How To Find Private ESL Students

Many TEFL teachers supplement their income by giving private classes. Often they find that they need the extra hours, for example if teaching at private language schools where split shifts are not uncommon they find they are getting paid hourly and working as few as 4 hours a day. A few hours in the morning and a few hours at night is common among TEFL teachers. Some teachers may discover that to maintain the kind of lifestyle that they are accustomed to at home that they have to take on extra hours to fund their lifestyle. Other English language teachers work solely with private students preferring being their own boss despite some disadvantages this carries. As with most things in life there’s good and bad, so let’s take a look at these.


  • Private students offer teachers the chance to really get their teeth into planning and deciding what they want to teach. Many English language schools require teachers to submit to following a specially designed curriculum which more usually than not involves using a well-known English language coursebook such as Headway, Face2face or Life. Some of us prefer that, just turn up and follow the book but for many adding the chance to add some creativity to our lesson plans makes teaching more enjoyable and rewarding.
  • You can charge whatever you like, to a degree. Extortionately high prices are unlikely to get you many customers, especially if you live in rural Angola. However you can usually charge higher than you are earning at language schools. Even taking privates “off the street” lets you command a higher price. For the student one to one attention from the tutor is well worth paying the premium fee. They feel that they may learn more rather than in the classroom setting sharing the teacher with up to 50 other students (Chinese universities for example)Specialised English teaching such as business English or medical English are more lucrative earners, especially If they are your private students (as opposed to working for someone and teaching at these places).
  • Private classes, money willing, also allow you to plan when exactly you want to work. You may have so much demand that you can pick and choose which hours you prefer to work. If you want a lay in bed. No problem. Prefer finishing work at 3pm in time for the telenovelas (soap operas). No problem. In theory this sounds fantastic and is what most of us would grab at if we had the chance. The possibility to work when we want. However it’s most likely that students want classes at unsociable hours, for example in the evening after they finish work. Or weekends. You need to create a big demand too to be choosey with your hours. That may come with time and depends where you are based.
  • Taking privates is akin to having your own business. Treat it like that and you may be successful at privates. What I’m trying to say is that you might want as many private students as you can. After all many drop out and cancel classes so you will need a good size clientele. Make some business cards to hand out to friends, family, students, random people on the street, cars, houses. Make them look like notes of money and throw them up in the air in a busy town square. You get the picture. Websites! Yes make your own website. You don’t even have to make it yourself. Hire someone. How? Google it! Anything is possible. You can add what you offer and nice picture of yourself.. tips how to learn English.. Videos of you teaching. Use your head that’s what teachers do! Advertise on local classified websites, newspapers, on lamp posts, in supermarkets, on flyers outside universities . Yes advertise your services and get out there. You might win a lucrative contract with a local company to teach their employees. Now that will pay better than most other gigs. Show off on your website about how you work with Global Solutions Enterprise company and you might find your door being knocked on more and more by other companies. And don’t turn them away because your diary is maxed out, no you OUTSOURCE or in other words, hire some teachers to do it for you. Now you have a business. You have contracts, teachers, students. Get the picture?
  • Getting private students give you another opportunity to meet people gain contacts, friends, spouses…


  • Finding the students. Obviously this depends on many factors such as location, your marketing skills, your teaching abilities (very important) and desire. Living in a remote Mexican village might not be the best location if you really want to pull in clients (unless you happen to live up a mountain in Sinaloa where one, just one mega rich client who works with Colombians and Americans needs to learn English). You may find that students cancel classes frequently or drop out altogether. Not very reliable if you want a steady income.
  • Be prepared for a fluctuating income. As mentioned your income might go up or down since you are the master of your destiny if you rely solely on privates. If they are a side business then that may not matter much, its pizza money really. Be aware of this though and make sure you could survive if you plan on making private classes an important income earner.
  • Hard work. Working for yourself is not for everyone. It might be easier and more reliable to get a paid job working for someone instead. Then you (probably) will know how much you are earning each month and don’t have to rack your brains looking for students. Just turn up and concentrate on the teaching and spend your spare time down the market looking for the latest pirate DVDS or sipping coffee with friends.

How to find students

You like a challenge. Let’s look in detail how you can find students.

Business cards

You can go online to sites like vista print to cheaply get some nice business cards. If they don’t operate in your area then you can probably find a local print shop that will do them, perhaps a bit more expensively. You may also ask around for recommendations where to buy business cards.

Word of Mouth

Word of mouth has been around longer than Robert Mugabe yet it is an awfully effective method of finding students. Recommendations are a powerful tool, requires no effort on the teacher’s behalf except for great classes. Only prerequisite is having an already largish established customer base or network of people you know who could spread the word for you.

Social Media

Whether you like it or loath it, it is here and here to stay so make use of it and learn how to harness it to get you students. Facebook, YouTube, Linkedin, Twitter. There are courses out there on how to promote yourself/ your business on social media. Let’s say that social media is the online version of word of mouth. Make a page on one of these sites, add your students as your friends and hopefully word of your services will get out there.

First lesson free

People love freebies so take advantage of this and offer a free first lesson. Make it a winner and your students will come back for more. Using proven sales techniques gives you an advantage over the competition. You could offer 10th lesson free. Or 2 hours for the price of 3. Or invite a friend and pay less. The list is endless and you don’t have to be a sales guru to participate.


Having a good network of teacher associates will open doors for opportunities you may have never found. News about a job opening or colleagues that have too many students are such examples.


As I said before, a personal website is the opportunity to show yourself off to potential clients. Make sure to put up a photo and your qualifications and experience. People like to know what they are getting before forking out money. You can then add the sales pitch, the videos, tips, material, blog etc to make the site look professional and well rounded. A websites url is easy to promote on and offline so think carefully about what you will name it with an eye on your customers.

Follow these tips and with time and persistence you should be able to build up a solid customer base. With that you should be able to concentrate on the teaching and less on the marketing of yourself. It’s not an easy route to take especially if you want to use privates as a full time source of income.


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