Technology toolkit: The tech you need to start a tutoring agency

If you're starting a tutoring agency what technology will you need? Founder of The Profs Tuition Richard Evans reveals how he runs his business

Company name: The Profs Tuition
Founder: Richard Evans
Co-Founders: Rory Curnock Cook, Leonard Evans
Size: 5 full-time staff. 150 tutors
Based in: London
Website: http://www.theprofs.co.uk/
Similar business types: Recruiters, dating agencies, estate agents.

What hardware do you need to set up a tutoring agency?

A laptop and a phone.

What software do you need to start your business?

Cracking your administration is the key to success. Specialist database and payment software such as TutorCruncher is the best in the market because it is designed by a tutoring agency specifically for tutoring agencies. It handles almost every aspect of the business from tutor recruitment to matching, and bookkeeping to paying tutors.

A strong website and brand design. We came up with our own ideas for logo and website branding but used Fiverr.com and Odesk for outsourcing the final products. These sites are amazing for value, but you have to accept that the quality will usually not be the same as a professional. That said, we love our logo! It just took a few attempts to find the right designer.

Skype for taking calls. We use Dropbox for file sharing. Google Docs and Evernote to share client and tutor information. Microsoft Office. Go Cardless (Direct Debit) and PayPal for taking payments. Google Adwords and Photoshop for marketing. Xero for accounting.

Main concerns and needs influencing technology purchases:

  • Administration: Handling the vast administration of multiple clients and tutors, all with unique sets of requirements. We really struggled to manage with the complexities of so much information in the early days and this needed to be quickly retrievable when clients and tutors phoned up.
  • Payment: Securing payment for the tutors was difficult in the beginning because we did not agree to cash-in-hand payments.
  • Mobility: Before we had designated roles, any day could involve interviewing tutors, meeting clients. We had to be mobile and so cloud-based software was essential. The Profs was essentially run off a couple of mobiles in the beginning.

What budget did you have?

The Profs began from a maxed out overdraft and an old laptop. Everything was run off free trials, commission shares and reinvesting income.

What have you got and why?

Laptops

Product: Toshiba Satellite C50 * 2
Cost: £200 * 2
Cheap, reliable, portable and replaceable. No powerful software needed.

Headsets

Product: Logitech
Cost £20 * 2
We put our client calls through Skype so that we can take them anywhere, and they used to forward to our mobiles. However the call quality suffers and it’s difficult to complete a sale when the customer is frustrated by the poor call quality.

Phones

Product: Apple iPhone 5 with maps, Gmail, Dropbox and online banking and PayPal apps.
Cost: £40 per month
I couldn’t live without a smartphone. It wakes me up, tells me where I need to be, and whether I should pack an umbrella.

Extra Battery Pack

Cost: £20
Sadly my phone can’t keep up with me so needs a little extra help some days.

Broadband

Cost: £25 a month
We live near a local community super-fast broadband.

Printer

Used for tuition to support income early on. It took days to find the right printer, but to date it’s printed nearly 6,000 documents (including colourful tuition material) for only one ink replacement of £40. Do not be fooled by cheap inkjet printers.

Product: Epson Workforce
Cost: £50 + £40 ink cartridges

Whiteboards and stationary

Cost: £20
Nothing beats a good brainstorm, a tally chat for friendly sales competition or just doodling in breaks.

Software

  • Tutorcruncher (free trial then £42 per month + £1 per active tutor/client)
  • Skype for call forwarding (free)
  • Dropbox (free)
  • Microsoft Office Suite
  • Go Cardless for taking Direct Debit (1% of fee or £2. Whichever is small)
  • PayPal for international payments (5.1% + 20p per transaction)
  • Xero accounting software (free month trial then £20 per month). We should have got this from day one. We were advised to and didn’t get round to it.
  • Photoshop Elements (free month trial then £8 per month)
  • Bookingbug (for scheduling interviews)
  • Evernote (£8 per month per person) for sharing extra client call information.

Other:

Fiverr and Odesk are lifesavers for start-ups. Missing a designer or techie in your team? Just use a freelancer until you can afford your own – or hire the freelancer if they are good to work with. The voice of The Profs is the HMV guy, and we’re proud of that.

Tips:

  • Estimate your costs and add 50%.
  • Re-evaluate your business plan and costs monthly (at least) – early growth is nearly impossible to predict.
  • Be prepared to constantly tweak, and sometimes drastically change things that aren’t working. This January alone, The Profs changed its website, payment system (twice), pricing structure (twice), moved in and out of luxury central London offices, took on its first staff member and then hired another. All whilst doubling in size. It was a hell of a month, but we came out of it a better company.

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