In August 2016, I was in an unusual predicament.
After 16 years of meticulously growing an independent tutoring business, I was almost completely booked for the upcoming school year. (That doesn’t usually happen for me until November, if it happens at all.) The sheer lack of anxiety was making me feel, well, anxious. But I was also extremely proud of what I’d accomplished. From all those train rides I’d taken to serve clients at the edges of New York to late night HW help to countless calls from worried parents, I’d fought hard for this moment. And while I’d embraced various technologies over the years, such as digitizing my calendar, electronic invoicing, and building my own library of review books etc., I was still devoting 15/20 hours each month managing my administrative and logistical responsibilities.
It was then that a mutual friend connected me to one of the co-founders of Clark. When we met in Union Square, she told about Human Ventures and her vision for Clark - then a fledgling tutoring-admin company. We also talked about my own journey as an entrepreneur and small business owner and how our goals might align. It was a wonderful conversation, but I didn’t see a Josh Sohn/Clark collaboration in my future. There was just too much at stake. I’d surmounted so many interpersonal and administrative challenges along the way that collaboration seemed destined to degrade my product. More specifically, I worried that partnering with Clark would leave clients feeling inconvenienced, and inconvenienced clients becoming former clients was terrifying, especially given my recent graduation from that unpleasant place.
Fortunately, the conversation continued and the more we talked, the more I began to see the potential upsides of enrolling in the Clark platform. The negative outcomes I was so terrified of weren’t just unlikely, they were virtually impossible given the specific technology Clark was deploying. What we were talking about - I now realize - was twofold: the logistical and philosophical implications of delegating administrative responsibilities.
I decided to list my top 3 concerns surrounding partnering with Clark and what might happen. I knew I wouldn’t be able to predict the future, but I knew that if I got specific about my uneasiness I’d have a far better chance of making the right decision about whether to hand over existing client information to Clark.
If you’re a tutor contemplating bringing a current client or two (or ten!) into the Clark family, this is for you.
Clients will have to communicate with Clark.
Best Case: The 50+ weekly correspondences (yes, really) I receive from parents, students, and teachers will migrate from my bloated Inbox to Clark’s. I will be thus restored 3-5 hours each week to do with however I see fit.
Realistic Case: Some individuals will communicate through Clark, but others will continue to reach out to me directly. I will save 1-2 hours each week.
Worst Case - Clients will be so put off by the request that they will angrily depart in search of a new tutor.
Analysis - The more I thought about this, the more ridiculous my concerns seemed. For starters, any client who utterly really didn’t want to alter the chain of correspondence wouldn’t be compelled to do so. And if the simple request resulted in them walking, then it probably wasn’t a healthy relationship to begin with. It also occurred to me that as clients grew more accustomed to the new communication protocol, I could conceivably funnel even more administrative responsibilities to Clark. It might even be good for the clients to have Clark on the other end of those messages, as that would probably mean quicker responses and a diminished chance of things slipping through the cracks. All told, the best case looked even better and even more likely as I looked further into the future.
Clients will have to pay by credit card instead of cash or check.
Best Case: All clients - especially the handful who are perpetually late with payments and/or inclined to haggle - will be seamlessly transitioned to credit card payments. This will result in me getting paid more promptly and with far less agitation than I’m used to. The boon in both time and irritation savings will far outweigh Clark’s fees, which were already miniscule compared to standard 50%+ take of other tutoring organizations.
Realistic Case: Some clients will move over to automatic credit card payments, but a few will resist. They will continue to insist on cash or checks, which will mean some (albeit less) continued administrative responsibilities on my part, though more guaranteed/timely payments than with me running all the logistics myself.
Worst Case: Clients will find the new payment procedure outrageous and will look for another tutor.
Analysis: Many people behave oddly when money is involved. Still, I couldn’t help but sense that more people would enroll in this new credit card arrangement than would decline. Not for my convenience, but for theirs. In an era of seemingly unending correspondences and electronic requests etc., Clark’s payment system (which required no action for me or the client beyond the initial onboarding) would probably appeal to most of my existing clients. It seemed to me that the “easy” clients would likely enroll and if only one of the “difficult” ones got on board, it would be an enormous win for me. To top it off, Clark’s promise to play the bad guy and collect from a delinquent client sounded extremely appealing.
Clients will now be receiving session reports, which means I’ll need to adapt my current progress tracking to the Clark model, which will take time and practice.
Best Case: Clark’s session report model won’t actually be that different from my own. Adapting will be easy and fast and ultimately allow me to deliver a more consistent, higher-end product to clients.
Realistic Case: I'll need to spend some time making adjustments to my current session report protocol but the benefit of having Clark share and store them all electronically will far outweigh the time spent upfront.
Worst Case: I’ll struggle with the format and my own organization to the extent that I’ll be perpetually late or just plain delinquent on reports. This will lead clients to feel cheated and disappointed and ultimately leave me in favor of a more streamlined tutoring operation.
Analysis: I’ve never been someone to shy away from work, especially when that work offers an opportunity to a) deliver a new service or feature which other tutors aren’t offering, b) make me better at what I do, and c) produce a better outcome for my students. It was at least possible that immediately writing/submitting reports for all of my sessions would compel me to think about tutoring in a more specific way than I previously had. Plus it would help keep my students prepared for sessions, and get parents more involved. The upside was astronomical: session reports represented a chance for me to improve my skills, become a more precious commodity within a highly competitive industry, and keep everyone aligned on the progress being made.
When I reviewed my analysis it was an easy call. The upside of collaborating with Clark so vastly outweighed the risks that I decided to jump aboard.
It’s been a year since our first conversation and the outlook is even brighter now. You see, Clark hasn’t just helped me better manage my administrative duties, thereby freeing me up to work more and relax more. They’ve also come to know my scheduling and administrative tendencies to the point that they can now resolve issues without me ever knowing a problem existed. And as Clark’s technology continues to sharpen and more tutors enroll, their product and value-add will only increase.
Deciding to partner with Clark is a highly personal decision and each tutor has unique challenges. If you’re not sure whether it’s the right move for you, I’d recommend giving Clark a try and carefully evaluating the results. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll see an immediate positive return and before long, you’ll be funneling all of your clients - new and old - through the Clark system.
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