Starting Your Online Tutoring Business

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Step 1: Look into all of your options before starting your own online tutoring business

There are few things to consider before making the big decision, and I’ll go through them one at a time.

1. Going at it on your own is not the only option available. TeachersToGo.com; Eduboard.com; Tutor.com; tutorvista.com; there are many established online tutoring companies that allow you to work for them. Starting your own online tutoring business will require marketing, choosing your own payment system, and more. However, I hasten to add that none of these steps are insurmountable obstacles; in fact, as I hope to demonstrate, none of the steps are even particularly difficult. It is also important to keep in mind that tutoring companies and websites like the ones mentioned all charge a sizeable comission (generally from 20-60%). This means that you will make less money working as a tutor for one of these companies than if you successfully create your own thriving online tutoring business. To get more information on this subject, here are two superb websites to check out:

http://blog.tutorhub.com/2013/07/17/online-tutoring-a-do-it-yourself-guide-for-tutors/ – a good site to get both general information about tutoring, as well as recommendations for specific computer programs to use during your actual tutoring sessions.

https://education.skype.com/resources/577-21-things-you-absolutely-need-to-know-before-you-hire-an-online-tutor – this site provides a look at online tutoring from the customer’s perspective, including a detailed examination of the pros and cons of hiring a tutor from one of these tutoring sites.

2.  It is also important to mention that there are a number of websites that are not quite tutoring websites, but still sites that you might be interested in. It is worth exploring the web to find the right fit for you. Here are two of these more esoteric options:

www.Fiverr.com – on Fiverr you create a “gig” and then post it on the site. For example, your “gig” could be an offer to help with math homework. If someone is interested in your services, they will contact you via the website. Upon successful completion of the “gig” for a client, you will be rewarded with $5 for your services; hence the name of the site. (This may be an issue when it comes to reasonable rates, but might be an ok place to practice.)

www.Fittytown.com – similar to Fiverr but different in that each “gig” must cost exactly $50. This obviously means that the tasks that you are offering to complete must be more valuable.

3.  One concern you might have is about the concept of online tutoring itself, the idea that online tutoring is simply not as effective as face-to-face. It is true that online tutoring has a negative side. For example, it limits the ability to observe what are called paralinguistic cues – ie: body movements, facial expressions, and other forms of “physical speaking” that communicate information nonverbally. It is important to remember, however, that such difficulties are not insurmountable; mainly all that is required is getting comfortable with having conversations via video. It is also important not to overlook the huge benefits. For example, because tutoring online doesn’t require any of parties involved to travel, tutoring online is a huge timesaver. This means that new possibilities begin to emerge. Consider face to face tutoring for a moment: when both the teacher and the student have to spend time driving to a specific physical location, it doesn’t make sense to have a ten minute tutoring session because of the time lost in transit. In the online tutoring format, however, suddenly it becomes feasible to have these shorter, daily tutoring sessions.

Step 2: Get the Necessary Hardware

You will need a computer with a decent internet connection, a microphone, and a webcam. Generally speaking most computers today come packaged with both a microphone and a webcam. However, you might want to replace both the packaged microphone and the webcam if they don’t perform well.

If you are just starting out in online tutoring and need to purchase a computer, there are many affordable options to choose from, from refurbished systems to new desktops that are expressly built with the consumer on a budget in mind. The following is by no means a comprehensive list of sites, but simply a few of the many places to check out. It probably doesn’t need to be said, but make sure that, before you purchase anything, the system is capable of smoothly running video chatting applications. Just like the microphone and webcam, keep in mind that you now need a much higher level of performance since you will be using it for your business.

http://www.pcworld.com/product/collection/1646/top-10-value-desktop-pcs.html – A great website following the familiar “Top 10” schema.

http://abc13.com/archive/8781766/ and http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2374269,00.asp – These pair of articles will begin to give you a basic understanding of the value of refurbished computers

http://www.pcmag.com/article2/0,2817,2371334,00.asp – This is a good article to check out if you’re interested in specifically purchasing a laptop (rather than a desktop) on a budget.

Step 3: Choose a video communication service and accompanying software

Determining a video chatting platform that you will use to communicate with your students is a crucial step. If you are just starting out as an online tutor, I would recommend either Skype or Google Hangouts. Both are free, reliable, and easy to set up. Google Hangouts is especially notable because it allows easy integration with a variety of third party applications. Click on this link and follow the instructions to download Skype: http://www.skype.com/en/download-skype/skype-for-computer/. Click on this link to and follow the instructions to download Google Hangouts https://www.google.com/+/learnmore/hangouts/.

