Here at Teacher Indie, we take much pride in not only helping others make a living teaching online, but in doing it ourselves. Our brand is an offshoot of Live Lingua, the world’s first online immersive language school. My wife Laura and I have been doing this for nearly a decade now, and have learned a lot about what it takes to build an online business and make a living online. It’s all about the approach.
A big part of finding success in online teaching is in self-discipline and attitude. The waters get rough sometimes, and weathering the storm is part of the gig. Today, I’ll lay out a few things I’ve found that work for me on this front, along with advice I’ve received along the way.
At times, this may seem like I’m ranting. But think of this list as motivation. As a mental push to keep going when times get tough. It’s far from complete, but hey, that’s the beauty of carving out your own path– it’s an ongoing process of learning and figuring it out.
First and foremost, be willing to put it the time
Building a profitable teaching business isn’t going to happen overnight. It also isn’t going to happen in six months, unless you’re in the perfect place at the perfect time. A business and a career take years to grow. It’s kind of like a sliding scale. With hard work (and a lot of following the other tips on this site!), your work and income will slowly rise. This allows you to ramp down classroom work or outside income on a similar scale. Eventually, you’ll get to the point where you make enough to live on by teaching online.
See this article for my personal opinion on making this process much faster. Not everyone can pick up and move abroad right away, but it can certainly help the financial situation for those coming from developed countries.
Additionally, let me be loud and clear about my belief that good work deserves good pay. We all need to make a living. But one of the catch 22s of this line of work is that many assignments and contracts offer value far beyond the financial reach of the work. I learned quickly that sometimes, especially as a newbie, a connection or ‘in’ with a person or company, or a hefty dose of networking, can be equally as valuable in the long run.
For me, one of the steepest learning curves of building an online teaching business has been honing in on the long-term value in a contract before deciding whether or not it’s worth my time. That’s part of the reason why we keep our lessons affordable and do things like run holiday specials – getting a student in the door now exposes them to our product and hopefully will keep them around long-term.
Maintain your contacts
Let’s go further on the last point. The people you know, work with, and who respect and trust you professionally are going to make your career. Do what you say you’re going to do. Meet deadlines. Finish what you start. Stay in touch with people you meet on press trips, at conferences, and through email. It will pay off!
Tip: At the beginning of each quarter, I reach out to those involved in our business – from students to teachers to employees, just to let them know that I appreciate them and am always looking to get more involved. The return percentage on this is actually quite impressive.
Get enough sleep
If there is one thing I absolutely have to have in order to do my best work, it’s sleep (and avoiding mid-week hangovers). This isn’t a mindless clock in-clock out-collect paycheck type of job. If I can’t stay motivated I’ll end up taking a nap, won’t get anything done, and won’t make any money. Even with the digital nomad lifestyle, having a routine is key.
Tip: I segment my day into categories. Tougher work is done first thing, followed by a gym break or lunch meeting, and then tying up any loose ends or working on smaller projects. Any reach outs that need to happen get taken care of late in the afternoon, because it helps me end the day with some sort of hopeful intuition that I’ll find something good in my inbox the next morning.
Invest in your career. And, work your ass off to make things happen.
I found myself working a corporate job in the US after college. It wasn’t terrible, wasn’t great, I was making money, I wasn’t necessarily unhappy. But one night, I was out at a bar with my coworkers. We were celebrating the work anniversary of a long-term employee of the company. At one point, I took a mental step out of the situation and looked upon our group from the view of an outsider.
I knew that many of these people had been working at the company for ten years, twenty years, forty years. They’d been drinking at this bar, having these same celebrations, the entire time. I didn’t want to be that guy. There had to be more to life than a pre-planned trajectory until age 65.
I signed up for the Peace Corps, and it changed my life. I moved to Mexico, met my wife, and ended up starting a business. It was risky, I thought at the time. But looking back, I’m so proud of myself for taking that step to get out of a situation I didn’t want to get stuck in. We’ve been through a lot and have worked really hard to grow a profitable business.
The point is, in the business world, nobody is going to give you anything. You have to scratch and claw for every dollar, every job, every byline. It’s never easy, but after a while, it becomes a routine. Stuff that may sound overplayed, like signing up for a writing course (and actually taking it seriously) and going to networking events often lead to opportunities you never knew existed.
Tip: We’ve built a strong reputation over time. Part of this stems from getting reviews from our students. This leads to future students seeing how happy our students are.
Be flexible, and keep your head in the game
People love to complain. Teachers are no different, especially in the online and entrepreneurial spectrum. Every now and then, I have to take a step back and remind myself how stoked I am to be working for myself, traveling on my own terms, and making my own schedule. This line of work has its headaches and is always going to be a roller coaster with peaks and valleys. I’ve learned to be open-minded about client feedback and have come to understand that different clients work differently. Posting a snarky comment on social media when a contract is cut short, or a payment doesn’t come in before the end of the month, isn’t doing anything other than making me look unprofessional. Instead, I try to remember that there’s no boss looking over my shoulder telling me not to crack an afternoon beer to take the edge off.
Tip: There are going to be slow weeks. I try to fill the time by doing reach outs, generating lists of story ideas to pitch, and going snowboarding or camping. In order to stay afloat during these times, I opened a business savings account that does two things for me: 1. Holds money for taxes. 2. Holds money for slow periods. If I could only get better about putting money in there, I’d be golden . . .
Certainly, there are more things that go into building a successful online teaching career (just take a look around our website here). But so much of it comes down to attitude and approach. Keep your head in the game and prepare for a long-term commitment, and you’re already setting yourself up for success.