No boss but myself - reflections on the pros and cons of self-employment in ELT

Juliana Tavares

Just like many of my fellow teachers, I began my career in ELT because it was the easiest and fastest way to make fairly good pocket money. Back in 1997, at 19, I had no idea this would actually become my profession, my true calling, nor that it would lead me to entrepreneurship. However, more than twenty years have passed, and I have never regretted having taken the road of teaching.

Out of these twenty years, however, seven have been spent on the wonderful journey of self-employment. Seven years since Louise Potter and myself started Teach-in Education from scratch, working from our homes and from a few cafés every once in a while. Never before, in a million years had I thought about becoming an entrepreneur in the ELT business. The feeling of reward, however, is such a great motivation. It takes a lot of getting used to, but I would say it is worth every minute of it.

Back in 2010 there weren’t so many people doing that. Now, however, every time I browse through the awesome ELT groups I have joined on Facebook, I notice a growing trend of teachers who are going down the road of self-employment. These teachers choose different paths: some of them open their own school to teach private and online classes; some of them aim to become self-employed teacher trainers. A few are either independent writers or freelance material designers. There are also those who become bloggers, writing lesson plans and articles on ELT, and there are the You Tubers who make video classes to teach grammar, pronunciation, and vocabulary. Of course, most of them do a little bit of everything.

After all this time doing what we are doing, I know how hard we have to work to find our way in, but I can also say how rewarding it can be to have no boss and to have equal power of decision-making, in case you have a business partner, like me. After seven years riding the bumpy road of entrepreneurship, I can safely say we have learned a lot, both about the pitfalls and the must dos to survive and thrive. That is why I selected a few key words I think we should keep in mind when deciding to fly solo.

Patience – no secret here. It takes time to build a solid project and it takes even more time to begin reaping what you sow. You might need to keep a plan B if you need to make money right away and cannot afford to invest too much in your business, but keep going. When we first began, I spent a couple of years working for schools until I could finally quit and dedicate my time entirely to Teach-in.

Discipline – one of the most difficult things for me to adapt was the fact that I was the one making my schedule (most of the time). This kind of flexibility often worked against me (being a natural-born procrastinator), but we learn with time and effort. Today, I cannot say I have mastered the skill of discipline, but I have come a long way.

Planning – being a long-term planner is another great skill I have been learning and one which we cannot live without. If we do not have a carefully made plan, we cannot go anywhere. Our lack of sight into the future is perhaps the most impairing obstacle to success. If you are beginning now, have you thought of where you want to be five years from now?

Trust – if you are not willing to do this alone, find someone with the same values as you. Louise and I are quite different in many different aspects, but we think the same way about things that can be true deal breakers when you share a business, and that matters greatly. Trust the people you are working with and make yourself worthy of their trust.

Networking – whenever we collaborate with other people doing the same things, we are helping build a support community. Social Media is definitely the best way into networking these days, but it is not enough. Plan meetings, get to know people who you think are doing great projects, exchange ideas, offer help. Endorsing one another makes us more solid and stronger.

Brainstorm – I cannot tell you how many times Louise and I just sat down for coffee somewhere other than our usual workplace, just doodling ideas down our notepads and talking about what our next steps would be. This is how our website was born, four years ago. This is how most of our great ideas were born. Sometimes our most creative moments happen when we do not feel like we are working. Do not feel guilty, enjoy!

Love – what I am going to say might sound corny and cliché, but I do not care: if you do not love what you do, if you are not truly committed to your job and to the people involved in it, none of what I said before will matter. Begin with that gut feeling and use it to motivate you. The rest will come.