Get premium rates for your online ESL business

In our previous Teaching English Online post I discussed the most common question I hear from teachers contemplating online ESL teaching, “How to get students?” In this post I would like to discuss the second most common question, “How do I earn good rates for teaching online?”

ESL students have lots of options…

The past five years has seen tremendous growth in live online teaching, especially in ESL. There are now a plethora of sites, large, medium and small, which offer ESL lessons by video-conference software. Some of these sites charge their students as little as $10-15 per hour. For those of us looking to start our own online ESL businesses (and survive off them), this price point is a challenge. So how do you differentiate yourself and earn a living wage from your online ESL business? The answer relies on relationships and quality. (I discussed the importance of relationships in my last post).
First, a couple considerations…
You’ll need focus when attracting and building your student list. Your focus will likely be a natural extension of a past or current career teaching in a traditional classroom. As a rule of thumb, don’t focus on students from a geography or demographic that is unlikely to be able to afford your rates.
In the beginning of your voyage as an online ESL teacher, you will be tempted to accept every student that wants lessons (regardless of the pricing they are willing to pay), as each student adds to revenue. However, remember that your existing students will recommend you to new potential students. If you take on these new students, you will only be able to charge the new student what you are charging your current students. It is always easier to drop your prices than to raise them.
Setting up a professional yet simple website / landing page is vital to instill confidence in potential students. Here is a great online ESL-focused tutorial by Jack Askew.
You’ll also need some great lesson content to run your lessons.

How to implement quality into your online ESL business

Students will pay more for a personalized, high-quality ESL experience. This is your key defence against getting pushed into low teaching rates by all of our competitors.
Quality starts from your first interactions with your prospective students. I recommend opening your new student relationships with an initial free assessment where you can learn your student’s goals and come up with a tailored learning plan for your student. After your initial assessment, prepare a professional looking report outlining your understanding of the student’s goals and your plan to achieve them. Prepare an easy-to-use template and customize it for each student assessment.
Professional and personalized communication is also key. Providing a personalized ESL learning experience is one of the best ways you can differentiate yourself against the online ESL schools. Think of yourself as an ESL coach rather than a teacher and send encouraging communication accordingly. Make note of what a student tells you during the lesson and follow it up with a quick email. Students definitely appreciate a short email that inquires about the job interview, vacation or family event which they discussed with you the previous lesson. This is an approach that big online ESL schools can’t take due to their high volume of students and the relatively thin margins they are working with, between what they charge students and pay teachers.
Similar to the initial assessment report, you should periodically send your students progress reports. Again, it is essential to set up templates that you can tailor easily for repeated use.
The most important element of quality is to use engaging lesson content. In future posts I will explore the relationship between lesson content and quality, but for now, consider all the different ways you can personalize a lesson. Retain personal information about a student’s life, and use it in following lessons. ‘Did you enjoy _______?  (insert: name of  film, book, event etc. mentioned the previous lesson) is much more engaging than, ‘What did you do yesterday?’  Student notes will also make it much easier to relate examples and exercises to the student’s job, interests and family. It is a simple and obvious strategy yet it demands good organizational skills (or a steadfast memory!)

Off2class-AvatarProfilePic-01-Colour-JamesAbout the author

James Heywood is an online ESL teacher and is the co-founder of TurksLearnEnglish and Off2Class. After years of
teaching in language institutes and private schools, he made the leap to online in late 2012. He has taught a variety of ESL students online including young learners, adults and adolescents in one-on-one and group settings. Off2Class (lesson plan content for private ESL teachers) was launched to provide lesson content resources targeted to teachers running their own private tutorials.


  • kat says:

    August 22, 2014 at 9:21 pm

    How do students pay for the online tutored classes

    • Maria says:

      May 17, 2016 at 12:31 pm

      I use PayPal

      • Kris Jagasia says:

        May 17, 2016 at 12:39 pm

        Thanks for stopping by Maria and Kat! PayPal is generally a good easy option to set up. You can add a Paypal button on your website with very little computer programming knowledge.

  • Kris Jagasia says:

    August 22, 2014 at 10:04 pm

    Hi Kat, you’ll need to set up a payment gateway so that your students can pay you using their credit cards. Paypal is one of the simplest to set up, but has somewhat higher transaction fees, this article compares some options:
    (I’ve heard great things about Stripe but haven’t had a chance to use it).

  • Brendan O Driscoll says:

    September 23, 2014 at 8:36 am

    Thank you so much for the wonderful advice and free resources. Top respect for sharing your experiences

    • James Heywood (Off2Class) says:

      September 23, 2014 at 9:03 am

      Hi Brendan,
      Thanks for your feedback. We hope you enjoy using the material and that they save you some preparation time.
      Best wishes,

  • Wagner Felix says:

    November 9, 2014 at 8:10 pm

    Hi James,
    Thanks one more time for your tips and for the excellent tool you´re providing 1-2-1 teachers with.
    I just have some questions about online tutoring, which are: Should I take a course on how to teach online to feel more comfortable with all tools that are available?
    Should I keep teaching with a book, along with the other materials available online?
    There is a course from the IH focusing on Online Tutoring, which sounds interesting, but the price a little salty.
    Is there a course you´re aware of that you think is better to take?
    This is the course
    Thank you again.

    • James Heywood (Off2Class) says:

      November 10, 2014 at 7:50 am

      Hi Wagner,
      Thanks for your feedback.
      Would you be interested in a quick videoconference? I would be able to answer your questions better if I can get a little more information from you. If you’re interested, send me an email to I would be happy to give you plenty of information about how to start teaching online, and whether you need to attend a course.
      Best wishes,

  • Anna-Lee Vinson says:

    December 21, 2014 at 3:58 pm

    James, How exactly does an online teacher ( I have a new landing page), use your great work? I am not a techo person but love this format. I would love to use it, but how do I show it to my students?
    Anna-Lee (Jodi)

    • James Heywood (Off2Class) says:

      December 21, 2014 at 5:27 pm

      Hi Anna-Lee,
      All you need to do is use the share-screen function on any video conferencing software. Once you do that you simply log in to our site and the student can follow you through the lessons.
      Best wishes,

  • Yusuf Khota says:

    May 17, 2016 at 4:15 pm

    Hi James
    Thanks for this wonderful guideline. This is exactly what I was looking for.

    • James Heywood (Off2Class) says:

      May 17, 2016 at 4:16 pm

      Thanks Yusuf! Nice to hear from you.

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