What you should consider before starting a private tutoring agency
We’ve already covered the basics of how to start a private tutoring business in another blog post, but here, we’re looking at the challenges entrepreneurs face when turning their sole trader business into a tutoring agency.
No business start-up is without its challenges, least of all those in the private tuition industry where standing out from the crowd in an £8 billion market is just the first hurdle. However, given that almost 50% of students in London use private tutors, the demand is certainly there.
There are currently around 500 tutoring agencies in the UK and considering the UK Government estimate that there are 8.2 million school children in England alone, there’s still plenty of space for new agencies to establish themselves if they know what pitfalls to avoid.
Raising Finance for Office Space
Unless you decide to set up a ‘virtual’ agency, then initial start-up costs can be quite high. Renting an office space big enough to allow for future growth can be expensive, especially in city centres. According to research conducted in January 2015, the average cost per square foot of office space in London is around £90 per year. Some things you might want to consider before choosing an office space for your agency include:
1. Growth. Will your office space be large enough to cope with the growth of your business over the next few years? Ideally, you’ll want to remain in your office for as long as you can without having to move to larger premises.
2. Accessibility. Considering that most of your customers will be high school students, ideally, you’ll want your offices to be in a city centre, close to local schools.
3. Hidden costs. A lot of office spaces come with monthly factor fees that you need to pay as part of the agreement. Will you need to pay fees on top of your rent?
Standing out from the Crowd
Establishing your tutoring agency in an industry where others already exist is one of the biggest hurdles you’ll face in the beginning. The key to standing out from the crowd is to find your unique selling point. What will make your tutoring agency different from the rest? What will you do better?
You may also need to be creative with your marketing to help get your business noticed as your competitors will already have established relationships with local schools and other referral sources. It’s advisable that new agencies start small and go after niche markets, where competition isn’t as high. Some things you might want to consider to help your agency stand out are:
1. Identify gaps in the market. Keep close tabs on your competitors and look for things they could be doing better. If you notice a market-wide trend, then you could aim to fill this gap.
2. Position yourself accordingly. As a new agency, you won’t be able to compete with larger, established business to begin with, so you’ll need to carve yourself a specific corner of the marketplace where you can be an authority.
3. Focus on customer service. You’ll want to retain as many of your existing students as possible, so make sure that you place a strong emphasis on maintaining student and parent relations. Offer ongoing support to students out with lesson times and ensure that your staff are available when needed.
Keeping on Top of Admin
One of the biggest challenges of starting a tutoring agency is keeping on top of administration. Many tutoring start-ups don’t realise how challenging it can be to stay organised as their business takes off. It’s important that new tutoring agencies keep on top of things like lesson schedules, homework assignments and tutor invoices.
To ensure business operations run smoothly, you should consider using tutor agency management software to help you keep on top of all the admin involved in the day to day running of your business. Tasks like lesson scheduling; managing tutor and student records, payroll, billing and accounting can all be taken care of with management software. Some things you should look for in a tutoring agency software package include:
1. Free trial periods. Before you invest in software, you’ll want to know that it has all the features you’re looking for and that it’s user friendly. Ideally, tutoring software should be hosted on the cloud, so that you can access your databases from anywhere in the world.
2. Scalability. Does the software have premium features that you can upgrade to once you outgrow its existing functionality? Consider whether the technology will still be useful to you in a few years’ time.
3. Reviews. Before you decide which tutoring software to buy, do a google search for the product and see what others have to say about it. Does it live up to expectations?
No tutoring agency is worth its salt without having a team of dedicated tutors. Finding quality staff for your agency can be difficult and retaining them can often be even more of a challenge. You should have a rigorous recruitment process in place that involves in-depth interviewing and carrying out background checks. Any tutors that you recruit should be appropriately vetted and DBS checked as standard. Some points to consider when recruiting tutors for your agency include:
1. Qualifications. Although there’s no standard qualification for tutors, you’ll want to know that they’re experts in their chosen subjects and that they’re able to communicate ideas clearly.
2. Experience. It’s not always the case that experienced tutors make the best educators, but you should verify that potential candidates do have some experience of one to one teaching and a good knowledge of the private tutoring industry.
3. Availability. You’ll want to know that your tutors are available to take on lessons at their students’ convenience. A good tutor will be readily available to offer support and be committed to their role.
What are your experiences of starting a private tutoring agency? What did you see as being the biggest challenges? Perhaps you’re considering starting a tutoring agency and see things a little differently? We’d be keen to hear your thoughts.
Image credit: Queens University - https://www.flickr.com/photos/queensucanada/8208169549