Perhaps you wonder whether you should become self-employed or rather remain employed by a school? Sylwia Clayton, a long-term teacher of English, says how to get up the courage and become self-employed. Is it profitable at all to work on own account and what mistakes should be avoided?
I am curious whether teaching of English has been your dream since you were a child?
Unfortunately, I cannot present one of those wonderful stories where I tell people that I have always wanted to teach. As a small girl I dreamt of becoming a librarian 🙂 Books are my other love.
My adventure with English language started in elementary school. My parents signed me up for additional private lessons, where we were only doing grammar, but I still liked those classes a lot. My secondary school English teacher inspired in me a real passion for English and infused with a thought of studying English philology. After a long consideration (I also considered Polish philology and chemistry 🙂 ), I finally opted for the Foreign Language Teacher Training College and that was the best choice.
I started working as a teacher already during my first year of studies, i.e. 14 years ago. In the beginning those were classes for children organized by a small training company owned by a slightly suspicious gentleman. I do not remember ever signing any contract with him, but who would have cared for some paperwork when I could do something giving me so much pleasure 🙂
From that moment on, everything moved on like an avalanche. During the second year of my studies, I started cooperation with two more language schools, where I had classes with adults and youth. Already back than I had to learn to manage time. From Monday to Friday I attended studies, then after one-hour break I went to work, and on Saturday morning again I went for morning classes in a language school. Even today I have no idea how I managed to reconcile all of that, and then additionally find some time for aerobics and a course of Italian language.
So why exactly did you decide to be self-employed?
To be precise, I cannot say I made this decision, as early on that was what one of the schools required, and this is how we settled payments for the classes. But later I already had a choice and could either work in a state-run school or continue being self-employed. Despite persuasions from my whole family, I decided to continue working as a freelancer and I have never regretted the decision. I highly value the freedom afforded by such manner of work.
Did you have any fears related to becoming self-employed?
I had a lot of fears related to managing the entire paperwork, i.e. the Social Insurance Institution, Tax Office, being granted a Tax Identification Number, and all the rest. I hate going to offices and complete the formalities, but luckily mu accountant helped me. She was absolutely invaluable and did virtually everything for me. Of course now I know how to take care of formalities, but if you take first steps as an entrepreneur, I think a good accounting office is indispensable.
When the documentation was spruced up, the time came for worries how I would cope once the grace period of two years for payment of preferential social insurance contributions for entrepreneurs ends. But the fears proved groundless because the period of two years was sufficient to gain a stable base of customers.
Did you encounter difficulties when you were starting to work as a freelancer?
Yes, that was the period of summer holidays for me. I had completely no idea how to use that period and then the best and financially safest option for me seemed to go to work abroad. Now I mostly have classes for adults, so I am not affected by the problem that much anymore. Besides I have learnt to manage my finances in such a way that money earned suffices for the entire year 🙂
The other obstacle I had not been prepared for were difficult customers, including in particular cancellation of classes, often just a few minutes in advance. This completely demolished my schedule because such cancelled classes were made up for at another time. I tolerated this back then because I had no idea how to cope with the problem. Now I already know now that such rules need to be clearly agreed upon with customers before classes start.
Why have you decided to start your own blog?
I started to write a blog because English language and teaching are my passions I wanted to share with others. With time I have noticed that running a blog is also an excellent promotion tool. My blog is targeted at teachers, but it helped some of my customers to find my offering.
When reading my blog, customers see that my work is my passion, they can also check my qualifications and experience, which certainly makes them more trustful.
When writing the blog and running my Facebook fanpage I also got to know many other inspiring teachers. I think this is a perfect way to exchange experiences and ideas.
Moreover, writing the blog helps me to develop professionally. I learn a lot by writing articles. This forces me to search for answers to many questions and makes the knowledge I already have more systematic.
Where do you derive ideas for lessons from? What inspires you?
I think just like any passionate teacher I derive ideas virtually from anything; even supermarket shopping or a visit to a gas station can sometimes become an inspiration. But if you ask me to provide some specific sources or spots, then definitely the first place goes to educational blogs of my peers and YouTube. The list also included webinars, which are truly a mine of ideas.
I am also inspired by my students. Their unusual interests, an interesting article they show me or sometimes even something they say or a problem they are struggling with. Everything can be used during classes 🙂
Why do you value freelance teaching?
First of all, such manner of work gives freedom. I have never liked full-time jobs making me work from 9 am to 5 pm. This is not only about freedom in terms of time management and organisation, but also in terms of the content of teaching. Working freelance, I decide how I run my classes and what textbooks I use. This is very important for me.
You have recently become a mom. How do you reconcile teaching and maternity?
I have to admit the first months were tough, but I was saved by good organisation and precise day planning.
The work of a teacher is very time-consuming, and if we add paperwork related to self-employment and maternity, one really would like a day to last 48 hours.
Within those few months I defined certain rules:
- The time when my daughter is asleep I devote to the activities I can do on the phone because that is easier. This is when I write articles, deal with social media, I watch recordings of webinars and read.
- During the day, I assign some time for preparation of classes. This is when my husband takes care of our daughter, while I lock myself in the office and work.
- I use ready materials more often. In the past I did not like using such ready-made materials; that seemed highly unprofessional to me. But since I came to terms with them, they have proven to be a real advantage because they become a kind of a getaway for students. There are several websites I use and I know lessons placed they are really top quality.
- Free time. This is extremely important to find even one hour just for ourselves. Sometimes this is difficult but I try to find such time and I even mark it in the calendar.
What would you tell people facing a decision on self-employment?
I think that to begin with it is worthwhile pondering on the following issues:
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions and I wish you many a success in freelance teaching.
An action strategy. Who our offer will be targeted at (adults or children) and what type of classes you want to run (business language, general language). I think it is very important to become specialised. It is much easier to find customers being an expert in a single field rather than a Jack of all trades, master of none.
An additional source of income. This is slightly in contradiction with bullet 1 above, but in the beginning it is worthwhile having something else up the sleeve, e.g. translations. You can also link this to your specialty, for example do only translations for business. This can be your lifeline in the periods when lessons cease to be a sufficient source of income.
A good accountant. This made my life much easier in the beginning, because I knew I did not have to worry whether my social insurance contributions and taxes are paid on time.
Good time management. Clearly define the hours of work and hours of rest. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’. Excessive workload will cause deterioration of the quality of your classes and is likely to result in swift professional burnout.
No boss. Certainly, having nobody to tell us what to do is one of the pros of being self-employed. But remember there are also cons of such a situation – you have to deal with everything on your own. You have to acquire customers, cope with difficult and dissatisfied students, and manage the entire business on your own (so I will refer you again to bullet 3 above – an accountant!).
Social media, a blog, networking, conferences. Those are not indispensable, but in my opinion very helpful if you are self-employed. A blog and presence in social media will help you to acquire customers and build relations with them. Networking and participation in conferences will help you to initiate friendships with other teachers, who are excellent sources of inspiration.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions and I wish you many a success in freelance teaching!