The most popular piece I’ve written on this site over the past few was about Teaching English Online. I wrote it while I was hanging out with a bunch of digital nomads in Chiang Mai, Thailand in 2015. A lot of them didn’t really have any savings or real plans but were inspired by the writings of Tim Ferriss and Pieter Levels and wanted to find a way to make it happen.

So many people teaching online

Chiang Mai is a very inexpensive place to live, it has decent and improving internet services and it’s safe considering the level of economic development. However, it has oddly rigid rules for foreign English teachers, including a number of filters that range from useless to harmful (e.g. TEFL certifications). As a result, teaching online is a particularly nice option for DNs in Thailand.

Most people teach for companies local to China or on tutoring platforms like Verblingor Italki. I noticed some other teachers doing group classes on their own sites and a few who were even more ambitious and were selling courses or memberships. Probably due to the fact that I used to manage an English teaching school in Taiwan, a lot of acquaintances were asking me about teaching in SE Asia or teaching online. So I wrote the blog post linked at the top.

Writing a whole book on online language teaching

With no special amount of promotion, the article was getting a couple hundred visits per day and generated literally hundreds of comments, ranging from “please elaborate” to “Hi! {my entire life story}, what do you advise?” to people directly asking or offering jobs.

Given that response and the fact that I really did have a lot more ideas to share, I wrote a 43 page ebook aimed at the more ambitious and more entrepreneurial segment of teachers since I used to be a member of that group and understand it better.

I priced the book fairly high, at $49, both to prevent a flood of emails I’d feel obligated to answer and because anyone who was able to raise their rates on Italki by even $1 per hour based on what they learned would earn back multiple times what they spent on the book in a single month and of course those building their own courses or membership sites would have an even more attractive ROI.

Feedback was narrow and deep

I did not expect what happened next. Only a small number of people bought my book but among the small number of readers, there are now some people earning more from their online courses than I’ve ever earned from anything online ever.

This is was doubly weird for me given how I’ve basically been living as frugally as I did as a 20 year-old while struggling to build a more mission-driven online business. If I had put the same effort into literally following my own blueprint, I’d have an ample income with which to fund my start-up.

That was really something to think about. The other thing is, in the process of building and rebuilding various incarnations of my language learning platform, I’ve developed a great deal of familiarity with a niche and growing web framework and programming language. The market value of such knowledge to learners is clear given the healthy market for web developers and the continual learning the job requires.

A public experiment

I decided to give it a shot. I’m teaching a computer language rather than a human one but other than that I’m following the plan in the book… following the plan I wrote, as strange as it is. I also decided to to it in public so whoever bought the book can see how it goes and learn from the process. Curious onlookers who have never even heard of the English teaching book can too, if they want! Here are the details:

  • I’m teaching the Elixir programming language
  • The main channel for building an audience is YouTube, not a blog
  • There’s a website for it, but mostly it just links to the videos
  • Some content will be premium
  • At least half the content I make will be free
  • I’ve intentionally avoided “cheating” by using my existing audience

On that last point, I really want this experiment to be useful for people who don’t already have an audience from writing online for a decade. I hate it when I read a write up from some well known author who makes a video course or some other product and then talks as if the success they had in it was due to their strategy rather than their gigantic following. My following isn’t that large but still, it’s a whole lot easier to grow an audience for a new project up from 50 instead of up from zero.

So… I started the new channel three and a half weeks ago, published daily videos and slogged painfully from only having myself as a subscriber to 14 subscribers at the end of week 2 to over 50 subscribers in the past week. Now the channel is getting more views per day than the ToshuoVids channel is, so this blog post will give the new channel a boost, but not nearly enough to ruin the nature of the experiment.

I’ll be sharing more on my strategy and progress on the channel.  The entire process of building the site is even recorded in YouTube videos.

But I probably won’t be sharing too much more about on here, except to the extent that it would be interesting or useful to English teachers and/or general internet friends wondering what I’m up to.