Ashley's set up where she teaches VIPKid as a part time job from home.
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Side Hustle Interview: VIPKid with Ashley Cook

Welcome back everyone! It’s been a while since my last post, but it wasn’t without reason! I talk quite a bit about side hustles and the importance of multiple income streams during your FI journey. As you know, Gina and I are Airbnb hosts, Gina is a personal trainer, and I have an eBay store. We’re all about the side hustle!

VIPKid is something I actually wanted to try, but unfortunately I learned that given my line of work, I’m unable to take on this unbelievable side hustle.

Thankfully, a good friend of ours has been working with VIPKid for quite a while now. I’ve been wanting to interview her for since the beginning of this blog, and recently decided to pull the trigger!

Ashley is THE perfect candidate for this interview as she is a stay at home mother with three young children. I have one child and being home alone with him can be challenging. So, I truly believe Ashley’s success story with VIPKid is a wonderful example of how possible it is to crush this side hustle, even with challenging situations at home.

What are we waiting for? Let’s jump right in!

Matthew Sperry (MS): Welcome, Ashley! Thank you so much for joining me here on Four Walls of FIRE to discuss VIPKid! Some of our audience may not be familiar with VIPKid. Could you please explain what VIPKid is?

Ashley Cook (AC): VIPKid is an online educational ESL (English as a second language) company for American (and Canadian) teachers to tutor (mainly) Chinese students.

It is set up in a way that the students take a 1 on 1 class in a virtual classroom that has preset PowerPoints for the teacher to aide the students in English learning. Think of it like an educational Skype call.

The student and teacher log into the virtual classroom on their respective ends, all through the VIPkid site/app, and have a 25 minute long class session in which at the end the teacher fills out feedback about the class, and the student has additional practice in between lessons.

It is meant to not only teach elementary aged children (some younger, some older) educational content, but also build conversational skills with native speakers.

MS: So, VIPKid is a virtual class where you teach foreign students English as a second language. What are the requirements get started with VIPKid? Are teachers required to have an education-based degree?

AC: They require all teachers to have a bachelors degree. That degree does NOT have to be education related. It can really be in anything! However, you do have to have a minimum of 1 year “teaching” experience. That can be in any teaching related position (coaching, mentoring, Sunday school, homeschooling). If you have it, list it.

Having experience as a brick and mortar teacher of course does help, but it isn’t required. I have an education degree but never formally taught in a classroom as a lead teacher. I had several years experience as an after school child care worker, a nanny, youth mentor and the hours I clocked in the classroom while working for my degree. I listed all of that when applying.

You also need to be a US or Canadian citizen, although you do not need to physically live in the country (there are tons of nomadic teachers!). As long as you have strong internet, and a headset, you can basically teach from anywhere.

MS: Got it. You need to have a degree and one year of any type of teaching experience. That doesn’t sound too bad. I’m very interested in hearing about the nomadic teachers, but first, how would someone get started with VIPKid?

AC:

The application process is always changing just a bit, but it’s essentially; application, demo/interview, and then passing your mock class. It does vary just a bit depending on when you apply, but it keeps the same general format.

The interview/demo video is where they determine your pay, so that’s where you really want to play yourself up! Speak slowly and clearly. Wear a solid colored (bright!) shirt, and do lots of smiling! You’ll want do all of that from a laptop/iPad with good lighting and in front of an “educational” background. Just a dollar store poster will do for your interview. Don’t go too crazy until you’re hired!

Once you apply, they keep very frequent emails back and forth for you to schedule different parts of the application process with them, all of which are on a timeline.

After that comes background check, signing your contract and all that paperwork that comes with a new job. Once you have that all taken care of, it’s getting certifications, opening time slots, and waiting for students! 

MS: It sounds like this isn’t the kind of job you should do in your pajamas in bed, right? Before we jump into your daily routine, can you tell me a little about your setup and recommendations? Can you tell us about the minimum equipment (iPad, laptop, or other equiment) and tell me a little about your setup at home?

AC: The set up is pretty simple. You need to run the app on a computer or iPad, no other tablets or Chromebooks. You’ll need a good internet connection. They highly suggest a hardwired connection, but personally, we have very high speed internet and the Wi-Fi has always been sufficient. You’ll also need headphones. Noise cancelling is nice, but not a requirement. I have a cheap $20 gaming set that does the job just great.