There are also numerous other video conferencing options to consider. Here are a few of the many other options available.

Vsee (free)- this is a good alternative to skype or google hangouts. Users typically praise its reliability and wealth of collaborative features, which include application sharing, file sharing, and desktop sharing.

Facetime (free)- Although it only works between Apple products, Facetime is known for providing one of the best user experiences: it is easy to set up and the call quality is generally excellent. However, it lacks some of the more collaborative features of some of the other widely known services.

Oovoo (free) – At one point endorsed by the House of Representatives, this web conferencing software is easy to use and easy to set up. It is also equipped with a robust sharing feature allowing you to share your desktop screen with another.

Webex ($24 per month) – a full-fledged web conferencing solution offering features including desktop sharing and an interactive whiteboard.

In addition to these video chatting platforms, there are also a few other pieces of accompanying software you might need. From online whiteboards to file sharing options, here are a few possibilities:

Google docs (Free)- allows for multiple people to edit the same document, at the same time, and see the results in real-time.

IDroo for skype- An interactive and collaborative whiteboard that works with skype.

Scribblar- similar to IDroo. A collaborative whiteboard that supports text chat.

 

To find more information on helpful software options, check out the following sites:

4Teachers.org: A great source that helps teachers find ways to integrate technology into classrooms.

http://blog.socrato.com/top-5-free-online-tutoring-tools/: Provides reviews of some of the best online tutoring tools.

http://www.teachthought.com/featured/25-tutoring-tools-for-the-21st-century/: Gives a dizzying number of various online products to consider.

           

As a final note on the subject, it is worth spending time learning as much as you can about your video communication service of choice. You will most likely have to guide your clients through the process of setting it up on their computers as well. In fact, if you want to optimize your chances of getting the most students possible, offer two or more of the most popular choices. (Many students tend to stick only to the ones they know, and will insist on not learning a new service or platform, but rather having you conform to theirs.)

Step 4: Get a PayPal Account

PayPal is by far the most convenient pay option available for online tutors. All that a client needs to make a payment is your email address. In order to make a payment, the client then goes to the PayPal website, clicks the “send” button on the top of the page, and then inputs the requisite information. Both you and they will receive an email confirmation recording the transaction. And that’s it.

Here are a few things to take note of in regards to payment:

  1. You will want to make sure to get paid before the actual tutoring session. It will likely be difficult to track down clients after the sessions are completed.
  2. You will want to create a “business” PayPal account as opposed to a “personal” PayPal account.
  3. Your earnings will be taxable.

Unfortunately, believe it or not, not every country accepts PayPal. For those that don’t, here are a few alternatives:

Alipay: One of China’s leading online payment exchange solutions. Considering its reputation as the PayPal of the east, this is the first one to try if PayPal is not available in your country.

Skrill: Formally known as Moneybookers, this service has completely rebranded itself and is now known to be both reliable and efficient. It is also available in Pakistan, a country covered by neither Paypal nor Alipay.

Amazon Webpay: Operates almost exactly like PayPal. Easy to use, and simple to set up.

Step 5: Market Yourself

Marketing yourself can take a variety of forms. Here are a few options, in no particular order:

  1. Check out Google AdWords. For a fee, you can advertise directly on Google. Check out http://www.google.com for more information. This, of course, requires money up front, and is also time consuming to learn. You also really have to be careful about setting the limits and watching your conversion rate, or you’ll spend way too much on leads that may not come through.
  2. Create a Facebook Presence- Create a Facebook profile at https://www.facebook.com/ and use it as an advertising platform to get the word out. Check out the profiles of fellow tutors to get an idea of what are acceptable and unacceptable forms of advertising in the Facebook community. For more information on using Facebook for business, https://econsultancy.com/blog/6249-ten-ways-to-advertise-your-business-on-facebook#i.1f9bbip1djzekf is a good place to start.
  3. Advertise on sites like Craigslist or Gumtree- at www.craigslist.org you can create adds advertising your tutoring service. For a detailed description of how to post ads on Craigslist, check out sites like http://www.wikihow.com/Sell-Items-on-Craigslist.
  4. Um, yeah…create a profile on Lrngo.com. Unlike other tutoring websites which take a fee for their marketing services, Lrngo is simply a medium through which thousands of people worldwide search to find, pay for and trade lessons with teachers & tutors, teachers and tutors who all keep 100% of their own pay. Go to www.lrngo.com to create a free profile. Because there are no fees, it also makes sense to link to the Lrngo profile from your Facebook, Craigslist and other advertising pages.
  5. Word of Mouth- The oldest form of advertising is one of the best. Very simply, people are more likely to pay attention when they are hearing an actual human speak rather than just reading words on a computer screen.

