Is Online ESL Viable For Online Freelancing9 min read

The ESL industry, like many other industries, is beginning to move online at a rapid pace. With this online move has come the desire of many teachers to work online freelancing as a tutor. However, many people are still unclear and unsure as to whether this can really be accomplished and whether or not teaching ESL online is actually a viable option for freelancers. I’m going to go into some different possible answers for this question and use my experience as an example of what is possible as well as what is not possible when working online freelancing as an ESL teacher.

What is online ESL teaching?

As the online ESL industry develops, the term online ESL has largely come to encompass the growing number of companies which offer platforms that connect students with teachers and teach a premade curriculum. These companies are largely Chinese based and usually serve the extremely large population of ESL students in China. However, there are companies like this all over the world that serve students in a large number of countries.

Online ESL is actually much more than just these companies and can encompass any teaching that is done online. This can include companies like those mentioned above as well as apps that connect tutors and students individually or even personal tutoring that is done over Skype or other online platforms used for teaching such as Zoom. Because of this, the opportunities for teachers to work online are extremely varied and just because one teacher isn’t a good fit for one model of teaching doesn’t mean they can’t find success with another. An example of this would be private tutoring online. In order to truly be successful at this, you are going to need to have access to a steady stream of students in order to keep your schedule full. If you live in a small town in America or Canada, however, with very few ESL students then this isn’t necessarily going to be an easy task to accomplish the same as someone who is teaching for a large high school in Korea. However, if you have access to a stable internet connection you may be able to find success teaching for one of the online companies such as VIPKid discussed above.

Is online ESL good for freelancers?

Whether teaching ESL online is a good fit for you or not is largely going to be dependent on your end goals and your current financial and work situation. Many freelancers have the end goal of completely replacing their jobs in order to work from home. Others may desire to live a more location independent lifestyle whereby they can earn a steady income and still travel. Not every one of the above types of online ESL teaching types is going to be good for achieving these goals and for some people teaching online may not be at all a viable solution for online freelancing.

For individuals who desire to bring in an extra income on a part-time basis, such as students or people who may be looking to pay off extra debts or teachers looking for an extra income, then working for an online ESL company may be a good option that doesn’t require you to take on a second full-time job or drive to another job every day. However, if you are looking for a job that will allow you to easily travel then these companies may not be a good fit as they often have very strict cancellation policies that penalize you for canceling a class within a certain amount of time before the class is to begin. So, if the weather is bad or you missed a flight or the hotel you are staying at doesn’t have stable internet like they advertised, too bad because you are going to be missing some money from your paycheck at the end of the month.

Teaching can be different from many other types of online freelancing options such as writing or graphic design as it requires you to physically be present at a specified time and to be there for a preset duration. Unlike writing or video production or graphic design, where you can decide when you want to work so long as the project is completed at a certain time, with teaching you are going to be on a set schedule. There is also the added factor that you can’t teach from wherever you want. As a freelance writer, you can work from just about anywhere that has some kind of internet connection (it doesn’t even need to be stable necessarily) and a power source. With teaching, you need a highly stable internet connection and a quiet place to teach from. No teaching at coffee shops or from hotel lounges. These are all things to consider before you rush into teaching ESL online in an attempt to set up a freelancing income stream.

Who is a good fit for teaching online?

This is going to be tricky to answer as there is no standard position that is perfect for every type of freelancer. In my situation, working for an online company has been okay as I live in Thailand and my cost of living is relatively low compared to the equivalent standard of living I had when living in the United States. Although, I wouldn’t say that I am freelancing in the traditional sense that I am used to with writing. The company that I teach for sets their schedules quite far in advance and as such what I am doing is more part-time time job than anything else. Also, much of my income for this company has been derived from extra work such as editing and writing or hiring and training. Overall, month to month can be unstable even though schedules are set far in advance to the point where my best month I made over $2700 and my worst month I made a mere $700. Not a situation conducive with stability and due to the set schedule a situation that can sometimes be hard to do other things because of the fact I have to be at my computer between a certain time each day. I can say with confidence that if I were living in the United States this would be a part-time job and a second job at that as I would not be able to get by comfortably each month and still save money. Others in a similar situation, that being the low-cost of living countries, will find that they can probably make a full-time living teaching online. However, it is best to try to look for multiple countries to work with as that can help to keep your schedule full and can also provide a certain level of insurance if one company suddenly stops providing consistent work.

If you are looking to freelance in the more traditional sense of setting your own schedule, prices, and choosing your own clients then private tutoring online is going to be the way to go. The main thing to take into consideration is that this is going to take longer to set up and find students and because of this isn’t the optimal solution for online freelancers who are looking to get started quickly. Teachers who are living abroad and already working with ESL students are going to have an advantage in that they already have access to students and in many cases can offer private tutoring to those students which can be conducted either in person or online. If you live in an English-speaking country then there are still plenty of opportunities to find students locally as there are many non-native English speakers in these countries that need extra tutoring. However, going this route, just as with freelance writing or graphic design, the burden of finding the clients and marketing yourself to them is going to be on you and there is no guarantee of any stability.

As a nice middle ground, there are numerous apps that have come out in recent years which connects students to teachers. These apps do a great job of bridging the gap between major companies and complete private tutoring in that they have the students already coming to their platform which saves you from having to find students. You will still have to market yourself as the best option for students within the platform but this is done through being consistent and receiving good ratings from students. However, this still doesn’t guarantee any stability. These may be good options for students or other freelancers who are trying to bridge fill in the gaps in their schedule and earn a little extra income on the side.

Can I earn a full-time income teaching ESL online?

You have probably figured out the answer to this question by now, however, whether you can earn a full-time income is largely dependent on what you are looking for and what your situation is. Tutors with lower costs of living, such as those who are living in developing nations, will have an advantage in this area. Another group that may find teaching online to be a good option for online freelancing are stay at home moms who are not the primary source of income for their family as they can easily work their teaching time around their other commitments. Overall, if you are looking to earn quick income in order to replace your current job and switch over to full-time freelancing, I would say that online ESL teaching isn’t the best option. However, if you are patient and have the right set of circumstances for online ESL teaching to work for you then it may be possible to derive a full-time income from teaching English online.

What are some final tips for teaching ESL online?

If you find that you are interested in teaching English online and you are wondering more about how you can get hired at a company, you can check out this article for more information. Remember that what I have discussed above isn’t absolute. You can easily go around the internet and find blogs or YouTube videos of people who claim to be making $3000 and more each month just from teaching English online. I can’t attest to the validity of these claims however, I can most certainly say that these teachers are probably working consistently long hours 6 to 7 days a week and as such this is not going to be the optimal situation for many people looking at online freelancing as a way to supplement or completely replace their current income. You will simply have to look at your own personal situation and see whether you can make it work.

I want to help you find an awesome job in the ESL industry and then excel at it. I’m a TESOL certified teacher with over two years of experience working both online and offline. I have worked with students ranging from young learners to advanced level university speakers and have worked in recruiting and hiring, teacher training, and content creation. I’ve seen the good and bad of the ESL industry and I’m here to tell you about it.