For the second post in our ELT Entrepreneurs series we take a look at Paul Emmerson’s recently launched site BehereBethere. It’s a free and fun eLearning website for Business English where students can watch videos and learn about business from business professionals while improving their English. The site caters to three different levels and works on vocabulary and pronunciation.
ELTjam spoke to Paul to find out more about what drove him to create the site.
Paul, where did you see the gap in the market?
I looked at many other ELT eLearning websites and found the user experience either boring or gimmicky. What was lacking was explicit teaching, by a teacher. I wanted to bring my classroom experience and presence to the screen – eTeaching if you like. From early on, I had the idea of audio-narrated Powerpoint slides with the background image being a whiteboard. The whiteboard activates the schema of teaching, learning and paying attention.
During the process were there times when you completely changed the original idea i.e. “pivoted” or lost heart?
Not really. I scaled down my ambitions enormously, but the end result is pretty close to how I imagined it. Just far fewer courses. I never lost heart. I’m an optimistic kind of guy. As long as I’m having fun, and in a process of creative ‘flow’, I just keep going.
There was a point where I realised things were going off-track when I was using an eLearning authoring tool called Lectora. It’s what many professional Instructional Designers use for large corporate projects, but it’s complicated and old-fashioned. I wasted two months using it. Its competitors, Captivate and Articulate, probably aren’t much better. Nowadays a lot of the functionality, such as quizzes and navigation, is given by the LMS not the authoring tool.
Trying to remember complicated workflows, e.g. with Camtasia (my video editing tool). I write them all down to refer to later.
What have you learned along the way?
For all things entrepreneurial, my guiding light is the US guru Seth Godin, and in particular his blog posts which I get into my Inbox every day. I recommend him to all budding ELT entrepreneurs. Here are a few things I’ve learned:
- Just start. Create something. Put it out there. Business plans are of limited use and just consume time and energy. In any case, they are always completely out of date 6 months after you start.
- You don’t have to take the plunge. You can take a wade through the shallow water that is familiar to you, or even just put a foot in the water.
- Idiosyncrasy, eccentricity, authenticity, craftsmanship, passion. These are great values. They might not create the next Facebook, but at a human level they beat corporate blandness and scalable boredom every time.
- Work with collaborators who criticize you openly and honestly. Listen very carefully to what they say. Sleep on it. Then trust your judgement in deciding to what extent they are right or wrong. Surrounding yourself with cheerleaders who think everything you do is great is completely pointless. If you need their encouragement, then you shouldn’t be an entrepreneur. Your energy to continue should come from your own internal drive, not from other people. Other people are there to challenge you. It’s much the same as how a Board acts in relation to a CEO (if the Board is doing its job).
Did you have to raise money for the venture?
I’m self-financing out of royalties from my print books. This means that in September I get a payment from Macmillan, and, instead of it going on things like a newer car, paying the mortgage, or having a holiday, it goes instead on living expenses for me and my family for six months. I drive a 12 year old Toyota Yaris and have switched to an interest-only mortgage.
Did you need a team to add to the skills you had yourself?
Obviously I needed a web developer, but I also paid a content editor. My experience of being a print author is that you always need an outside, critical person to take a detailed look at your content and give feedback.
What are your hopes for the project now?
To continue to add content, during times of the year when I am not teaching, and build my visitor numbers and email subscriber list. My hope initially is that I see an impact on my print book sales. After that I hope I can find a business model based on some combination of premium elements, sponsorship and crowdfunding.
What three pieces of advice would you give yourself if you could go back in time?
- Don’t try to do video without really good quality audio. You need a video camera with a shoe for an external microphone. You can edit later, but you’ll never get a chance to re-shoot the original footage.
- Test all your finished work on mobile and tablet all the time. Your work might look great on a PC but be unusable on mobile, e.g. if it is not adaptive to screen size.
- If you get creatively stuck, don’t worry. Just do some gardening or play with your children. You’ll get unstuck tomorrow. In a worst case, just drop that particular area of work and come back to it later. It’s amazing how different things look after a week of doing something else.
Any advice for someone thinking of their own ELT project?
If you have a vision and the passion to achieve it, then go for it. If you have something that you think might work, but you’re not sure, then don’t. You have to believe in yourself 100%. An entrepreneur is a self-motivated, driven individual. In fact most freelancers by definition are mini-entrepreneurs – otherwise they would prefer the comfort of language school or publisher.
For more on Paul’s story, here’s an article he’s written about the journey.
Get in touch if you have an ELT Entrepreneur story to share via blogeditor at eltjam dot com
Featured Photo Credit: JimmyMac210 – just returned home from hospital via Compfight cc. Text added by ELTjam.