Today we’re talking with Maria from ‘Dein Sprachcoach’. She’s built an audience of over 80K followers on Instagram in only two short years, and she went from zero to 180K followers on TikTok in only three months!
In this interview, you’ll learn
The differences between Instagram and TikTok
How to thrive and grow on each channel
The importance of finding your voice and style
Why hard work is the key
Why a personal connection is vital
How social media is helping Maria grow her language business
Maria’s tips for Langpreneurs on Instagram and TikTok
When Maria moved from Russia to Germany 13 years ago, she spoke very little German. But she was determined to learn the language and to learn it fast.
She went to language school and put herself through an intensive course of study. Incredibly, after only one year, she gained her C2 certificate and began teaching German to others.
Now, she runs courses and teaches German across three booming social media platforms: Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube.
How Maria got started
At first, Maria taught at a school where she worked with small children from Romania and other countries. She used play and creativity to help the children integrate into society while learning to speak, read, and write the German language.
After a few years, she decided to branch out into teaching adults. The idea was nerve-wracking.
“Kids are so open-minded and honest. I didn’t know if it would work well with adults.”
But it turned out Maria had a knack for teaching adults, too.
“My students used to tell me: Maria it would be really nice to keep in touch and to see you somewhere online because you can explain it in a very nice way and we understand everything that you are telling us.”
So, Maria decided to start an Instagram channel.
She found that it takes a lot more confidence to post a professional video on Instagram than it does to pop up a photo.
Her first one-minute video took 80 takes to make, and it still took courage to put it online.
Growing on Instagram
To grow on Instagram, says Maria, be generous with your time and content and work extremely hard.
“At the very beginning, you have to give a lot of free content. You have to show your expertise. It’s very important for people to trust you and to understand that you are really an expert and you know what you are talking about. So, I have invested a lot of time working on my content.”
Fortunately, all that hard work was rewarded, and her channel started to grow. People from all over the world loved the way she spoke and explained German simply, so that everyone could understand.
So, great content is vital. But did Maria have luck on her side, too?
Maria from ‘dein Sprachcoach’ on Instagram
You don’t need luck; you need a plan
“Well, the idea came from my students,” Maria says. “But I’m not a spontaneous person. I have to plan everything. I have to think. Maybe sometimes it looks spontaneous, but every story or every feed post is something I’ve been thinking about a lot.”
She began by taking an online business course and learned how to start an Instagram channel and grow an online business.
Connect with others
One thing Maria learned was the importance of connections.
Her teacher said: “You have to be very active at the beginning, answer all the comments, see what people want to learn from you and how they react, in a positive or in a negative way.”
Another tip: connect with other Instagrammers. So, Maria looked for people who were teaching German online and reached out to them, too.
It wasn’t easy, especially as Maria was still working full-time at a language school, as well as raising her young son.
Yet, she found that the channel was always on her mind. Even a simple task like going to the grocery store made her think “I can tell my audience about vegetables and fruit.”
“It’s important on Instagram to show part of your personal life so they can get to know you better. At the same time, you need to set boundaries.” Maria blocks people who ask for too much personal information.
“At first, I had about a 95% male audience and got 10-30 proposals a day. It was so annoying.”
Know your audience
Maria’s channel took off when more women came on board. And it’s no accident that 60% of her audience is female.
Maria advertised with Mom Instagrammers and others who naturally appealed to women. It was a good strategy for growth, although she warns that you shouldn’t promote until you have plenty of useful content on your site.
Finding your voice
It takes time to find a unique style or voice, but Maria says it’s an essential process that all successful social media bloggers go through.
Her own style and content has changed a lot over the past two years. At first, she posted general tips and advice on how to learn German or pass exams.
“Now I’m way more specific. I noticed that people want to learn vocabulary they cannot find in textbooks. Something… they can use on the street.”
Maria posts around five Instagram Stories per day, speaking natural German and including subtitles so that people of all levels can understand and learn. Nowadays, posting on Instagram is as routine as brushing her teeth.
Be prepared to work long and hard
Casual users can get away with quick, informal videos on social media. Pro’s cannot.
Maria spends five hours a day working on her channels. In that time she’ll be:
Generating ideas for her Instagram, YouTube and TikTok channels
Planning the content
Making the videos
Doing take after take until the perfectionist in her is happy
Editing, posting, commenting…
Then, there’s all the planning and preparation for her upcoming German Pronunciation course.
