The secret to making money as a tutor

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Today I have a fabulous guest post by Ellie, who blogs at Frugality Gives Us Options. Ellie runs a successful business offering private tuition, and she has agreed to share some of her secrets with us. You can also find Ellie on Twitter

Up until 2010 I was a full time secondary school teacher. I loved the job, I loved supporting the students and watching them develop and gain in confidence and I loved the hustle and bustle of the busy classroom. Yes, the hours could be long but that was fine as the work was so rewarding.

In 2010 though my feelings changed: I had my second child and suddenly I didn’t know how I could possibly juggle being the mother I knew my kids deserved and the teacher my students deserved. I applied for flexible working, certain that my school would understand the challenges I faced and would want to keep me on …. it was refused.

I knew I couldn’t put myself in a 50+ hours a week role again after maternity leave and financially it made little sense too – my wage would be almost entirely eaten up by the childcare.

So I quit.

Just like that.

Now, I will say that I’m married and my husband works but I was also the main wage-earner at this point. Quitting with nothing to go to was terrifying but I knew it was the right decision. In the short term, I had my ingrained frugality to fall back on and act as a financial cushion. But longer term, I knew I needed to work. It wasn’t only about the money, it was about my self-esteem and being seen as a positive role model by my kids.

I applied to every single school within a 20 mile radius of my house for a part-time post and got nowhere. Like, nothing. So, with no other choice I registered as self-employed and became a private tutor.

I now earn at least £1,200 a month and work flexibly around my children in a job I love. Private tuition has completely changed our family’s life. Now work revolves around them, not the other way round.

If you’re thinking of becoming a private tutor there are a number of things you need to ask yourself.

  1. What skills do you need?

To be a private tutor it helps if you are already a teacher or have experience with the age of children you’ll be teaching. This could come from volunteering experience in a youth club, working as a teaching assistant or through another child-focussed professional role. You will also need to know your subject really well. If you’re not a teacher, you’ll need to make sure you are at least one educational level above your student. So if you’re tutoring a GCSE grade student you’ll need at least an A Level in what you’re tutoring. If you’re tutoring a primary aged child you won’t need to be so qualified but there are also fewer students of this age and the rates don’t tend to be as high.

You will also need to have an overview of the different exam boards’ GCSE specifications for all students from year 9 upwards. I’m an English teacher and at the start of the new academic year I read through all the exam boards’ specifications and make sure I am familiar with all the books for the literature part of the course. If you’re, say, a maths teacher you’ll need to know which part of the syllabus is tested on the calculator paper and which part on the non-calculator. History, what time periods? Do you know the main events of that period of time? In short, you need to know what the kids should be learning at school.

Crucially, as well as knowing what you need to know, you need to know what you don’t know. If a student is paying you decent money for an hour of your time you absolutely owe it to them to be honest about your ability to teach the topic you’re being paid for. For example, despite being an English teacher I do not tutor A Level English Literature students. This is because my degree is not in Literature and therefore I could not offer students good value for money.

  1. Where do you find your students?

Once you’ve decided whether tutoring is a good match for your skill set, you’ll need to start finding your students.

There are a number of ways to do this. You can place adverts in local libraries (probably only worth doing in more affluent areas) but you’ll have more potential views online. I found my first student through Facebook. I’d told friends and former colleagues online that I was starting tutoring and they spread the word for me.

I also bought my own domain name and set up a website. Luckily I have a techy brother who was able to turn my word document into a website. This is by far my biggest source of new students. On my website I include a recent photograph of myself, a basic biography, my qualifications and the rates I charge. As I gained more students I also added testimonials to the site and this led to receiving many more enquiries.

I also registered with a website called TutorHunt.com. They are free for tutors to register with but charge the student about £20 to get your details.

  1. How much should you charge?

This will depend on a number of factors including where in the country you are, what level you will be teaching and what your qualifications are. I charge £25 per hour which is normal for my location and my skill set. I’ve seen tutors around London charge much, much more than this. I also know that in some areas it would be difficult to charge as much as this. Using TutorHunt to research what other local tutors are charging is a useful starting point.

  1. Where does the tuition take place?

This is up to you. It is likely that you will get more students if you are willing to travel to them but you’ll need to weigh that against the time cost to you. When I first started tutoring privately I always travelled to my students as it was important to take any competitive edge over other, more established tutors. Now I’m established myself I teach mainly from home at times that fit around my family.

So there we are. Working as a private tutor offers the best of both worlds. I get to do an interesting, challenging, well-paid job I love but I also get to be around for my kids. If you’re considering becoming a private tutor, what’s stopping you?

7 Comments on “The secret to making money as a tutor”

  1. Great post.

    In addition to these points, tutor must be very patient and understand that each student learns differently and at a different pace. You should find a teaching style that fits each student.

  2. I have been contemplating on starting my own tutoring program and this post has really given me great perspective on how to go about it.

  3. Hi Emma,

    I’m currently working full time and I’ve also been tutoring Maths students in the evening.
    Now that the exams are here, the tutoring work has virtually stopped so I’m looking at ways of continuing to earn money utilising my skillset.
    What do you do during the lean times of the year?

    1. Diversify your income is my best advice. When times get tough, start thinking outside the box. What other skills do you have? Could you do some surveys?

    2. Hi Alex!

      I also teach math and spend my evenings tutoring for supplemental income. Depending on your schedule, you have a couple of options. Personally, I employ a bit of both to keep the extra $$$ coming in during the summer or breaks after exams are finished.

      1) Fill up your schedule after school to save up a next egg for when times get lean as you say. This has a few advantages. Obviously this will allow you to earn more so as to put some back for later, but the primary perk here is that it keeps your name out there for future prospective clients. As long as you continue to hone your skills and connect with students and parents, they will talk about you and business will spread via word of mouth (probably the best way to make a name for yourself).

      Another way this pays off in the long run is to let these long-term customers know that you will continue working with students during those down times to plant the idea that you will be available. Many times a simple reminder that you are still alive when school is out can work wonders. I’ve had numerous parents admit that the idea never crossed their minds to help ensure their children didn’t forget everything while not having class.

      2) The second relies a bit on the first in terms of promoting your services, but goes beyond. Depending on your skill level, summer classes meet at various age levels. Asking to advertise for yourself at a local school or university to let students and parents know you are available will continue to bring in new students, though still not quite as many as during the busiest tutoring times.

      Posting in these places is not simply to let students at these locations hear about you, however, In my experience these lists that schools keep can help parents who choose to home-school their children find you. These kiddos can have a drastically different schedule and can greatly supplement your off-season earnings.

      Ultimately, the limit to your extra income is only set by your efforts to promote yourself and desire to work after school. As long as you are cautious to allow for time to complete your duties for your job as well as throwing in some personal time to unwind, you can have a schedule that you are in charge of packed with eager young minds. Personally, I earn $1400 to $2300 each month working weekdays until 9 or 10, so I know it can be done!

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