Many English language teachers take on private classes at some point in their careers. One of the most difficult aspects of this is deciding how much to charge, and discussing this with the student. Here are a few tips I’ve picked up over the years.
Value what you do
I’ve found that many English language teachers undervalue their services, and undercharge as a result. With non-native speakers, this is often because they feel inadequate compared to native speakers; with native speakers, I believe it’s due to something known as the Impostor Syndrome. If you don’t value what you do, then your students won’t, either. Spend some time making a list of all the qualifications, skills and experience you have. Think about all the learners you’ve helped over the year, and how their improved language skills have helped them personally and professionally.
Decide what you are going to charge
As the professional in the relationship, it’s up to you to set the price. Never ask the student how much they want to pay, what they are currently paying or what they think is reasonable. Decide in advance what you are going to charge.
I have come across various methods used by teachers to set their rates, and none of them is perfect.
By all means, speak to other teachers about what they charge, but keep in mind that they are probably undercharging. Closer to the mark is probably what schools are charging for equivalent classes. Always remember that, as a freelancer, you have a whole list of costs you have to pay, just like a school does. Incorporate these into your rate.
Another approach is to take whatever you are charging now and, the next time you speak to a potential student, increase it by, say 25%. Keep doing this until someone says no; then, knock it back to the previous level.
Whatever method you use, your objective should be for potential students to have to think carefully about the rate. If they immediately agree with a big smile, you can be certain that you’ve undercharged. If no-one ever tells you that you are too expensive, then you are probably too cheap.
It’s also important to be prepared for negotiation. Decide what you are willing to accept.
Before accepting a lower rate, try offering creative discounts, and make sure they have an advantage for you. For example, if you normally ask for payment after the class, offer a discount for paying in advance. If you allow students to cancel, you could also offer a cheaper “no cancellation” rate. Offer “off-peak” rates for times where no-one else wants to a class.
If you are teaching groups, rather than one-to-one, don’t fall into the trap of charging the same rate per hour. While the value you offer may not be as high, it certainly doesn’t drop to 20% when you are teaching a group of 5. Each student in that group should not, therefore, pay 20% of your hourly rate. If you need any convincing of this, look at how schools calculate what they charge: more students means more income. Follow their lead.
Convey your value
Your price alone will give a good indication of value, but there are many other signals. Students are not mind readers, so you need to help them understand the value you bring. Some of this can be explicit, such as your qualifications and years of experience. Others are more subtle.
Let the student know that you are very busy, as this shows you are in demand and that many other people find your price acceptable.
One piece of advice that I have often come across is to offer new students a free “lesson”. I have mixed feelings about this. On one hand, it’s a good way of getting your foot in the door, allowing the students to get to know your teaching style. On the other, I feel it gives the message that your time isn’t that valuable.
The Oxford TEFL Careers Service suggests offering a 30/45 minute “lesson”, which doubles as a kick-off meeting where you discuss schedules, expectations, etc. Another alternative would be to invite them to sit in on another lesson you are teaching (and getting paid for!).
If you must — really, must — work for free or less than your minimum, make sure the client knows you are giving them a great deal. Put your standard rate on the invoice, minus whatever discount you are offering. In this way, the client will value your services more.
At the end of the day, you have to make sure that any free lessons or discounts are recuperated through charging slightly more over the long term. This is how businesses are able to offer anything to their customers for “free”.
People are willing to pay more to a professional than to an amateur. Always carry some classy business cards and have a professional-looking email address. Present your card at the start of the discussion to set the tone. Be the one to raise the issue of price, and do it early; don’t leave it to the student to have to ask. It makes it look as if you are uncomfortable taking about your rates. Make sure it’s the right moment to discuss business; if not, arrange a meeting for later. Don’t offer advice or off-the-cuff solutions; instead, explain to the student your process for finding out what they need i.e. a needs analysis. Never say anything negative about other teachers, schools, or approaches to teaching. And once you have reached an agreement, follow up with an email setting it out in writing.
Don’t be afraid of “no”
Private classes are not affordable for every student, so there will be many people who say no based on price. You should not be afraid of getting no for an answer; in fact, you should be happy! You have successfully avoided getting into a vicious cycle of low pay, and freed up time in your schedule to focus on growing your business. Have the business cards handy of a few other less-experienced, less highly-qualified teachers, who might charge less. And make sure to give the client your card nonetheless, and tell them to get in touch if they reconsider. If you have come across as professional, they might even pass on your details to others who are willing to make the investment.
Focus on the long-term
It’s always tempting to drop your rate to get another student, but it’s important to think long-term. Assuming you are paying the bills and putting food on the table, you also need to spend time developing your business. Each class you teach reduces the time available to go after the students you really want, to improve your marketable skills, to work on your web presence and to generally take actions which will lead to better paying students in the future. as long as you make a good impression, students may come back to you years down the line, when they are more able or willing to pay what you charge.
There’s nothing easy about charging for freelance teaching work, but it does get easier the more you do it. So get out there and speak to potential clients, and start practising!
Now over to you! Have you used any of the methods above? Do you disagree? How do you price your services? Do you have any advice for when you first discuss classes with a potential student? How do you convey the value you bring to the table?
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