Picture the scene: you’re sitting on a bus from Bangkok to Siem Reap. You’ve just spent the best part of a month island hopping in the Andaman Sea and you already know there’s no way you can go home, back to the 9–5. Well, that was me a year or so ago.
Hollie and I were at a crossroads in our lives. We knew what we wanted (the digital nomad lifestyle), but we had no idea how to get it. That’s where Preply came in. Somewhere along that bus journey, as the Thai and Cambodian countryside rolled past the window, a thought occurred to me: I could teach English!
Fast-forward 18 months and plenty of ups and downs. I’ve now been a Preply tutor for over a year, having amassed more than 1,000 hours of lessons on the platform. I’m writing this today in the hope that someone else out there who can’t bring themselves to give up the backpack reads this and realises that it is possible to break into the digital nomad life without prior experience.
What Is Preply?
Preply is an online language education platform that pairs students with tutors via an online chat. In other words, it’s somewhere to either learn or improve your language skills or, like me, become a language tutor.
The platform offers a large range of languages to teach or study and works by giving students the option to select a potential tutor from a list, where they can view tutor statistics such as price per hour, availability and rating, as well as a short video where tutors can vocalise some of their interests or describe their teaching experience.
Tutors can set their own hourly rates and availability which really allows you to be your own boss, and while there are certainly downsides to working as a Preply tutor (more on that later), all in all it’s been a positive experience that I am happy to share.
Why Did I Become A Preply Tutor?
As long-time readers or followers of WMJG will know, Hollie and I fell in love with travel. That’s really the main reason I chose to teach English online.
Somewhere along our six-month trip (cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic), we both realised that there was no way we could go back to our old lives and corporate jobs. We quickly set about trying to work out how we could sustainably make money whilst travelling or living abroad and, for me, teaching English was the answer.
For a little context, I had no prior experience of actual teaching. I studied biochemistry at university and I had worked in chemical sales prior to travelling, but I felt that while my remote working options were limited, teaching English was something I could feasibly do.
Not only did English tutoring offer the flexibility I desired, but it also didn’t require me to undergo any further training and I could start earning money right away.
Critically, I think I also understood the dedication and commitment required to become a teacher, having watched several family members enjoy successful careers in the field, and I just hoped my own English skills and knowledge were up to the task!
Why I Chose Preply
Like most things in life, convenience and necessity played a big role in Preply becoming my teaching platform of choice.
Preply was one of the few platforms that didn’t require any teaching qualifications. In fact, the only prerequisites were a degree and a verification process of my profile to ensure that I was, in fact, a native English speaker.
This was perfect for me because, although I considered myself a competent and confident English speaker, I had no prior experience or qualifications in teaching. The application process was very straightforward and I was working within a matter of days!
There were other options, of course. Other websites and platforms that I looked into. This, I hope to discuss in a future article to help out any other would-be teaching freelancers. However, Preply had such a fast response time in accepting me as one of their tutors that I was left with little option but to forget about the other platforms and crack on with Preply!
Starting Up As A Preply Tutor And Finding Students
Getting started on Preply is a relatively easy affair, the application process is straightforward, with the only major hurdle being the making of a video for students to view as they search for tutors.
Once you’ve got that out of the way and you’re accepted as a Preply tutor, you need to set up your profile. This mainly involves setting your hourly rate and your weekly availability, making your profile look attractive to students and preparing yourself for your new job!
Setting Your Rate
A Preply Tutor can set their own hourly rate and, unbeknownst to me, I had accidentally set my price to $5 per hour. This is an incredibly low rate and a completely unsustainable way of working in online tutoring, but boy is it an effective way of finding students. I had wall-to-wall lessons on my first day!
However, for the more sensible of you out there looking to get into Preply tutoring, I would urge you to keep your prices (and your dignity) a little higher.
You can adjust your prices in the future but existing students will remain at their original price unless they confirm that change with you, which can lead to some awkward conversations! Do some market research on active tutors on the site and see what they are charging before setting your own rate.
