I began teaching homeschoolers online two and a half years ago. I had plenty of teaching experience, but no online teaching experience.
My first course was for the entire school year. I acquired my students locally, from my reputation as a teacher of homeschoolers. There was no online marketing nor social media involved. They had weekly online sessions and monthly live meetings. They all learned something, but not nearly as much as I would have wanted them to.
Last year, I began teaching shorter courses for homeschoolers. As I have come to know and reach my population, it has become easier to develop courses that appeal to them. My skills as an online teacher are also stronger. It is much easier to run an engaging and interactive class now than it was 2 years ago.
Some things that I have learned about homeschoolers
Homeschoolers are an incredibly diverse bunch. There are plenty of conservative Christians and plenty of left wing radicals. There are people who are highly structured and those who can’t find a pencil. There are really no “typical” homeschoolers. As such, there are plenty of markets. In general, I would say:
-They are commitment phobic. They do not want to commit to a yearlong (or even a semester-long) course. They much prefer to sign up for shorter formats. Five week courses seem to work for both them and for me.
-They have a wide range of academic skills. I have many students who are capable of writing books and others who are unable to create a paragraph. All of my classes are planned with a high degree of flexibility, so that I can teach something to learners at many different levels.
-It takes a while to reach the market. Homeschoolers are a huge and growing population that many people are trying to profit from (including me). It takes a while to earn their trust. Once you do, though, they are very loyal.
-The market is there. At first, I tried to make my classes appeal to the masses. In other words, the subjects were boring. It turns out that EVERYONE is homeschooling, across political and religious boundaries. People from all walks of life are tired of the public school system, and they are all seeking alternatives. I have found a collection of families who want a revolutionary, social justice curriculum. If I found that market, it is certain that most other markets are present, too. There is a market to teach what you love.
There is a market to teach what you love
That statement is worth repeating and might be the best thing about teaching homeschoolers online. You can decide what excites and engages you and teach it to children. The market is out there. There are many people who are looking for alternatives to corporate homeschooling. Offer them alternatives, keep plugging your courses and the students will come.
My Marketing Plan
I have been marketing using two main tools: email campaigns and paid advertisements.
Email campaigns: After two years of sending emails from my personal account, I have finally created a marketing list and am sending out updates and class information from MailChimp. I took Social Mouths Email Marketing 101 course, which helped me to get organized and get the list made. According to Francisco Rosales of Social Mouths, “If you are a small business, email needs to become the ultimate engagement vehicle, a true 2-way street. We’re not talking about public engagement like Twitter or Facebook, we’re talking about one-on-one with prospects that have clearly expressed interest by joining your list.” My business is smaller-than-small. Making one-on-one connections with parents and students is what brings paying families to my classes.
My email list, which I started about 2 months ago, has around 100 people. I have taught the children of many of the subscribers. They know me and like me. Once I get people in the door, I offer a solid product, and they return for more.
Advertising: I have found a few key websites where I place the occasional advertisement. If the advertisements bring me even one student, they are usually worth it, as that student sticks with me for many classes.
Crunching the numbers: Am I making money?
All that is great, but is the cash coming in?
The answer is YES It is not pouring in, but I am making steady progress toward a sustainable income.
My plan for next fall is to teach 4 5-week courses. Each course will have 6 students. After 5 weeks of teaching, I will have three weeks off, to plan for the next 5 weeks. Each session will have (4 classes x 6 students) 24 paying students. Each student pays $50 per class, so each 5 week session (with three weeks off) will gross $1200. That means that I gross $600 every month. This is clearly not a fortune. However, it is not bad for one day’s work each week. If I was working a regular 5 day per week schedule, it would be $3000 per month. Of course, there are business expenses: the computer crashes, I need educational software (though WizIQ is pretty much a complete package) and I have to advertise. But as my business grows, these expenses become more predictable and the social networks that I have worked to create are bringing me more leads.
Taking your homeschooling online is a viable way to create income while doing something meaningful and important.