Finding Your Lane on the Road Trip to Successful Test Prep Tutoring

The Road to Successful Test Prep Tutoring

Plenty of planning goes in a long drive: you need to know where you are, where you’re going, and the directions for how to get there. Then it’s time to nail down the things that will make the travel unique and enjoyable.

For my wife and I, snacks, comedy specials, concert recordings, and a crossword or two are the key ingredients to an awesome road trip. Your mileage may vary (pun intended), but for us, that’s the ideal packing list.

Could we have just jumped in the car and go? Of course, but then we would be like all those other carloads we pass along the way. They’re just mindlessly driving to their destinations. We’re on our own impeccably optimized trip!

Plan Your Business Trip

Not a business trip like a trade show in Topeka. I'm talking about a business trip, like a journey for your business! 

When it comes to your test prep business, it's easy to get stuck aimlessly following traffic. The key to reaching your destination is to know your lane, make the right moves, and plan your own path to get out of the congestion caused by your competitors in the test prep space.

After all, being a test prep professional is not a one-size-fits-all proposition. There are plenty of choices and specializations that you can make to help highlight your strengths and dial into a profitable audience. You just need to know where you are, where you’re going, and make sure you’re being smart about how to get there.

Know Your Lane

If you spend any amount of time on a major interstate, you know the importance of lane etiquette. There’s a hierarchy to highway traffic that is largely based on speed. The faster you are aiming to drive, the farther left you should be. Slower traffic that lacks either the confidence or urgency to maintain a decent speed should move to the right. This basic premise helps ensure everyone can drive safely and comfortably in the way that best suits them.

However, when a slower driver drifts into the faster lanes or a fast driver is dashing in and out of the slower lanes trying to gain a few car lengths, the fragile balance gets upset and everyone tends to suffer. These types of drivers are jeopardizing their own safety; other drivers left with no choice but to adapt to the disruptions. No one wins.

Whether it’s driving on the highway or running a business, a lack of self-awareness can be hazardous.

It is important as a test prep professional to know your lane when it comes to the services you are equipped to offer clients. Matching your services to your strengths is crucial. Should you stray too far into lanes where you can’t keep up, your competitors will be passing you left and right. If you are unpredictably swerving between multiple lanes, the lack of focus will hamstring your business’s marketing efforts; potential clients won’t know what you are actually best-suited to deliver (and will probably just avoid taking the chance on your services).

To avoid these pitfalls, take a step back and try to figure out your business’s ideal test prep niche.

  • Do you have more or less success with certain types of students? Maybe you have had significant success working with athletes. Perhaps you have been able to facilitate meaningful growth with the top-performing students in your area. You might have a penchant for working with students grappling with learning disabilities.
  • What segment of the market do you work with? Is your operation appealing to cost-sensitive clients or does your client list suggest your business is more of a high-end boutique? Are you successfully drawing from a wide swath of the market?
  • Where do you do your best work? Some tutors work exclusively in a tutoring facility while others travel to client’s homes or schools. While you may not have a personal preference, what environment produces the best results for your efforts?
  • What is your optimal tutor to student ratio? Look at the students that you have seen make the most significant growth. Were they tutored in a one-on-one setting, with a few peers, in a larger group course, or some combination therein?
  • How tight is your focus? Do your programs offer a comprehensive, one-stop-shop for test prep or is your business more finely tuned to specific elements like the SAT essay or the ACT science section?

Your answers to these questions should form the basis for establishing your position in the test prep landscape. For the best results, craft a marketing message that will attract clients in your niche market.

Be careful! This type of reflection may also lure you into thinking that you need to expand your offerings to accommodate a wider variety of clients. This is certainly a worthy goal, but, just like going on a road trip, doing so without planning could lead to a tremendous waste of your time. 

Avoid Congestion by Planning Your Own Path

If you are fortunate enough to have lived in a state with some coastline, you know the perils of beach-going traffic in the summertime. If you haven’t had the pleasure, it’s about as fun as it sounds.

Long (frustrating) story short, if you have any need to drive in the general direction of the beach for any reason from noon on Friday through Saturday evening, be sure to bring snacks and some entertainment. Every thoroughfare becomes a parking lot for weekend warriors. What's worse, the entire situation repeats on Sundays, just in the opposite lane.

The solution: locals stay off the road during the weekend beach commute. In the rare case that there is a drive that has to happen, the best way to reach the destination is to find the alternate routes that tourists (and Waze) don't know about.

Similarly, as test prep professionals, it is important to know where the congestion is in your market. It's a fool’s errand to chase clients who are already courted by two dozen test prep firms.

That said, if you feel that you can be successful in a particular niche despite a plethora of competition, you better have a unique pathway to success that will help you arrive at a successful outcome. Rushing into a crowded market with an undifferentiated product, and you'll find yourself waiting for client calls that will most likely never come.

Look at your test prep niche. What qualities does your business have that make it unique compared to other tutoring businesses in your area? The answer to that question should be what informs the majority of your marketing and client-acquisition strategies. Staying in your lane isn't a bad thing when it's the lane that's moving!

Whatever path you're on, you can always consider separating yourself from the pack by revving up your comprehensive test prep curriculum with some branded, technology-infused materials. You can even take your quest for improvement a step further by soliciting advice from clients about adding to your expertise. There's no better time to start than this summer (and just in time for the August SAT)!

When it comes to the route you take as a test prep professional, make it your own. Identify and draw attention to your strengths while being cautious not to simply fall in line with the pack.

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Matt McCorkle