Cara Leopold's niche is helping English language learners get their listening conversation ready. Find out why Cara thinks that teacherpreneurs should invest in themselves by paying for paid programmes, books or courses by people who’ve been there and know what they’re talking about.
1. Thanks for taking time out of your busy day for this interview. Can you start off by telling us where you teach?
From my office, which is a room in my apartment. I live in the French city of Besançon virtually unheard of both inside and outside of France. For those in the know, it’s a city of 100,000 people, about an hour from the Swiss border.
2. How long have you been teaching?
I started back in 2007 when I finished university, so I’ve been teaching (on and off, because I have studied full-time as well and worked outside of teaching) for almost ten years. I used that opportunity to come and live and work in France.
3. Can you describe a typical teaching day?
My “typical” teaching day keeps evolving as my business does. At the moment, I spend the mornings doing content creation and client work and then I might have an extended lunch break to go off and run some errands or do something else to break up the day.
I use the rest of the afternoon/early evening to sort out any other pending tasks by theme so admin stuff on one day and then professional development on another for instance. Depending on whether or not I’ve switched on Self Control, I might be pinging back and forth between Facebook and my email inbox during the day! If I do have any Skype sessions, or other appointments, I try to keep them to the afternoons.
4. What do you do in your spare time to relax?
I go to pilates classes for one. I started doing in them in late 2015. I think it’s important develop a skill and see growth in that area, to remind ourselves that we can learn something new. Our instructor, Sophie, is great. She only teaches pilates and notices our progress we’re making. She told me towards the end of last year that I’d become a lot more flexible for instance and I had to agree that my work had paid off.
Living near the Jura mountain range (the natural border between France and Switzerland) means there are lots of opportunities for hiking. I’m a big fan of half/full-day hikes with no camping involved!
I love watching films and TV series with my partner. He’s French, but he has his finger on the pulse when it comes to finding and following the latest US TV series. I find that helpful in my work as it gives me ideas for films and series to recommend to my learners and subscribers. I find myself analysing the exchanges for anything a non-native speaker would find hard to catch!
5. You took on the tremendous task of helping students to understand fast, conversational English. Tell us how that happened.
When I started teaching online at the end of 2015, I thought I’d be helping the low-intermediate French learners I was used to working with develop their confidence and become more independent in their learning. But to be honest, I wasn’t too clear on the business side: messaging, promotion, pricing, niching and offer creation. I was investigating the technical side and figuring out if I enjoyed working this way. An American friend who teaches offline sent me my first paying student and a former offline student helped me with some graphic design jobs in exchange for free lessons.
The focus on understanding conversational English came out of working with Janine Bray-Muller of http://www.ft-training.com/ and then interviewing one of my current students about her most pressing problems in English. My student revealed that her main problem was better understanding English speakers in conversation, without translating. That all happened at the start of 2016 and it gradually evolved into the Leo Listening brand during 2016 as I figured out how to fix my student’s comprehension issues.
6. How long did it take you to set up your website and brand and start monetizing your work?
After finishing my part-time job in April, we went to Japan for 3 weeks. When I got back I took Elena Mutonono’s Email List Building Course, built my website and worked on my freebie. I launched the site at the end of June and began building my list.
I started to monetize it properly in October when I launched 5€ service called the Leo Listening Level Test. You purchase the test, take it, I send you feedback and tips to develop your conversational listening skills, as opposed to academic listening skills. This small offering has brought my clients who then went on to pay for more expensive programmes and it’s been a joy to work with them.
7. Do you have a website?
Yes, it's https://leo-listening.com/
8. Are you working on any other projects at the moment?
I’m working on other offers. In 2016 I launched the Leo Listening Level Test. This is the starting point for people who want to work with me. I also piloted a programme called Dictate Your Listening Success (DYLS), where learners transcribe 60 dictations, all based on conversational expressions, and send them to me via WhatsApp.
I’ve just piloted a VIP (or Very Important Listener!) version of this dictations programme with 2 students 1:1. They took DYLS so I knew about their particular difficulties. We’ve spent the past 4 weeks laser focusing on what they find most difficult to catch in fast spoken English, such as prepositions or difficult links between words.
I also piloted an offer called Film Fortnight in January. I’d like to build another offer around helping learners understand films and TV series. I have an idea how that might look, but hopefully my current students and subscribers will also give me some insights.
I’m trying not to do too much at once, but it’s important to have a few offers for people at different stages of the listening journey. It should also help to stabilize my income levels a bit.
