How our Language School Website Got Supercharged!
In case you don’t yet know, the Blue Noun website has a whole new look!
This is a big deal for us because the Blue Noun website has been a labour of love. Please do have a look around – but before you do, here’s the story of how it all came about.
- This blog is for you if you are trying to decide whether to join a fee-paying membership.
- It’s for you if you are considering building a website but are unsure which platform to choose.
- And this blog is also for ELT professionals deciding if they even NEED a website.
- As always, this blog is for English learners who wish to find out a bit more about Blue Noun, such as who we are and how we roll.
We Don’t Know What We Don’t Know
My very first foray into web design was several years ago – I had a short freelance contract to oversee the development of a WordPress website for an arts organisation in Cumbria, for whom I had worked on numerous occasions.
The artists had funding to work with a particular team of web developers – but the developers were struggling with the brief (and locking horns with the artists).
The developers better understood why the original website wasn’t a user-friendly experience – but the art organisation wanted full control over the layout and content of their platform.
The developers had stripped a lot of dense art talk off the site – and the artists wanted it back on. Immediately.
My job was to integrate the two visions of what the website needed to be. I translated the needs of one party to the other, absorbed the tension and spent months squirrelling away dense content in cleverly unfolding content layers that the web developers built into the site on my request, and to my design.
By the end of my contract, the arts organisation had a gorgeous, user-friendly website, but in many ways, I was a bit scarred from months of being the fall guy.
As they say, a good compromise satisfies no one.
Based on this not very extensive experience, when writing the business plan for Blue Noun, I decided not to outsource the website.
Instead, I would do it all myself. After all, I’d worked on the back end of a website. I could do it myself, right!
But not on WordPress! Never again on WordPress!
An English Language School on WIX
Version 1. of the Blue Noun website was built on the platform WIX.
I chose WIX because it was reassuringly simple to navigate.
What I didn’t consider was that my previous experience with WordPress had been with restricted access set up by the developers to stop me clumsily undoing their work. I had only worked within a template that had prevented me from ever seeing and understanding how WordPress actually worked. I’d constantly hit access walls I couldn’t work around. I thought WordPress was capricious and restrictive and had never glimpsed the flexibility that WordPress can offer.
At first, in comparison, working with WIX felt like being in complete control.
Unfortunately, this was to change.
I really struggled with the limitations of WIX to quickly update across desktop, mobile and tablet views.
While I completed every page, it did look alright, any little further change cost me a lot of time.
I didn’t know it, but your website is never finished. All those little changes were starting to add up.
“Your Website is Never Finished” – Vicki Jakes
A Supercharge Challenge
I got lured back over to WordPress during a week-long free website challenge by the phenomenal Vicki Jakes, website expert and Divi (a WordPress theme) lover.
At the end of the week, she beckoned me over to WordPress by confirming my suspicions that WIX and I were a bad match.
By the way, I have subsequently heard content experts say that it really doesn’t matter what platform you are on, it’s what you do with it that counts. That’s probably true for a static site, but it does depend on the scale of your ambition, and how often you’ll be changing your site around. At this early stage, we were very much growing the language school business – and as you will see, things were to radically change. I thought I knew more than I did. (I have learned that you never really know what your business needs will be).
WIX is a reasonable budget option for many, but my advice to my past self would be to make flexibility and scalability a priority from the outset.
Scrap It and Start Again
In all honesty, starting again was hard.
Investing in the membership course – and in myself felt risky: a leap of faith in a complete stranger I’d met online.
To make matters worse, I needed to do all the really horrible, complicated set-up bits first off – including transferring the domain, and setting up new hosting.
Unless you well understand the language around you during these processes (and I didn’t), this stage can be really daunting.
The worst moment was learning that WIX really wants to discourage you from leaving them. If you are considering a WIX site, you need to know that WIX locks you into its services. You cannot export your WIX site as a template for another platform. You cannot transfer your hosting.
Learning this did not discourage me from leaving. It actually made cross enough to take the plunge. I wanted full control of my own website back.
A Reluctant Student
I joined the Supercharge Your Website Membership and got stuck into the modules that clearly walked me through the first steps of getting a WordPress Site up and running. It was difficult with the help of the video lessons and I would have found it impossible without them.
I adapted my business planning, and gave myself a few months to get fluent in WordPress and get the site complete.
I’m embarrassed to say I thought it would take about 3 months. There really are people in the membership who did it a lot quicker, but I was not one of them.
Time on a second website was not time that I had planned to spend, so it was a big investment in terms of growing the business in the way I wanted.
