When you’re a private EFL/ESL tutor, getting paid is something that can cause stress. As a freelancer, you don’t have the backing of a company to enforce payment, so you need to make sure your students give you the correct amount, and on time.

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To ensure payment for private EFL/ESL classes, make a clear policy which your students must agree to before starting classes. Ask for students to pay for lessons in advance. Enforce a 24-hour no-refund cancellation policy to avoid last-minute absences.

If you’re worried about missing out on money for your private classes, this article explains exactly how to avoid that happening. The steps are very simple, but need putting into place early.

This article is part of my big guide to becoming a private EFL/ESL tutor. To read that, follow this link: How to Get Started as an EFL/ESL Private Tutor.

How to make sure your students pay on time

The worst feeling for a private tutor is to give a series of classes to a student only for them to disappear before stumping up the cash. It’s infuriating.

So don’t let it happen.

Upfront payment in chunks

The best way to ensure you get paid for all your classes is to have students pay in advance. And not just at the start of each class, but for an agreed time frame.

For example, I ask my students (or their parents) to pay at the start of the month for all the classes in that month. If they don’t pay, don’t teach. Find another student. Most people are happy with this agreement.

Learn how to attract plenty of students by reading my article How to Get Private EFL/ESL Classes: Quickly find students.

Of course, from their point of view, there’s also a risk that they’ll pay you and never get the classes. So if they’re not comfortable, maybe ask them to pay for two classes at a time until you’ve built mutual trust.

When you’re both comfortable the other isn’t ripping you off, you can extend the payment period. I offer my students a free class if they pay for 12 in advance. It means I get my money nice and early and don’t have to worry about chasing them up every week.

Keep track of classes paid and delivered

The more you can get paid in advance, the better. It saves a lot of hassle with cash at the start of every class and you get all your money at the start of the month.

However, you do need to keep track of classes which have been paid and which you’ve delivered. I do this using Microsoft Excel.

This is a real example of tracking two classes from January to March. The first class is an individual adult and the other is a group of three children.

I use green to mark payment and class completion. The smaller green boxes show that the lesson has been paid. It’s the 11th of March today, and all of my students have paid for the full month, but we have only had classes up to the 8th, shown by the bigger box.

The grey at the top is for holidays, and orange boxes are absences. In the case of late cancellations (the individual class on 22nd February), the session was still paid. The others are times when the student has asked in good time to not have a class, so they haven’t had to pay. More on cancellation policy below.

Image by Steve Buissinne from Pixabay

The light green box with the ++ is a free extra class because the parents of that student opted to pay for 12 lessons upfront.

It’s vital you have a similar tracking system so you don’t run into problems with your students about which classes have been paid for and which haven’t. You can be fairly sure they won’t be keeping a record, so do it yourself.

What kind of cancellation policy should you use?

A cancellation policy should be clear and fair. A 24-hour no-refund cancellation policy is your best bet – it means if the student cancels within 24-hours of the class, they still have to pay for it.

You’d be surprised how many people will take advantage of you if you don’t enforce this. Surprisingly, adults are the worst at this. Young adults, especially. They don’t have parents running their lives, and they might not have the commitment and maturity to keep up a regular class schedule.

Personally, I don’t use an exact 24-hour cancellation policy. Instead, I think a same-day policy works better. So if they cancel on the day of the class, you don’t refund. It’s essentially the same, but means they can cancel at any point in the previous day without any confusion about it being more or less than 24 hours before.

Image by Markus Winkler from Pixabay

With a cancellation policy, make sure students agree to it before you have your first lesson. Be clear and consistent in enforcing it.

Some tutors like to draw up a written contract which both parties sign, but I feel this isn’t totally necessary. A verbal agreement should be enough.

Of course, if you’re the one who cancels, you must refund the class or postpone it for another week. If you cancel frequently, you might want to give them a free class to make up for your inconsistency.

How to avoid cancellations

Missing out on classes means you get paid less. If you’re relying on lessons for your income, this is a big deal because it affects your bank account directly. For your students, the stakes are lower. Missing a class just means they learn less.

There are three ways to avoid students cancelling classes.

  1. Rearrange the class for another time or day. If you have a free hour later, ask if your student can have a class then.
  2. Teach groups. If you have a group of four students and one student can’t make it, you can still take the class and earn money from three of them.
  3. Give amazing classes. Make sure your students enjoy lessons and are motivated to come every week. If they feel bored or like they’re not learning, they’ll cancel more often.

Sometimes, you can’t avoid cancellations. That’s part of the job. When you’re working out how much money you expect to make from private tutoring, factor in that 5-10% of your classes will get cancelled.

To learn how much to charge for private EFL/ESL classes and how to get the most money from each class, read my article How Much Should You Charge for Private EFL/ESL Classes?

What are the best payment methods?

For me, the best way to get paid is the one that’s most convenient for your students. If it’s quick and easy for them, they’re more likely to pay on time.

Cash is the most common method. Even in today’s world of contactless payment and instant bank transfers, lots of students like to pay in cash.

I prefer instant bank transfers, if possible. In Spain, there’s an app called Bizum which allows people to instantly send money from their bank account to an account associated with a phone number in their contacts.

Image by mohamed Hassan from Pixabay

That means students can pay me in seconds from their phone. No need to head to the bank or cash machine and count coins.

If the country you work in has a similar app, make sure your students know you’re happy to be paid that way. If not, you could suggest a standard bank transfer.

Enjoy your earnings

Getting paid shouldn’t be a worry. As long as you follow the steps in this article and stay consistent with your students, you won’t run into many problems.

So instead of fretting over whether you’ll get paid or not, you can relax and enjoy the earnings you make!

Remember to check out my big guide on becoming a private EFL/ESL tutor here: How to Get Started as an EFL/ESL Private Tutor.

Catch up on all the articles in the Getting Started as a Private EFL/ESL Tutor guide:
How to Get Started as an EFL/ESL Private Tutor: Full guide
Requirements and Qualifications to Become an EFL/ESL Tutor
How to Get Private EFL/ESL Classes: Quickly find students
How Long Should Private EFL/ESL Classes Be: Tips included
How Much Should You Charge for Private EFL/ESL Classes?
Where Should In-Person Private EFL/ESL Classes Take Place?
Make Sure You Get Paid for Private EFL/ESL Classes
9 Items Every EFL/ESL Teacher Needs for Brilliant Classes

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