You probably think you already spend far too much time on running your ELT business… but my guess is that in fact you may be spending too much time IN your business, rather than, ON your business. And they’re not the same thing.
Most freelancers and small business owners within ELT tend to have come from salaried jobs, where they were basically paid for the time they spent working IN the business. Teaching and doing teaching related planning and admin, for example.
When you run your own business, which actually all freelancers do, even if you find it hard to see it that way, the situation is very different, because you’re also responsible for everything else, including finances, marketing, sales, admin and more.
All too often, these things are treated as somehow optional extras that you’ll fit in when you can find the time on top of a full working week IN your business.
Realistically that means that either you are going to be working long hours to fit everything in, or you are simply not going to devote enough time to a lot of the things which need doing.
Running your ELT business in a sustainable way
If you work super long hours you’re going to end up burning out, especially as you won’t ever have enough time to step back and think about what exactly it is that you want to achieve with your business, or to take decisions and make plans which could lead to you working fewer hours.
If you skip the planning, strategising and marketing, you’re going to be stuck with servicing those people who already know you, or who happen to come across you through word of mouth. Word of mouth can be a great thing- it shows that you’re doing a good job- but it isn’t something you can ever rely on, which means that you’re probably taking on everyone and everything that comes your way, whether it pays well or not, and whether it really suits you or not… and that leads to burnout by another route.
Being fully booked is not always a good thing, not if it’s with poorly paid unsatisfying work.
How much time should I set aside to work ON my business?
People sometimes ask me how much time to set aside. Honestly, it’s hard to say precisely, because it depends on different factors, such as the nature of your business, the stage of your business, how many clients you need to bring in on a regular basis and so on, but I would say on average you probably need to set aside as much as 40% or even 50% of your time on top of your teaching hours if you’re a teacher.
Let’s start with client admin. Lesson planning, marking invoicing and payments, appointments, feedback. You probably do make time for this as part of running your business, but is it sometimes a bit squeezed out? Remember that this is all part of the impression the client has of you, and is part of what can enable you to charge more premium rates. So I’d suggest devoting maybe 20% of your time to this- which is 1 day a week- though if you can automate more and thus reduce the time while keeping an excellent service all the better.
Then you probably need another 15-20% of your time just for marketing. If that sounds like a lot, bear in mind that this isn’t just writing social media posts. It’s also things like working on your website, creating a lead magnet, writing emails to your list and so on.
If you want to create an ELT business where you have a reliable and consistent stream of work or clients, who know you and what you offer well enough that they’re happy to pay good rates, you can’t turn marketing into something you occasionally manage to squeeze in. It’s an investment of your time- and sometimes your money if you need to learn more about how to do it- which will easily pay off.
Then there’s time for planning and reflecting. If you never have time to step back and look at where you’re going or where you want to go and how you’re going to get there, you’re likely to stay stuck where you don’t actually want to be. So, that might be another 5-10% of your time.
And of course you also need time for learning and developing, and getting better at what you do, and indeed getting better at running a business.
A virtuous circle?
So, you can see that if you’re going to spend as much as 50% of your time on these things (it will depend as I said on your precise business, stage of business and so on), then you need to be charging enough to pay for that. You can’t see everything in terms of the cost of an client hour, because of all the other things you need to do too, which need to be factored in.
However, if you start to see your ELT business in this way, it becomes a virtuous circle. You don’t mind investing time (and money) in developing your business because you can see how that then brings you in more money, and even saves you time in the long run, because you aren’t wasting your time on the wrong clients or the wrong badly paid work.
If you’re an ELT freelancer/business owner you may feel a bit overwhelmed by all the business advice out there…
Should you start a podcast or a YouTube channel, a mailing list, a membership? Is it a good idea to keep things as simple as possible, or should you be looking to diversify? What does scaling even mean, anyway?!
Would you like some clear step by step advice tailored to your stage of business?
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