Is Your Top Tutor Preventing the Growth of Your Test Prep Company?

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The problem: 
Despite a reliable stream of referrals and good score improvements, you're unable to grow your tutoring company beyond a small operation. Your personal tutoring schedule is booked solid, but it's difficult to fill your other tutors' schedules, making it difficult to hire and retain good tutors, despite paying them above competitive wages.  

Before we dive in, let's get a few things straight.

First, offering high quality test prep is a great way to grow your tutoring company.

Second, many tutoring companies face this problem.

Third, you must address this problem before you can grow your tutoring operation beyond just a few test prep tutors.

Fourth, nobody is going to fix this for you.  

As Cofounder of Clear Choice Test Prep, I've worked with tutoring and test prep companies across the country and around the world. Many of them had grown organically to a point but then seemed to plateau. Often, that frustration is what drove them to check out our 100% custom branded test prep system in the first place.

Good news! The solution to this problem is actually quite simple once you've understood the underlying causes.     

The Underlying Cause: 
Independent tutors and local tutoring companies must compete against test prep giants who literally wrote the book on test prep. As a result, it can be tempting to make tutoring more personal by emphasizing the value of the tutor rather than that of the curriculum or the test prep system. That's not necessarily a bad move. It plays to your strength and your competitors' perceived weaknesses. It plays into an existing narrative, and it's true for the most part. But selling the tutors themselves rather than the tutoring services your company provides can create a branding problem that makes it much more difficult to grow your tutoring company. 

The danger is that you and a few top tutors soon become indistinguishable from the product you deliver. When this happens, you are the product -- and that can make it nearly impossible to grow your tutoring company. If the face of the company is the product, then it can be difficult to sell new test prep clients on tutoring with anyone besides the face of the company.

This limits growth in a number of ways. In the worst case scenario, the company's growth is literally limited to the availability in a single tutor's schedule. Often it's not quite that bad, but new referrals still request you or a top tutor -- by name. This leads to unbalanced workloads and difficulties with scheduling. Worse, you become dangerously dependent on revenue from just a few tutors.

Because new referrals consistently demand to work with you or one of your busiest test prep tutors, you can't solve the problem by hiring and training new tutors -- not that you've got the time for that anyway with all your tutoring appointments. Consequently, you're forced to hire only highly experienced tutors whom you can market as "expert" test prep tutors.

Expert tutors often work independently or with very little oversight, which results in inconsistent pedagogy, uneven results, and some unhappy parents. Still, this is growth, and these expert tutors will have to pay the majority of every billable hour of test prep back to the company. That may sound good to you, but it sounds pretty unfair to a tutor who is being marketed to customers as an expert test prep tutor. Tutors -- and sometimes parents -- begin to see you as a middle-man and consider cutting you out of the deal.  

Your only move is to overpay these expert test prep tutors despite their uneven results in hopes they'll remain with your company. However, even if they do remain loyal, you'll still be stuck with tutors who are more costly to employ, more likely to leave, and better able to poach test prep clients when they do. This is not a recipe for growing your tutoring company.

The Simple Solution: 
The only way to avoid this situation is to consciously build value into your brand. That's it. Simple.

Now, simple doesn't always mean easy. You and your tutors will have to resist the temptation to claim value for yourselves. This can be a strong temptation, given that independent tutors who don't self promote soon go out of business. But you are not your brand. Confusing the two is what got you into this mess in the first place.

The only way out is to make sure that you always promote your test prep system first and the tutor second. Don't undersell your tutors, but whenever possible begin with your company's consistent track record of success. Segue into the strength of your test prep curriculum and all of the supplemental test prep resources you offer. Then close with your tutors' ability to connect with students, but avoid any claims about their supernatural tutoring abilities.     

The same goes for all your test prep tutors. They can still be "test prep experts," but it's time stop pretending to be "test prep gurus" with special secret knowledge and tips and tricks than cannot be found in any test prep book. 

This can be hard on the ego. Not every test prep tutor can let go of this persona. Some may feel slighted and resent you for asking them to share the spotlight. So instead of addressing this directly, follow these guidelines that will help change your company culture -- without upsetting tutors.     

First, avoid any policy or action that might create the impression that some of your tutors are superior to others. This means you'll want to avoid titles that imply rank, such as Senior Tutor, Veteran Tutor, Top Tutor, Elite Tutor, Platinum Tutor, etc. 

Second, avoid tiered pricing, which can suggest to customers that your lower priced tutors are less competent. If you feel you must maintain tiered pricing, then find a way to justify it that doesn't diminish the perceived value of working with your lower priced tutors.  
 
Third, avoid policies that encourage tutors to promote themselves over the company.  For example, offering referral bonuses to tutors who are requested by name encourages your tutors to think like salesmen chasing a commission. Instead, offer substantial bonuses to tutors who achieve exceptional results with their students. Celebrate greatness, not self-promotion.  

Fourth, take every opportunity to communicate directly with the parents. Make sure they understand all the value that your system is providing. Make it clear that you're personally committed to the success of their student. It's a great idea to send weekly progress reports that outline all the concepts you covered in the past week.        

Fifth, and most importantly, provide your tutors with the best test prep system. Marketing the tutor instead of the system is only a necessity if you cannot compete on the strength of your own test prep system. Even so, handing a competitor's test prep materials to a student communicates that the competitior is the authority on test prep -- not you. Unless you're using your own branded test prep system, you're actively promoting your competition. The first step toward growing your tutoring company is to commit to building value into your brand. And the first step toward adding value to your brand to start using branded SAT and ACT materials

We hope you've found this information useful. If you've got questions, please post them below.  We'd love to hear from you!