Once you’re confident enough with your online tutoring skills, the next stage is to find students.
Enter Dr Leo Evans, Co-founder of The Profs, Spires online tutoring and founder of BitPaper.
You thought you were busy ?
I caught up with Leo recently to talk about our shared interest -all things online tutoring.
You run an online only tutoring agency – tell me how that came about?
So it became clear very quickly through running a tuition agency in London (The Profs) that students wanted access to our professional tutors in other parts of the UK and also internationally. We knew that the only way to do so was through online tuition and so we set about developing methodologies and technologies (BitPaper) that would allow us to create a market for online tutors (Spires). We are trying to bring online tutoring into the mainstream. We are convinced that a trained and experienced professional tutor can deliver a better teaching experience to students online using all the benefits of modern technology.
What do you see as the benefits of online tutoring?
For the tutor: Access to a much wider range of students, without the hassle of traveling to tutor them. It opens you up to the lucrative international student market basically. Teaching from the comfort of your home is not only quicker and more convenient, but you can also work at more anti-social hours and dramatically boost your effective hourly pay. One can also make use of cutting-edge technology to make quality and reusable teaching materials and use session recording to create permanent and shareable videos for your tutees.
For the Student: Access to much more specialist tutors from further afield. This is especially pronounced at university level and beyond (try to find a neuroscience tutor in Chepstow!). Also, being able to save content such as hand-made PDFs and videos adds a lot of continuation value to your classes. The flexibility of online tuition is also valuable as its easier to reschedule and have classes outside of tradition hours.
And when someone switches from face to face to online, how do they like it?
We always get a bit of resistance initially. My co-founder at The Profs put his foot down originally and said that teaching effectively online cannot be done, but as our tutors who embraced online teaching started to out earn him through a combination of efficiency gains in their scheduling and also from higher-paying international clients, he eventually conceded. He is now online only. We get this a lot, from both tutors and new clients, but seeing is believing and once a student has had a class from a true professional online tutor they never go back to face-to-face tutoring.
AT HTTO, I’m on a crusade for tutors to charge more, for their hourly rate to reflect their experience and qualifications- after all, what we’re doing is life changing – what are your thoughts on tutor rates?
Low tutoring rates are a false economy. Knowledge and know-how are expensive to acquire (it takes years) and as you point out, can change the lives of students forever. We have saved a university place for a blind girl, helped an international student remain in the UK due to visa restrictions when he was failing, and helped hundreds of people get into the institutions of their choice What’s it worth to get into Oxford? It takes time to build up a client base, but ‘Super Tutors’ tend to begin by offering cheaper tuition and as they become more experienced and their reputation and network grows, they can start to charge what they like after a few years.
In fact, we get surprisingly little push-back on our prices at The Profs where prices are high. Interestingly, when we started out our average price was £50 per hour for university level tutoring. Over the last 3 years, though, the supply/demand imbalance of professional tutors has driven our average price up to about £75 per hour. This change wasn’t driven by us, but rather the tutors getting filled up and then saying to us, “Sure I’ll give up my Saturday, but I want X per hour to do it” If they’ve done the How To Tutor Online Course then charging higher rates will be easier.
Students and their families seem to understand the value of a great tutor and pay it. Equally, they quickly get upset at cheap tutors. The sort of tutors who charge less than £20 per hour tend to be part-time student tutors who might offer good value. But we get a lot of upset parents around exam time phone who say, “My tutor left me high and dry just before my son’s exams because he got too busy with his finals, or has gone travelling for summer”. Like everything, you pretty much get what you pay for.
It’s a bit, ‘How long is a piece of string?’ but what can tutors earn tutoring online at Spires or The Profs ? Do any tutors work full time ?
There is a wide range, but the top guys and girls are what we call full-time-part-time, i.e. tutoring is their full-time vocation but it is of course a part-time job by nature. They consistently earn around £1000 a week and pretty much all of the top earners are online only these days. One or two tutors have earned over £10,000 in a good month! I would say the average tutor at The Profs earns £200 a week and the average tutor on Spires (which is more school focussed) earn around £100 a week. These tutors tend to have a day job or be studying and have a few sessions a week with their students on the side to top up their income.