I actually spent very little on my set up. I teach on an older iMac (but Macs are generally great, even as they approach dinosaur age!) that I already had with a couple of lamps behind the monitor for lighting. Again, nothing new.

I have a few printed decorations behind me, as well as a $1 cookie sheet I use as a magnet board for my secondary rewards. I did recently expand my prop storage a bit with a small rolling cart from Target. I haven’t invested more than $50-$60 on teaching items, and nearly all of that was just by choice.

MS: Getting started sounds pretty easy! So, you’re all set up, you open your first time slots. What does your day look like? How many classes can you teach in a day and how long are they?

AC: Yep! You open your slots. You wait for parents to book you (the company does not do it), so it can take a little bit to really build up a following and get regulars. But, be patient. They will come! They will find you.

There is 13.5 available hours a day you can open slots (8:30pm-10am right now on the east coast. This varies with day light savings and your time zone of course). Each slot is 30 minutes. A class takes 25 minutes, and you get an additional 5 for feedback. You must teach at least 25 minutes but should never go over 28.

Your pay is according to each half hour slot, not hour, so the pay can be confusing at first. You can teach as few or as many classes as you’d like and that get booked. I teach very part time. I open two slots in the morning while my husband gets ready for work and a couple in the evenings after my kids are in bed.

On the weekends I try for 6 classes before everyone is ready to eat breakfast and a few more after bedtime. I typically average about $500-$1000 a month depending on how motivated I am, and what our family schedule looks like. I never need a sitter as I only open spots when my husband is home and in charge of kids, and I can work around everyone’s schedule. It’s very flexible! 

Some times are easier to book than others. Basically, when your students are out of school. They are marked PPT (peak peak time), and right now are 7-9am EST and basically all weekend. They will often give incentives to open these slots since this is when most students want to book a lesson.


For teachers who do this full time, many will flip their schedule, teach all night while their family sleeps, and sleep when their kids are at school. Whatever works for them! If my kids were older and in school, it’s a tempting thought. Those 30 minute classes add up quick! 

MS: Wow! It sounds like there’s an incredible amount of flexibility in how many classes you can teach. If working part time can bring in $500-$1000 per month, how much money can a full time teacher earn? And speaking of flexibility, can you tell me a little about the nomad teachers you mentioned earlier?

AC: In theory, you can make as much as you can work. But I’ll break down the numbers a bit. So, you get a base pay per class. That is $7-$9. (I make $8, which is the overwhelming majority, so I’ll use that for numbers.) Plus, you get a $1 bonus for starting and finishing a class on time. That takes you to $9. If you teach 30-45 classes a month, that’s an additional 50 cents, $1 if it’s more than 45. (I like to keep 45 classes my standard minimum for this reason). That brings you to $10 a class, or $20 an hour.

If you were to work 80 classes, or 40 hours per week, that’s $800, or about $3200 a month. If any of those slots book “short notice” that’s an additional $2 per class. So yes, it is possible to make very good money, but like I said, it can take a little time to build your clientele.

Since this is an independent contractor position, you really are marketing and building YOUR business. No one does it for you. It’s partly luck, and partly a good profile.


So, nomadic teachers! I am a part of several VIPKid related social media groups. I’ve seen stories of teachers from all walks of life. Some do this job to supplement another full time position, using it as a “side hustle” for various things. Some use it as full time employment, or even during retirement. But the interesting stories I’ve heard are from people doing this job from remote locations.

Since you never do any teaching in person, it can literally be done from anywhere with internet, as long as you can still legally to work in the US or Canada. Many people do this whole traveling the country in an RV, and work for whatever their financial needs are that month. Many do this internationally, and use it to fund travels.

Since you are paid in US dollars, with a US pay rate, living in a LCOL country with American pay can really be a benefit, and people take advantage of that. All you have to do is change you time zone in your teaching portal and you’re good to go!

MS: This is starting to sound more and more like VIPKid belongs in the FIRE Community! We know what VIPKid is, we know how to get started, and we know the flexibility absolutely rocks! Can you let talk a little about the class itself? How much preparation time do you spend on each class?

AC: So, 25 minutes is for teaching. Typically, I do very little prep. When I first started 8 months ago I spent about 10 minutes reviewing the lesson when it was booked, organizing props, and getting myself ready.

