About a month ago, I received a long awaited referral from another education services company in Los Angeles. It was for a ninth-grade girl named Taylor who wanted to improve her grade in Algebra. Unfortunately for me, the family was accustomed to paying a rate that was significantly lower than what I charge. But, not wanting to turn down a new business opportunity, I agreed to take on the client despite the reduced rate.
I showed up to Taylor’s house five minutes early (as is standard for me) and proceeded to run through my complimentary assessment and introduction process. I spent 30 minutes chatting with Taylor about school and life, familiarized myself with her likes and dislikes, and tried to understand her perspective on education in general. Finally, I moved the conversation towards mathematics so I could get a feel for her abilities, confidence, and goals.
Once the assessment was complete, we dove into the material head on, running through the homework and clearing up any concepts that were difficult for her to grasp. By the end of the session, I felt I had done an excellent job. We made it through the problems that had previously stifled her, and I had successfully explained how to use the quadratic formula.
After patting myself on the back for a job well done, I ended the session with a bit of advice. I explained to Taylor that a big part of my tutoring strategy focuses on doing additional practice problems before exams and quizzes. Practice, I told her, was the absolute key to excellence in math. I also advised her to speak with her teacher, making it absolutely clear that she was aiming for an “A” in the class. Moreover, I instructed her to ask him if he had any recommendations for strategies or specific practice problems so that she could optimize her chances of earning an “A.” I encourage all of my students to follow this practice because it can sometimes yield special nuggets of wisdom from their teachers. After all, teachers are typically more inclined to help dedicated and hungry learners.
Now, when I tell my students to take a particular approach, it is because I have seen it work time and time again. I have helped a number of students achieve high grades at various educational institutions across the country. I have also personally gone through multiple tiers of educational rigor, and have developed a solid understanding of the various tools that can be employed to ensure academic success. In short, I know what I am talking about. But guess what? I got the following three complaints from Taylor:
- “He didn’t teach me anything.”
- “He talked to me like I’m a little kid.”
- “I don’t like that he told me to speak with my teacher; my teacher doesn’t care what I say, and it’s a waste of time.”
Translation: I had blown the session and lost the client. Taylor subsequently got a new tutor and I was fired. Daggerville. Now, for someone who prides himself on his teaching abilities, I was crushed. I walked out of the session thinking that I had sealed the deal; in reality, I was dead wrong.
Hearing that I had allegedly failed to teach her anything during an hour-long session was extremely disappointing. Moreover, I had never had a complaint from any of my students about the way I interacted with them. In fact, communicating with my students was usually my forte. So what had happened? Why had this experience gone so wrong?
I called up the company that gave me the referral to dig a little deeper. I didn’t understand the complaints I got; they made no sense whatsoever. But after I processed the feedback and let my ego fade to the background, I started to understand what had transpired.
My dismissal didn’t happen because Taylor hadn’t learned anything. Also, it had nothing to do with the way I spoke to her. Taylor didn’t like me because I overstepped my bounds way too early. She had yet to develop any sort of bond or trust with me. She didn’t even like me. But what did I do? I peddled my somewhat aggressive advice and gave her a list of scary action items that she had never followed before. And so, by jumping the gun too quickly, I blew a new client.
After mulling over this unfortunate occurrence for a few days, I arrived at a few different conclusions for how I plan to run my business henceforth:
First, I need to wait until a level of trust has been developed before offering advice. Kids won’t follow what I’m preaching unless they trust me and like me. Second, I need to remember that the child is my client as well, not just the parent. Even though I want every student to do exceedingly well in class, I need to proceed with caution so that I don’t scare a new client off. If the kid doesn’t like me, I’m done. Plain and simple. And third, I need to refocus my target market. What do I mean? Let me explain.
I have noticed an interesting trend with my clients. The ones who pay my full price are less inclined to question my methods and more likely to follow my advice. The parents are more eager for their children to do well, and the kids typically want to achieve excellent grades no matter what it takes. The bargain hunters, on the other hand, are often looking for a fast and easy solution. The parents want everything delivered at a discount, and the kids are not usually as keen to work hard. There are exceptions, of course, but by in large, this is what I am observing.
Because I prefer to work with kids who truly yearn for academic excellence, I have adopted a new policy: no more discounts. If you truly want a top-notch tutor who will push your child for excellence, you must pay my full price. No more negotiating, no more bending over backwards. You either want greatness or you don’t.
Will this strategy hurt me in the short run? Perhaps. But the way I see it is that this policy will filter out clients that don’t want to dive in head on. And that’s just fine with me. Moreover, the ones who do want to work with me will likely stay with me for the long haul.
So that’s my story. It began as a difficult and saddening occurrence, but ended as a terrific learning experience. And that’s the beautiful thing about failure. It is the magical point in time where I can learn, improve, and thrust forward. And that’s how it should always be. Yes, my emotions got the best of me for a brief period, but once the dust settled and my reason returned, I realized what had happened, extracted a great lesson, and am now stronger for it. Onwards and upwards to the next chapter.