Social Media Strategy for Tutors

This last week has found me immersed in social media madness. Not only have I been reactivating old channels (hello, Twitter, my old friend,) but I’m finally delving into platforms like Instagram that I should have explored long ago.

Of course, dabbling in a social media channel can hardly be considered strategy. In fact, millions of would-be media mavens abandon their efforts every day, mainly because they didn’t have a plan in the first place. Thus, a big part of my strategy involves interlinking my channels through the magic of IFTTT and other autopublishing tools to make sure that fresh content persists through these various channels to reach the intended audience of each. Blog posts from the Chariot Learning website autopost to our company LinkedIn page and Twitter account. Instagram posts appear on our TestBeast Tumblr and my personal LinkedIn stream. Everything shows up on our Facebook page. This lattice of content doesn’t even include activity on Quora, Reddit, or whatever online forums make sense for a particular piece, but every action ties into what I hope is a unifying strategy.

Anyone grappling with questions related to content marketing and social media–which is to say, nearly everyone–should consider how closely their current activity aligns with their end goals. For example, if you run a boutique test prep firm, are you tailoring your message to your prospective clients? More important, are you broadcasting to your prospective clients or, more likely, just whistling in the wind? Social media strategy for tutors and everyone else should begin with a clear sense of who, what, where, when, why, and how.

WHO are you trying to reach?
Every aspect of your social media campaigns should appeal to your target buyer. For example, most K-12 tutors feel comfortable writing academic pieces targeted towards their ideal students. Unfortunately, a lot of that effort is wasted on the parents actually writing the checks.

WHAT should you post?
If your social media presence defines your brand, what values are you transmitting? Consider carefully, but also realize that many of your competitors don’t even have brands to define.

WHERE should you post?
Choice of social media channel depends on other aspects of your strategy. If, for example, you do want to connect with K-12 students, you probably don’t want to focus your efforts on Facebook and LinkedIn, though you’ll have more luck finding their parents on those sites.

WHEN should you post.
While each platfom requires its own optimal rhythm, the answer to when is never, “Intermittently, if at all.”

WHY are you posting in the first place?
Marketing wizard John Jantsch eloquently summarizes what most businesspeople aspire to in social media: “You must use content as your voice of strategy, and the best way to do this is to produce content that focuses on education and building trust – all based on your core business objectives and message.”

HOW can you execute effectively?
Every aspect of an effective social media presence taps a different competency, so build on your strengths. Educators, at least successful ones, excel at educating others, so tutors would do well to start there. However, real results come when you can continually grow and develop the diverse skill set required to move your strategy forward.

Developing your social media strategy should begin before you sign up for your first social channel, but never really ends. In fact, the longer you broadcast, the more focused your message may become. Start exploring and building your social brand as soon as you can begin answering the initial social media strategy questions. As your answers change, make sure your social strategy follows.

“You Helped Me A Lot”

As an education profession, you most likely come from a background of academic accomplishment. Perhaps you’ve always earned exceptional grades and honors, or, alternately, learned later in life how much you loved teaching. Educators typically bring tons of hard-learned theory to their lessons, just as test prep tutors arrive with a long trail of top test scores behind them.

None of that matters to your students.

Certainly, your background matters. Your personal academic achievement, alma mater, and years or decades of experience establish your bona fides. Yet, what do your test scores really matter unless you’re taking a test for someone else? (NOTE: Don’t take tests for other people!)

Our students don’t need our curriculum vitaes. They need to learn.

Our families don’t need our long-winded philosophies and ruminations. They need to learn.

Our paying clients don’t need stories of other students, no matter how many have come before, who have excelled. They themselves need to excel and earn the grades or scores that signal their desired levels of excellence.

What we need, when all is said and done, is to hear these magic words at the end of a lesson, a tutoring term, or academic year: “You helped me a lot.”

