What is a scalable online teaching business?
Written by James Liu on March 1st 2019
Photo by Eunice De Guzman on Unsplash

“James, you told me that you can help online English teachers grow a profitable, sustainable, and scalable business. I know the word scalable, but what does it really mean in the setting of online teaching?”

This came up a while ago in a conversation I had with an online English teacher, and it caught my attention. Yes, I’m here to help English teachers who of course know what scalable means by definition, but what exactly does “scalable” look like for an online teaching business?  

Before I explain this, let me first set the stage by talking about the more urgent topics for online teachers—getting more students and earning a higher hourly rate. 

When you want to grow your business and improve your income, the first thing you think about is how to fill your schedule and increase your rates, because it just makes sense. Everyone knows that revenue = the # of hours x your hourly rate. You may have 40 hours available for teaching, but are limited to 20, because you don’t have enough students or that is the maximum number of hours you can get teaching kids in China who can only learn English after school and on weekends. In the meantime, you ideally want to find a way to increase your rate, say, from $20/hour to $25/hour: 

Now: $20/hour x 20 hours/week = $400/week
Desired: $25/hour x 40 hours/week = $1000/week 

It looks pretty good! If you can pull it off, you’ll be able to nearly triple your weekly revenue. Sounds great, right? 

However, this has nothing to do with scaling your business. This is simply reaching your full capacity with your current business model, and you are capped at $1000/week. 

Let’s not talk about how hard it is to get yourself fully booked and increase your rate at the same time. Instead, let’s take a look at another math problem.

You are teaching 20 hours a week at a rate of $20 per hour. You find a way to teach groups of, say, four students. You may need to lower your hourly rate since students have to share your attention in the course. Let’s say you charge $15 per hour, giving you an hourly rate of $15 x 4 = $60, and you are still working 20 hours each week.

Now: $20/hour x 20 hours/week = $400/week
Good: $60/hour x 20 hours/week = $1,200/week

Not bad, huh? 
Then, if you can reach your full capacity of 40 hours a week, this can get you to: 

Perfect: $60/hour x 40 hours/week = $2400/week 

Keep in mind that the number of students in the group can be larger as long as you can manage it. Let’s say you can get 10 students in each group, bringing you an hourly rate of $15 x 10 = $150, which leads to: 

Dream: $150/hour x 40 hours/week = $6,000/week 

Let me stop there. I think I made my point! 
The transition from one-on-one teaching to group teaching is what I mean by scaling your business. However, it is only possible for online teachers to make this transition when you meet all the following criteria: 

You have to be a niche teacher. 

If you are not familiar with the concept of niche teaching, please read this article
It is only possible to teach groups when all the students are from the same niche, with the same problems that you can help with. They come to you for the same reasons and you will get the same outcomes for everyone in the group. If you are a general teacher and you teach subjects determined by the needs of individual students, you will not be able to group them and offer help. 

You have to transition to program-based teaching.

In order to group your students together, instead of letting them dictate what you need to teach in each session, you predetermine the focus of your program and topics covered in each session based on your niche’s specific problems. In addition, you need to develop a program with an effective framework and repeatable processes, allowing you to replicate it across groups with consistent results. 
Read this article if you are not familiar with session-based versus program-based teaching.

You have to start with one-on-one niche teaching. 

The order here is important. Even if you have a niche and become a niche teacher, you have to go through the stage of teaching one-on-one to refine your program based on student feedback and ensure that you can deliver consistent results in the one-on-one setting before moving on to group teaching. Why? The quality of your program will decrease when you teach in groups and you need to ensure the quality is still above your clients’ expectations. This is why you need to spend time refining your program by teaching one-on-one, to make sure that it’s effective even in a group setting. 

You have to establish an effective marketing system. 

When you offer group teaching with a reduced hourly rate, you still need a higher volume of students to fill up the group. If you don’t have an effective marketing system that can get you enough students, you won’t be able to offer group teaching—even with the best program for your niche in the world. 
Read this article to learn more about the marketing system for online teaching businesses.
Watch this video to learn how you can get students on demand and at a higher rate.

I’ve been wanting to write this article ever since I first had that conversation I shared at the beginning. I understand that online teachers would be thrilled to see their calendar fully booked and get higher rates in their contracts. 

However, I would like to tell everyone who is currently teaching English online that you can do much more, and that all of you can scale your business to the next level and reach your FULLEST potential! 


➢ Read here to learn more about how a profitable online teaching business looks like.

➢ Watch this video to learn more about how to start and grow your own teaching business that is profitable, sustainable, and scalable.

James Liu


James Liu helps online teachers start and grow profitable and scalable online businesses. He is an expert at helping online teachers develop business skills and premium services that allow them to get students on demand and at a higher rate. 
If you're interested in growing your online teaching business, then definitely reach out and request a free strategy session today.
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