With all its benefits, tutoring can be a fickle game. The masters of our own destiny, we not only have to source and maintain our clients and income, but we also have to plan ahead for the waves that the school year can create in our income. The rush of school starting in September. The lull of the summer holidays. So just what is the best way to manage the peaks and troughs that a September to July working schedule can cause? Do the benefits of working freelance outweigh the possible financial stresses? I shall attempt to investigate…
One of the main draws of tutoring for me has always been the flexibility it allows me. Besides the myriad different students I get to meet, the ability to manage my own working hours has been a real bonus. When I first started tutoring it was March, meaning I dived headfirst into exam season; stressful yes, but also a massive blessing. I had a lot of students, I was giving a lot of lessons and I had a good income. The lull, however, was just around the corner. Summer rolled around, and it hit me – the money I’d earned would have to last me until September, besides the adult students that would continue lessons over the summer. Just how would I manage?
It was a steep learning curve, but a necessary one. It was by no means easy but, as with all challenges, it taught me to overcome the obstacles and make it out on the other side in generally good financial shape. So…how did I do it? The strategy was two-fold: firstly, I focused my marketing/advertising on expanding my adult client base – these would be the students who would see me through the more barren months of the school year, and it was already an age group that I was very interesting in teaching more often. Secondly, I learnt to budget – and I mean properly BUDGET. This meant doing all the boring stuff, such as average yearly forecasts so that I could track when and how my income would change, and also how much to save in order to see me through the quieter months. Thank goodness I got a finance book for Christmas (true story).
Besides the personal challenges that fluctuating finances can have on us tutors, another challenge to face is dealing with banks and accountants to help them understand your changeable income. I cannot tell you the number of times I’ve had to try to explain why I couldn’t give a straight answer when asked what my yearly income is, only to be met with slightly puzzled faces. ‘How about an average income?’ – again, I would say, I can provide that for you but as is the nature of the ebb and flow of students, it could change within a week! It can be hard enough working freelance, by yourself, without having to explain yourself to other people – it’s like back to school for tutors, and I can tell you, I was never good in maths class!
When it comes to banks and accountants, the best advice I can give is to try and find someone who has dealt with people in similar financial situations where possible, and also go to appointments/meetings with as much information and figures as you possibly can. They’re there to help you, but only in as far as you help yourself – which means the tedious task of logging lessons, miles travelled, paying-in slips, receipts…and the kitchen sink. You see now why I roll my eyes when people say I’m ‘incredibly lucky to finish at 12pm on a Friday’ – I’m actually going home to sift through a pile of receipts and log all the miles my Mini has done that week – TGIF, hey?
If any of this sounds remotely like complaining, I ensure you it is not. Every day I am grateful that I do what I love, when I want (mostly, anyway), and with people whose company I truly enjoy. The purpose of this post is to show you that every job in the world has downsides, but also that for every downside there is a solution. Moreover, for every solution to be found there are people who can provide you with a roadmap – I’m helpless with numbers, so I knew better than to tackle my accounts on my own, and I got an accountant on the case. If this tutor can teach you anything (besides keeping all your receipts), it’s that we are never too old, or too ‘sole’ of traders to ask for help.