How to be your own boss

6th June 2008 at 01:00
Being a home tutor can be convenient - especially if you are juggling work and childcare, says Dawn Francis-Pester
Being a home tutor can be convenient - especially if you are juggling work and childcare, says Dawn Francis-Pester

Whether you need a few extra hours' cash a week, or a part-time job, tutoring is a relatively simple home business to set up, as long as you organise things well and present a professional image.

I left my language teaching post at an inner-city London comprehensive to have my first baby nearly six years ago. A few months later my head of department wanted to know if I would return.

Would I prefer to spend time with my soft cute cuddly baby, or with a class full of other people's big gangling teenagers? It was a quick and easy choice, although I did regret it when I checked my bank balance and realised I would have to pay back part of my maternity leave for not returning to my post. But I had burnt my bridges, and once my son could sit up on his own, I started teaching the odd language lesson from home during the day. I would sit my son on the floor, surrounded by toys, while I tried to focus on the pupil.

Usually, as the lesson drew on, I resorted to bananas or pears to keep the peace, and sometimes spent the last few minutes jiggling a baby on my hip while I conjugated verbs or talked through grammar exercises.

It was early days and I had a lot to learn. It's not hard to find tutoring work, but if you want parents and pupils to respect you and your knowledge, it is worth organising your work carefully and making sure you come across as professional.

As with any business, you need to think clearly about what you are offering: be realistic about what you can teach, and whether you have experience and qualifications. If you have taught in school, you probably have piles of resources or ideas that you can draw on with the minimum of fuss.

If something really isn't your specialist area, but you think you could get by, decide whether you have enough material. You don't want to spend the whole of Friday evening reading up on the digestive system so you feel qualified to teach it on Saturday morning, or the whole of Sunday making resources for the week.

Are you flexible enough to teach all ages and levels? Do you know what various examination boards expect? If you don't, make sure you find out, so that you teach what's required. Pupils can usually ask a teacher for a copy of the syllabus, or at least get a rough idea of the school department's scheme of work. Be clear about the aims of your adult learners. Do they want an overview of a topic, a smattering of a language to get by on their next holiday, or are they hoping to use their knowledge for a particular job?

Are you prepared to spend time travelling to pupils' houses or would you prefer them to come to your home?

The latter may seem the easier option, but you will have to tidy up and be suitably dressed well in advance.

If you teach children in your own home, it helps if you can welcome the parents too. Put them at their ease. Offer coffee and somewhere they can sit and listen in if they wish. This is particularly important for younger or special needs pupils.

A folder containing your qualifications, letters of reference and any other relevant documents for parents or adult learners to look through is a good idea. If your welcome is genuine and the parents have confidence in you, they will probably prefer to go shopping after the first few lessons, unless you particularly want them to stay.

Timing needs careful consideration. If you are used to teaching one age range, you may be surprised at the different concentration spans and interest levels of older and younger pupils. I find half an hour of French and Spanish is enough for a primary child, but offer an hour for secondary pupils, and sometimes more for adult learners, who may learn in couples or small groups.

Pupils pay me at the end of the first lesson. If they wish to continue, I then ask them to start paying for each lesson a week in advance. If they later cancel a lesson without 24 hours' notice, I expect payment. That way I don't waste time tidying up and preparing lessons if they aren't going to turn up.

At first I taught just a few lessons scattered here and there through the week, but pupils would arrive late, and I felt obliged to continue for an hour. Now, I time lessons so that they are back to back. If a pupil is late they will lose out, as I will have to move on to the next pupil when their time is up. Why should you lose time waiting around for latecomers?

A few years on and I still work from home, juggling private tutoring around the home education of my children. The money is good, as is the job satisfaction, and I am "keeping my hand in", if I do ever decide to return to a school teaching post.


How much should I charge?

Firstly, do the research. See what other tutors are charging from their adverts in shop windows, internet sites such as, and ask for suggestions from colleagues and parents. If you are professional and know your subject well, you should feel confident to ask a good price. A typical range for a qualified teacher is pound;20 to pound;30 an hour.

You should also think about travel costs and be realistic about the time involved in travelling to lessons.

Print a leaflet with your name and details on the front, small print on the back stating that "cancellations must be paid for unless 24 hours' notice is given" and fill in and sign for each payment made, so that parents have a record.

Where do I find pupils?

Gumtree is a good place, or you could try agencies such as or, but check commission rates. Some agencies take a one-off fee, others expect a chunk of commission from each lesson.

When should I recruit pupils?

You might find a new pupil at any point in the year, but the best times to advertise are the start of September and January. In September pupils start looking for help with their new courses, and in January they begin to panic about exams. However, they also panic about exams the week before they start.

How should I let people know I'm a home tutor?

Advertise in newsagents, on websites, in local papers or start your own web page. Have cards printed with your name and contact details and distribute a few to each pupil, who may refer friends or classmates. Make sure your details are on file at the local library, and find out about the local Chamber of Commerce, which may also be a good source of contacts or pupils.

Do I need extra insurance to work from home?

Although you are not legally required to hold public liability insurance for teaching from home, you should inform your home insurance company that you are using the home for business purposes. Contact The Association of Tutors (01604 624 171) or visit its website to find specific information on insurance, as well as other important aspects of tutoring, such as the Criminal Records Bureau check.

What about tax?

As with any small business, you need to be registered as a sole trader. However, if your annual earnings for 2008-09 amount to less than pound;5,435, you will not pay income tax, and will only be eligible for Class 2 National Insurance Contributions (currently pound;2.80 per week) if you earn between pound;4,825 and pound;5,435 a year. Remember to keep a record of how much pupils have paid you, and receipts for items you have bought for the business, such as paper, textbooks and printer cartridges. These can be deducted from your annual earnings when working out your tax bill.

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