How Jennifer from English Outside the Box Got Started and Using Referrals to Land Students
Jennifer is an online teacher and founder of English Outside the Box, an awesome site aimed at helping students though new learning approaches.
What is your teaching background and can you give a brief explanation of how English Outside the Box started?
My teaching experience began without any intention of making it a career, when I was studying abroad in San Sebastian, Spain (Basque Country). I wanted some international work experience and to connect with locals so I did some English tutoring while I was there. Upon returning home, I realized I wanted to take my career in a different direction than planned, so I got into doing internship and part-time work in the speech-pathology field. I found myself again in jobs teaching language development, and working with ESL students. One thing led to another and I then spent nearly 3 years traveling and working abroad, in Australia and Brazil. This is where (and when) I realized that I had a passion for teaching English, got certified in TEFL, and got hired in a popular language school in the States when I returned.
I started blogging in the classroom as a way to connect my students with one another and give more authentic English practice, outside of textbooks and the standard curriculum. I wanted to get them outside of the box! This is how English Outside the Box got its name, because I wanted to get students outside the box (both literally: the classroom, and figuratively: with new learning approaches). I loved the flexibility of more engaging lessons and material, got great feedback from students, and I decided to take the blog public and establish myself as an online teacher in March of 2014. I quit teaching at the school I worked at for 3 years, and went full-time with the English Outside the Box in January 2015.
The site itself is amazing – how did you choose the design? Do you have any experience in programming or development?
After having a very “DIY” site for the first year and a half or so of my business, I knew it was time to invest in what would give many the first impression of me and my business. I looked at other sites that I liked, planned out what I wanted mine to include, and contacted some website designers and developers. Ultimately, I chose the developer that not only came personally recommended by a good friend, but seemed to understand what I wanted and was incredibly helpful in answering my questions. I created images of what I wanted and left the programming and developing in the hands of the professionals!
How do you find students – do you run ads, focus on SEO and content, or just rely on your videos?
The start of my business and the majority of its success has been due to student referrals. These are the absolute best way to find students, as the trust has already been established. I’ve worked with students all over the world, so continue to reach different cities through these recommendations. I have experimented some with Facebook ads and some marketing professionals for products and courses to give some suggestions as well.
Although, I have learned that even those things (ads and professionals) can’t guarantee the students, as the content is key. So I put a lot of effort into finding out what students want, need, and creating what will help them achieve goals. As my content and online presence grew, so did the students coming from Instagram and YouTube without having to pay to reach them. So these days, referrals and my content/videos are what bring students in.
Do you remember your first student? What did it feel like to realize “wow, I did it!”?
Yes, of course! When I decided to make English Outside the Box public (outside my classroom use), I immediately started to create my online presence. In the beginning, I was posting to what I felt like was no one, but I just kept on posting and trying to engage and motivate. My first student was an acquaintance of an old student, and had only discovered that I was teaching online through these posts. I had the feeling of “yay, it’s happening!” as well as feeling good that I stuck through something that didn’t feel instantly gratifying.
Other than being a great teacher, what are some of the other skills a person needs to start teaching for themselves? Maybe marketing or video production?
Other than having strong teaching skills, I think the most important thing a person needs to have to start teaching for themselves is not necessarily a skill, but the passion to do it, the drive and dedication to work through periods of not much compensation, and a clear understanding of what they want to accomplish.
If you want to work for yourself, then of course you’ll need to have either knowledge of running a business (marketing skills, accounting, customer service, etc..) or the ability to hire someone who does and can help. I mention that, because a lot of the skills can be done by someone else. However, you cannot hire someone to give you the passion and drive, which is needed in starting anything as an entrepreneur.
With an increase in both teachers and students working online, how do you try and position yourself and English Outside the Box so that you stand out?
I have always tried, and will continue to be true to myself. It’s really easy to see other teachers or creators that are successful and want to change in a way to be like them. Specifically, I’ve seen others with the mindset of, “These other teachers made it, so if I do X — I can too.” I don’t think this would bring long-term success.
This is not anything new, but understanding your niche and finding your audience by focusing on your own strengths will also help you stand out. This is not an easy thing to do, especially when starting out because new teachers just want to reach anybody and everybody who can help them sustain their business. This doesn’t work long term in establishing yourself though, because you can easily blend in with others.
I focus on my strengths as a teacher and what I am passionate about teaching, and stick with that.
What was 2016 like for your business and what are your goals for 2017? How do you plan on achieving them?
I am beyond thrilled that my business continued to grow and evolve over 2016. I went from just online Skype classes focusing on conversation, to creating grammar packages, TOEFL test preparation classes, and a pronunciation course for Portuguese speakers. I reached more students via social media, collaborated with a lot of other great online teachers, and presented at conferences!
My goals for 2017 are to work on more online courses for self-study, grow my YouTube channel to create even more helpful videos (don’t forget to subscribe 😉 ), and get my podcast, English Across the Pond, even more popular across the world to give real-life English practice with natives. I am going to achieve these things by spending more time on communicating with my current audience to find out what they want and need. By doing this, I can continue to create valuable content and reach others who are in need of the same. I’ve already started connecting with other online teachers, too, for more collaborations. So it’s looking like a very promising year!