I am an engineering student studying in one of the top schools in my country. I have been tutoring students for about 2 years, sharing my expertise with those who are about to take university entrance exams (mostly high school students).

Students usually find me through my blog where I post articles about problem solving strategies, time management, dealing with stress, building resilience and patience etc. I also share stories of my previous students and their successes in exams.

During sessions, I usually:

  • solve difficult, challenging problems
  • talk to students about common sources of distraction and how to deal with those
  • talk to families about their attitude towards the student and how they can provide the student with a more efficient environment (I don't charge money for these talks of course, they are usually like tea talks)

So, generally speaking, I work roughly as a personal trainer for these students.

Most of my students say they are satisfied with the learning experience. I regularly provide the students' families with information about the student's progress, and they also openly express their satisfaction and say they are willing to continue with tutoring sessions.

The problem is, after 2-3 months of tutoring 2-4 hours per week, the families suddenly and abruptly change their minds and want to put and end to the sessions, with no display of dissatisfaction or distrust. Am I missing something? Is it possible that I have problems with reading some cues about their attitude towards me? How can I keep my client families wanting to stay with me until the end of the semester?

P.S.: For the sake of comparison, I charge $15 per hour which amounts to $120-$240 per month where an average white collar earns $1200 per month in my country.

EDIT: There are some tutoring centers, located in a building with super crammed and dimly lighted classrooms, employing teachers so incompetent that they are unable to find a proper job at a school, charging $2000 up front per year and these families choose to send their kids to these tutoring centers. Is there a psychological effect of paying up front, where you feel like you have to get the most of what you have just paid, instead of the option I give them where they can choose to cancel whenever they want?

1 year later: I just heard that about this thing called "scope creep" and had kind of a revelation. While it may not be directly applicable to private tutoring space, what I noticed is this: Whenever I agreed to stay for a tea-talk, the parents were always eager to extract the maximum amount of wisdom out of me. That "wisdom" is actually a part of what I'm being paid for, so under the disguise of courtesy (and freshly baked cakes), they were trying to learn as much from me as possible. Once they think they have learned enough, I'm immediately dumped since there is no need for me anymore. Besides, I was basically willingly reducing my hourly rate and giving out free information in exchange of food and small, praising talks.

Who cares about free cakes? Oh how childish I was.

  • Start by asking your clients why they cancel? How can we possibly know? :) Jul 17, 2017 at 14:14
  • They answer like "we don't feel like we need tutoring" when I ask them. The contradictory part is, there are some tutoring centers, located in a building with super crammed and dimly lighted classrooms, employing teachers so incompetent that they are unable to find a proper job at a school, charging $2000 up front per year and these families choose to send their kids to these tutoring centers. The work I do is ultimately more customized and suitable for the student's needs as I actually answer the questions the students ask. I'll edit this into the main post
    – erdem
    Jul 17, 2017 at 14:24
  • Is there any benefits the students receive from the centers that they cannot get from you? Preferential treatment from instructors, advanced notice of special test questions, connecting with other students in the same class to solve problems and study together are some possibilities.
    – user16080
    Jul 18, 2017 at 4:13

2 Answers 2


First off, do you have any sort of standardized method of evaluating the progress of the student? If you can take some sort of evaluation at the start, then maybe every month after that, and show the parents the improvement, they may see it as a better return on their investment.

The biggest part of Freelancing is not solving a problem - it's marketing yourself as the best choice to solve the problem. I know it sounds contradictory, but you can't solve the problem without getting your foot in the door.

Since you have no issue getting the clients in the first place, you need to show that you are constantly solving all their problems. Having a standardized, quantitative measure of progress to show the people paying will help. I'm 100% certain the tutoring centres you are competing with will do this already.

