Branding yourself as a tutor through web presence
Last updated: April 11, 2019
How to brand yourself as a tutor: my story
When I first started out as a tutor, I had zero name recognition, for obvious reasons. I was just some guy in Cambridge, MA, who wanted to tutor. This didn’t distinguish me at all from the approximately 20,000 other people in Cambridge who are also interested in tutoring. Cambridge is a very, very academic town.
So why would anybody hire me? I was smart, yeah, but so are lots of other people. I got good scores on the tests I teach, which did help set me apart, but it still wasn’t a lot. This wasn’t a purely academic question, of course. I lost a ton of clients to other tutors, simply because I didn’t have that much to set me apart. My tutoring was basically a commodity, which meant that nobody had any particular need to go to me for tutoring. They just needed a tutor.
Once I got tired of not making money (which was pretty quickly), I decided that I needed to un-commoditize myself. In other words, I needed to make people see my tutoring as something special, something that couldn’t be easily replaced by just another tutor. In other, other words, I needed to brand myself as a tutor.
In branding myself, I learned a few things. First, the simplest lesson: branding isn’t rocket science. I didn’t try to develop some really clever brand using elaborate metaphors. Instead, my branding focused on the idea that I was a tutor who was reliable and skilled at helping people achieve their goals. That was it.
Second, I learned that my goal was never to convince people that they needed tutoring. Nobody goes so far as to go on a tutoring website if they don’t already think they need tutoring. If someone just wants to buy a book and study on their own, I can’t compete with that. My goal is to convince people that, if they do hire a tutor, they should hire me.
Finally, I learned that most of my branding was going to happen through my web presence. Before people are interested in hiring you, they will be passively learning about you. So, your branding needs to shine through your web presence.
Web presence as your virtual tutoring storefront
The way I always think of web presence is as my virtual storefront. Let me use an analogy: in my neighborhood, there’s a woodworking shop. They hold classes, sell woodworking stuff, and seem to be good at woodworking things. If I’m being vague, it’s because I have literally never done any woodworking in my life, and I’ve only been to that store once. When I did go, it was to fix a lock on my door, and they very kindly directed me to a locksmith instead.
I still know about them though. If any of my neighbors are ever looking for anything to do with woodworking, I’ll direct them to that store. The next time I need to do woodworking, I’ll go to that store. Why do I know about them? Because I walk by them every day, of course.
My goal with my web presence is to accomplish the same. I want to be a tutor that people know about, and trust. Even if people aren’t looking for a tutor with my specific skills right now, they’ll know I exist. They’ll tell their friends about me.
Now, the obvious question: how do I do that?
The practicalities of branding your tutoring through web presence
When you present your tutoring on the web, you should keep in mind a few things.
First, you need to make sure that your tutoring persona is getting in front of the right people. Almost everyone on the web is not interested in hiring you for tutoring. In fact, it is a statistically insignificant number of people who are interested in hiring you for tutoring. Your goal, then, is to make sure that people who are looking for tutoring are aware of your presence.
Second, you can safely assume that everyone on the Internet generally has a very limited attention span. People can focus on one thing only if it interests them or directly benefits them. Your tutoring presentation is almost certainly not going to be something that interests or benefits them, so present your tutoring in a way that acknowledges their limited attention span.
The only exception is when you are writing something about your tutoring that is designed to interest or benefit them. Presenting the reasons they should hire you does not count.
Third and most importantly, when people are looking to hire you, they are probably looking to see your four factors (which I’ll discuss later), and then they will look to contact you. Make that easy for them! It’s lucky that you’ve been put in front of someone who’s looking to hire you. It’s highly probable that they are impatient. So make it easy for them to see your factors and to contact you.
The two groups of people who need to be aware of your tutoring business are your friends/acquaintances, and everyone else. So let’s cover web presence for those.
