance English literacy
Chinese moms in China who want their children to speak English: Lucky is teaching them via existing platforms, and she wonders if they would become her own students when she teaches independently.
Lucy has a few hunches but she doesn’t have a precise idea yet who her right client is. Before she invests in getting a website or getting a curriculum, she decides to communicate. There is one way (usually the best way) to find out: having a conversation with them to test the magic of her treasure bag.
First, Lucy needs to find some of her potential clients. There are at least four ways to do that:
Lucy has her family, friends, and colleagues in the US and France. So, she sent messages to them, telling them her plan to go independent and describing the potential clients she hopes to work with.
To connect with (2) English speaking French moms and (3) Chinese speaking French moms, Lucy explored shops, communities, clubs, and organisations around Paris when they frequently hang out. She discovered that every Wednesday in arrondissement 13, there is a French/English language exchange meet-up. She went to the Chinatown in Paris and checked the bookstores there. From talking to the shop assistant, she learned that there are three Chinese language schools for French children, many of whom come from families with Chinese heritage.
Social media network:
Lucy posted on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and she asked her Chinese clients to help her with WeChat.
There are a few clients she really trusts as friends, so she shared a message with them too. They helped her with WeChat communication as well.
Via these channels, Lucy does not intend to sell. She is looking for people who potentially fit the profiles and asks if they have time to chat. She knows it’s not the time to open the bag yet. At this stage, she intends to learn and understand what the right problem is for her to solve. After having a clear understanding of that, she can do mix and match, working the charm of her treasure bag.
After numerous talks and conversations, in-person and online, Lucy gained enough insights so that she can start step 4 – create a user profile.