Can you be successful as an online English teacher or an online Spanish teacher? Could you market yourself online in a way that attracts new students?
Yes, of course you can.
But the thing is this. Unless you teach a super mini-tiny language that no one else teaches (perhaps Indonesian Liki or Ethiopian Ongota), the chances are that there are other language teachers that teach the same thing. In other words, you will most likely have competitors. Which means you need to try and stand out.
Just listing the number of hours you have taught, or the fact that you may have a teaching degree, will just look dull.
You need a niche. Actually, you might even need a micro niche.
You might be wondering what on earth a micro niche is. If you want to see a list of examples of micro-niches in language teaching, I have a list that you can download for some inspiration.
But to understand what it actually means, we need to take a step back and look at the idea of core markets, submarkets and niches, and why it can be problematic to position your future language teaching business in anything else than a smaller niche.
What’s a core/sub market?
Core markets are big areas, like health, relationships, finances and education, for example. As these markets are so broad and general, many bigger submarkets have developed within each core market. In health it might be weight loss or strength training, in relationships it might be dating advice or parenting, and in education it may be language education.
I would actually argue that language education is now its own core market, and each language (French, Spanish, English) could be seen as a submarket within that core market.
What submarket does your future business fit in right now?
You might think that this is enough. You’re a French/Spanish/English/Russian teacher, right? That’s what you do.
But a sustainable online business is not in a submarket, as there will be too much competition in submarkets.
What’s a niche/micro-niche?
Next level down is a niche, which is a slightly narrower focus within a submarket. For a language teacher, a niche might be teaching business English. Or teaching French to children.
Ask yourself again; in what niche do you fit in?
If you teach a language that is relatively small (like for me, as a Swedish teacher), you might do well in a niche. But if you teach a bigger language, chances are that this niche is also quite crowded with competition.
This is where micro-niches come in. This is an even narrower focus, where you can carve out a spot for yourself and become an expert.
Find a Blue Ocean
In the book Blue Ocean Strategy (2002), W. Chan Kim and Renée Mauborgne talk about the fact that most markets and submarkets are ‘red oceans’. The metaphor of a red ocean is a market or submarket full of blood from sharks feeding off the same pool of fish. These markets and submarkets (and sometimes also niches) already exist; there is lot of competition within them.
A blue ocean is an unknown area where demand is created, so you won’t have a lot of competition there. It’s easy to see that submarkets and niches develop as a reaction to a red ocean in a market. It gets too crowded and too competitive, so people start inventing new and more specific areas.
The first teacher who taught Spanish online for example created a blue ocean with no other competitors. But as more and more people saw their success, they joined and that ocean slowly became redder.
What many people do when they start a business is that they look around in their niches, see others doing well in that area, and establish their business there. But as you can now see, what these people are doing is actually stepping into someone else’s blue ocean, over time making it redder.
If you jump into an already red ocean, you’ll be forever competing with others and you’ll have a really tough time.
I would recommend that you instead look for micro-niches in your area and try and come up with a new one. A new blue ocean just for you, where you can thrive.
When you start looking around at other teachers in your submarket or niche (which you should definitely do), you’ll be able to see what they teach, how they position themselves, how they market themselves and what they sell.
This will give you tons of inspiration and will make it easier to see how you fit in, and it will also stop you on the shore from jumping into water that is too bloody.