That help can manifest as deeper knowledge of a specific content area or skill, but concrete evidence in the form of higher grades or scores is even better. Whatever our students come to us needing help with should, at the end of a successful engagement, be measurably improved.

Forget job titles, past successes, or personal brilliance. You are not really teaching unless students are learning. Focus on that single fact every time you engage with students and clients. If you’re good–and a little lucky–you can hope to receive confirmation that you succeeded as an educator:

“You helped me a lot.”

A “thank you” would be nice as well. 😉

Responding to Students: The 24-Hour Rule

If teaching was ever a 9-5 gig, it certainly isn’t these days. Whether you’re working school hours, afterschool hours, extended break hours, or all of the above, you’re undoubtedly putting a ton of time into being an educator. Little wonder those messages from students and their parents that intrude upon your “free” time seem like they can wait another day or two.

And those messages pour in, don’t they? Every new communication channel opens another way for seemingly anyone at any time to fire off whatever questions or concerns pass their minds. Receiving an email or text in the middle of the night might have seemed odd at one time but appears to be the norm today.

Before you ignore that question from a student or parent, though, consider what inspired it in the first place. Most students, even the ones that love school, happily put thoughts of their teachers behind them until the next class or lesson. That means that a student that reaches out to you when school is out needs your help. The same applies to parents, who are not even remotely driven by an urge to annoy you but rather a need to help their children.

Basically, those off-hour messages are driven by pain, confusion, misunderstanding, or anxiety.

Letting your students suffer through the pain of misunderstanding longer than necessary isn’t great teaching. Even worse, for those of us in the for-profit sector of education, failure to respond to that pain is bad business. On the other hand, a swift and effective reply shows superb customer service.

My team and I adhere to a simple 24-hour rule for client contact: any message from a client should be responded to within 24 hours. Clients, as you might imagine, love our responsiveness. And we, as educators, embrace any opportunity to share knowledge and dispel confusion. Plus, comprising an enterprise entirely beholden to our clients for revenue, we appreciate the power inherent in being a solution and ally.

Replying within a day to a client message is easy. In fact, responding as soon as a message comes in takes it off your to-do list–a constantly nagging source of pressure–and places it into that far more satisfying DONE list. You obviously should not feel like you have to respond to messages in the middle of the night, but don’t imagine that you should wait a certain number of hours just to prove your independence. Any reply, even a brief response that promises a longer one later, sends a message that any teacher or service provider wants to send: you care and want to help.

Managing Excess Student Demand

Every entrepreneur experiences both dizzying heights of optimism and crushing depths of doubt, often in rapid succession. Starting a tutoring venture can launch you on a terrifying roller coaster ride of emotion, where every new inquiry and fresh rejection elicits screams. But if you can white-knuckle your way through the early part of the ride, you may find yourself somewhere entirely unexpected: with too many students.

That’s the dream that sets you on your independent course in the first place, isn’t it? Teachers go pro to attract their ideal students on their ideal terms in order to provide ideal service. But while everyone begins with the expectation of wild success, only some survive in business long enough to experience a taste of it. That’s when the teacher becomes the student, learning a lesson as old as time… the reward for excellent work is inevitably more of the same.

Exceptional educators, whether working alone or in groups, will eventually have to confront that moment when demand outstrips supply, when the number of teacher hours requested exceeds the number of hours you can teach. Too much of a good thing really can be a problem! If and when you reach this inflection point, resist the urge to stop picking up your phone. Every potential client you turn away will be another referral source for your competition, another voice in the marketplace speaking against you. Instead, consider ways to expand your capacity to meet excess student demand:

1. A WAITING LIST
You may be able to shuffle start and service times to accommodate the students with more pressing deadlines while keeping the rest warm.

2. EXPANDED SERVICE HOURS
First, take a close look at your tutilization to make sure you’re using your time wisely. Then consider adding additional days and times to your service schedule, at least temporarily.

