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Best Marketing Strategies for Tutors and Tutoring Businesses

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Trevor Klee, a tutor with his own tutoring business

Last updated: 10/2/18

I have tried (and continue to try) many different marketing strategies as a tutor. Most of them did not work. This article is about marketing strategies that did work for me.

These recommendations are based on my experience in my niche, as well as conversations with other tutors. There may be other effective strategies out there, so you are welcome to experiment with others. If you ever want to test a marketing technique, I’d recommend you use the Traction framework

Without any further ado, the marketing techniques that worked for me as a tutor were:

  1. Google advertising (adwords and retargeting)
  2. Web presence
  3. Search engine optimization
  4. Selling peripheral products

The marketing strategies that have worked for other tutors I’ve talked to are:

  1. Targeted flyer bombing
  2. Craigslist

Before I discuss these, I want to discuss a bit about what you’re trying to accomplish with your marketing, and what to think about your overall marketing strategy. This might seem obvious, but I’ve seen a lot of tutors (and small business owners) make the mistake of thinking marketing is just about “getting your name out there”. There’s more to it than that.

How to market yourself as a tutor: what you’re trying to accomplish

As I discussed in my page on web presence and your tutoring brand, marketing yourself as a tutor isn’t just about letting potential customers know that you’re a tutor. If they know you’re one, great! But, how does that distinguish you from the 20,000 tutors out there?

Instead, your marketing needs to not only let me people know that you’re a tutor, but convince them to hire you. Obvious when I put it that way, right? Well, to put it a different way: your marketing needs to also communicate your brand. Your brand convinces people to hire you, and to pay you more than the other tutors out there. If there’s nobody who charges less than you, charge more!

Your brand as a tutor doesn’t have to be a slick metaphor or cutesy. Instead, your brand just needs to communicate this: I am a trustworthy person who can reliably get you to your goals. That’s it! So how do we do that?

Well, the simplest way is the four factors, as I discussed in my page on web presence. Namely, people are going to want to see your credentials, affiliations, social proof, and logistics before they want to hire you. The other side is that people are very lazy on the Internet, especially when looking at marketing.

A big part of our marketing efforts are going to be communicating our four factors in a way that compensates for people’s natural laziness and impatience. We’ll talk about that later. For now, let’s start talking about marketing strategies.

How I got more clients as a tutor: the best way to advertise tutoring services

I have tried a lot of different forms of paid advertising. I’ve tried print ads, Internet ads, sponsored postings, the lot. The only one that’s been really successful has been Google, and it’s the only one I still use. I pay between $100 and $200 a month on Adwords, and they’re worth every penny.

Adwords as a tutor

Adwords are the ads that appear when people search. These ads are fantastic, because you are reaching people literally when they are searching for it. It’s like if someone said at a party, “Oh hey, do you know the best widget spinner?” And then you burst through the wall like the Kool Aid man and say, “I’m an awesome widget spinner! Talk to me!”

Your Adwords should come in two flavors.

Adwords direct ads for your tutoring

These are the ads that you buy for keywords like “best math tutor in New York” or “SAT prep company”. Basically, it’s when people are searching to buy your exact services. This is obviously really, really valuable, and these ads will be very expensive per click (all AdWords are per click). Do not waste clicks, or you will waste a lot of money.

Adwords are an important part of how I market my tutoring. This picture shows my ad for GMAT tutor Boston.

You should be aware with these ads that Google tries to set up their ads to cost you as much money as possible. You need to go into the advanced settings and limit the location and keywords that your ads are set to. Google will encourage users in Timbuktu to click on your ads, but you do not want that (unless you’re located in Timbuktu). They will also encourage people searching “best free business consultants” to click on your ad, and you do not want that either.

