Being a freelance English teacher comes with a lot of freedom. As a freelancer you are in control of your own schedule, how much or how little to want to work, where you want to work, who you want to work with, the materials you use, the type of English you want to teach. You can really mold your job into something that uniquely works for you.
The flipside is it’s a lot of work to craft that and you are responsible for building it every step of the way; there’s no template or supervisor there to guide you. Like any type of self-employment it also generally has less stability and can be pretty lean at the beginning as you build your client base.
This article is designed to get you thinking about how to be a freelance teacher and if freelancing is right for you.
Location, Location, Location
First off, every location is different. Being a freelance English teacher in Florida (I’ve done that!) is not the same as being a freelance teacher in Spain (done that, too!). Generally, it is much easier to make money as a freelance English teacher in a non-English speaking country since there is higher demand and a lower supply of teachers, especially if you are also a foreign native speaker with strong in-country language skills.
Secondly, some countries have strict work or visa requirements and you may need a special permit or special work status to legally work as a freelance English teacher. This permit can sometimes be expensive and time-consuming to set up. If you’re just looking to do a few hours of tutoring a week on the side, you’re probably fine without the status (but again, check the rules, consequences, and general culture of where you want to teach).
If you’re setting up a school or seeing a large volume of students you run a higher risk of attracting the attention of local authorities and will need to make sure you have the proper paperwork, permits, and registration filed when you live. Additionally, COVID restrictions may require you to have official paperwork in order to be allowed to move around the city legally for work.
If you teach professional adults or get hired by private companies to teach English to staff, you also often need your official business registration and paperwork. Companies usually need it for internal and tax purposes while individuals need it for reimbursement or continuing education credits from their jobs.
If you are granting any kind of certificate or offering any sort of regionally, nationally, or internationally recognized exams you will also need to have your business certifications and any other specific certs required by the testing bodies.
Keep records of all your lessons in case you need them for tax purposes later. I recommend Wave for free invoices and basic accounting.
At the beginning, be open to different types of clients. Usually the highest demand for private tutoring is usually kids but it can vary based on where you live. You might have a high population of university students or professional adults looking for English.
For a new freelancer, it’s also generally easiest to book private one-to-one lessons. These are easier to schedule and easier to find. If you’re just trying to make a bit of extra money, it’s often enough to stick to private lessons. But if you’re really trying to make the most money with the least amount of work group classes are where it’s at.
To attract groups, offer discounts for multiple signups. Try to get a group to form the group without you arranging it, especially if you’re just starting out. More established teachers can offer group classes and attract enough individual students to fill the class. But when you’re just starting out the last thing you want is to offer a group class for a cheaper price then not have enough people sign up to make it worth it.
Once you’re more established and experienced you can start limiting the types of students you’ll take. In France, I lived near an elite girl’s tennis camp. There were a number of teenage girls with scholarships to play tennis at US universities all looking for TOEFL and SAT prep. I turned away young kids and focused on the higher-paying (and more interesting for me personally) university test prep. If demand is there and supply is low you can quickly establish a niche and corner the market in that type of English.
For the very first meeting, I and most ESL teachers don’t charge a fee. This first meeting is not a real lesson, it’s a chance to meet each other, for you to understand the client’s particular needs and skills and for them to determine if you’re the right teacher for them. Always have the first meeting, especially with adults, in a public place. If for any reason you feel uncomfortable or get bad vibes from a client, apologize and decline working with them.
If you’re a new teacher nervous to meet strangers like this, ask a friend to go with you. Have your friend sit apart from you so you can focus on the client but if anything goes badly you know there’s someone there who has your back.
How to advertise
Besides teaching skills, to make it as a freelancer you also need basic advertising, social media, and internet skills. It also helps to be socially connected and active in your community. There are many ways to advertise but they all have one thing in common: being clear about who you are, what you do, and conveying a sense of trustworthiness.
No matter what combination of methods you use, I highly recommend posting in the most common language(s) of your area. Many potential clients (such as parents of children) won’t be able to read it all and even students who can read your ad may be intimidated by the prospect of responding to you in English. I always write my ads in the in-country language first followed by English.
Facebook & Facebook Groups
Facebook is a powerful tool for connecting you with potential clients. If Facebook is even just remotely popular where you live I recommend posting in Facebook groups. The best groups to post in are community groups, classifieds groups, and tutoring-specific groups. I recommend limiting your posting groups to communities which you’re already a part of; don’t advertise teaching English to French people if you’re currently living in Brazil.
With the pandemic, there’s been a huge increase in demand for online English lessons which makes geography less important. There are plenty of sites designed to connect you to those clients but that’s a post for another day. For now we’ll stick to teaching people in your community, either online or in-person.
When posting to Facebook groups, pay attention to posting rules, don’t break them, and only advertise when permitted. Most groups only allow advertising posts on certain days of the month to cut down on spammers.
