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Pivoting In Your Small Business After Niching Down

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Pivoting In Your Small Business After Niching Down

Contributed by Idea Collective Member:

Nikki Lubing

Nikki Lubing

Online Spanish Teacher and Tutor

The Small Business Buzz Word of 2021: Pivot

Fortunate. While that’s not usually the economic term associated with teachers, that’s what I consider myself as a bilingual educator. In fact, I’m so fortunate that being both a Spanish and ESL (English as a Second Language) teacher has led me to teaching multiple grades and subjects. In fact, I’m quite diversified as a teacher. Check out my list of certifications and endorsements below. It’s great, but can be quite confusing in terms of choosing a niche as a rookie business owner. 

My Teaching Certifications and Endorsements include:

K-12 Spanish Special Certificate

  • 6-12 ESL/Bilingual
  • 5-8 Social Studies
  • 5-8 Language Arts
  • Middle School

And guess what! I’m passionate about every single one of those subjects for different reasons. “Choose your passion,” they said. “It will lead to success,” they said. I just read an article that quotes Mark Cuban on why you shouldn’t choose your passion:

A lot of people talk about passion, but that's really not what you need to focus on. When you look at where you put in your time, where you put in your effort, that tends to be the things that you are good at. And if you put in enough time, you tend to get really good at it.

After six years in the business, I wholeheartedly agree. Here’s how choosing my passion went: Nowhere! Technically, I was passionate about many things, but what worked was choosing a niche. Before we dig into choosing a niche, let’s take it back for a second.

Why You Should Niche Down

I quit my  job as a public school teacher in 2016 after about 10 years of teaching. I was faced with a wide open window of opportunity. You can read more about my experience quitting here. I started with multiple jobs: interpreting, tutoring and online teaching. I knew I needed guidance so I took an online course about entrepreneurship and quickly learned about niching down. What a concept! 

As a rookie, I continued down the path of helping everyone and throwing spaghetti against the wall to see what would stick. Once I got a YouTube video that hit 16K views I got an idea of what was sticking, yet I still didn’t have the guts to niche down. Eventually, two years and a couple of minor wins later, I saw ESL was working for me. I hired a coach who was a successful six-figure teacherpreneur and finally got the guts to niche down. That was in 2018.

Growth from Niching Down

I did the thing all entrepreneurs learn about. You know. Affirmations? I wrote them down on a sticky note.

  • My niche is ESL and I am focusing all of my attention there.
  • I’m a wildly successful online ESL teacher.

And who knows what else. Don’t quote me on those, but it was something along those lines. You get the picture. Whatever the affirmations were, they worked. I had my best year as a sole proprietor. I continued on in 2019 and had another great year, beating my 2018 earnings. COVID came and I saw a bit of a dip in revenue in 2020, but nothing too bad. 2021 wasn’t picking up though. Things were slowing down even more.

Pivoting from ESL to Spanish

“Never put all of your eggs in one basket.” – Yours Truly. I had been saying that to the teachers I was coaching. Yes, I was coaching other teachers. Part of the way I was diversifying my income as a teacher was by offering a course and coaching to other teachers. I taught them everything I learned about starting an online teaching business. This happened because I shared countless videos on YouTube, posted tips on Facebook and my blog. By utilizing social media and blogging, I became a go-to resource for teachers in the online ESL industry, but in March 2021 I shifted from ESL to Spanish.

I had a gut instinct that something was about to shift in a major way for the online ESL industry. I knew I had to move quickly. In the online teaching world, new companies pop up often. We work as independent contractors, by the way. I kept hearing about this platform called Outschool. A lot of teachers said they became more successful there than with the common ESL companies. Most of the ESL companies were based in China, and there was a cap on what you could earn in the industry, unless you were savvy with getting leadership opportunities or recruiting (something I taught my coaching clients how to do). Outschool was different. It was geared towards homeschool students, but during the pandemic they opened it up to all kids ages 3-18.

This company didn’t promote ESL, they are a marketplace, so you can teach academic classes or hobbies. They’ve since expanded to countries such as South Korea, which has opened up the option to teach ESL. However, since ESL wasn’t an option at the time, I chose to teach Spanish. This was my big pivot. In a sense, I was abandoning my social media audience and my email list of around 6,000 ESL teachers.

This is what I had built up over a five-year period on YouTube. See my stats below from June 29, 2016 – March 25, 2021. I started my channel in June 2016.

Pivoting In Your Small Business After Niching Down

All of my most-viewed videos were ESL-related.

Pivoting In Your Small Business After Niching Down
The Pain of Pivoting

While it hurt to pivot, it was necessary. Every single ESL company went under in September 2021, unless they offered classes to adults. China put a law in place that restricted kids from taking classes online from foreign teachers. I fully committed to Outschool in March 2021 offering Spanish lessons. That was my option because it was the lowest hanging fruit without having to completely start my business from scratch. So while I did have some short-lived financial success with my niche, I wasn’t as diversified as I thought because my course and coaching still primarily leaned on the online ESL industry based in China. I could have continued to coach teachers, but after launching my course three times I realized I much preferred teaching over launching a course. If you’ve ever launched a course, you know the blood, sweat and tears that goes into it!

The lesson here is: don’t choose a niche that relies on other companies! Also, don’t be afraid to pivot when necessary. Oh! And don’t give up just because the ride is rough. 

Pivoting has actually been interesting. I’ve learned even more about business over the past couple of years. Joining the Idea Collective community has taught me the nitty gritty details of small business and I’m finally branching out, away from independent contracting. I can’t wait to share those details with you in my next blog post. Stay tuned!

Contributed by

Nikki Lubing

Online Spanish Teacher and Tutor

Nikki is an experienced teacher and tutor, leading kids to success in language learning since 2005. She’s helped K-12 students master English and Spanish using a mix of a traditional teaching style combined with gradual immersion.

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