How to Build a Thriving Online Teaching Business

Teaching Online

The eLearning industry is literally exploding. In such a scenario, considering online teaching is becoming a natural choice for educators. But because teaching online is different from teaching face-to-face, they often find themselves wondering how to be effective in delivering elearning and build a thriving online teaching business.

I got my CELTA (Certificate in English Language Teaching to Speakers of Other Languages) and began teaching English in 2008. Four years later, I quit teaching at local schools and began sourcing 100% of my money from online lessons. Initially, my income from students was very inconsistent. But now, I’m heading into my fifth full year of a full schedule, paying my bills and ordering that dessert.

Most teachers think it’s miraculous that I have an endless supply of students. But the fact is – I worked strategically to break some very bad habits that were trapping me in Freelance Poverty. As a teacher, I knew all about my area of expertise (grammar, vocabulary, exam prep), but what I didn’t know was – how to turn learning delivery into a sustainable form of income.

Why Do Teachers Struggle to Find Students?

I see a lot of freelance teachers and tutors make the same mistakes that I used to—and if they could just master these three areas, their money problems would disappear.

Mistake #1 Instructors’ websites aren’t doing anything useful

I wasted a lot of time building my first website. I spent time getting a logo and then more time agonizing over its color.  As if this was not enough, I wasted more time scrutinizing every website theme on the face of the earth. In the end, I had a glorified business card—but no students.

Because my website wasn’t doing the talk, I spent a lot of time talking to potential students. “Hey! It’s been a few weeks… Do you uh… Do you want those lessons? … Oh? My lessons are too expensive?… Ok… Have a nice day.”

What to Do: Know how to let your website do the talking. I learnt it the hard way. I enrolled in a course on ‘how I should use my website’. In the weeks that followed, my website and the way I used it all took a dramatic turn for the better.

Now, my website magnetizes students from around the world. It’s easy for new potential learners to find me. All they ask me is ‘how to pay’. I also get a lot of word-of-mouth traffic, ensuring a steady supply of learners.

Mistake #2 You’re Pitching the Wrong Way

When I started tutoring, I would tell my potential students that I was offering classes on every type of English –  business English, exam prep for TOEFL iBT or TOEIC, conversation lessons, homework help for young kids. I would think who would reject me if I taught everything.

Instead a better question would have been – “Who will value me when I teach everything?” You don’t make a living because you’re “not rejected.” You make a living because you’re valued.

What to Do: Be specific in what classes/courses you offer. When learners look for online courses, they look to gain specific skill set. If you are overwhelmed and can’t resist the temptation of creating an all-inclusive course, imagine that you’re a student who has an urgent, legitimate problem! Think from learners’ perspective. They want to prepare for a life-changing event and want an instructor to show them the how to get results! When I started offering specific lessons that solved real problems, I started seeing a lot of traction on my website.

Mistake #3 Instructors Charging Fee Per Lesson

The biggest mistake that most instructors make is allowing learners to pay for each lesson when they showed up. And honestly, a lot of cancellations  happen. I see so many teachers caught in a bad cycle, too. There are lots of reasons for it: fear of rejection; fear of causing financial hardship for a learner; fear of appearing greedy – or just not knowing what to say. The vast majority of instructors don’t know how to collect payment for a package of lessons and avoid negotiations.

What to Do: Practice selling packages of lessons and collect payment even before lessons start. You get better at this with time.

Identifying these problems is a start, but you also need practical ideas to actually solve each of these things. Learn how to build a thriving online teaching business at CO16 – Global Virtual Conference starting on February 5. Click on ‘save my spot’ button to attend the session with other educators from across the world.


Jaime Miller

Jaime Miller (CELTA, 2008; DELTA, 2014-now) is a full-time online teacher / trainer. She also helps teachers earn money as online freelance tutors with either their own projects, or by training them to customize lesson plans that change scores at stressful speaking exams.

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