Ever thought about becoming a freelancer? This is the first of a six part series of articles from two ELT professionals who have successfully done just that: Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol. Here, they share advice on surviving financially, getting organised, managing your online reputation and getting work.
Many ELT professionals are enticed by the flexible, independent nature of being a freelancer. You get to choose what sort of contracts to pursue, you are your own boss and you have more freedom on how you spend your time. However, going this route means that you and you alone are responsible for finding and maintaining enough hours to generate a sustainable income. You’re also responsible for paying your own taxes, health insurance, pension contributions, etc. In order to keep your head above water it’s essential to be well organised, maintain high-quality training services and stick with it even when the going gets tough.
Whether you’re a teacher, teacher trainer, writer or other ELT professional, the starting point for freelancing means organising the budgeting and financial aspects of your career. By this, we mean assessing your current (or desired) standard of living on a monthly and yearly basis and then calculating the income necessary to sustain that lifestyle. From there, determine the average number of hours you need to work, per month, so that you can earn a living and still provide the best training for your learners.
Obviously balancing the supply and demand fluctuations of the industry can be challenging. Your income will not be the same every month and there may be periods when you earn very little or nothing at all. Advanced preparation and proper management of your income and expenditure will give you more security and enable you to create a ‘rainy day’ fund for those quiet months.
Solid administration skills are also necessary to stay organised. Paperwork is nobody’s best friend, but it’s essential to keep all of your documents, invoices, receipts, and records in order. Consider hiring an accountant to help you with your financial goals, at least initially. They can save you a great deal of money in the long run, are therefore a wise investment, and can also educate you about the standard aspects of freelancing such as pension contributions, health insurance, and tax deductible expenses.
When seeking out teaching opportunities, it is essential you look the part, walk the talk and be a highly professional representative of the ELT industry. The person hiring you, or the client choosing to invest in your training, will be thinking, “Why should I choose you?” It’s crucial to distinguish yourself from everyone else offering the same services. Your CV, brochure and business cards should be clean, professional, easy to read, up-to-date and in the language of the individuals who will receive it.
Take the time to manage your reputation. Don’t be afraid to Google yourself (images included) and be aware of what can be found. Prospective clients will do the same and it’s essential that you align your online appearance with who you are and what you want to be known for. On the other hand, if you can’t be found online, these days, your prospective client may wonder why – especially if you’re a freelancer. At the very least you should have an online profile, if not your own website. Most freelancing work today is obtained through word of mouth.
Reflect on what people think when they hear your name and what you want them to think. As a freelancer, your reputation is your brand; you should deliver the very best you can, every day. Adopt a quality-control process that enables you to collect and act upon any positive or negative feedback. Do this face-to-face, but also offer it anonymously, for example, through an online survey.
As you build your business as a freelancer, satisfied clients will recommend you to others; this way, opportunities will start to find you and eventually you will spend less time looking for extra hours. Use that time to develop yourself professionally, so take courses, read up on the latest techniques, go to conferences, or volunteer for an association. The time you invest in yourself can lead to obtaining work more easily, possibly billing higher rates, and ultimately maintaining the high-quality teaching and training services you provide.
This article first appeared in the September 2013 edition of the Teaching Adults Newsletter – a round-up of news, interviews and resources specifically for teachers of adults. If you teach adults, subscribe to the Teaching Adults Newsletter now.
© Mike Hogan and Bethany Cagnol, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to the authors with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.