Online Teachers Pay Online Teachers

Mar 24, 2021 | 6 comments

“Best not to waste attention if you can avoid it.” 

Seth Godin

 

If your online teaching business takes off, it’s bound to happen: One day, you’ll find out that a growing number of your subscribers and followers aren’t students interested in working with you, but other teachers interested in knowing how you do what you do.

And then you’ll need to decide if you’ll keep doing your thing or listen to this unfulfilled need that’s calling you — and create a product or service for other online teachers. 

Then again, there’s a difference between answering an unfulfilled need and trying to solve one business problem by creating another business with its own set of problems. 

So in today’s post, I’d like to bring up a few questions that you may want to answer before you decide if creating a product (or service) for other teachers is the right path for you personally, or if you’re just chasing after a shiny object that will eventually add more problems to your plate. 

And in case you decide it is the right thing to do, I also have a few tips on how to do it in a way that doesn’t put your existing business at that much of a risk.

Questions to ask yourself before creating a product for other online teachers

1. What’s your plan?

Do you want to pivot, scale, start a new business, or just solve a cash-flow problem in your current business? 

 

Here’s what I mean: 

•  Pivoting:

According to Forbes, pivoting means “fundamentally changing the direction of a business when you realize the current products or services aren’t meeting the needs of the market.”

In other words, when you pivot, you quit your original business and start a new one. 

For example, Twitter didn’t start as the micro-blogging platform that it is today, but as a network where people could find and subscribe to podcasts. Starbucks started off selling coffee machines. Slack used to be a video game company. YouTube was meant to be a dating website.

Heck, even Do You Speak Freedom was once a blog for non-native English-speaking female entrepreneurs who wanted to improve their business writing. 

What all these businesses have in common is that they let go of the original business model to create something new. But the problem I see a lot today is that many people believe they can keep both. So let’s talk about it. 

 

•  Starting a new business:

Maybe you aren’t ready or willing to give up your current business, but want to start a new, parallel business. 

Now, let’s be clear. The fact that you use your existing website, email list, and social media to market this new thing doesn’t mean that it’s still the same business. If it’s for someone who is outside of your niche, it is a new business. 

So for example, if your business is for people who learn Business English, and you create a course for Business English teachers, it is a new business, because it is for a different type of client. 

And if your offers are for two different types of clients, then it doesn’t make sense to keep the two businesses in one place. 

The thing is, you can’t just take your current branding and messaging and use it for a new audience and a new business model. The way you talk to learners is different from the way you talk to other teachers. You need to use a different language, funnels, freebies, hashtags, and all that. 

How can you make it happen with one website, one email list, or one Instagram account? 

(And if you believe you won’t have to market this new thing, what makes you believe that? Why do you think it’s going to be any different from your current business?) 

I mean, I know there are people who run these “Frankenstein” businesses — they target language learners and language teachers at the same time, do design and teach design and teach other designers how to design, coach clients and teach other coaches how to coach — and can actually make it work (at least until their Frankenstein monster kills them). 

But what I’ve seen much more often were online teachers creating complicated parallel funnels for learners and teachers, confusing their loyal followers, their SEO, and their social media algorithms, and spending a lot of time creating teacher training products only to find out that the fact that other teachers are spying on them doesn’t mean they want to buy anything from them.

And even if they did buy, it wasn’t enough to make up for the time investment and the risk of losing whatever potential they already had with their original business model. 

I’ve also seen the new model show so much potential that the business owner decided to let go of the older business to keep the new one going, which is never a light decision, especially if the first business is successful. 

To give you an example from our industry, Elena Mutonono gave up her accent training business (with 11k+ Instagram followers, a growing email list, and a lot of potential) to become a coach for online teachers. 

The fact that you use your existing website, email list, and social media to market this new thing doesn’t mean that it’s still the same business. If it’s for someone who is outside of your niche, it IS a new business.

•  Scaling:

When you scale your business, it means that to sell more, you no longer need to invest more — more money or more time. 

Creating a product for a new audience isn’t scaling. It’s either pivoting or starting a new business. So, if you want to scale, do it within your niche. 

 

•  Solving a cash-flow problem:

A new product is never the answer to a financial problem, let alone a product aimed at a new kind of audience. If you need money quickly, come up with a service that you can offer to people who have already bought from you.

