Recently, a student of my Udemy course Live Lesson Strategies for Online Tutors and Teachers asked an interesting question in the course. Like so many other new teachers, she's looking at a lot of tasks to complete. Website building, setting up social media accounts, writing a new blog - it's overwhelming.
And all that work stands in contrast to the potential for finding a student over on online teaching platforms like italki. You wonder if those are worth your time.
So my course participant asked the important question?
Here are my thoughts on the matter:
Some Platforms Are Good..
The best time to join any big teacher platform is when you are starting out and working on getting your process sorted. It can help you get the cash flowing quickly, and without investing a lot into technology or email systems. The best platforms also have some protection in place for you as a teacher, such as a basic cancellation policy.
In short, being on a platform helps you in the following ways:
- You will build up a critical mass of learners relatively quickly, so that the money can start rolling in before you feel like a "certified authority"
- You will be able to build your confidence as a new teacher, get feedback and find what students love most about you
- You will be able to work 1-to-1 with a large variety of people, allowing you to figure out which ones you love working with and which ones are not your ideal students. Every individual has a style of working with people, and it will take a little time to find and proudly claim who you're here to work with
..But Not As Good As Building Your Own Brand
It's undeniable that offering your wares in any marketplace means playing by their rules. This is true for making online courses on Udemy, finding students on italki, or any other platform.
I know people who are fully booked and have never been on a directory, and they teach minority languages to boot! It's a question of creativity, confidence and knowing that you're great.
Here Are The Downsides
- Your learners' loyalty is often to the platform and not to you as a teacher, which can make it harder to build up a good relationship with students. The relationship matters a lot, because you are looking for your ideal student, a person who is a joy to work with. If you have no idea who that could be, I recommend that you work through the ideal student parts of the Savvy Brand Toolkit to figure out who they are, where they are and how you'll talk to them.
- The terms & conditions you can set for how you deal with your customers are run by the platform, not by you. So for example, they might not like you exchanging emails outside of the established system.
- You are doing this because your ultimate goal is independence, and working with a different platform may constrict you too much. If it feels wrong, don't go there.
Most platforms don't restrict what you can charge, but be aware that the system is designed to make you look like a product and price will always factor into your learners' perceptions.
How To Make It Work For Yourself
The key is that "native and qualified" won't be enough in a crowded marketplace - check out the slides on marketing and definitely consider looking into the Savvy Brand Process to find out more - downloading these videos will also be helpful.
To work with that ideal student, I recommend building your booking system based on the 5 Step Booking Process which is designed to create a solid and sustainable relationship where students don't think of you as their "trial teacher". In a good and ongoing relationships, you have set up your system so that both parties can depend on each other.
It Is Not Difficult To Build Your Own Website
Of course, you'll have heard about Wordpress.org, a popular system that will help you build any website and do anything online. It does have a learning curve, and those of you who don't want to spend a few days fiddling with tutorials are probably put off right now.
My website builder of choice is Squarespace (which is what runs the site you are reading right now).
I've been using Squarespace for four years and even use it to host the Creative Language Learning Podcast. I like it because it's extremely user friendly and it's an all-in-one solution, meaning you don't have to worry about any of the usual questions such as plug-ins, hosts or customizing your theme.
What Should You Do?
Personally, I used italki for a bit when I started and also Tutor Hunt, but never used it as my main source of students. I also built my own website from the start. There was no email list and no fancy opt-in, but that didn't matter. It gave interested customers a direct way of getting in touch with me. Think "back to basics", not "bells and whistles".
Ultimately, of course this is your own decision. There are many success stories of teachers who found dozens of new students on italki, but equal numbers of teachers who are frustrated because those are not their ideal learners.
Are you currently working with a platform? Or finding students in other ways? Leave a comment or find our teacher group on Facebook to discuss.