How To Tutor Online Without Giving Up Your Free Time
Why do you want to tutor online? For me, one of the biggest reasons was to have my own schedule. To decide when I wanted to work and to have a proper work-life balance. I wanted free time, which meant making sure my work schedule didn't get in the way of spending time with friends and family. I wanted to work out how to tutor online but still have a life. I have discovered that the key to making this possible lies in two simple words:
From day one of starting my own online tutoring business, I made the decision not to work in the evenings or weekends. Now that might not be the best option for everyone. In fact, if this is something you want to do on a part time basis, being able to work evenings or weekends to fit around your other activities or work commitments is a real advantage. That's great and the flexibility of online tutoring means you can totally do that. However, to achieve my goal of tutoring full time online, I set a fixed schedule of 8.30am to 5.30pm, Monday to Friday. To date, I'd say about 98% of my tutoring happens within this time period.
Whenever I meet a new student, I clearly explain the days and times I am available and then ask them if they are also available within these times. Occasionally this might mean having to turn down a student, which is difficult, especially when you're just getting started. But if you want to tutor online without giving up your free time, like I do, decide from the start what you want your schedule to look like and then stick to it. Even though I'm teaching students all over the world in different time zones, on most occasions, I'm still able to offer a time that fits both of our schedules.
My #1 tool that keeps me organised
There's one tool that I absolutely cannot live without to make my online tutoring business work. And that's my calendar. Why is this so important? When running a successful tutoring business and doing a range of daily activities, it can be easy to lose track of the time. So I add every scheduled lesson to my calender with a reminder set for 15 minutes before it starts.
The more punctual you are, the more your students are likely to be. Starting on time also gives you the ability to finish on time, which means you can schedule lessons closer together and earn more money in a day. If you're ready to start at 9am and the student shows up at ten past, then it's acceptable to finish at 10am when the agreed time period has finished. You won't be late for your next class and your student will understand that to get the most out of their lessons, they need to show up on time. Extending the lesson by 10 minutes is going to cause you problems with your schedule that day as well as in the long term when your students think it's ok to be perpetually late.
Managing expectations from the beginning is key to an effective tutoring schedule.
How should I schedule my lessons?
First you need to decide how long you want your lessons to be. Some tutors prefer 45 or 50 minute lessons to give them 10 minutes between lessons for material preparation or to have a short break. The advantage of shorter lessons is that you can schedule more of them back to back for each hour of the day. But, the drawbacks can be that students are less willing to pay for lessons shorter than an hour or there's an expectation that a 45 minute lesson should cost less than a 60 minute one. It also makes it harder to clearly show an hourly rate to your students. My preference is to offer 1 hour lessons and try to schedule short breaks between each lesson (up to 30 minutes). If I have a busy day, I'll sometimes schedule two or three 1 hour lessons back to back but I feel that 3 hours of continuous one-to-one tutoring is the maximum I can do without a break. To do this, you also need to be very well organised with your timing to avoid any overlap between students.
On the subject of breaks, I make sure that I schedule in an hour lunch break every day. When I first started out, I didn't do this and there would be times when I'd be so busy tutoring, there wasn't enough time to eat. It's great to have lots of students but don't forget to have regular breaks (especially away from your computer screen).
You are the boss after all!
Earning Tip: For some students, an hour might not be long enough. I also offer 1.5 or 2 hour lessons, which is an easy way to increase your income, without having to make more sales.
Setting up a lesson reminder with iCal
I have a Mac computer so I use the free, inbuilt calendar called iCal to organise my schedule. If you're using a PC, you could also use the preinstalled calendar or Google offer a free online calendar that is also very useful. Watch the video below to see how I set up a reminder with iCal to make sure I never miss a lesson:
Setting up a lesson reminder with Google Calendar
Here's a quick tutorial to show you how to set up a lesson reminder with Google Calendar:
Dealing with time zones
If all of your online students live in the same time zone as you do then you can skip this section. Lucky you! For everyone else who either teaches international students or lives in a country with multiple time zones, here is a website I look at very often. It's essential to check time zones before scheduling lessons. You also need to check for daylight savings. I've been caught out before when the summer or winter times have changed in other countries. Being an hour early or an hour late for a lesson is not good. Maybe one day, the government will do away with daylight savings, but for now it's a biannual annoyance for online tutors that involves a bit of schedule juggling. It doesn't have to be a big deal though. If you're prepared and organise your schedule in advance, you can pull this off every 6 months without an issue. Just keep an eye out for other time changes in the countries of your students (not everyone's daylight savings happen at the same time). Here's another handy link to the same website, which will allow you to enter in two different time zones and calculate the difference. This is especially useful for working out changes to time zones in the future and can help with your daylight saving changeover.
Let me leave you with a motivational quote to encourage you to be organised in your online tutoring business:
For every minute spent in organising, an hour is earned.