Crafting Your Own Way As A Teacher Entrepreneur — Ante Mihaljevic

Bryn Bonino
10 min readAug 10, 2020
After Ante wrote this blog post, we chatted on this video call where he went more into depth about how he runs his teaching business. He also told me how he plans his lessons so that his students are so happy with him that they keep returning and also refer him to others.

Intro:

I have an M.A. degree in English and Croatian language and literature (Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences) and the Oxford Certificate in Teaching Business English. I’m highly esteemed among my former and present clients whose satisfaction has led to continuous recommendations and my subsequent business growth. My versatile knowledge of business culture and inspiring teaching method are the added value in every learning process because I’m able to motivate my clients and get them completely engaged and interested.

From your intro, I’m really interested in how you came to teaching business English. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory? How did you first get started teaching English?

Since an early age, I’ve always relied on my communication skills to cope with all kinds of societal challenges. Written and spoken communication helped me discover my true passion — English language. As a natural course of events, after formal education, I wanted to implement the acquired knowledge into helping others improve their communication skills and their English language proficiency.

To my mind, the art of communication translates into the language of success and it’s much more than mere verbal or nonverbal skills.

To my mind, the art of communication translates into the language of success and it’s much more than mere verbal or nonverbal skills. Communication provides me with immense pleasure, space for creative thinking and decision making. I help my clients carefully devise and constructively transform their communication potential into reality.

You don’t talk about your “students” but you call them your “clients”. So how did you get here? How is it that you came to start your own business teaching English?

When I first started teaching English, I worked for a local language school. Quite soon I realized that I have the capacity for finding my own clients and charging better prices than what I was getting in the school. Very soon, more and more people started approaching me with referrals or requests for working together.

They are my students, definitely, but by calling them my clients, I put myself in a specific mindset. It boosts my responsibility and engagement. Not to say that “students” don’t deserve that special attention, it’s just that since they are entrepreneurs, adults, business people — “clients” seems more appropriate for me.

Maybe I should rethink that one?

You’ve done what a lot of teachers want to do. So, how did you find those first clients so you could start working on your own? Given your client base, I actually think it makes sense for you to call them your clients. And you make a good point about it putting you in the right mindset.

That’s a good one. It’s been such a long time ago, that right now it seems like it just happened naturally. Of course, it wasn’t easy. I remember panicking all the time. I used to go around my neighbourhood putting posters on street lamps, engaging with people on Facebook, telling people what I do, going on networking speed dates, all different kinds of engagement. But what really propelled me into the stratosphere was the positive feedback from my clients.

In my whole career, only one client/student came through advertising. All the others came through referrals of my clients.

I’ve actually had a similar experience. Getting started, it takes a lot of hard work. But once you can get referrals coming in, things get so much easier. You’re quite specialized in what you do, how did you get here?

In my whole career, only one client/student came through advertising. All the others came through referrals of my clients. I can’t emphasize how happy I am about that. In marketing, funnel and pipeline are everything. My experience was that your satisfied clients spreading the good word are more valuable than any possible form of advertising.

That’s a great question. For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a voracious reader. Somewhere in the middle of my education, I discovered podcasts and audiobooks. I was hooked. I’ve been going through a book a week for the last 10 years. Naturally, you find out some great stuff. I started taking notes of these fun facts and anecdotes, and here I am.

Wow! A book a week for 10 years is very impressive! Can you give us an example of what a quirky homework activity would look like for you?

Today, I strongly focus on delivering funky business stories to my clients and challenging them with equally quirky homework activities. Also, working exclusively with entrepreneurs for the last few years gave me an immense insight into different industries and professions.

Oh, I might tell them to research what the connection between rock metal band Van Halen and M&M candy is and how this applies in their personal and business life…. Every time people do that homework, they get hooked to my program — it’s a different approach. I tell them about something interesting, they discover it on their own and immediately start applying it in their lives.

I can imagine your students really have fun using their English in this capacity too! You say that you now work exclusively with entrepreneurs. Do you think it’s important to specialize in one type of product or service? If so, how early would you suggest people do this?

Another thing I like to do with my clients with financial background is to tell them to research men’s underwear index. We all have a great laugh afterward and they are amazed how they managed to spend years studying and didn’t know about this one.

Niche is everything. You don’t have to invest in advertising as much as you would have to if you tried to reach everyone at the same time.

Oh absolutely! Niche is everything. You don’t have to invest in advertising as much as you would have to if you tried to reach everyone at the same time. You become an expert on this topic, you need to prepare less and you get to charge more. Win-win if you ask me.

Now, timing is a bit of a problem. If you start focusing on a niche too early, you are risking lack of credibility and expertise. It might happen that people sense a lack of quality. You don’t want that.

It’s also important to find the right niche. It shouldn’t be too small, nor too big. Going in too late can also be devastating for obvious reasons.

Your niche needs to fit like a glove. You have to be comfortable with the content, people and specific circumstances surrounding that niche. If you jump in too late, either the niche is already exploited by someone else, or the target audience moved somewhere else due to lack of offered service.

For example, let’s say you’d like to teach English to people who are in the cryptocurrency business. You had a unique chance to develop and prepare materials and to advertise to them. This industry boomed over night. Now? I’m not under the impression that our services are needed. These people either learned the terminology or gave up because they couldn’t understand the language. Maybe it’s not the best example, but you see where I’m heading.

Try and feel the pulse of the market and be agile and flexible enough to react on time.

You make some excellent points that resonate with my own work as an independent branding strategist. There are so many ways to specialize in a niche. I found that I couldn’t specialize too early or I’d miss out on valuable experiences. But when the time felt right, I focused on one area, and it’s really helped my business. Can you tell us more how you use LinkedIn to listen to what people are saying?

