Jonathan Hill has found his niche where the demand for quality English learning products is high. Find out how Jonathan plans to use his car to promote his brand, and why teachers should not feel confined to the classrooms.
Jonathan, can you start off by telling us where you teach?
Sure, I rather interestingly teach in two countries. Since Bratislava, the capital of Slovakia where I am based is located very close to the Austrian border, I have the option to work in both places. I teach in-company, Business English in Bratislava and my students are predominantly business people in mainly corporate settings. In Austria, I teach Academic English at the University of Applied Sciences in a city called Eisenstadt which is the capital of Burgenland. It is less than one hour away by car from Vienna and Bratislava.
That is interesting. I'm not sure that I have met other teacherpreneurs who teach in two countries the same time. How long have you been teaching?
I have been working as an ESL teacher since 2005, so coming up for 12 years now. I left university in 2004 with a BA in Marketing and wasn't entirely sure what I wanted to do. I knew the 9-5 office type of environment wasn't for me so after some soul searching and travelling, I finished up in Central Europe and Slovakia has been home ever since.
Can you describe a typical teaching day?
It varies quite a bit as I work as a freelancer. If I'm working in Bratislava, I often begin my day at 5.00 a.m. as my in-company classes start at 7.00-7.30 a.m. which is very early I know! Most companies here set classes between 7-9 in the morning and 15.00-18.00 in the evening to avoid too many staff being on English courses during business hours. However, in time, I managed to land myself one to one classes with top management so I have managed to arrange my morning teaching schedule from 7-12 then I grab a bite to eat before heading back to my office to lesson plan for the following day. The hours in Austria are much more pleasant and as it's a university so I typically only begin around 9.30 a.m. and finish around 12 also. Again I grab some lunch and head to the staff room to either mark assignments, plan my curriculum or prepare lesson materials for the next or future lessons.
What do you do in your spare time to relax?
It is quite hard as I have a wife who keeps me busy and a lively 4-year-old son of whom I love spending time with. I wouldn't say it's relaxing but it is certainly a big part of my life and my family are of primary importance. However aside from this, I really enjoy running and try to compete in several races each year, both locally and nationally in Slovakia. I also find yoga very therapeutic and taking long walks in the countryside is helpful. We have some fabulous countryside near my home and it's great to escape to it after a long week.
You have transitioned from teacher to teacherpreneur. Can you talk a bit about what you are doing?
Yes, I became very inspired by a number of other ESL teachers who had started their own thing over the years and with my experience and knowledge I felt it was my turn to offer something to ESL students in Slovakia and ultimately the world. So around 2015 I felt I had reached a plateau in my career and I wanted to do more. I still loved teaching but I had an urge to develop a product or offer something for my students. The problem is I don't have a huge amount of money to invest into products and it seemed risky to put the life savings I have into a business idea that had no real guarantee of success. That's why I decided to begin by making low-risk YouTube videos helping Slovak speakers of English (where I live) improve their spoken English. Unfortunately, a fair number of Slovak people who don't work in companies where English classes are financed lack sufficient funds to attend regular English lessons due to the low salary's people are paid here. As the demand for quality English learning products is high, my concept is based around building a community and offering real value. In time I plan to further help my channel viewers by selling ESL products via my channel at a lower cost than local language schools to help Slovaks that can't afford conventional language school courses and give them the possibility to learn English and improve it at minimum costs as it's online. As I don't have the overhead of traditional brick and mortar language school I can afford to do this.
How long did it take you to get started?
I have only been going for about 2 months but the feedback and encouragement I have had from my Slovak students has been really phenomenal. I want to build up my subscribers then in time sell products or courses at a fair cost to people in Slovakia and the Czech Republic. This could expand in time to cover other Slavic nations such as Poland, Russia, Bulgaria etc.
Where can we find your YouTube page?
There is a free book to download http://www.befluentenglish.com/freebook, that any students who are reading this can feel free to download. Ultimately I just want to create awareness of my channel and help my channel followers for at least the next 12 months before I'm in a position to sell anything as I think it's crucial to build trust before trying to sell anything.
Are you working on any other projects at the moment?
As I teach full time and work on this every Friday afternoon, I wish I would have more time! For now, I want to focus on my YouTube page and build a brand then sell products to help my learners. One thing I am planning to do in time is making videos for children to learn English with a specific focus on children in the Slovak and Czech Republics. Who know's I might expand on it, but I want to stay with a market I am familiar with for now.
How do you promote or market your videos?
At the moment it's purely through word of mouth and through contact email addresses of past and present students. However, I will be adding branding to my car this year and having my website translated into Slovak. As I do a significant amount of driving, sometimes around 250 km per week if not more – my car can act as a mobile billboard which should serve to catch a large market of people. I mention Slovakia quite a bit but honestly speaking this website is not limited to just Slovak learners but anybody who wants to learn English I feel would find my channel interesting.
Unfortunately, in our field, there has been discrimination against "non-native" speakers of English. What advice would you give to non-native speakers of English who would like to use their skills to become teacherpreneurs?
