How to Build a Tutoring Platform from Scratch: Perfecting the All-Important Tutor-Student Relationship, with Co-Founder of The Tutor Index, Jason Preece: Podcast Transcript

​​Ludo Millar
Hello, and welcome to the Qualified Tutor Podcast, the podcast that brings you the latest in the world of tutoring EdTech and education and hopefully inspires in us a big change that each and every one of us is capable of.

Qualified Tutor is an industry-leading tutor training organisation and an online tutoring community for 1000s of tutors around the world. This podcast is the voice of this community, where we aim to hear from tutors, teachers, entrepreneurs, coaches, business experts, students, tutor printers, and more from the world of tutoring about what inspires them every day, how they can help tutors like you and what they’ve learned about tutoring along the way.

The question is, what will you learn today?

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Ludo Millar 1:10
Hello and welcome to the 139th episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. My name is Ludo Millar, the host of this podcast. Welcome back to regular listeners, welcome to any of you for whom this is your first time listening to the Qualified Tutor Podcast and a very, very warm welcome to our guest today, Jason Preece. Welcome to the podcast Jason.

Jason Preece 2:24
Hello. Really glad to be here.

Ludo Millar 2:27
It’s lovely to have you on. It’s probably the first time I’ve ever done an episode with someone that I’ve met in person just the day before. We were both at The Tutors’ Association National Tutors’ Conference yesterday on Thursday 27th October. We probably should have just brought my microphone down there. But we decided to keep it to today. It was a great little event last night, wasn’t it Jason?

Jason Preece 2:55
Yeah. Wonderful. Yeah, had a great time. It was really informative and really, really exciting, I think, to meet so many other people operating in the tutoring industry. You know, so kind of all thumbs up from me really.

Ludo Millar 3:11
Yeah, as many thumbs up as possible [LAUGHS]. Yeah, conferences in the tutoring industry, maybe not quite as commonplace as in other industries, but it’s great to see those cropping up, both here and abroad. So yeah, a really nice event. Great to see so many faces.

And yeah so, Jason we’ve come to know, recently in the past few weeks and months. And for those who are not aware of Jason, are not aware of his business. Jason is the co-founder of The Tutor Index, which he founded about 18 months ago, last year, last spring. And The Tutor Index really focuses on creating, it’s a tutoring platform that looks to create a perfect match between tutor and student. And we’ll be hearing a little bit more about the values and the purpose behind The Tutor Index over the next 25 minutes or so. But Jason by trade is a tutor and a teacher, and has been tutoring for over 12 years now. He is a music teacher currently at Abington school in in Oxford, Assistant Director of Music there. And really that has come from a DPhil in music composition which he obtained at the University of Oxford. So a really rich background in music teaching and then now coupled with this understanding of what it is that creates connection between tutors and students, so really, really nice background to be coming from there. We love the rich vein of music and education, that theme on this podcast. It’s one that’s cropped up a lot. And so hoping for a little bit more of that today.

But Jason, a Director of Music at a school currently, but if we were to transport ourselves back to your school days, what would we see? What would the teachers be saying?

Jason Preece 5:18
Oh, that’s a very good question. Yeah so, I know that at school, I was very enthusiastic and very passionate about music. And I know that that certainly came across, you know, within music lessons and within other lessons, in both good ways and potentially problematic ways as well. I know that my enthusiasm for music was sort of mostly very positive, but potentially got in the way of my other subjects as well, much to the, I suppose, relative frustrations of some of my teachers. But I suppose you sort of asked me to see if I can, you know, locate any school reports from that time. And that, definitely, did not happen [LAUGHS]. Yeah, I think they’ve been lost, they’re maybe far too deep in the archive that my parents’ house is gradually transforming into.

Ludo Millar 6:31
Lost among sheets of music, perhaps.

Jason Preece 6:34
Just under stacks of, I don’t know, leaves of Beethoven and bits and bobs. But no, I really, really appreciated the question because it did allow me to think back to my school days and there’s actually a lesson that I keep returning to when I do think about- you do have those sort of nostalgic moments. So you do think back, you know, to what school life was like. And, essentially, I remember this English lesson that I had – I must have been early 6th Form – and for whatever reason, in fact, no, I think remember, everyone else in the class was either doing Geography or Biology. And they had disappeared off on some sort of field trip and coursework trip. And so it was essentially just me and my English teacher. And at the time, I was struggling essentially with the unseen poetry parts of the course, I was essentially only probably writing really terrible essays in response to those questions. And anyway, Mrs. Theobald, my total legend of an English teacher at the time, just sort of sat me down and had this one-on-one lesson with me.