Post a poster of your services as a photo and include the same information in the caption. A snazzy poster will attract attention and get more views than text-only posts, but the text is necessary to make your post searchable. I’ve had people search the group three years after I originally posted it and contact me for lessons so I also recommend leaving your post up indefinitely unless your services change or you move.
Monitor your messages more closely once you’ve started advertising on Facebook. Depending on your settings, messages from non-friends may not come directly to your inbox. The worst feeling in the world as a freelancer is finally seeing a message from three weeks ago from a potential client who’s now moved on.
Some teachers like to make their own professional Facebook page. I personally have never done this. It is good for consolidating your contact information and giving you something else to link to besides your personal page if you don’t have your own website up yet but I don’t think it’s a must for most teachers.
Besides social media there is also the good ole internet. This is where I do the majority of my advertising when teaching outside of the US.
Nearly everywhere in the world has some sort of popular online classifieds website and many have tutoring specific pages. The key is to find sites that are incredibly popular. If you are newly abroad and trying to teach English, I highly recommend asking established members of your new community where you find this type of site. Here is a list of sites I personally used for my freelance ESL advertising. I got ESL clients from all of these sites except for GumTree (where I found housing during my CELTA course)
Sites by country
France: LeBonCoin: This is a classic classifieds site. I posted one ad on here and within 2 weeks I was booked solid.
Originally France but now global: SuperProf : This site is specifically for finding private tutors. I found a few Skype students on SuperProf but not any in-person students.
Spain: TusClasesParticulares: This is a site only for private lessons (not just of English but of everything). Posting on this site was WILD. Within hours I had too many replies to possibly teach them all. I started turning people away and only taking the types of lessons that I really wanted. It was great.
UK: Gumtree: This is another classic classifieds site. I never advertised English lessons on GumTree but I did find an amazing rental during my CELTA course and my CELTA classmates who remained in the UK had success finding students with it.
Old-fashioned flyers and word-of-mouth
Do not underestimate the power of a well-placed flyer and word-of-mouth advertising. Depending on where you live (eg. Spain) this may be the main method people use to find new services.
Post flyers strategically. It’s too much work and time to blanket your town with them. Instead, post in areas traffic by your potential clients. If you’re trying to reach adults, post around private language schools, universities, and businesses you know require on-the-job English.
If you’re looking to tutor children, offer kid’s summer camps or anything like that, try to post at school notice boards. This is especially easy if you already work at the school and are only looking to pick up some extra cash tutoring after school. Depending on the culture of where you live, you may be allowed to post on these boards even without school affiliation. In Spain the boards are right at the entrance and while it’s mostly teachers and parents posting on the board, private language schools and tutors also post. If you’re not sure if you can post, ask permission. Talking to school staff is a great way to start word-of-mouth advertising as well.
Word of mouth
Make sure people around you know you teach English. Don’t limit it to friends, also make neighbors, shop keepers, people from your gym, cafe staff etc. aware that you teach English. This is easier to do in a non-English speaking country in an area with few foreigners since people will realise you’re foreign, and, if you have an English accent, assume you teach it. Even if you don’t have an accent or aren’t a native speaker in my experience people are very curious about you and ask lots of questions, giving you plenty of opportunities to mention that you give lessons. The key is to be authentic and sincere and mention casually and naturally in conversation. In Spain I got English students from my yoga class, the cafe I went to near my day-job, and even just people hearing me speak English and stopping me in the street.
Pricing varies by location, your experience, your client types and the types of English you teach. If you have no idea where to price yourself first do some research on other postings online. See what other teachers are offering and asking. Compare your skills to theirs and base your price around that.
If you’re getting lots of inquiries from your ads but then no one follows up once you give them pricing details, take a hard look at your pricing and be open to bringing it down. On the other hand, if you’re absolutely flooded with requests try increasing the price to 1) make more money and 2) decrease the number of inquiries you have to deal with which saves time.
I like to offer different types of classes at different prices. The price changes based on where I’m teaching and going rates for similar services but the hierarchy always stays the same.
1. Conversational English
This is the cheapest option. It involves just speaking with me, a native speaker and English teacher, one-to-one for an hour. For this I do absolutely zero prep work; I just show up and have a nice conversation in English. The student directs the topic and if they ask for any particular speaking practice (eg. past tense, question forms) we do that in a conversational format. This is my most popular class. I also charge this rate for basic children’s homework help when all course materials are provided and we are just working through their English homework together.
2. General English course
Similar to my conversational general English but for people that want a more structured course that includes reading and writing. For this class I will prepare worksheets, grade homework and we’ll work on skills beyond conversation. If I’m working with children whose needs go beyond basic homework help and require me to do prep work or otherwise supplement their schoolwork. I will charge this rate as well. I’ve taught a number of truly bilingual children who speak English well but struggle to read and write as fluently.
