Mark Newman

Getting that corporate contract

How to forge ahead in the world of selling business English

To get corporate work in Bangkok you usually have to go through a language school or another company. It can be a great way to boost your income. The hourly rate can be considerably higher than in-centre teaching work but the flip side is that the work is inconsistent and involves a lot of travelling.

It's a risk. You weigh up what's good about the contract (salary, contract duration, location, etc.) and then what isn't good about it (time at work versus time travelling, where and when the next job will be, etc.) The best that most of us can hope to do is to mix in some corporate work with other more reliable means of support. But it doesn't have to be that way....

If a company is paying you 800 baht an hour to work then how much are they making for themselves? Why aren't YOU making the whole 2,000 baht and cutting out the middle man? Because it's bloody hard work, that's why! But I do it and there may be a few people out there who want to do the same.

Don't do it. It's suicide!

To figure out whether you should be trying to secure your own contracts, it's worth laying out the reasons why you shouldn't.

The first reason is that it can take anything up to a year to get that contract signed. It takes a lot of patience to finally get everyone at the company together and agree on a program. A language school can wait for the pieces to fall into place because they have a lot of other companies on the go at the same time.

The next reason is that these contracts may be for as little as twenty hours. It's a lot of work to organize and prepare a contract and a course for a company that only wants you around for a few hours.

Also, companies like to change their suppliers all the time, leaving you out in the cold when it comes to renewal.

They also bury themselves in awkward-to-reach places around the country, so transportation to and from their offices and factories may be more trouble than its worth when you are going to meetings and not being paid. You ideally need a reliable (and economical) car.

Then you have to rely on yourself for all the materials you'll need for your classes.
You'll have to set yourself up as a registered company.
You have to have enough money in the bank to accept the staggered payments system that companies work with.
You can't be sick or unavailable when you have an injury or you just want a day off.

The following is just a very general guide and there is a lot missing. I could write a book on a detailed way that this can work out for you, but this is just a very broad overview.

What are companies looking for...?

Whenever I meet with a company for the first time, they have a list of complaints about other providers that they have used in the past. So if you understand what a company wants (or doesn't want!) then you can address these things before they ask you about them.

Number one issue with all the companies I have worked with is this... "They changed the teacher halfway through the course." Maybe the original teacher got bored or fired, who knows. But if you place a heavy emphasis on the fact that YOU will be there teaching every class, you'll have an advantage.

The next biggest complaint is the materials used for teaching. They are either boring or not appropriate or even at the right level of English for the employees to learn from. And this is why companies with big training budgets jump from place to place looking for something half-way decent for their employees.

But it seems so easy, right? Have a good program in place, with one teacher doing the work and you've got a plan! So why don't corporate providers do this? Well, they employ unreliable staff, heavy handed salesmen and they are selling books, not programs. It's as simple as that.

Getting your foot in the door.

Let's assume that you are starting from scratch and you don't have contacts. You'll need to speak with someone on the inside. Usually, it's human resources. That's not easy because all these companies and factories are like fortresses when it comes to getting anywhere near the office!

You'll have to write and email every head office and HR manager of all the companies you are interested in working with. And you'll have to do it more than once. Training budgets start at the beginning of the financial year so this is the best time to fire off your first wave of letters of intent.

Finding these companies can also be a time consuming endeavor. Even the smallest engineering companies may have a budget for training. One way that I have used is to go to an industrial estate and drive around the whole place and make a note of all the companies in it. The second time you go you should have a personalized letter of introduction to every one of them, ready to hand to the gatekeeper/security guy outside.

He'll pass the letter onto someone in the office and just maybe it'll end up in the right person's hands. In Bangkok it's a bit easier. You can go to an office block and read the names of the companies from the directory in the reception area.

Also, go to companies that you know already have contracts with language schools. All the oil companies, the drug companies, the international ones, even Tesco Lotus! They all have training budgets and part of their training is learning English.

Your first meeting.

So you've got a preliminary interview with the training manager, the head of human resources and maybe one or two department managers.

Have your pitch ready.

First, don't confuse their friendly enthusiasm with the prospect of securing work. They are just happy to get out of the office for an hour or so. They may even have no intention of hiring you... but it's still an opportunity to get them interested or at least to practice your pitch.

The negotiations with companies are almost always conducted by Thai representatives from a language school. It will be more difficult for you to come to a detailed arrangement with an organization but what you are offering them will offset this obstacle.

During your presentation you will have to offer a few things that haven't been offered to them by your predecessors.

The most important one is your demo lesson. Offer to teach a class for free at any time in the future. No language schools do this. They are content to sell books as courses. Tell them that if they round up a few volunteers you'll be happy to come back and spend the afternoon with them to demonstrate a typical class. Don't forget to tell them what you need... projector, screen, whiteboard, etc.

Stress that the courses that you are offering will be custom designed for their company and NOT from a text book. This is important because every single text book that students have worked from in the past has been either boring, too difficult to understand or just irrelevant to their training and work.

