In March 2015 I realised that, like many tutors, I was facing a scale problem. I’d been a private tutor for three years, but my earnings had hit a hard ceiling; there are only so many hours in a day and 50% of my annual income came in just 6 weeks (March-May). This year, I told myself, I needed to capitalise on the exam rush. Here’s how I did it:
1) Get Online. Today.
My first hurdle was time. (Like most of my students) I’m not an early riser and my brain can’t handle calculus before 9am. Realistically, most clients won’t work past 8pm and my average tutorial is 2 hours in length, so that left me with the time slots:
But looking at my timetable, I was losing up to 4 hours a day to traveling! My £8 travel card looked positively cheap compared with the loss of £120 (at £30ph) each day. This had to end. Becoming an online tutor allowed me to negate travel, and schedule my clients back to back. I invested £50 in a headset and a writing tablet through Amazon Prime and put a few hours’ practice into adapting my style, but I made these costs back within the first week.
2) Take control of your time: Set your boundaries.
My first fear was that my clients wouldn’t accept me moving online. After much deliberation, I came to the realization that it was my time. If they wanted to my help, they would need to work around my schedule. I bet on myself (and of course worked had to adapt my style), but all of my clients accepted that this was the only way that I would be able to keep working with them, and many worked with me to reap the benefits of online tuition (recording tutorials, incorporating videos and being able to save our notes to PDF).
3) Take control of your time II: Enforce your boundaries.
Secondly, you may notice above that one client started 20 minutes late and another cancelled on my way over. Young and inexperienced, I accepted both of these without complaint. Such problems plagued my schedule and lost me large sums of income, especially in the busy season when other clients wanted those time slots. I had to learn to be more assertive in these matters. I created a written cancellation policy that I thought was fair (50% charge if cancelled in under 24 hours and another student would not swap. Full charge if cancelled on route. In first instance of illness, charge may be waived. If I cancel, an additional waiver is added) and emailed it to all my clients when organising my first tutorial. I feared that I’d look mercenary, but quite the opposite, they took me far more seriously, and my late cancelations halved. No more twiddling my thumbs in deepest, darkest suburbia.
4) Remove toxic clients
The customer is simply not always right. Early on in my career, I felt the need to bend over backwards for every client – late night preparation; staying an extra 20 minutes and not charging; long, winding calls with parents reassuring them that they weren’t bad parents because they turned off the TV and make Charlie do his maths homework. The vast majority of my good will was rewarded with extra referrals, voluntary rate increases or just a feel-good factor of seeing development and good grades in my tutees. But there was always one. One parent who had to grab me for 30 minutes (after every hour of tuition), whom always demanded more, and who was totally inflexible about me rearranging when another client wanted to swap times that week – meaning I’d lose a 2-hour (better-paid) tutorial. It took me too long to realise, but just Cut. These. People. Out. If nothing else, you’ll enjoy your work more. And when you’re working 12 hour days, you’ll be grateful.
5) Be Patient when Building up Your Client Base. Specialise in your strengths
This is a common mistake. New tutors feel that they need to take on 11+ maths entrance exams, A level psychology (because they took it years ago) and undergraduate statistics because all the GCSE placements go too quickly. A few months later, they are spending hours and hours preparing 4 different subjects each week and too busy to take on that GCSE placement they always wanted. Client referral rates are either low (due to low preparation) or in the wrong subjects. It took me 2 years to get out of teaching 11+ because I felt a duty to the student’s I’d already formed bonds with, and I kept on taking the referrals of their friends. I now teach one course, up to 20 hours a week and receive a referral a week – allowing my rates to quickly grow as word of mouth spreads and people know that my schedule is filling up.
6) Stop using leaky buckets: make your preparation count
A street cleaner using a leaky bucket must refill his water 5 times. Buy a better bucket, and you can get the job done the first time. The same applies in business, as it turns out. For tuition, sit down and create a really amazing piece of material. A resource that you can use again and again and wow clients every time. Because you now specialise in your best subject, you’ll pick up amazing ways to teach that subject through teaching it again and again and can share preparation time across all your students, allowing you to build really great content. When I was tutoring in Moscow for 3 weeks, I put 4 hours every evening (I didn’t speak any Russian!) into making a set of economics resources that I have since used for 5 years in a row. To date, that set has generated me nearly £100,000 of income in that one module. I can now turn up to a tutorial, and I’m fully prepared.
7) Higher-education is the only way to grow
Some professional tutors live like vampires: only seen when the sun goes down. It’s particularly difficult to build or sustain personal relationships with loved ones when you work 3.30-8pm week days and all-day weekends. University students have much more flexible schedules, and you can charge higher rates as the level of work is much more specialised. They also usually don’t require long chats with parents as you update them directly. Most students are comfortable with online tuition, and I find them more flexible than many parents.
Using all of the above tips – getting online, keeping your schedule, only working with people you enjoy, specialising in a subject and creating killer resources to alleviate preparation – you, too, could double your effectively hourly rate. The tutors whom I know to have followed these tips consistently break £1,000 a week, worked an average of 4 hours a day, 5 or 6 days a week.
Give yourself 2 months to try the same, and let me know how you get on!
Next: Wonder what X factor you are missing form your tutoring. Find out in our blog 9 Out Of 10 Tutors Make This Mistake.