Letting your friends and acquaintances know that you’re a tutor through web presence for referrals
This is easy. First of all, change your job on Facebook. Everyone sees that, and Facebook will notify people that your job title has changed. If you’d like, add a bit of detail about what you specialize in and a link to your website. Then don’t do anything more on Facebook, because nobody likes people who spam about their businesses on Facebook.
Second, change your job title on LinkedIn. This is where people actually brag and talk about their career, and it’ll also show up high on Google Search results. If people want to contact you, give them a website link. You can also give them your email, but that will open you up to the spam bots that trawl LinkedIn.
And…that’s it for letting your friends and acquaintances know. If your experience is anything like mine, you will not really get much out of your friends and acquaintances. Tutoring is just too rare of a need.
Branding yourself as a tutor to the world at large through web presence
Okay, so this is the part that actually matters. Your web presence works in 3 important ways: Google results that are related to your business, Google results that are directly about your business, and Yelp results. Let’s cover them one at a time.
One big avenue for my web presence is through SEO, specifically longtail SEO. I’ve been tutoring for several years now. I’ve written a lot of guides and created several tools to help people on the tests that I teach. I’ve also spent a lot of time constructively participating online, sharing my knowledge. This means that I’ve left a large digital footprint, making it easy for people to find me.
For example, I am very big believer in error logs as learning tools. So I’ve created some, and shared it with the world at large. When people search for GMAT error log, they see:
Or, if people are looking to compare the merits of various practice tests:
Of course, very few people who look at this stuff will actually end up contacting me. It doesn’t matter, though! Hundreds of people look at all the guides and resources that I’ve published every month. I don’t need that many of them to contact me to fill up my schedule.
I talk more about longtail SEO in marketing, but, the important thing is this: as long as you’re publishing things that people will search for, and as long as you’re making guides and tools that people will use (and publicizing those guides and tools), you will be helping your own cause.
Local SEO for tutoring: when people search for your business niche
Local SEO for tutoring is a super important part of your web presence. That’s when people are searching for phrases like “Boston GMAT tutor” or “best Cambridge LSAT tutor”. They are very valuable, and so there’s a lot of competition for these spots. Let me show you.
This sort of web presence is very valuable, precisely because everybody uses Google, and nobody goes past the first page of search results. It takes time, though, and a lot of work. There’s more to it than I want to get into right now.
There is another form of local SEO, though, that’s easier. That’s when you search on Google for “GMAT tutor near me”, or something similar. That’s just a competition with other people on Google My Business, and only those within the immediate geographic area. Reviews on your Google My Business page help a lot, here. I’ve found it much easier to rank highly on these local searches than on actual Google searches.
Yelp for your web presence
Last are Yelp results. A lot of people trust Yelp, and will use it as their main way to find local services. Even if they don’t, Yelp always appears highly in Google search results. So, from early on, I’ve made sure to get a Yelp page and get reviews on it. This has paid off dividends in how highly I appear in search, as you can see.
By the way, something important to note here. According to Yelp, you should never ask any of your clientele for reviews. They have good intentions here, but that’s ridiculous, in my opinion. Reviews are incredibly important, but nobody has ever left me an unsolicited review, because I know each of my clients personally. It’s very difficult to leave a review for someone that you have spent a minimum of 10 hours one on one with.
So, if I feel like I’ve gotten along particularly well with someone, I ask them to leave me a review on Yelp. Be careful, though!. Yelp hides reviews of people who have only 1 review (i.e. of you) or 0 friends. I mean they literally hide them. Look at the screenshot below.
Therefore, when people do agree to leave me reviews, I now explicitly instruct them to review several other places beforehand, wait a couple days, then leave me a review. It’s more annoying for my clients, and it’s unfortunate, but it’s the only way I can guarantee the reviews aren’t hidden.
Your web presence as your tutoring brand: four factors
As I’ve said before, your web presence isn’t just letting people know you exist, though. Web presence is about branding yourself. How should you brand yourself? Well, I’ve got a better question: why should people hire you as a tutor?
