One of the most rewarding and lucrative ways to teach English online is niche teaching. Niche teaching is when you choose a very specific group of learners to target and teach them specific vocabulary and skills related to that niche.
I interviewed Tara Cull, the Australian niche teacher behind ArchiEnglish who teaches landscape architects, architects and building designers. By niching down, she’s created a steady stream of students who are just as passionate about these topics as she is.
In today’s interview, you’ll learn:
- how Tara came up with her niche teaching business
- how she uses LinkedIn to find students
- the benefits of niche teaching
- Tara’s advice and tips for online teachers who want to start their own niche teaching business
Where are you from and what is your educational background?
I’m from Melbourne, Australia and I’m currently living in the south of France in a city called Montpellier. It’s close to the beach and almost always sunny, so I feel fortunate. I’m slowly learning French and adjusting to life on the other side of the world.
My first degree was in Landscape Architecture, and I also half completed a Master of Urban Horticulture. Then, after working for seven years as a landscape architect, I decided I wanted to be a teacher. I did a Master of Teaching at Deakin University. It was something I always felt drawn to try.
In my first year of teaching, I taught a grade 3 class in a primary school in London and worked a lot with ESL students. This ignited the idea that I just wanted to teach ESL students.
How did you come up with the concept for ArchiEnglish?
After teaching in London I returned to Australia for a year and did some relief teaching while working as a landscape architect. In the meantime, my partner was living and working in France and I wanted to join her in France.
I knew I wanted to teach English but I also still had strong ties to landscape architecture. I decided to bring the two together and teach architects and landscape architects and building design professionals learning English.
From my experience of working as a landscape architect, I knew of so many design professionals who wanted to improve their English. General English classes just weren’t enough to push them. So I asked my ex-colleagues lots of questions, did some research, and found out what the problems were. Then I decided to be the person who could solve these problems.
How do you find your students?
I use LinkedIn to find my students as well as Instagram. I have completely changed the way I see LinkedIn. It is a really powerful tool to be able to build a network of professionals who could potentially need your services. Through LinkedIn, a university lecturer contacted me and asked me to be a guest lecturer for a university subject. This has brought me some future opportunities and an interest in learning more about English Medium of Instruction teaching.
On LinkedIn, I post content related to some of the experiences my students have. I also post content about motivation, and occasionally post some of my sketches and drawings.
The important thing for me is to post things that are relevant to my niche. So I have a rule that any English examples or mini-lessons I post on LinkedIn have to be specific only to my niche.
There is a lot of general English information out there which is excellent for catching a wide audience. However, I have found that if you want to stand out to your niche, you need to be posting relevant content that is different and helps your potential students to solve the problems they have.
How many people do you teach in a typical week?
It can vary depending on what I am doing because I also teach in a business here in France two days a week and a small group of students at a University in Thailand one day a week. For the rest of the week, I am doing 2-3 individual students each day.
The time difference works well for me too because during my morning it’s usually the evening in Australia or the US. So at the moment, I have close to 50 students altogether.
I’m not competing with many other ESL teachers. I don’t feel like I have to work every moment of the day. I also feel like it allows me to bring my entire self to each of my lessons. There is more time to prepare and I’m often preparing similar things. I love that I don’t spend countless hours looking for different topics because now it is focused around one subject.
This has been growing steadily over the last few months. For next year I’m looking into teaching small groups to help them with the most common challenges I come across.
What advice do you have for teachers who are interested in niche teaching but struggling to find their niche?
I would start to look at your own experience within teaching or even outside of education. Who do you like teaching? Which students give you the most joy? What is your background? What other languages do you speak that could offer you an advantage? You don’t necessarily need to be an expert in the area; you just need to know what they need.
Also, the thing I think a lot of teachers forget is that while the teaching should serve the students, your business should also benefit yourself. I believe that’s when you enjoy it most. When you’re the most effective teacher you can be, the learner wins too.
In my opinion, there isn’t anything wrong with teaching General English. It is essential, especially for beginners. However, the further into their learning people go, the more specific their challenges become. For example, I had a radio host as a student once who just wanted to practice his interviews and pronunciation. He also wanted to work on the finer details of English and American humour. So we did that for all our lessons as well as general conversation and he loved it.
I’ve also had students who just wanted to be able to practice how to ask for and give people help because they were the office maintenance people. These are both two possible niches.
People either know they have specific problems or they don’t know exactly what they need. They might just think that being enrolled in a class will help their English to improve and don’t know much more than that.
This is where developing a niche and speaking to them will help you to understand their problems. They won’t even know they have a problem until you tell them. They will start to realise how good that a niche like the one you have exists.
