While living in Europe, I ran short of money and needed some way to, well, buy groceries and pay the rent, frankly. I started giving English lessons and eventually took the Certificate in English Language Teaching to Adults (CELTA) course to get some real training and qualifications. I taught in private schools for a few hours a week, but most of my teaching was in the form of one-on-one lessons with students I found myself. Here are the student-gathering methods that worked best for me.
Know Your Market
Before you start advertising, you’ll need to do a little planning and research or you’ll end up wasting time and money. For instance, who do you prefer to work with? Pre-schoolers? College kids? Business people? Each group will have it’s own hang-outs and meeting places. If you like working with little kids, placing ads in the local universiy newspaper probably won’t find you too many. Also, if you’re working in a foreign country, you’ll also need to take some time to investigate the local beliefs about how a tutor “should” advertise. Something that might bring loads of students in one country, might make you look unprofessional in another. If you get a news advertising idea, run it past a local tutor before you try it out.
I got the best results from print ads. My most successful ads where in smaller, local newspapers with few competing ads. In your ad, be specific about the unique advantages you offer. Can you teach intensive courses? Do you like to use music in your lessons? Saying so will set you apart from your competitors. Also remember to mention the specific topics you can cover such as English for lawyers, medical workers, or accountants. If you don’t feel comfortable with any popular topic, get some books and start learning. On the subject of print ads, where I was living, you often saw fliers posted on any available flat surface or stuffed into mailboxes. I tried this method several times, but had a 100% failure rate and never heard of any other tutor having much luck with it either.
Networking and Word of Mouth
A friend of mine shunned “advertising” and got almost all of his students as referals from friends or other students. This can work quite well and, besides, it’s usually free. Most importantly, once you’re sure a student is satisfied with your work, don’t be shy about letting them know you’re free to take other students. Another method is to get to network with other tutors. You can not only exchange tips and material, you can refer business to each other. You never know when a friend of yours might have a student who wants to prepare for an exam that he doesn’t know about, but you do. Commission-based referals can also work in some countries. First, print up business cards that offer a discount or special bonus (such as a small booklet). You then give the cards to anyone who meets a lot of people throughout the day, such as hairdressers and shoeshiners, so they can refer their clients to you. For each referer you give the cards to, make up a “referer code” and write it on each of the cards. When your new student hands in the card to get the special discount of bonus, the code will tell you whom to pay for the referal.
Personally, I had only moderate luck with online advertising, but I did get a few students this way. In countries where the Internet is used extensively, you’ll probably find sites devoted to matching teachers and students. In other areas, a plain old classifieds ad site can work just as well. Craigslist, for example, has sections for many cities around the world. You could even start an language-learning blog (there are several free blog hosts online) and offer a mailing list to keep in touch with potential students.
Hand Out Samples
Offering a two- to four-hour course, whether free or for a small fee, can be an excellent way to attract potential students. Mini-courses let potential students get a taste of your personality and teaching style before they commit to anything long term. You might offer a course aimed at improving phone skills, resume writing, giving presentations or anything else where students can genuinely benefit from just a few hours. Remember to print up some hand-outs (with your contact information clearly visible, of course) for the learners to take home, too. Personally, I suggest charging at least a little for the course. This puts value on your time and work and dissuades freebie seekers.
Give some of these student-attracting methods a try and soon you’ll be the one refering students to other tutors instead of looking for referals.