Test-prep and industry-specific English:
This is the most expensive level because it requires the most prep-work and background knowledge. For industry English like legal, medical, business, IT etc. I need to brush up on my knowledge so it takes more time and preparation. For test-prep, I only teach tests I know really well and I charge for that knowledge. I’ve had a lot of personal success with the SAT and ACT since I took them and taught them in the US and there were very people like me, an American who knows US university entrance exams really well and can teach them, in the small towns I lived in in France and Spain.
Where you give class is an important consideration you need to figure out before you start teaching. Most freelancers don’t have their own English school or dedicated building so they wind up at a private residence (teacher’s or student’s) or a public place.
If you don’t have your own business address, I highly recommend meeting your students in a public place for the initial meeting. Do not give students your home address unless you are comfortable having them in your house and do not go to private homes unless you trust and are comfortable with those in the home.
If you’re seeing students at your house, make sure you have a clean, professional, separate space to host them. You need at a minimum a large table, chairs, internet, a computer, and probably some books from your own library of materials. You may also need a printer depending on what you’re teaching.
The benefits of teaching from home is that it cuts down on your travel time and you can schedule more students per day. However, you also have strangers coming into your home and if you live with housemates or family members, they may not appreciate the constant visitors.
In my personal experience, the only types of students I’ve taught from my home were teenage girls. I was comfortable with it because the students were all very non-threatening and I had a separate floor with a living room and it’s own bathroom to host them without them really seeing or being in the rest of my house. On their end, my apartment was adjacent to the highschool, I was affiliated with the school already for my day-job, and also a young woman so the students and parents felt comfortable. It worked out really well but I wouldn’t do it for every student.
Teaching at the student’s house can be a huge positive for many clients, especially parents with kids who understandably prefer to be near but not actually in the lesson with their child. Nervous or anxious children themselves are also often more comfortable in their own homes. Pregnant women, new moms, elderly and disabled students also often prefer the convenience of at-home lessons.
When teaching at your student’s home, make sure you have a quiet place to work. It’s easy to get distracted so working from your student’s home works best when they have at least a dedicated time for lessons free from housework and family responsibilities.
Teaching at your students home also makes them mostly responsible for having basic materials for your lessons like paper, pens, markers etc. which can help you save on some of your costs. Some children also have unique toys and games available that can help you with your lessons.
Many teachers charge a supplement for teaching at the students house to cover the monetary and time cost of getting there and most clients are fine with this. If the residence is far away but you’re still interested, you can also ask the student (or their parent) to pick you up and drop you off instead of paying your extra transport fees. I usually only do this with people I already know, trusted referrals or after the first few meetings when I know everything is safe.
Children at home
When teaching children at their homes, make sure there is another adult in the house with you at all times and you are clear with the parents about your role. You are the English teacher, not a babysitter. I recommend this as a blanket policy because if something dangerous happens while it’s just you and the child, you become responsible for the child’s wellbeing. Besides the worst-case scenarios, there’s a very practical reason to require an adult at home: if the parents are late coming home you can’t leave the child alone and may be late to your next appointment.
I almost always meet my adult conversation students in cafés but it’s not for everyone. Cafés can be loud and busy. Some students really like this and want to train their listening skills in a difficult setting, but others really want to be able to hear you super clearly. I recommend trying to have café lessons outside peak hours and looking for quieter tables in more secluded areas of the café. If you can tell your student is struggling to keep up, hear, or read, suggest the library or a quieter public place.
Library study room
The alternative to the cafe is the library study room. It’s quiet, it’s private, and oftentimes it has a white board and internet. Usually, however, you need to have a library card. I try to take charge of this and organize everything for the student, but sometimes it’s difficult to get a card, especially as a foreigner. In cases like this, especially for university students who prefer to meet on campus, I ask the student to book the room.
Make sure you know the library rules before suggesting it to your students. Some libraries have time limits for the rooms, don’t guarantee rooms, or don’t let you book multiple appointments ahead of time. Additionally, some libraries don’t allow patrons to conduct paid business there so be careful about coming so often and clearly exchanging money in the library. If your library has strict rules, consider using your or the student’s house.
I do not recommend holding all of your lessons in the library unless there is consistently reserved space for you and you are not in violation of any library rules.
The community center is the more lax alternative to the library. They usually have large open areas which function somewhere between a café and a library. You can usually talk louder in a community center than you can in the library and you have more space to move around than either a café or a library. Like the library, they sometimes have dedicated study rooms as well which you or your student can book. Sometimes they have games and exhibitions which can provide interesting material for classes.
They can fill up at certain times, especially after school, so again, try to go outside of peak hours if possible. As with the library, make sure you follow the rules and respect other users.
I hope this article has helped you start thinking about what it takes to be a freelance English teacher. Freelance teaching offers more flexibility, but also takes more administrative and logistical effort than a traditional institutional job. Good luck everyone!