Do you want to find more students for your independent online teaching business? In this post, we will discuss 13 proven methods to find online students from around the world.
1: Find students on social media
One of the most popular ways to find independent online ESL students is social media.
You can reach a huge number of potential students for free by harnessing social media algorithms, posting valuable content and growing an audience. It takes time, but can really pay off.
Alternatively, consider paid advertising options to boost your reach more quickly.
With social media advertising, the first key decision is to pick a platform. There are hundreds of options out there! Start by considering your target customers (remember: if you are teaching kids, then your customer is the parent) and identify where they hang out online. For example, business professionals in the US can be found on LinkedIn, whereas Chinese university students and young parents are on XiaoHongShu.
Social media marketing resources
2: Harness existing connections with referral marketing
If you already have existing student contacts or personal connections who could help link you to your target market (time to reach out to that cousin who moved to Korea!), then referral marketing is one of the most powerful strategies to get more independent students online.
Word-of-mouth advertising is incredibly successful, because your existing students are directly recommending you to their friends. According to research by Neilsen, 92% of people trust referrals from people they personally know, and they are four times more likely to buy.
To encourage students to recommend you to friends, you can offer a referral incentive such as a free class or special discount. Make it easier for them to refer you by creating pre-made posters they can easily share with friends.
3: Collaborate with other teachers
A similar method is to partner with other subject teachers. For example, if you offer reading classes for elementary school students, reach out to online elementary maths teachers whose students may also be looking for reading classes.
Usually this kind of arrangement would be on a referral basis, in which you would pay them some fixed referral commission for each new student.
It’s best when the partnership is mutually beneficial, as you may also have students who could be interested in their services too.
Important: When collaborating with other teachers, it is essential that you have a good relationship and trust each other. Students don’t want to be referred to a teacher you can’t personally vouch for.
4: Find students on tutor directory websites
Tutor directory websites and classified ads sites allow teachers to list adverts to find students online. On your advert, you should include contact details so students can communicate with you directly to arrange classes. The payment model of each site varies – some charge a listing fee, others are free but you can pay for premium listings, and others charge potential students to access your contact details.
Some sites are focused on specific countries or regions, for example Mercado Libre (South America), Avito (Russia) and Ganji (China). Craigslist has worldwide sites (you’ll need to list in each country under services -> lessons & tutoring). These are excellent places to advertise online ESL classes and find students worldwide. Don’t forget to translate your advert into the local language so it is easier for your target audience to read!
You could also use directories aimed more at native English-speaking markets, such as Gumtree, First Tutors and SuperProf. These can reach expat families wanting more advanced ESL classes, as well as students looking for subject classes like maths or science.
5: Join a teacher marketplace like Outschool or italki
Teacher marketplaces are similar to directory sites, but rather than selling your contact details, instead students need to book and pay for classes through the site. They generally charge you commission on earnings (usually around 15% – 30%) rather than a listing fee. Although this can seem expensive, it may be worth it if you don’t want the stress of doing your own marketing.
On these platforms, you usually create a tutor profile, list the languages and levels you teach, set your hourly rate, and wait for students to find you by searching their tutor directory.
Students are often looking for conversation classes or step-by-step classes on an ongoing basis.
Group class marketplaces operate a little differently. On sites such as Outschool and AllSchool, teachers create specific class listings at set times, which students can then enrol on – either as a one-off class, for a short series of classes, or on an ongoing basis. The key to success is to offer more niche and interesting class topics, rather than general step-by-step classes.
Teacher marketplace resources
6: Create a website for your online teaching business
Now, before you jump into this, I want to start with a quick note of warning – a website will not bring you students on its own. You need to be directing people to it (e.g. from your social media marketing) or investing a LOT of work into SEO and blogging. What are those, you ask…?
SEO is “Search Engine Optimisation“. Essentially, you need to optimise your website (using techniques like keywords and building backlinks) so that search engines like Google identify your website as being particularly relevant, valuable and trustworthy for your target audience (who are searching for topics related to your niche).
A key method of boosting SEO is blogging. Write valuable blog posts (like this one!) which answer commonly searched for questions for your niche. In time, these will rank higher on Google and start bringing in potential students. Make sure you add a note at the end of each post promoting your classes or collecting email subscribers.
Website, SEO and content marketing resources
7: Use email marketing to reel in new students
A marketing strategy I see very few online teachers fully exploiting is email marketing. According to Hubspot, email marketing is one of the most cost effective strategies – bringing in $36 per $1 spent on average.
