Tutoring business plan makes matches online

Samantha Berry gets ready to launch her tutoring business for University of Otago students. Photo supplied.
Samantha Berry gets ready to launch her tutoring business for University of Otago students. Photo supplied.
It's all about recycling knowledge. Samantha Berry is launching a new business on March 1 called UniTutor, an online website where University of Otago students can find private tutors for specific university papers.

Students will be able to search for and book private tutorials, and the site will take care of all the details, including the time, date, payment and location. It will also send out reminders two hours before tutorials.

Her two-year plan includes introducing it to other universities - Canterbury and Lincoln this year and then tackling the North Island universities next year.

Miss Berry (23), who is studying for a master of entrepreneurship, a 15-month degree designed to support those with an entrepreneurial spirit who wish to start an innovative new venture, can relate to both sides of the relationship. she has wide experience both as a student and a tutor.

Originally from Christchurch, she has a degree in finance and an honours degree in Japanese and is six months away from completing her master of entrepreneurship degree.

For the past four years, she has been doing some tutoring which started to snowball as word-of-mouth recommendations spread and she also put up some posters advertising her services.

Last semester, she tutored for 54 hours a week for four consecutive weeks - "it got extreme" - and she had kept the timetable of names, which showed how "crazy" it was.

But she enjoyed seeing students succeed and achieve the results they wanted to, while also making good money.

She realised there was an opportunity to provide a tutoring service, as there were so many people wanting private tutoring but nowhere for them to get it, and also to be able to get feedback as to how good the tutors were.

First-year students - shy 17- and 18-year-olds, often did not know where to go to get help, she said.

As well as providing one-on-one paper-specific tutoring, she learned that students often wanted to come with a friend, as it was not so intimidating, and that male students preferred three-on-one. UniTutor will have a maximum of three in the booking system.

Potential tutors would have creditworthiness and police checks and be personally interviewed. Tutor photographs, background information and feedback from other students would be posted on the website.

"I'm going to hire the likes of me," Miss Berry said.

What she found out through her own tutoring was that students needed to know that their tutor could be trusted.

A tutor had to be able to adapt to each student and she was also looking for people who were approachable and friendly. She had met students who were so shy she "couldn't get anything out of them". Her conversational starting point was always about what they did in the weekend.

One of the most difficult parts of being a tutor was getting the money from the students, who often did not have much and were unreliable payers.

The website removed that problem and allowed the students' parents to top up tutoring accounts.

Miss Berry has visited university departments to explain her plan, getting great reactions.

She did not believe she would have any problem recruiting tutors, saying she was going to do all the work for them, apart from tutoring.

Dunedin students were usually paid only the minimum wage for jobs and she was "offering so much more" than that for them to tutor in their own time.

It did not involve getting up at 6.30am and serving food in a hall of residence, or other similar jobs that students got.

Miss Berry has spent a year working on and refining her idea. It was something she was passionate about.

Now entering her seventh year, she wanted to make tutoring as easy as possible for students.

She recalled her own experience when she wanted a Japanese tutor and had no idea where to go. It was a "horrible" experience and she never wanted it to happen to a student using UniTutor.

Coincidentally, when she first enrolled at university, the one thing she wanted to do was to start her own business.

She initially studied physics, chemistry and biology, before deciding that was not what she wanted to do all her life, and changed courses.

She loved the Master of Entrepreneurship course, and said she could not have developed UniTutor without it.

Those people who came to speak to the degree participants were knowledgeable and had a lot of advice. Networking had "just been outstanding". She recommended it to anyone with an idea, to "get it out there".

While she was ready to launch in Dunedin now, Miss Berry's two-year plan included reaching Canterbury and Lincoln universities in July and then targeting the North Island universities next year.

"I want to be the first in the market," she said.

- sally.rae@odt.co.nz