Essential tools for your teaching business

Jennifer Hudson
January 10, 2020
Tools for teachers

As an independent teacher, or teacherpreneur, you have a lot to do besides just showing up for class and teaching.  

For things like admin, accounting, or even marketing, it's crucial that you set things up so you can be efficient.

You really want to focus your energy on teaching, nurturing your students and growing your business, in that order.

So you don't want to spend your time doing things that are not only boring and tedious, but are actually slowing you down and taking time away from the important stuff.

Using tools

Imagine you want to do a side business, something weird... like pick some flowers at the top of a mountain, and sell them at a farmers market in town.

You could just jump in and start walking towards that mountain... or you could rent a car.

Without a car, most of what you'll be doing in your new business is walking, and the flower picking will take up just a tiny fraction of your time.

You can only fit a small amount of flowers into your backpack, and then you'll have to walk back to town, where you can sell your flowers to only a couple of people before you're sold out.

Maybe this is a silly example, but you get the idea.

Clearly, the car is a powerful tool that gets you up the mountain quickly, and that allows you to transport a ton of flowers back to town.

You'd be crazy not to rent that car, and you almost certainly couldn't create an actual business of selling mountain flowers without it.

Similarly, there are essential tools that will streamline things for you in your teaching business.

You don't have to spend a lot of money... but even if they cost a little bit, the right tools will help you earn more money, save you money, and also save you lots of time.

And you know the old saying in business, right? "Time is money."

So, as a teacherpreneur, what are the tools you need ?

Some tools are really essential, like the car was in our silly example. Some tools are just 'nice-to-haves'. And some tools are pretty useless or even counterproductive.

Essentials tools for teacherpreneurs

1) Admin & booking system

A must-have for any teacher is a sensible admin system that can handle class bookings, payments, attendance tracking, passes and memberships, and just general client management.

Pen & paper or Excel spreadsheets are not going to cut it.

Without a booking system, things will always fall through the cracks.

You'll get tired of awkwardly running after people for payments, and even worse, you'll end up spending more time doing admin than you do actually teaching!

Your impulse might be to go for the admin system that has the most features — but that will almost certainly be the wrong choice.

The more features and configuration options are offered, the more complicated the thing will be, so you'll have to invest quite a lot of time just learning how to use it.

For example, you've probably heard of MindBody Online, a popular management tool for schools and gyms. It can do almost anything, even help with your taxes and payroll... but it's such a complex system that you have to take a course on it before you can even begin to use it. It's also ridiculously expensive.

More features also means more expensive, obviously. Not recommended!

We recommend Ubindi, and not (just) because we built it and it's our business.

Ubindi is specifically designed for independent solo-preneurs, and it's an all-in-one solution that can do everything you need while still being very easy to use, both for you and your clients. It's also the least expensive admin solution out there, as far as we know.

But there are some other products out there too, and you should do a bit of research.

When evaluating different options, just make sure your needs are all covered and it doesn't cost too much.

You should also make sure you're not locked into something, and it's a good idea to look at the reviews on some of these 'software review' websites like Capterra.

Remember that the point of your admin tool is to save you time and money, not to take more of it!

If you have to spend a lot of time learning to use a booking system, or if it doesn't have the right features so you'll end up doing a lot of work to make it suit your needs, well then it's not doing what it should.

When it comes to admin or booking systems we recommend keeping it simple.

2) Online payment processor

Most admin & booking systems have payments built in. Ubindi certainly does, and you can set up any kind of pricing for your classes, passes or memberships.

Being able to offer an easy and even automatic way for people to pay you is crucial when it comes to streamlining your business.

Having all your payments coming in through your booking system saves you huge amounts of time... it eliminates the awkward hassle of chasing people up for payment, and accounting is basically done for you.

But even more importantly, when you have everything going through your payment system you will earn substantially more money, even after accounting for any transactions or credit card processing fees.

Why? Because when you use an online payment processor things never fall through the cracks, so you never get people showing up in class who haven't actually paid.