Firstly, you need a strategy for collecting emails. Offer some freebie (e.g. a free ebook or example exam paper pack) in return for joining your email list. You can then promote this freebie on your social media or website.
Subscriber segmentation is key for success – you don’t want to send the same generic newsletter to everyone. Organise your email contacts into different mailing lists and target emails to customers based on their engagement or previous purchases.
8: Advertise locally with flyers and posters
Don’t ignore the potential to find students locally! Even if you are teaching English online, there may be families who have recently immigrated to your area and need classes.
Create flyers or posters promoting your teaching services, which you can either distribute to people’s homes or ask to display on notice boards in your neighbourhood (e.g. town notice board, local shops, the library, local schools, etc). Your local newspaper may also have a leaflet delivery service.
9: Write guest posts on other websites
An easy way to get your face in front of potential students is to collaborate with individuals or companies who already have an established audience in your niche. Offer to write a blog post, feature in a YouTube video, appear on their podcast or post something on their social media which helps their audience or supports their own marketing efforts, while also gently raising your profile with potential students.
The ideal collaborator is someone who has the same target audience as you, but is not a competitor. For example, you could collaborate with a website selling educational kids toys, offering to write an article on their blog about how you use their toys in your classes to boost students’ learning.
Don’t forget to ask for a backlink or permission to include your contact details in the post, so anyone interested in your services can connect.
10: Answer questions on forums and Q&A sites
Websites such as Quora, Reddit, Zhihu, HiNative and italki community are popular platforms for learners to ask questions and receive responses from experts. Spend a few hours every week answering questions on these kind of forum sites.
Always seek to add value instead of directly promoting your classes (which could get you banned). Occasionally, you may find a good opportunity to link to one of your blog posts or videos on a topic – which then indirectly leads potential students to check out your website or social media profiles.
11: Use paid advertising to find students online
Want to appear right at the top of Google search (above the actual search results) and in front of your target audience as they browse on social media? Companies use paid advertising all the time to bring in new leads.
It is particularly important to target your adverts to a very specific audience, and use retargeting strategies to show adverts to people who had previously checked out your website or engaged with your social media content.
Before you jump into paid advertising though I would highly recommend you first test your offer through organic (free) methods first. Paid advertising can get expensive! However, when you are at the stage of wanting to scale your business then it can be worth investing in.
Paid advertising resources
➥Google Ads for Beginners course by Coursera
12: Connect with schools and businesses
Are you targeting school students? Well, the best place to find them is… in school! Similarly, business professionals in the IT industry can be found in big IT companies, whereas university students tend to be found in large numbers around campus… You get the idea!
Contact school / university guidance counsellors, careers advisors, subject leads, etc to ask if they would be willing to recommend you to their students. Many have tutor directories or may be willing to put up your details on a notice board, as they also have a vested interest in seeing their students succeed.
Similarly, business English teachers may be able to reach out to the HR or professional development departments of companies in your niche to ask if they may be interested in specialist English training for their employees.
13: Use influencer marketing to find new students online
Influencer marketing can be a great way to reach a wider audience by benefitting from the existing followers of a well-established account in your niche. Essentially, you can ask influencers to promote your classes to their audience. This could be as a sponsored post (where you pay them a fixed amount for a post) or a referral arrangement (paying them commission per referred student).
In recent years, companies have shifted to focus more on “micro-influencers” (typically classed as those with less than 10,000 followers), as they may have a stronger niche focus and more engaged followers who trust their recommendations more personally. This is a particularly good option if you are an individual teacher, without a huge budget.
How to find influencers to promote your classes? Well, a great place to start are your existing students – you may be lucky and one of them is already a micro-influencer in your niche! Alternatively, search on social media for successful accounts and engage with them to build a relationship before reaching out to them personally.
Bonus: Multichannel marketing
You may have noticed that in some of the suggestions above, I referred to other techniques too (e.g. collecting email subscribers from a blog post on your website). In fact, these marketing strategies all complement each other. The buzzword at the moment is “multichannel marketing” – using multiple channels to promote your classes and find more students online.
The benefit of this is that potential students will see you in multiple places throughout their day – e.g. watching one of your YouTube videos over breakfast, reading an email from you linking to a new blog post on the commute, browsing your Facebook posts during lunch break, etc. This helps establish you as a real expert in your niche and provides more opportunities for engagement, thus converting leads into paying students more efficiently and quickly.
Of course, you don’t need to implement EVERY strategy and get on every social media platform right away – start with just two or three that complement your style and have good reach with your target audience. In time, you can expand your online presence further as your online teaching business grows.
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