Are there any subjects that aren’t suitable for online tutoring?
Anything practical basically. We have had people asking for Chemistry Lab Help Online (but I am not sure how this is done by a traditional tutor without a lab at home either) and even piano lessons online. At the other end of the spectrum, online tutoring is easiest for essay type work where simply sharing a google doc and chatting on skype is very satisfactory in terms of learning objectives.
What are the essential pieces of tech you need to tutor online ?
Essential: Great stable internet connection and a good router, a computer with as much RAM as possible (Mac book pros are good and I prefer to teach on my Mac than my far more powerful PC), a writing tablet (we use Wacoms or Huions), a webcam, and ideally an audio headset with a good microphone.
Tell us more about bitpaper ?
As a group of professional educators who founded The Profs, we bought writing tablets to teach online but didn’t like any of the existing online whiteboards. They all had major flaws such as the board slowing down as you put more stuff on it, small writing spaces, the inability to cut and paste content onto the board, no hotkeys, not being collaborative etc. So we put our heads together and designed and built BitPaper.
It really is a whiteboard built for tutors by tutors. It not finished yet, but it’s free and has around 10,000 tutors and students around the world working on it. It is basically a giant collaborative whiteboard, with audio and video features, that is based around using hotkeys and speed to produce professional online tuition. We took a lot of inspiration from some of our top tutors who are semi-professional video gamers in designing the way it works. It basically never slows down, never crashes and is really simple and intuitive to use.
How about parents – are they more receptive to the idea of online tutoring than say when you started ?
It’s a harder sell for parents of young children. The sweet spot is A-Level and university aged students and that has got easier to sell with time. These age groups are already tech savvy and there aren’t concentration and security concerns in the same way as with young children. It’s got easier to sell online tutoring as we got more confident in our product basically.
What qualities do you look for in a tutor ?
40% Emotional Intelligence, 30% Experience, 30% Subject Knowledge
Tutoring is something in between being a teacher and a counsellor. You have to be able to relate and engage your students on a personal level. The best people that work for us are roughly the most likeable. Of course they need to know their stuff, and this is relatively more important the higher the level of the material that you teach, but tutors can get a long way by simply being professional, friendly and hard-working for sure.
Can anyone tutor online?
No – It’s hard! You have to not only teach well, but operate a computer at high speed to deliver a convincing lesson. You need to be tech savvy for sure and if you have poor motor coordination you are probably better off doing face-to-face tuition.
Do you think training is needed to tutor online ?
Definitely, It’s essential. We didn’t learn to be pros by ourselves in a bubble; we were part of a community and we all worked out the pieces of the puzzle to help each other out. Like any other skill, someone needs to point you in the right direction and then you can make you own stylistic adjustments to your methods.
What makes Spires and The Profs different from other tutoring agencies?
Two things. 1) We focus on the tutors not the clients. 2) We are heavily data driven.
We focus on the needs of the tutors and basically outsource the clients to them, most companies put clients first and harass the tutors if problems arise. Because we only take on top professionals, we trust their judgement and whilst we have to step in from time to time to help resolve problems, most of the time we back our tutors. We also train them, throw parties for them, give them bonuses and generally treat them really well. They trust us and like working with us. They don’t mind paying commission for high quality and stable clients and they understand that they have a pretty sweet deal with us. The two founders are the original tutors and we built the system for us!
As for data, we track everything our tutors do statistically and are really hawkish on education quality. Having worked with thousands of tutors we know what exceptional people and bad people both look like in the data and every year we remove around 20% of our tutors from our books who are underperforming. We believe in meritocracy and we like to promote our best tutors and remove our worst. The ones in the middle we work hard to train and develop as professionals, which they appreciate. This is how we keep our brand strong and our client base very good. If people know we only work with the best and most professional tutors they always come back to us when they need help.
Let’s talk about it in the Facebook Group – Leo’s a member, so come on over and tag him with any questions you have.
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