Arguably the nationwide need for tutors has never been greater than it is today. The pandemic wreaked havoc on schools, disrupting student learning and causing an unprecedented knowledge gap. Tutors are on the frontlines doing damage control as they help students catch up. Of course, even before the COVID-19 pandemic, tutoring has never been more accessible thanks to user-friendly online resources and affordable tutoring software.
The high demand for tutors, combined with the relative ease of getting started, leads all too many fresh-faced tutors to make classic rookie mistakes. Some are pretty obvious, but a few might surprise you! Instead of setting off to reinvent the wheel, take a moment to learn from your predecessors about the common mistakes tutors make when they’re starting out. Here are 10 of the most common mistakes newbie tutors tend to make and some tips for how you can avoid them:
1. Being Unprepared
Many subject matter experts are filled with a desire to tutor students yet have zero practical experience. As a result, they underestimate the work involved. As any experienced educator will tell you, knowing the material doesn’t make you a teacher. Effectively teaching a subject to another person requires training, even if it is self-taught through watching videos from professional educators or reading books about tutoring strategies. Equally important is having the correct mindset, which is why we recommend checking out SUNY Potsdam’s 10 Golden Rules for Being a Good Tutor.
2. Not Treating It Like a Business
Even if you only plan to tutor as a side hustle, it’s essential to think of your enterprise as a self-employed small business. As with any business, you should develop a general business plan outlining your goals and strategies for reaching them.
As a business owner, it’s always wise to plan ahead and think about how things will change as your tutoring business scales and you secure more students or perhaps hire more tutors to help with the client load. As a professional tutor, you’ll need to outline a budget, chart anticipated earnings, and estimate expected costs. Expenses should include branding, marketing, and advertising, as well as supplies or any tutoring software you plan to use.
And don’t forget to budget in the costs of self-employment tax on top of your income tax if your tutoring business nets you $400 or more by the end of the year.
3. Choosing Inadequate Tutoring Software
For years, colleges and universities have embraced distance learning through online platforms made for education. Online classes are proven to remove barriers and improve access to higher ed, yet K-12 schools were slower to adopt these technologies…until COVID-19 forced them to. K-12 schools received an abrupt introduction to remote learning due to the pandemic and now, nearly two years on, most schools have adopted hybrid models of learning.
Tutors have been relatively proactive in embracing e-learning from the start, but they often make the mistake of not choosing the right tutoring management platform. Standard video conferencing apps like Zoom won’t cut it in the long run because they don’t offer some of the important features a hybrid tutoring business needs like file sharing and storage, secure messaging, easy payment collection, and built-in analytic tools to track student progress.
Not sure why you need tutoring software to run your business? Have a look at our recent blog outlining the 7 reasons why you need tutoring software if you’re a professional educator.
4. Lack of Creative Branding and Marketing
It won’t matter if you’re the world’s greatest tutor if customers don’t know you exist! So how do you get their attention? Professional and attractive branding and strategic marketing are tried-and-true methods of spreading the word about your tutoring services.
All too often new tutors underestimate the importance of branding and marketing, or they fail to do sufficient market research ahead of time. For example, think about who your target students are and what avenues and approaches are most suitable to reach them at? If you’re planning to purchase a website domain name, register an LLC, snag a social media handle, or trademark a snazzy new slogan, put enough forethought into these elements to ensure they are distinctive, appropriate, and catchy.
Next, use organic marketing tactics and paid advertising (like Google Ads or Facebook Ads) to get the word out to the right potential clients that your tutoring services are open for business. There are plenty of free resources online (eg. YouTube, Coursera, Khan Academy, etc.) for you to learn the basics of marketing and advertising your fledgling tutoring business.
5. Overestimating the Need for Your Services
Yes, there’s a high demand for tutors — in general. But is there an underserved need in your local area for tutors in your area of expertise? New tutors sometimes fail to assess the market and thus struggle to fill their openings. Either there’s already too much competition, or perhaps local schools offer free tutoring on the topic you teach. Do your homework before diving in or investing any capital in your tutoring business.
That being said, if you’re planning to offer your tutoring services primarily or solely online, then the possibilities are endless, and you can tutor virtually anyone, anywhere.