This advice was a hard pillow for me to swallow, too, because I love creating new products. It gives me an illusion that I’m working on solving my financial situation. But the harsh reality is that money from products is slow, and getting new clients is always harder than getting repeat clients. Always.

2. Are you willing to pay the cost?

Every business decision comes at a cost. In this case, you may want to consider:

•  The time investment

And I don’t mean just time spent creating the product, but also marketing it. Do you have that extra time? 

•  Creating competition

Maybe you don’t care when people copy you. But maybe you do. In which case, it might not be a good idea to share your secrets. 

•  Losing your focus

There’s no way around this; if you create something for people outside of your niche, you will need to give up part of your focus and the momentum you’ve built with your business so far. 

•  Confusing or losing your current audience

People’s trust and attention are hard to gain and easy to lose. If your current readers and followers start seeing things that are irrelevant to them or that they don’t understand, you may lose them. 

•  The risk of losing your business

I’m not trying to scare you, I promise. But business is risky as it is, and venturing outside of your niche is a risky step. Then again, it may just be the thing that will finally work. Or not. Just saying. 

3. How does it align with your core message and your vision?

Go back to the basics and ask yourself why you started your business in the first place (other than to make money): What change are you seeking to make in the world? Who do you want to serve? Why do you care?

Now, is your new idea still aligned with your core message and the vision you have for the future of your business? 

4. Why do you want to do it?

 Maybe training other teachers how to teach what you teach or giving them the right resources is a great way to spread your message and help more people.

Then again, you may find out that your underlying motivation is different:

•  Maybe you’re a natural-born teacher and when you learn something new, you feel the urge to teach it to others.

In that case, you can probably find a less risky way to do it. If your motivation is to share what you’ve learned so you can help other teachers, you can do a free workshop to an existing audience of teachers (for example, a community you’re a member of). That way, you don’t have to use your own channels to market it and confuse your peeps.  

•  Maybe your business got too complicated or overwhelming and you’re distracting yourself by creating something new.

I do this all the time, not just in business. Every project comes to a stage when it becomes boring or complicated. That’s normal. But the new project is no different; it will eventually come to that stage, too. And if you run away each time, you’ll never finish anything. 

•  Maybe you have a hard time saying no. 

If you’re doing it just because you can’t say no (to a person, an idea, or an unfulfilled need), or because you suffer from the fear of missing out, don’t do it. It’s not worth the cost. There are enough opportunities within your niche. Just take a closer look.  

•  Maybe you see it as an opportunity to make some quick and easy cash. 

Every new idea looks easier than the older one. But that’s just because you don’t see the hard parts yet. Like I said above, no matter how tempting this solution looks, a new product is never the answer to a financial problem.

•  Maybe you have tried everything to make your business work and you see this as your last resort. 

In that case, know that this step will not save your business. Pivoting isn’t about saving your business with another business, but about letting the original business go so you can start something new. Are you ready to do that? 

If you’re doing it just because you can’t say no, or because you suffer from the FOMO, don’t do it. There are enough opportunities within your niche. Just take a closer look. 

How to help other teachers (and make some extra money) without killing your current business

Now, if you still want to create something for other online teachers without giving up your current business (not yet, anyway), I have a few ideas on how you can do it in an intentional, strategic way, while minimizing the risks.

Find an existing audience; don’t create your own

There are teacher’s communities, conferences, podcasts, blogs, and other places where you can share your knowledge without using your own channels (blog, email list, social media) and confusing your audience.  

This way, you can market things like: 

  • VA services (video or audio editing, tech support, proofreading, design help, …),
  • Teacher-training workshops, guides, masterminds, and mini-courses,
  • Resources for online teachers (lesson plans, templates, tool guides, textbooks, workbooks).

Similarly, there are places that have an existing customer base and will (at least partly) market your products for you, for example: 

  • Udemy (a course platform), 
  • SkillShare (a project-based course platform),
  • Teachers Pay Teachers (a platform for teachers to share their lesson plans and other resources)
  • Etsy (a shop for handmade goods, where you can also sell printables, worksheets, planners, etc.), 
  • Amazon KDP (a self-publishing service that will publish your book or e-book at no cost and sell it through Amazon), 
  • and many more. 

