Why choose an ESL Teaching Niche?

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Paul Sallaway, founder and owner of BabelTEQ.com, kindly agreed to write a guest post for English Coach Online on a topic close to his heart - the need for online teachers to choose an ESL teaching niche. 

Over to Paul for his words of wisdom on the matter:


Are you struggling to attract and retain high value ESL students?

Perhaps your social media posts are generating ... tumbleweeds?

Do you feel frustrated by an English training marketplace that is saturated with qualified teachers right now?

If so, maybe it's time to consider "ESL niche teaching".

Fishing in a narrow stream rather than in the broad ocean for ESL learners might sound counterintuitive.

Why would you want to "reduce" the number of potential students whom you are targeting? Isn't that the opposite of what you want to achieve?

Actually, far from it. Niche targeting has always been a successful business strategy for small businesses. And it is one that online ESL teachers can use in order to grow a sustainable, profitable and enjoyable independent career.

What is an ESL teaching niche?

A "niche market" is a narrowly defined audience with specific problems or specific goals.

It is true that when you are targeting a niche audience, you are certainly narrowing your focus to a smaller number of people.

However, your message is more likely to resonate with them than if you were offering general solutions for general problems or general goals.

A niche can be defined by job role, by industry, by English ability level, by first language, by gender, by age, by interest, by learning style preference, and more. Here are some examples:

  • people who work as lawyers
  • people working in the real estate industry
  • people who are at an advanced English-speaking ability level
  • people whose first language is Italian
  • people who are women above the age of 65
  • people who are interested in football
  • people who want to learn English through music lyrics

You may combine any of these examples to create a super specific niche market.


Female real estate conveyancing lawyers over the age of 65 whose first language is Italian but speak English well, and who are fans of AC Milan and who want to improve their English conversation ability by dissecting the hidden meaning of the Beatles' "Sergeant Pepper" album.


OK, maybe that's a little TOO specific.  😉

But you get the idea.

A niche definition statement can be written in the form of "I help _____ who want to _____ by _____".


I help intermediate level English speakers who want to get promoted in the IT industry by helping improve their English presentation skills.

Why choose an ESL teaching niche?

Let me tell you a little story.

Years ago, I strained my back and went to the local pharmacy for some pain relief pills. I found three rows of generic painkiller medicine and just one box that was specifically labelled, "for relief from back pain".

Which product do you think I bought?

Of course, I went straight to the product that was offering a solution to my specific pain point - quite literally!

The same principle applies to promoting your ESL service. When you promise to solve a specific problem, people who have that problem are more likely to sit up and pay attention.

Another benefit of picking an "ESL teaching niche" is that over time you can become more efficient at lesson preparation. You will quickly get to know what skills your target clients need to acquire, what outcomes they want to achieve and what teaching approaches work best. You'll become more effective in your teaching delivery with every new student from your target audience.

With an ESL teaching niche, you can create a personal brand as an "expert". Publishing videos, blog articles, infographics or podcast recordings about your niche specialisation will build your reputation as a specialist. And as we all know, specialists get paid higher rates than generalists. Neurosurgeons earn three times as much as general medical practitioners for a good reason. They have "domain expertise", and the modern market economy rewards expert specialists.

One of the side benefits of being a niche expert is that you often get referrals. Even something as broad as being an "IELTS exam preparation tutor" could see you getting student referrals from teachers who might not have the qualifications or the interest to teach these clients. 

How to choose an ESL teaching niche?

So how do you go about choosing an ESL teaching niche? Many people struggle with this question. However, it doesn't need to be a Mount Everest-sized challenge.

One of the great things about teaching online is that it is a business model with remarkably few overheads. All you really need is a laptop and internet connection. So, don't sweat bullets about choosing the wrong niche. Just pick something and give it your best shot. If it doesn't work out, pivot to a different niche.

Think about the types of students you enjoy working with. Do you prefer teaching adults or children?

Consider which teaching formats you like the most. Do you enjoy teaching one to one, or would you prefer a group dynamic?

Think about how your niche will impact your work/life balance. Do you really want to get up at 4am due to time zone differences between you and your target students? 

Furthermore, think about your own life experience, skills, or education. What do you have that would give you some level of "domain expertise"? Just because you have never piloted a Boeing 747, it doesn't mean you can't teach aviation English. That stint you did as customer service clerk at the local airport gives you more authority than 99.9% of other TEFL-qualified ESL teachers to specialize in that niche. Of course, you may still need to do some extra training and research, but you are already off to a head start.

Don't forget to consider your non-English language strengths. Perhaps some of your family members spoke Frencnh with you. Great! In that case you have a huge advantage over native English speakers who don't know that language and who can't connect as well as you can with potential students in French-speaking social media environments.


Whatever ESL teaching niche you choose, don't expect the world to beat a path to your door. Put in the time and effort to find out where your ideal students spend time online. Maybe it's in Facebook Groups. Perhaps it's on LinkedIn. Maybe it's in Reddit forums. In any event, validate your niche by starting genuine conversations with these folks.

Learn what your potential students' goals are and discover what English language problems are holding them back from success. Then, explain how you can solve those problems. Try to get two or three students to agree to take lessons with you, even on an introductory basis. Validate your niche this way before you invest any of your own money into a website or paid marketing.

The billions of people across the planet with a desire to learn English are each driven by personal goals, dreams, and motivations. Your challenge is to find the smallest viable groupings of students that would allow you to build the type of business you want to own. Most of us don't need thousands of students. Most of us don't even need a hundred. The smaller the group, the more specific their characteristics and goals, and the easier it will be for you to stand out from the crowd as "the expert" who helps them overcome language obstacles that are holding them back.

Marketing guru Seth Godin claimed that “You can pick anyone, and we’re anyone” is a lousy slogan.

Make the decision to become a specialist.

Be unique. Strive to be irreplaceable. Become an ESL niche teacher.

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