“Those that can do; those who can’t, teach”. As ridiculous quotes go, this one is right up there with the worst. You will be hard-pushed to find a more fulfilling role than that of a teacher.
Online tutoring takes many of the benefits of teaching (making a real difference, opportunities for fun, every day is different), adds flexibility to the curriculum, and then sends the drawbacks to detention (unruly classrooms, rigid hours, bad coffee).
In this post, we’ll show you everything you need to know about starting up your own online tutoring business, including some handy snippets from Sarah Brouner, founder of SB Tutoring.
Are you going it alone or joining an existing online tutoring business?
Before we jump into the steps of starting your own tutoring business, the first thing you should consider is whether you want to set yourself up with an existing online tutoring platform or if you truly want to go it alone. There are, of course, advantages and disadvantages to both.
By signing up for an existing platform (such as MyTutor, Tutor House, or Tutorful) you are relinquished of tasks such as setting up a website, looking for customers, and setting pricing. However, your take-home pay is going to take a hit.
On the other hand, by setting up as an independent online tutor, you will have to take care of everything involved with getting started yourself – with no guarantees of any students (aka customers). As is the case with building any business from the ground up, the risks are high, but so too are the rewards.
For the purposes of this post, let’s decide that you’re going it alone.
Attention class! Here are our 10 steps to starting an online tutoring business…
Step 1: Determine your subject
In all likelihood, this won’t take much consideration on your part, as you probably have an area (or areas) of expertise that you’re able to deliver tutoring on. Whilst online tutoring could potentially cover a huge range of subjects, the areas in which you’re most likely to find success will align with formal education.
You don’t need a qualification to become a tutor. However, having an appropriate qualification that matches up with your chosen subject will obviously enable you to deliver proficient tutorship on that topic.
Ultimately, it comes down to marketing. When looking for customers, regardless of the level at which you wish to provide tutoring, you must demonstrate to the parent/student that you know what you’re talking about.
Knowing the content of what you’re teaching is crucial. Parents and students need to know that you can deliver the specification or grade-level content to their child. Tutoring is currently unregulated, but looking like it’s moving towards regulation in the near future, so it’s important to distinguish yourself and stand out with either your qualifications or experience.
Step 2: Research your market
It’s vital that you look at what your competition is doing. This includes the large agencies that employ hundreds of tutors and small independent tutors.
Research every UK-based person and business that is providing tutoring services, paying particular attention to price points, the topics covered, the audience that they’re targetting and the type of language they use.
You should also subscribe to any mailing lists that they advertise (for example, their newsletter) and download any free resources that are available. You may also want to make a note of their social media accounts.
All this information should then be documented on a spreadsheet that is updated regularly. The simple act of checking up on your competition will not only help shape your business in the initial stages, but will also keep you up-to-date as the industry evolves.
Knowing what your competition does and doesn’t do well will come in remarkably handy when it comes to creating your offering. Doing your research helps you answer the basic questions, such as – what shall I charge? What area should I cover? Do I tutor online one-to-one or in groups?
Step 3: Get a Disclosure and Barring Services (DBS) check
As someone who will be working with youngsters, you must apply for, and obviously pass a DBS check. This is to demonstrate that you don’t have a criminal conviction that prevents you from working with children.
You can apply for a basic DBS check online here (this costs £18). All you’ll need to provide is:
- The address(es) where you have lived for the past 5 years
- National Insurance number
- Passport / Driving licence
Once complete, you will receive a certificate within 14 days.
Whilst not compulsory, you should also look at appropriate training programmes, to ensure you’re ready for working with children and everything that this entails. For example, the NSPCC provides a 3-hour ‘Child protection training for tutors’ course that’s CPD (Continuing Professional Development) certified and costs just £25.
Parents need to know their child is safe. Safeguarding is at the heart of my business. Ensure you have a DBS check prior to starting tuition, and sign up for the DBS update service. Alongside this, annual safeguarding training ensures you are up to date. I personally like the NSPCC, iHASCO, and the Qualified Tutor courses, all of which are very thorough.
Step 4: Test out your product
Before you go any further and start spending time and money on the business, you need to ascertain whether you’re any good at it and, just as importantly, whether you enjoy it.
For this, you’ll need a test student. If someone doesn’t immediately spring to mind, talk to your friends and family to see if they know someone. Make it clear that your services will be complimentary.
Once you have found a student (who we won’t refer to as a guinea pig!), you need to map out and prepare at least 5 ‘lessons’. These don’t need to be perfect, but they should provide genuine value to the student.
Then hold the lessons.
Once the sessions are complete, get feedback from the student. What went well? What didn’t? What improvements could be made?
And yes, ask yourself whether you enjoyed it.