Using an online payments system also means you can easily offer 'package deals' to your students, which are a massive boost to your bottom line.

By package deals we mean class passes and subscriptions or memberships. All the studios, schools and gyms do this... and in fact, almost every business in the world offers packages to their customers — and for very good reasons.

For one thing, passes and memberships are really effective loyalty programs that create a strong incentive for students to commit, both emotionally and financially. It encourages them to attend classes regularly, and to stick with you rather than go around sampling classes with other teachers or in other places.

Secondly, subscriptions & memberships will provide you with recurring revenue that's nice and predictable.

This may sound harsh, but when a student pays you for a month of classes, you don't have to worry so much about whether or not they actually show up to class.

Similarly, passes that have an expiry date create a 'use it or loose it' mindset for your students, so they are more motivated to come to class.... but if they don't (and sometimes they won't)... well, you got paid anyway.

One last thing to say about packages: they are also a nice convenience for your students, because they won't have to whip out a credit card or wallet every time they sign up for individual classes.

But to be able to offer packages and keep track of it all, you need a booking system.

3) Technology for teaching online

Another essential tool you need if you're planning to teach classes online: a good video chat application. Here too there are lots of options, where some are totally free and some are really expensive.

However, the vast majority of online teachers use Zoom, and we strongly recommend you do too. It's robust and has really good video and audio quality, but actually, so do many of the other products. Frankly, the reason to go with Zoom is that most of your students are already familiar with it, they know how to use it, and they already have it installed on their computer or phone.

Online teaching is a little more 'techie', so you really don't want to have to deal with glitches or technical problems. Not on your end... no, you'll master this stuff quickly enough. The concern is more about your clients — you don't want your students to be confused or aggravated with some unfamiliar interface. So just go with Zoom. You can get a Pro Zoom account for $15 bucks a month, really not too bad.

Nice-to-have tools

After you've covered the 'essentials', there's not much more you really need, but there are some things that are 'nice-to-haves':

1) Website  

Your booking & admin system will provide you with a page on the internet where you can send your people to see all your offerings and book things — so you can run your business without even having your own website.

Having said that, a website that's your own property on the internet is at the top of the list of 'nice-to-haves'.

With your own website, you can really show potential new clients who you are, what you do, why they should take your classes.

Your own website also comes in really handy when it comes to marketing.

Having your own website is useful when it comes to marketing

If you don't have a website but think that you might like one, but you're scared it's a big project — don't worry: setting up your own website is actually easy; anybody can do it and it doesn't cost much.

Nowadays, you don't need to hire a programmer to build you a custom site for thousands of dollars (that would be a big waste of money).

You can use one of the newer 'drag and drop' website builders to create your own beautiful website yourself, fully mobile responsive and styled just the way you want... without any coding or knowledge about programming.

There are dozens of amazing website builders out there that are very affordable. Wix, Weebly, GoDaddy… and many, many more. Just do a little research!

2) Email marketing tools

Next on the 'nice-to-have' list is maybe some fancy email newsletter software, so you can send pretty emails to clients or potential clients that signed up to your email list.

Like with website builders, there are lots of options out there... and again you want easy to use and cheap.

Do keep in mind that most email programs for your subscribers will filter out your beautiful newsletters and make them go to the 'promotions folder' (or worse, if you're not careful, the dreaded spam folder).

Roughly only about 1 out of 5 subscribers will actually open and read your newsletters, unless you really know what you're doing.

So you might be better off just using your admin software to send emails, if it has an emailing feature. Not all of them do, but for example on Ubindi you can send mass emails to groups of people on your list really easily, and they're guaranteed to make it into your clients' inbox.

That's it for the optional 'nice-to-have' tools. Anything else you might get is really up to you and will depend on what you're teaching, and how and where you're doing that.

3) Liability Insurance 

If you teach something like yoga, fitness, Pilates, etc., you should get insurance for yourself. It doesn't cost very much at all, and it's kind of like wearing a seatbelt — sure you can drive without it... but accidents (or allegations) do happen. So it's something you should have for your business, as well as the safety of your students. 

