Wednesday, March 03, 2010

The other side of being a tutor

Seems like quite a few folks here are interested to become a full time tutor. Having been in this line for close to 7 yrs, I think I'll have something worthy to contribute to them, so I shall.

I've written extensively about the prospects of being in this business in my past post, so I won't repeat the points already mentioned. Instead, in this post, I shall try to talk about the other aspects of being a self employed, specifically as a tutor.

Here's the bad parts:

1. You don't get paid if you're not working. The relationship between time and money cannot be clearer in this line. I know exactly how much my time is worth and how much a LV bag costs me in terms of hours.

2. You don't get employer's contribution to CPF and you are not forced to contribute to your CPF, though medisave liabilities is still a must by law. This is the biggest bugbear for most people, including me (initially).

3. You don't get paid annual leave, no MC, no bonuses, no company annual dinner and basically whatever represents corporate life. You earn your own bonuses by working harder, and pay your own dinner and take your own unpaid leave.

4. No recognition in terms of corporate ladder. When I go for social gatherings, and people asked me what I do for a living, I get a blank stare after telling them. They will then try to:

a. say something about the job being very good because there's no need to pay tax (rubbish)

b. say something about the job having no cpf (not rubbish)

c. say something about the stability and ask when you are going to get a stable job

People don't know what to tell you after you've told them about your job. Is that a problem for you?

5. Parents/relatives/spouses get nag at you for not finding a stable job, especially if you're a graduate. My parents still can't come to grips with me getting this unstable job, but I think my impenetrable stone face made them give up on asking already. The stress to conform to normality will force a number of you to give up.

6. You're not going to have much of a social life because when others are busy, you're the most free. When others are free, you're the most busy.

7. You begin with a zero income, work your way to a peak income toward the end of the year, then on 1st Jan, you restart again. Again and again. Being a tutor, you always have to work as hard for your pay to be the same as your previous year pay and harder still to increase it. In other words, you're retrenched every year and you have to bounce back in the minimum period of time again.

SO what's the trade-off?

The good thing about the job is that:

1. If you're self-driven and determined, don't mind being aloof and different, able to manage your time well, this is the perfect job for you. Not much politics in this line.

2. You plan your own time. If you don't want to work today and feel like taking a break, go ahead. You're your own boss.

3. You decide how much to earn. The calculation is quite simple:

If you charge $250 per month for one student,

You earn $5k by taking 20 students (3 students a day, inclusive sat/sun)
You earn $10k by taking 40 students (6 students a day)

4. You cannot be retrenched. If you take 30 students, you need to be fired 30 times to be truly fired. There is stability in being unstable all the time.

This line is seriously not for anybody. If you don't like it, don't have the discipline, don't have time management, cannot manage your cash flow, then go and be employed. If you are not interested in mingling with young people and be patient teaching them, you'll tear your hair in every lessons you take, nevermind the money.

But if you are truly interested in this, and is as independent as a cat, then look no further - you cannot find a better job more suited for this type of personality.


Createwealth8888 said...

You didn't mention your career development path? Not right to be a tutor for the rest of your life.

la papillion said...

Hi bro8888,

Actually I did list it down, though I didn't state it explicitly. It's in the 5 points of the links I put inside this post.

Anonymous said...

bro :) same here
but also not much development

Dou said...

Last time my friends invite me to joint venture on the tutor agency but i rejected. In 1 year, his business closed down..being in this line is not easy

Anonymous said...

Hi LP,

Thanks for sharing! I like point 4! haha :)

You are one of the best tutor I have seen!


la papillion said...

Hi Chan,

Hey, thanks for your comment :). However, I'm not sure what you mean by "not much development". Care to elaborate?

Anonymous said...

In reply to Duo,

You really need to be among the best - in terms of hard work,teachers -including teaching methods & material, relationships (parents & students), staffs mgt.

My friend asked me to join his tuition agency, I rejected as I know I will break my back working. He is too good in getting in students. He upgraded from a bmw to merc in a yr, started second branch, sold his jumbo flat and bot a landed all within 3 yrs :)

For the mediocre -- maybe can cover opp. cost.