3. CENTRAL LOCATION
If you tutor in students’ homes, you may be sacrificing too much time in travel. Try meet all your students at a reasonable independent location like a library or coffee shop. Consider whether you’ve even reached the point where your own tutoring space or home office makes sense.

4. CONSOLIDATED SESSIONS
Individual instruction may always be ideal but it’s not always necessary. Quite often, two or more students with similar goals and compatible personalities can work together to experience 99% of the benefit of 1-1 instruction. Match these students and offer persuasive discounts. Not only will your clients be happy for the service, but you will make more per hour than you would have sticking with single students at a time.

5. CLASSES
Small-group tutoring has its limits, generally topping out in manageability at four students at a time. When demand really spikes, your market may be signalling its readiness for class options, which can be a huge step forward in serving more clients at lower price points.

6. SCALING
Solo practices can weather the occasional spike in demand, but steadily increasing business signals the need to expand the number of teachers in your enterprise. If you haven’t yet planned to scale, take the time to imagine what expansion would look like for you. Envision whether you’ll want to work with partners, employees, or subcontractors, then start laying down the groundwork. The best time to find new help is about six months before you need it!

These are only some of the many ways to respond when demand for your educational services exceeds your current supply. What matters most is that you respond rather than hide from the opportunity. Make the right move and you’ll find yourself in a position to reap the rewards of your hard work. Make the wrong one and you may never have to worry about excess demand again.

Six Messages Every Tutor Should Send

Assumptions, according to Henry Winkler, are the termites of relationships. In this as in so many things, the Fonz makes a good point. Sound relationships depend on clear communication. Since neither education nor commerce can occur without student-teacher or buyer-seller relationships, those of us seeking to earn a profit from the successful instruction of others need to eliminate as many destructive assumptions as possible.

How can we ensure our clients understand not just our instructions and policies but also our professionalism and commitment to their success? Clear, consistent communication cultivates understanding, trust, and satisfaction in any relationship. Tutors, then, should aim to identify both who they are in professional relationships with and what they need to communicate.

You would think that, as educators, your students are your most important professional relationships. That may be true for professionals like graduate test prep tutors and executive coaches who serve adults, but educators who work with children serve many masters. Of course those kids matter. So do their parents, guardians, or whoever else ensures that the teaching relationship remains stable and the checks keep coming.

The misguided assumptions paying clients may have about you will always eat away at and undermine your professional relationship. Clear up any potential misunderstandings or misapprehensions by reaching out at key points:

1. WELCOME
Kick off your professional relationship with an email that outlines your background, expertise, and expectations. Make sure rates and terms are in writing, along with important policies regarding scheduling, material, and cancellations. A strong welcome message minimizes misunderstandings and sets a positive tone for your first session.

2. AFTER FIRST SESSION
Your first session with a student often determines everything after. Make sure your student recognized how amazing the session was by following up and asking–not in these exact words–“How did I do?” This unexpected contact may sometimes elicit unexpected feedback but always displays commitment to quality.

3. PRAISE
Find an opportunity to speak glowingly about a student’s effort, energy, or commitment. Focus not on numbers but on the actions that lead to improvement. While struggling students badly need encouragement, even star pupils appreciate recognition.

4. SCHEDULING
The clients who consistently arrive on time at the right location probably don’t need much prompting, but they tend to be the rare ones. Don’t hesitate to confirm time or place every once in a while. Also look for other opportunities to help clients plan ahead. For example, test prep tutors should reach out to remind clients about registration deadlines, perhaps even going so far as to ask whether certain students are registered for certain test dates.

5. WELL WISHES
When your student has worked for weeks or months towards a particularly important exam, show your support with a quick contact. The best luck comes from knowing someone cares.

6. RESULTS & REFERRALS
Your professional relationship as an educator always points towards a certain manifestation of achievement. Your performance may be judged by school grades or test scores or points on the field or polish on the stage, but, rest assured, your performance will be judged. Go after that good news by reaching out to find out how your student did when it counted. If your student excelled, you have your opening to request a referral, review, or testimonial. Better yet, ask for all of the above!