Adwords long tail ads (not exactly for your tutoring)

These are the other sort of ads that you should buy. They’re cheap because they’re not obviously denoting direct interest. For instance, you might buy ads for searches for your competitor’s name, or ads for a complementary product’s name. Those are the easiest, then you have to get more creative for other long tail ads. If you want inspiration, use the Google keyword planner. Search some terms related to your business and see what comes up around them.

Longtail ads are an important part of how I market my tutoring. Here, I show how I run ads that show up when people search for Manhattan Prep GMAT.

Landing page is really important for these, as is copy. People will not expect you to sell your services on these searches, and they’ll be put off by it even if they click on your ad. Make sure you immediately explain how your page relates to their search, then your credentials, social proof, and an obvious means of contacting you. Once again, assume they’re impatient, but also assume they’re super confused as to why they’re being sold your services.

Retargeting your tutoring with Google Ads

Retargeting ads are so awesome. Basically, retargeting means that when people land on your website, Google notices that they landed on your website. Then your ads will follow them around the Internet no matter where they go. Amazon uses them all the time, if you’ve noticed ads for products you’ve looked at following you around the Internet.

They’re really cool because people will often look at your page when they’re weighing their options. This is a reminder of you as an option. Like, imagine if you were shopping for prom dresses, and you tried on 20. But the store clerk, for some reason, repeatedly reminded you of how pretty the backless dress in green was, as you were trying on all the different prom dresses. You’d buy the backless dress in green, right?

And retargeting ads are super cheap. They’re display ads (so mostly pictures, and not words), and you’re only bidding against yourself, so you will pay nothing for highly targeted ads. As I’ll talk about, this is also a huge incentive to get people to go to your website by any means necessary, because then you can sell them super cheap ads.

Unfortunately, it’s a total pain to set up Google retargeting. It took me forever, because Google has rules about how many people need to go to your website before they’ll allow you to retarget them. Just be patient while working through the process of setting up the ads, because they are 1000% worth it.

Always be experimenting with your tutor ads

I put this as a separate point because I think it’s really, really important. For both types of AdWords and for retargeting, you should always, always be experimenting with your ads. Change the wording, the images, and the landing pages. You will not get it right the first time. You need to figure out the most effective wording and images to get people to click on the ads, then the most effective landing pages to contact you.

It’s really easy to set up A/B experiments. First, find two (or three) configurations of wording that you like. Test them all out and see which gets the highest click through. Then, once you get the best there, find two or three configurations of landing pages that you like. Test them out and see what gets the highest contact rate (which you can figure out based on how many people click through).

Lather, rinse, repeat. Always be experimenting. If you don’t, you will waste money, and you won’t get the customer leads that you need.

Adwords is a crucial tool for me in gaining new clients. I experiment with it all the time. Here, I show 7 of the many variations on ads that I've tried for my tutoring marketing.

Each one of these is an ad variation that I’ve tested. This is only a fraction of all the ones I’ve tested. Seriously: always experiment!

Web presence: branding yourself as a tutor (your marketing plan for your tutoring business)

Your web presence is also a form of tutoring marketing strategy. If you show up online, and you convey your brand effectively, you will get clients from that. I don’t want to repeat myself too much from my previous article, but let me explain the specific parts of my web presence that were effective for marketing.

Constructively participating online in forums (and making it clear that I’m a tutor)

People discuss everything online over a variety of mediums. This should be obvious. One excellent way of getting clients is to participate in discussions, especially if you tutor online and aren’t limited to clients in your geographic location.

The forums I’ve participated in are primarily Reddit, GMATClub, and GREClub. The latter two are forums specific to the tests I specialize in. You’ll probably find similar to whatever you specialize in (if you don’t, create them!)

When you participate, it’s important to be constructive. Your goal is to portray yourself as someone knowledgeable, trustworthy, and able to help your tutoring client reach their goals. If people post looking for help, comment with something that helps them. Don’t sell your services in places where they’re unwanted or unexpected!