As for me, I closed my tuition agency after 6 yrs. :)

la papillion said...

Hi Dou,

Tuition agency or tuition centre? Quite different. Tuition has less competitive advantages over others and less moat to defend their business from others. Basically the cheapest and fastest will win.

Tuition centre, however, is different. There are local economic moats (basically students in yishun will just not go over to a centre in bedok, no matter how great it is) that will entrench a good centre at good location. An 'okay' centre should be able to generate enough good students to bring in new ones. But cost is the problem, esp if rented in good locations.

I'm doing a tuition class in my own home. I'm quite sure I can survive :) Thanks for sharing your experiences!

Anonymous said...

aiya, LP,

Pls edit for me "tution center" instead of "agency" :)


quite blur, am watching tv as I type

la papillion said...

Hi HH,

Can't edit for you :)

Btw, which pt 4 are you talking about? The retrenchment one or the fact that there's no recognition? :)

Nah, not good enough too hard, haha :)

Anonymous said...


Point 4 "no recognition". :)

Did someone say "the heart of the matter is the matter of the heart"?

Focus on giving the students your best & have their best interest at heart, the rest will take care of itself. :)


Grey said...

Weow... looks like we are quite similar other than the fact that we use catfaces;

Another line that has as much freedom and unretrenchability is that of a trader/investor; The money can be very good if u make it; But the road is clogged by traders who are killed by bulls and bears;

Next time your relative talk to you about getting a stable job, tell them to talk to your cockcroach!


Musicwhiz said...

Yeah LP this line is not for me. I still prefer corporate life, interaction with colleagues, annual dinners, annual leave and CPF contributions. It also frees up my time in the evenings to do my research and engage in my hobbies (shopping, music, cycling, reading and analyzing companies).

But kudos to you for blogging about this. Not many are so candid. And I salute you for your choice of job! It's not easy and I know it. Keep it up!


Createwealth8888 said...

Cockroach? Talk to me? I am a cockroach in the market.

Anonymous said...

i can identify with you your problems as I too do not have a normal job and work from home. However, it is important in life to stay focus on your goals and as long as you enjoy the process and proceeds, nobody cares what others think about your job.

For one, I've never regretted that I do not have to look forward for the vicious cycle of looking forward to lunch breaks, then knock off time then fridays only to fear mondays and waking up early in morning to get to work.

Enjoy your work and you will never have to work a single day in yur life:)

Anonymous said...

1) Low Barrier of Entry
2) Your credentials become less attractive as you get older. (Parents want scholars of recent years instead of scholars of a decade back).

The stability of the job is just an illusion just like any other office job.

Createwealth8888 said...

Hmmm .. that is somwhat true. Why pay for an old tutor when the younger ones are available at same price.

Createwealth8888 said...

Work for money. Forget it.

mm said...


Its been a while again since I last swung around... I always say that.. haha :P

Don't give a heck what other people think of what you choose to do as a profession, as long as you are happy doing what you do, are financially independent and do no harm to others while you make a living, CAN LIAO :D

When I decided to quit my well paying job to trade for a living and spend time with my son, most of the people think I am crazy.

I can't say that they are wrong .. haha :P

But watching my son grow daily and having this precious time to bond with him brings joy to my life. If I were to die next year, there isn't a thing I would change about it.

We want a lot, but we need very little. Y drool over that condo and the BMW when you have to laden yourself with lots of debts in order to have them. There is no freedom in this kind of life.

While you aged working for a corporation in order to own that condo/BMW, your children grows up wondering where the hell is papa all the time. :D

I had the good fortune to work almost 7 years out of Singapore, one of which was spent in India. That really opened my eyes to what is a NEED and what is a WANT.

When people ask me what I do for a living, I just tell them "I am a full time father" which really gets them when you see the expression on their faces :D

Know what are needs and what are wants and what you value most. What other people think is none of your business.. :lol:


la papillion said...

