[Welcome to Side Hustle #74! Where expert test taker, Trevor Klee stops by to share his experience – and tips – on how to start your own tutoring business if it piques your interest. We’ve covered your basic tutoring as a side hustle before on this site (#14), as well as getting paid to write questions for standardized tests (#23), but this one takes it to a whole other level. So if you excel at the GMATs, GREs, or LSATs, and really enjoy teaching, this gig could be for you!]
I’ve always been a nerd. My nose has been continually in a book ever since I was 5, and the floor of my bedroom is piled high with novels, compendiums, and even the stray textbook.
I’ve always gotten good grades, too. I was never really a teacher’s pet, but school made sense to me. I didn’t have to try too hard to get A’s, even through high school. My teachers were always frustrated: they wanted me to “apply myself” more, but I didn’t see the point.
Once I got to college, I discovered a hustle which fit perfectly into my skills: being a professional test-prep tutor! Like any good nerd, I love being right about an obscure subject. When did William the Conqueror become king of England? 1066. What’s the chemical formula of glucose? C6H12O6. How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop? Ask that crazy owl.
Being a tutor was like being able to be right about obscure subjects all the time and get paid for it! Whatever subject people were taking, I could learn the material, teach it to them, and get paid good money for it. Even in college I was charging $50/hr, which is no small change for a college student.
So after college, when I needed a job, I decided to go full-time into test-prep tutoring. First, I went to work for a test-prep company in Singapore. Singapore was awesome (and had amazing food), but I didn’t love the company. Their teaching materials sucked, and they kept like 85% of what they charged people to meet with me.
So then I figured: why not go into business on my own? I had the core requirements of being an independent, professional tutor down already, namely:
- Strong opinions about how tests should be prepared for
- A natural talent for taking tests, especially standardized ones
- A fiercely independent streak, which meant that I couldn’t last long with a company even if I tried
I quit my job, left Singapore, and ended up back in Boston on my brother’s couch. I posted an ad on Reddit, reading “GMAT tutor offering free tutoring in exchange for testimonials” . I got some replies, and the rest was history (and a lot of hard work, experimentation, failure, long nights, etc).
My Life As a Tutor
My life as a tutor now is pretty good. I have a system set up where I use advertising and web presence to get people to my website. People read my website, are impressed by my credentials and such, and send me an email. Then I talk to them, set up a time to meet, and we start tutoring.
I only tutor graduate exams which people are willing to pay a lot for (namely the GMAT, GRE, and LSAT). A good score on those exams means scholarships, a more prestigious graduate degree, and higher income after graduate school. Getting tutoring in them is a pretty good investment, if I do say so myself.
Because I only tutor graduate exams, I never have to deal with kids which is great. I never liked tutoring kids. The kids always ended up distracted, and I ended up feeling like an overpaid babysitter, desperately trying to get them to learn what their parents are paying me to teach. When I tutor adults, they’re usually spending their own money, which means our incentives are more aligned.
It took me a while to set up all of the non-teaching parts of my business, like marketing, office space, website hosting, etc… Now it’s all on autopilot, though. I don’t really pay attention to it. I tutor for like 15-20 hours a week, and spend the rest of my time on side projects.
How Much It Pays (and Some Cons)
In terms of money, I charge $100/hr for the easier exams (GRE and LSAT), and $160/hr for the harder exam (GMAT). Given that most people work with me for 10-15 hours, I make anywhere from $1,000 to $2,400 per client. Over the course of a year, I make around 6 figures. In 2017 I made $90,189 and I’m on course to hit $100,000 this year.
The only downsides to the work are really just the loneliness, lack of job security, and odd hours. I’m a naturally introverted person, but still: I have zero coworkers. The only people I interact with at my job are customers, which can get tiring.
I also have no job security. If I’m sick, I don’t get paid, period. And because I am tutoring adults who work full-time jobs, I am generally very busy during the evenings and weekends, and pretty free during the 9-5. My social life is a careful balancing act.
How to Start Your Own Tutoring Business
First off, this is only a life for someone who is a geek, and won’t mind teaching algebra, vocab, and other testable things for 2-4 hours a day, 7-ish days a week. Like, that’s the most basic requirement for this. If you hate tests, then being in this field is like a surgeon who faints at the sight of blood.
If you excel at this stuff, though, I actually made an entire website on how to start a tutoring business. The short version is this:
- Find a niche. This would preferably be a test that you’re an expert in. If you just tutor “math”, you can charge $20/hr to parents of elementary school students. If you tutor “GMAT math”, you can charge $160/hr to those who actually want your help.
- Create an effective tutoring website. This website needs to portray you as someone that your clients can trust. Display your contact info, testimonials and reviews, scores, and affiliations prominently.
- Develop a web presence. You need to be on Yelp and Google My Business so that people can find you. Next up? Start getting reviews on those sites.
- Offer free tutoring for testimonials and reviews. It’s really hard to get clients without social proof. Those first few people who can offer you reviews and testimonials are golden.
After that, you just revise, improve, and repeat! It takes a while to get it down perfectly, but that’s probably to be expected with any business.
It’s a pretty sweet gig for only working part-time.
Trevor Klee is a GMAT, GRE, and LSAT tutor in Boston, and the official GRE instructor for MIT’s Laureates & Leaders program. He blogs about the business of tutoring at JustAddTutor.com, where he shares everything he’s learned over the years running a successful side business.
Liked this? Check out our full list of 70+ side hustles over the years here. Or the past three we’ve featured most recently (my favorite is that Trash one!! Brilliant!)
- Hustle #73: Selling Crickets Online! ($1,200/mo)
- Hustle #72: Finding Hidden Money as a Forensic Accountant ($300/hr)
- Hustle #71: Picking Up Trash in Parking Lots ($30-$50/hr)