  • This is as important in Board meetings as it is with these parents: reporting, metrics, showing progress. Jul 18, 2017 at 8:56
  • Thanks a lot for the answer. Most families are actually aware that private tutoring is more beneficial compared to sending their kids to tutoring centers where higher scoring students are treated well and lower scoring ones are almost completely neglected (I also went to those centers myself a couple of years ago, so I know it). But the professional and corporate-ish approach tutoring centers are taking is apparently what attracts the families to them (not students), as I take the role of an "elder brother" to the students which undermines my professionalism.
    – erdem
    Jul 18, 2017 at 9:00
  • @Psydia Just because smokers are aware that smoking is bad, doesn't make all of them want to quit. They need a visual of "what is this doing to my body" for many of them to choose to quit. You need to sway the decision, which is where you "market" yourself. Showing quantitative stats (i.e. actual numbers, backed by data, that is measurable) on the progress of the customer's child with your service will help entice them to believe you're doing a great job!
    – Canadian Luke
    Jul 18, 2017 at 16:46

Yes, you are missing non-verbal clues. You can't avoid missing clues, so don't get too excited about it. But keep watching and listening for them.

But that is not the only thing you are fighting.

The sales approach is important, of course. (I hate that fact, but it's a fact.)

The corporate tutoring environment has to work hard to get customers, so their ads are good. Common sense should tell people that the better the ads, the more they should mistrust the product. But we know how it is with common sense.

The tutoring industry in many countries is in collusion with the testing industry (and with some proper educational institutions). They have been working to push the idea that grades are more important than actually learning anything, because grades are the only tangible thing they know how to sell.

They don't say it directly, of course, but they sell the value of a diploma from a prestige institution as hard as they can. The hidden text is

To get a good job you must have a degree from a good school! To get into a good school you must have good grades and high scores on the entrance exams. To get good grades and high test scores, you must know everything. We can help your children memorize everything.

Now, you can spot the leaps in logic there and I can spot the leaps in logic there, but the poor kids are being indoctrinated in this almost religious attitude by teachers and public school administration who are under pressure to improve their school's test averages. And the poor parents who attend PTA conferences get the indoctrination, too.

You, as an individual, do not have access to the tests, so your value, in relation to the perceived and false value of a diploma from a prestige institution, has to be lower than that of a cruddy cram school that force-feeds noise in the guise of data extracted from textbooks designed to teach the tests.

The noise is regurgitated as "good" scores and promptly washed from memory. (Some of it may stick, but nothing like real learning.)

I can continue, but I've gone too far. It's a vicious cycle.

What initiates the cycle?

Too many graduates who can't get a good job using what they have learned and need work (any work), and a lot of related malfunctioning aspects of our current society.

And we get into conspiracy theory, and, yes, there are people who think it is to their advantage to push more people into the malfunctioning areas of our society because they hope parts of society will be destroyed and then they can pretend to be saviors of society and get power.

Some of them actually form secret organizations. Fortunately for the rest of us, the reasons their desire for power is derived from personal defects that undermine their organizations.

However, the accumulative effect does leave us with things like juku that are anything but places to study, and it does leave us with people who really want to teach having to compete on an unbalanced playing field.

This is actually not a new problem. It's part of the reason that parents in the backwaters of the US a hundred years ago didn't want their kids going to schools. The problem is basically as old as civilization, and many wars have resulted from it, all through history.

I don't have any answers to this problem except, don't give in to the illusions and don't tell the parents of your students what I've just told you.

Talk about things like, you can give the students a place to recover from the stress of the cram school. And if the students start feeling like there's no meaning to it all, you can help them at least find meaning in learning some of the subjects they find interesting.

Sympathize with both the students and the parents without telling them directly what the insanity is. They won't appreciate that, because it puts stress on them. Don't hint too broadly at the evil nature of the competition, either. That'll make them not trust you.

While you are teaching the students, don't lay on too thick with the difference between memorized noise (so-called facts) and real understanding, but don't leave it alone. Make sure you help the students enjoy learning how to think.

Don't get too worried when the students leave.

And leave the door open for them to come back, as much as you can. Some of them will come back if you can show them that you can help make the trip through this swamp a bit more pleasant.

Those who don't come back -- even a month or two with someone who can help them really learn to think will help them break the cycle some years down the road.

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