So, why would anyone hire you as a tutor? Four reasons:
- Your credentials
- Your affiliations
- The social proof of your effectiveness
- Your logistics (schedule, location, pricing)
When people are choosing to hire a tutor, they are going to consider those four factors. They will not necessarily consider all of them equally (some people are price insensitive, some people don’t care about credentials). It is to your advantage, though, to make those four factors as obvious as possible, because people will need to see them before they hire you. If you make it hard to find them (or, even worse, make people ask you for them), you will lose sales to people’s natural laziness.
And, be aware, people are incredibly lazy. They will look for your 4 factors without realizing it, and then click away if they don’t see it. Don’t let that happen! Make your four factors super obvious everywhere: your tutoring website, Google My Business, Yelp. Everywhere.
Brand factor 1: tutoring credentials
A tutor’s credentials are not entirely straightforward. There are no governing agencies for tutoring (thank the Lord), and no licensing exams. So, how can you get the little pieces of paper that tell people you’re legitimate?
Simple: you make your credentials up. Not that you fake the pieces of paper, but you create their importance. In my case, I emphasize my Ivy League undergraduate education, the academic awards I’ve won, and the scores I’ve gotten on standardized tests. This is especially useful for me because I specialize in test prep.
My credentials are standard, good credentials, but they’re not the only ones. In the test prep company I used to work for, the website emphasizes the business school the founders went to, the “trademarks” on the teaching method, and the fact that the company experienced mild success in creating their own business school test.
You can copy my made up credentials, my former employer’s made-up credentials, or make up your own. You just need some pieces of paper that tell people you’re legitimate.
Brand factor 2: Tutoring affiliations
When I first started, everyone told me that I should have some statistics to tell people. Something like “65% of people who study with me get an 80 point boost”. Well, I never developed those statistics, and nobody’s ever asked about them.
If people do ask, they normally say something like “Have you ever had a client like me who did well?” Then I tell them stories of clients like them.
So, that exact idea (the statistics idea) isn’t really important, even if people tell you it is. But, the idea behind that idea is sound. You need some sort of proof of your effectiveness. Your proof, however, is going to, once again, be made up.
In this case you’ll be in good company, to be honest. My mom is a doctor, and she was never asked to produce statistics about the outcomes of her patients. I’ve never met a lawyer who produces those sorts of statistics either. Instead, what you’re going to do for proof is to piggyback off of established institutions or organizations through affiliations.
In my case, this was quite straightforward. Early on, I was fortunate enough to get a job doing GRE prep at MIT. This gave me money, which was great, because I used it to buy things. But, this also gave me practical proof of my effectiveness. MIT apparently trusted me enough to let me teach their students. Therefore, I implied, other people could trust me to teach their students as well.
Now, my former employer takes a different tact. If we look at their front page again, we’ll notice they use newspaper articles they’ve been mentioned in, their government registration, and schools they’ve partnered as their practical proof. It’s important to note that these “proofs” are made up, in the sense that none of them were awards for how good they are at teaching.
The newspaper articles reported on their attempts to create a new business school test, the government registration is a legal formality, and the partnerships are to help the schools find new students in Singapore. But, they could still use these as practical proofs anyways!
Your practical proofs can be any affiliation, really. You likely won’t have any when you’re just starting out, but you can seek out established institutions or companies as affiliations to “prove” that you’re a qualified tutor.
The Internet age has brought us a great many marvels. One of these marvels is the abundance of social proof that has come with the proliferation of review sites. Simply put, potential clients want to know that other people have worked with you before and liked you. Nobody wants to be your first.
Now, if you play this right, this is actually an advantage of working out of a co-working space vs being in a storefront. In a storefront, traditional social proof was just what people said about a store, or how many people were in the store at any given time.
The former was hard for the store to monitor, the latter was hard for the store to control. As an independent tutor, you don’t have to play by these rules.
Your social proof is going to come in the form of reviews on Google My Business (the review cards that come up when you Google a store), Yelp, and testimonials. In order to get these reviews, you’re first going to need to set your business up on GMB and Yelp , then you’re going to need to solicit reviews. I know Yelp says not to solicit reviews, but whatever.
