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

5 Websites That Will Help You Grow Your Tutoring Business

These 5 Websites have helped us grow our business. I have no affiliation with any of these companies, but they make excellent products that I have used for at least a year. I have used some of these services for 5+ years.

1. Eventbrite.com
Eventbrite helps you manage registrations for events. We have been using Eventbrite to manage course registrations for years. The service lets you accept credit cards, create discount codes, and manage multiple registration types (early bird, general admission, etc.) I love this site.

2. Meetup.com
Meetup is designed to connect people with similar interests online so that they can meet in person. We use Meetup to help us build community around our services. Our Meetups are almost always free. We use them as an opportunity to offer pro bono services to the community and as a way to preview upcoming paid classes. We may, for example, schedule a free Meetup a month or two before we offer a paid course.

3. Createspace.com
Createspace is an Amazon.com company that lets you self-publish your own books. If you have written a lot of your own materials and own the copyright to them (this is essential), why not create your own textbook? The Createspace service is relatively easy to use. Even if you do not sell many copies of your book, it is probably still worth the effort. The service lets you order author copies at a discount. Giving away a free copy of your book or even simply mentioning your book to prospective students can result in a huge marketing bump. Also, ordering author copies may be cheaper (and less hassle) than printing and reprinting your teaching materials for each of your students.

4. Mailchimp.com
We have found this to be an excellent tool for email marketing. It allows you to manage your email lists, create beautifully-styled emails, and track email response rates.

5. Store.apple.com
I hate to say it, but once we switched to Macs, almost all of our computer headaches disappeared.

What websites have helped you grow your business?

Posted in Technology

When to quit…

Have you heard this joke? Jesus walks into a bar. Bartender asks, “What can I get ya?” Jesus says, “Just water,” then winks and walks away.

If only we, the self-employed teachers of the world, had the ability to turn water into wine. But alas, we are often stuck with just water. Or wine. But never water that we can turn into wine.

Over the past 8 years of my business, I have often found myself staring at water and hoping it would turn into wine. Or, more accurately, expecting that I could, if I just worked hard enough, turn it into wine.

Usually, an embarrassing amount of time later, I would finally admit that nope, it is water. It will always be water. It is impossible to turn it into wine.

For example, in the early days of our company we tried a drop-in English class. The concept looked good on paper, but no matter what we tried, we could not get the numbers we needed to make it work financially. We kept up the marketing. We persisted. We worked really, really hard. Eventually, we had to admit that no matter what we did, it was the wrong program for our client base and our business. It was water, and it would never turn into wine.

In fact, we have tried and eliminated several programs like this. The trick, of course, is the timing. Are you on the cusp of success, or on the treadmill of failure? Are you nurturing wine that just needs to mature, or are you just clutching a bottle of water?

I am not sure I have a simple answer, but the good news is that the more often you make these decisions, the better you become at making them. For major new business efforts, I have a 6-month rule. The new project doesn’t have to be profitable in 6 months, but it does need to start tasting like wine. There needs to be some visible progress: customer growth, user traffic, sales growth, etc. Then I make a decision: cut the program or give it 6 more months?

The other key factor for us has been our yearly review of our income breakdown. At least once a year I look at our financial statements for the specific purpose of determining which programs are bringing us the greater share of revenue. Then I try to focus more on the most profitable programs. Over time, this has resulted in the maturing of some pretty fine wine.

What programs have you cut? What has turned out to be just water, and what has matured into fine wine for your business?

Posted in Operating Your Business

Be unproductive to be more productive

Preserve one day a week when you do not work. No email. No business-related social media. No planning. No accounting. Nothing. Get out of the house and do something else. Anything else. Or stay in and watch a few movies. It doesn’t matter. Just do no work. Trust me. The next day, when you roll out of bed, you will have twice the energy, and you will be ready to dive into your business once again.

Posted in Operating Your Business