[Interview] How to have a terrific tutoring year in 2013

January 4, 2013

Learn from the experience of Brian Scholten, a top WyzAnt Tutor

An interview with Brian Scholten, a top WyzAnt tutor.

Q: How did you get started on WyzAnt?

A: I started out on a total of 5 or 6 websites. My goal was to be in every tutor listing on the web and show up in the results when you perform a search online. Currently, WyzAnt is one of two remaining websites that I work with.

Q: What does your weekly schedule look like?

A: For the past two and a half years I have averaged about 65 hours a week - before that I tutored on a part-time basis, following in the footsteps of my mother. One of the most important things I do is to take at least one day off to myself. I didn’t do this at first. It’s nice to have this time dedicated to family or personal activities. Fridays are the best day I have found to take off. Sunday is the most popular tutoring day, so be prepared to tutor that day if you are willing.

Q: In your opinion, what makes you successful on WyzAnt?

A: I attribute my success to two things: One, I know competing rates in my area and how I compare. When I first began tutoring, I wanted to stay on the low tier of the average hourly rate, but not the absolute lowest. If you’re too much on the low end it can be a signal of poor quality. I have since raised my rates. And two, I tutor a diverse range of subjects.

Did you know? For WyzAnt tutors, the national average rate is around $42.43 but that number will vary depending on your location and subject.

Q: As you achieve more student demand through WyzAnt, it may make sense to raise your hourly rate. How do you handle communicating rate adjustments to parents and students without getting backlash from students and risking a negative review?

A: I have a policy of “Grandfathering.” The rate you started with is the rate you will have going forward. If you stop tutoring for a period of time then you will be subject to new rates. Make a policy for this and make sure to clearly communicate that to your students to avoid potential problems.

Q: With almost 1000 hours of tutoring and 291 ratings, you have never received less than a 5-star rating. In your opinion, how can you get good ratings?

A: Number one, care about your student. It’s very obvious when it’s just about the money versus when a tutor actually cares. Number two, act professionally. A large part of any business is customer service. An example of this: don’t be a stickler for time and expect to cut the lesson off in exactly an hour if you’re not at a natural end point. Additionally: be on time. This is where the 15-30 rule comes in. This is a very simple rule that I implemented early on in tutoring and has helped me enormously throughout my career thus far. For every 15 minutes of driving time between students, I give myself 30 minutes to do the drive. That's it. While you might lose 15 minutes of potential earnings, the benefits far outweigh the possible loss of earnings (and yes, I give myself a full hour or at least 45 minutes for students a half hour away).

When first starting out, that first 5-star rating is crucial to improving your standing. The next ones are also very important to prove that the first 5-star wasn't a fluke. Actual written reviews then help to solidify what a potential student learned about you from your rating, but they have to be meaningful. A quick "great tutor" review will just get passed over.

Q: Are you ever worried about coming across as too aggressive with students when asking for a review?

A: When it comes to reviews and ratings, I rarely ever need to ask for them, except if it is the last session with a long-term student. Instead, I have found it to be much more beneficial to focus on the lesson summaries; I advise most of my students to read them, and in that same email with the summary are the links to both the rating and review, so students have a higher chance of seeing those options and naturally doing them instead of me directly requesting them.

I didn't receive my first written review until after a year with WyzAnt, but it was by far my most powerful one, where the father wrote very specifically on how I helped his daughter, as well as how I conducted myself. I have had prospective students comment on how that review affected their decision to first seek me out. In my experience, quality almost always trumps quantity although both are important.

Q: How important is it to be flexible? Given the busy nature of students and parents, how do you manage cancellations and rescheduling while maintaining a full-time schedule?

A: My biggest tip for this is to conserve the cancellation policy. And, make sure you know what your cancellation policy is. For me, I don’t charge the first-time a student no-shows. I think it is a turn-off for new students [for tutors] to be really strict about the cancellation policy upon the first meeting.

While I think it’s important for you to be aware of your own policies, my philosophy in general is to not be overly upfront about rules at first. I am direct with the policies after the first time that a student cancels incorrectly, making sure both the parents and student understand it at that point. A good idea is to employ a two-tiered cancellation policy. If the tutor shows up for the lesson and the student is a no-show, then I charge one rate. However, if the student gives a couple hours of advance notice, then the tutor could charge a lesser rate.

Q: Based on your experience, what are the most important qualities of a tutor?

A: Be patient. Most tutors have some recollection of a class or subject that kicked their butt. Think back and put yourself in that position.

Be flexible, be ready for anything. There are things that students are being taught today that I was never taught at their age, such as different problem solving methods. You may have to teach yourself first and then be able to teach it to your students.

Always focus on reputation management. Always strive to be your best. Even if it’s a one-time test prep student, it’s possible that they can and will refer new students. Each student matters because they all have the power to refer and review. One of the ways to measure success as a tutor is the amount of student referrals you receive. If you are building up a student-to-student word-of-mouth referral network, it is the ultimate sign that you are doing something right.

Remember: referrals from WyzAnt students are also required to go through WyzAnt, but you get the 85% Rewards Rate for these students!

Q: Any suggestions that tutors can take advantage of right now to help their business?

  • Build your profile page. In your free response, be succinct and powerful. No one wants to read through an entire book, but they want to know who you are. You should include how long you've been a tutor, and your experience in your particular industry. Focus on your specialty if you are listed in multiple subjects.
  • Did you know? A profile with a photo gets 3X's the business as one without. Upload a photo now!
  • Scan the job postings regularly rather than waiting only for in-bound job requests; you want to be the first one to respond to new posts by potential students.

  • Email with care. If you mass email a large selection of students that aren’t a good fit, it could hurt your ranking in the search results. Instead of casting a large net to potential students who are unlikely to respond, focus on crafting meaningful responses to the job postings that are a good fit.

  • When you do email a potential new student, keep it professional and customize your responses. This means that you begin with a salutation, even if it is just a "Hello ___,", a brief description of yourself and why you think you are qualified to help them in this particular situation, and possibly a list of open time slots.

  • Get certified in all of the subjects that you feel you can handle and that you can effectively teach.

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