Finding Private English Students in Japan; Techniques and tips for teachers
Finding private students in Japan is not difficult if it’s approached logically. Here is some advice for English teachers looking to boost their income with outside lessons. One of these techniques might work by itself, especially for female teachers, but it will most likely require a combination of approaches.
1. Advertise on English teachers’ websites
Register with an English teachers’ website, like www.findateacher.net, giving as much information as you can and including a photograph. Dress professionally for your photo. Plenty of teachers include a picture of themselves on vacation or hiking in the mountains and wonder why they’ve had little interest from prospective students. Women usually have a much higher success rate from these sites than men, so for men your image will be extremely important. If you have a suit, wear it for your picture. You will be able to link to a website from your profile on findateacher.net, so consider setting up a blog or simple website to give a good impression.
The going rate for private lessons is around 3500 to 4000 yen for a 50 minute or one hour class. Charging less will not necessarily increase demand, as students may believe your skills to be substandard. If you want to lower prices to attract students, then offer a good value introductory price. Your trial lesson should be cheap anyway, but reducing the cost of your first 10 lessons, for example, would attract students while making you seem confident in your ability to retain students in the long-term. Ideally, you should aim to set up group classes; you will have to lower your individual fee, but will be able to earn serious money for a class of three or more students. Consider also advertising an online option. Check out this advice for aspiring online English teachers if you're interested.
2. Buy Classes from Departing Teachers
If advertising on teacher’s websites brings you no success, then another tried and tested technique is to buy classes from departing teachers. Teachers heading back to their home countries are usually happy to sell almost everything they own (some of the stingier so-called sayonara-sales often include paperback books!). Approach any departing friends or acquaintances with a sensible offer and they will probably be happy to offload their private students – especially if they trust you with their ex-students. You can even approach teachers you don’t know. Look at the classified sections of expat magazines and contact people having sayonara sales to check if they will be leaving any private students behind. In Kansai the best publications are Kansai Scene and Kansai Flea Market, which are available in most foreigners’ hangouts. Nationally, there is also Japanzine, which has a classified section.
3. Get to know your regular students
Some conversation schools prohibit their teachers from taking on private students while others, including ECC, have a more care-free attitude. No companies, however, will be happy about you stealing their students. If you get along with your students, however, you may find yourself building up a good collection of business cards and most companies do not mind teachers keeping in contact with students or even socializing with them. Having Japanese friends and acquaintances with direct experience of your teaching and a route to contact you privately could be a good way to get students from their recommendations. Also, your relationship with some students may outlive their contract with the company for which you work, leaving you free to make an offer. Be extremely careful about how you go about this; picking up a few private students is not worth risking your day job, so consider the ethics and risks of your approach.
4. Put the word out in your neighborhood
Next, get to know your neighbors. Private lessons in your neighborhood should be your goal. Traveling for one hour to teach a 50 minute lesson is not an economical use of your time, so building a local network is a great way to find students closer to home. Have a Japanese friend help you make a leaflet to distribute, or cards to place in nearby shops. Also, have some business cards printed. You may find Japanese returnees approaching you in order to practice their English when you are out an about. They’re often looking for a free English lesson; you can be ready to offer them the next best thing.
5. Teach good classes and offer incentives for spreading the word
Once you have found one or two students, do your best to impress them every class. Your lessons should increase through word of mouth quite quickly, if you are up to the job. Offer your current student a discount for recommending other students. One way to do this is to design and print some discount tickets for your student. If another student takes a trial class with you and shows one, offer both students a special one-off price. Your classes should start to grow exponentially.
6. Get some cards printed and set up a website
Two relatively easy ways to give yourself a professional image are to have some business cards printed and set up your own website. If you are going to get some cards, avoid the temptation to print them on your own inkjet printer. They are bound to look horrible and will probably end up being more expensive than a professional job. There are lots of companies that will let you design a card online or choose from templates, and ship them from overseas to Japan. Setting up your own website takes time and effort. An English site is better than nothing but will not help you find students via search engines, as they will be looking you up using Japanese.
These are the most common ways to find private English students in Japan. “Privates” can be very lucrative, especially for women, who are often able to charge 5,000 or even 10,000 yen for one hour classes. Most independent English schools are formed by the snowballing of private classes taught originally alongside a full-time job. You can teach in coffee shops, your own home, or even find teaching studios for which you can pay by the hour. Many teachers also visit their students’ homes, but this has led to tragedy for at least two female teachers in Japan, so this is not recommended. There are other options so you are better off pursuing them instead. Female teachers should have no shortage of opportunities for private classes; there should be no need to visit your clients’ homes. Violent crime is extremely rare in Japan but stalking is a particular problem, and not taken sufficiently seriously by the police, so it is best to be proactive.