Now, I have a cart full of anything I need to pull right next to me, a white board, and I’m generally good to go. I’ll flip through the slides on the app right before, pre-write my feedback, and I’m done. Maybe takes 3 or 4 minutes before classes start for the day.

You log in, and a countdown is started to the exact second your 25 minutes is to begin. At 5 seconds till, I hit start class, my camera and mic open, and it’s showtime! I spend a couple minutes asking rapport get to know you questions depending on the level, introduce a reward, and then start teaching.

Your pacing is about a minute per slide so it’s easy to keep yourself organized and the student on task. I like to be on the ending free talk slide with a minute to go, so that I have time to wrap up, log out as efficiently as possible so I have time to submit feedback in between classes.

Some teachers take some extra time and choose to do feedback at the end of their day, but I like to be as efficient as possible so the minute my last class is over, I’m taking my headset off and I’m back to my family.

I definitely look at this like a job. I’m effective, and I’m done right on time. This can take some practice to get timing down, but it’s just something you get in a groove for. It all gets easier!

MS: So far everything about VIP Kid sounds good! There has to be some challenges, right?

AC:  Yes! Roll out of bed and teach for good money in your pajamas? Seems to good to be true. Well, it can be. All of the good stuff is so good. It really is. It’s flexible, it pays well, and it takes minimal effort and prep once you get going. But, there’s good and bad with every job.


In this job? You won’t get booked right away. If you have lofty goals of 80 classes a week, that’s great. But it may take some time. Maybe a few weeks, maybe months. You may be teaching overnights with weird hours and weird gaps around when you can get booked.

There’s no guarantees, because you’re an independent contractor. The company doesn’t owe you a certain amount of classes, it’s up to the parents to book you, so if this is your main source of income, it can be a little iffy. There’s times during the year where there’s students pouring in, and others where it’s a total drought. You have to be flexible.

For me personally, I set out a goal of hitting 30 classes a month. Then 45. Now, I teach about 80.  I’m in my 8th month and it’s been a slow workup but I’m where I want to be. It can happen slower, or more quickly, depending, but it won’t be instant.


Speaking of being an independent contractor, they also do not take out taxes. Which means YOU are responsible for that. You should consult your own personal tax situation about how that can affect you, but they say on the safe side, to put back 30 percent, give or take.


 It can also be difficult to cancel classes. They typically book 2 weeks out, so when something unexpected comes up, and you have to cancel, it can be difficult. You already have a commitment. You can apply for a soft cancellation for medical emergencies but for regular cancellations, you only get 6 per 6 month contract. So, you have to use those wisely. 

Last but not least, there’s also a language barrier between you and the company. Although they have English speakers working at headquarters, this is still a foreign based company, and many people are in fact not English speakers so many things go through a translator. This includes the parents as well. Sometimes things really do get lost in translation, so it can be a delicate matter trying to convey the right messages when it comes to cancellations, IT issues and writing feedback.

MS: It sounds like VIPKid has it’s cons just like every job. However, based on our conversation, it sounds like it could be a fantastic source of income.

Whether your goal is to stop working your real job and have an income source to make you feel more comfortable or if you’re looking to ramp up your saving and investing, VIPKid has some serious potential. 

Having the ability to work from anywhere in the world and set your own hours, I think VIPKid fits perfectly in the FIRE Community.


Ashley, thank you so much for taking the time to conduct this interview! Your time is greatly appreciated and I’m certain this interview will offer some great value to Four Walls of FIRE readers. For those who want to get started with VIPKid, do you have a referral link you can provide?

AC: I completely agree! Freedom to work when and where you want makes for a pretty great job. No question about that!

Follow this link to get started! Once you click that, you’ll be ready to go and it will walk you through the steps. Big smiles, speak slowly, and talk yourself up in that interview!

MS: Another huge thank you to Ashley for spending so much time telling us about VIPKid! Ashley has been gracious enough to offer guidance and mentorship for those interested in joining VIPKid. If you found this interview to be helpful and want to get started, make sure to use the link above to show Ashley some support!

If you would like some help or guidance with VIPKid, please feel free to email FourWallsofFIRE@gmail.com, message @FourWallsofFIRE on Facebook, or simply drop a comment below and I’ll put you in contact with Ashley!

 

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