I’ve been in English language teaching since 2007 and have taught in a variety of contexts in Europe and Latin America. I run TEFL Equity Advocates & Academy, where I help English teachers tackle native speakerism and teach English for global communication. I also help university students and researchers write successful academic texts through the on-line courses I offer on Academic English Now.
Hey Marek, I’m super happy to be doing this interview with you! Can we start by learning a bit about how you got your start teaching English and what you’re doing now?
I’m really excited to be here. Thanks for having me :)
I started teaching back in 2007, when I was still in university. I taught English part-time in a small local language school.
Now I really wear a lot of different hats! I work as a course book writer for National Geographic Learning. I also design academic English courses for Université Libre de Bruxelles.
Apart from these two ‘regular’ jobs, I also run teacher training courses on TEFL Equity Advocates & Academy. They focus on helping English teachers tackle native speakerism, or the belief that any ‘native speaker’ is not only linguistically, but also pedagogically superior to any ‘non-native speaker’, and to teach English for global communication.
They focus on helping English teachers tackle native speakerism, or the belief that any ‘native speaker’ is not only linguistically, but also pedagogically superior to any ‘non-native speaker’.
Most recently, I also started offering on-line courses designed to help university students and researchers write successful academic texts.
So as you can see, I’m keeping myself busy.
Wow! You do so much, and I can’t believe that you do this all concurrently. Can you tell us more about native-speakerism? I know for sure that there are Italians who will read this. They speak excellent English but because they’re Italian, they’ll be given the lowest-level classes and have difficulty finding work. Can you tell us how widespread native speakerism is? And what’s one quick tip for anyone who needs to overcome native speakerism?
It’s very widespread unfortunately. For those of you not familiar with the term, native speakerism refers to an ideology that positions individuals as superior based on their perceived belonging to the ‘native speaker’ group. Think of it as sexism or racism, just that rather than based on someone’s perceived gender or race, native speakerism is based on someone’s perceived mother tongue.
Native speakerism refers to an ideology that positions individuals as superior based on their perceived belonging to the ‘native speaker’ group.
I’m emphasizing perceived, because not all ‘native speakers’ will be perceived as such. There is a lot of evidence showing that in ELT being a ‘native speaker’ is associated with being white and Western-looking. For more on native speakerism, you can watch this video. And here are some simple steps you can take to tackle it.
But back to your question, native speakerism affects many aspects of ELT. The most visible are job ads for ‘native speakers’ only. Or more specifically, for those from countries which are perceived as ‘native-speaking’ ones. Many countries such as Jamaica or Kenya, even though many ‘native speakers’ live there, and even though they have English as an official language, do not make the cut. In some countries there is blatant racism in ELT, where only those ‘native speakers’ who are white will be considered for the position.
Another aspect where native speakerism is visible is how we perceive what is correct and incorrect English. There is this idea, for example, that only what is perceived as standard ‘native speaker’ pronunciation should be a valid model for students. This is despite the fact that there is no evidence that (a) this is an achievable model for most adult learners (b) it is a more intelligible model in international contexts, or © that students will learn better pronunciation from ‘native speakers’.
There is no evidence that (a) this is an achievable model for most adult learners (b) it is a more intelligible model in international contexts, or © that students will learn better pronunciation from ‘native speakers’.
This idea, though, influences materials design and course book writing. Most, if not all, pronunciation models will be standard ‘native speaker’ voices. The focus is on pronunciation features typical of fast ‘native speaker’ speech, such as features of connected speech. Presumably because they make you sound closer to a ‘native speaker’ model. However, they don’t make you more intelligible.
That’s why I’ve been arguing for focusing on pronunciation features that research shows us are important for having clear pronunciation in international contexts.
