In this post I’ll be sharing my ultimate Skype tutoring checklist, walking you through everything you need to start an online tutoring business for hardly any investment and in just a few hours.
If you’ve got a skill people want to learn and a solid internet connection, you can get started with just a few basic pieces of equipment (which I’ll show you shortly).
But…before I get to that, let’s quickly look at the benefits of using Skype to teach.
2) You can hold group lessons or one to one calls
3) It allows screen sharing
4) Provided you've got a good internet connection, audio quality tends to be great
5) It opens your doors to a huge market. You're not limited to local connections: you can get online and teach students all over the world.
6) You can share files and chat using instant-messaging all in one place. That's a huge convenience, saving you from having to use lots of separate tools.
7) It’s accessible for all. You don’t need a fancy office. You don’t have to bring strangers into your home. You don’t face the misery of driving to students’ homes multiple times a week. All you need is your laptop, a few tools, and internet connectivity. That’s it.
In short, tutoring on Skype is the quickest & cheapest way to start a tutoring business. Minimal expense. Maximum convenience.
Okay, so I think we’re all agreed: Skype poses plenty of benefits and earning-potential for you. With that all out of the way, let’s take a look at everything you have to have before you can start building this little empire of yours.
You can’t really launch a professional teaching business with your laptop alone – not if you want your students to take you seriously, anyway. You don’t have to transform your home into something a music producer might have, sure, but you DO need to look into the following tools to ensure each lesson goes as smoothly as possible.
A good microphone:
A lot of tutors make the mistake of thinking picture quality is the most important consideration for Skype calls.
That’s not true. It’s actually audio quality!
Put simply, the inbuilt microphone in your laptop just isn’t good enough. The first thing you should invest in is a good microphone because it will boost the audio-quality of your voice whilst also minimizing background noises too.
You’ve got a message students across the globe want to hear, so make the hearing part as clear as possible!
When it comes to making a purchase there’s plenty of options, depending on your experience levels and budget. Different price ranges have different features, but one thing I like is having a portable USB mic so I can still hold Skype tutoring sessions even when I’m travelling.
There’s no need to spend a fortune on a mic – even budget mics are a huge improvement.
For more information about the best budget microphones check out the video below:
A mic arm:
Depending on the mic you choose and the set-up you have in your teaching space, you might like to invest in a good mic arm too. These are designed to support your mic and give you a little more freedom and flexibility.
With an adjustable arm you’ll be able to sit back in your seat, move around your desk, and still position your mic perfectly so your students can hear you in all your glory.
In case you’re not familiar with a mic arm, click here to see what they look like
The beauty of a mic arm is it supports your mic, gives you more positional flexibility and helps with space so you don’t have gadgets crowding around your laptop.
A pop filter:
If you want to take audio levels one step further, I highly recommend buying a pop filter.
I know what you’re thinking: “A pop filter, what the heck’s that?”
Pop filters are basically little screens that sit in front of your microphone and soften the harshness of certain sounds (think of those hard ‘P’s’, ‘B’s’, and ‘S’s’).
This improves the quality of your audio for everyone listening at home. The softer your audio, the better your students’ experience will be, especially if you’re communicating in second languages.
It’s not an essential bit of kit, but they do make a big difference and you can pick one up for quite cheap. Take a look for yourself to see just how much of an impact they have!
Or…you could use headphones!
Of course, if all this sounds a little too tricky or too much hassle, you might want to look into a set of headphones with a mic attached. These are popular with gamers (all those guys and girls yelling at each other over Call of Duty), and provide a comfortable, relaxed set-up with minimal effort.
Again, this might be a handy solution if you’re looking to dabble in online tutition whilst on the road and don’t want to carry a separate mic and headphones with you.
Next: your webcam! You want your students’ video-chat experience to be the best it can possibly be – and that means a clear, crisp image. Even if your students can hear your silky voice without a single flaw, they’re bound to get flustered if you’re little more than a pixelated hazy blur on their screens.
Good webcams will help to make your lessons feel more intimate, as if you and your students are really in the same room together rather than miles and miles apart. Students will also feel more connected to you, which in turn translates to better concentration. Think how hard you’d find concentrating if your long-distance tutor faded in and out of focus every two seconds.
Also, if you’re presenting visual aids or demonstrating a certain technique, you’ll want the image to be as clear as possible for maximum effect.
There’s a massive range of webcams out there, but, as with microphones, most pre-installed versions that come with PCs and laptops are low-quality models that may be prone to blurring or dropping frame-rates which can be hugely problematic and distracting for students.
So, what webcam should you buy? Well, it’s difficult for me to make a recommendation because everyone has different budgets and needs. Plus…something I recommend today will be old news by next week.
That said, the video below is a good starting point in your search!
Don’t neglect lighting!
Last but by no means least – your lighting. The best webcam won’t mean anything if your students are staring at a stark, glaring image or can’t see you at all. Getting your lighting right might take you a little time, especially if you’re alone, but it definitely pays off.
Simply relying on your main overhead light is unlikely to work too well, especially if it’s directly above your set-up (or too far away). You’ll probably need some lighting close to your teaching space, providing enough brightness without washing the image out.
