How to Teach Online – Should I Work for a Company or for Myself?

By Chris Rush
July 31, 2019

One of the best things about teaching English online is that it’s so flexible; it can be full-time or part-time, you can work from anywhere in the world, and it’s a great option for new teachers looking for experience, or for experienced teachers looking for extra income. Another flexible aspect of teaching online is how to teach online. You can work for a company, a marketplace, or work independently. Let’s take a closer look at these options to decide which is best for you.

Getting Started Teaching Online: TEFL/TESOL Certification

Graduate holding BridgeTEFL online certificate.

Before you even think about teaching online for a company or for yourself, you need to make sure you’re qualified! The good news is that you don’t need a lot of experience or a specialized degree. However, you do need to get TEFL/TESOL certified. A certificate of at least 100 hours is accepted all over the world in both online and physical schools. Additionally, a certification that specializes in teaching online meets minimum requirements for most jobs.

Yet, if you want to be as competitive as possible, especially when advertising your services via an online marketplace or when launching your own tutoring business, having Specialized Certification in Teaching English Online will help you stand out in this growing field. You can even complete the new Bridge Practicum in Teaching English Online to gain familiarity with a real virtual teaching platform and build your confidence as an online teacher. The Practicum includes the option to record your practice teaching sessions so that you can share your video demos with future employers or use it the demos to further market your skills!

Decision Time: Work for Yourself or Someone Else?

Once you’re TEFL certified and feeling prepared, it’s time to jump into the online teaching job market. There are basically three categories when it comes to how to teach online. Which one you choose depends on your goals, your preferences, and your level of commitment.

  1. You can work for an online tutoring company
  2. You can work for a “marketplace”
  3. You can work for yourself (i.e. start your own business)

What are these options all about and what are the pros and cons of each?

Work for a Company

Online English Teacher at VIP Kid

Working for an online English tutoring company is a great way to get your feet wet in this field. When you go this route, the company that hires you (such as VIPKid, 51Talk (HAWO), or English First) will provide both students and materials. The only thing you have to worry about is the actual teaching — which at first will be plenty to manage!


If you’re new to teaching online, this a great way to get used to being in front of a camera and using digital tools instead of paper materials. Working for a company is also a good choice if you’re just interested in teaching a few hours a week on the side or don’t want to deal with marketing yourself.

To browse online teaching jobs with various companies, check out the Bridge job board.


However, there are downsides as well. The first is that of the three options listed here, the income potential is the lowest. The second downside is that you’ll have less freedom– you’ll likely have to work within certain hours, you may wear a uniform, and lessons are usually pre-made and very structured. A third downside is that you often need to be careful with the company you choose to work for. Not all of them are reputable or treat their teachers well.

Read an interview with online English teacher, Rachel, who discusses the pros and cons of the company she works for.

Work for a Marketplace

For many teachers, working in an online tutoring marketplace represents something of a “sweet spot” between working for a company and working entirely for yourself. The marketplace acts as an agent and you use their platform to market your services to students seeking an English teacher. Three of the most popular marketplaces are italki, Verbling, and Preply.

Here’s an example profile on the marketplace, Preply.

Preply Online Teacher Marketplace


Working for a marketplace is a step on the way to total independence. As a tutor for a marketplace, you set your own hours and your own prices (the marketplace takes a commission from what you earn). Because you set your prices based on your qualifications and experience, the income potential is higher than working for a company.


It takes more than just teaching skills to set up an effective marketplace profile. For example, most marketplace profiles include a video introduction, so you’ll need to make sure to craft a good one. You’ll also want to think about a teaching niche (such as pronunciation or test prep) so that you can stand out from the crowd.

In addition, you’ll need to consider how to structure your first lesson, or trial lesson, with a student and how you’ll prepare them to purchase more lessons from you. To do it well, you’ll need to get comfortable with some basic sales principles. Finally, teaching in a marketplace usually means you have to source your own teaching materials.

Work for Yourself

Digital Nomad English Teacher, Jay, in Portugal

Your third choice is to work entirely for yourself as an independent freelance English tutor. In this option, you’ll set up a website to market your services as a tutor, choose a platform on which to deliver classes, and create and teach English classes on your own terms.

If you’re interested in learning how to start your own freelance tutoring business, check out Bridge’s newest Specialized Certification Course: Teaching English Online as a Freelancer.


If you go this route, the sky’s the limit, both in terms of income potential and how you teach your classes, including the structure and schedule. Start-up costs are manageable; the quality of your Internet connection matters far more than the quality of your computer, and there are a lot of great tools out there that can make it easy to get set up and teach classes. These are a few:

  • Squarespace, to create your website and avoid the learning curve of WordPress.
  • Off2Class, a one-stop-shop for ESL materials, with 800+ ready-to-teach lessons, placement tests, homework, and student management.
  • Calendly, a scheduler that makes it easy to manage your calendar of students.

If you’re willing to do what it takes to start from scratch, find your own students, and do a little marketing, you can reap some amazing benefits.


You’ll need to keep in mind that starting an online ESL business isn’t very different from any other kind of business— it takes time and energy to make it work! Are you ready to set up your own website (or pay someone to do it for you)? Do you have the tools necessary to teach and take payments (Skype, Zoom, PayPal)? How are your marketing skills? These are all considerations when becoming an independent online English teacher.

Woman Teaching online

Taking the First Step Toward Online English Teaching

There are lots of options if you’re considering how to teach online, whether as a main job or a side gig, so all you have to do is get started! First, make sure you’re prepared and qualified, such as with a Specialized Certificate in Teaching English Online with optional Practicum and perhaps add on the Bridge Specialized Certificate Teaching English Online as a Freelancer if you’d like to one day be your own boss.

Choose the type of online teaching job that suits your personality and goals, and go for it!

Guest author, Chris Rush, has been teaching English online since obtaining his TEFL Certificate in 2012. He’s currently the teacher-in-residence at where he blogs about teaching ESL.