(A colleague who'd signed up with Outschool recently asked me why I thought I'd done well when they've had no students sign up for their sections after many weeks.)
TLDR: it’s a lot of luck and bunch of tweaking involving:
The longer answer is that I made it basically despite Outschool, certainly at least in part
Had I taken their “advice” at key points, I would have never made even remotely close to what I’d made and I almost certainly would’ve become just another one of the thousands of Outschool teacher roadkill.
The fact is, there is no winning formula for Outschool success; if the winning formula exists somewhere out in the internets, I have yet to see it in one place so that’s what I will try to do here. But recognise, much if not all of my “How did I do it” below is speculative. I have no concrete knowledge of what made me more successful than some, so everything is to be taken with a grain of salt and triangulated to your situation.
Background on the Outschool platform itself
As a teacher, especially if you are not on Facebook and social media much, you have no idea what kind of “marketing” Outschool is doing and how your classes may or may not play into that.
There are so many variables that could lead to success and the processes and ways the site works from the parent perspective are relatively opaque to teachers. The analytics/the data that Outschool provides teachers to understand how/what parents are searching for are unhelpful and/or misleading at best.
The search function of the site for parents is terrible. If you search a keyword that is in your class title and description multiple times, say “animation” the returns you get are voluminous and many of them having nothing to do with animation. The process of understanding how parents search and how the Outschool search setup priorities certain classes is something nobody knows or talks about and you have to figure it out on your own. IT’s like how Google doesn’t reveal their algorithm.
There is a dump of random sentences that are input into the search box by parents you get sent once a week or so.
Each week, usually near the top of requests/searches being typed in by parents/students is: adadfad. I also once saw “boobies” in the top ten requests for classes, it’s that asinine of a tool. Nothing on anything Outschool has sent in terms of marketing has turned on a light bulb, except to say- make “Camps” which I then did for summer and made several thousands of dollars offering an iMovie camp, but I have no idea whether it helped to put camp in the title, or if it got included where it otherwise would not have in their marketing.
How do you market to someone when you don’t know who are you teaching?
Nobody really knows the demographics of who is actually signing up for these classes, or at least I have not seen or found any decent data on this. Are they largely unschoolers or deschoolers? Are the parents looking or are the kids? Public school kids with no baby-sitters?, US based? All these things are sorta clear, but not really. Most of what I saw with some exceptions were basically very well off American families, but this could be that I was offering relatively expensive courses, in the top 10 percent of the cost of what was offered on Outschool.
So how did I make so much money so quickly?
I came in at what was arguable the perfect time. The service experienced growth in a short period of time that they’d never seen on such a scale because of COVID 19. I was experienced as a teacher, so I felt my listing and video and personal background were strong, but I am not convinced that even this matters, as the guy who I modelled my most successful class after had one of the most lacklustre profiles, the shortest, most uninformative class listings and NO teacher video.
What he did have was a track record of being on the platform for almost three years and had just been banging away on the same tiny stable of classes, essentially only two or three, and really just one class.
Seeing his success at it and knowing I could do it just as well, I made asimilar class.
Most interestingly, he was charging triple what most teachers charge, $40 dollars an hour per student. If you pay attention to the guidelines that Outschool recommends, you will have to work like a dog every day, full time to still make peanuts unless your classes are completely maxed out and huge each time. Of course almost no teachers see this ever, let alone starting out.
When I submitted the class for listing, Outschool rejected it saying it was too expensive, and that it was too close to other listings. I wrote them back providing the links and information showing how there were multiple classes doing the same thing and detailing how my class was different in its aim to be more comprehensive, with pre and post support through additional video/slides. I said I was at least as much or more qualified to teach the class than the guy who currently was leading all others teaching it and that if he could charge what he was charging, then so could I.
They relented and approved the listing, but said in their terse approval if they noticed negative reviews they would pull the class. The rest is history as this class went on to make up about 65 percent of my earnings for June and July, about $18,000 in two months.
Finding your niche
I priced about $5-10 dollars cheaper than the leading animation course at about $30 dollars a class and pulled in pretty big numbers from the start in May. By June, every class I had, 3-4 classes a week was full, usually capped at 16 students. By then I was up to $40 dollars a class, and my classes were making me between $390-490 dollars for a little over an hour. It was insane. It was magical really, I was in my shorts and flip-flops and having fun. It was more money than I had ever made—ever, anywhere.
Classes that are fun more readily get students/reviews
Another possible reason for my success was the type of class. It was fun, it was something the kids were engaged in and it wasn’t like “school” at all, even though it was pretty much- watch what I do and do it, but they were using their own stories and stuff, doing what they wanted so their was a lot of autonomy and creativity involved.