6. Not Having a Good Space to Teach In
Tutoring in the comfort of your own home may sound like a dream come true, but there are many factors to consider. Often, tutors simply don’t have suitable space with adequate lighting and sufficient supplies on hand to tutor from home. Other times, their home isn’t easy to travel to, or perhaps parking is difficult, which can be a huge turnoff for potential clients. Unless you plan to go big, renting an office space in town isn’t a likely option for most newbie tutors.
To have your cake and eat it too, we suggest incorporating an online option, so you can work from home while your students stay at their homes. Check out our recent article on How to Start a Home-Based Tutoring Business for more tips that’ll save you from costly oversights and miscalculations!
7. Indecisiveness About Your Tutoring Model
Historically many tutors have preferred live interactions with students. However, times are changing, and live or in-person lessons aren’t always practical or feasible, so you don’t want to limit yourself. In 2021, savvy tutors are weighing the best options for their customers’ wants and needs and discovering that online and hybrid models are increasingly popular.
Online lessons offer flexibility and easier access since there are no geographic barriers and no commute time. Meanwhile, with the plethora of inexpensive mobile devices and laptops out there, almost every student can now sign up for fast, no-hassle online instruction.
8. Not Making It Easy for Your Students
Customer service extends beyond being polite and attentive when a customer is in front of you; it also includes thinking ahead about ways to make your customer’s experience as enjoyable and stress-free as possible.
That said, who is the “customer” — the student or the parent? Depending on the age of your students, they may be the ones paying for their sessions, or it could be their parents. But no matter who is footing the bill, the focus must be on the student as the recipient of your lessons and the primary end-user of any tutoring software involved.
Every logistical detail about your tutoring lessons should be as simple and friction-less as possible. From booking sessions to submitting homework or paying invoices, you want to eliminate anything that makes the process inconvenient, annoying, or distracting.
The same goes for making it easy on parents, too. For younger students, parental engagement is a critical factor in their success; however, you don’t want a helicopter Mom or Dad eyeballing everything their child does during a session. This makes it hard for students to focus, especially when they are already combating the serious effects of learning loss stemming from COVID-19.
9. Setting a Tutoring Rate That’s Too High or Too Low
Setting your rate is one of the most important considerations when establishing a tutoring business. Yet new tutors frequently price themselves too low or they set their rates unjustifiably high.
How much should you charge as a new tutor? The simple answer is — charge as much as you’re able to get. That doesn’t necessarily equate to what you feel your time and expertise are worth, though. As the Harvard Business Review notes, “the right answer to that question is a company should charge ‘what the market will bear’ — in other words, the highest price that customers will pay.”
To determine that dollar figure, it’s helpful to empathize with your target customer. For example, if you have a killer reputation to justify a higher price point and know how to successfully market your talents, you might target high-net-worth students or parents. But if your goal is to stay affordable to the average student or parent, take an objective look at what local tutors are charging and how your experience compares.
Keep in mind, tutors offering online lessons may have less overhead and can offer lower rates. Discounted small group rates are another way to stay within the average person’s budget.
10. Not Establishing Policies
It’s handy to have your general policies in place and easily accessible to customers, either by posting them to your website or sending them out to new enrollees. These should be clear, reasonable, and easy to digest, so students or parents don’t skim over anything important. It’s also good to request confirmation and agreement to your policies and terms in the event of a later dispute. This helps ensure everyone is accountable and lets them know they are entering a partnership with your tutoring business with the goal of achieving positive student outcomes.
At a minimum, cite your policies on charging for no-shows or short notice cancellations. If offering in-person tutoring lessons, state your COVID-19 guidelines or requirements to maximize everyone’s safety (and decrease your liability). If you plan on offering snacks or drinks, ask about food allergies and get consent in writing.
The ten mistakes listed above are a few of the most common misjudgments new tutors are prone to make when starting out. You’re sure to discover a few on your own through trial and error, but we hope this list helps you avoid as many headaches as possible! And if you’re looking for a partner to help you scale your tutoring business, get in touch with us today and ask us how Pearl can help you build a successful tutoring business.