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How to Find Online ESL Students

How to find online ESL students

So, you’ve made the leap to teaching English online as a freelancer? You’ve equipped yourself with the right teaching certifications, skills, the essential computer equipment, and heaps of enthusiasm. But now, you realize that you lack the key to getting your business going: students. Don’t worry! Let’s dive into the best strategies for how to find online ESL students and increase your earnings in no time.

If you’re new to teaching, you’ll want to get initial training and qualification with a TEFL certificate. You can explore our online TEFL courses to get started!

How do I recruit ESL students?

When English teachers venture into freelancing or starting their own business online, one of their major concerns is how to find ESL students online and build their client base. Unlike working with a school or company where learners are assigned to you, being a teacherpreneur means that you’re in charge of advertising yourself and building your brand.

While it may require effort and determination, bringing more private students in is not impossible — it all comes down to knowing where and how to market your classes effectively. Let’s look at how to find private ESL students as an independent tutor.

Create a website or blog

As a freelance online ESL teacher, building a strong online presence starts with having your own website or blog. Aside from making you look more professional, a website lets you showcase your qualifications better and makes it easier for potential students to contact you.

  • Pro Tip: Nowadays, it’s not difficult to make a website or blog. You can create one on your own through user-friendly blog makers like WordPress or Weebly. Your page doesn’t have to be flashy either! You can get by with just a simple, easy-to-navigate site where prospective learners can read about your background, experience, and a description of your classes clearly.

Check out these 6 best EFL blogs and bloggers for inspiration!

Use social media

Beyond being platforms where you can share holiday photos and funny pet memes, social networking sites like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, YouTube, and many others have evolved into channels for learning, networking, and promoting businesses. Through social media, you can grab the attention of a greater audience, whether it’s by posting useful English grammar tips or creating an online community of language learners.

Andres Bermudez, a Mexican teacher running his own online ESL school, can attest to how social media has helped grow his business. “My primary way of finding students is through my Facebook page. I also post different flyers or language content in several language learning or teaching groups,” he shared.

When using social media, keep in mind that teaching English online as a freelancer is competitive! You can’t afford to provide slow replies to prospective students’ inquiries about your tutoring services. Make sure to answer any inquiries within 24 hours after being contacted, and aim to reply much sooner. If you don’t, a prospective student will probably choose another tutor, who responded first.

  • Pro Tip: Creativity is key when it comes to generating buzz on social media. Got a crazy idea about how to help learners with pronouncing difficult sounds? Go ahead and share it on your social media page!

Learn more ways to get online English students using social media.

Advertise via word of mouth

When it comes to private ESL tutoring, even in a digital age, getting more students through viva voce still never fails. In fact, a lot of learners prefer to hire a private tutor who has been recommended by a family member or a friend. So, remember to mention your online ESL venture to the people in your circles so they can get the word about your classes out to as many people as possible.

  • Pro Tip: Besides letting others know about your classes, you can also be referred by students who are happy with your lessons! As Alejandro Olivares, a freelance Venezuelan ESL teacher, explains, “Always remember that your work speaks for itself. If your students like how you teach, they will recommend you.”

Post flyers

Outside of the virtual world, you can also market yourself by putting up flyers or leaving your business cards in places where many people might be interested in studying English, such as schools, community centers, or even office reception areas.

  • Pro Tip #1: Turn more heads by making your flyers eye-catching, colorful, and legible.
  • Pro Tip #2: Make sure to post your flyers in an area where they can be easily seen.

Pay for ads

Another strategy for how to find online ESL students and get your business noticed is to buy targeted advertising spots that will appear frequently on various websites or social media feeds. For instance, you can set up paid ads on:

  • Popular social networking sites, such as Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn
  • Search engines like Google
  • Video content sites like YouTube
  • Pro Tip: Purchasing paid ads on social media is usually inexpensive. However, make sure that you choose the platform, pricing, and format that work best for you and your budget.
Luisa Wholley, freelance online English teacher

Luisa Wholley, from Brazil, is a freelance online ESL tutor and life coach in the U.S.


Finally, you can spread the word about your online classes further or even get students right away through networking. You can always make connections through virtual or in-person events such as conferences or career fairs, for instance, or even just through simple social interactions during a party or while traveling!