Instead, if you are helpful on the Internet, and clear about the fact that you are a tutor (hint: your username should have the word “tutor” in it), people will seek you out for themselves. If they don’t, you can still use online communities to your advantage. Here’s how:

Roughly 75% of your participation should be purely constructive commentary, with no commercial links. With the other 25%, you can

  1. Post blog posts that you’ve written. Your blog posts are on your website, which has clear links to contact you for your services, and has retargeting pixels to advertise to people who’ve visited you.
  2. Festoon your profile with links to your website and descriptions of your services. If it’s a forum, you can do the same thing with your signature.
  3. Post tools you’ve created that link back to your services. I’m a big fan of creating well-constructed Google Sheets that help people self-study. These Sheets contain links to my website.
  4. Offer free (or free-ish) content or services. This is purely an upsell: if people like your free stuff, they might pay you as well. For instance, I offered very cheap LSAT livestreams on Reddit.

In the end, you want to be seen as a valued member of the online community who also sells tutoring services. If people dislike you, or if people don’t know you tutor, you’ve wasted your time.

Online tutoring directories

There are a lot of online directories. The ones that every tutor has to be on are Yelp and Google My Business, which I discussed in my page on web presence.

However, there are others which can work as well. UniversityTutor has sent a few clients my way, which was well worth the half-hour I spent setting myself up there. Other, city-specific directories might be useful as well.

I’m not a huge fan of websites like Wyzant, Tutor.com, or similar. They ask for a lot and don’t give much back.

SEO for tutors

When people search on Google or Bing for terms related to your business, you want your website to pop up. SEO is how you do that. We already covered local SEO in web presence, but let’s talk about more general SEO.

Now, SEO is something that most people regard as black magic, but is actually super straightforward. Google wants to find websites that people want to read. That’s its business.

If you create a website that’s clearly laid out (using HTML standards like headers and paragraphs), containing information that people search for, Google will find your website and show it to people when they search. If it doesn’t find your website, you can submit it.

This should already be covered in the blog posts you’ve written, which should be included in the tutoring website that you’ve created. For more information about exactly what blog posts you should be creating, follow that link (hint: it’s not “5 ways to study for the SAT”). The only other thing I’d say is quality links from other websites are the most important thing for SEO. This makes sense: Google trusts websites that other websites trust.

On the other hand, this is frustrating, because it can seem a lot like a Catch-22. You need authority to get backlinks (because who’s going to link to a nobody?), but you can’t get authority without backlinks. This is when networking can come into play. Links from non-profits, established businesses, and established tutors or consultants can all help with SEO. The best way to get these links is to ask.

If you want to read more about just SEO related things, I highly recommend the AHRefs blog, which taught me a lot.

Peripheral products as tutoring marketing strategy

Developing and selling peripheral products are a great way of getting people to your website. I’ve developed and sold books, live video courses, and email courses. I wrote the books and the content for the email courses on Google Drive and recorded the videos on Youtube. Then, I sold them all through Gumroad.

Gumroad is a platform which makes it super convenient to sell your own content. They charge you a flat fee of $10/month to sell stuff on there, and you end up getting a solid, professional looking sales flow. I embed the Gumroad links right on my website (which is a straightforward process), and this allows me to retarget everyone who comes to buy content from my website.

Books are easiest to sell, because you just upload the pdf and people can buy it as they please. You can either set it as a flat fee, or as a “pay-what-you-want” with minimums. I do the latter, because people can be surprisingly generous. One of my books is offered for $1, and I regularly get people voluntarily paying $5 or $10 for it.

Using peripheral product as marketing strategy for tutoring.

One of my peripheral products on Gumroad. I made $400 from this!

I sold videos by uploading the videos on Youtube privately, so there was no way of finding the videos by searching. Then, I sold pdfs with the links to the Youtube videos in the pdf. Email courses were also sold as pdfs, except anyone who bought that specific pdf got a pre-programmed series of emails that followed. I marketed that course as a “Achieve Your Goal in 3 Months” sort of deal.

