Now I'm ready to discuss how to handle the time in between your initial conversation with the client and the first tutoring session with your new student.
- Again, think Big Picture and think RESULTS. - What are your short- and long-term goals for this particular student? Why is his/her parent hiring you at this time? What results will the parent expect to see from their child? When parents send their children to public schools, they sometimes have lowered expectations because the education is free and the teachers have so many other students to work with. With tutoring, parents are shelling out hard-earned cash on a minute-by-minute basis and they want to see results. If they feel that you aren't working productively with their child, you won't last long as their tutor and your reputation will suffer. Always keep that goal in mind before every session. Aim to make specific progress during each and every hour of tutoring.
- Facilitate an Initial Meeting. - If at all possible, I'd recommend using your first session as a getting-to-know-you and goal-setting meeting with yourself, the student, and at least one of the parents.
Take copious notes during this conversation. Here are some of the things you should discuss at this initial meeting:
- Clarify the parents' expectations.
- Tell them a little about your lesson ideas and long-term strategies.
- Outline your invoicing and payment plans.
- Solicit tips for how best to work with the student's strengths and weaknesses.
- Inquire about what strategies have worked in the past and also which ones haven't worked.
- Ask if it's OK to contact the student's teacher for additional insight and progress reports. If it is, secure the contact information and follow-through at a later time.
- Ask for any materials that might be helpful for your sessions.
- Ensure that the session location will be quiet and conducive to studying.
- Let the parents know what you will require of them in order to maximize the effectiveness of your work.
- Clarify whether you should assign homework in addition to the homework the student will already have from regular school.
- Set Up the Ground Rules. - Just like in the regular classroom, students want to know where they stand with you and what's expected of them. Similar to the first day of school, discuss your rules and expectations, while letting the student know a little bit about you. Tell them how to handle their needs during the sessions, such as if they need a drink of water or to use the restroom. This is particularly important if you are tutoring in your own home, rather than the student's, because the student is your guest and will likely be uncomfortable at first. Encourage the student to ask as many questions as he or she needs to. This is one of the main benefits of one-on-one tutoring, of course.
- Stay Focused and On Task Every Minute. - Time is money with tutoring. As you get rolling with the student, set the tone for productive meetings where every minute counts. Keep the conversation focused on the work at hand and hold the student tightly accountable for the quality of his/her work.
- Consider Implementing a Form of Parent-Tutor Communication. - The parents want to know what you're doing with the student each session and how it relates to the goals you set. Consider communicating with the parents on a weekly basis, perhaps through email. Alternatively, you can type up a little half-sheet form where you can write some informative notes and have the student bring it home to his/her parents after each session. The more you communicate, the more your clients will see you as on-the-ball and worth their financial investment.
- Set Up a Tracking and Invoicing System. - Carefully track each hour for each client. I keep a paper calendar where I daily write down my tutoring hours. I decided to invoice on the 10th of each month. I acquired an invoice template through Microsoft Word and I send out my invoices over email. I request payment by check within 7 days of the invoice.
- Stay Organized and You'll Stay Productive. - Make a folder for each student where you will keep their contact information, as well as any notes about what you've already done with them, what you observe during your session, and what you plan to do in future sessions. That way, when your next session with that student approaches, you'll have a shorthand for knowing where you left off and what comes next.
- Consider your cancellation policy. - Children are so busy today and so many families are mixed and extended and not living all under the same roof. This makes for complicated situations. Emphasize to the parents how important it is to attend each session on time and without too many cancellations or changes. I instituted a 24-hour cancellation policy where I reserve the right to charge the full hourly rate if a session is canceled on short notice. For reliable clients who rarely cancel, I might not exercise this right. For troublesome clients who always seem to have an excuse, I have this policy in my back pocket. Use your best judgment, allow some leeway, and protect yourself and your schedule.
- Put Your Clients' Contact Information in Your Cell Phone. - You never know when something will come up and you will need to contact a client. When you're working for yourself, you need to maintain control over your situation, your schedule, and any extenuating factors. It's your name and reputation that are on the line. Treat your tutoring business with seriousness and diligence and you'll go far.
If you decide that tutoring is for you, I wish you lots of luck and I hope all of these tips have been helpful to you!