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How to Choose an ESL Teaching Niche

How much per hour are you getting as an ESL teacher?

What if I told you that you could be making 99 Euros per hour?

No joke. That's what an ESL teacher friend of mine is earning on her own. She has remote clients from all over the world and is incredibly busy. In fact, she has so many students that she is in the process of hiring a virtual assistant to help manage her schedule and her admin tasks.

But she has a secret. And I'm going to share it with you.

She makes money by saying "no".

She refuses clients who don't match her target audience or who aren't a good fit for her expertise.

She is a "niche" teacher.

In this article, I am going to share with you how you can dramatically increase your hourly rate by moving from a "general English instructor" to a "niche ESL professional" and start building a sustainable, profitable, and enjoyable freelance career.

Why should you choose a narrow niche in a global market?

Marketing legend Seth Godin once said, "You can pick anyone, and I am just anyone", is a lousy slogan.

If you are the same as everyone else, you are a commodity. And in any commodity market, the lowest price usually wins. It's a race to the bottom.

On the other hand, when you pick a "niche" and build your personal brand around a specific audience with a specific set of problems, the game changes.

Suddenly, your slogan becomes, "I am the ONLY one. And you'll pay a bit more, but you'll get more than you paid for".

Niche opportunities

So, what is an ESL niche?

Well, an ESL niche can be anything which more narrowly defines a subset of the overall English learner market.

For example, you could target:

  • Nationalities - e.g., English learners in Spain

  • Industries - e.g., English learners in the construction industry

  • Occupations - e.g., English learners who are dentists

  • Learning Styles - e.g., English learners with reading disabilities

  • Age Groups - e.g., English learners between 12 and 17 years old.

  • Interests - e.g., English learners who are interested in football.

  • Ability Level - e.g., English learners who are upper-intermediate or advanced.

  • Learning Goal - e.g., English learners who need help preparing for the IELTS exam.

In fact, it's possible to combine some of these groupings to get an even more specific target. For example, you might want to target German teenagers who are interested in multi-player gaming or project managers who work in the IT industry.

When I suggest "niching down" like this, the usual worried reaction is, "that sounds like a very small market". Well, yes it might be. And that's kind of the whole point.

You want to find your own tiny, exclusive corner of the internet where you can stake a claim and be unique.

Remember, as of January 2021 there are 4.66 billion people online worldwide and more than 1.5 billion people learning English globally according to the British Council.

So how many students do you really need to build a successful business? There are only so many hours in the day, so my guess is that 20 active students at any one time would be as much work as you can personally handle. You don't NEED a big target market.

What do you enjoy teaching?

Whatever you choose as your niche should be something you feel passionate about and enjoy teaching. It's a necessary consideration because you are going to be spending a LOT of time talking about it.

Can you imagine talking about your chosen field over dinner, down the pub with friends, online in Facebook Groups, or in YouTube live interviews? Can you see yourself creating podcasts or blog articles around the topic? Can you imagine talking about it over and over?

If you can't then maybe you need to think about a different niche because it's hard to become "the authority" in something you aren't fully committed to.

What qualifies you to teach this?

It certainly helps get momentum if you can approach potential students while having at least some knowledge about their English learning situation. It's a good way to build trust and rapport.

For example, if I were diagnosed with dyslexia, that might put me in a position (along with my teacher training) to be an ESL professional who can help English learners with a similar diagnosis. Or if I had worked for a year in a hotel it would be helpful for talking to students who may also need English for conversing with guests in the hospitality industry.

In each of those hypothetical examples, as an ESL teacher, I could easily relate to my students because I have similar life experiences.

How to make a "Niche Positioning Statement"

So, to define your teaching niche you should write a positioning statement. Avoid simple, static statements like "I teach Business English" or "I teach Grammar". Make it dynamic. Grab a pen and do it now.

Try to complete the following template: I help ________ (who) that want to _______ (a dynamic goal) by _________ (your instructional approach).

e.g., I help Japanese sales managers that want to get a promotion by assisting them to rapidly improve their TOEIC test results. OR I help Italian students that want to make friends while studying abroad by improving their English conversational confidence. OR I help Brazilian parents that want to see their pre-school children speaking English by teaching through the use of music and games.

Write down as many positioning statements as you can think of then choose the one that "resonates" best for you.


Hopefully, this article has convinced you that the way to survive and thrive as an online ESL teacher is to target a niche audience. In my own experience as a marketing consultant, one of the first questions I ask when meeting small business clients is "what's your niche" because without a clearly defined customer, everything else is going to be a struggle.

I'll leave you with a quote from my ESL friend whom I mentioned at the beginning of the article.

"I had a student sign up for interview practice today. She said she's tried general English teachers but doesn't feel like they make much difference as what she needs is very specific. I am a 1000% advocate for the niche ESL teaching model now." So be unique. Be hard to replace. Become a niche teacher.

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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