Bring resources with you to the first meeting. If you have already designed classes, then show them off. Hand out copies of course-work you have made. Have a company logo at the top of each page that shows them that this course was written for a specific company. These professional looking documents will go a long way to impress the panel.

Another important aspect of your pitch is how you will wind up the course and organize the student evaluations. This takes up a lot of your time that you won't be getting paid for but for the companies this is very important. They will want detailed accounts of each student and how they performed.

Accept (or suggest) a tour of the offices or factory and ask about what specifically they want their employees to focus on in an English class.
Let them know that they will only have one teacher for the entire duration of the course... YOU!
In the future you will have to level-test all the students. Explain how you will do this and how each level of training will be different.
Ask a lot of questions about what they want from an English language course and take notes.
Exchange your business card with everyone you meet.

You don't get paid by the hour anymore

The costs of designing and printing a course specific for one company will be a determining factor on how much you are going to bill them. You may be designing a conversation class for half a dozen managers for twenty hours. You may be asked to transcribe technical jargon for twenty-five ground floor engineers for sixty hours. Either way, this is where you will be spending your twilight hours... hunched over a computer, writing classes.

The way you bill a client will be different for each company and each course. The following is typical of one I have for a recurring class I do every year in Samut Sakhon.

The course is for 100 hours. I get three checks. After 30 hours, after 60 hours and after the reports have been handed in, at the end of the course. This means that for the first year that I worked at this company, I negotiated a contract that took months, designed 100 hours of classroom work that took endless days and nights, spent a fortune on printing and copying and then worked for 30 hours before I got a penny!

In this instance I have been working at the company for four years. So now I just show up with the same lesson plans already prepared. (I still have to spend a lot of time evaluating the new students before and after the course.)

What you charge will be up to you and the company you work for. I'd suggest starting at 1,200 baht an hour. Don't work for less. You are undercutting the language schools and providing a custom-designed course, which is better than anything the language schools can offer, right?

Don't forget to agree on a cancellation policy that will be a part of the contract. I'd recommend that you be flexible but allow them (officially but not binding!) four cancellations for each course.

Wrapping it all up

It's important to work closely with human resources or whoever is in charge of training. Your relationship with them will determine your future with the company. Bring a small gift for them when you show up with the final evaluations.

Explain to them what you are doing every step of the way. This includes sharing thoughts on how the course is progressing. The course design is a whole other subject, but... Teach to the level of the students you are teaching. Make it fun and keep interesting... especially if the class is in their own time after work!

Your students will report back any minor transgressions that they pick up on so be professional. Be early and look smart.

In conclusion...

Well, there's so much that I haven't managed to include. Like I say, this is just a ‘skim the surface' essay on what could work for you. But if you are a professional corporate teacher and you are willing to invest your time, the rewards can be awesome. Thailand really is the land of opportunity in the field of corporate teaching. And after your first three or four contracts, if you are doing your job properly, you'll be amazed at how easily the rest will come your way.

Mark Newman



I agree with Phillip if your going to offer a demo class for free; word could get around and before you know it you have HR managers beating down your door for this free lesson. After all many companies have on going training seminars and your free 2 hour course could easily save the HR Dept. money they can use later on. Whereas if they have the budget to hire experts for seminars you could easily make a seminar for them on some sort of specialized topic; be it customer service, meeting new clients, cross cultural communiications and list goes on and on. In this way you could end up creating lessons on topics and bill yourself out as a 'western business consultant' who is worth paying the big bucks rather than simply an esl teacher who has you said has a reputation for being replaced half way through the course.

By James, Hong Kong (6th May 2014)

Great insider tips from you Ajarn Mark and thanks for that follow-up comment phillip. Clearly, the future for Western teachers will be at the corporate level in Thailand with 'regular' teaching gigs going to filipinos, Africans and other non-native speakers.

By Guy, Bkk (28th April 2014)

Oh man, I could talk about corporate training all day long.

Hi Marko. There’s some fantastic advice packed into that article mate. And of course, you and I did the corporate teaching game together in Bangkok at many companies. Great days! I really miss the banter we used to have together.

One thing that really caught my eye in that article was the free demo lesson. This is something that I used to offer when I last sold corporate training about five or six years ago now. I used to offer a free 2-hour demo (one hour of business writing skills and one hour of presentation skills) And I would turn up in a nice navy blue suit, with my two hours of ‘edutainment’ loaded on to a laptop, and really put my heart and soul into it.

One word of caution I would offer is don’t give away the free demo lesson to all and sundry. I quickly found out that if you offered a free two-hour business skills workshop to eager-to-please HR managers, they would bite your hand off - often with no intention of using your services beyond that.

So in that first meeting with the HR manager, do your best to weigh up the situation and separate the ‘seriously interested’ from the ‘freeloaders’. No one says that’s easy but after a while you’ll develop a sixth sense for those who are just after a freebie.

By philip, (28th April 2014)

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