A small lamp or adhesive LEDs you can move around as needed may be a smart choice, but take a look at this video for some inspiration.
File Sharing & The BEST Skype Whiteboard
Okay, so I’ve walked you through the equipment you’ll need, but what about software? What online tools can you rely on to provide an exceptional service?
Well, as great as Skype is, it’s very important to stay organized. You need to keep learning materials together in their proper categories, you need to have the right documents at your fingertips before every lesson, and you ABSOLUTELY have to keep it all well-organized so you can find exactly what you need in a hurry.
First, Google Drive. This little beauty is a cloud storage system that allows you to retrieve and share your documents from any computer, anywhere in the world. Not only is it free to start, it’s also blessed with that familiar Google quality of design. It’s efficient, easy to navigate, and offers a variety of different document-types.
You can whip-up a spreadsheet to record your students’ progress and other vital info. You can knock-out a quick document to share ahead of a lesson. You can even create a neat, well-organized folder system for yourself.
I’ve found that Skype lessons really benefit from sharing presentations, documents, and more with students via Google Drive. It helps to get new ideas and concepts to students with just a few clicks while you’re chatting on Skype.
Don’t forget, you can grant your students access to shared folders so they can access all they need too.
Google Drawings is something of a hidden gem. It’s perfect for using as an online whiteboard, ideal for creating graphs and visualizing ideas.
Using Google Drawings you can illustrate a point and share your screen with your students in just a few clicks (as illustrated in the video below).
Ok, so quick recap – so far we’ve considered audio, visual, lighting, and organization. Anything else we need?
Well, in all honesty, the Skype call itself is just a part of a bigger process.
Let’s take a look at other points you need to consider.
Recording your lessons:
One of the things that sets great online tutors apart from their competitors is their ability to provide recordings. If you want to be seen as a premium, top of the line tutor, I ‘d strongly urge you to think about recording your lessons and making recordings available to your students.
Why? Well, two reasons.
1) If students have any questions, or they just forget what you taught them, they can go back and watch lessons again at their own time and pace (perfect if you’re sharing folders with them on Google Drive!)
2) It also helps you to cover your back. Ever had a student claim you haven’t taught them something which you know you have? Perhaps you’ve had a parent questioning how many lessons their child has had because they’ve lost track? If you’ve got videos of every lesson it stops any ambiguity from surfacing.
There’s a great little tool I use for recordings called Screencast-o-Matic. It lets you choose to record either your entire screen, your webcam, or both – so you can cover your lessons completely.
Here’s a quick video showing it in action:
Track your Time:
As the famous saying goes, time is money!
If a student pays for an hour of your time, it’s not fair on them if you give them 50 minutes, but equally it’s not fair on you if you give them an hour and a half.
Tracking your time can help avoid all such issues.
With ScreenMeter, you can record the amount of time you’re putting into your lessons, and it’s nice and easy to use. Want two more reasons to try it? It’s free (always a good incentive) and takes screenshots as evidence of work performed (ideal if you’re not able to record a video or if you want to track how productive your lessons are).
How To Take Online Payment:
Okay, so how do Skype tutors actually get paid?
Well, the easiest and quickest way is to set up recurring PayPal payments.
PayPal is fast, user-friendly, and reliable. Millions of people use it everyday, so there’s a high likelihood your students are familiar and comfortable using it.
Here’s a little video on how to set up recurring payment:
Another way to take payment is via Stripe, which depending on the volume of your transactions might actually be more cost-effective.
Whilst both essentially provide the same service, Stripe and PayPal vary on their costings, e.g. currency conversion rates differ, with Stripe you incur no charge for American Express transactions whilst with PayPal there’s a 3.5% extra charge etc.
For more info check out this great article by Memberful which provides a detailed look at the pros and cons of each.
How do you prevent being interrupted in the middle of a lesson?
If you’re in the middle of a lesson with a student who’s paid for your time, the last thing you want is an interruption such as a Skype message from friends or family.
Not only is this frustrating for you, it’s an unwanted distraction for your student too.
So, to avoid it, set your Skype status to ‘Do no Disturb’ mode – you can do this within seconds and it prevents any notifications for messages that are sent.
How do you handle tech problems?
Despite our best efforts, technology can mess up from time to time.
What if your webcam refuses to work right before a lesson? What if one student in a group call can’t hear you but the rest can? Should you cancel your lesson and refund them?
Well, there’s no rule set in stone here. All you can do is use your common sense and try to resolve the issue as best you can.
For example, if your mic or your webcam has an issue, explain that you have to take a couple of minutes to try to fix it. If your students are experiencing a problem, investigate potential fixes and work through it together.
If the difficulty can’t be fixed, your best bet is to provide a replacement lesson another time. This can be a real pain, but it’s the right thing to do.
Congratulations, you’re now ready to log on and start your online tutoring business!
I hope this checklist has inspired you to give Skype tutoring a go. In terms of cost and speed, very few businesses are this easy to set up. You can have everything ready to go within a few hours for hardly any investment at all. Good luck, and let me know in the comments how you get on!