The question I get asked over and over again is, “How do I get students?” I’ve earned 100% of my income from online lessons since 2012, taught online since 2010 and self-published 3 digital courses that learners buy and use through my own school’s website. Now I’m training a team of highly-qualified teachers. Whatever you do, I’m sure we have a lot in common.
I am not surprised if getting found by high-quality learners is your main concern, too.
There are a lot of factors that contribute to a full teaching schedule, keeping seats full or selling a lot of copies of a book/program, so let’s be realistic…
The full answer to this sticky wicket is longer than you probably have time for right now. And seeing the results requires more action than skimming a single blog post (that’s why I lead an 8-week course with action steps that scaffold your online ELT project).
I don’t care who you are. Everyone, and I mean everyone — from ELT material writers to schools to freelance teachers — should have a “Success Stories” section on their website. But if it’s done wrong, it does more harm than good. So here’s how the recipient of Exam English’s 2015 Online Teacher scholarship (me) does it…
1. Make a space for Success Stories.
If you don’t already have a dedicated page where you cull Success Stories, you need one. Pronto. I’m guessing that you hate marketing yourself because it makes you feel awkward. I can relate. It’s precisely because I dislike promoting what I do that I’ve delegated this to my website so it’s happening around the clock.
Every learner who trusts you (or your book, digital course or school) enough to pay you has already gone through his or her own decision-making process. (Teachers who worked in a school and material writers who had publishing companies front them were totally divorced from this process, so it’s understandable why most of us probably haven’t really thought about this before.)
Sometimes learners need to ask questions about your ELT service, but often they can answer a lot of their own questions just by exploring your website. And if you’re teaching solo like on WizIQ, iTalki or Skype, you definitely shouldn’t be chained to your email inbox, answering an endless stream of questions from mildly-interested learners. But even if you’re a school owner, I’m sure you would rather pay your people to do something more productive than talk to “tire-kickers.”
One of the main ways that you can accelerate learners’ own choice to study with you is by giving them success stories to browse at any time of day. Any potential learners will instantly compare their current situations to those of students who have already gotten results with you. This doesn’t require any of your time, but it is still a really important part of each learner’s decision-making process.
In fact, I know that some learners actually try to track down the students who are featured on teachers’ websites. Can you blame the students? They want to be sure that who and what they’re investing in is legit. Especially if you’re charging good money for your lessons.
Online, your reputation as an ESL professional is pixel-thin. Creating “digital trust” is a long-term project. If learners (or other ELT professionals) doubt the credibility of the learners who give you positive stories, your reputation erodes.
If a potential learner’s search for your fictitious successful learner ends in doubt or confusion, you can kiss your credibility goodbye. The chances of that potential learner reaching out to you drop to zero. And if they happen to remember you when they talk with their learner friends,what will they say about you?
Let’s make sure you’ve got high-quality success stories circulating about you…
2. Ask for permission to share.
You absolutely want the consent from your learners to share their stories. This keeps your conscience clean and your reputation pristine.
If your learners hesitate to star on your site, ask if you can post about them anonymously (get him or her to create a believable pseudonym). Make sure to save all these somewhere that you can easily reference them in the future.
3. Use real photos of students.
Pictures have a major impact on people’s perception of how real your success stories are. You’d be surprised how many students are willing to be visible (they’re proud of their accomplishments, after all!), but of course, not everyone wants to be on the internet. I have a few silhouette images that we use when our students prefer to be anonymous.
Do not use Linked In. It is a tempting giant catalogue of real photos of international students but the internet isn’t as anonymous as it might seem. I have heard about one case where a woman who works in Europe ended up having her name and image used on a success story for a random teacher’s website. She had never even met the teacher or needed those English lessons. And yet, there she was on a website.
Don’t use random images like celebrities or stock photos, either. Celebrities (especially native English-speakers) obviously weren’t your students. Stock photos have that unmistakably perfect feel. That glossy perfection actually erodes your credibility. And look, I myself went through a phase where I used pictures of flowers and a historical figure or two for anonymous students. I’ll be the first to admit that hindsight is 20/20. Keep the photos real, my friends!
By following this advice, you’ll have the confidence of featuring success stories that add to your credibility and authenticity.
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About the Author:
Jaime Miller is the owner of English Success Academy and leads two online teacher training courses: Online Tutor Launchpad (which helps teachers make a living online), and How to Teach Exams (which gives teachers lesson plans to destabilize fossilized errors and produce spontaneous language more accurately).