10 Mistakes Tutors Make When They’re Just Starting Out

10 Mistakes Tutors Make When They’re Just Starting Out

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.

Planning for Online Instruction

Planning for Online Instruction

Planning for online instruction isn’t really different from planning for in-person instruction – you need to know who you’re teaching, what you’re teaching, and how you’re teaching your students. However, there are a few significant differences that can impact the successful delivery of your online lesson. In order to avoid the pitfalls of teaching online, you must plan out what you want to achieve with your students and how you’re going to make this happen. At the same time you need to plan for what could happen and how to respond to expected and unexpected issues. If something can go wrong with your technology or your students’ tech, it usually will. 

Let’s explore some important considerations of online instruction. Imagine you have a student who needs help with understanding measurement.

1. It’s always important to start by creating an objective for your lesson. What is it you want your students to learn?

2. Identify the means and the medium that you will use to teach your students. Will you be teaching using a hybrid model of online and in-person instruction (blended learning); live, online-only session (synchronous); posting lessons online for students to work through (asynchronous); or some combination of synchronous and asynchronous instruction? Will you be sharing a website or any links that students will need access to?

3. Review the limitations and affordances of the medium that you have selected. If you choose to use a mix of both synchronous and asynchronous instruction, you can create a library of videos for students to watch before, during, and/or after their live sessions with you. During live, synchronous lessons you can have students measure objects around the room with a ruler, you can have them use measuring cups to examine liquid measures, or use a scale to measure weight. You may find that there is an advantage to having students use the tools and objects in their own homes because it can create the relevancy that in-person instruction cannot.

4. Explore how you plan on interacting with your students, as well as if and how you would like them to interact with each other. Are you simply lecturing to your students, are you discussing topics as a class, or are you assigning students to groups?

5. Identify and share a plan for how you plan on communicating with students and their parents (phone calls, emails, texts, school portal, etc.), as well as the different channels you will use to distribute and collect their assignments. Will students be using a shared Google folder or will they be responsible for emailing or uploading their assignments?

6. Make plans to go over all of your expectations with your students and include different opportunities for you to model these behaviors for them.

7. Have a backup plan! Murphy’s Law says what can go wrong will go wrong, and this couldn’t be more true than with technology. Include hardcopies of your syllabus and assignments for students, so that they have more than one way to access essential information. Also, include and review instructions regarding what students should do when they are having tech issues, and/or they cannot access your online class. Don’t make students or their parents have to guess what they’re supposed to do – follow up with students right away when they miss class or assignments.

8. Put yourself in your students’ shoes. When you teach in-person you have a captive audience, students are stuck with you whether the lessons work for them or not, but when they are learning online and students are not engaged, they can very easily find something else to do… camera’s suddenly turn off and/or computers “suddenly” disconnect. Construct your lessons so that students have buy-in and are engaged in their learning.

9. Think outside the box. Students don’t need to sit in front of the computer the entire lesson, even when the camera is rolling – it’s okay for them to work quietly. You can also take students on an adventure … take them on an adventure as you measure things around your room. Teaching online gives you the opportunity to build a bridge between the people and things students interact with every day, and the lessons you are teaching them.

Planning for online learning is not more of a challenge than planning for in-person instruction, it is a different type of challenge. As an instructor, you just need to identify all of the parts of the lessons and how they will fit together. In addition, you need to consider some of the barriers that you’ll encounter, and be prepared to address them. Not every student will be thrilled about learning online, but most will adapt, and many will come around to seeing the perks if you are able to engage them in your online lessons. 

Insurance For Your Tutoring Company Amidst COVID

Insurance For Your Tutoring Company Amidst COVID

Like many of you, I love tutoring because I love helping kids succeed. For almost twenty years of my teaching and tutoring career, I have most enjoyed helping students improve their writing. At its core, written words reflect our most innate and primal ability to connect with one another. Words, once written down, preserve us.

When I left formal teaching to focus on learning and technology, I still never wanted to permanently lose a connection to students or to teaching them how to write, so I focused one of my business practices on helping students with their college essays. Therefore, in addition to my normal duties running an ed tech consulting company, I work with several students every year to help them craft these personal, important and unique stories. 

COVID19, just as it has done with many businesses, has dramatically changed how I help these students. Most teenagers, their brains programmed for social activity, love active interaction among people. Therefore, when discussing a topic as personal and in some cases profoundly emotional as their story, students often want to work on their essays in person. But, in this current state of COVID19 risk and quarantines, I have had to alter how I approach these meetings and also how I structure my business practice.

One area of particular importance is how to create and insure a tutoring business. First, even if you just tutor a few students, you should set up as a business entity, such as a Limited Liability Company (LLC). Ashley S. Brooks, managing partner at Schroeder Brooks Law Firm, PLC explained to me, an LLC “protects members from personal liability for the debts of the entity and allows income to pass through the entity as personal income of the members.” I have an LLC for my tutoring business, but Ashley cautioned for others, “make sure to consult with a knowledgeable attorney to understand whether another structure is best for your needs and talk to an accountant who can address applicable tax issues.”  

Setting up the business entity then will allow you to pursue purchasing commercial insurance. In the age of COVID19, whether you are meeting in person or online, commercial insurance affords you a level of protection. As Andrew Farrarof Winters-Oliver Insurance Agency advised me when I asked what type of insurance start-up tutoring companies should get: “This depends on the type of school or tutoring program you have.  An online tutoring program where tutors and students only interact online does not need as much coverage as a daycare where young children are in the school’s care every day. The best way to find the right coverages is to ask similar organizations about their coverage, talk to a few agents, and give yourself at least a few weeks to work through the process.”

As with most major change, challenges and opportunities arise simultaneously. COVID19 has shut down many schools and in-person tutoring centers, opening new avenues to help kids online. People who did not previously have time or inclination to tutor are now doing so. It’s a great time to help solve some educational problems for kids, and make sure you have all the legal, tax, and insurance policies together in order to keep everyone safe and your new business thriving.

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