I wanted to live in Brazil but didn’t know how to make it work. That frustration led me to create an online teaching business that now allows me to live my dream life, spend half the year in Brazil, or live anywhere in the world with a consistent income. Let me tell you how it started, and how you can do it too.
My relationship with Brazil started right after I graduated college. I decided to give myself a flight ticket as a graduation present. I flew down to Porto Alegre where I stayed with a host family and a professional dancer my age who introduced me to samba. I had planned to stay there a month, but once I got there I wanted to stay forever.
While I was there, I got an email about a job offer teaching English in Japan. I had to make a decision — stay in Brazil having fun exploring or go back home to the US for a job interview. Part of me really wanted to stay, but seeing my savings depleted without an income source, and being a responsible person, I flew home for the interview — and got the job.
A few months later I found myself on the opposite side of the world teaching English in Japan. It was a great job on paper, but the truth was in my heart I wanted to stay in Brazil. I just didn’t see a stable way to make a good income to support myself and pay back my student loans. I really didn’t want to go broke and have to borrow more money.
The funny thing is, even in Japan I ended up finding the Brazilians. There was a community in Japan, mostly Brazilians working in automobile factories or odd jobs in a city close to where I was teaching English. Even half way around the world, I fell into a circle of Brazilian friends, learned more Portuguese than Japanese, ended up working part-time at a Brazilian bar, and even performed samba at festivals.
Performing carnival samba dance with 3 Brazilians in Japan for a TV commercial (right).
While living in Japan, I started thinking about how I could someday live in Brazil and have a good job at the same time. I did some research and saw opportunities to teach in Brazil short-term, but if I was going to go to Brazil, I wanted to stay long-term and have a stable source of income.
I didn’t have a business plan per se, but I started with what I knew how to do: teach English. I wasn’t sure what to do, so I just thought about how I could help my existing students more and create some asset for myself at the same time.
My teaching schedule looked like swiss cheese. There were huge gaps of time where I didn’t have much to do. I wanted to use that time productively, so I started making short video tutorials to help my existing English students. In order to share them, I posted them on YouTube. At first I only intended them for my classroom students, but other people started finding them too.
After a few months of sporadically posting tutorial videos, I noticed more and more people viewing my lessons. I started getting private messages from viewers in Turkey, Australia, and Russia asking me, “Do you tutor on Skype?” I hadn’t even advertised that, so I was surprised when people started asking me for tutoring. It was a pivotal moment — strangers on the internet asking me how they could pay me to tutor them online.
Even though I was a little scared to start teaching online, I went with it. It was something new and different outside my comfort zone, but I welcomed the opportunity. At this time I was back living in the US, and I started to teach students on Skype. I worked with students from China, Japan and even from Brazil. I charged in US dollars. I started making money online and my life hasn’t been the same since.
After several months, I was getting more and more demand for my online 1-on-1 lessons. The problem was that like any other individual I had only about 5 hours per day that I could teach (when you think about prep time and some breaks, most tutors can really only teach a maximum of 5 lessons a day). My 1-on-1 lessons were going well and I was enjoying helping students that way, but there was a cap on how many lessons I could do per day, and therefore how much I could earn was limited, even when I was charging top-of-market prices. I wanted to help all the students who wanted to learn with me and increase my earning potential. On top of that, I wanted more freedom with my time.
This is when I thought about what I could do to help more English language learners. I created an online course that students could self-study with and buy any time. Suddenly, I had orders coming in while I was sleeping. It wasn’t a lot at first, but I knew if I could make a few hundred dollars a month with the small following I already had, I could grow that into something much bigger.
After a while, learning about online marketing, and talking with my growing audience about what they wanted, sales grew. Year after year it has doubled and still I know there is a lot of untapped potential. I have learned so much in the process of building a teaching business online.
My biggest challenge along the way has been mindset and developing a vision for something different than teaching English in the classroom. I didn’t personally know any online entrepreneurs when I started my YouTube channel, or when I started tutoring on Skype, or when I created my first online course.
If I could start over today, I would do everything the same, but faster. I would believe more in myself; I would believe that my dreams were absolutely possible. Of course that’s easy to say now; hindsight is 20/20.
If I could give advice to someone starting an online teaching business, it would don’t worry about what you’re selling right now. Start by giving. Show the world what you know. Share your expertise and help others first. Just like when English learners started approaching me for online lessons, your future students will find you if you show how you can help them first.
I got my masters degree in Education — Teaching English as a Second Language. Nonetheless, what I realized is that you don’t need a degree to do this. What’s most important is that you have a strong desire and ability to help others in whatever you are teaching. If you’re a good teacher and can help people learn something they need to know, you can be successful doing your own thing. Besides the desire and ability to teach, it is essential to understand how to market online, how to decide on your target audience, how to craft your best service and/or product, and how to price it.
On Ipanema beach.
This past year I was able to live for 9 months in Rio de Janeiro (on and off with some travel to other places) while building my online teaching business. I got involved in the local samba community, performed at Carnival, spent plenty of time on Ipanema beach, ate lots of acai and made friendships with Cariocas. Even while I was spending time exploring Rio de Janeiro, I was able to spend a few hours a few days a week on a flexible schedule working online and that was enough. I’m grateful that my online teaching business allows me the freedom to live and work where my heart wants to be — and I know it’s possible for you, too.
Parading in the official Rio Carnival in costume.
It took me years of researching and hard-earned experience to figure these things out. I wish that I had had mentor or someone to show me how to accelerate my online business. That’s why l’m sharing my secret strategies — what has worked and hasn’t worked, what I would do if I had to start from zero, and where I predict you’ll need to do to adapt to the changing online teaching market.