How to Write a Business Plan: A Guide for Self-employed Teachers, Tutors, Coaches, and Trainers

self-employed teacher business planWhen I was a college student, I used to tutor a few kids in Japanese as a way of earning a bit of extra money. After about the third lesson, I realized that I had no idea what I was doing. I could handle the teaching part just fine. It was the business side of things that was a mess. I wanted to add a few more students and make a bit more cash, but I felt disorganized. I needed a plan.

Where to begin? Many of us begin our self-employed teaching and tutoring careers accidentally. You are asked to teach the neighbor kid or you start helping someone that asks for help. It is a great part-time job. If things progress, before long you are juggling a handful of students, tracking progress, recommending materials, making materials of your own, managing scheduling, etc. The simple tutoring business can blossom into a lucrative but chaotic and stressful venture quite quickly.

Turning a set of ad hoc lessons into an organized and profitable business is easier than you think. You just need to spend 30 minutes writing a business plan.

WAIT! Don’t leave! It is much, much easier than you think. You see, business plans are just like other plans: house plans, vacation plans, and–most importantly for us–lesson plans. They are simply the outline of how to get something done and what it will look like when it’s finished.

Here’s how to create your self-employed teacher/tutor/trainer/coach business plan in two easy steps:

  1. Get some paper.
  2. Answer the questions below.

I have used a simple dance instruction business as an example:

Describe your business in one sentence.

Example: I teach swing dancing to college students and adults.

Describe the problem you are solving. (Who are your students? Why do they need you?)

Example: Many adults in my community are looking for opportunities to get a little exercise and meet new people.  Swing dancing is a fun and active way to meet new people and learn a new skill.

Describe the solution you are providing. (Describe your lessons and how they help these students.)

Example: I teach two swing dancing classes every week at the ABC community center. The first class is a beginner class that runs from 6:00 – 7:00 PM. The second class is an intermediate class that runs from 7:15 PM – 8:15 PM. I provide instruction in the the dance steps, guided practice, and personal support. For students that need more help, I provide one-to-one lessons. Every month, I provide a social dance where past participants from my classes and members of the public can dance and socialize. The dance is from 7-10 PM.

Describe how you will make money. (What do you charge? How do you charge, for example per hour, per group of hours, per class, etc.?)

Example: The beginner and intermediate classes are open to up to 30 people per class. Each class is 6 weeks. I charge $100 for each 6-week class. I offer each class 6 times per year (once every 2 months). For the monthly dance, I charge $10/person. We can accommodate up to 100 people.

Beginner class: 30 people x $100 = $3000 potential revenue x 6 classes per year = $18,000/year

Intermediate class: 30 people x $100 = $3000 potential revenue x 6 classes per year = $18,000/year

Monthly dance: $10 x 100 people = $1000 x 12 dances per year = $12,000

So, my total potential revenue is $48,000 per year. However, classes and dances rarely fill up. We average approximately 50% of capacity. So, my actual anticipated revenue is $24,000.

We take all payments in cash on the first day of class.

Describe your expenses. (What does it cost you to provide your lessons? Are there any other expenses such as accounting, software, travel, coffee for students/clients, etc.?)


Here are my anticipated costs:

Room rental fees: $50/hour

General liability insurance: $500/year

Staff: No cost. I provide all instruction and DJ services. For the dances and lessons, I have a volunteer help with taking money in exchange for free admission to the dance/class.

Other fees: business license ($100), printing of fliers ($200/year), new dance shoes ($100), refreshments for dances such as juice/cookies (12 dances x $30 = $360).

Compare your income to your expenses to make sure you can make money:

Beginner classes for the year: $18,000 x 50% capacity = $9000

Intermediate classes for the year: $18,000 x 50% capacity = $9000

Dances for the year: $12,000 x 50% capacity = $6000

Total Revenue: $24,000

Room rental fees: $50/hour x 108 hours/year = -$5400

General liability insurance:  -$500

Business license  -$100

Printing of fliers  -$200

Dance shoes  -$100

Refreshments for dances such as juice/cookies  -$360

Total Expenses:   -$6660

Profit (Income – Expenses):  $17,340

Taxes (40%)* -$6936

Profit after taxes:  $10,404

*(Income tax [depends on your bracket, etc., but let’s estimate about 25%] + Self-employment tax [15.3%]. We will discuss taxes in a future post, but please remember that we are not accountants and this is not meant to be financial advice; it is always important to check with a professional about taxes. )

Describe what materials you will use with your students.

Example: I have been dancing for years and have over 50 dance steps I can teach without using reference materials. Since we review every week, I do not need to distribute any materials.