Liability insurance offers peace of mind not just for you, but  for your your clients too. Insurance adds to your credibility as a wellness or fitness professional. 

For some teachers, liability insurance may actually be required. Depending on where you live and what you do, it can  ensure that you’re meeting requirements (legal and otherwise) to work in certain states and other places of business. Many studios and gyms will require independent coverage even though their own business is covered with business liability insurance too. 

We're happy to announce that Ubindi has partnered with a great insurance company (and all around great bunch of people): beYogi. You can get an exclusive discount on A+ rated insurance that covers U.S. based yoga teachers, pilates instructors, and any other group fitness or wellness instructors. They also offer health insurance for independent instructors that covers things like vision, dental, and more.

Tools that may be a waste of time  

Everyone is different, and some people do need some additional tools that are special requirements in their business.

However, many teachers manage a lot of stuff just because someone told them they're supposed to, without any real reason behind it.

Some tools may be a total waste of time for your business

And some other tools are really just fun for some people, even though they might not really helping much in the business.

For example, you might enjoy posting stuff on Instagram several times a day, and when someone 'hearts' a picture you've posted, you get a warm and fuzzy feeling... and that's ok! If you're having fun, then why not?

But if it's a chore for you, and it's also not doing anything for your business... well, then it's a waste of time.

We'd like to warn you about some common things that many teachers do or use that can turn out to be time-suckers or expensive investments which usually don't do much for the biz.

1) Brand name & logo

In our opinion, as independent teacher you don't need a brand name or a logo.

And copyrighting anything is a waste of time and money, unless you're really on the road to establishing a national or international mega-brand.

When you're an independent teacher, your brand is you. And the best picture of that brand is your face, not a logo!

A lot of teachers try to operate under a brand name, but that usually backfires.

For example, when you send an email to students, they might not recognize your brand name and mark your email as spam.

In our experience, the most successful teachers build a brand around themselves, using their real name and their actual face.

2) Social media accounts

Another thing to watch out for is spending too much fruitless time on social media. Lots of teachers fall into this trap.

First of all, everyone should be aware that social media is totally unreliable when it comes to communicating with existing clients.

Most of your people won't see anything you post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or wherever... even if they do 'follow' you there.

Social media is more suitable for attracting new clients, but getting that to work is not easy.

There are usually much better ways to spend your energy when it comes to hunting for new students.

Secondly, you don't need to manage accounts on every social media channel under the sun.

For some teachers, some of the platforms can sometimes be useful when it comes to attracting new clients and potential students, but again: everyone is different.

With social media, you should try to measure the actual effect it has on your business.

Not how many followers or likes you get... but rather, try to estimate how many new students signed up with you in the last 3 months because they discovered your content on social media.

When taking stock of all your efforts in this way, you might be in for a shock.

3)  Equipment required for online classes

A small note for online teachers: you might think you need a lot of equipment, but it's really not the case. You actually don't need fancy lights, expensive cameras, or special high-end audio equipment.

Yes, your lighting should be good of course... but a window with daylight coming in or just a basic lamp will usually do the trick.

The megapixel camera on your phone will provide you with a video quality that's way higher than what can actually be streamed out over Zoom — so don't spend money on cameras!

If you want crisp and clear sound in your online classes, with very low background noise... then a simple clip-on mic that costs around $5 will make you sound great and professional.

Keep it simple

As you go along and grow your business, you probably will gradually add different tools to your teaching and your set up.

But you should constantly be evaluating things to make sure they're actually useful and giving you a positive return on your investment (be it time or money).

