IATEFL 2016 Online: Self-marketing for English teachers – use your strengths for competitive advantage

Now that IATEFL 2016 is over, I am prolonging the enjoyment and learning by catching up with all the recordings of sessions I missed. I plan to work through the list of recordings in the order they appear, picking out and watching any titles that grab my attention (or that had grabbed my attention while I was at IATEFL!). 

This first one – Self-marketing for English teachers: use your strengths for competitive advantage, by Jenny Giambalvo Rode, intrigued me for several reasons. Firstly, at IATEFL this year, Sandy Millin was giving me tips on “branding” myself better (and given everyone knows who she is, it seemed worth listening to those!), such as slightly altering the name of my blog (did you notice the change?), so this idea of ‘self-marketing’ has been on my radar. Secondly, I recently watched Kirsten Holt (of Macmillan)’s webinar on networking, which I had been meaning to do since she did at the end of March. I’m pretty sure that, prior to this year, I’ve never noticed there being a webinar devoted to networking and similarly a conference session devoted to ELT teacher self-marketing. (I could be wrong though! Anyone care to correct me?!) Of course in itself it’s not a new concept – freelancers have long had to think about how best to, well, get work(!). My perception, though, is that this ‘marketing oneself’ aspect of being an English Language Teacher is becoming more mainstream. Look at this description of Kirsten’s recent webinar:

“This webinar is aimed at ELT teachers and professionals working in all sectors and settings.”

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You will notice, too, that the title for Jenny’s talk is “Self-marketing for English teachers” not “freelance teachers” or “freelance online teachers” but ‘English teachers’ – in general. As the job market becomes more competitive, and work is harder to come by, perhaps it IS something that all teachers need to think more about? What do you think? 

Self-marketing for English teachers – use your strengths for competitive advantage

Jenny, the head of department at an adult education centre and a bilingual German and Italian speaker, says as teachers we are a one-person company and our students are consumers. She wants to help us work on our self-marketing strategies.

Of your soft skills and professional skills, what one would you choose as being the one that would make the difference between getting a job or not? Examples are flexibility, networking, connections, empathy, people knowledge, creativity… She asks the audience to keep this in mind as we proceed. Next we have to look at the market – the schools, universities, businesses around you, in your area. Are you living in a small village? A big town? And where would you like to work? Is the institution you want to work at in your location?

This is all part of a SWOT analysis. These are used to make the current situation clear, in terms of you and your market. We’ve looked at strengths but think about what could be the weakness of what you consider to be your strength. E.g. friendly – you can make a connection with the kids, but too friendly and maybe they will just do what they want. With opportunities, you need to think about what you can do. How can you increase your skills? When you think about weaknesses, strengths and opportunities, you have to think about time. Distinguish between short, middle and long-term action. A short-term action for getting a job might be going down to the job market and submitting your CV. A middle-term action would be like Jenny making a year long plan to speak at IATEFL this year, including improving English and submitting a proposal. A long-term action would be thinking about where you want to be in 5 years and then thinking about a plan of how to get there, using your strengths and building on them. You need something to make you stand out from your colleagues in a positive way. Think about yourself as a one person business, with a business profile in your head.

Now think about your target group, i.e. the type of students you would like to teach. Business people? Children? What is your target group? Your business profile should fit with your target group. One of the most important things in marketing is finding your niche. It’s a simple marketing strategy. The smaller the niche is, the greater your opportunity and your advantage because there is less competition. Identify your opportunities, based on your location and your goals. For example, you could become an examiner.

Once you have your profile and your strategies, you need to get them out there. You need to be visible online, for your audience/future bosses etc. For example, you could join the TELC community. In Europe, Twitter and Facebook are good for networking, worldwide there are other platforms and social media that are more important. (I suppose LinkedIn fits in here too!) You make your own business profile and you need to decide if you will have two separate accounts for private and business or only one for both) and use it to connect with different people and places. Networking is what marketing needs and does. Use conferences not only to improve skills but also to network. You never know what it might lead to.

Give yourself deadlines. When you set goals, give yourself a completion date. Jenny concludes by inviting us to a webinar about SWOT analysis that she is planning to deliver in May.

My first reaction is that it all sounds so business-y what with all the SWOT analysis and every teacher is a one-person company and students as consumers etc! (I recommend you watch the session though, and form your own opinions…)

I suppose, though, jargon aside, that it’s always useful to be reminded to think about short, medium and long term career goals. That said, I am in less of a hurry than I used to be career-wise. I think this is possibly because I have already done a lot in a short time: I feel I’m now in a position to build on that more steadily rather than continue to be in the haring hurry that I was in previously. (Hopefully this means I will grow steadily and avoid burn-out!) So, I absolutely still have goals (for example I really want to do a PhD or Ed Doc at some point and I would also like to become a teacher trainer) but they don’t have time-limits attached currently. (Hence, “at some point”) That said, there are plenty of projects in the pipeline now/in the near future (some research I want to do, a book I’m supposed to be co-writing etc) and of course there are the most pressing short-term goals of all which are doing the best job I can in my current job (including learning how to teach EAP better!) and securing work somewhere come September when my current contract finishes!

Would be interested to hear your thoughts on this session! Have you done a swot analysis recently? Do you consider yourself a one-person company? (If yes, are you freelance or do you work for someone else?) What do you do to “market” yourself?

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