The three basics of being a successful, self-employed tutor

The three basics of being a successful self-employed tutor: Business, Academics & Personal life

You are a brilliant tutor and have a well-established list of long-term students who refer their friends to you constantly. You spend the time to prepare for each of your students and go the extra mile to be original, creative, and even more entertaining so your students learn effectively while enjoying their lessons with you. Your collection of testimonials is growing and now you almost do not even need to advertise… students call you only because they heard of you from someone else. You have turned into a tutoring celebrity keeping a busy schedule and at the same time desperately trying to sneak in a moment for a massage, run in the park, or even a quiet day of reading at home with your phone off.

Now that you have established your business, you will have the opportunity to step back and look at it as exactly… a business.You are your company. The sooner you realize this fact, the easier it will be for you to maintain it and further develop it. A very good start would be to write down everything that you have achieved so far and then list all the goals you foresee that you will achieve in the future. This simple exercise will give you direction – what are you aiming at? More clients? Sub-contracting other tutors? Increasing your price? Improving the quality of your service? Now that you have all answers (please remember that this is only a beginning point for you and your goals and perspective may change with circumstances or as time goes by) you can draw the map, which will get you there. Your map is your portfolio – business, academic, and personal.

Your business portfolio is going to provide the financials and business development information. Create a system of filing every piece of paper that will be relevant to your business. Example of documents you will need:

Revenue spreadsheets: expense and profit
Include both current (where you are) and future (where you want to be in a certain period of time). Record all discounts, sample lessons, promotions, etc. Include everything that brings or spends money from your bank account. The easiest way to keep track of all profit and expenses is by creating invoices/receipts for your clients. Number and date them and file them accordingly – by student name, by topic, or by date. Meanwhile, keep all receipts from your purchases and expenses for accurate calculation of your costs. Remember that as a business owner (even if you don’t have a registered company or business name you must keep these records; in Canada you don’t need to register a company if your revenue is under $30 000/year – consult with an accountant!) you must provide all income sources and write off eligible expenses when you file your income tax. Your business revenue is your personal revenue if you are a sole-proprietor or have a home-based business.

Marketing: Ad campaigns and referrals
Record all your advertising sources and keep track of how students hear about you. This will show you which sources are worth expanding and which you need to stay away from. For example, if you have been paying $100/month for a newspaper ad but no students actually found you through it, you will not need that expense and it is a dead-end source. If you spent 2 days and $200 to print and distribute flyers and 80% of your students come to you with this very flyer in hand, then maybe you should relocate the $100 from the newspaper ad into printing out more flyers and even pay someone to distribute them for you.

Keeping track of all referrals is extremely important. Who sent whom to you? Are you going to give some sort of reward for the person who referred 3 new students to you? Record all relationships of your students who refer other people to you. Maybe you have included a “buddy discount” in your ad campaign and now people are taking advantage of it. Make sure you know whom these people are. Give them incentive to keep sending you students and reward them for “working” for you.

Your academic “map” scripts who you are as a tutor and educator. This is your academic portfolio where you store your teaching materials, research, articles, professional development pieces, ready-to-use materials, demonstration materials, sample lessons plans, etc. This virtual academic bank starts with your educational philosophy and goals, and finishes… never. This is the ongoing work of a professional educator who collects, revisits, reflects and develops every artifact in it. Your academic portfolio will not only demonstrate your methodology and resources, but it will also help you organize your work as an educator. Remember to include your testimonials in this portfolio. There is nothing better than being able to open a page and show your potential clients what past students have said about you or what gifts they’ve given you. Choose the best format to represent your academic portfolio – paper-based, electronic (webpage, blog, etc.) or combined.

Your academic map will also include your students’ files. Keep track of what you teach. Knowing how your students progress and what you have already taught them is precious. It is very important that you include lesson plans you have already used – did they work? Why or why not? Every student has different interests and personality and you will benefit from keeping a diary of your interactions. Believe me, when you have so many students and so many lessons, you will start to forget or mix up students. This is a normal course of the tutoring process and you are not a robot or computer to memorize every little detail. That is why it is worth recording it instead.

That’s right! Your personal life also needs organizing. As you are your company, you need to make time for work and you need to make time for rest, vacation, coffee time, breaks, etc. Make sure you always have a calendar handy so you can record appointments, dinners, etc. There is nothing more embarrassing than calling a student to cancel a lesson because you forgot you had a hair appointment at the same time. A calendar is an excellent time-management tool which is a lifesaver when it comes to scheduling.