The pressure was on to get the website functional – and then improve it bit by bit.
A WIX Package Does Have Advantages!
Once in the membership, I realised that I would also need to learn about hosting, Google Analytics, C-panels, SEO & Yoast – and everything else that I was now responsible for – (things my WIX site had managed for me). The first few months were difficult – a struggle to make sense of the new language and information around me.
The Supercharge Your Website offered weekly coaching calls around each of these subjects (and more) so I began to learn.
“Play Around With Your C-Panel!” – Vicki Jakes
I could sense that having full control was essential, but I’m the sort of person who finds spreadsheets difficult, never mind Google Analytics! Play around inside the C-Panel? My instincts were to hide!
The good news is that after just a couple of weeks, the simplicity of the drag-and-drop editor in WordPress felt like a joy.
And Then Came the Pandemic
The Covid pandemic hit the ESL industry particularly hard.
International travel ground to a halt.
Bricks and mortar language schools were neither ‘education’ nor ‘tourism’ when funding was handed out.
We didn’t know it, but Blue Noun was to close its doors for two whole years.
During our time closed, we switched our services to online teaching.
You cannot teach ‘everyone’ online in the same way as you can offer a bespoke language holiday service to everyone: it’s a total time drain as every class would need an enormous amount of prep.
There’s a pretty exploitative market of cheap labour which sets the bar for remuneration low – lengthy class prep is just impossible – but so is letting students down. It’s a vicious cycle that eats into every teacher’s time.
My skills in Art and Design – and my experience teaching at art schools made moving to work with arts professionals the obvious direction for our business.
It felt completely right. My heart has always been in art.
Once an artist – perhaps not always an artist – but certainly thinking like an artist. I want to help everyone, but I needed to reach my people: the learners who needed me, not just an English teacher.
Our English Language School Changed Identity
- Blue Noun became Blue Noun Language Hub.
- English Teaching became specialist English language coaching
- Slowly, a digital arm of the business began to grow – and then flex its nascent muscles.
Concurrently, the Blue Noun website had to evolve completely to serve a new purpose: our core business had changed – that’s a whole different website!
Once again, my flexible Supercharge membership supported this growth.
The Sketchbook English Online Course
Somewhere in the process, the concept for an online English course for artists and designers was born.
Working out WordPress through Vicki’s membership immediately enabled me to understand its potential and structure.
Even how to promote it!
Follow Your Guru
I can’t tell how much is to be gained from finding the right person to learn from.
Not finding a membership, and going it alone with WIX turned out to be a massive waste of time.
In addition to web skills, I learned business planning skills, time management skills, copywriting concepts and more. I also discovered a network of small business owners trying to make themselves heard within their own industry, who have also been supportive and amazing throughout.
Taking Vicki’s membership made me captain of my own ship in so many ways – not just a confident WordPress user.
Does a Language Teacher Even Need a Website?
I would answer no. You can run language teaching services off Linkedin – or use landing pages generated by Mailerlite / other newsletter tools combined with booking scheduler, such as Calendly.
However, a language business needs a website yes. It doesn’t have to be complicated, but it needs to reflect your brand and identity, walk clients through a booking process and distinguish you from the thousands of other language businesses out there: These are all skills you need to learn. These are all skills you can learn online through a specialist membership.
And remember, as you learn, your site needs to grow with you.
Is a Membership a good Business Investment?
Clearly yes, if it matches with skills you need to acquire to progress. Memberships are a total revolution. You can learn from your own home, picking the exact content and teaching style you need.
To be totally clear, I’m not sure if I would have even thought of Sketchbook English without the Supercharge Your Website membership.
I certainly wouldn’t have thought that I had the tech skills to build it and gone straight into ‘how can I achieve this?’ mode.
It would just have been another lovely, unrealised idea (and my past is full of these, and to be blunt, they ‘don’t jingle’*).
A good membership opens doors for yourself and your business. It’s ok to spend money to make money – it’s normal.
English Language Coach and Guru?
As the beneficiary of being part of a fantastic, specialist membership I clearly see how matching my specialist skills to the right group of learners can propel people further than they ever dreamed they could go.
Just as I needed a specific skill set to progress with my business – my specific ELT skills help artists and designers break into English-speaking opportunities too.
Memberships are the way forward, both for learners and coaches. It’s really an exciting revolution! I’m glad to be a recipient of it – and I cannot wait to launch Sketchbook English and help others this way.
Find out about how Vicki Jakes can help you here.
* A Scottish expression which means it doesn’t make any money