Don’t forget, at the end of the day, you choose who you are willing to teach. I would advise being very specific about the times you are willing to work and also about the clientele you are willing to work with.

Step 6: Decide how much to charge for a session

Online tutors generally charge between $30 and $80 an hour. As a proficient tutor just starting out in the online medium, it is often recommended to charge between $30 and $45. Of course, there is no hard and fast rule. Determining your price will take a little bit of research on your own part, examining, for example, how competitors are pricing their lessons.

Step 7: Examine the legal side of going into business for yourself

For instance, in the U.S., if you are self-employed with earnings of more than $600, reporting your income by filing a 1099 tax return is required.

Step 8: Talk to other online tutors

This is something that can never be emphasized enough. In order to really become effective at online tutoring, you’re going to want to learn as much as you can about it from talking with people who are respected in the field. While it is similar to face-to-face tutoring, it is obviously a different experience in a lot of ways. Talking to other online tutors and asking about how they made the transition from face-to-face tutoring to virtual tutoring is a great place to start.

Step 9: Getting used to working for yourself

This one can be a little harder than it initially sounds. Most people, having just started working for themselves, will be immensely productive because of the initial adrenaline rush for about two weeks or so. They will then hit a so-called “unproductive slump”; the lack of deadlines and hard and fast appointments can be difficult to manage. Here a few brief tips to cope with the change.

  1. Stick to your schedule- This is a big one. I know that you feel like you can take a longer lunch break now than you used to and that you feel like you can now run errands during the workday. Resist the urge. Don’t procrastinate. Force yourself to meet your deadlines and stay on task.
  2. Have a definite end to your workday- This will not always be possible, but having a clear end of your workday will help you keep your sanity.
  3. Prioritize- Lots to do and no time to do it? Know which tasks on your agenda or most important and don’t let yourself be bogged down minor tasks. Brainstorming on a lesson plan that you need by the afternoon takes precedent over making a craigslist advertisement.

Step 10: The Practice Run

Still feeling a little nervous about the whole experience? I would recommend two things: 1) Try practicing by tutoring someone in your family or someone who is a friend. If you know someone in your family or circle of friends who wants to learn more about a skill or knowledge you have, teach them a lesson for a half hour or hour to start, then ask for feedback. Realize that this will be different than teaching someone you don’t know, but it can be a helpful place to start. 2) Sign up if you haven’t already and use the Free Exchange on LRNGO.com to make a match and practice with people who want to teach and learn from each other. As you probably know already, you can do this in person or online, and both experiences are valuable for learning, sharpening and refining tutoring and teaching skills. Here are two possible ways that LRNGO’s Free Exchange can help you practice.

  • Use Lrngo to make a match and connect with someone who is interested in learning your subject of expertise, and who will teach you a subject that you want to learn in return. Are you interested in learning a little Spanish or figuring out how to solve a Rubik’s cube, or brushing up on your math skills? You can gain valuable teaching experience in exchange for free learning. For example, let’s say you are an English tutor who is interested in learning Spanish. Use the Free Exchange to contact someone who is interested in learning English but knows Spanish. You can then “exchange” languages. In other words, you will learn a skill you want to pick up, but you will also be able to practice teaching someone an expertise and gain valuable feedback and teaching experience.
  • You can also use Lrngo’s Free Exchange as a resource to connect with others who are interested in getting better at online tutoring and arrange a quick meeting. Even though as a premise you are meeting to exchange learning, you can just as easily see that you are also exchanging “teaching.” In other words, while taking turns learning from each other, you can help each other with the goal of becoming better online tutors, exchanging online tutoring tactics, practicing together, and supporting each other.

In essence, use the Free Exchange on LRNGO as a chance to build up experience teaching without the pressure. Then when you’re ready, you can list as a Private Instructor for a fee. As with any skill, I can’t emphasize enough how beneficial practice is to improving your tutoring ability and calming your nerves.

Remember to always ask the student about his or her goals and reasons for learning at the first lesson (or before). A good tutor or teacher will want to stay focused on how he or she can best help the student, and it’s helpful to know about the student’s expectations and why he or she wants to learn the subject. In the end, the result of helping someone learn and improve should be no different on video chat than it is in person.

The Radical Learning Exchange

Houston Language Partners Initiative

A learning exchange seminar at the public library.

