How to Succeed as a Freelance Online English Tutor

Don’t throw away your TEFL certificate! You can succeed an a freelance online English tutor, you might just need some help.

2020 was an insane year and has thrown nearly the entire world’s population into chaos. Many people lost their jobs or had to work from home, schools were disrupted and just being able to go to the grocery store was something we took for granted before Covid-19. 

Thousands and thousands of people started looking for new jobs, moving to other industries, and were wanting to work from home. Teaching English online was an easy choice for most. You can complete a TEFL/TESOL certificate within just a short number of weeks, and most certificates are budget friendly.

Unfortunately, because of the huge influx of newly qualified teachers, online schools were able to pick and choose their teachers more specifically, and sometimes even lowered their rates of pay. New TEFL/TESOL certificate holders were angered because all of a sudden their so-called ‘guaranteed job’ had disappeared, they blamed their course providers for lying to them, rather than being introspective. 

Many people were also disappointed that some of the higher paying platforms required a degree or specific nationality, not realising that as a freelance online English tutor this is not considered.

The fact is there are plenty of English tutoring roles for GOOD teachers. You can’t just turn up and expect to earn a decent wage or book lots of classes, teaching English online is not a get rich quick scheme. 

But here are some advantages of what it does have:

  • A low barrier entry role
  • A great way to earn an income from a skill you may have been doing all your life…. speaking English
  • A way to subsidise/replace your income working from home (especially during Covid-19 lockdowns)
  • You are not restricted to teaching on only one language learning platform
  • The prospect of earning big money for those prepared to put in a bit of time and effort to be a good teacher, and to market themselves as such

In this article you will learn the basics of what you need to do to succeed as a freelance online English tutor.

freelance online english tutor

What is a Freelance Online English Tutor?

As a freelance online English tutor you may use an online language learning platform to teach or find students, or you may find your own students through social media or other advertising. Or perhaps do a combination of both! You might even work as a contract teacher at times as well for companies such as VIPKid or QKids. 

So, basically a Freelance online ESL teacher means you can choose your niche, age group, lesson times, and what you teach etc. And that the students specifically choose you because you appeal to them in a certain way.

How do I get started as a freelance online English tutor?

To get started as a freelance online English tutor you really need a TEFL or TESOL certificate. There are a range of budget friendly options available that can be completed online. 

And obviously you must have an interest in helping people learn or improve their English.

Other than that you need to decide:

  • What platform suits you best
  • What your niche will be
  • Who your target students will be
  • How you will promote yourself
  • What you will teach during your lessons
  • If you are applying to a language learning platform you will also need to consider your application which will include a resume and an introduction video at minimum. 

Your introduction video will also be used as part of your profile to get students browsing the platform to choose you as their teacher. So you will need to stand out amongst the other teacher profiles, the more students who click on your profile and watch your video, the greater chance you have of filling your available class times. 

Read this for How do I start teaching English Online in 2021?

freelance online english tutor

How do I succeed as an freelance online English tutor?

So now you know the basics of what you need to do to get started as a freelance online English tutor, but you now need to know how to actually succeed. 

It’s actually very simple in theory, but unfortunately many people don’t put in any effort and when they fail, they blame the industry or their course provider.

The fact is there are hundreds of millions, if not more than a billion people who want to learn or improve their English. And many are prepared to pay big money, especially if their teacher offers them something that they can’t get elsewhere.

To succeed you need to:

  • be a good teacher
  • have practical and useful lesson material
  • offer something different than other teachers
  • be able to market yourself effectively

How to Be a Good Teacher

This can be very subjective, but generally good teachers are interested in their students and are able to convey their teachings in a way that is understood and enjoyable. This can be made harder by the fact you are teaching online, so it can be harder to create a relationship with your student than if you were teaching face to face. Let alone all the other interruptions that can happen with online teaching such as internet issues and outside influences such as children or the TV.

Being a good teacher means being present in your lessons and being prepared. It means you should remember particulars about your student and try to tailor the lesson to them personally, even if you are working from a mass produced lesson plan. 

A good teacher will get good reviews, returning students and referrals for new students. 

13 Ways to be a Better Online ESL Teacher

Lesson Materials

What you teach will depend on your niche, and the age and level of your students. There are numerous places to get lesson plans and materials. No matter what you choose, remember that it should be relevant and interesting. Make sure you read it and adjust anything that you feel is out of date, or not relevant to your student. And remember that to be a success, you should offer lessons that are different to what others are offering. If you’re using the same book every other teacher is, why would a student pay you more, or keep booking lessons with you? provide cost effective, high quality lesson plans that you won’t find elsewhere.

That leads us into…

Being different from other freelance online English tutors

What can you offer that no-one else can?

Is it by successfully helping previous students?

