Professional tutor and guest blogger Josh Sohn's advice on how tutors can land new clients.
The phone rings. It’s a number I don’t recognize, so I let it go. A few minutes later I get a voicemail notification that starts like this: “Hi Josh. I got your number from my friend. You worked with her son, who’s friends with my son…” It goes on for a little while but, eventually, we get to: “How much do you charge? Can you give me a call back as soon as possible? Thanks.”
Tutors need to tutor, and without calls like this, that can’t happen. I should be happy that someone is expressing interest in me. But turning that interest into an actual client will depend on what I do next. I’ve learned this the hard way.
The private tutoring industry is driven primarily by word-of-mouth recommendations. This is undeniable. Sure parents typically expect tutors to have expertise, meaningful tutoring experience, and occasionally even teaching certifications, but none of those things can hold a candle to one of their friends saying: Josh is really good.
Someone must have said something at least moderately positive about me to this woman because she’s called me. I sift through my schedule looking for thirty minutes to chat with her, and I’m pretty sure I know how it’ll go. She’ll explain to me that she meant to start looking for a tutor months ago, but her son was resistant. He’d promised to work through the several (!) prep books she’d so generously plunked down on his desk, but for some reason (wait for it) he just hadn’t gotten around to it. Then she’d talk about how she’d signed him for a prep class with “one of those big companies” but the class was Saturday mornings and involved taking lots of practice tests and, the truth is, he hated going and so eventually she just pulled him out. “He’s smart,” she’d say, “but he can be lazy.” Finally, she’d wend her way to the key question: how much do you charge?
In the past, here’s what would’ve happened: I’d have given her a number, she’d have promised to call me back, weeks would’ve elapsed with no call, I’d have called her back to offer a discounted rate at which point she’d have explained that she’d re-enrolled him in that class he’d hated or found someone cheaper or just bought him some more prep books and was hoping for the best.
Over time I started to suspect that it wasn’t the rate itself that was preventing me from closing clients. Could it be that most rate quotes sound high when they’re disassociated from actual products? I mean, when was the last time you bought something online that wasn’t pictured or didn’t have a single specific review attached to it. Sure there were some parents who’d heard enough good things about me and/or were so desperate for support that it didn’t matter, but I knew I could be better at converting phone calls into actual clients. I needed to become a closer.
So after years of tinkering and lots of phone calls that went nowhere, here’s what I’ve learned: when a parent asks you what you charge, ask them if they’d like to hear a bit about you: why you tutor, how long you’ve been doing it, what your own academic experience was. Explain to them that tutoring isn’t likely to be effective if the student isn’t truly enrolled in the process, so would they be interested in a free in-person consultation during which their son or daughter can ask questions and find out what tutoring will really entail?
Most parents will take you up on this and then when you finally present them with rate information — ideally written — it’s not just a number. It’s you: an in-the-flesh, engaging, energetic human sitting opposite them in their living room.
I’ve had more than a few friends and fellow tutors insist that a free tutoring consultation is a waste of everyone’s time. And there certainly have been parents who’ve accepted the in-person consultation and then still gone elsewhere for tutoring support. But as I’ve gotten more practiced at the pitch, those misses have grown fewer and further between.
Here’s what it boils down to: tutoring is a word of mouth industry, but it’s also a human-to-human relationship that you’re selling and the more specific and exceptional and real you are, the more likely it is you’ll close the deal.
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