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How to Scale Your ESL Teaching Business

1 year ago

In the previous three articles of this series, we have looked at how to choose your teaching niche, how to attract your ideal client into your marketing funnel, and how to convert interested visitors into students via a trial lesson and strategy session.

In this final article, I want to show you some ways that you can take your first few students and scale that success into a full-time teaching business.


Sell program courses – Not sessions

Many ESL teachers offer their services to students on a week-by-week basis. Students pay each week as they book the next lesson. Or, as a better option, lessons are sold as monthly packages and students pay at the end of the month. I want to make the case that there are some inherent problems with that model.


First, if a student suddenly gets busy, finds another teacher, or just loses motivation to continue, we’ve suddenly got a drop in our income and perhaps an unfilled hole in our schedule. There is no certainty beyond the next week or the next month.

Second, it’s a lot harder to sell a service product that doesn’t come with a clear roadmap. Imagine a cruise line company offering a tour that says something along the lines of “we don’t know exactly where we are going, and we don’t know when we’ll get to the final port of call, but don’t worry … it’ll be great!”.

I imagine that would be a tough sell.

When you don’t have a roadmap to offer your students, it also makes closing the sale a lot harder than it needs to be.


The alternative is to create a program, with a defined number of weeks, a specified number of lessons and a curriculum with a logical progression of stages.

A good lesson plan always allows a lot of room for improvisation, adaptation and “thinking on your feet”. So, your lesson plans should be flexible enough to allow room for customization.

But having said that, remember why you chose a niche in the first place. You picked your niche because you want to help a specific group of people with a common set of goals and problems. That means that your course programs should be highly relevant to your target audience, allowing you to follow a familiar roadmap each time.

Let’s say that my niche is “Japanese salesmen who want to make more sales to international customers”. My starter mini-program might look something like: Week 1: Meeting clients and building relationships Week 2: Finding out more about your client’s problems Week 3: Presenting products and services Week 4: Negotiating solutions Week 5: Scheduling follow-up steps


Those are a common set of functional skills that any salesperson should want to master, whether it be Ms. Watanabe who works in a pharmaceuticals company or Mr. Fujimoto who works in the auto-parts business.

You should always have ANOTHER program ready to offer your student after they finish one. For example, after the five-week course outlined above, maybe your student decided that they really need more work on their negotiation skills in English. That’s your opportunity to offer a 10-WEEK program looking at negotiation skills for salespeople.

And after that, maybe they would like to do your 20-WEEK program which covers everything which was outlined in your 5 WEEK mini-course, but in much more detail and depth. The only limit is your imagination.


Remember, there is nothing wrong with “building the plane while you’re flying”. In fact, it’s advisable. Because the absolute worst move you can make with curriculum planning is to spend weeks on a set of lesson plans that nobody is interested in. Keep in mind that you only need to be one week ahead of your students at all times 😉

Before you know it, you’ll have a great set of battle-tested lesson plans and course programs which have proven appeal to your client niche, and which will reduce your lesson preparation time substantially in the long run.


Sell group courses – Not one-to-one courses

There is a limit to the number of lessons that you can physically teach in any given week. As independent business owners, we need to find time for all the “non-teaching” related tasks like administration and marketing (not to mention sleep, exercise, and having a life!).

What can we do to get past this ceiling?

The solution is group classes. Groups allow you to scale your hourly income far beyond what any single student is likely to pay you. For example, you could teach one-to-one classes for $50 /hr., but you will make more money if you teach four-student group classes at $25 / hr. each (4 x $25 = $100 /hr.).

Group teaching can be challenging at first, but financially it is better for you, and potentially more affordable for students. A win-win result. Besides this, many students report that they enjoy the motivation and stimulation which comes from socializing with fellow course members.

So, once you have a few proven course programs from your one-to-one teaching, work on shifting your service into a group class business model.


Always have “value-added services” to upsell

Marketing funnel builders all agree that the easiest person to sell something to is the person who has JUST bought from you. When you are onboarding a new student, always be on the lookout for opportunities to offer something MORE. Many students will be receptive to your suggestions.

For example, some students might be willing to pay you quite a bit more if you offer a “highlights reel” of the lesson which you’ve recorded and edited for them to review and study in their own time.

Other students might be happy to pay you a bit more for access to a regular “closed” ClubHouse room. It’s a place where they can talk with you and potentially other students about anything they like in a virtual “safe space”.

Even a private Facebook Group could be a chance for you to offer a simple “order bump” when students sign up for your courses.

Again, the only limit is your imagination.


How to scale your business through your existing clients

One of the BEST ways to scale your ESL teaching business is to leverage your existing clients. It should be an essential part of your workflow that you ask each client for a testimonial when they complete one of your programs. Testimonials are a persuasive way of showing potential new students how your service can benefit somebody like THEM.

So as a language instructor your action steps should be:

  • Tell students that you will be asking for their feedback at the end of your course
  • Structure your feedback request so that it highlights what benefits students derived from your training
  • For those that provide 5-star reviews, ask if they would be willing to do a video interview
  • Edit the video so that it succinctly showcases the transformation you provided to them
  • Use those videos on your website and with your social media strategy
  • Incentivize ALL your students to refer friends, family, and colleagues to your programs


Hopefully, this series of articles has provided you with a roadmap to start and grow your own online ESL teaching business into a full-time income. It goes without saying that it will all require hard work and patience. But the potential rewards are an income, a lifestyle, and freedom that you have dreamed of and deserve.

Every day that you wait, is an extra day into the future that your dreams slip away.

It’s time to start your journey.

Paul Sallaway

 ESL Podcaster 🎙️ & Marketing Consultant. Now helping freelance ESL teachers to build profitable and sustainable businesses through high conversion SALES FUNNEL strategies.


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