One aspect of being a freelancing teacher is that you are responsible for recruiting and retaining your own students. This is an added responsibility that live-classroom teachers don’t have to deal with because the school signs up the students, hires the teachers, schedules the classes and everyone just shows up at the class time. Maybe the teachers and students are a good fit for each other and maybe they’re not. But freelancers have the opportunity to recruit and “audition” for their potential students. This is a good thing because it gives the students and teachers a chance to see if they are a good match.
On the other hand, this process means that teachers on platforms like italki have to compete with each other for students. The students on these platforms have the opportunity to “shop around” for the teacher they believe will do the best job teaching them their target language. Therefore, freelancing teachers have to formulate competitive strategies to win these students. It isn’t good enough to just be a great teacher, freelancing teachers must also be good at selling their services.
For the above reasons, the recruitment process is very important for freelancers and the trial lesson is one of the most vital phases of the process. Once your profile and video introduction have enticed the prospective student to schedule that initial lesson, you have to impress them enough to convince them to schedule further lessons with you. The trial lesson is your only shot at a great first impression. So, here are three small things you can do to get this prospective student to become your regular student.
First, reach out to the student as soon as possible and let them know you want to learn more about them before the lesson. You can do this simply by sending them a message in italki chat. If you want to really impress the student, you could send them a “Needs Analysis.” This is a survey form that you create that asks them for information about their language level, experience, and goals. This will demonstrate to the student that you are already interested in them, you take the trial lesson seriously, and you intend to be prepared for it.
Next, come to the lesson with a plan. The trial lesson needs to be much more than a “meet and greet.” Talking about your background, the weather and your hobbies are all nice. But if you want to demonstrate that you take the student and your lessons together seriously, you should show up with a structured activity tailored to them.
Simply explaining to the student what you will, or can, do for them isn’t very effective. The student wants to believe that you will teach them something if they book lessons with you. So, you need to show the student, not tell them, what lessons with you would really be like. It’s a good idea to keep a trial lesson on hand that has about 20 minutes of structured activities to use.
It’s also a good idea to have several trial lessons on file, all of them for different levels and different topics that the potential student may be interested in working on. This is where the “needs analysis” comes in handy. You can use it to choose the best trial lesson for each student. This will show the student again that you are paying attention to their individual learning needs and goals.
Another advantage of having preformatted trial lessons is that you practice them and learn very well how to deliver them in a fun and engaging way that will make the student say, “Wow, that was interesting! That teacher taught me something and I want to learn with them.”
Finally, take this crucial opportunity to teach the prospective student something. After all, it is called a “trial lesson.” Once you’re armed with the needs analysis and your preselected activities you should be ready to use that half hour to actually teach them something that may not have already known. A good goal is to try to teach the student at least three things they didn’t know before the lesson. It could be three new words, simple grammar concepts, or three new idioms. At the end of any lesson, trial or not, the student wants to feel as if they’ve learned something. And if they think they learned something they will probably book more lessons with you. So, don’t waste all that time with small talk.
The potential student will probably book another lesson if they felt that the trial lesson was fun and engaging, the teacher was fully focused, and they learned something. Once you’ve won the student with a great trial lesson you can use the same strategies to retain them for the long term. Good luck!
James A Cooke