Wait, isn't it better to work with EVERYONE?!
That's what I used to think when I first started teaching ESL.
I wasn't particularly picky back then. I needed to fill my hours and, quite frankly, I had no idea what was even be good at.

Fast forward a year and keeping up with so many different levels and needs was starting to feel like a second job. But it's not just about the workload!

My promotional material wasn't working for me. It felt like I was scrambling to catch up with the competition or the latest trends, always trying to please everyone and coming up with bland and generic solutions that didn't feel like me at all.

How can having a Niche actually help?

Maybe you're already working in a specialized field of teaching, but that wasn't the case for me. I felt like a very small fish in a sea of professionals and companies offering the exact same services with more experience and better resources.

Focusing on one (or more) specific types of students really helped me stand out.

Reaching out and communicating with clients got easier. I wasn't struggling to come up with content ideas or new courses anymore, and it was also a lot easier for clients and colleagues to recommend my services.

How do I pick a Niche?

If you're already teaching, then you can take a look at the type of students you're working really well with. Maybe you have a knack for teaching groups of teenagers or you find it incredibly rewarding to help professionals that are looking to switch careers.

Whatever it is, by taking a close look at how you're working now, you'll get a better idea of what works or don't work for you.

I like to think that the perfect niche is a combination of what you're really good at, what you enjoy doing, and the opportunities you can realistically take advantage of.

1# What are you uniquely good at?

When it comes to skills, experience & attitude, how do you stand out?

10+ years of teaching experience is hardly a unique selling point in this day and age. Be specific! If someone else was delivering your exact same program, what would make yours different? 

Maybe you're really good at working with large groups, helping students dealing with dyslexia or understanding the needs of single parents, or maybe you excel at creating simulations, preparing students for exams or building lessons around country songs. 

Don't be afraid to look outside of your teaching experience. A good friend of mine used to work in the medical field and that gave her a real edge when it came to understanding medical jargon but, most importantly, the real needs and struggles of medical professionals.

2# What are you passionate about?

It's not just about making your work more enjoyable.
Your interests and passions can add unique character to what you're offering, and they can help you engage and connect with your students.

My love of tech and design constantly finds its way into the content and services I create, and that's something that really helped me find my authentic voice and perspective.

And we're not talking just about hobbies! You should also consider your values or the way you want people to feel. Maybe you are passionate about creating a relaxing and safe learning environment or you want your students to value sustainability and work-life balance. 
What does learning with you feel like?

3# Which opportunities can you take advantage of?

I really like this question because it keeps me grounded.
There are a lot of different services we could be offering to our students, but looking at the world around us with a critical eye can spell the difference between thriving and getting by.

Look at the context you find yourself in. Which opportunities are within your reach?
Maybe you live near a University Campus or have a lot of contacts in the Pharmaceutical field.

Covid-19 has come with unique struggles and challenges, but it has given tech-savvy teachers an opportunity to create new exciting courses. In that same context, some schools came up with phone-tutoring to support those who were struggling with online learning yet.

Where there's a problem, there's an opportunity to make learning easier and more enjoyable.

How do I start serving my Niche/s?

The most common questions I get about niching are how to get started and whether teachers should immediately stop working with existing clients that don't fit their chosen niche.
There is more than one way to go about it but, personally, I'm a big fan of Test Runs.

Finding a small way to test my idea in the real world often helps me

  • gauge the interest of my target audience, 
  • learn more about their needs and how to reach them,
  • get a taste of the challenges I'll be facing
  • and, hopefully, find out if this is really a good fit for me.

Depending on what you teach, you might consider creating a mini-course, organizing a free webinar, writing a small exercise-pack, filming a tutorial, or tutoring a student that falls into your niche. The sky is the limit.

You might end up finding out that you haven't considered certain opportunities, that there's more than one type of student you'd like to work with, or maybe that you've outgrown certain clients or services you were offering. But you won't know for sure until you give it a try.

Want to learn more about my experience with niches?
Check out my interview with Bryn Bonino for Teach English in Rome.