3 Tips for Freelance Tutors Who Don’t Want to Get Ripped Off by Agencies and Clients

By Joanne Poh

We’ve all heard of those superstar tutors who earn over a million bucks a year. But not all tutors are rolling in cash. Many Singaporeans moonlight as private tutors after work in order to boost their income, or to keep themselves afloat as they take a break from work or complete their studies.

These people usually don’t run huge classes from the comfort of their homes and are frequently at the mercy of unscrupulous tuition agents and students who just disappear without paying.

A recent news report revealed that freelance tutors often have no way to get back unpaid fees, either from non-paying students or agencies who hook them up with students and then refuse to release the first month’s fees.

So how can you protect yourself as a tutor? Here are three tips.

1. Work only with agencies that will let you retrieve your first month’s salary directly from the parents in cash

Tuition agencies usually take half your first month’s salary as commission for hooking you up with the student. These are three of the most common ways.

– Most commonly, the agency gets the parent to pay you for your first month at the rate of 50% the usual salary. The other 50% will be paid directly by the parent to the agency.

– Some agencies get the parent to pay the entire first month’s salary to them, and they then retain their commission before forwarding the rest of the cash to the tutor. This is obviously riskier to the tutor, as they don’t get paid if the parent doesn’t pay up and the agency doesn’t bother to chase them, and there’s also the danger that the agency will run off with the money.

– Finally, I’ve also come across one or two agencies that try to insist on collecting money from the parent every month and then relaying it to the tutor by bank transfer, obviously so that they can collect a small commission every month. It’s best to avoid using these agents as your salary is at the mercy of the agent every month. Otherwise, try to negotiate with the parents to stop paying through the agency asap (most parents will be happy to do so as it means they pay less).

It’s advisable only to work with agencies who’ll let you take your first month’s salary directly from the parents. Even if it’s not their policy, unless they operate under Model #3 above they’ll usually be happy to accede to your request in order to close the deal.

2. Ask to be paid in cash before every lesson

A tutor’s salary is usually calculated on a monthly basis, i.e. tutors are paid every 4 lessons if they’re teaching once a week, and every 8 lessons if they’re teaching twice a week.

The obvious drawback to being paid every 4 or 8 lessons is that if you encounter a non-paying student, you only find out after wasting 4 to 8 trips to their place.

Some students also don’t pay up in the final month when they know you won’t be coming back, such as when the school year is ending or they’re graduating. They conveniently “forget” to bring their fees to the last lesson and then promise to pay by bank transfer, which never happens.

It’s completely reasonable to ask to be paid in cash before every lesson. If you’re getting your students through an agent, simply speak with the agent and insist on being paid on such a basis—the parent can simply pay you 50% for the first month’s lessons, and then proceed to pay the full price once the commission period is over.

Technically speaking, the agency doesn’t lose any money by allowing you to do this, and you can also rest assured that you’ll be paid for the lessons you do show up for, even if the parents decide not to continue hiring you after the first month. Just make sure you’re not so incompetent that the parents ask for their money back.

3. Retain a copy of all your communications with agencies, tutors and parents

Tutors often don’t bother to try to make claims at the Small Claims Tribunal because the sums owed to them are quite small, and they don’t have much proof to submit, since contracts are almost never signed in the industry.

Even in the absence of a contract, try to always retain proof in writing of all tuition engagements you’ve shown up for. This can be as simple as sending the student a WhatsApp text before and after each lesson to prove that you were there.

For instance, send a reminder of what time you’ll arrive before the lesson, and after the lesson send the student another text containing a list of the home work for “today’s lesson”. You also want to record in writing (texts or emails are fine) the fees you’ll be paid and commission, if any, that will be deducted from your first month’s salary.

In the event that you’re really forced to make a claim, you’ll have a much easier time of it with all this proof in black and white at hand.

This article was first published over at MoneySmart blog on 13 January 2017. It is reproduced with permission.

About The Author (Joanne Poh)

In my previous life, I was a property lawyer who spent most of my time struggling to get out of bed or stuck in peak hour traffic. These days, as a freelance commercial writer, I work in bed, on the beach, in parks and at cafes, all while being really frugal. I like helping other people save money so they can stop living lives they don't like.


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