The Most Important Investment When Starting as a Tutor


Most people who get into tutoring don’t (initially) think of themselves as “business people”. I certainly didn’t. If you just started tutoring, you probably don’t either. You likely think of it as a short-term gig to make a bit of money with a flexible schedule.

Very quickly, though, you probably found out that finding clients on your own is hard work, especially in saturated markets. You’re a great tutor, but no one knows about you. Figuring out how to find new clients becomes your first priority. You have to get your name out there. You have to advertise.

Congratulations! Whether you want to or not, you are running a business. What’s the next step?

Spoilers: It’s not a business “plan”, a license, a bank account, or even a website. It’s a professional-quality headshot.

Do you need to spend money to make money?

Most of us who don’t have a business background or weren’t lucky enough to be raised in an entrepreneurial household have a hard time investing – financially – in our endeavors. Have you ever spent hours (or days) trying to find free ways to do something instead of spending a few $$ to do it quickly and do it right? I certainly have.

After a few months (or years) of unnecessary stress caused by excess penny-pinching, you’ll realize that in order to have your (very small) business grow and run efficiently you’ll need to – however reluctantly – invest in your business.

Coming to this understanding is like opening a Pandora’s Box. Once you accept that you need to spend money, you’ll find that there a nearly unlimited number of things that you can potentially spend money on. As your business becomes more successful, your expenses will go up. That’s natural.

Here’s a list of potential business expenses arranged from least to most expensive. Luckily, this list is also arranged from most to least important. That is, the lowest cost items are actually the most critical.

  • A business checkings account ($20 – $30 per month)
  • Creation of a corporate entity ($200 – $1000)
  • Client management and billing software ($50 – $100 per month)
  • A separate phone line ($50 – $100 per month)
  • A Website ($500 – $15000)
  • Business Trademark ($800 – $2000)
  • Good quality web hosting ($40 – $100)
  • A professional logo ($100 – $1000)
  • Business cards ($50 – $200)
  • An office – ($500 – $3500 per month)
  • Advertising – ($0 to infinity and beyond)

Do you need everything above to have a successful side hustle as a tutor, or even run a full tutoring agency? Absolutely not. Smart entrepreneurs who want to minimize risk increase their expenses as their business starts making more money, not the other way around.

But they are willing to spend some money at the beginning to get things going.

Your first $100 – $200

If you are just starting out as a tutor, you don’t need to spend on anything above.

A business checking account is nice to have but it usually requires the registration of a corporate entity, like an LLC. An LLC keeps your personal assets safe if you get sued, but if you’re moonlighting as a tutor, you probably don’t have a lot of assets to worry about. Client management software becomes necessary after you acquire more than 5 private clients, but realistically, most of your first few clients will probably come from other sources, such as WyzAnt.

What do you need to maximize your chances of getting your first few clients, even from sites like WyzAnt?

A photo.

A really good photo. A super high quality, engaging, award-winning, professional photo of yourself that costs at least $100. Here’s why.

Story Time

When I first started tutoring, I was clueless about what qualities parents were looking for in a tutor.

After failing to consistently find customers via flyers and craigslist, I eventually put up a website. It wasn’t great at first, but it was serviceable, and customers did start finding me online due to good (for 2009) SEO.

After a few sessions, I asked my customers about why they chose to work with me. I expected the answers to focus on my qualifications or practicalities, like “You went to Stuyvesant” or “You had really good SAT Scores” or “Your rates were good”. Boy, was I wrong!

Instead, the answers were ‘You looked like a nice boy’ or ‘You looked like the kind of person who’d be good at math’.  Nobody mentioned qualifications. Almost universally, the parents focused on the personal qualities that they gleaned from the one picture of me on my website.

I was lucky that I chose a good headshot. Other tutors online – not so much. Forget ‘working with children’, their photos were more appropriate for mug-shots or tabloids – the kind where the paparazzi puts in extra effort to capture the most unflattering images possible. I couldn’t imagine parents inviting them to their house.

Here’s a quick example. Which one of these two people (yes, it’s the same person!) do you think parents want to work with their kids?

Before and After – but I’ve seen worse

Start Here

Even if you don’t spend your money on anything else, even if you use google sheets for appointment tracking, even if you have a crude website that is slow as molasses, even if you’re not sure your car will make it to your next client, take the effort and invest the money to get at least one high-quality photo of yourself in a professional setting where you look like the kind, friendly, reliable, and non-child abusing person that you are.

Don’t try to do it yourself. Don’t let one of your “artist” friends do. Selfies are right out. Find a professional portrait photographer, spend at least $100, and get it done right.

Use this photo everywhere. Use it on WyzAnt to get started. Use it on LinkedIn to make connections. Use this one your website when and if you have one. Use in your email footer and your Gmail profile so people can see your face when you mail them. Use this for your professional Facebook page.

This is an investment in yourself and in your future, and the start of a coherent brand. If it’s your first one, it might feel strange and maybe even uncomfortable to spend money this way.

Do it anyway. It’ll be worth it.