Unlike a lot of people, I graduated college with a job. Unfortunately, that job immediately fell through. So, like a lot of people, I graduated college and was pretty quickly back in my parents’ house. I very quickly got tired of my mom’s dirty looks, and started applying for new jobs.
Then I got one: a tutoring job in Singapore. The tutoring part was not so new to me: I had always been good at taking tests, and I worked part-time as a tutor in college. But the Singapore part was, admittedly, quite new. I had never been to Singapore.
Related content: The Best Online Tutoring Jobs – A Flexible Way To Make More Money
But, I needed a job, and so off I went to Singapore. Singapore itself was awesome. It’s beautiful, incredibly convenient, safe, and has the best street food in the world. Seriously. I spent a couple dollars per meal, and I ate like a king. I was so happy.
My job, on the other hand, was not so great. I pretty quickly realized that this tutoring company raked in cash. They charged thousands of dollars per classes and hundreds of dollars per hour for private lessons. They paid me some small fraction of that, and kept the rest.
Now, I didn’t mind them making money, but what bothered me was that they provided nothing to me in return. I had no training, the materials were bogus, and, in the case of a customer dispute, well, I got chewed out. The only advantage they had over me was that they had customer leads. If I could get the same leads they did, I’d be set. I wouldn’t need them anymore.
So, I quit. I said goodbye to Singapore and its amazing food, packed my stuff, and headed back to the US. I decided to go to Cambridge, MA: I had spent a summer there and loved it, plus my brother was living there. It’s always good to be near family.
And it was there, on my brother’s sleeper sofa in Cambridge, that I started my tutoring business by posting an ad on Reddit. It read: “GMAT tutor offering free tutoring in exchange for testimonials” . I got some replies, and the rest was history (and a lot of hard work, experimentation, failure, long nights, etc).
A picture of me tutoring
What it entails to become a tutor
I tutor on my own. That means I spend my time in a coworking space, doing side projects (like writing this!) and prep work in between sessions. People contact me from my tutoring website looking for help on an exam. These people are usually about to graduate college or already working.
For example, I have quite a few clients right now from Harvard who are trying to ace the GRE to get into graduate school. I also have a couple clients who are in their late 20s, looking to take the GMAT to get into business school. And finally I have a client who’s in his mid 30s from Asia looking for a career change. It’s a good mix!
Once I get a message from a potential client, I put them through a tutoring sales process. This sales process isn’t super slick or anything. I start with a couple emails to get to know them and their situation. Then we have a phone call, so we can get to know each other. Lastly, we meet face to face, so we can make sure we’re on the same page about tutoring. I never wanted to become a sleazy salesman, making people pay for tutoring that wouldn’t be what they need. So my sales process is mostly just making sure we’re both going to be happy working with each other.
Anyhow, if we’re on the same page after the in-person meeting, we then start work together. Working on these exams is pretty intense, especially for people who aren’t used to that level of intellectual rigor. So, my job isn’t just to teach them the material on the exam, but also get them used to studying and working, so they don’t burn out or get lost in the material. More on that later.
I normally work with people for like 10-20 hours of in-person tutoring, which comes out to like 2-3 months. There’s a lot of temporary engagements, and it can get a little bewildering with the number of people who come in and out of my office. I rely a lot on spreadsheets that I have my students update, so that I can keep track of their progress.
Maybe a better question to ask about this hustle would be: who’d be interested in this job? Well, here’s who’d be interested:
Nerds. This job definitely appeals to my nerdy side. I’m spending all day every day doing algebra problems and logic puzzles.
People who don’t mind being alone. As an independent tutor, I spend a lot of time alone. My only real contact during the workday is with my clients. I don’t mind this for the most part, but it’d definitely be trouble for someone who did mind.
Self-starters. I’m my own boss, for better or for worse. If I don’t make myself do the work, the work does not get done.
How much it pays to learn how to become a tutor
I charge $125/hr for the easier exams (GRE and LSAT), and $160/hr for the harder exam (GMAT). Given that most people work with me for 10-20 hours, I make anywhere from $1250 to $3200 per client.
I usually work between 15-20 hours per week at this. So I make around 6 figures. In 2017, I made $90,189.
How others can get started with online tutoring jobs
Well, I actually made an entire website on how to start a tutoring business. The short version is this
1. Find a niche
This would preferably be a test that you’re an expert in. If you just tutor “math”, you can charge $20/hr to parents of elementary school students. If you tutor “GMAT math”, you can charge $160/hr.
2. Create an effective tutoring website
This website needs to portray you as someone that your clients can trust. Display your contact info, testimonials and reviews, scores, and affiliations prominently.
3. Develop a web presence
You need to be on Yelp and Google My Business so that people can find you. Next up? Start getting reviews on those sites.