Client contact today occurs every day of the week across a variety of channels. Embrace that ongoing dialogue and make it work for you by communicating clearly and consistently in ways that inspire trust and appreciation. The fewer termites, the better your relationships!

Monthly Concerns for Students and Tutors Alike

Most independent service providers work reactively, in that they market broadly and respond to inquiries. For a successful practice, however, you should understand the challenges awaiting your client base just over the horizon and market accordingly. Understanding the flow of the academic year or testing calendar creates valuable structure to what often seems a chaotic flow of feast-or-famine activity.

For example, anyone serving the college/grad admissions market needs to understand the fall, spring, and summer semester structure of local colleges, including when finals and breaks fall. You’ll also need a firm grasp of the testing and admissions cycles for law, medical, business, and graduate schools if you prep for their respective entrance exams. When you know what big tests and deadlines lie ahead, you can guide your clients to make optimal scheduling choices.

The same general landmark apply to K-12 students. Obviously, elementary students don’t worry about entrance exams, but tutoring for them tends to be more in the vein of long-term enrichment or remediation anyway. High schoolers, on the other hand, confront a veritable gauntlet of academic and extracurricular commitments. The testing calendar for high school students in New York state looks something like this:

JANUARY – Midterms
FEBRUARY – ACT (only for non-center or out-of state testing)
MARCH – SAT
APRIL – ACT
MAY – APs, IBs, SAT, , SAT Subject Tests
JUNE – Finals, SAT, ACT, SAT Subject Tests, State Tests (Regents)
JULY – ACT (only for non-center or out-of state testing)
AUGUST – SAT
SEPTEMBER – ACT
OCTOBER – SAT, ACT, PSAT, SAT Subject Tests
NOVEMBER – IBs, SAT, SAT Subject Tests
DECEMBER – SAT, ACT

Recognizing monthly priorities ahead of time allows you to help your clients plan ahead. For example, December can feel slow heading into the holiday season. However, this may be the perfect time to help subject tutoring students prepare for important January midterms. July also represents a slow point in the calendars of even the busiest tutors, but the popular August SAT date now offers as worthy a target for summer prep as the trusty September ACT.

Your student base and local academic calendars will guide your appropriate focus every month, but you have to take the time to itemize priorities and determine how far in advance each needs to be addressed. The effort this activity requires pales in comparison to the overwhelming marketing and operational clarity a calendar like this brings to your tutoring practice.

Hidden Costs of Tutoring

Tutoring, at first glance, appears to be the perfect plug-and-play job. Multiply how much you think you should make per hour by your number of available hours, and you have a perfect prediction of how lucrative your tutoring career will be, right?

WRONG.

The ad hoc educator who succeeds in consistently booking all of his or her available hours undoubtedly worked hard to reach that enviable position. The ebb and flow of demand complicated by scheduling challenges that increase exponentially by the number of students on your roster conspire to create a discrepancy between your actual hours per week and your ideal hours, what I call maximum tutilization.

However, these hurdles to filling your optimal tutoring schedule represent obvious problems but not the only ones. Beneath this surface lie other, often overlooked requirements for a healthy tutoring practice. The time required to fulfill these obligations yield no direct compensation, but an independent educator won’t get paid without covering these hidden costs of tutoring:

MARKETING
How can prospective students find you if they’ve never even heard of you? Getting the word out requires use of both established (tutor boards, school lists) and personal (website, social media) platforms. First, you have to create the copy and promotional materials. Next, you have to distribute and connect. Then, you have to start over from the beginning again and again. Welcome to the wonderful world of marketing!

SALES
If your marketing efforts work, you can expect the phone to start ringing or your email inbox to begin filling. But contact does not necessarily mean contract. You have to sell a prospective clients on your services. Effective teachers, in my opinion, have a significant advantage in selling, but these conversations take time.

