Do you want to find students for your online English teaching lessons without the hassle of running your own business and the accompanying administration? What about finding students without a website or large social media audience? A teaching platform might be a good choice for you.
The online English teaching platform is a relatively recent phenomenon. When I began teaching in 2010, teaching online was still relatively uncommon. Teachers used craigslist-esque sites to advertise their services locally but the connection between the two concepts had not been made on a large scale. Fast forward to 2022, and there are seemingly new platforms appearing every day. Yet, are these platforms worth your time?
I’ve researched over 20 online English teaching platforms for you, including three of the largest (Preply, Superprof and Outschool), to see what the major pros and cons are. Then, practical tips to how you can overcome these cons and start finding regular private students.
What is an online teaching platform?
Let’s begin with what a teaching platform is. A platform (also known as a marketplace or post-a-profile site) is a way to connect students and teachers with each other via the internet. It is often free for both parties to join and use the site, although there is sometimes a joining or subscription fee. Teachers usually pay a portion of their earnings from lessons to the platform for the connection with students, with fees varying widely.
Pros of platforms like Preply, Superprof and Outschool
Save time finding students and the associated administration
The companies that create these platforms build the website including the search infrastructure, advertise to attract students (Preply platform boasts over 10 million lessons booked), and process payments. This saves you a lot of effort in the running of your own business to advertise to, attract and retain students; manage a referral system; send invoices and chase up payments; keep records of attendance and assessment; etc.
Each platform will be different, offering anything from a simple connection to a comprehensive set of administrative supports. Yet, the first pro of platforms is the removal of some or all of these additional non-teaching tasks.
No need for a website
A website can be a more complex (and costly) operation than many teachers consider. While it is relatively easy to set up a basic website, it is more tricky to build one that processes payments from multiple currencies and acts as a global marketing funnel.
Using a platform, you do not have to learn the tech skills to build, maintain and advertise a website, nor the costs of paying someone else to do so. The same goes for social media management and promotion.
Again, while platforms may only offer some of these features, they are often designed for profitability and with an emphasis on ease of use and payment. You receive the fruits of a large sales and marketing staff whose sole job is to bring students to the platform and IT/design staff with the skills to make it user-friendly and appealing.
Set your own hourly rate
On a platform, you are able to see what other teachers are charging and to set an hourly rate accordingly, as opposed to an often arbitrary number set by those who go out independently. You receive immediate feedback on your pricing and can adjust accordingly. You can choose your own rates, with highly qualified and experienced teachers able to demand higher compensation.
Help establish a teaching niche
You can see what other teachers are offering and respond in real-time to growth in student demand. On platforms that allow students to post requests (like Outschool), you can respond to students looking for your specific skills. You can see and respond to gaps in the market and test the demand for your teaching niche without much risk.
Learn self promotion, marketing and sales
Having a ready audience means that learning how to promote, market and sell your services on platforms is much easier than if you are starting alone.
You are able to observe and replicate what other successful teachers are doing and many platforms come with some training on the fundamentals of these skills. They often provide prompts on what you should put in your profile to attract students and examples to follow.
A quick search on YouTube may also bring up videos of teachers who can provide tips and tricks to succeed within that platform’s landscape. Each platform has individual quirks and best practice, so with so many other teachers, there is a perfect opportunity to share knowledge and info.
Cons of platforms like Preply, Superprof and Outschool
Fees and charges
The major con of teaching platforms is that you will have to pay fees for the pros that you’ve seen above. This can be the entire first class to a percentage of each class booked and paid for and occasionally a subscription model. The average amount is ≈20-30% of your income.
You need to compete with many other teachers
While there are many benefits to having other teachers to learn from and compare strategies, there is also competition. With limited methods of filtering teachers, you can end up getting lost in the shuffle of those with the most reviews or lowest prices.
You need to deal with other teachers undercutting your prices
A common complaint that I hear on forums is a perceived “race to the bottom”, where teachers (often from lower income countries) undercut each other until the hourly rate being charged is no longer tenable. On platforms where there is little filtering available to students except by price, teachers often think that lowering their prices is the only way to attract students, leading to the “race downwards” concept.
You still need to do all the lesson planning and preparation
Unlike a salaried ‘job’, you may still need to do all of the teaching administration and assessment. This can be time consuming.
You still need to self promote, market and sell
Even though there are students who are on the teaching platform, you need to find a way to stand out and to attract students to study with you. These sales, marketing and sales skills are foreign to many teachers and can pose a steep learning curve.
Overcome cons to succeed with platforms
- Compare platforms and be 100% clear on the fees and charges involved before signing up. My complete job list has transparent information on the 3 platforms mentioned here and 10 other popular lesser-known platforms from around the world. You can save up to 25% in fees on every lesson this way.
- Don’t make your profile all about you! Instead, describe exactly how you help students and what you can help them achieve. Many teachers simply list their qualifications and experience like it’s a resume. Boring!
Students have goals and usually want English to help them reach them. If you can help them study at that prestigious university, or get them a highly paid job, they’ll pay you a lot more. If you’re teaching kids, talk directly to the parents about their goals for their children’s future.
- Have a professional (or professional looking) profile photo and make a short video, if possible. Check out my post “How to make the ultimate online English teaching video” for more details on how to make it great.
- Think about a teaching niche that you can offer that will make you stand out among other teachers. When there are 100s of profiles with teachers who offer General English, why would a student pick you? If you’d like tailored advice about what niche to select, book in a 1:1 session. Having a niche offer also allows you to charge a higher rate.
- Consider how you can use filters to stand out. If students can filter by price, why try and appear on the lowest price filter? Why not the highest priced? In my research, the teachers that charged the highest amount on a popular platform earned more than the lowest – and in fewer lessons!
- Can students filter by subject, location, reviews, popularity etc? How can you use these filters to your advantage?
- Don’t hesitate to use pre-made lesson materials that you can adjust and customise, especially for beginners. Save yourself hours of lesson planning and preparation with over 50 lesson planning resources with 10k+ lesson plans. See the free list here.
- Search for and join online groups with teachers from your chosen platform. While these groups can be terribly negative at times, they are also a good place to share tips and workshop issues.
- Spend a few hours reading all that you can on how to market and promote your services. In addition to the info in this post, lots of teachers have great videos and blogs with tips and tricks for specific platforms that can be really helpful, as well as the following links:
For those who want the freedom of teaching private students in a freelance capacity without the hassle of starting their own business, a teaching platform might be right for you. There are significant cons worth considering, but many of these can be minimised by taking a few hours to plan and research the best platform for you and strategies for using it to your advantage.
So, do you teach on a platform? Do you have any advice for others how to succeed there?
Kate (GradCertEd TESOL) studied a TESOL certificate in 2010 and has been teaching English ever since. Tutoring ‘freelance’ for many years before starting an independent teaching business, she began Teach English Online to support Australians and New Zealanders to do the same. Just starting out, want to apply to one of the 300+ global companies or build your own small independent teaching business? She can help.