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Some wonder why tutoring when there is a purported teacher shortage in the United States? There are many answers, but the short list is demand, flexibility, and self-employment. In many parts of the country, tutors are in high demand. Witness the growth of commercial tutoring businesses in nearly every community in the past few years. Schools are tightening their standards and constant standardized testing means that parents have more information about how their children are really doing compared to peers. Grades can be arbitrary, but there’s something about scoring in the 25th percentile on one of those tests that gets noticed.
Teachers recommend extra help for those who are struggling, and parents, if they are at all able, will usually comply. Tutoring is also a flexible business. If you work on your own, you can set your own hours and rates. This is great for teachers who are raising their own children, and need to be free for chauffeuring little ones, helping with homework, and giving baths. Being self-employed means that there is no one except yourself to answer to, and no one but yourself to blame for your own success or lack thereof.
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What Does It Take to Tutor?
All it really takes to tutor is a greater knowledge of the subject than your students have. This is why peer tutoring is so popular at all levels: friends helping friends is as old as time. To set up a tutoring business, though, you will need to convince your clients that you are knowledgeable enough to get the job done. A teaching degree in your area of specialty is one way to do this. So is documented experience. Sometimes special training is available through community organizations, and sometimes you can rely on your education in fields outside of education.
When setting up any business, the first steps you need to take involve research about regulations. Contact your state’s Department of Education and inquire if tutors need any special licensing or permits. Connect with your county and city government agencies to learn about permits and zoning. Talk with a tax professional about filling out the proper paperwork and paying the right amounts to the right people. Don’t forget to speak with your insurance agent to be sure that your activities are within your policy’s guidelines.
Tutors need a place to work with their clients. This can be as simple as working at the kitchen table or as elaborate as a private office. Be sure that there is adequate light, ventilation, and functional furniture. Make sure that you are never alone with a child, for everyone’s protection.
Tutors also need some basic supplies. Workbooks, reference books, paper, pencils, a computer, and manipulatives such as flashcards and dice are a great start. A copier and/or printer is nice. Check your local teacher store for reproducible workbooks and related games. Talk to teachers, other tutors, and even parents and kids for ideas of what to do with students once you have them.
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Ten Strategies to Get Started
The next step is to get the word out. Clients need to know that you’ve set out your shingle and are ready to take on students. You may want to place an ad in the local papers, but that usually costs money and gets few results. Instead, try these low-tech strategies:
- Make up business cards and hand them out like candy. Leave them lying around and give them away.
- Put up signs on community bulletin boards.
- Offer discount and free session certificates to organizations that give away prizes to families with kids.
- Talk with school secretaries and guidance personnel. Let them know about your business.
- Volunteer with youth organizations and get to know parents. Offer your help when they share about kids struggling in school.
- Sponsor a children’s team that prints their sponsors on team shirts.
- Spread out beyond your local school district. In many areas, tutors are fairly rare and families are searching and can’t find the help they need.
- Consider a sign in your yard if that’s legal where you live.
- Build relationships with teachers so they will recommend you.
- Inquire with your local paper about a community interest story on your new business.
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Growing Your Tutoring Business
Once you have your first clients, make your service the best it can be. Grow a reputation for reliability, communication, extra services (like advice to try at home), and results. Set your fees below those of your competition and offer discounts for siblings. These simple tactics will quickly help you fill your schedule and even start a waiting list to keep you working for a long time to come.
Good tutors are in high demand, and the job can be highly rewarding. It has many of the same perks as teaching, including the satisfaction of helping young minds learn and creating relationships. It also allows you freedoms and creativity that you generally do not find in a school setting. It's worth considering if you need an alternative to classroom teaching.