The best job I ever had was being a homework helper when I was in high school to the kindest family in Turtle Bay. The only selling points I had were “lived seven blocks away” and “attended Trinity.” These days, in an ever-competitive tutoring market, I’m not sure my credentials would have cut it, but the demand for good tutors is higher than ever.
“It’s been the usual parent stress but on steroids during COVID-19, and even subtle issues are greatly magnified,” said Dr. Rebecca Mannis, Ph.D., an NYC-based learning specialist and founder of Ivy Prep Learning Center.
More families are relying on supplementary learning, from preschoolers who need extra help with reading all the way up to college-essay writing prep. The client base has also grown beyond traditional students.
“The tutoring market has expanded to include working professionals that have extra spare time and want to pursue their hobbies,” said Michelle Davies, founder of The Best Ever Guide to Life. “People want to sharpen their ‘fun’ skills, like speaking another language or playing guitar.”
So how can you stand out against the competition and grow your business? Here’s your roadmap to success.
Share your knowledge for free
Even well-to-do NYC parents love feeling like they’re getting bang for their buck.
“Be the expert in what you tutor, and share your approach and ideas often,” said Mary Miele, founder of Evolved Education. You can do this through social media blasts, e-mail newsletters, and even personal e-mails to potential clients and current customers. By doing this, you’ll stay top of mind. “People will think of you when they need what you provide,” said Miele.
Kristine Thorndyke, founder of TestPrepNerds.com, also urges tutors to provide free resources on their website (yes, you should have a website) as well as regularly penning high-quality blog posts. “It may be time-consuming to create these items, but it helps you compete against larger brands or companies that already have that trustworthiness built into their name,” Thorndyke said.
Another route is running free virtual (and eventually in-person) events as a way to recruit new clients.
“Offer free events for students and parents to make them aware of your company and start to build relationships with you,” said Lindsey Wander, founder of WorldWise Tutoring and the nonprofit Educate. Radiate. Elevate. “Advertise for free on Facebook and Eventbrite. Require their e-mail addresses to register, and add their contact info to your customer relationship management software to maintain contact with them.”
These events can run the gamut from a conversational French class to a history trivia game where the winning pupil gets a free session with you.
Excel at communicating
“Communication is at the heart of any great relationship, and tutoring is no different,” said Mara Koffmann, co-founder of Braintrust Tutors, an education company that connects certified teachers to children with different learning profiles (such as dyslexia, ADHD or executive dysfunction). “Reach out, follow up, share feedback, check in, give advice and ask questions.”
Above all, always be responsive to your clients and what they need, offered Miele. As you grow your client base, having happy customers can lead to word-of-mouth referrals, so going the extra mile can really make a difference. “Think about what your client needs and interview them. Ask: ‘What else could I be doing to help you or your child?’ ”
Establish your niche
“With endless tutoring companies and independent tutors out there, authenticity is the best tool we’ve got to stand out from the crowd,” said Koffmann. “None of us are the best at everything, but there are certain things we each do really well.”
For instance, there are plenty of chess tutors out there, but if you carve out a reputation as someone who works with certain skill levels based on ratings (beginner, expert, master level etc.), you’ll become a go-to in that field. Tutors, too, should always seek continued education in their area of expertise to grow. “Find colleagues whom you can draw upon to better your skills,” said Mannis.
Use both offline and online networking
As people safely — we hope — emerge from their COVID-19 cocoons, in-person conversations can be a key channel for growth.
“NYC is a great place for tutors to build a really great network by just being friendly. One of the things I love most about being a New Yorker are the random interactions you have on the sidewalk, in restaurants and cafés, on the street — there are endless opportunities to connect with people,” said Koffmann. “Find more opportunities to strike up a conversation. It’s free marketing, and it feels good.”
Online networking on platforms like Nextdoor and Facebook can be particularly fruitful, too. “Join Facebook groups that your targeted clientele are likely to be a part of. For example, ‘Moms of Northern Houston’ or ‘Chicago Parents,’ ” said Wander. “Then, once a week, use the search function to look for the keyword ‘tutor.’ Arrange those posts by most recent, and respond to any looking for tutor recommendations,” she said, noting that she has received at least 50 percent of her new clients this way.
Be savvy about setting your rate
“Look at what your competitors are charging, start lower and gather reviews and testimonials for your site from students until you can charge more,” said Thorndyke, noting that you should always factor-in lesson prep and commuting time if you’re tutoring in person.
If you have more experience and/or credentials, don’t hesitate to charge more, though. “I strongly believe that you should set rates based on the value you provide,” said Miele. “If you are an experienced tutor who delivers transformational results, your rate should reflect this.”
For example, teachers shouldn’t hesitate to ask for rates of $100 to $150 per hour, or more with a specialty and experience.
Clue in the parents
If you’re tutoring kids, don’t overlook the folks bankrolling the sessions. “Be sure to have some sort of progress report ready for the parents to look at to increase client satisfaction,” said Thorndyke. Debriefing parents regularly on their child’s progress will help build a sense of trust and make them more likely to want to continue working with you.
When you’ve established a rapport with a family, ask if they would be willing to share a testimonial on your Web site, highlighting specific ways in which their child benefited from working with you. “[You want to] quantify grade or score increases from students that you’ve tutored as proof of your service,” said Thorndyke.
The most successful tutors likely care about human connection, so don’t forget the opportunity to form lifelong bonds, either. My beloved Turtle Bay clients haven’t cut me a check in over a decade, but I’m writing this article from the patio of their house on the Jersey Shore.