Thank you so much for the detailed explanation and for the linked resources. If you’re reading this, and believe you fall into one of the categories that Marek mentions, either you are not a ‘native speaker’ or you are not ‘white and western-looking’, I check out the resources that Marek mentions. I also had the opportunity to go through I say this because in the 3 months that I looked at the job postings every week for TEFL jobs in Rome, I looked at over 200 job posts. An estimated 70 percent said they were looking for a native-speaker, or had similar language. I learned from you that this is illegal. From this and through my own experience working as a non-native Spanish teacher, I know how challenging the situation is. I also see that your work is so important. Moving on to a brighter topic and speaking of the products you sell, you leverage evergreen products that can earn you passive income. This is something that I recommend to all of the teacher entrepreneurs who I talk to. And the marketing and branding you do for TEFL Equity Advocates is quite impressive. How did you learn about all of this? TEFL Equity Advocates course and found the resources to be high quality and extremely helpful.
Thanks! It means a lot hearing this from an expert in marketing and branding.
I used Google! As with any question we have these days, you turn to Google or YouTube, right? And that’s what I did.
It’s a shame that as English teachers nobody ever teaches us how to get clients. And so many of us will need to go out there and get clients for our classes!
It’s a shame that as English teachers nobody ever teaches us how to get clients. And so many of us will need to go out there and get clients for our classes!
So I learned everything myself bit by bit. I’ve read countless books, watched countless YouTube videos and attended countless webinars on on-line marketing. I also started looking at what successful marketers do and imitate them, what Russell Brunson calls ‘funnel hacking’.
So if you’re reading this and thinking: hey, I could never do this myself, STOP! You can. You just need to put your mind to it. If I could learn it, anyone can.
I think that so many people would agree with you that it’s a shame that English teachers aren’t taught how to get clients. This makes me so happy to know that you think that any teacher can do what you do. I really like what you say about funnel hacking. It sounds like what I call reverse engineering. It’s also important to look at how people started so that you can learn something from their trajectory. So, looking at your own growth as an entrepreneur, can you explain how important passive income is to what you do? Can you explain a bit about how your products support your overall business plan?
If I could learn it, anyone can.
And of course I’m STILL learning. Most recently, for example, I bought Russell Brunson’s latest book Traffic Secrets, which walks you step-by-step through the process of getting more people to your website and ultimately to your services.
Unfortunately, I haven’t yet gotten to the stage where I completely live off the passive income coming from my on-line courses, but I’m slowly getting there. That’s why I still maintain a part-time ‘regular’ job at Université Libre de Bruxelles.
That is such good advice! Let’s unpack it a bit more. You linked to two of your landing pages. Once people sign up there, what happens next? Do you send them an email sequence? Do you show them targeted Facebook ads? Could you tell us a bit more about this process?
But what I’ve been trying to do is to basically reinvest most of the passive income back into the business. To give you an example, say you have a sales funnel such as this one on academic writing or this one on getting TEFL jobs as a ‘non-native speaker’ .
I don’t have thousands of dollars to run ads to it. However, you can start with a small budget, say a few bucks a day. Now, if you made a hundred or two hundred or a thousand or whatever, you can take that money and channel it back into the ads and the funnel. So next time there will even be more people going through the funnel and you will make slightly more.
Thanks for asking. Sure. Let’s unpack the TEFL Equity Academy funnel. There are a few different ways in which you can get into the funnel. For example, you might opt in to download this checklist that will help you teach English for global communication.
You will be taken to a thank you page with a One Time Offer, often referred to in marketing as an OTO. This is designed to be a complete no-brainer offer, providing so much value for such a low price, that people will be very tempted to get it. In my case, for just €19 you can get access to ALL current TEFL Equity Academy courses worth €300+.
This helps me break even on the FB ads. And there are also two upsells, extra OTOs, which show up right after you decide to purchase the initial OTO. Then those who purchase and don’t purchase are divided into different groups in my email marketing software ( I use Mailerlite and would highly recommend it).
Then there are email sequences providing more value. I send weekly videos and articles helping my subscribers resolve the problems they’re struggling with.
I try to make sure that the emails are teaching them something valuable, are fun, and engaging. You don’t want to be pushing a product on your subscribers all the time.
