Can I make online ESL teaching a FULL TIME job?
YES YOU CAN!
When I started teaching English online to kids in China I had no idea it would turn into my full time job or that that was even an option. Fast forward almost 4 years and here I am relying on this income to support me, my 5 kids, and a million animals! However, there are several things that I wish I knew from the beginning of my journey to make the transition to full time teaching easier. Below are some of my tips and things to consider if you are looking to teach English online full time.
Tips for Bringing In Full-Time Hours and Money:
1. Full Time Hours- As an independent contractor you will not be guaranteed full time hours from ANY online ESL company. When first starting out it will take time to build up your schedule and have a regular student base, whether it is a parent booked or company booked platform. Be wary of any recruiter who tells you that you will get fully booked from the start. Although there are many people who do get booked without issues, there are just as many who struggle to get classes. Also, one persons "fully booked" schedule can be vastly different than your expectations of what a "fully booked" schedule looks like. In order to begin getting "full-time" hours you will need to be willing to work odd hours. Remember your teaching hours will be late in the evening or very early in the morning here in North America. Be prepared to spend 6 months to a year figuring the industry out, honing your skills, and monitoring booking ebbs and flows before leaving a job and committing to online ESL teaching full-time.
2. Multiple Companies- I highly recommend applying to and contracting with at least two online ESL companies. I recommend VIPKID and GOGOKID as they are flexible and work well together, but there are many companies out there. Having multiple companies allows you to build your schedule as you increase your exposure to students when first starting, have more options when things slow down during holidays, and can take advantage of various bonuses and incentives at each company. You also never know when a company may choose not to renew your contract or may let you go, remember nothing is guaranteed! Having another company gives you a back-up option if anything happens.
2. Secondary Positions- Another thing to consider is opting to contract with companies that may offer secondary positions. These are typically positions such as interviewing, curriculum review, or social media contributors that can be done during the daytime hours here in North America. Remember most of your teaching time will be done early in the morning or late at night. Unless you are able to commit to several overnights a week/weekend it can be hard to open enough teaching hours to reach a 40 hour work week (many people are successfully doing this--but I need more sleep, lol). Secondary Positions will not be an option to start, most companies are looking to hire their long term and well established teachers for these positions. There is also frequently lots of competition for these jobs so it may not be an option for everyone.
3. Other Income Streams- In addition to secondary positions within your company, there are many opportunities outside of teaching but within the online ESL industry where you can make money. Many teachers create resources, like props and reward systems, and sell them on sites like Teachers pay Teachers or Etsy. Teachers also make products such as coffee mugs, t-shirts or jackets and sell them through instagram, Etsy, or their private website. Some teachers have grown a following on Social Media channels like YouTube or Instagram which can come with monetary benefits as well. Teachers like myself may supplement their income by helping to refer other teachers as well which often provides additional bonuses.
Things to Research and Consider BEFORE Making the Leap:
1. Taxes- As an independent contractor you will be responsible for your own taxes each year. Some companies will provide a 1099 form at the end of the year for you to use on your taxes, others will not provide you with anything. You will need to save a portion for taxes each pay period (30% is generally the amount I see recommended-but consult with your tax professional). You will also want to keep track of any deductible expenses such as your computer, internet, props, etc. Again you will want to consult with your tax professional on what is and is not deductible.
2. Health Insurance- One of the benefits of a typical employee-employer relationship is receiving health insurance through your employer. As an independent contractor you will have to provide your health insurance. If you have a spouse with family health insurance this may not be an issue for you, but for many this can be a struggle when making the transition to full time ESL work. You may want to look into purchasing a health insurance plan off of the market place or joining a group health insurance sharing plan to see if there are cost effective options for you before leaving a full time employer provided plan.
3. Retirement- Retirement plans are often something people put off but it is important to start thinking about how and when you will retire, especially if you are choosing to go full time in the online ESL industry. When paying your self-employment taxes you will be paying the portion of social security taxes typically taken out by your employer, so you will receive some social security benefits upon reaching the required retirement age. However, that is not likely going to be enough to cover your expenses. There are several options available for independent contractors/self employed such as a an IRA (traditional or Roth), a Solo 401(k), a SEP IRA, a SIMPLE IRA or a defined benefit plan.
4. Getting Loans- This one is something people often forget about, in fact I even forgot to include it in my YouTube video on this topic, lol! BUT it is very important to make sure that if you plan on trying to get a loan for a large purchase in the next few years you pay careful attention to this. Most underwriters are not going to accept your online ESL teaching income. You will not have a W2 to provide them and companies will not write any letter of assurance as to your employment status. If you can show consistent income through 1099's or bank statements for several years (usually 3-5 years) they may consider it when determining your eligibility for a loan. I have seen lots of people looking to buy a house and unable to get a mortgage because this was their only income or a large portion of their income. When I purchased my home several years ago they did consider my VIPKID income, but ONLY because I had already been an independent contractor for 7 years at that point and could show consistent income from various "clients" through bank statements and taxes. It also was not my only source of income at that time. In order to include it they required me to print off two years worth of monthly bank statements and screenshots of the payment portal. I also had to write an explanation to the underwriter explaining the nature of my business and how I was paid for this work. It was a lengthy and difficult process! It would have been much easier had I just had typical W2 employment.
If you are looking to hear some more about teaching ESL online full time and how you can make it work for you, check out my YouTube video below:
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