I’m lucky enough to have two young children who I could test out different tutoring methods on. This was so helpful in helping me determine that I loved tutoring! It was also great from a practical level, as it helped me structure lessons – I could see when concentration was waning and what got them excited. Practice tutor sessions allowed me to also judge how long a session should be and how I can adjust this for different age groups.
Step 5: Choose your students
Are you happy to work with anyone, or is there an age group that you would prefer to focus on? You’ll need to work within the needs of the market and your own level of expertise (obviously you can’t teach something you don’t know).
For example, if you were a mathematics tutor, you could focus on 6-7 years old who are doing Key Stage 1 maths and are working towards their national tests. Alternatively, you may prefer to work with 15-16 years olds who are preparing for their GCSEs.
Consider your own teaching style. Is it better suited to young children or young adults? Or can you be flexible?
Admittedly, ‘choosing’ probably isn’t a luxury you will have at the start, but it’s certainly something you will need to consider as you start shaping your marketing.
When you first start out, you’ll probably say ‘yes’ to tutoring everyone and everything! However, as you develop as a tutor and gain a client base, you’ll find what you really enjoy doing and start to narrow down your offering, becoming more specific.
I started out tutoring from age 4 to age 18 and realised after a few years I really enjoyed preparing teenagers for their GCSE and A-level exams. I also realised I didn’t enjoy tutoring A-level Chemistry as much as A-level Biology, so I dropped tutoring Chemistry.
Step 6: Create a business plan
A business plan is a document that covers absolutely everything you currently know about your business. It should cover:
The idea is that you can give this document to someone who knows nothing about you or your proposed business, and then, just by reading this – they have a thorough idea of how you will reach your business goals.
The act of collating all of the necessary information will give you a foothold on where you currently stand. What areas have you got nailed down? Where are you struggling? Have you missed something obvious? Even if no one else ever sees the document, the process of building the business plan provides value in itself.
Having said this, if you are ever looking to seek funding, investors or creditors will most likely want to see a business plan, so writing one will be essential.
Don’t worry if this all sounds daunting, as we have written a blog dedicated to creating one: How to write a business plan as a start-up.
My business plan for SB Tutoring is very flexible and dynamic, especially as I may want to increase my offering at different times of the year. For example, I started with 2 hours a week, then planned to make this 10 hours a week in 6 months, then tutor 4 evenings a week and one weekend day. Now I work 6 days a week, with a mix of groups and one-to-one tuition both online and face-to-face. You can adjust your plan as you go.
Step 7: Refine your product
Now it’s time to get together everything you’ll need, to deliver a learning session that you will be comfortable charging for.
This includes a high-performing computer (and a backup if this stops working), good headphones and microphone, strong Wi-Fi, a printer, learning aids (such as textbooks and worksheets), as well as subject-specific equipment (for example, if you’re teaching geography, you’ll probably require maps).
You will need to ensure that you have the necessary meeting software installed on your computer. We recommend installing all the major platforms such as Zoom, Google Hangouts, Skype, and Microsoft Teams. You probably have a preference, but your students will too, so it pays to be flexible.
You must also pay attention to the environment in which you’ll be teaching from. Is the background appropriate? Is the lighting right? Will it be quiet at the time that you intend to tutor? Every detail matters.
I would suggest the bare minimum as an online tutor is a decent laptop. This really is where you do not want to scrimp on money. Investing in fast broadband and a Wi-Fi booster for your office is also a great choice. As a mathematics tutor, I need a good scientific calculator and up-to-date resources. There are tonnes of great websites with worksheets and resources for teachers and tutors. You may even like to create your own resources for your students.
Step 8: Protect your business with insurance and a cancellation policy
In an ideal world, under your tutorship, your students will receive amazing grades and will be delighted with your services. However, there may be times when a student (or guardian) is not satisfied with the service you have provided. It’s imperative that you have professional indemnity insurance to protect you and your business in these circumstances.
AXA, Direct Line, and Hiscox all provide insurance packages designed specifically for tutors. As well as including professional indemnity insurance, they also include public liability insurance (in case a student has an accident whilst under your care, if doing face-to-face tutoring), contents insurance, and equipment insurance.
Moving away from the insurance side of things, you should also think about drawing up a stringent cancellation policy. You may not always want to impose the policy (as this may increase your risk of losing customers), but it’s certainly useful to have something in place, as at the very least, it may make a student think twice before cancelling a session.
Professional indemnity is a must for any tutor, and will cover you against things like if you have tutored/taught the wrong area from a specification. It can feel like another expense, but it’s worth being covered.
It’s up to you if you want a cancellation policy, but I know if a client cancels at late notice, say within 24hrs, then I probably cannot fill that slot, so I’m out of pocket. I charge the client the full session cost if they cancel within 24 hrs, however, I do use my discretion in some cases. I had a client whose sibling had to be rushed to A&E, no parent can foresee this, so I waived the cost.