And we worked through a poem together, and she constructed this kind of analogy between the poem that we were looking at, on the page, and the way I might look at a piece of music, and so she married together some of the literary terminology with some of the musical terminology that maybe I was more familiar with. And that I remember was absolutely game-changing for me. Because I think it’s fair to say that that changed the way I read poetry at the time. And I suppose more than that, actually, because a lot of my undergraduate and postgraduate work in music has sought out influences from literature and poetic form in particular. So that one lesson, you know, that one single, one-on-one 50-minute, hour-long session that I had with her really did shape the work that I did going forward.

Ludo Millar 9:16
Most of the guests that we have on are not able to identify a particular lesson. It’s more of a theme from a year with a teacher or from a general kind of subject affiliation, whether they’re good or bad memories but that seems like you struck gold there, being able to isolate Mrs. Theobald for one session. Probably the kind of experience that some people have with a one-on-one tutor over a period of time who’s able to get them to see poetry in a new light or whatever the relationship is, but do you think then that being able to see the connections between different subjects more clearly has led you to kind of go on to do what you do? I mean, do you think there’s anything in there that led to your why developing?

Jason Preece 10:11
Oh, certainly, I think. I mean, I think one of the more powerful things in that is this breaking down of subject boundaries, which, you know, I suppose happens more and more in 6th Form, doesn’t it, you sort of start to see that there are connections between subject areas. And certainly I suppose, at the time, I wouldn’t have realised this, but I think looking back, you do think, Oh, well, actually, that’s essentially why tutoring is a really sort of powerful tool in the armoury. And, you know, that particular session, it certainly would not have been possible, I think- well, it would have been more difficult to facilitate in a classroom situation. Not everyone in that particular analogy would have landed with everyone in the class and so we wouldn’t have necessarily had that same opportunity there. So I think that does, broadly speaking, build into why I do what I do.

And of course, you know, I love learning. I love being able to pass on that love of learning to my students. I’m particularly enthusiastic about music and being able to share that knowledge. And of course, I find that being able to teach and to share that knowledge inevitably makes your own subject knowledge stronger, and you grow yourself as part of that path and that tutoring framework. And I suppose at its core, it’s about forming those good relationships, isn’t it? So these are all things that I think I really value in the tutoring sphere. And really, those are things, I suppose, I find rewarding within the work. And, you know, they’re a big part of why I do what I do.

Ludo Millar 12:17
Yeah. And are they then imbued, intertwined with the values of The Tutor Index? I mean, you’ve been a tutor for over 12 years now as you’ve mentioned and we spoke about before, and The Tutor Index cropped up early last year. Are those kind of values intertwined with The Tutor Index? Why did you feel like last year was the right time to launch The Tutor Index?

Jason Preece 12:48
Yeah, I think, as you say, I’ve been tutoring for quite a while now. I’ve been tutoring for over 12 years sort of part-time and, in fact, growing into a fairly full-time thing until I took on a school teaching position as well. But, you know, I started off that journey through a couple of agencies, and then increasingly sort of built that up through word of mouth referrals. And, you know, a few sorts of ads here and there. However, I think over the last sort of 5-6 years, there’s certainly been a shift in the tutoring industry towards more commission-based models, or more platforms potentially taking a fair amount of control over that tutoring relationship.

And essentially, I think I started to get a little bit maybe frustrated, is too strong, but certainly a little frustrated that there wasn’t necessarily a way for me to advertise my services as an independent tutor without going through some sort of agency or platform. And, you know, as I say, I see the value in going through an agency and working with that, and, you know, certainly invaluable for getting started in the early days. But I’m now at a point in my practice where I want to sort of do what I do, keep control over how I make contact with clients, how I promote myself, how I take payments, how I teach my lessons. And I didn’t necessarily feel that there was something in the space that allowed, that facilitated, you to be able to do that, whilst retaining that independence.

So that’s effectively what we did. We tried to create a space for independent tutors to advertise their services in a way that they can keep control, they can keep their independent small business for themselves and in a way that signals quality to their potential clients. Yeah, that’s broadly speaking what we’re trying to do.

Ludo Millar 15:10
So, tutors are able to advertise their services within the platform? Or it’s the kind of platform which launches those adverts more broadly?

Jason Preece 15:21
I think, at the moment, within the platform, we don’t currently launch those adverts more broadly. You know, we’ve been going for 18 months and so I think there’s still a sense that we’re still quite a young company. We’re still thinking on our feet as it were. And, you know, myself, my business partner, we both work full-time, so we’ve both sort of dipped our toe into this project and are gradually growing it. So yeah, at the moment, it’s very much those connections are made within that platform and we don’t necessarily kind of launch further out.