Describe how you will find new students/clients.

Example: I have a website that lists the class schedule. It is linked to a registration page where potential students can sign up. I considered using a registration site like Eventbrite, but it takes additional fees. Currently we only take cash.

I have an email list to remind people of upcoming classes. I post fliers at the community center and at the library and coffee shops in the community. I also post on my Facebook page and on Instagram. The community center has a newsletter and email list. They include my classes in their newsletter for free.

That’s it!

Business plans do not need to be complicated. All you need to do is write down the answers to a few simple questions. Once you have these answers, you can begin to think more carefully about your business.

Post your business planning questions below!

Posted in Getting Started, Operating Your Business

Three Essential Productivity Tips to Jump-start Mondays

Productivity tips for MondaysYou’ve just spent a relaxing and fulfilling weekend with your family and friends. You even capped it off with a Sunday-evening movie. You are feeling pretty good. Life is great.

Then Monday comes…

If you are a self-employed teacher or tutor, the transition from a friend-focused, freedom-filled weekend to a business-focused Monday can be tough. The trick is to remove the thought and emotion from the transition. Put a routine in place that will make getting up and getting started on Monday morning a joy. Here are three tips that work for me:

  1. Schedule a client/student meeting. If you know you need to meet a client on Monday morning, you will have no choice but to climb out of bed and get to it. If it is a client you really like, it will be much easier. If you have set your “work hours” to start later in the morning, just schedule your first meeting accordingly. Getting a first meeting behind you on Monday morning can be quite motivating.
  2. Take a walk. Exercise can make you feel productive and can wake up the mind and the body. I find that a brisk walk in the morning produces an energized day. It seems that Richard Branson feels the same way.
  3. Build and email your weekly to-do list to someone you trust. I have tried countless to-do apps, written things down in a spreadsheet, created a binder full of sticky notes, put up lists on whiteboards, and created to-do journals. Nothing really worked for me. What works is getting up on Monday morning, making a list of everything I need/want to finish during the week, and emailing that list to someone I trust. I send a follow-up email at the end of the week showing what I have accomplished. Because I know someone else is reading my list and will be reviewing what I have accomplished at the end of the week, I am much, much more productive. I make writing and emailing the list my first task on Monday mornings. That way, when I get up feeling groggy or when I return from my morning walk, I know exactly what to do first. It is a great way to jump-start the week.

Try out these tips and let us know what works for you!

Posted in Operating Your Business

Entrepreneurship is Ours Too

I recently watched a video of the new flying car from a startup called Kitty Hawk, and it got me thinking. So much of the business news in Silicon Valley comes from tech companies that it is easy to forget that only a small percentage of entrepreneurs are tech entrepreneurs. People joke that if you throw a stone in Silicon Valley you will hit a tech startup CEO. You are just as likely to hit a self-employed teacher, restaurant owner, consultant, real estate agent, accountant, attorney, interior designer, store owner, graphic designer, or tutor. We work just as hard as the techies, though perhaps without the glamour.

When you are small and independent and don’t have a million dollars to fund your public relations or marketing team, you have to be scrappy. Being scrappy means you work hard, accept that you may not get noticed, and keep trying anyway. Just remember that when you are working your butt off quietly on your own, there are millions of others just like you working right along side you.

Posted in Growing Your Business, Marketing

Who stole my ambition?

Since I haven’t updated the SET blog since February, I thought this would be a good way to get started again.

There comes a time in every entrepreneur’s life when everything that was once exciting, invigorating, and motivating becomes repetitive, mundane, and downright tiring. It is at times like this that I wonder, “Who stole my ambition?” And, more importantly, “How can I get it back?”

I’ve been doing this long enough to know that these feelings come in cycles, meaning those feelings of burnout and disinterest in your business venture will soon pass. Of course, that’s not to say that there is nothing you can do to expedite their passing. Try this:

1. Take a vacation. I need a long break (4 or more days) at minimum every three months. I also do not work on the weekends and will take a shorter mid-week break about once a month.

2. Take your business to the next level. Maybe your feelings are a result of not pushing yourself. Has your business become a job? What can you do to take your business to the next level?

3. Try 10-20 minutes of intense exercise. I hate running, but I have a wife who runs, so sometimes I run too. When I do, those feelings of motivation and excitement return almost immediately.

4. Remove some clutter from your life. Freeing up a bit of space in your home or schedule can remind you that you are in control of your life and that your business is not controlling you.

5. Reset your goals. Think on two levels: 1) What do you want in your personal life? and 2) How can your business help you get it? If you can answer these questions, you will regain your sense of purpose.