  • Pro Tip: During business or social events, always have your business cards in hand. Chances are, potential clients or new contacts will want to know how to get in touch with you in the future.

Read about how other teacherpreneurs have successfully recruited private online English students through different strategies.

How do I market myself as an ESL tutor?

Aside from knowing the most effective tactics to find ESL students, it’s also important to stand out among the sea of online English teachers. Here are some tips on stepping up your marketing game as a freelance English tutor.

Create a strong teacher profile

Whether it’s on your website or social media page, your online ESL teacher profile shouldn’t be just a summary of your credentials and teaching experience. Rather, it should be able to attract prospective learners and assure them that you’re the English teacher they’re looking for.

Make sure to highlight your unique qualifications and expertise in your teacher profile. Are you TEFL/TESOL-certified? Do you specialize in preparing students for English proficiency exams? Do you have a background in teaching preschoolers? Don’t let these significant details go unnoticed in your profile description.

Don’t be afraid to share an unconventional hobby or passion on your teaching profile as well. Doing so can make you appear more relatable, even if prospective students don’t share your exact interests!

Improve your online teacher profile with the help of this guide.

Freelance online English tutor Deborah, from Switzerland, markets through her own website and specializes in Business English

Freelancer Deborah, from Switzerland, markets through her own website and specializes in Business English.

Make a good self-introduction video

A self-introduction video for teaching online gives prospective students an idea of how you are as a teacher. This short video recording is a quick way to explain what you offer, describe your teaching style, showcase your personality, and build rapport with your learners.

Your intro video should be engaging and easy to understand. If you’ve yet to make one, here are some pointers on how to craft a stellar intro video for teaching English online:

  • Smile, be confident, and sound positive!
  • Speak clearly and slowly.
  • Record your video in a quiet, well-lit setting and with a clean background.
  • Choose attire that you would wear to teach in a real class.
  • Never read a script while filming your video.

Choose a niche

Another way to gain an edge as an independent online English tutor is by having a teaching specialization. It’s not uncommon for many ESL students to have specific English needs, so mentioning your TEFL/TESOL niche in your profile or video will easily let them know that you’re the tutor they need.

Choosing your area of teaching expertise will depend on your background, interests, and preferences. For instance, you can opt to specialize in teaching kids or adults. In addition, you can also become an expert in teaching special subjects like Business English or English related to specific professions like finance or hospitality.

As you highlight your specializations, you can also show that you’ve earned the skills for teaching a particular TEFL/TESOL field by getting certified. Nowadays, there’s a wide range of courses that can help you build or develop your niche. For example, you can take a Specialized course in Teaching English to Young Learners or a short, Micro-credential course in Teaching IELTS Exam Prep.

Wondering what to specialize in? Let this guide help you find your niche as a freelance online English teacher.

Suchismita, from India, has found most of her private online ESL students through marketplaces

Suchismita, from India, has found most of her private online ESL students through marketplaces.

Online English tutoring platforms

If you’re still struggling with finding online ESL learners on your own, you can opt to advertise yourself via online ELT marketplaces like Preply, italki, and Cambly. On these platforms, you simply have to create your online teacher profile, choose your pay rate, and set your schedule. Afterward, the marketplace will take care of promoting your profile and matching you to potential students on the platform.

When marketing yourself through these teaching portals, you still have to put together a standout profile. Suchismita Dutta, a freelance EFL teacher who has successfully found students on Preply, has these tips to engage more learners: “Every website requires its teachers to post a self-introduction video and mention their teaching skills and methodology. The key to finding students is to create a good self-intro video and present yourself in the best way possible.”

Finding learners as a freelance online English teacher may seem daunting at first, but it’s not impossible, especially if you put in time and effort. By using the strategies above, there’s no doubt that potential students will find you easily and fill your booking slots up quickly!

Interested in learning more about building your own freelance tutoring business? Take a Specialized TEFL/TESOL course in Teaching English Online as a Freelancer.

Back in her hometown in the Philippines, Krzl worked as a writer at a TV station before moving to Chile. After she completed her TESOL certification, she worked for language institutes and then decided to become an independent English teacher to business professionals. When she’s not giving classes, she’s either surfing along Chile’s long stretch of coastline, traveling, or practicing photography by the beach.