• ELT Action

How to Attract Your Target Student?

So, you've decided on your ESL teaching niche. You've got your ideal client in mind. You've even written a niche positioning statement and made it part of your LinkedIn profile.

Excellent! What's next?

Build an expensive website and run some advertising campaigns, right? Wrong.

Before you spend anything, you should validate your target niche.

Validate your target niche through organic outreach

All business ideas need to be tested before diving into the deep end.

So, after choosing a niche, the next goal on your ESL business roadmap should be "validating" that niche by:

a) Identifying where your ideal clients congregate online b) Engage them to learn more about the problems they need to be solved c) Try convincing a few of them to hire you as that solution provider

Can your ideal clients be found in Facebook Groups? Or is LinkedIn a better option? Can you connect with them on Twitter? How about Reddit? How about dedicated online forums? Do the research. Ask questions. Find out where your future students can easily be found.

Once you are accepted into these online meeting places, take the time to be helpful to other members. Be generous with your advice. Get to know the group admins, if they exist, and look for ways that you can offer value to their community. They are likely to reciprocate by granting you some leeway with self-promotion.

At some point though, you'll need to ask a few people whether they are interested in hiring you. A basic landing page is all you need at this point. Even just a Facebook Business Page will do if you have zero budget. Start with a simple web page that describes who your ideal client is, demonstrates that you understand their pain points, and explains how you can provide an effective solution.

Use a "lead magnet" to grow your student connections

So, after validating your offer, how do you build effective communication with larger numbers of prospective students?

By regularly turning up in their inbox and amazing offering value!

People quickly get tired of being "pitched" but they rarely get tired of receiving helpful tips. An important part of every ESL teacher's marketing strategy should be building an email marketing list.

One tried and proven strategy is to offer something of value in return for submitting an email. The thing of value which you provide is called a "lead magnet" and it can be as simple as a downloadable PDF in the form of an e-booklet, an infographic, or a worksheet.

Some people take it a step further and provide a link to a video tutorial.

Whatever lead magnet you decide, you should have an email "squeeze page" where you can promote your offer. There are many email marketing platforms that offer a free "starter plan". MailChimp is a popular free choice, where you can have up to 2000 email contacts before you need to upgrade.

Scale-up with paid marketing

If people like your lead magnet offer, and you are getting landing page visitors to subscribe to your email marketing list, then maybe it's time to start scaling things.

Facebook Ads are a popular choice. Facebook is available almost everywhere on the planet (mainland China is one exception). Their advertising platform offers an extremely granular level of student targeting. Setting the right campaign parameters, combined with thoughtful ad creatives, should lead to decent amounts of targeted traffic to your email squeeze page, and a rapidly growing email marketing list.

Google pay-per-click marketing can also be a viable option if you know that each new student adds solid long-term value to your business. Google's text ads have the advantage of driving traffic from well-qualified prospects who have a strong "buying intent". However, the cost per click is usually more expensive than Facebook Ads, so you will need to manage your advertising budget limits carefully.

Get free traffic with content marketing

Organic social media outreach and paid ad placements are both great ways to grow your email audience. But the first option requires continuous effort on your part and the second requires an advertising budget. What if there was a way that you could set your list building on "auto-pilot" and not spend a dime on ads?

Well, there is, through creating "evergreen" content. Think about your target student audience. Think about their goals and their problems. Then think about what Google search query they would use to find a solution e.g., somebody who is preparing for an IELTS examination might search for "how to improve my IELTS speaking score". That's your opportunity to create an amazing piece of content that exactly answers the question and attracts visitor web traffic, day after day.

So, if content marketing to attract ESL students is a strategy that appeals, you may need a blog.

Ideally, your blog and your email squeeze page should be on the same domain. A blog gives you a central place to post articles, videos, podcast recordings, quizzes ... whatever you can think of that offers a valuable resource to your target client.

If you want to get a little more advanced, you could try a "content upgrade" strategy where you present the visitor with a call-to-action such as "Did you enjoy this article? Enter your email to receive the more detailed exclusive PDF version".

How to Create an Email Squeeze Page

So far, I've talked about how to get traffic to your email squeeze page. But what about the design of the sign-up form itself? Are there any best practices for email marketing form design?

Here is a list of ideas to optimize your subscriber capture:

  • Only ask for the minimum necessary information. First name and email address should be enough.

  • Display student testimonials next to your sign-up form. Social proof can be a powerful persuader.

  • Make your lead magnet easy to digest. Deliver content that gives a "quick win" to the recipient.

  • Use statistics for positive reinforcement e.g., “7 out of 8 students who read this guide said it helped them to prepare for the IELTS exams”.

  • Show a compelling "hero image" near the form. A friendly, happy, professional-looking photo of yourself usually works best.

  • Make your call-to-action button "user-centric" and "benefit-centric" e.g., “Send My E-Book”. Not, “Click Here”.

  • List no more than 5 bullet points to show how users can benefit from your free offer.

  • Address any objections about privacy. e.g., make a "No Spam. Ever." promise.


Validating your niche choice then building an email marketing list are two important foundational steps in building your own profitable, sustainable, and enjoyable freelance ESL career.

Use the strategies I have mentioned in this article to start attracting your ideal client to your email squeeze page or content upgrade form.

Once you have a solid email marketing list, you are ready for the next stage of your business evolution which is, getting students to sign up for your trial lessons and strategy sessions.

More about that in the next article!

Paul Sallaway

ESL Podcaster 🎙️ & Marketing Consultant. Now helping freelance ESL teachers to build profitable and sustainable businesses through high conversion SALES FUNNEL strategies.


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