I decided to come up for air this week long enough to write another blog.  (Yes, it’s been a while!)  I’m going to approach this topic for now from my perspective when dealing with a select few who, for whatever reason, don’t get the idea of free learning exchange.  The overwhelming majority I’ve encountered so far have been enthusiastic, but on those rare occasions when the idea has been met with disdain or indifference, I always wonder why.  What is it that bothers them?

The idea of learning exchange as it pertains to languages between adults has been around for years (if you’re reading my blog, chances are you’ve already heard the phrase “language exchange” across the internet), and the idea of a time bank barter system for services has been around at least since the early 1800’s.

Yet, most people today don’t think in terms of bartering services (or if they do, they have problems finding others who do), and almost no one thinks in terms of bartering knowledge other than languages (except on LRNGO of course!).  So why is that?

When I originally introduced the idea of a peer to peer language exchange community matchmaking program to a local library recently, the idea was met with “we already have a class for that.” “Really?”, I said, “that’s awesome.”  I soon found out she was referring to Spanish and English classes.

She couldn’t fathom, no matter how much I explained it, that 1. there could be a structure for people to match up and learn from each other 2. practicing one-to-one could bridge the disconnect between learning of the subject matter and the actual use in real world situations and 3. people would voluntarily match up to teach their native language in exchange for learning a second language from another person.

In short, I was unable to convince her of the value of learning exchange or to understand the dynamic of bio-feedback that is different when people learn from each other one-to-one.

“Of course, it doesn’t mean the classroom isn’t valuable,” I said, “in fact for many subjects, a structured curriculum is most highly recommended for a basic foundation.  However in those cases, people also almost always benefit from practice and additional feedback of one-to-one learning.  This is why tutors are so popular.” (Blank stare.)

The same week, I had another person tell me that language exchange sounds like a crazy idea because we would be trying to change people’s behavior, so he would need to see data to show that anyone would do it.  (I started to tell him about the 16 million users who at one time were doing it regularly on LiveMocha and other websites too numerous to mention, but decided to drop the subject when he said he had never heard of eBay.)

Finally, I got a very interesting response from a program coordinator at a large church when we talked to her about the idea of bringing a language exchange matching program for Spanish and English to their split congregation as a fun social and educational bridge.  “No thank you,” she said, “we like things the way they are.”  (It was the second part of that sentence that surprised me.  You can draw your own conclusions.)

So why does the idea seem so heretical to some to create a structure for people to match up and learn from each other?  At first, I thought perhaps it was because the idea that one can learn outside of a classroom (ie: the idea that learning takes place everywhere–insert annoying Alanis Morrissette song here) in some people’s minds competes with traditional learning—but as I poked and prodded the uninitiated nay-sayers, it became evident that was acceptable.  They generally got the idea of personal tutors, mentors and coaches—at least as classroom supplements, if not substitutes.

No, as I drilled down to the root of the issue in the case of the people above, it became evident that they started to feel uncomfortable when we removed both volunteerism and currency from the transaction.  They “get” the volunteering and they “get” paying, but for them, bartering knowledge was just a radical concept.

Daniel Ariely’s book “Predictably Irrational” offers some insight. Ariely argues that we live in two worlds simultaneously: The “Market World” where everything is rooted in the exchange of money, goods, competition and cost/benefit analysis; and the “Social World,” where we do favors for other people, and volunteer for charity and community organizations.

Ariely has a useful example to illustrate what happens when you mix the market world with the social world: A day care center was discontent that parents picked up their children late, so they introduced a fine to solve the problem—but instead of reducing the rate of late pickups, the rate rose higher.

Why? By introducing a fine, the day care center switched from the “Social World” to the “Market World,” and the parents felt it was ok to pick up their children late because they paid for it.  For the people I mentioned above, the concept of trading and exchanging knowledge took their social world and their market world, and turned them upside down.

This actually bugged me for a while.  Not because these people would never become LRNGO users (believe me, we don’t have room for everybody yet so I’m just fine with that), but sub-consciously I felt like I should be able to get everyone in the world to see the value in this.  I had shown them real people (both through our seminars and on LRNGO) who made lifelong friends through this process, people who had learned and achieved their goals, and people who thanked us for providing a no cost educational opportunity–all to no avail.

Then I remembered what else these people had in common.  They had never tried it.  In all of our speed-friending events and seminars we’ve ever given for learning exchange, the only complaint I’ve ever heard (other than parking) was that the event and time to meet people is too short.  After trying it, even those who don’t find the right match at first realize the value and opportunity that await when they do.  (It’s like “dating for the mind.”)