Hi HH,

Thanks for the tip :) After that laksa lunch with you, I was reflecting on what you said.

I think it made a dramatic improvement in my life. I became much happier - so I must let you know :)

That time, you said something like that too. I thought that was how I started it, and that should be how I should do it till the end.

I'll remind myself again and again :)

la papillion said...

Hi Grey,

My cat brother :) It's not my relative, it's my parents. But they don't talk to me about it already, after nagging it 2-3 yrs?

There are lots of naysayers. But I remember this saying: "Do not let those who say it can't be done obstruct those who are doing it".

Thanks grey, for the encouragement :)

la papillion said...

Hi mw,

Hmm, are you saying that I have no life? haha :)

My friends are my students, my annual dinner are the little snacks that parents gave me while tutoring and the cny goodies they pass to me, my bonus are the ang bao that some of the parents passed to me during cny and lastly, my free time in the evening is actually shifted to the morning till afternoon :) It's different, but it sure feels warm in my heart.

Thanks for the encouragement, mw :)

la papillion said...

Hi anonymous 1,

Thanks for the encouragement, it's always good to hear an encouraging voice. I hope that years down the road, I can look back and say that I did not choose the wrong path :)

Hi anonymous 2,

I wouldn't say you're wrong, yet I disagree with you. I'm biased, of course, so don't mind me.

la papillion said...

Hi mm,

Thanks for visiting again :) Always welcome your encouraging voice!

Thanks for sharing your experiences :) A full time father...that's what I wanted to be when I thought about doing this full time. I can stay at home, work, take care of the house and earn a living. The kind of life I want :)

Will let you know if I succeed :)

Anonymous said...

Hi LP, I've taught tuition part time since my studying days in NUS. Being a full time tutor is something I'm seriously considering in the future when there're kids to bring up. Some points I wanna bring up:

1. I wonder how's the sustainability of being a full time tutor? I mean, when you become older (like 40s-50s), will you still be giving tuition? Will parents want an 'old' tutor for their kids? Though I know the syllabus doesn't change THAT much, parents might choose younger tutors who seemingly know the syllabus better?

2. Do you teach a broad range of subjects (English, Math, all 3 Sciences, etc) or just a specific one? I know there're legendary tutors who just teach JC Physics or Econs only.

la papillion said...

Hi Anonymous,

1. I wonder about the sustainability too. When I'm 40-50 AND I'm still giving tuition, I'll let you know :)

It's not true that syllabus do not change that much. There's a major change every 4 years, and a minor one every 2 years. I have to constantly keep myself updated, which is not a big problem for me because it's like watching a kid grow - it's incremental.

There are some worksheets which I made that is outdated already. But hey, who knows if it'll make a comeback.

2. I do a range of subjects. Basically maths and science. I can range out to engineering maths, or business maths too. Basically it's a matter of interest...i'll get bored if I keep doing the same thing. Next time, I will teach art and crafts, and guitar too.

PanzerGrenadier said...


Great insights. I believe education is still a growth industry and as a tutor, so long as you are good, the students will come.

I too am in the education sector but an employee so can see the growth prospects are still around for the next few years.

One thing about being your own boss is really you control your destiny.

In corporate life, your destiny lies with your immediate boss and boss's bosses. Hence, you can be "killed" in your career just by indifferent or downright terrible bosses who cannot see your contributions or refuse to.

The more I work, the more I realise it is up to each of us to chart our own path towards our financial independence. There is no right/wrong path, it's what drives you and gets you waking up every morning!

Be well and prosper.

la papillion said...

Hi PG,

Wow, didn't know you're in the same sector :)

I agree with you - it's impt to wake up each day raring to go :) I like to control my pathway, so this will have to do :)

Unknown said...

Education is certainly about more than just passing exams - it's about establishing a framework for learning that will last a lifetime. Naturally, building a student up to pass an exam or regain confidence in a subject requires a solid foundation to work from. My sister is going to study bachelor in UK and that’s why my family found awesome tutor agency at London. Here you can find more information -