How to Make Money as a Language School Owner: Pimping for Fun and Profit

What do an escort service and a language school have in common?

More than you might imagine.

For one thing, they both semi- or illegally employ a lot of unreliable young people with more substance abuse problems than real job skills. Also, they’re both considered “easy money” by unscrupulous or incompetent entrepreneurs with little to no startup capital.

Case in point: last spring after a less-than-amicable contract negotiation with my landlord, I was walking home with my flatmate.

We were speaking English, as usual, and outside one of the corner bars a 40-something fat guy in a green hunting jacket stopped dead when he heard us.

“You gotta be fucking kidding me,” he said, with a British accent. (English speakers are rare in the barrio.) “Where are you guys headed?”

He smelled of booze and was having trouble standing up. I knew immediately he was a Director of Studies or something – he didn’t look nearly broke enough to be a teacher.

Turns out he had just opened a school for kids up the street. And, drunkenly, he now wanted to give me the typical TEFL job interview, right there on the streetcorner.

I probably could have got the job offer on the spot, but instead I asked a key question…

“How many students do you have?”

“What? Students? Oh, no students.”

“Well, here’s  my card. Call me when you have some.”

I left him struggling to maintain his balance outside the Moroccan butcher’s shop.

Another alcoholic who figured he’d get away from the bad weather and go where the wine is cheap and the women are (perhaps) charmed by foreign accents.

Anyway…

Language schools vs escort services: is there really a difference?

The other similarity between an English academy and an escort service – many of them are just a dingy office and a telephone. It really doesn’t matter where you (the owner) are because you send your prostitutes – er, teachers – out to make house or office calls.

The business model is simple – they do the work, while you take two thirds of the money. You are, after all, the one who has an actual desk in an actual office.

You deserve that money!

vito corleone as a language school owner

Of course I’d love to give you a contract… but… the Social Security… It’s so expensive. And the students… they don’t pay!

If your teachers someday realize they’re getting the shaft, you’ll probably lose the more intelligent ones.

They’ll figure out that if they just put an ad on the internet and answer their own phone calls for a while, they can keep 100% of the money for themselves. At which point you’ll just have to go out and find some new talent.

(Don’t worry, though, there’s always a new flock of backpackers coming to town.)

But you should start your own language school!

In any case, I’ve been freelance, more or less, for so long that people are constantly suggesting that I open my own school.

“You’ve obviously reached the end of your rope as a teacher,” they say. “Why don’t you start a school of your own? I mean, before you lose your mind…”

So, I imagine myself as one of those stodgy old TEFL lifers (or old codgers) who nods off in the middle of a present perfect lesson and has to be nudged awake by a student.

Ugh.

Then I imagine myself as a language pimp.

Double ugh.

The thought makes my skin crawl. Not only would I still have to deal with English teachers every day, I would be constantly worried about the ability of a whole team of twenty-somethings with serious hangovers to get out of bed at 7 AM for their company classes.

I would have to explain to a bunch of 24-year olds who couldn’t keep it together back home that no, they shouldn’t wear flip-flops to give classes to the CEO.

I would have to explain to the CEO that, yes, their teacher is young, and admittedly inexperienced, but that the market is very difficult right now.

Are you getting language pimped?

Language school owners – unlike actual pimps – wear chunky, cheap shoes.

They do spend a few hours a week out on the streets, talking to HR people at the various offices. And they make a half-assed attempt to keep things legal – at least within the bounds of what’s realistic for “the industry.”

It helps that they hire foreigners fresh off the boat, who probably know nothing about the laws and won’t make a fuss.

In any case, the demand for English is, in many Spanish cities, seemingly infinite.

And the supply of young teachers is constantly renewing itself – every day, there’s some fresh-faced youngster stepping off a plane into a new world, with no idea of how things work beyond what you’re willing to tell him – or her.

Now, all you need to know is how to deal with the inevitable call from that CEO. “Mike’s a really nice guy,” he’ll say, “but he’s very young. Maybe we could try a girl teacher next time? A blonde? Like maybe Canadian…”

You can almost hear the drool dripping down his chin.

What does a good language pimp do?

He puts up a free online classified ad for jobs at his language school. A few CVs come in. He finds a blonde Estonian with an acceptable accent and level of English, and says “Listen, here’s the story. Your name is Katie, and you’re from Canada. Has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? Katie from Canada!”

Grete, a buxom young lady from Tallin, looks up at you with innocent blue eyes, and flips her long blonde hair off her forehead. “Uh, OK. Katie from Canada it is!”

“Yes, you’ll be perfect for the job! He really just wants conversation. Just ask him about his weekend and take it from there…”

Don’t get pimped out there, kids.

Yours,

Mr Chorizo.

P.D. I actually met “Katie from Canada” years ago. She was Swedish, and her name was… I forget. Something Swedish. She was pretty pissed off that she had to pretend to be Canadian to get a job. And her English was basically perfect. But, you know, everyone wants a native.

P.P.D. More recently, it’s come to my attention that advertising specifically for “native” teachers is against EU discrimination laws. Everybody still does it, of course… ’cause you can’t really do anything to make money in Europe without breaking some law or other. Anyway…

Daniel
 

How did I end up in Madrid? Why am I still here 12 years later? Excellent questions. With no good answer... Anyway, at some point I became a blogger, bestselling author and contributor to Lonely Planet. So there's that. Drop me a line, I'm happy to hear from you.

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