You might be teaching programming or running a dog training school... so without getting too specific we just have some general advice:

<span class="special tip"><span class="materialicon tip">lightbulb</span>Keep it simple and always be willing to give up a tool if it's not really doing much for you! Getting rid of things that aren't useful feels great. It will keep things tidy, and running smoothly. </span>

In fact, if you've been teaching for a while and are finding yourself overwhelmed by too many tools, you might do an audit:

  • What's not actually doing very much for you?
  • Are you spending a lot of time on Facebook without seeing any clear proof that it's substantially helping your business? Then drop it.
  • Are you paying a lot for video storage? Do a quick search for a cheaper solution.
  • Maybe the booking system you have is taking a huge cut of your revenue, and is really expensive relative to what you're earning? Switch to something else!

It might be fun to make a list of all the tools you're using or things you're spending time and money on.

Have a quick look at each one and then consider getting rid of the ones that don't contribute much to your business in a very clear and positive way.

Really use your tools

Finally, let’s talk about how to use all these tools you've set up.

Keeping things simple is a mantra that doesn't just apply to what kind of tools you should use, but also how you and your clients use them.

With this in mind, here's an important rule:

Don't bend over backwards for everyone!

Don't end over backwards to accommodate every request

As a teacher, you're dealing with people where you're not only providing them a service, but where you and your students will be very friendly, or even friends.

That implies that your students will feel very free when it comes to asking you for favors.

And that in turn means that dealing with students can often feel a little bit like herding cats — right?

You've set up your tools to streamline your business. To make this work, use them the way they're meant to be used — not just sometimes!

Let's go back to the example of 'selling mountain flowers':

even crazier than not renting that car to help you get and transport your flowers, would be renting a car to drive up the mountain, but then stuffing the flowers into a backpack and walking back to town.

And then maybe even walking back up the mountain to retrieve the car.

If you do that, you'll have the same amount of work as you would without a car, and you're also paying for a car rental. No good!

So among your students, there will always be some who ask for special accommodation or some exceptional treatment. Don't let them do that to you!

You are the teacher, they're your students. By nature of that arrangement, they listen to you and they will accommodate you when you tell them "this is my system, please use it".  

For you to really use your tools means you also need your students to use them.

Say you're teaching online on Zoom... but you might get a student who doesn't like Zoom and would prefer you to use Google Meet or Skype...

Obviously, you don't want to go there! That's kind of an extreme example, and you really have no choice but to say "no".

But most other requests will be small and innocuous.

For example, some person will tell you they'd prefer to pay for class with Paypal or Venmo, or by writing you a check.

Someone else will tell you they'll probably come to your next yoga class, but they don't want to actually register for it on your booking system... and then they'll show up for class and ask you if they can just pay you later... in cash... or by bank transfer.

You might feel pressure to accommodate these special requests because obviously you care about your students.

Or you might even be worried that you could lose clients if you don't bend over backwards for them. We see this all the time, especially with beginning teachers.

Now, giving in to a students' special request won't make their life all that much better... but for you, it creates a little more work.

A little here, a little there... next thing you know you've lost most of the benefits of your toolset.

And giving in to these requests will only set a precedent for people to keep asking you for special treatments... you did it last time, why not this week? It might even encourage other people to start doing the same.

You wouldn't let a student tell you how you should teach your next class, or that they would prefer to learn 'XYZ' while everyone else is learning 'ABC'. No way! You can't have that!

It's similar with how you operate your business outside of your classroom.

Especially when it comes to payments, be firm, or you'll end up manually doing all sorts of adjustments in your booking software, your accounting will turn into a nightmare, and you will spend lots of time doing admin again when it could all be done for you by your system.

A corner store won't accept payment with PayPal — so why should you?

The same people who say they don't like to pay you with a credit card have no problem paying for their Netflix or their Amazon purchases with a credit card.

Now these are businesses that are streamlined!

Summary

To summarize, streamlining your business is important because it lets you focus on the good stuff.

  • use tools to automate things as much as possible
  • the essentials are an admin & booking system where you can take payments
  • beware of tools that might be a waste of time and money
  • USE your tools and don't bend over backwards for everyone

This article includes a few ideas from Ubindi's basic business course for teachers. If you'd like free access to that, just jump on the chat and we'll share a free access code with you!

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