VIII. Locating and Deploying Subcontract Tutors

For the first six months when I was only doing this tutoring business part time and also teaching, “Alliance Tutoring” was essentially just me. I would take on all the assignments, many through the students at the school I was teaching at in 2019, Taft. Then in the summer, after dabbling in Biology and some math classes, I realized I was in a bit over my head. I wasn’t touching Physics or Chem, so I knew I would need reinforcements, in my case in the form of subcontract 1099 workers. At first I turned to the colleagues that I knew: other teachers that I had taught with at the various schools I taught in. While this worked reasonably well in some cases, it was a problematic approach and really hindered the early development of the business. For one, the teachers I knew were all very good teachers, and thus, very busy. They had maybe a few hours in the evening and perhaps were available on the weekends, but it was tough to talk them into anything. The clients loved them because they were terrific, but the availability was simply prohibitive. I used them on the website to advertise, as their profiles were impressive, but I increasingly turned to other sources.

First, a note on 1099 Subcontract workers versus employees. My business has zero employees. However, I have about 30 active subcontract tutors that I utilize. You can essentially pick in the model I have selected (and would highly recommend) whether you would like to designate your workers as actual employees or 1099s. Subcontractors are not owed health insurance or other benefits or a particular wage. In fact, you’re not required by law to provide them with much of anything. It’s probably wise to get a basic contract in place to establish some rules for not stealing clients (though I’ve found that to be quite rare) and some basic etiquette, but other than that it’s very casual. After vetting through interviewing and resume checking, I give my subcontractors a few forms, a background check, and they’re off and running. If things aren’t working out, they get some bad feedback, they’re mysteriously dropped by a few families, or they’re just stirring the pot too much. Sayonara, best of luck to you, and I just don’t send them any further clients. The downside I suppose is that they are not obligated to stick around either. So if they find a better wage (doesn’t happen, I pay the highest), a life circumstance comes up, they move, or they don’t like how things are going, they can jet just as easily. 

However, if you master the art of hiring subcontract tutors online using the techniques I will provide, then replacing lost tutors is just a matter of course. Yes, there’s some definite risk anytime you send someone new, and there is certainly the potential that you don’t immediately find anyone who can suit your needs at a high level for a particular contract, but overall, I’ve found success at quick replacement. Longevity does help, though; there are a handful of tutors who have been with me essentially from the beginning, culled from a swath of others that fell off by the wayside along the way. These “core tutors” are generally my go-to’s for basic jobs, and in their relationship with Alliance, they may as well be employees. 

Hiring with Indeed: I diddled around with ZipRecruiter at first, but their payment structure required too much commitment and they’ve since gone out of favor. I also tried out Linkedin, as they have a recruiting service, but it didn’t give enough options with flexibility, not to mention it was overpriced. I have since arrived at Indeed. I find it very user friendly and flexible with its pricing. The options I have obtained there have been the backbone of my business. While there are always busts along the way, overall, it has been a winner for me.

Timing is Key: One issue I’ve had to navigate is that of timing. With a system of subcontractors paid strictly by contract, there is a bit of threading the needle in terms of timing. If I try to acquire someone’s services before I get a call seeking that particular service, I risk getting obtaining that person for no reason and they fall by the wayside, while also be turned off by being interviewed and vetted and then left to rot, making the chances of utilizing them on future contracts ironically worse. 

On the other hand, if I wait until a contract comes up, frequently they’re looking to get started right away. If I have no one on standby to tutor a particular subject, say Computer Science, for instance, then I’m left scrambling to try to fill that position last minute. Scrambling to fill it can sometimes result in a great tutor and a great fit, but it’s also a scramble, so there is a higher potential for things to go wrong: an unreliable tutor, one that lacks knowledge or proper experience, or one whose availability squeezes the client. Worst of all is if you can’t find someone who will reflect well at all on your company. Then you’re faced with the awkwardness of either informing the client that you can’t help them when you said you could or simply not responding and letting them walk. 