Attracting new students
Once your rate is set you are at the mercy of Preply’s algorithm. This ranks tutors on a variety of factors so that when potential students search for a tutor of their desired language, the best available tutors show up on the results page.
A good profile score goes a long way to looking attractive to both students and Preply. It is bolstered by things such as favourable reviews and a good attendance record. But the other key variable to boosting your way up the tutor list is to have good availability. An open calendar with plenty of empty slots means you’ll shoot up the list and have plenty of students getting in contact with you.
If you do these things right you won’t struggle to attract students!
Finding students yourself
There is, in fact another way to gain students, although one I have not had a huge amount of luck in. There is a ‘Find Students’ button on the Preply dashboard, which takes you to a page not dissimilar to Hollie’s Upwork page, where students can post listings and tutors can apply and submit a proposal for the job.
These postings are fairly infrequent, however, and seem to be snatched upon by every tutor under the sun. The vast majority of times I have tried to apply I’ve been unable to as the job had already reached the limit of applicants.
Preply’s Commission Structure
One thing every potential Preply tutor needs to be aware of is the commission structure. This is a common bug-bear for tutors on online forums about the platform.
The basic principle is simple: the more you teach, the less you pay in commission.
When you first start tutoring on Preply you pay a rate of 33% commission, once you’ve taught 20 hours of lessons, this rate drops to 28%. This percentage continues to fall as you continue to rack up tutoring hours until you hit 400 hours of teaching and the rate remains flat at 18% commission.
And therein lies the problem. Although 400 hours sounds like a far-off achievement, you’d be surprised how quickly you’ll reach that milestone. I personally have now taught over 1,000 hours on Preply and am still paying 18% commission on every lesson.
I understand the need for Preply to make money and, in fairness, they do re-invest that money into the business, constantly churning out new features and teaching materials, but 18% is still a higher rate than most of their competitors.
That said, the 18% commission cap is not the worst thing about the commission system…
Preply offers something to students called ‘trial lessons’. This is where a student can book a lesson with a potential Preply tutor to see if they are a good fit. This is a one off lesson with no commitment for future lesson bookings. Sounds good so far. The problem is that every trial lesson is set at 100% commission, meaning the student has to pay for their lesson and the tutor receives nothing in return for an hour’s work.
This inevitably leads to tutors having to charge more per hour in order to make a sustainable living through Preply.
Things I Like About Preply
- Preply has very swift and efficient tech support. I have rarely had trouble getting in contact with anyone and they always seem willing to help. You really get the sense that they are on the tutors’ side for a lot of issues.
- With my personal teaching style I don’t tend to lean on Preply’s teaching materials a lot, but they are an excellent crutch when I find the conversation just isn’t flowing. There is a constantly updated bank of conversation starters and exercises which some students absolutely love. It is nice to see the commission fees properly invested!
Things I Don’t Like About Preply
- I mentioned earlier in the ‘Starting Up’ section that availability plays a big role in your tutor ranking. This can be somewhat unfair as it means I’m never quite able to fill my calendar out. I can be 2 or 3 regular students off a perfect roster and then suddenly I have no new student enquiries unless I massively extend my working hours.
- Preply’s own video platform can be a little temperamental which can be a pain when dealing with new students. Luckily Preply is happy for you to move the lesson over to Skype or Zoom so it is not too much of an issue.
- The commission system and the unpaid lessons (see above before I start ranting again).
My Experience As A Preply Tutor: Summing Up
So what is it like teaching as a Preply tutor?
In short, it’s great. It’s easy and straightforward, it’s amazing being my own boss and controlling my own rate and hours. However, as with any job or career, there are little quirks and nuances that are worth knowing about if you’re considering teaching on Preply.
Hopefully I’ve been able to shine a light on some of the pitfalls as well as guide would-be tutors through the early stages of becoming a tutor on Preply.
Hollie and I are passionate about working online and working remotely, and I know a lot of other people out there are too. Teaching English was definitely the right decision for me and it might be for you. If you have any questions about teaching online, please feel free to send me a message in the comments below or on Instagram @wemightjustgo.
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