I market these peripheral products in the same way as I market myself: my credentials, proof of the products, social proof of the products. In this case, I put everything necessary on the cover of the book, because people judge books by their covers. Credentials, social proof (testimonials from initial users), and proof are all right there to be judged.

On a side note, Gumroad collects the email addresses of everyone who buys your products, and gives you a lot of tools to market to them. I’d say about 15% of people give me one time email addresses (so you can’t send them another message), and 85% of people give me their legitimate email addresses.

You should experiment with email marketing. I hear great things. Unfortunately, I really haven’t, so… I can’t say much more. Hey, I can’t do everything, right?

Tutoring advertising strategies that have worked for other tutors

I’ve met a lot of other tutors, and have had a lot of productive conversations with them. There are two marketing strategies that worked for other tutors that I thought I’d highlight here.

Tutoring flyers: targeted flyer bomb

One tutor who I talked to used to run her own tutoring service for schoolchildren, and for physics (I guess that’s what her niches ended up being). She used flyer bombs to advertise both.

For the schoolchildren, she would head to her local elementary school’s “Back to School Night” at the beginning of the year. She’d leave flyers underneath the windshield wipers of all the parents’ cars. If she could, she’d stick around and talk to the parents too. She said that was very effective for her, and helped her fill up her schedule fast.

For her physics tutoring, she’d head to the local college and leave flyers on all the seats before the first lecture. Presumably, this would require a bit of research to know where the physics lecture was being held. However, again, she said this was a very effective strategy.

And what do you put on your flyers? Well, experiment, but the four factors couldn’t go awry. If you’re worried that people won’t read the whole thing (which might be the case for a harried parent), then put the bare minimum information on your flyer, then a link to your website and your email.

Craigslist ads as a tutor

Oh, Craigslist. Almost every tutor I talked to has tried Craigslist at one point or another, even though Craigslist charges $5 a post now. I heard from people with a very, very wide range of outcomes, from quite successful with their ad to zero responses. The zero responses were more common, and, to be honest, few people reported more than a couple responses a month.

The success of Craigslist posts, in my estimation, depends on two things: the amount of competition and the quality of your post. There’s not a lot to be done about the amount of competition in a given niche, unless you want to try posting your ad in a different geographic location (which might be something worth trying).

The quality of your post, on the other hand, is something that you can obviously control. In terms of quality, my best advice for Craigslist is the same as for flyers. Make your four factors prominent, then include a link to your website and your email. If you’re worried that your Craigslist post is too cumbersome with all four factors, you can experiment with something snappier (like just social proof and logistics), and then a link to your website so people can find out more.

Tutoring marketing strategies that have failed for me as a tutor

Advertising tutoring on anywhere other than Google

Print ads as a tutor

I advertised both in my parents’ temple newsletter and in Harvard College’s newspapers. I didn’t get any results whatsoever. Quite frankly, I’m not sure who reads them. I got the sense that I could have advertised a free Lamborghini and would have had no leads.

Tutoring flyers anywhere I could post them

As I mentioned in another post, hundreds of flyers got me one lead, and he gave up before we started working together.

Yelp tutoring ads (not just the free posting)

Advertising with Yelp is strange. The first month I advertised with Yelp, I immediately got two really solid leads. I was delighted. Then, I advertised with Yelp for several more months, and got nothing. I looked it up online, and a lot of people have had a similar experience. Yelp is great when you try it at first, and then is terrible afterwards. I guess they only have a limited number of leads to go around, and dole them out disproportionately to new advertisers.

I gave up on Yelp after this experience. I still invested in reviews on Yelp, but I didn’t give them any more money. I have no regrets about this, especially as the minimum package is $300/month.

Also, be aware that Yelp has very pushy salespeople. They will call you up repeatedly and ask you for ads. Reports online say that if you are mean to them, they will demote your page. There have been lawsuits about it. So, once you decide not to advertise with Yelp, be very polite to their salespeople anyways. I usually tell them I’ve run out of budget.