While I’ve leaned towards the latter approach, it’s mainly been my mission to walk the line between the two. Have a number of subcontract tutors on standby that I use enough to satiate and keep them interested and engaged to the point where they don’t walk away, but then scramble to fill in the inevitable gaps that exist when someone asks for an obscure location, time and/or subject matter, or when a tutor I usually go to is unexpectedly unavailable. While not an ideal solution, it offers flexibility, versatility and quality.

It helps, of course, that the wage I offer is at least 20-30 dollars an hour more than most of my competitors. Paying top of the market prices results in less per hour profits, yes, but it has two very helpful and related byproducts: 1. It tends to net the best tutors available on the market, reflecting on the quality of your service 2. It allows for greater flexibility in hiring, as you instantly become a desirable company, allowing you to quickly locate diverse talent.

This philosophy is the backbone of my model and I almost hesitate to pan it out, as it feels like giving out the secret recipe to Coca Cola. Founded on this model, I’ve been able to build a company with six figure income from the ground up after making a pittance in teaching. 

In Person Tutoring: We offer both “in person” tutoring and online tutoring, but hiring for the in person form is far more difficult. You can easily find a handful of Ivy League PhDs to tutor for you online, but very few these days want to leave their jammies… Know your target location. If it’s an obscure place, you may need to lower the bar a bit in expectations. If it’s a more populated area, the expectations will be higher. We have to list the job as an “In person” position, include it in the description and select the “in person” option on the job listing to avoid any confusion over the hiring. I still get random people from Alabama applying, and when queried, they respond, “Oh, I thought it may have been remote…” 

While not impossible, finding people who want to pay several hundred dollars an hour for online tutoring is far more difficult. The hybrid model (part in person, part online) or in person versions are far easier to sell, even just starting with it as a core philosophy and identity of your company. It’s just too easy to get cheap education online these days with an infinite amount of competition in the educational sector. Be hyper-localized and you will be able to focus your marketing efforts and your target demographic. Dominate a gap in the market in a specific region and you will find more success than a generalized ‘pole in the ocean’ approach, trolling the open sea waters with merely a prayer and a worm.  

Reading Resumes: High End Talent for High End Price Point: If you’re going to charge a high rate for tutoring, as I suggest you should to compete ‘up’ and not ‘down,” you’ll need high end talent. We generally seek at least a Master’s degree and 5-10 years’ experience in a relevant field as a benchmark. If the applicant lists themselves as a nurse, inventory manager, or other irrelevant title, I’m very likely not going there. There’s just so many other relevant options. Early on I got distracted by impressive resumes of eclectic but irrelevant experience; if you’re paying top dollar, it’s not necessary to consider these candidates. I also look for educational background as my first check on the resume. Call it shallow and prejudicial if you like, but people with degrees from competitive schools are generally speaking, better candidates. It also looks far more impressive to parents, whether they’d like to admit their own snobbishness or not. And you will need to send them resumes from time to time, when they ask. In my experience, the educational background determines the floor for the candidate, the experience determines the ceiling of what they can do. 

But beyond these two facets, the most important consideration for the quality of a candidate is their ability to communicate readily and reliably. Clients are constantly changing plans in predictable and unpredictable ways. If you’re not going to text (usually due to age or general luddism) or respond very quickly to emails, it doesn’t matter if you have a Doctorate from Harvard, you’re going to be a headache to manage as a tutor. 

The other vital key to tutor quality is the availability. If a tutor is only available evenings between 4-5PM on Tuesdays and Thursdays (usually due to teaching responsibilities), they’re not going to be that useful to you. They can be the best tutor in the world, but if they’re not able to be flexible about the when and where and how much, it’s going to make it nearly impossible to make any money from their service. Typically, you’ll need to seek individuals who are either in PhD programs finishing dissertations, or perhaps Residents, or my favorite of all: professional contract tutors! Quality ones are more rare, but when you find a good one, cling to them with all you’ve got. Those are the money-makers. They’re experienced, they communicate readily and they’re always, always free to take something on.