These places will probably not make you rich (unless you get serious about them and treat them like an actual business), but can add a little something to your income without you having to spend a lot of time on them. Especially if you use what you already have — see the next point. 

Use what you already have

You don’t even have to create anything new. What you already have and use for yourself can be used by other teachers as well. So, with little or no adjustments, you can sell your:

  • Worksheets or workbooks that you’ve created for your students,
  • Lesson plans or templates that you use to put together your lessons,
  • Your business process, templates, or workflows (for example, checklists or templates you use to onboard clients, to get testimonials, to write your website copy, to create visuals, to manage your finances, and similar).

Find an intersection

“Learners” and “teachers” aren’t two different species. In fact, most teachers are learners, too. For example, in our community for online language teachers, many teachers find clients among their peers not for their teacher training products, but for their language learning programs and products. 

The thing is, people who teach languages typically also learn languages. 

Maybe you don’t have to venture outside of your niche at all. Maybe you can talk about your existing products or services aimed at learners in places where teachers hang out and find some new clients there. 

Another idea is to create something that can be used both by learners for self-study and by teachers in their lessons:

  • An authentic resource (a book, audio tracks, or videos in the target language), 
  • A workbook that can be used for self-study or with a teacher,
  • A resource or tools guide (how to learn ___ using ___).

I believe that this last tip is in fact the best solution you’ll ever find to the “teachers pay teachers” dilemma: It helps other teachers, but it doesn’t put your business at a risk, doesn’t require you to go outside of your niche, and doesn’t make you lose your focus or the hard-earned trust and attention of your current audience of learners. 

In summary

  Before you decide to venture outside of your niche, give it a good thought and consider the risks. Check-in with your “why”, your values, and the vision you have for your business.

Also, be honest with yourself about your motivation. If you see it as a fix to your financial problems, there are more effective solutions.

Think about your long-term plan. Don’t do something just because it seems like a good idea, or just because you can, or just because you have a hard time saying no.

If you want to help other teachers but don’t want to risk your existing business, see if you can find a way not to go outside of your niche: Find something that would work both for learners (your current audience) and teachers.

When you market to people outside of your niche, don’t use the channels you’ve created for your niche — your blog, newsletter, and social (unless you don’t mind confusing or losing your audience). Create new channels or, even better, use other people’s existing audiences.

What do you think? Let me know in the comments!

6 Comments

  1. Holly

    Some excellent ideas, and much food for thought. Thanks for this.

    Reply
    • Veronika

      Thank you so much, Holly!

      Reply
  2. Elena Mutonono

    Actually at one point I had 3 businesses going: accent training for “learners,” accent training for teachers (to teach teachers how to do accent training) and then business coaching. What seemed like a fun thing in the beginning was getting to be so exhausting. My open/click rates in the newsletters went down, people would get different emails from me, with different offers and then they wouldn’t know what they actually needed because they needed both but couldn’t choose…. Argh. Great post, and really thought-provoking!

    Reply
    • Veronika

      Hey Elena, yes, I remember all the confusion! And how relieved you were when you gave yourself permission to only focus on one thing. I missed your accent training blog, you know I was a huge fan, but I’m glad you quit it because I’m pretty sure that if you hadn’t, you wouldn’t save any of your businesses. So, thank you, for being so brave!

      Reply
  3. Shanthi Cumaraswamy Streat

    I feel you were talking to me, Veronika seeing that I am in that situation of contemplating adding, not pivoting, to my business which you’re right will confuse my current audience and add to my workload. So maybe, we forget that plugin?!

    So, you’ve made my mind up for me. I won’t use my business to work with other teachers. I will approach other groups which I’ve done in the past.

    And yes, some of my best clients were referrals from other teachers.

    Thank you for writing this and stopping me in time.

    Reply
    • Veronika

      Hi Shanthi, I actually was thinking about you, about Elena a few years back, and about a few other teachers that I know are in this situation right now. I think that everyone will have to make this decision, sooner or later. I know that it’s hard, and I’m not telling anyone what to do. I just want to make sure people know what they’re doing, and aren’t putting their business at risk because of an idea that “sounds fun”, as Elena put it above. Thank you so much for your comment, this wasn’t easy to write and I’m so happy you found it helpful.

      Reply

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