Once you get the reviews, that’s your social proof! Don’t just leave the reviews on the site, either: take them to your site, so people don’t have to leave your website to see your social proof. Take a look at how I do it.
When I first started out, I knew that social proof was incredibly important for me to get. So I actually posted on reddit asking people if I could tutor them for free in exchange for reviews and testimonials. Many people agreed, and then a few actually became my clients afterwards. I’ve often regarded that as one of the most valuable investments of time I made when I started out.
Brand factor 4: Logistics for your tutoring
Logistics are both important and hard to change. We’ll cover the important ones in sequence: location, schedule, and pricing.
Location: where you tutor
To be honest, I moved to Boston in part because I thought it’d be a good place to tutor. There are a lot of colleges and graduate schools here, and I thought there’d also be a lot of people looking for tutoring. I was correct. If I had tried to tutor for graduate school exams in Podunk, Michigan, I would have had a tougher time of it.
I also thought a lot about location when I was picking co-working spaces. I’ve worked in two co-working spaces, and both of them have been very easy to access by public transportation.
A lot of people use public transportation in Boston, and if I was working in a place that was hard to get to via public transportation, I’d just be shooting myself in the foot. Also, it’d be annoying for my own commute.
Fortunately, as a tutor, your business is entirely possible to conduct online. In fact, I do conduct a lot of my business online, and for that I just rely on a speedy Internet connection, which I have at home and at work.
I video chat over Skype or Google Hangouts, and, when I need to illustrate something, just share my screen and use the OneNote app on my computer (I have a Surface Pro, which lets me draw on it). Before that, I’d just use Google Draw and draw on that while sharing my screen.
You probably can’t choose where you live, so my advice would be to pick a location to work that’s easy to get to and rely on a speedy Internet connection if they’re too far away.
Personally, I never travel to clients’ locations. That costs money (in terms of car wear and gas), takes a lot of unpaid time, and is generally unpleasant. So, that’s another advantage of a nice coworking space: it’s a good reason to refuse to travel to people.
Scheduling your tutoring
Being a full time tutor unfortunately means giving up the 9-5. You have to work when people are free, because it’s a little too much to ask them to take off work for you every week. I limit my own tutoring schedule to 7 days a week, 10 am to 8 pm. Admittedly, that’s not ideal, but that’s the way it is.
For you, the worst reason to not get a client is because your schedules just don’t match up. So, especially when you start out, be flexible! Work when people want to work with you.
What to charge for your tutoring
Ah, the dreaded topic. It’s uncomfortable to bring up and uncomfortable to talk about. So, let’s clear the air first. Here’s what I charge.
That’s way more than what I charged when I first started out. It’s a lot of money. And yet, it’s still less than, what, say, Manhattan Prep charges.
There are two contradictory facts about pricing that we need to consider before we can discuss how much you should charge. The first is that people want to pay less. The second is that people think cheaper things are worse than expensive things. It’s your job to find an amount that people are happy paying you and also will respect you for.
To find this, I’d recommend you experiment. I’ve done a lot of experimenting with my pricing, which is how I’ve come up with my current prices. If you’re looking for a place to start, I’d recommend you charge more than 75% of all prices you see online. That way you’re not the most expensive option, but you still clearly position yourself as premium.
On a side note, one thing I’ve found works for me is allowing people to bargain. First of all, although I’m sure I get paid less than I could, I don’t run the risk of losing clients because they’re afraid they’re getting ripped off. Second of all, I often feel guilty about how much I charge, and this assuages my guilt.
Final thoughts about branding yourself as a tutor and web presence
Branding yourself is very important. It starts before someone even thinks of hiring you, and needs to continue all the way through until they pay you. Even as you’re meeting with someone in person, you need to communicate the idea that you are a trustworthy tutor who can help them achieve their goals.
If you can do that, you will be successful as a tutor.