One tip I would give here is to try and feel the pulse of the market and be agile and flexible enough to react on time. LinkedIn is a good platform. People often brag and complain, listen to them. See what’s the direction they are heading… What pain points they are complaining about… Listen. Always listen. Most people never listen. Be different!

Be present. Open the app a few times during the day, see what people are talking about. Some of the posts will be vanity fair click baits. Skip those.

That’s a good point to focus on people’s pain points when you reach out to them. That way you can move the conversation from a casual comment to possibly something more meaningful. When we connected, we first talked about networking. Can you talk about how important that has been for your business?

Sooner or later you will find that one post that resonates with you. Engage. Leave a comment. Send a message to the author. Find out more about them, what’s their pain, is there anything you can do to help. It’s not about you, it’s about them. Sure, hashtags are extremely popular also, but I don’t understand them enough to be able to say anything of relevance. Google hashtags, try to see what that is all about on LinkedIn.

I come from a small community where it’s natural to do business with people you know well. When I moved to Zagreb (the capital of Croatia), I was alone. No contacts. Zero. None.

I was lucky that one of my students was part of a networking organization called BNI and he invited me to one of the meetings. The rest is history.

I was lucky that one of my students was part of a networking organization called BNI and he invited me to one of the meetings. The rest is history.

In the past two years, I was voted as the networker of the year, elected as the president of the group twice and I’ve had the privilege to connect amazing people who continued to work together on very profitable projects.

Networking is one of my favorite things to do. I really enjoy connecting with other business people. Can you explain a little more by what you mean when you say “it’s not hunting — it’s farming?”

So, yes. Networking is everything. However, it’s not hunting — it’s farming. You need to invest time, money and energy, but most importantly, your soul into it. The results inevitably come.

The metaphor serves to illustrate how futile any attempts on expanding your network without actually engaging are. What I mean by that is this: we would have never connected if one of us just blatantly tried to sell themselves without taking the time to listen to what the other person is all about.

I’ll give you an example. Every week somebody sends me a connection request on LinkedIn. Great. New people. Yaaay. I send them a message, welcoming them, asking them to tell me more about themselves, how they got on my profile and so on. Engaging.

You wouldn’t believe how many people never reply.

I wait some reasonable time and delete them if they still don’t engage. What’s the purpose of me being your 23,456th connection if you don’t care enough to reply?!

What is the most successful tactic you use for growing your profits for your business? Ugh, yeah. I really can’t stand the people who are in hunting mode. And I don’t get it. You speak and write English perfectly, and you’re not a “native” English speaker. When I chatted with Marek Kiczkowiak, of TEFL Equity Advocates, he explains that there exists discrimination against non-native English teachers. Is this something that you have experience with?

Would you ever go into a building and frantically start pushing your business cards under the door and running to the next building? That’s hunting. And lame hunting as well. Farming is more about taking time to listen and hear the other person, finding out things you have in common, trying to connect them to people that might improve their lives.

I never stop learning. We live in a very dynamic world. What worked yesterday might not work tomorrow. The knowledge and experience you accumulate over years morphs into wisdom. Wisdom is a good thing to have if you want to grow your profits. A good thing indeed.

A lot of my clients initially worry about their accent. My position on this topic, and feel free to disagree with me, is that accent is not that important.

I completely agree with you about people’s accents. I usually think they are quite interesting and beautiful. And you make a good point that the end goal of a language is effective communication. If you could go back in time, is there anything you would change about your English teaching career? Why?

The purpose of any language is to communicate, to share ideas, values, experiences… If your accent is intelligible enough, don’t worry about it.

The purpose of any language is to communicate, to share ideas, values, experiences… If your accent is intelligible enough, don’t worry about it.

Let’s put it like this. Less than 500 million people speak English as their native or first language. More than 3 billion people speak English as their second language. You can’t eradicate the accent. And I don’t think you should. It’s part of our identity, our culture, our background. I see no valid reason to let go of that.

Regarding the discrimination against non-native speakers, I haven’t had this experience, but I do believe Marek when he says that. Our position here should be, once again, educational. It is our responsibility to communicate the importance or irrelevance of accents, depending on our personal position regarding the matter. Our clients need to make an educated decision whether or not to work with us and whether or not to “fix” their accents.

Have I made some mistakes? Sure. Have I learned a lot from them? Most definitely.

One tip I would give to my younger self would be: listen, this too shall pass. It might pass like a kidney stone, but it will pass. To all the young readers out there: it’s a rough path at the beginning, but it pays off if you work really hard and believe in yourself. And surround yourself with people who are smarter than you. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room.

You make a good point here. I’ve made mistakes too, but I’m so glad that I did! Is there anything else that you’d like to share about yourself?

Where do I start? :)

I strongly believe in broadening one’s horizons and learning all the time. Never stop learning.

All jokes aside, I strongly believe in broadening one’s horizons and learning all the time. Never stop learning.

I used to work as a waiter, DJ, bar manager, high school teacher, even as a construction worker. All this made me who I am today. Another thing, marry well!

I can’t emphasize enough how helpful and supportive my wife has been in my growth. Choose wisely, people.

Okay, so if others want to connect with you online, how can they do that?

Website: http://www.antemihaljevic.com/

Email: info [ at ] antemihaljevic [ dot ] com

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TheBusinessEnglishCoach

LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/ante-mihaljevich/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/ante_mihaljevich/

Originally published at https://makealeap.co/ on August 10, 2020.

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