I remember one of our speakers, a multi-linguist who speaks seven languages (all learned through language exchange) passionately telling people if they try this, they won’t look at learning the same.  I heard from a member of the audience two months later who told me she found a language partner that night, and they were still meeting once a week…and I remembered his words, “Don’t talk about it, do it–it’s all around you, find someone and learn!”  The idea of social learning and learning exchange may be radical, but an idea is only valuable if you do it.

I no longer feel the need to convert those who are uninspired to the learning exchange concept, because I know they are inspired by other things.  Things they’ve done, things they know about, and things they’ve tried.  The next time I try to tell someone about something I’ve experienced that holds value to me, I’ll remember that too is an exchange, and not every exchange is the right match.  (But when it is, it’s magic.)  :-)

If you’re in the Houston area, feel free to contact me.  I would be happy to do a short 15 minute workshop to set up a learning exchange environment in any adult classroom.

The Educational Texting Epidemic

Like it or not, texting has become such a socially accepted form of communication that the mobile technology revolution now assures that it isn’t going away anytime soon.  In fact, after the recent online-boom of the last five years where social networking sites like Twitter have taken off like flies before the swatter, the human brain itself is beginning to crave smaller increments of information. Technology is changing the way we think.

First, we saw the nasty consequences of the texting epidemic for drivers that led to fatalities and eventually laws being passed in certain states like WA against it. The Federal government has stepped in and is now fully cracking down on what has been coined, “distracted driving.”

Then texting began to become a major disruption within both the real and virtual education worlds. The kicker is that while the more traditional education system can simply take away gadgetry before class begins, in a digital setting it’s much more difficult, and tutors are guilty as well!

The topic is becoming a flash point of heated debate, especially when it comes to the general education levels of the most technologically inundated generations in human history. Here is a really powerful quote from an article on the Huffington Post titled, Texting, The Next Epidemic: Our National Well-Being Is In Jeopardy.

“The time we used to spend reading and writing has been replaced with technological communication — mainly text messaging. One learns to communicate — learns to think, write and speak with clarity — by reading and writing. It is absolutely crucial that we do not become so hooked on using the shortcuts and codes of texting that we fail to develop into accomplished thinkers, writers and speakers.”

Why Texting Negatively Impacts A Learning Environment

An article by Olivia B. Waxman claims that “77 percent of teenagers (12-17) have cell phones, and 75 percent of all teens text.” This means that the chances of students texting when the teacher can’t see them, is incredibly high.

Whether in person or through a computer screen, the focus of thought is a crucial aspect in absorbing information. It’s true that the online realm has made younger kids perfectly capable of thinking about multiple things at once, but casually pondering and learning are two different things.

It’s impossible to really get the point of a lecture if throughout the entire thing Johnny has been texting Margaret and chatting about their relationship status. They have to mentally disengage instruction every few seconds completely, and then return in increments. It doesn’t work. Johnny and Margaret might as well not have been present at all.

The same thing goes for tutors that are distracted with texting while trying to conduct a private course on mathematics. At the end of the day, it drastically reduces the quality of any learning environment.

Turning Negatives Into Positives

Texting and mobile technology isn’t going away, and the more people try to push against it, the harder the transition is going to be.

There are really only two options, either you try to beat the texting problem by attempting to erase it through zero tolerance policies, or you adapt, overcome, and use texting to the advantage of everyone involved – students and teachers/tutors alike. Here are a few options that could be used or built upon.

Experiment with Group Texting

There are online tools such as Celly, WeTxt, or Remind101 out there that allow group setting environments to be created and shared between students and teachers. This could be a way for tutors to keep their students updated on what’s going on, and give students a way of communicating in a group setting that they’re extremely comfortable with.

It can go beyond texting. Teachers can attach coursework, resources, short studying tips, or other news to their texts. Likewise, students can send teachers their homework, ask questions, and give feedback.

Anonymous Texting Discussions

Why not hook up the class room computer, projector, and a text display. In fact, the teacher could project it behind the class where they can’t readily see it, and give the students free reign to ask questions via text. Once the instructor gets used to it, this could be a very time efficient tool. Students could share things with the teacher that they perhaps would otherwise be too shy to announce verbally.

Text-Based In-Class Polling

Both Socrative and PollEverywhere are applications that tutors and teachers can use to create polls or even quizzes that allow students to submit answers directly, which can then be displayed in seconds. Online tutors can use this medium to ask their students pertinent questions.

Admittedly, it may sound oversimplified to think we can make lemonade from lemons by using texting to our advantage.  However, rather than trying to fight the distractions, there are worse things than incorporating them into the learning environment and making the technology work for it instead of against it.