First of all, I really cannot tolerate or accept this in any way. I have witnessed it many times in Slovakia to exceptionally fantastic colleagues who are also dear friends and who due to their nationality have been badly mistreated and underpaid. That is where I think the Internet is giving non-native speaking ESL teachers a voice to connect with students who they and the students want to work with. I believe ESL is a "people business" and we work with who we feel comfortable with regardless of where they are from so I don't believe for one minute any non-native teacher should feel that they cannot make it as a teacherpreneur. If you have something to give and you are prepared to hustle, then you shouldn't quit, whether you are a native or non-native speaking ESL teacher.
Do you do everything yourself or do you have someone help with the technical aspects, etc.?
Well to start with I had my friend who is a programmer make my online teaching www.befluentenglish.com website however the YouTube channel is purely my own work. I forgot to mention that I also teach online from time to time students from outside of Slovakia. However on my YouTube channel, I do all of the production, editing, and in the future, I will be adding music and improving my videos. I must stress I am not a video editor at all and some of my earlier videos are truly terrible. However, I feel that many people like that raw quality of the earlier videos and as you get better and more proficient then everything kind of clicks. In short, I've put a lot of time into things myself with regards to video production and marketing but for anything on the programming of my website my programming friend lends a hand.
Where can people find you on social media?
I'm active on Linked In, Twitter and YouTube. Strangely enough, I'm not so active on Facebook, but that could change.
What have you had to do outside of your comfort zone as a teacherpreneur?
After I did my Cambridge CELTA I took a digital marketing course with a US outfit called Market Campus to update my skills somewhat. This helped me to get over the obstacle of how to market myself. I think a lot of teachers struggle with how to sell themselves so by watching how YouTube, in particular, is a really powerful medium to sell yourself I just realised I had to get on board, swallow my pride and use it to promote my English teaching business.
What skills did you gain from classroom teaching that have allowed you to excel as a teacherpreneur?
I think the ability to present and explain clearly and calmly. It helps to have knowledge of teaching English in general but when making YouTube videos the biggest hurdles are usually technical and getting things like the lighting and editing correct.
What advice would you give to teachers who are considering becoming a teacherpreneur?
If you have an idea I think you need to, first of all, do your homework, test the market and then if you feel sure your product/idea has a good chance, then just go for it. With my YouTube channel, I just started making some videos and got some feedback to make sure people found the type of information I was broadcasting useful and interesting, even if the videos were the worst imaginable quality! The thing is nobody will give you any assurances so to a degree you need to be prepared to accept failure but don't let it knock you back. Take it, roll with it and use it to move on to something better. I believe failure is only going to make you stronger until you find your niche for your idea of which I'm a firm believer of.
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?
I think it is hard, but what helped me was getting outside and meeting people especially other teachers. I think as teachers we often feel confined to the classrooms where we teach but we have so much to give because we are working with people that need our support and help. I think you just have to believe in yourself and go for it. Technical issues also put a block in the way of peoples' progress. We live in an age where there are so many online courses to learn new skills quickly and cheaply, so if you need to learn how to build a website, create a mailing list or make videos, it's so much easier than ever before. It's not always straightforward but it's totally possible if you have the vision and drive.
Is there anything that you would like to add?
First of all, I'd like to thank you, Patrice, for inviting me to be interviewed as it's a real privilege to know you and have this wonderful opportunity. I'd like to just further add that as my project is in its early stages it's something that I'd like anyone who in interested to learn more about to be able to reach me via email at [email protected] or post a comment on my YouTube channel.
Thank you, Jonathan, for your insights as you start off on your teacherpreneur journey. Keep us posted on any new developments.
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 teacherpreneur interviews at www.teacherpreneur.ca/blog
2. If you are a TESL Ontario member, watch a recording of my webinar Teacher to Teacherpreneur https://tutela.ca/GroupFiles?organicgroup=8594&cat=518
3. Check out The Essential Teacher to Teacherpreneur Toolkit at http://www.teacherpreneur.ca
4. Sign up for my 4-week online course with iTDi.pro - Teacher to Teacherpreneur http://itdi.pro/itdihome/teacherpreneur.php
5. Download 10 Tips to Transition from Teacher to Teacherpreneur https://www.teacherpreneur.ca/p/10-tips-to-transition-from-teacher-to-teachepreneur
6. Download The Social Media Make-over Checklist for Teacherpreneurs at www.teacherpreneur.ca
7. Connect with other teacherpreneurs by joining my LinkedIn group https://www.linkedin.com/groups/7060976
8. Set up a private coaching call with me https://www.teacherpreneur.ca/pages/book-a-coaching-session-with-me
9. Connect with me on social media. Teacherpreneurs must be on social media.
My name is Patrice Palmer, M.Ed., M.A., TESL and I reside in Canada. I have 20 years’ experience as an ESL Teacher, TESL Trainer, and Writer including 7 amazing years in Hong Kong. I have taught students from 8 to 80 years in a variety of programs such as ESP, EAP, Business English, and language programs for new immigrants in Canada. I'm now a teacherpreneur doing the things that I love such as writing courses, blogging, sharing teaching materials, instructional coaching for new teachers and coaching teacherpreneurs. Having a flexible schedule allows me to conduct short-term training around the world at any time of the year.
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