Interview with Online TOEFL Teacher, Entrepreneur and Digital Nomad

Teach English Abroad

We have an interview from Paul, an online ESL teacher who built his own website to help students prepare for the TOEFL test. We asked Paul a few questions about his business, the online ESL market, and his thoughts on travel while building a business.

Paul Austin - TOEFL Teacher

What exactly is your business?

I run the website TOEFL Speaking Teacher. Our main focus is to help students prepare for the TOEFL test, especially the TOEFL Speaking section. We offer 1-on-1 private lessons, a self-study e-course, and a few other odds and ends to help students get a higher TOEFL Speaking score.

You are living in Thailand now, have you found that the internet is good enough for your lessons?

Short answer: Yes.

Long answer: It depends.

When I moved to Chiang Mai in December 2014, I found only a handful of spots that had reliable, high-speed Wifi. I had to pick my cafes and co-working spaces carefully, for fear of a call dropping mid-class.

Now, only 15 months later, reliable high-speed internet is in almost every new cafe that pops up in Chiang Mai. Granted, there are still some places where it’s spotty – but I know those places, so I tend to avoid them for work.

Do you travel a lot now? (Is it a hindrance to running and growing your business?)

Yes and no. Compared to the normal 9-5er, I travel a lot. In fact, in 2015, I traveled to around 20 different countries. But, my current travel habits still pale in comparison to the amount I thought I would travel once I had a location-independent income.

Why? Well, for the sake of brevity: travel harms my ability to build a valuable asset. There are too many variables I must control for while traveling. Handling all these different variables sucks up valuable energy that could, instead, be focused on building my business.

With that being said, I still travel from time to time because I like balance in life. Since I enjoy travel, I still try to ‘backpack’ for 1 or 2 weeks every 3-4 months.

Do you have any English teaching certifications?

I have a 120 hour TEFL certificate I earned from BridgeTEFL, an online school. I completed the online course in about 3 weeks during Christmas break, my final year of University. It’s only utility was to help me get my initial position at a private school in Turkey.

How did you get started teaching English online?

Initially, I taught ‘real-person’ classes in Izmir, Turkey for one year. While I loved my job, loved my students, and loved the paid vacations, I wanted to have more freedom in terms of location. So, after one year, I quit my relatively ‘cushy’ job and moved back home to the States.

After six months of backpacking, I re-focused on my professional development and began teaching online. I used the website iTalki to find my first students. iTalki gave me the chance to find paying students without investing a ton of upfront time into building out my own platform. After about 3 months of teaching online, I was hired by a French company.

Once I consistently had 12-18 hours of work per week, I began traveling again.

What advice would you give for people interested in teaching English online?

Make the switch now. Almost all learning is moving online because of the continued development of online learning platforms. There are so many opportunities available for English teachers to make money by teaching online. Just a few off the top of my head: Voxy, iTalki, BuddySchool, Open English.

My other piece of advice is to start your own platform. If you plan to teach English online as a career move, and you don’t want to make $10/hour for the rest of your career, I recommend learning a few business basics and starting your own platform.  When teaching on iTalki and for employers, I maxed out at about $25 per hour.

Now, after starting my own platform, I teach between 10-15 hours per week @ $70 per hour.

Do you think there are still business opportunities in the English market?

The online ESL market is one of the biggest in the world. There are, literally, billions of people who want to learn English and the VAST majority of these students are looking to the Internet for their learning needs.

In my estimation, it is not an exaggeration to say a billion (Yes, Billion with a ‘B’) dollar company could develop in the next 10-15 years for the online ESL market. The potential is astronomical.

Even if you have no interest in starting an enormous business, there are still a ton of opportunities for those who are willing to learn a few entrepreneurial basics. Most ESL teachers refuse to get their hands ‘dirty’ with business, leaving the market wide open for the rest of us.

Bio: Paul Austin is the head TOEFL Tutor at TOEFL Speaking Teacher. He helps students achieve 26 on TOEFL Speaking through 1-on-1 private courses and e-learning materials. You can find him on Twitter at @TOEFLspeakingT