Do Instagram and TikTok generate business?
Maria’s business began to make money after a year of constant effort. Even then, she was surprised — and delighted — when people started sending DMs asking to buy her Conversational Courses.
At the time she had 20,000 followers. A year later, those happy customers are spreading the word for her. Her following has more than trebled and, in February 2020, Maria was able to quit her job and concentrate on her German Language business full-time.
Maria’s tips for Langpreneurs on Instagram
Be consistent — post several times every day
Start with videos so people can hear you speak
Make your style unique — don’t copy other people’s posts
Use hashtags — research to find which ones work for you
Collaborate with others on Instagram
You might be surprised by that last tip, but Maria’s adamant that collaboration benefits everyone.
If you’re a small Instagram blogger, she says, find other similar-sized people and work with them to mention each other in your stories.
Don’t limit yourself to language bloggers. Instead, ask “where does my ideal customer hang out? And who has that audience?”
In Maria’s case, she listed travel bloggers and “moms who were Russian but living in Germany” as potential collaborators.
Moving forward to grow
Maria’s not one to rest on her laurels when it comes to growing her business. So, at the end of March, when everyone was stuck at home because of COVID, she decided to take on a new challenge and investigate the hectic world of TikTok.
“I thought it is the perfect time to start a TikTok channel because you have to entertain people. Instead of watching stupid videos, it’s better to watch something you can learn from.”
Learning on TikTok
TikTok is one of the newest social media video platforms. If you want to learn about it, just ask your kids.
The original 59-second videos were all about dancing and lip-sync, but nowadays TikTok aims to be more versatile. Maria is part of a new campaign aimed at attracting more creators who produce educational content.
Maria spent two months observing life on TikTok, working out who was succeeding and what features worked best. She tested the waters by posting a video with her eight-year-old son and then went solo.
One of her videos went viral with over 3 million clicks. In it, Maria cuts “Dankeschon” in half to explain that it’s actually written, Danke Schoen. Lots of TikTok users were impressed, but many weren’t. Haters or not, the comments showed engagement. And that’s key on social media.
Maria says, don’t take it personally when people are negative. Remember, they hate the idea, not you. After all, that engagement helped grow her TikTok channel to almost 180,000 followers in three months.
Tips for TikTok creators
Keep your videos short and very entertaining.
Make them creative.
Don’t copy and paste from Instagram. Take the ideas but translate them for TikTok.
Have topics that kids are interested in
Keep your captions short
Have a Call To Action to encourage lots of engagement
Learn the “language”: As Maria discovered, FY is not an insult on TikTok!
Know your demographic
76% of Maria’s followers on TikTok are girls who are learning German, or who are struggling with the language in school. So, those are the people she aims to help with engaging TikTok content.
How can TikTok help your business?
Sometimes you can take part in campaigns like “Learning With TikTok,” which Maria was asked to join.
Brands who share your target audience might ask to sponsor you. Maria works with a firm that produces clothes for Russian people who live in Germany.
And, could TikTok be a good platform for selling?
“Yes, people really want to learn. 2 weeks ago, I made a video telling people about my free ebook: “Ten Steps to Learning German… The most effective ways that helped me to learn German, and I just wanted to share these steps with my audience.”
The video got over 60,000 clicks, and about 2,000 people downloaded it. What does Maria get out of giving away an ebook? She now has 2,000 more potential course buyers on her mailing list.
“You should really be willing to help others because I’m not doing it for myself only. Because I really want to help people. It’s so nice to see the results and to see how people are getting better.”
Don’t be afraid to show who you are either; TikTok’s not perfect like Instagram.
“One of my videos performed really well. I was showing myself behind the scenes, how I was teaching online. And then in the next video, I showed myself from the side wearing my pyjamas.”
Lately, Maria’s decided to start a YouTube channel to see what possibilities open up. It’s another steep learning curve, beginning the hard work, patience and nerves all over again. But, it’s taught her another critical lesson: you can’t run a language school on three channels without help.
“At some point in time, it’s important to delegate things in order to grow.”
Maria has learned the importance of stepping out of her comfort zone in the past few years.
“That’s my advice. Don’t be too comfortable for a long time. If you notice things are going well, you need to take another step to grow. That’s what is important: to develop yourself.”
Who knows where that philosophy will lead Maria and her language business next?