Versatility is also very nice to have. If a tutor only tutors chemistry, that’s not necessarily that helpful to me. Yes, clients ask for Chem help, but it’s a narrow ask, and it’s far more helpful in the long run to have a tutor that does all STEM (Bio, Chem, Physics, and Math through Calc) on a reasonable level, than one tutor who does Chemistry incredibly well. I can’t really deploy that type of tutor effectively and keep them engaged with enough income as I never know when, where and how much Chemistry specific need will arise. 

Usually tutoring these days comes with a desire to support the “Executive Function Skills,” which is a central part of our philosophy. Honestly, though, it’s a bit of a croc, and here’s why: Executive Function Skills are the skills that surround doing well in school, everything that’s not the actual academics. Planning and organizing, task initiation, analyzing syllabi, etc. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all critical skills and you can’t do well in school without them. But tutors, and teachers, that are in any way decent should be covering these skills regardless! They always have. I guess there are some lousy tutors who just focus on centrifugal force or the pythagorean theorem, but those are lousy tutors and have no business in the high end tutoring trade regardless. The tutors you hire should be able to say they can support EF skills and know what that means, an implied support that they need to supply to support a student’s academic success generally. 

Interviewing: You can either set up a phone interview if you like, or do what do I, which is merely to use the number listed on their resume and give them a call. That is a form of check automatically. If they answer, you know they are typically readily available. If you leave a message and it takes a day or two for them to call back, that tells you they’re not as available. If you get a wrong number or a full inbox, that tells you about their reliability. 

I generally ask very simple questions when interviewing. What is your background in teaching and tutoring? What can you tutor? When are you available to tutor? Where are you able to tutor? While these answers are critical to determining viability, what I’m really trying to determine is what type of person am I talking to. If I was a student, would I want to work with this person? Are they engaging? Friendly? Knowledgeable? If they check all those boxes, they’re in!

Background Checking: There’s about a thousand systems you can use with varying levels of seriousness. I use Info Tracer. It’s very quick and easy. You can run a name through with the state that a person lives in and it will spit out everything you need to know: any criminal background, financial, personal. It’s a way of not only checking the legitimacy of the person legally, but also a way of verifying the details on their resume. While it’s extremely rare to lie on a resume about educational background or experience, it is possible, so it’s best to check. Also, parents will occasionally ask about the vetting of the tutors. They’re being invited into their homes to work with their children, so that type of request does make sense. Infotracer is $20 a month for infinite searches and has proved a helpful tool in our Human Resources. 

Trial by Fire: At the end of the day, you will only know if someone is a good tutor by trying them out in an actual gig. There’s some inherent risk there. It’s possible they flame out for one reason or the other. I’ve had tutors complain about their wage in a CCed email to a parent, for instance; I’ve had them openly discuss potential prejudice by the client in CCed emails, I’ve had them skip out on sessions; I’ve had them give me grief about the assignment before they’ve even taken on a contract. And these are tutors that have degrees from Columbia, Stanford, and Yale. Even in the world of high level tutoring, you get all sorts, and it all comes with risk. Every time you send someone out there, they will reflect on your company, either good or bad, and you’re only as good as your worst tutor. But those risks are necessary. You will never get to a point where you have a handful of core tutors who have been with you forever until you take these risks and occasionally fall on your face a few times. 

Ultimately, you want to get to a point where you have at least a handful of core tutors who you can turn to for essentially anything who are always ready and willing to take whatever you send them, and ideally ones who can take the reins on scheduling more sessions, signing up siblings and extending the scope of what you are providing to the clients. More hours means more wins all the way around. The students get more support and subsequently better grades, the parents get the results they were looking for, the tutors get more work and more wages, and you make more profit. So your boots on the ground, so to speak, should be working on extending business. The experienced ones know how to do this artfully and effectively, others may need more coaching, or won’t be able to at all, which means less business and more work for you to identify and upsell your current clients. 

VIII. Deploying Subcontrac.pdf
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