CURRICULUM & MATERIALS
Congratulations… you have a student! But what are you going to teach? Some subject tutoring assignments allow you to work from a student’s textbook. In other instances, you’ll need to rely on published review books or a full curriculum. If, in the case of test prep or other more involved engagements, you must work from a curriculum, how will you acquire or develop one? No matter your choice, you will have to invest time and money into what can be a very long process.

OVERHEAD
Once you’ve determined who and what you are tutoring, answer where. Operating out of your own space yields plenty of advantages but also requires the most substantial investment. No wonder most tutors opt to meet at students’ homes or at independent locations like libraries or coffee shops. At the very least, you’ll have to account for travel time, gas, and sometimes even tolls. Plus, if you meet at Starbucks, the cost of entry is at least a cup of (much-needed) coffee.

PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT
The last expense of a professional educator is, sadly, the one most often overlooked or ignored. Professionals in every field must work at their craft every year both to improve core skills and maintain proficiency in new standards, technologies, policies, and methods. Tutors who stop developing lose clients to those who continue to master the art and science of education.

Which hidden cost of tutoring takes up the most of your time?

Senders, Spenders, and Expenders

Very few tutors or test prep professionals consider teaching to be the toughest part of their job. Instead, they stress over the other functions of an effective education business, especially sales and marketing. But if you’ve enjoyed any level of success as a supplemental education provider, you’ve surely encountered a few clients that stood out from the pack either through their magnanimity or obtuseness. Always be on the lookout for these three client archetypes, two of which you should assiduously cultivate and one you should strenuously avoid.

SENDERS
If you excel at what you do–and you’d better if you want to succeed–you can count on acquiring some new students from referrals. Once you’ve been in business for a while and commit to tracking referrals like a professional, you’ll find that certain names come up again and again. You should expect this. Some clients are natural senders, meaning they love to refer favored providers to others in their social networks. Senders, also described by Malcom Gladwell as connectors, derive tremendous personal satisfaction from their role, so be sure to actively cultivate relationships with these community hubs.
STRATEGY: Strong word-of-mouth may be the only truly free marketing, but even this doesn’t occur without some investment of time and effort on your part. Senders make referrals not out of monetary interest but for social status. Thus, you should always reward your senders with recognition and gratitude.

SPENDERS
Every practice eventually picks up a client who, over the course of time, spends double, triple, or even considerably more than the average customer. Perhaps you’ve found a family with a lot of kids, or maybe just one student who needs a lot of support during the school year. In any case, when you work with spenders, find ways to reward their considerable investment in your shared success.
STRATEGY: Habitual spenders, meaning individuals who prefer to concentrate their business among few select providers, are often motivated by the perks such munificence often elicits. Consider someone who consistently patronizes the same restaurant; over time, that diner could reasonably expect the staff to recognize him, remember his regular order and preferences, and even reserve “his table” when possible. Cultivating the same familiarity and respect for spenders in your business will go much farther than discounts or other financial awards.

EXPENDERS
Have you ever worked with a client who just didn’t get it? By this, I’m not talking about students who struggle with academic material but rather their parents, who don’t seem to grasp the structure, timeline, or pricing of your programs… NOT MATTER HOW MANY TIMES YOU EXPLAIN IT. The trusty Pareto Principle applies in this instance as in all others: 20% of your clients are likely to take up 80% of your time. These expenders may mean well, but they will, if allowed, drive your morale down along with your margins.
STRATEGY: Learn to recognize expenders in advance in order to either turn them away or at least mitigate the time wasting damage they can do. Address typical concerns in advance with prewritten email responses and FAQ pages. Streamline your systems and simplify your processes. Give a little extra time to those who require it, understanding that most of your clients won’t be as needy. But don’t be afraid to pull the plug on a commercial relationship that drives you crazy!