4. Offer free tutoring for testimonials and reviews
It’s really hard to get clients without social proof. Those first few people who can offer you reviews and testimonials are golden.
The problems people run into as a tutor
Being a tutor is not that risky a job, obviously. There are some entrepreneurial ventures where you can get yourself into really deep water if you don’t pay attention. For instance, home contracting. If you don’t build the house correctly, it will fall down.
Tutoring, on the other hand, is not like that. Really the worst thing that can happen to you is that you end up annoying a client. There are two times when you can possibly annoy a client. The first is when you’re asking for money. The second is when you actually do the work.
People don’t like paying money. They’d much rather the money stays in their pocket rather than yours. They especially get suspicious when they feel like you’re trying to remove the money from their pocket in a sneaky or unexpected fashion.
The way I avoid disputes over money is just by being very upfront about it. I never work without being paid, and I ask for 5 or 10 hours payment in advance. This also solves the issue of no-shows. If they’ve already paid, then the no-show is just taken out of what they’ve paid.
People can also be understandably annoyed if they feel like you did a shoddy job tutoring them. As I mentioned, I charge $125-$160/hr. That’s a lot of money! People are entrusting me with their hopes and dreams (well, some of them, anyways), and I need to provide a quality service. If I don’t provide a quality service, they’ll be disappointed.
Solution to that is to get good at teaching! I’ve got some tips below that’ll help with that.
What I’ve learned about marketing as a tutor
When I first started my tutoring business, I had a lot of misconceptions about marketing. First of all, I thought that the biggest part of marketing was just “getting my name out there”. This caused me to waste a lot of time reaching out to (and annoying) friends and family and posting flyers.
Second of all, I thought that people were really concerned about price. I wasted way too much of my marketing efforts trying to advertise a “lower price than the competitor”.
In reality, as a tutor, you’re a skilled professional. The first, second, and third question people have about you is “Can I trust this person to get me the results I want to get?” If they don’t feel like they can trust you, it doesn’t matter what price you charge or whether or not they’ve heard of you.
So how did this change my marketing efforts?
Well, I stopped caring about any form of just “getting my name out there”. Stuff like flyers or newspaper ads means that people see your name, find out what you do, and forget it. Now I only focus on advertising that can convince people that I’m a trustworthy person, and they should contact me in order to find out how I can help them.
Included in this is that pricing takes a secondary role. People care about your pricing, of course, because if you charge a million dollars, nobody can take you up on your offering. But that’s not the most important thing most people care about. And, believe me, for the few who care primarily about your price, they are not the people you want as customers.
What I’ve learned about teaching as a tutor
Teaching, like driving, is something that a lot more people think they’re good at than actually are. Funnily enough, learning is the same way. For instance, a lot of people think that they’re bad at math, when they actually just never learned how to learn math.
So, as a tutor, you need to learn how to teach, and you need to learn how to learn, so you can teach others how to learn. I know that’s sounds like a riddle, but hear me out.
As a tutor, whatever you teach needs to be organized. Make sure your student knows exactly what the purpose of what they’re learning is, and why they’re learning it. The way I like to do this is by presenting students with the problem first. Then, if they attempt it and fail to do it, I show them the correct way.
When I see people teaching, the most common mistake I see people make is to operate in 2 modes: either tell the student exactly what to do, or don’t tell them anything. It’s an easy pattern to fall into, because the tutor first lectures about the problem, then just leaves the student to solve it on their own.
To be most helpful, the tutor needs to provide intermediate levels of guidance. So, perhaps you can start the problem for the student, but not finish it. Or, as the student is attempting the problem, you can ask them leading questions. This helps bridge the gap between seeing the tutor do the work, and doing it themselves.
When learning, the most common problem people have is that they don’t focus enough on things they have trouble with, and they don’t repeat themselves enough. Also, they don’t repeat themselves enough :p
In order to learn, you have to be willing to spend a lot of time struggling with concepts. Most importantly, you have to get things wrong. This is obvious, but you’d be amazed at how many people waste inordinate amounts of time studying for a test because they don’t try problems and get them wrong.
Another way that people learn inefficiently is by not going back and repeating problems. If a problem has given you trouble in the past, you need to repeat it until you understand the process. If you don’t repeat it, then that problem is just going to be a permanent hole in your knowledge.
Conclusion on how to become a tutor
Tutoring isn’t a business for everyone. It can be be a bit lonely, requires a high tolerance for academic work, and is, in the end, a business, with all the responsibilities a business entails. A tutor needs to market themselves, get payment from customers, and provide the customer with what they want, just like any other business.
But, for those who are up to it, being an independent tutor can be a great lifestyle and great source of income. I know I’ve enjoyed it, and I’m very happy that I took the leap from my brother’s couch those years ago.
Are you interested in learning how to become a tutor and finding online tutoring jobs?