Step 9: Start marketing
The right marketing is absolutely essential for promoting your services and attracting new students. A website is the obvious starting point, but you may also find social media useful too, as you can be reactive to your audience.
Get involved in some Facebook groups and communities, telling appropriate people about your services. If you have the resources, create some short videos to showcase your expertise on platforms such as YouTube and Instagram. Create short lesson snippets that you can share on Twitter, with the goal of establishing yourself as a thought leader. The beauty of social media is that, on the whole, it’s free – so experiment with the different platforms to see what works for you.
Moving away from social media, local newsagents and supermarkets will often allow you to advertise via a local listings board for a small fee, so it’s worth consulting with them and then printing a small advert. Similarly, contact any schools, colleges, and universities in your area to see if they provide any listing opportunities.
They’re not for everyone, but you may also want to attend small business networking events, so you can meet like-minded people and share ideas. Even if the events aren’t dedicated to tutors, just surrounding yourself with fellow business owners could inspire you, and you also might make some useful contacts. Sites such as Eventbrite and Meetup are great for finding events and activities that may be relevant to you.
You could also create some free branded resources to showcase your services, qualifications, and tutoring style. As your business grows, these could feature testimonials from satisfied students. Likewise, as you become more established, encourage your students to review you on sites such as Facebook, Google, Trustpilot, and Yell.
As your customer base increases, you could launch a referral scheme where existing students introduce friends to your services – you then reward the introducer with free lessons or other incentives such as Amazon vouchers. It’s all about getting creative.
It was five years before I decided to build my own website, and I had plenty of work coming in at that time. When you start, you don’t need to rush and build a website; however, later down the line it does help to improve visibility, especially as an online tutor. My website has increased clients internationally and I now tutor via Zoom in the Middle East, South Africa, and all over the UK. To save costs, I built my own website, but it does take a lot of time.
I also make the most of free advertising on Facebook community and tutor sites each week. The Family Network UK allows you to post each Monday, and it has a Website Wednesday and a Facebook Friday, so that’s 3 times a week you can tell people about your business for free! I also recommend going to networking events either online or – even better – in person. If people meet you, you’re not just another online tutor, you are now a colleague or associate.
Step 10: Launch!
If you haven’t soft-launched already, you’re now in a good place to get out there and find some customers – yes, that may sound easier said than done!
Don’t worry if the initial sessions don’t go perfectly, as it’s all part of the learning process. All that matters is you learn from any mistakes you make and then improve upon your offering.
Getting feedback is fundamental to operating your online tutoring business, and whilst this is important throughout your journey, it’s vital at the very start when you’re still refining your service.
You’ll need to grow a thick skin, as students and parents may not hold back when it comes to the feedback that they provide you. Take everything on board, the positive and the negative. It’s the only way to perfect your product.
Getting your first student is so exciting and scary, it’s OK to be nervous. I find parents are quick to tell me if they feel tutoring is working or not. Their child will tell all! I often find parents are also super keen to let me know any test scores or mock exam results, so this gives me helpful feedback on whether they are finding tuition effective.
At the end of each year, I ask parents for testimonials or a reference. I can then use this to show to other parents, which helps with building trust with other families and clients. If I receive feedback on where I could improve, then I will go back to the family and ask how can I help them best, and what they need from me – I can use this information to make improvements. Usually though, every client is happy with the service!
A word on business structure
In the UK, there are a number of business structures that the prospective business owner can choose to move forward with, with the most popular being to set up as a limited company or as a sole trader.
We have written a blog dedicated to the advantages and disadvantages of both structures: What are the differences between a sole trader and a limited company? We recommend taking a look.
Here at 1st Formations, we specialise in the incorporation of limited companies. If you decide that you would like to start your online tutoring business as a limited company, we’d love to help.
Company formation packages start from £12.99 – all you need to do is pick your company name, choose your package, make payment, and then provide your company details. Your company will then be formed in a matter of hours!
Watch this video for a walkthrough of the company formation process, to see just how easy it is: How to form a UK limited company. If you have any questions, feel free to comment on this post and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.
Thanks for reading
Setting up as an online tutor can be a rewarding and fulfilling career choice. With the increasing demand for online learning, there are plenty of opportunities for tutors to find and connect with students from all over the world. By following our ‘10 steps to starting an online tutoring business’, you can create a successful online tutoring business that meets the needs of your students, while also achieving your personal and professional goals.
Remember to stay up-to-date with the latest trends in online education, continually improve your teaching skills, and be open to feedback and constructive criticism. With dedication, you can build a thriving online tutoring business!
We hope you have found this post helpful. Please leave a comment if you have any questions.
Thank you to Sarah Brouner for contributing to this post. If you would like to find out more about SB Tutoring, see the below links: