Updated: Oct 4
As italki teachers and tutors, many of us spend a lot of time trying to decide what price we should set for italki lessons. If I charge too much, will students still book me? Won’t putting my prices up mean some of my regular students will leave? I’ve thought hard and been involved in a lot of discussions about this, and there are a wide range of opinions.
What I’m not going to do in this article is give you hard numbers. What I will try to do is offer some thoughts and suggestions, and ask some questions which will hopefully make your decision easier. Note that although this is aimed at italki rates, a lot of the points will apply to online teaching in general.
The Value Of Internet Teaching
First of all: There’s a definite “internet effect”. By that I mean, a fair percentage of people believe that because something is online, it should be cheap (or free!). Some students will even get militant and complain about your prices, trying to beat you down.
Too many italki teachers are charging less than they are worth. This leads to something of a ‘race to the bottom’ - if students are looking for cheap lessons, there may be a temptation to reduce prices to compete.
I absolutely caution against this - it’s suicide trying to compete on price at the low end.
Do You Stand Out?
There are many, many teachers on italki - especially at the lower price range - whose profiles are pretty much interchangeable. (This isn’t just for English - Mrs Wench spent weeks looking for a Spanish teacher, and found it difficult to identify good options based on their profiles alone).
At this point it becomes pretty much pot luck whether a student picks you - or, depending on the ‘student’, young women may be the ‘lucky’ ones 🙄
So it’s really, really important to know and promote your angle. “General English” - even “Business English” - isn’t a niche.
My niches include things like “Business roleplay scenarios for IT professionals”. I have the corporate and technical experience for this, and I think I bring great value to these lessons.
You need to be able to answer the question: Why should someone choose you rather than the next teacher?
Give students a reason to choose a lesson with you.
Cheaper Doesn't Mean Better
It may sound counterintuitive at first, but italki students will often filter up on price, assuming (rightly or wrongly) that more expensive teachers are better.
Some teachers think that the only way to get regular work is to charge a low price. Not true! In fact there are plenty students who will deliberately go for higher-priced tutors.
If you're going to a garage, or calling a plumber, you want to get value. Sure. But the lowest cost isn't always the best value, right? Students think the same way.
I'm often reminded of the Tom Lehrer song “Old Mexico”, where he introduces a doctor who specialised in ‘diseases of the rich’. You don't need to be quite so blatant - and what if you are? - but there's nothing wrong with appealing to a higher-paying base of students.
If I Raise Prices I'll Lose Students!
Every time I’ve raised prices on italki, I’ve retained, lost, and gained students. It’s a natural turnover.
Part of my reticence to raise them is the relationships I’ve built with students, and I would be genuinely sorry to see them go.
While italki lets you change the price of individual lessons (not packages though!) for special students, it's a bit clunky, and it’s easy to forget to do it.
But yes: you will lose some students. You’ll also gain some.
And these relationships bring me to the core of the discussion. Before you decide on your price and marketing approach, you need to ask yourself a really important question… in fact, I'd say the most important question:
Why Am I Teaching On italki?
It’s facile just to say “for the money.” Some people do, indeed, teach on italki as a full-time job and run it as a business. That’s fine.
Some people do it for pin money. Some to improve their teaching skills. Others love building relationships with new people, and watching them grow and develop over time. Some teachers (not just community teachers - people like me) have little formal teaching experience, and converted to teaching later in life. Other teachers have been doing it for years. Maybe you’re working 40 (or 50, or 60?) hours a week. Maybe you’re aiming for 20.
Some teachers like to plan and focus meticulously on a handful of students; maybe you’ve a more free-wheeling approach, one that prefers lots of contact and minimal preparation. My point is this: how you market yourself, how much you charge, and how you engage with students is up to you. There isn’t a right or wrong way to do this. Ultimately it’s down to you to get the balance right between all these areas. But you should be clear in your own mind what your drivers are - and how important these various things are to you.
On the pricing point, as that was where we started: every person, in every job, has a value. Those values are capped. You are never going to earn $500/hr on iTalki, for example - or in any but the most specialised teaching roles. And any individual teacher also has a cap on their worth. What you are ‘worth’ depends on your experience, how good a teacher you are, your niche/angle, value-adds like membership of external sites (or your own site/material); your organisation, energy and drive; your accent, location, timezone and many other things. I don’t believe that you can just arbitrarily keep raising prices without working on these areas. For instance: when was the last time you recorded a new video? I know it’s a pain in the ass, but especially if you’re fairly new, your lessons, style and materials will evolve a lot over 6 - 12 months. How often do you update your profile? I don’t just mean tweaking it - I mean things like adding new lessons, trying new materials, and experimenting with different price points? If you can’t be bothered to read or work on your italki profile, why would prospective students be interested in contacting you?
Choosing rates to set lessons at is tricky. I can’t give you the answer, but I can make some suggestions that will help:
Make sure you’re clear why you’re teaching on italki, and keep those points in mind when setting availability and prices
Check the ‘Find a teacher’ page and see what people in your language are offering, charging, and what niches they have
Do your research. Dig into those teacher profiles - watch videos, read lesson descriptions, and check completed classes. And remember - just because someone is charging $60/hr, doesn’t mean anyone’s buying 😉
Be clear about what you’re offering. Maybe you only do Conversation Practice? If so make sure you get across your patient personality, your passion for knitting or photography or cooking or fire-breathing. Stand out!
Revisit your profile fairly regularly. Make sure your lessons, profile and video are up to date. A couple of times a month is probably fine
Don’t be afraid to experiment! italki gives you 3 or 6 lesson slots per language you teach. Play with them!
Don’t be afraid to raise prices. But monitor how you go. If you don’t get bites after a week or two, before you consider dropping them again, try reworking the profile
Remember: a ‘good’ price is one that you’re happy to receive, and students are happy to pay
Oh - and try to enjoy it! 🙂
More Information About italki Teaching:
How italki compares to Cambly and Preply - my experience
The Unofficial italki Teaching FAQ - all your questions answered!
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