As well, another huge differentiator in both parent and student minds is that for many of the parents, what they saw afterward was beautiful— their kids completely absorbed in a creative activity with technology! Not just slack jawed, dreaded, screen time! Not only did they get the benefit of their kids being happy and busy for that hour of class, they were literally then not having to mind them at all for hours afterward as their kids were so busy making movies! This was part of the reason of that justified the high cost— the actual value kept delivering long after the class, whereas with many classes, you took the class and maybe the kid thought a bit more about it later, but once that time was up, boom, you needed a new fix!
In my view, parents seem to mimic whatever the prior reviews are for a class and I think there is a strong tendency for them to “want to believe” that what they provided for their kids was really good.
Adding new, follow on classes
So for two months, as I was learning how to do things and offering other classes in iMovie and and Google tools like Slides, I realised that teaching academic stuff could be really demotivating and sucky online only. I tried to keep everything creative, but you can only make Google slides so AMAZING! and fun. At the end of the day, learning is work and if the kids aren’t super interested and they can’t to a lot on their own, teaching online only when you have kids with wildly variant talent and experience, different equipment, you can’t see their screens without huge friction costs of screen sharing and generally a compression of time, you just don’t have the luxury like in school of hours and hours a week with a captured audience you have so many tools at your disposal to stay on top of everyone and reach each kid if you need to. It’s doable on Outschool, but it’s a whole different game and it’s like fighting with a hand behind you back if you’re a meatspace teacher refugee without significant tech experience.
Then everything fell apart with more competition and summer ending
Things literally fell off a cliff in August.
Part of the reason was that a guy came in and did to me what I did to the former and still champion animation guy. He undercut my price by 35-40 percent, put in copy paste of my listing but as he was younger and “cool looking” and and added a super snazzy short video ad, he captured huge marketshare and took advantage that I took a break for 11 days first of August to go on vacation while the top dog was also on break. He literally took the whole market because the top two sellers were gone and he had a really good product.
I didn’t even realise any of this was happening until mid August when I did research on who was offering what, trying to find out why my enrollments had fallen off a cliff. It was jolting and I went in and had to really revamp things, make cool new video, lower my price, etc just to be able to regain some market share back. It was a painful realisation that my pie in the sky goal of keeping the gravy train going was dying right in front of me. I made about $13-14K in July down to $2300 in August. I was gone the first week and a half, but it was a fifth/sixth of the profits, just a literal bloodletting.
He had a good class, but what else was at play in his success?
One of the other ways that this guy was able to come in and take the lead in animation was that he was being shown higher in the different search filters because of the fact he was offering sections every single day.
Because of this, he would show up higher in the search rankings, especially because Outschool prioritized this type of immediate availability in the search returns. So even though he had far fewer reviews than my class, the combination of price, happening soon, keyword hits, etc, would mean he was likely coming up far sooner in parent searches than my class.
Similarly yet conversely, the top dog teacher of all time, despite barely offering classes in August, September is now filling classes in October and November where the 2nd and 3rd ranked teachers of the same material have nothing booked and wouldn’t get bookings even if we had classes available then. And this is not because he offers anything different— his classes are not a good value at all if you look at the market, and on top of that he is not even a five star teacher because he is clearly phoning it in somewhat now, with huge classes and parents resenting paying big money and then everything not going perfectly/meeting their expectations.
I can only assume the top dog is having his classes fill up months in advance for the simple reason he has been on Outschool the longest, comes up first in many searches, people see how many sessions he’s held and there is no reason to scroll further— they enroll with him, end of story. Even though arguably as good or better classes for less money are available now for their kids to take. It really is perplexing.
Play up you are a certified teacher, or not?
There is a case to be made that the parents on the site aren’t big fans of public school teachers/regular teachers kinda thing and in fact it is at least in some cases, I think the whole, sage on a stage, stilted personal video, etc, is all a net negative, they don’t want to see anything they could send their kids to get for free in public schools.
I just ran into this profile of one of the more successful longterm Outschool teachers Mr. Chicka E or something and he is this Australian guy in the US who markets himself more like a YouTube star or Influencer type, super smiley and zany branded stuff. If you look at his classes he has some really thoughtful stuff so there is perhaps something to this combo of “don’t look like a teacher at all, be a really cool or odd, compelling branded instagram personality.”
But from the parent’s perspective, you also have to have really good classes that mix content with some hook to keep kids thinking they are not really getting taught, as many already don’t believe in the whole concept of school, so don’t mimic it worse because it’s only online!
My two cents- good luck!