Is it an interesting or difficult niche?

Is it your educational or work background?

Is it a hobby or skill you have?

Think about these things seriously and then do some research and whether it is viable. If you can say you’ve helped 10/10 students achieve certain exam results that is very different to someone who just offers conversational English.

If you can offer something different to every other freelance online English tutor you will have potential students begging you to be their teacher. 

freelance online english tutor

Marketing Yourself as a freelance online English tutor

There’s a famous line out of the Kevin Costner movie Field of Dreams…. “If you build it, they will come.” Unfortunately, this does not apply to you at the beginning of your freelance teacher journey, whether it’s on a language learning platform or whether you’re on your own. You are going to need to market yourself and present yourself as the ‘go-to’ online English teacher. 

So How Do You Do This? 

To do this on a language learning platform, you will need to ensure you have an excellent profile that captures the imagination of your potential student, and creates an interest in them hiring you.

Depending on the platform, this usually means an introduction video and a short bio.

For your video you want it to be interesting and have good production value. If it’s shaky, blurry and dark, no student will want you as their teacher. Tell your students how you will help them and what outcomes they can expect. Talk a little about yourself and why you as their teacher, with your experience will benefit them in their learning goals.

Depending on how much information you can fit in your written bio, expand upon the information in your video. Be friendly, but professional.

And compare your profile against other teachers, remember, you want to stand out! This may mean having a look at what other teachers are offering and what they are saying.

freelance online english tutor

You can also market yourself in other ways such as on social media platforms like LinkedIn, Facebook and Instagram.

Remember though, that using social media professionally to gain paying clients is different to sharing pictures of the latest family get together. You will need to create some professional profiles and then post useful and relevant content.

You can pay for advertising and target your niche audience, or just build a large following and turn followers into paying students. 

One of the benefits of building a social media following is that you aren’t directly competing with all the other English tutors on the same language learning platform! 

To create professional social media posts there is a great tool called Canva. It is like having your own graphic designer on call. Even if you have no creative instincts they have thousands of templates that you can either use as is, or make your own just by changing the colour.

It is free, but for less than $15 a month, or $120 a year it is definitely worth paying for premium which gives you access to better templates, images, videos, fonts and elements. Plus you get to try pro for FREE!

The best thing about Canva is that you can use it for more than just your social media! They have Zoom backgrounds, worksheets, logo builders, banners, lesson plan templates and so much more. You’ll even be able to benefit personally as you make cards and more for your family and friends. 

Some freelance online English teachers have even progressed from teaching one on one lessons, to creating videos on YouTube which earns them money every time someone watches one of their videos!

That means you can earn money while you are teaching another lesson or while you’re at the beach. 

So now you know how to succeed as a freelance online English tutor! 

As they say though, the devil is in the detail. That’s why Just ESL Tutors created the Online Teacher PATH. The lessons in this program include:

Module 1 – Preparing

  • Lesson 1: Introduction – Preparing Yourself for the Industry
  • Lesson 2: Questions you need to ask yourself!
  • Lesson 3: Choosing Your Niche(s)
  • Lesson 4: Choosing Your Platform(s)

Module 2 – Applying

  • Lesson 1: Introduction – Applying for the Position
  • Lesson 2: How to Create Your ESL Resume
  • – Topic 1: How is an ESL Resume Different to a Normal Resume?
  • – Topic 2: What Do I Include In An ESL Resume?
  • – Topic 3: What Should I Exclude From An ESL Resume?
  • Lesson 3: How to Create Your Cover Letter
  • Lesson 4: How to Create Your Introduction Video (for recruiters)
  • Lesson 5: How to Ace Your ESL Job Interview

Module 3 – Teaching

  • Lesson 1: Introduction – Teaching Your Students
  • Lesson 2: Your Online Classroom (3 Parts)
  • Lesson 3: Lesson Plans – How to Find What to Teach
  • Lesson 4: Common Mistakes Teachers Make

Module 4 – Habits

  • Lesson 1: Introduction – Habit-Building for Success
  • Lesson 2: How to Create Your Video Introduction Script and Bio (for students)
  • Lesson 3: How to Use Facebook to Attract More Students
  • Lesson 4: How to Use LinkedIn to Attract More Students (2 Parts)
  • Lesson 5: Top Tips to be Better than the Rest

Bonus Lessons

  • #1: What is Social Media Marketing and How It Will Help You
  • #2: How to Get High Paying Students and What to Charge
  • #3: Where To Get Your First Students
  • #4: How to Keep Your Students

The Online Teacher PATH is recommended and partnered with several accredited TEFL/TESOL certificate providers, because they know having a TEFL/TESOL certificate is just not enough to be a successful teacher these days.

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How to Succeed as a Freelance Online English Tutor