I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments below.

Posted in Operating Your Business

What if I get sick? – A Flu Season Survival Guide for Self-employed Teachers

Sick Days for Self-employed TeachersLast week was bad. Really bad. I caught a really nasty bug that took me out for almost 7 days.

That’s a long time for a self-employed teacher. If teaching and tutoring is your full-time job, 7 days is almost 25% of your monthly income! Unlike most jobs where you can call in sick and still get paid, for SETs, missing a day means missing a day of pay.

I’ve put together a quick survival guide to help you prepare for your inevitable unpaid sick days. Here goes.

Step 1: Expect to be sick at least 1-2 times per year.
I carry hand sanitizer in my work bag and have extra bottles in my car. I am a fanatic about washing my hands. I am careful about not sharing pens with my clients. I still get sick. You will too.

If you expect to get sick, you will be more likely to plan for it.

Step 2: Use price and advance payment to cushion the blow.
I’ve talked already about the importance of charging enough for your services and about the importance of asking for payment in advance. These two points can also make a sick day (or week) less of a headache. It sounds simple, but the more money you charge for your services, the fewer hours you need to work. That means that come sick time, you will have to contact fewer students to cancel. More importantly, if your margins are better, you are also more likely to be able to save some cash. Having this extra cash stored away in an emergency fund in your business can be a lifesaver if you have to miss a week of teaching due to illness. Accepting payment in advance can also give you a bit of a financial cushion and ensures that your students won’t cut and run if you miss a few appointments due to illness.

Step 3: Stop working!
It is really difficult to focus on your students’ questions when your head is pounding or you have a fever. Also, if you continue to meet with your students when you are sick, you risk getting them sick. The illness may then start to circulate among your students. If that happens, you will be facing a lot of cancelled lessons anyway. When you get sick, stop working.

Step 4: Send one email to clear the week.
Send an email to all of your students, taking care to hide their email addresses using the BCC function. Tell them that you are ill and will need to cancel your lessons for the rest of the week. That’s it. If you are still sick the next week, send another email. Keep it simple. Preparing an email list (and even a draft email) in advance can make your life much easier. You don’t want to be drafting an important email to your students when you’re not thinking clearly.

Step 5: Rest.
You have enough money in the bank. Your students understand the situation. Everything is going to be just fine. Stop worrying about your business or your students. Sleep. Hydrate. Eat soup. Relax. Take care of yourself.

Stay healthy!

Posted in Operating Your Business

How to Market Your Tutoring Website – Part 1

Many teachers and tutors seem to expect instant traffic to their websites. If I can just get my website online, the thinking goes, that will be enough. This is simply not the case. It can take months or even years to build traffic to a site.

When you are just starting out, the only people who will visit your website are those you have sent to the site yourself. That is not a bad thing, as long as you are thinking about the website in the right way.

Initially, you should consider your website to be an extension of your business card. You meet a prospective student. You give him or her your business card. They visit your website (which is printed on the card) to learn more about you, your credentials and experience, and your services. They contact you for a first lesson.

Your initial website should do these two things well:

1: Help the prospective student understand who you are and how you can help him. 2-3 pages is perfect. One page about you. One page about your services. One page with testimonials from your current and/or former students (used with permission, of course).

2: Give the student a way to contact you to arrange a first lesson or consultation. Give them a phone number, email address, or contact form so they can get in touch with you. (If you are worried about exposing your personal information, there are ways to avoid this. I will try to address some of these in a future post.)

For now, don’t worry too much about Web traffic, search engine optimization, blogging, etc. That comes next. For now, just focus on the two goals above. In other words, the first step toward marketing your teaching or tutoring website is to worry less about marketing it online and to focus more on marketing yourself offline. Then, when you make a connection, your prospective student will be able to easily learn more about you and easily contact you for a lesson.

Posted in Marketing

Three Marketing Keywords Tutors Need to Succeed

To successfully market your tutoring or teaching services you need three things. Before I tell you what they are, I want you to take a moment and think about why marketing is difficult. Almost every self-employed teacher or tutor I’ve met has asked me how we find our students. Usually, this is the wrong question. There are a million ways to “find” students. That is not the big marketing problem for most self-employed teachers.

Your tutor business marketing problemNo, the big marketing problem is this: Many self-employed tutors and teachers lack focus, repetition, and persistence when it comes to marketing.

Admit it. You know who your potential students are. You know how to reach them (talking to current students, asking for referrals, advertising, using a matching service, posting on Craigslist…to name just a few). What you really have trouble with is focus, repetition, and persistence. Here is my 3-step plan.