Marketing strategy that didn't work for me as a tutor

Presumably, this is posted in every single Yelp office. That’s the only possible explanation for why they keep calling me.

Tutor Facebook ads

Ach, screw Facebook ads. They’re the worst. Basically, Facebook promises that you can use their advertising to pinpoint exactly the consumer that you want to advertise to. Do you sell penguin washing machines? You can advertise to dirty penguin owners in your area!

Unfortunately, the reality is much worse. You see, there are a lot of people who lie on Facebook about who they are and what they do. These are mostly bored, unemployed people. These are also the people who click on your Facebook ads, because they’re really bored and want to see what’s going on. Facebook, in its infinite wisdom, decides that your business, whatever it is, must therefore really want to appeal to bored, unemployed people, regardless of who you actually want to target.

Long story short, I wasted hundreds of dollars on Facebook before I tracked down the fact that everyone who clicked on my ads was bored, unemployed, and had lied about being in my target demographic. The only Facebook ads that even vaguely worked were when I just treated it like a billboard: location only, no demographics at all.

Don’t advertise with Facebook.

Tutoring LinkedIn ads

Same problem as Facebook. I thought I was advertising to people in my target demographic. Then I’d look at who actually clicked on my ads, and they were way, way out of my target demographic.

Bing ads for tutors

Nobody uses Bing. You’re welcome to try it, as Bing is pay per click, but you’re not going to have success.

Reddit tutoring ads

Reddit is actually alright to advertise on, but I couldn’t get enough out of it for the time I was putting into it. The plus side is that I could carefully target my ads to specific communities, and ads were pretty cheap. The downside is that there’s so, so much adblocking on Reddit. The communities I was advertising to are technologically adept and rather small (only like 5000 registered), so if a significant proportion block my ads, there really just weren’t enough people to make it worth my time.

I’d recommend you experiment with Reddit. If there are enough people in your target community, and not too many adblock, you might find that it’s worth your efforts.

Tutoring referrals from friends, family, schools, businesses, volunteer work, affiliated businesses

As you can see from this long list, I’ve tried to get referrals from basically everyone at some point in my life.

I tried to get referrals from my friends and family, and it didn’t work. I got a few conversations from it, but sooner or later it became very clear they weren’t actually interested in purchasing my services. They were only doing it as a favor to my friend or family member.

I tried to get referrals from schools and businesses, which also failed, mostly. I almost never got past the receptionist. Even when I did, I ran into the trouble that there’s nobody at a school or business responsible for this sort of thing. HR departments, even at places like Google, don’t have this in their purview. As I learned later, you can only get people to do things at an organization if it is explicitly their responsibility.

On the other hand, trying to get referrals from schools eventually led me to my job teaching GRE at MIT, so… it sort of worked?

Marketing strategies that didn't work for me as a tutor: referral hell

A visual representation of the business I’ve gotten through referrals.

If I had been better at networking, I probably would have been able to get some referrals from volunteer work. As it is, I quickly ran into the issue that talking to random people about my tutoring seemed grimy (which is probably part of the reason I’ve gone so far into inbound sales). All I managed to do was volunteer work, which was good for my soul, but thoroughly unhelpful for my bank account.

Last, I thought I struck gold when I started contacting business school consultants for referrals. Their clients must be taking the GMAT or GRE all the time, right? Well, as I found out, when I contacted business school consultants for referrals, they were looking for referrals from me. Nobody has referrals to give.

In retrospect, it would have been a good idea to just get links from their websites. That’s a good use of networking: to get backlinks to help your SEO. Well, live and learn!

Trevor Klee, a man who can teach you how to start a tutoring business

Not getting enough clients for your existing tutoring business? Want to charge more? Complaints about your teaching style? Let me help!