You don’t want to be pushing a product on your subscribers all the time.
Wow! You just gave so much valuable information. This is exactly what is recommended to do if you are selling an online product. You need to give people a myriad of opportunities to opt in, and create a lot of content around your products. This way you can warm people up to buying from you. If you’re reading this, I suggest that you check out what Marek does, then break it all down so that you can understand his processes. It’s time-consuming to create the system that he talks about, but in the long-run it pays off. Okay so now that you told us how you build your marketing system, can you tell us what so many people want to know. What is the most successful way you’ve been able to find new clients for TEFL Equity Advocates?
I also run retargeting FB ads for anyone who has visited my website but hasn’t signed up to TEFL Equity Academy. Often I use video testimonials from English teachers who have done my courses.
I think you hit the nail on the head talking about addressing people’s pain points. When you can get them thinking about their problems, and then you say you have the solution, they’re more likely to pay attention. You also are really good at leveraging video in your marketing materials. This is so critical to building strong human connection. It allows people to know and like you before they ever talk to you. What do you think of when setting up your lighting, camera position, and what you have in the background?
So in a nutshell that’s how my sales funnel looks like. If you want to see it for yourself, just head to my website and download any of the FREE lesson plans or ebooks I offer, and you’ll see what happens ;)
I can’t pin down just one way, to be honest, but if I really have to choose it would be posting weekly videos on social media that provide a lot of value to my audience and answer the questions and pain points they have.
Thanks for saying this, but I definitely feel I’m still far away from professional YouTubers and vloggers.
In fact, my setup is very simple. I only use a Yeti Snowball microphone and a Logitech HD webcam. I don’t have any additional lighting or a greenscreen, but it’s on my ‘to buy’ list once I actually have proper office. We live in a very small flat, so there wouldn’t be anywhere to put it, to be honest.
With lighting, I just try to make sure that I’m not doing the video against light or that half of my face doesn’t come out as dark. So the best set up is when you’re facing a window and the camera faces away from the window..
I often just have an empty wall as the background, which allows me to then put up some text for explanations when editing the videos.
I really like your videos because they seem very authentic. When I see other social media videos, there are a lot of jump cuts and special effects. This may seem attractive to some people, but it puts distance between them and the viewer. You speak to the camera like it’s just you and the viewer. And I think that is so important to make a more authentic human connection. Also, you do a few things that follow good photography practices. First you make sure the light is always above you and in front of you. You also commonly have space behind you. This allows the viewer’s eyes to feel the authenticness of where you are. And you also avoid one of my pet peeves, which photographers call ‘convergence’. You don’t have a busy scene behind you, so that means that there are no lines going through your head or body. This allows the focus to be on you. You set an excellent example for how someone can leverage video effectively without getting super technical. It’s important to remember that what you want is people to feel connected with you. You don’t need to be a superstar. You don’t only run TEFL Equity Advocates, you’ve also recently launched Academic English Now. Can you tell us about that project? What are you working on to drum up interest for that?
But I really like also having my bookshelves in the background. Yes, I’m a bookworm! ;)
If you want to see how my videos look, here’s my TEFL Equity YouTube channel.
Yes. That’s my most recent baby!
I’m glad you’re asking, because with this academic English project I wanted to avoid all the mistakes I had made when launching my courses on TEFL Equity Academy. In other words, I wanted to avoid creating an awesome product that nobody is interested in or wants to buy!
A lot of people (myself in the past included) think that if you create a fantastic product or service, people will just start flocking in to buy it. But they don’t.
So of course your product still needs to be awesome, but what you need to do is create interest in it. And if possible, pre-sell it to see if the idea is viable at all. So for example, I’ve been posting 1 minute videos showing people how to use academic vocabulary on my Facebook and YouTube pages.
What you need to do is create interest in it. And if possible, pre-sell it to see if the idea is viable at all.
The second thing was to create a smaller product at a low price and offer it to my audience. I created a 5-Day Academic Writing Challenge.
The third thing was to reach out to contacts I had at different universities to see if they would be interested in my product. My reasoning was that if I just get one interested, that’s already a good number of potential customers. So I’ve already managed to get one small contract signed and am negotiating another one.
That is such a good idea to start marketing your idea before it’s ever a product. In my experience, you have to make sure you also have the time to create it once you get demand for it. I also really like the idea of reaching out to collaborators, like you have to the universities where you have connections. What did you pitch to them? Did you ask them to share your course with their students? Or did you offer them a share in what you make? Could you explain this a bit more?
They are still relatively small scale, but you have to remember the product didn’t yet exist (outside of my head) in early May 2020, when I first started offering it. So I basically got investment into my product, am guaranteed a certain number of students who will go through the program, give me feedback and hopefully leave raving reviews and tell all their friends about it ;)
And obviously I can reinvest this income back into generating more clients, for example through running Facebook ads.
In this particular case, I pitched them the product. I prepared a course proposal and sent it to them. Mind you, please note we already had a relationship. I knew them. They knew me. We had worked before together.
If you don’t have that relationship, don’t pitch anything to people right away. It’s a bit like asking a random person on the street if they want to marry you. At best, they’ll think you’re mad. At worst, you’ll get a slap on the face.
If you don’t have that relationship, don’t pitch anything to people right away.
You need to first build a relationship and cultivate it. So start by making a list of people in your niche who have a similar audience to you. Follow them on social media. Comment on a few of their posts. Send them a friendly message. Try to get to know each other. Think what you could do for them. Maybe you could share their posts. Or review one of their products, etc.
Then, once you have developed a relationship and good will, ask them if they would help you promote your product. You could offer them a cut in the earnings. That’s a very common practice.
But many people will do it for free. I mean, it’s beneficial for both sides: they’ll get more views of their videos or reads of their posts by featuring you. You might get some more sales, but are also building up backlinks to your website, which are vital for showing up on top in Google searches.
I’m so glad that you emphasize the process of making a human connection first. I find that’s been the most critical thing in running your own business.
What are your biggest lessons in running your own business? What advice would you give to other entrepreneurial educators?
For me the biggest lesson was NOT to ever, but ever, create a full-blown on-line course (or any other product for that matter) without being crystal clear on who your ideal customer is, where they hang out on the Internet, what exact problems they are dealing with, and perhaps most importantly, without pre-selling the course to get a proof of concept.
You can create the best product ever, but if people aren’t interested or don’t know about it, you will fail. And it’s really sad when you know you have a good product that can change people’s lives and help them solve the problems they’re dealing with, but you aren’t able to get it out to them.
You can create the best product ever, but if people aren’t interested or don’t know about it, you will fail.
So always test your idea.
And NEVER give up. I know it’s a cliche, but it’s really true: no business was built in a day. Every successful entrepreneur has failed on numerous occasions before they succeeded.
When you see someone doing really well, be it as an entrepreneur, sports person, doctor, whoever, don’t forget that it’s taken them YEARS of very hard work, day in, day out, before they got to where they are now.
This second point is what personally keeps me plugging away day after day even when times are tough. Before I started my entrepreneurial journey, a friend who is about 30 years older than me and runs a successful business told me that he didn’t start the successful business till he was 50 years old. And he had gone bankrupt twice before when starting other businesses.
This is not to say that you need to go bankrupt first, but the content marketing strategies that you mention above take time to get rooted. So I agree that it’s important to think of the long road.
What are your favorite tactics and tools for building a community of followers around your products?
I think the most important thing is to understand your audience and provide them with genuine value without necessarily trying to sell them anything. You need to build rapport with people. And remember you’re out there doing what you’re doing to HELP your audience.
That’s really important. This way you won’t ever need to sell your products, because you will be in the helping and supporting most.
Okay, so if others want to connect with you online, how can they do that?
Thank you so very much Marek! I’ve really enjoyed this conversation.