9. How do you promote or market your resources?
I do it mostly online, but I also try to use some local strategies seeing as I live in a country where English is not the native language. My online methods are:
Offline my strategies are:
I’m trying to avoid putting up adverts around town or advertising myself on Craigslist type sites even though I know that this would bring me students quickly. The teachers and the people looking on there tend to be looking for a “bargain” i.e. as cheap as possible, not an investment into resolving the particular problem they’re experiencing.
I made the mistake of trying to do my pricing research from these sites in the beginning, which is a no-no! It only encourages scarcity pricing based on wanting to undercut others and not pricing based on making your unique skills stand out for the people who really need them.
10. Where can people find you on social media?
On my Facebook page on in my group https://www.facebook.com/leolistening/
My podcast is https://soundcloud.com/cara-leopold
11. What have you had to do outside of your comfort zone as a teacherpreneur?
Where do I start!? I’ve experienced periods where I felt as if I was doing something out of my comfort zone every day, or at least every week! Some things have become easier through practice and training, such as creating content or reaching out for collaboration opportunities.
I’m still on a learning curve (a fairly steep one) with regard to creating, launching and maintaining offers that people want to buy and that serve them. I would say carving out a business model that really suits me and the people I want to work with has been and continues to be uncomfortable!
I’ve successfully raised my prices, but pricing is still a real challenge, even if I know full well that if you undercharge you’ll end up in trouble.
12. What skills did you gain from classroom teaching that have allowed you to excel as a teacherpreneur?
Hustle. I used to juggle multiple EFL teaching jobs in different places. It felt like I was having to send out CVs or applications every 6 weeks to ensure I had another source of money for when one contract ran out.
You have to be proactive in these situations, otherwise you won’t be able to pay your rent or eat! I also took on opportunities that I wouldn’t have normally such as teaching kids or doing translations, which of course broadened my experience. That’s useful for when you have to take on multiple “hats” as a business owner.
13. What advice would you give to teachers who are considering becoming a teacherpreneur?
Be realistic about what you can achieve and on what timescale. I had a part-time job initially and thought that I’d have built the business by the time my contract ended - wrong answer! That occurred because for the first 3 months, I had know idea what I was doing business-wise. It was only going into 2016 and getting help from Janine and then Elena that I began to understand what I needed to do to attract clients and get paid properly! Unfortunately, my contract only lasted 7-months.
Another lesson here is to invest in yourself by paying for paid programmes, books or courses by people who’ve been there and know what they’re talking about. Preferably within the teaching industry as opposed to some business guru.
It’s tempting to bootstrap in the beginning, and sometimes we don’t have much choice, but when you make investments, the money will come back to you further down the line. If you’re cash-strapped in the beginning, make sure you network with other online teachers and consider setting up an informal mastermind group. This will help keep you sane!
14. I talk to many teachers about their fear or doubt in trying something new or "putting themselves out there". What advice would you give to these teachers?
The fear never really goes away. I don’t mean to scare you, but once you’ve faced one fear, a new one will confront you on the next stage of your journey. But if you’ve confronted one fear, you can confront the next one. You just need to keep going! Make a list of all the things you’ve achieved so far and surround yourself with people who support you and believe in you too.
15. Is there anything that you would like to add?
I’d love to hear from other teachers who are interested in what I’m doing and want to chat or find ways to work together.
Thanks so much Cara!
Interested in learning more about transitioning from a teacher to teacherpreneur but don’t know how to get started? Here are some ways:
1. Read more than 85+ inspiring teacherpreneur interviews at www.teacherpreneur.ca/blog
2. Download The Essential Teacher to Teacherpreneur Toolkit - 50 pages packed with information to get you started as a teacherpreneur at http://www.teacherpreneur.ca
3. Download 10 Tips to Transition from Teacher to Teacherpreneur https://www.teacherpreneur.ca/p/10-tips-to-transition-from-teacher-to-teachepreneur
4. Download The Social Media Make-over Checklist for Teacherpreneurs at www.teacherpreneur.ca
5. Connect with other teacherpreneurs by joining my LinkedIn group https://www.linkedin.com/groups/7060976
6. Set up a private coaching call with me https://www.teacherpreneur.ca/pages/book-a-coaching-session-with-me
Connect with me on social media. Teacherpreneurs must be on social media.
My name is Patrice Palmer, M.Ed., M.A., CPP. I have more than 20 years’ experience as an ESL Teacher, TESL Trainer, and Writer. I spent seven amazing years teaching in Hong Kong and have taught students from 8 to 80 years in a variety of programs. I now work as a teacherpreneur doing the things that I love such as writing books, courses and teaching materials; coaching teacherpreneurs, travelling at any time of the year and applying the science of positive psychology to all my work (www.patricepalmer.ca). Contact me at [email protected]
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