The teacher as a business man online. Let’s call in the experts. Paul Sallaway gives precious advice on how you can thrive your teaching business by using the internet. Interview to George Kokolas

Paul tells us a little about your views regarding remote learning. Do you feel it works or was it simply a forced necessity because of the pandemic, and it will fade out after COVID-19 is over?

Remote learning, remote corporate training, and remote work itself have been trending upward for years. The economic advantages and logistical flexibility of online learning mean it will become the inevitable “default” mode for most types of training, in my opinion.

Even before the pandemic, I noticed a trend in many corporate environments toward “hot-desking”. This is a work arrangement where, rather than coming to work and sitting at “your desk” each day, employees can choose any available space in the office environment. It’s a way for corporate management to get maximum efficiency out of their (expensive) workspace.

Now layer on top of these new “work from home” habits that we’ve all been forced to embrace. My guess is that for most big companies, a significant amount of “work from home” time will continue, post-pandemic. Therefore, it seems logical to imagine that most corporate training will also be delivered virtually. Once people are familiarized with online training in the workplace, including language training, it’s hard to imagine why they would want to switch away from it for personal learning.

Rather than being restricted to bricks and mortar vendors in your local area during normal business hours, remote learning opens up the entire world for a 24-hour window.

Need training in a unique niche like “English for Nuclear Energy Professionals”? No problem. You can find a specialist ESL language instructor online.

Travelling to Paris for a 7-day business trip? No need to skip that group language class and fall behind. Just log in and join the class while you are “on the road”.

Some people will mount the argument that at least in the case of young learners, in-person teaching is “superior” to virtual learning. However, the success of many online “Kids English” companies, even before COVID-19, suggests that a strong demand for this kind of service DOES exist.

Speaking from personal experience, my 7-year-old daughter can easily spend half the day chatting and playing with her cousin, the same age, via smartphone video connection. So, for the new generations I don’t see them making a clear distinction between “in person” communication and “virtual” communication. They are truly “virtual space natives“.

There are also big opportunities in the online learning environment itself which ESL teachers can leverage to their advantage. For example, using GIFs and emoji’s to spice up lesson feedback, using an animated “spinning wheel” or “dice roll” to allow language game play, using virtual office backgrounds to add some realism to work situation role plays, the list goes on.

With most video communication platforms, it is also possible to produce a high-quality lesson recording which students can use to review by themselves or which teachers can edit into a “highlights reel” which emphasizes important lesson points as a value-added service.

Zoom even has a “breakout rooms” feature which makes it simple for online teachers to divide group classes into pairs for practice drill exercises. No more moving chairs around the room and wasting time finding practice partners.

So, in my view, ESL teachers who become adept at the new online teaching tools are going to become highly in demand in the future. For economic, logistical, and even pedagogical reasons, remote learning seems here to stay.

What were your own experiences regarding remote/distant learning, and how would you characterize them?

My first serious efforts at language learning began after I came to live in Japan. I tried many formats for acquiring Japanese language skills. These included attending the free community volunteer classes, paying a tutor for one-to-one classes at local cafés, and attending an established bricks-and-mortar school in my town and so on.

All of them were decent choices. Then I stumbled upon a tiny startup company in Yokohama that was offering online language classes. I was intrigued by the possibilities of learning a language from the comfort of home, and so I contacted them for a trial lesson.

For the next year I continued to take lessons through that online school. As far as I was concerned there was no difference in quality of the lesson delivery. In fact, the opposite case was true, since I had a range of teachers now available to choose from, and I could easily switch between them until I found the teacher who seemed “best” for me.

If we accept remote learning as a new reality, what is the place in the market for the new “remote teacher” in the years to come?

That’s a great question. I would start by recognizing the fact that the whole dynamics of supply and demand are different in the virtual world. If the internet didn’t exist, I could put out a sign on my door saying, “English Lessons” and I’d surely get a few local clients. But they would be most likely “General English” or “Conversation” classes. I’d need to work much harder, and probably travel a bit, in order to secure high paying “niche clients”.

In the global online environment, that market dynamic is flipped on its head. If you are offering “General English” and “Conversation” based classes, you are competing directly with vast numbers of teachers doing exactly the same thing. So, you’ve got to ask yourself, “what’s my unique selling point”? And if you don’t have one, that means you are a commodity, a service which can easily be substituted.

In recent times we have seen numerous “teacher marketplace” platforms emerge. They are an attractive option for teachers new to online instruction because they handle all the infrastructure of payment processing, scheduling, online communication and sometimes even curriculum. But from what I have seen it’s quite hard for teachers to build up any kind of personal brand in these commoditized environments. As a consequence, it seems like most people are charging low hourly rates. The system is almost designed to be a race to the bottom.

What are the principles that will define the model of the teacher-entrepreneur in the new era?

Online language teaching is a competitive business, so I believe the teacher-entrepreneurs who do well will be those who establish a strong personal brand in a narrowly defined niche. I have an ESL teacher friend who is charging 80 Euros per hour to provide vocational related language training services for clients in a very niche industry. And this friend is so busy with clients that she is now in the process of hiring a virtual assistant to help organize her teaching schedule!

ESL teachers who succeed will be those who learn how to comfortably wear “two hats”. Firstly, it goes without saying that they need to be skilled language training professionals. But in addition, they need to get familiar with the mindset of an entrepreneur. That means understanding the basics of digital marketing, understanding how to conduct effective sales calls, and understanding how to identify and react to business opportunities.

Personal branding is another critical challenge for teacher-entrepreneurs. When your ideal client recognizes you as being THE Man or THE Woman who is THE EXPERT in a niche, it’s a powerful position from which to build a profitable business.

Tell us a little about BabelTEQ platform?

A few years ago, a different friend of mine began telling me how he knew many ESL teachers who felt underpaid and underappreciated by the companies they worked for. He said, “I want to get online and take control of my ESL career but the choices for getting there aren’t great”.

And he had a point. First you can hire a website developer of FIVERR or UpWork, but you never quite know what you are getting in terms of skills and support.

Another choice would be to use a DIY website builder like WIX or Square Space which aren’t especially created with ESL teachers in mind and may require a few add-on modules.

Alternatively, you could open an account with a landing page platform like LeadPages or ClickFunnels which are prohibitively expensive for most teachers getting started.

So, BabelTEQ was a platform which I created that allows ESL teachers to sign up for an account, pay a low monthly fee and immediately have a choice of starter templates which were specifically designed to support independent freelance ESL teachers.

A website account includes everything a freelance instructor needs to capture student leads, convert them into customers and scale them into highly profitable clients.

When you create a site on BabelTEQ you immediately get all the functionality necessary to move visitor traffic through those stages of your sales funnel and grow a successful independent ESL business.

About Paul

Paul Sallaway arrived in Japan in the early 2000’s with the goal of teaching Business English and since that time has taught more than 10,000 ESL lessons to adult English learners.

He has also been a self-employed web design and web marketing consultant since 2008.

In 2020 he launched a new project, BabelTEQ which offers independent online ESL teachers the sales funnel tools they need to grow and manage their business.

He is passionate about WordPress consulting, online marketing and using the power of the internet to help people achieve their dreams.