The Freelance Teacher: Is a USP just another word for specialisation
USP (Unique Selling Point): What do you do or have that other freelance teachers don’t?
When your ideal customer walks up to you and asks, ‘Why should I hire you instead of the other teacher?’ and you can give an answer in ten words or in two sentences, you have a unique selling proposition (USP). The USP means you are ultra-clear about what you do in your teaching business. The why you do it lies in the core of your teaching service.
Specialisation: started when humans began to develop rotating cycles, and organisational methods to provide reliable systems to cultivate food.
Today, agriculture can no longer be lived without it. In fact, agriculture is most likely the source of specialisation—the separation of tasks within a system. Separation enables the achievement of otherwise unattainable goals. Separation leads to specialisation and specialisation becomes a much-sort-after quality by people outside such a specialised system when they realise they have a problem to solve.
Consequently, a USP can only be developed when the teacher:
- Knows exactly what he wants to teach, either as a generalist or as a specialist.
- Refines his teaching offer into a teaching niche.
The Case For (Against) Being an All-Rounder
An apple tree gives an abundance of fruit in autumn. Yet if the apple tree is left to grow uncontrolled, the branches become tangled, weak, and snap easily. The apples become smaller until the chance of having a healthy crop is remote.
The same can said of your freelance business.
Cultivating your freelance teaching business is like pruning your apple tree each year and freeing it from energy-sapping water shoots and the chaos of tangled branches to leave strong, fruit-bearing branches—ensuring a better harvest.
Focusing a USP is similar to the caring of fruit trees. An amateur gardener, however, may unwittingly cause damage while pruning. For example:
- By not focusing the USP enough, i.e., narrowed down sufficiently from the top level; it’s too broad in scope.
- By doing the opposite, narrowing and focusing so much that there is a real danger of losing too many customers.
As always, you must observe changes to your customer flow. Either you deliberately decide to lose students in a controllable manner, or you can lose them unwontedly and out of control.
But I don’t need to specialise because …
… are two typical comments:
- I have more than one interest areas in my teaching!
- I like every part of my teaching job. I don’t think there is a need to specialise on just one area.
… to which I reply:
- If you try to please everyone, you will fail.
- If you try to please everyone, you will whittle yourself away.
Multiple interest conflict
As language teachers, we all realise there are multiple facets to any language and, of course, all aspects of any language is important and cannot be left out—a classical multiple interest conflict. The conflict arises when some teachers prefer to teach everything and believe there is no need to specialise in just one skill or subject within a particular scope of interest. For instance, teaching the English language is typical. Of course, nobody is going to deny that you are capable of teaching all areas within the English language. But the old problem of trying to please everyone is going to rear its head.
However, the sayings mentioned earlier mean teachers have spread themselves too thin. They have nothing left of value to offer to their students, their work, or to their families.
Going back to our example of pruning a fruit tree—knowingly pruning your freelance teaching business down to only profit bearing branches with a hopefully rich chance of becoming a better choice of students is a decisive decision against being an all-rounder.
How do you know if your specialisation is what customers want?
You can use the tried and tested analytical methods:
- Analyse past student requirements
- Ask colleagues, strangers and potential customers you meet
- Visit forums where students asks questions (e.g., for learning English)
Alternatively, you can ask your best student; the student you achieved the most success and had the most fun lessons—your Target Profile. This student will tell you his hopes and wishes, and what he wants to learn and in what depth he needs to learn. The target profile’s requirements, in particular his learning problems, will lead you into defining your teaching service’s USP.
There is no longer the need to analyse or guess. However, it’s necessary to elicit the information from your target profile student by understanding the process of drilling down; to refine a teaching branch into specific sub-categories.
The alternative to specialisation—the all-rounder option
I consider it scary to consider the all-rounder option because I believe if you leave your freelance tree to develop freely and decided not to remove tangled, weak branches and energy-sapping water shoots, it will cost you legitimate, good customers in the long run. An unattended fruit tree will not produce the quality crop you expect to reap—where the poor crop represents customers you are not interested in teaching because either the customer himself is unmotivated, or you are not motivated to teach the subject topic your student needs to learn.
The alternative—pruning—cuts off all potentially unwanted customers from the start, leaving only those customers you want to teach and motivated customers interested in what you teach. It speaks for itself that a teacher’s own motivation is then at its highest.
What to do? It’s a question only you can answer as it will undoubtedly involve your immediate financial situation and your enjoyment while working with students.
Should you …
- Forget the possible long-term prospect for a better income (against your current income)?
- The possible increase in your own motivation of doing work you entirely identify with?
- Go against your commitment to work with all types of students, whether you want to accept them or not (i.e., by weaning off current students you no longer wish to work with anymore)?
Such decisions should not be taken lightly. Take time to think it through and decide the best fit for your situation today—and for tomorrow.