I think there are endless opportunities for niche teaching. You just need to know what it is you want to teach and what demand there is for it.
A niche doesn’t necessarily have to be the typical areas of ESL learning either. It could be for IELTS preparation or pronunciation. Or it could also be targeted at specific business professionals.
Your niche could be teaching learners who speak a specific language. If you also speak it, you have a huge advantage of understanding the common errors and being able to explain them.
- teaching Business English to Spanish speakers
- instructing Business English to Spanish speakers who work for tech start-up companies
- teaching communication skills to IT help desk professionals.
The list is endless and the needs are absolutely there. The further down you niche, the more specific the problems you are solving.
So my advice would be to pick a niche and do your research. The ESL market is saturated with General English teachers. In 2020, with the boom of online teaching, it’s becoming even harder to stand out from the crowd.
What has been the best part of niche teaching? What has been the most challenging part?
The best part is I teach the students I love working with. I don’t feel like I compete with other teachers. I love the feeling that I’m helping my students to solve their specific challenges. It helps them with their career advancement.
Just starting it was a big challenge. I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how. So I started doing a lot of research! I did a 21 day Teacher Entrepreneur Challenge. Then, I did a five day how to improve your LinkedIn with Helen Pritchard.
While the course gave me good clarity about why niche teaching is essential, I didn’t resonate with the Sales strategy methods in the 21-day Teacher Entrepreneur Challenge. I didn’t feel like I was myself, and I almost gave up.
For someone introverted and passionate about teaching I felt like I was never going to be able to do it on my own. I felt like I just didn’t have good sales skills. It was necessary to find a different approach which suited my personality. That is when I found Helen Pritchard’s approach, which I preferred.
I took elements of each of the courses to help me create a strategy which really works for me. I feel like I can be most myself. I’m comfortable and proud to be a teacher who is selling a highly valuable program to students who I know will get a lot out of it.
The other challenging part is the uncertainty, and also being a little introverted. It took me some time to overcome making videos and being present on social media, but now it’s natural. I can see that the more I persist with it, the better I become at it.
I definitely feel like I’m building something that I’m going to love and that others will love, too. Having a business coach and some accountability partners has also helped with that, too.
You seem like quite the world traveller. In your opinion, what are the pros and cons of teaching abroad?
Yes, I have loved travelling. However, I’m starting to feel the pinch a little this year after the year we’ve all had. I’d love to be able to visit home at some point soon. Fingers crossed for next year.
The biggest pros are meeting new people and getting to know more about how people work. That has been the best bit of being an English teacher. I have had students from all over the world who have taught me so much about their cultures and their dreams.
The negatives are it can be tough to be an expat, especially if you don’t speak the language. But that has also been part of the fun for me. I feel my language learning journey has helped me to put myself in the shoes of my students.
Another negative aspect of teaching overseas is that people might feel limited to teach in a language school or physically teach in a place. In my opinion, it is really hard to make a living when you’re competing with everyone offering the same things!
For some, it can be challenging to live off teaching people for $20 an hour. However, sometimes it’s some people’s only choice if they don’t speak the language and they have limited job options.
Can you explain a bit about your “Power Hour for ESL teachers?”
I’ve had so many teachers ask me recently about niche teaching and how I do it. I decided to make it into a Power Hour where I talk to other ESL teachers who are interested in niche teaching. The call is one hour (sometimes a little more). During the Power Hour, I’ll tell you absolutely everything I did to start my business.
I’ll explain all the courses and steps I took and my positive and negative takeaways.
I’ll explain how I optimised my LinkedIn account. I’ll share the steps I continue to take daily to find and interact with possible students. Also, how I sign them up to be students.
I also discuss the steps I took after the courses such as setting up my website and my email list and the mistakes I made and the things I continue to learn. I don’t have a massive following on social media, but I have enough interaction from it that it’s enough for me to continue to grow and get more students and for people to know exactly what I do.
The Power Hour will be useful for teachers who want to nail down a niche and who are a little like me – maybe a little introverted and don’t believe in being a pushy salesperson, and if they are passionate about making teaching better and more effective for their students ultimately if they would love to stop being poorly paid for the fantastic work they do.
Is there anything else you want to share?
There is a saying in Marketing – if you talk to everyone you talk to know one. So pick someone to talk to and listen to what they have to say. This message has made me see how I can make my own teaching more relevant, enjoyable and useful for more people.
If all of this sounds like it could help you too then, by all means, take the time to come and have a Power Hour with me, and we’ll help you get your dream ESL business off the ground.
If you’d like to hear more about how Tara uses LinkedIn to find her students, then check out this recent Podcast interview.