Tutors and Gigging

Depending on where you grew up, the term “gigging” might conjure visions of frogs or fish at the end of a spear. But anyone with a background in music sees gigging in a different light and probably imagines desperate bands playing empty clubs, hoping against hope for a ticket to the big time. Sounds like tutoring, doesn’t it?

Gigging quite aptly describes the process of working one event at a time with the expectation (or dream) that each one will lead to the next and hopefully better one. Just about every band, from the one your dad played in to the one John Lennon played in, started in a cramped little nightclub or basement party. The best acts move from venue to venue, attracting fans, earnings, but–most important–opportunity as they go. The nobility in gigging lies in the premise that quality, commitment, and professionalism open doors to greater success. Sounds like tutoring, doesn’t it?

When you’re first starting out as a tutor, you think one student at a time. This makes sense, since the most important student is always the one in front of you. But on a practical level, your first student will probably teach you more than you teach him. We hope for easy students at first, the ones that learn quickly and smile readily. Every one, however, is a learning experience. Every one, if you learn fast enough, leads to the next.

Envision your dream career in education. Perhaps you aspire to teach on the undergraduate or graduate level. Maybe you simply want to become the highest paid private tutor in your field. You may possibly even want to start an education business that eventually sets the standard for instructional excellence while rewarding you with prosperity and satisfaction. Set those goals high! Remember, though, that your fantasies won’t become reality overnight, any more than a young performer can expect to jump from the local dive to a sold-out stadium overnight. We are all gigging. Bring your best to every lesson and, as one gig leads to the next, you may see all your dreams come true.

Assessing Understanding and Appreciation

As teachers, we should focus entirely or at least mostly on teaching, which is to say creating learning. If your students aren’t learning, after all, you can hardly call yourself a teacher, can you?

Fortunately, educators have all manner of assessment tools at their disposal, both criterion-referenced and norm-referenced. A well-designed battery of quizzes, tests, papers, and bigger tests measures signs of learning like knowledge acquisition and retention along with schema development and skill mastery.

However, tests can’t tell us the thing we should be measuring as often as possible: whether students actually found a lesson helpful. The world is full of students struggling to learn on their own in the face of bad teachers, those criminally ineffective educators who often do more harm than good to student interest and understanding. Guaranteed, if you’re in touch with your local school scene from kindergarten to post-graduate studies, you’ve heard of at least one notoriously terrible teacher or even department. These educational incompetents delay progress, blunt enthusiasm, and derail otherwise promising academic careers. Good thing you’re not ineffective, right?

But how do you know?

Most teachers rely solely on assessments to evaluate effectiveness, ironic in a world with so much hatred of tests. But evidence that a student learned something is not the same as evidence that you, the teacher, taught that student something. Nor can you consider the apparent expression of understanding or continued attendance as evidence that you, the teacher, taught that student something. In fact, the only way to really gauge both understanding from and appreciation of your efforts is to ask.

My bias stems from decades in test prep programs where assessments are fast and merciless: a student can take and score an official practice SAT in less than four hours, and even official results arrive mere weeks after testing. In addition, my current tutoring programs eschew contracts and packages in favor of week-to-week, pay-as-you-go instruction. So a student who found this week’s lesson useless will almost certainly drop before next week. In other words, I and my team do not take student appreciation for our efforts for granted, even when learning clearly occurs.

My ongoing scrutiny of student attention, interest, and understanding is buttressed by a single question at the end of a lesson: “Did you find this helpful?” If I’m unsure of the sincerity of the response, the follow-up may inquire about what specific parts of the lesson were most useful, but the initial query usually does the job. I learn, obviously, about whether and to what extent my pupil or pupils appreciated the lesson. But just as important, they learn that I care about their time and effort and share their goals for our time together. Teaching is a service business, so a little customer service goes a very long way.

Educators, as you undoubtedly hear all the time, change lives. Unfortunately, that change isn’t always positive. Make sure that your students aren’t just learning but actually learning from you. Acquiring that critical feedback can be easier than you’d think… just ask.

So, did you find this helpful? 😉