Get students to choose you (before they even meet you)

Most freelance teachers and private tutors find it really hard to get new students or a full schedule. It can take so much effort to find out what your students want, explain how you can help — and then the ultimate pain is that after you’ve already spent all that time with them (for free!) students try to negotiate your prices down even further.

When I started freelancing, I faced the exact same problem. By putting my energy on the right things, I was able to turn things around, magnetize a higher caliber of student and fill my schedule.

Let’s flip it around and imagine you’re the student for a moment… When you step into your learner’s shoes, a lot of the things you’re “doing wrong” become really obvious.

From The Learner’s Perspective…

I want you to imagine that have been learning Mandarin. You’ve done a lot of self-studying, but you’re not confident that it’s having the right effect. You decide it’s time to stop struggling alone. It’s time to pony up and invest in a teacher.

Lessons are expensive, but you also don’t want to waste your time or energy with a teacher who doesn’t know what they’re doing, right?

At a local coffee shop, you pick up these two cards from two different Mandarin teachers.

Click the business cards to see them bigger!


Based on no other information, which teacher are you more likely to contact first? Why?

(Pay attention to your answers. You cannot overlook the importance of your own gut reaction and decision-making process.)

Personally, I would contact Hua first.  It seems like she has had more success with helping students speak effectively. She states she has quite a few years of teaching experience, and she clearly knows what my struggles as a student are. I already have some ideas about exactly what I will do by working with Hua: get help with pronunciation, have conversations in Mandarin, and somehow during that, my speed and confidence will improve.

Let’s give Yiming the benefit of the doubt: He might also be as successful a pronunciation and conversational specialist as Hua. In fact, he is actually even more experienced than Hua! And if we find the energy to email or call him, we might eventually discover he has been teaching twice as long as Hua.

Yiming is putting the responsibility to communicate and discover his credentials on us, the potential students. Most people cannot be bothered.

But… people (you, me, and especially your potential students) are busy. We don’t have time.

Hua takes responsibility and starts communicating clearly right there on her business card. She clearly has a specialty (and I don’t know about you, but that makes me feel better). She can give me what I need, and she’s jump-started my decision-making process.

What does this mean for you?

Don’t expect potential students to put extra effort into discovering who you are or what your areas of expertise are.

First impressions matter and if you have a potential student’s attention, don’t waste that opportunity!

Make sure that your website, business card, and various social media profiles are sending clear and focused messages from the very beginning. Provide enough details and information that potential students begin wanting you as their teacher before they even talk to you.

This means that you have to stop offering “English lessons” and start offering something more specialized, more specific. The single biggest favor you can do yourself as a freelance teacher is to identify your specialty. When you do that, and after you teach it for long enough, you can collect success stories that accelerate potential students’ decision-making process even more.

It has taken a few years for me to gather so many happy student success stories like the ones here, but trust me, if I could be successful teaching TOEFL – and more specifically, speaking lessons for TOEFL — then you can specialize in anything.

How would you choose a tutor?

I know you’re teachers! But like I said, you should never discredit your own decision making process. As teachers, we’re the pickiest of picky! We’re very particular about who we trust enough to teach us. If you would pick you (based on a strong first impression), it’s very likely that a student would pick you, too!

In the comments below, journal a bit about what kind of qualities and information would accelerate your level of trust in a potential teacher?