Like most service professionals, independent test prep tutors often struggle at the beginning of their careers to achieve a steady stream of business. Once the initial referrals from friends and neighbors dwindles, the real entrepreneurial roller coaster ride of emotion begins. Hope you don’t get sick easily! If you can, however, white-knuckle your way through the early part of the ride, you may find yourself somewhere entirely unexpected and enviable: with too many students.
All the business we could ever want is the dream, isn’t it? Everyone begins with at least a hope of wild success, but only some survive in business long enough to experience an enduring taste of it. That’s when the teacher becomes the student, learning a lesson as old as time…
The reward for excellent work–score increases, skill gains, and authentic-learning–is inevitably more of the same.
Exceptional educators, whether working alone or in groups, will eventually have to confront that moment, however fleeting, when demand outstrips supply, when the number of teacher hours requested exceeds the number of hours you can teach. Too much of a good thing really can be a problem! If and when you reach this inflection point, resist the urge to stop picking up your phone. Every potential client you turn away will be another referral source for your competition, another voice in the marketplace speaking against you.
Instead, consider ways to expand your capacity to meet excess student demand:
1. A WAITING LIST
One strategy is to stagger the points at which new students begin and end to accommodate those with more pressing deadlines while keeping the rest warm. Many tutors employ waiting lists effectively, while others run the risk of losing clients to those with unused capacity.
2. EXPANDED SERVICE HOURS
In business, utilization describes the use of productive capacity–whether that be the output of machinery, the occupancy of real estate, or the productivity of staff–managers can maximize both production and profit. I like to talk about tutilization, which refers to how every operator, individual and group alike, allocates time and resources to ensure that actual capacity aligns with potential capacity. Make sure you’re using your time wisely. Do you have excess demand during certain periods but are unable to fill hours at others? Consider adding the additional days and times your clients want to your service schedule, at least temporarily.
3. CENTRAL LOCATION
In-home tutoring offers unparalleled customer service, not to mention minimal overhead. However, if you tutor in students’ homes, you may be sacrificing too much time in travel. Try to meet all your students either online (which is easier now than ever) or at a reasonable independent location like a library or coffee shop. Consider whether you’ve even reached the point where your own tutoring space or home office makes sense.
4. CONSOLIDATED SESSIONS
Individual instruction may always be ideal but it’s not always necessary. Quite often, two or more students with similar goals and compatible personalities can work together to experience 99% of the benefit of 1-1 instruction. Match these students and offer persuasive discounts. Not only will your clients be happy for the service, but you will make more per hour than you would have sticking with single students at a time.
Even consolidated small-group tutoring has its limits, generally topping out in manageability at four students at a time. When demand really spikes, your market may be signalling its readiness for class options, which can be a huge step forward in serving more clients at lower price points.
Solo practices can weather the occasional spike in demand, but steadily increasing business suggests that the time to add more teachers in your enterprise has arrived. This moment is a major milestone and inflection point in any test prep practice. Consider what expansion would look like for you or whether you even want to travel down that path. Envision whether you’ll want to work with partners, employees, or subcontractors, then start laying down the groundwork. The best time to find new help is about six months before you need it!
If demand for your educational services exceeds your current supply, accept my hearty congratulations. Use this magical moment, however ephemeral, to reassess your goals and the trajectory of your enterprise. Make the right move and you’ll find yourself in a position to reap the rewards of your hard work. Make the wrong one and you may never have to worry about excess demand again.
A nationally recognized leader in test prep, Mike founded Chariot Learning in Rochester, NY in 2009 to deliver on the promise of what truly transformative, individualized education can and should be. Mike is also the founder of the free testing and admissions answer site TestBright, co-host of the Tests and the Rest college admissions industry podcast and conference series, and creator of the Facebook industry group for test prep professionals, Test Prep Tribe. Lastly, Mike is the co-author of the Amazon bestseller Crash and Learn: Lessons in Business.