1. Focus. Think about how you found your current students. Do more of that.

2. Repeat. Marketing takes time. Once is rarely enough.

3. Persist. About the time you are completely sick of doing the same marketing task over and over again, you should expect to start seeing results. If you don’t persist, you will never see the fruits of your labor. You already know it is a good method since you have used it successfully in the past. Just keep at it.

There it is. You don’t need new marketing ideas; you just need focus, repetition, and persistence. Happy marketing!

Posted in Marketing

Sell something today. You deserve it.

If the biggest barrier between you and a (much) more successful business and a (much) bigger paycheck is the minor discomfort of telling someone about your services, shouldn’t you take that chance?

Today’s goal: Get just 1 person to say “no” to your services. You might just get a “yes.”

Posted in Marketing

The Puzzling Nature of Business

My wife and I just finished assembling a 1500 piece, black-and-white puzzle. Simultaneously frustrating and rewarding, the parallels to business are remarkable. Here is what I discovered:

Puzzles are like business1. Some pieces take a few seconds; other pieces can take a really, really long time to fall into place.

2. Sometimes, you have to make a lot of mistakes and false starts before you find the right fit.

3. Having the final picture in mind when you start can go a long way toward helping you finish.

4. Mistakes can be just as valuable as successes.

5. Sometimes you need to walk away for a while and come back when you’re ready.

6. Often, the seemingly obvious move doesn’t work. When that happens, you just have to keep trying.

7. Getting organized is essential to working efficiently.

8. Patience and persistence.

9. Patience and persistence.

10. Patience and persistence.

Posted in Operating Your Business

How can I get my students to pay me on time?

All self-employed teachers like to get paid. So, what can you do to make sure that your students pay on time and how do you handle a student who has not paid his bill?

We have found that the easiest way to make sure your students pay on time is to ask them to pay in advance. If you are working with individual students, ask them to pay for multiple hours at once. When we first started our business, we would sell “packages” of 4 or 5 hours. Eventually, we expanded this to packages of 12 hours.

Next, you should consider using a very simple contract. A business attorney can help with this. Of course, “contract” sounds ominous. Perhaps you can call this your “terms and conditions.” In the terms and conditions document, tell the student 1) How much they have paid, 2) What (how many lessons) they are getting for their payment, and 3) What happens when they cancel a lesson. (I will cover cancellation policies in a future post.) Have the student sign and date the terms and conditions and give him a copy. Keep the original. (I think this is a good place to insert our disclaimer. Please read it. It is important.)

Now that you have the student’s money and he understands and has agreed to your cancellation policy, there should be no more issues. If the student does not show up for his lessons or if he leaves the country and you never hear from him again (it has happened to us), you have already been paid. Plus, if the student has already paid you, he is more likely to take the lessons seriously.

If your customers are companies rather than individual students, you will probably have to have a contract. This is a bit more complicated, but the idea is the same. Again, a business lawyer should be able to help you with this. Companies do not typically like to pay in advance because they assume all of the risk. (What happens if you disappear before you finish their program, for example?) However, you may have luck getting them to pay in thirds or halves. This is common in consulting. 50% payment up front, 50% payment on completion of the project, for example.

What if you did not have your student pay in advance and you do not have a cancellation policy? How do you handle a student who has not paid his bill?

In most cases, if this is an individual and you have an upcoming lesson, I would probably still meet him. When you meet, consider giving him a copy of the overdue invoice and reminding him that he needs to pay you before your next meeting. Thank him for his business then move on with the lesson. If he still has not paid you before the next lesson, I would hesitate to meet him again until he pays. Of course, this can be tricky if he owes you a lot of money, because you may never see him–or your money–again.

Another option is to call or email the individual before your upcoming lesson, remind him that payment is due, and ask him to bring his payment to the lesson. Sometimes, just the pressure of meeting you will be enough to get a student to pay.

Whenever you pressure a student for payment, however, you do risk damaging the fragile teacher-student relationship, and you may lose his or her future business as a result. (Of course, if he doesn’t like to pay, you may be better off without his business.) However, if all of your students fail to pay you, you will eventually go out of business. Or starve. Or both. This can all be avoided with terms and conditions and payment in advance.

For large companies, you will probably want your contract to spell out what happens if there is no payment or late payment. (Again, ask your attorney to help with this.) In my experience, lack of payment or late payment from a company is often the result of slow procedures/approvals or of someone forgetting to submit your invoice to the accounting department. In this case, a simple follow-up email to check the status of your invoice may be enough to expedite the payment.

If you have other suggestions for getting students to pay up, please leave them in the comments below.

Posted in Operating Your Business