Ludo Millar 16:06
So I mean, the platform, although maybe in its early days, is certainly answering I think the right question, which is giving somewhere for independent tutors to feel independent, but to take steps towards professionalisation, which I think is really important. And that word means different things for different tutors, and for different parts of the tutoring industry. And yet, it’s still a word, I think, ‘professionalised’ that tutors just starting out who want to feel more independent can seek to achieve, you know, ‘being more professional’, in whatever that means to you, is often a goal. How can the tutoring industry improve the particular area of matching tutor and student? That’s something that The Tutor Index certainly has been getting right and I think will continue to. What needs to be done in that area to improve things?

Jason Preece 17:07
So I think, first and foremost, I suppose sort of picking up on that word ‘professionalisation’, we do have, of course, quality control processes in place, you know, profiles are scrutinised, we do have ID checking and DBS checking, and it’s soon to be reference checking and qualification checking facilities in place. And we also have the ability to integrate payments within a profile on the platform. And I think all of this helps to essentially make those profiles really presentable and to put your best foot forwards and to essentially kind of imbue the parents, the student, you know, the clients with a confidence that this person is going to be worth talking to, and it’s going to be worth exploring.

And I think potentially, after that, we just aim to make that contact between the tutor and the student as frictionless and as easy as we possibly, possibly can. So, you know, you can be in direct contact with a tutor fairly immediately and then you can move that conversation on as you see fit. So, if you want to talk to them via email, absolutely, you go for it, WhatsApp, phone call, Zoom, you know, whatever works best for you. Because I think those initial conversations are vital to getting that tutoring relationship off the ground in a way that ensures that all parties are on the same page. So I know from my own practice that, in those initial conversations, I tend to lay out how I teach, you know, my approach to my teaching philosophy – if that doesn’t sound too sort of high minded – the way I conduct those sessions and equally, I set out things that I don’t particularly do. And within that conversation, I think it’s a really good opportunity to lay out the way I run my practice and equally to see whether the parents, the clients, are someone that I feel like I can work with and I can benefit. And I think that’s broadly speaking what we tried to do, and also I think this approach has real advantages now that it’s coming to light that the tutoring industry is so broad, you know, we’ve got tutors that are potentially working within their undergraduate studies. And you have maybe a mock mentor-mentee relationship there between tutoring students. We’ve got experienced teachers, qualified teachers, retired teachers examiners, you know, other people who have potentially got different backgrounds within the education sphere, all of whom have a different set of skills to bring to the table. And I think by trying to facilitate that direct contact, in a really easy way and in a relatively risk-free way, I think that allows parents to make- it certainly gives them the opportunity to ultimately make the right choice, given that child and the situation that they find themselves in.

Ludo Millar 21:05
Yeah absolutely. And which is the key to, ultimately, having satisfied clients, isn’t it, as ones where they feel they’ve made the right choice, that choice is vindicated. And they’ve returned for more work, whether that’s the parent or the student who feels that and hopefully, it’s both of them, rather than one not the other, then you’re going to keep having clients returning to your platform. And if their experience with the tutor is good, then the tutor is more likely to stay with The Tutor Index than go elsewhere. So I think it’s really important that those matching criteria are- and the relationship to match tutor and student is really, really considered, and the faults that you may have seen in your previous 12 years of tutoring, you’re kind of answering those. I think that’s exactly the right way to go about it.

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Ludo Millar 22:03
And this week’s episode is brought to you, coincidentally, by The Tutor Index.

Chris Nicholson 22:11
Hi there. I’m Chris, co-founder of The Tutor Index, it’s incredibly exciting to be sponsoring this episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. Whether you’re just starting out or have been tutoring for a number of years, The Tutor Index provides a great platform to promote yourself to new and existing clients, and allows you to teach how you want when you want. We charge zero commission or finder’s fee, meaning you keep more of what you earn. So sign up today for your free profile at thetutorindex.com.

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Ludo Millar 22:45
Jason, I wonder then if you had a bit more advice to those tutors who are in a similar position, or soon to be in a similar position to you, of having a great deal of experience in the tutoring industry, but wanting to grow things a little bit more to kind of platform or or even agency level? Do you have some advice about that journey from one-man band to small tutoring business leader?

Jason Preece 23:14
Yeah, sure. I should caveat this by saying that it’s early days. We’re still very much trying to grow things and I don’t know necessarily- I still feel like I’m kind of faking it, if that makes sense. You know, you’re slowly building things up. But, you know, without, fair to say, probably an enormous caveat out the way. I think for us, it was just a case of getting started and just sort of figuring out what we needed to do. As we went along, I think maybe when I initially thought of the idea and talked it through with my business partner, it feels like quite a big idea. And actually just starting and essentially taking it step-by-step was, it’s been invaluable, effectively. You know, just thinking about breaking down challenges one at a time. I think we started out trying to, you know, we’ve effectively got a chicken and egg problem, you know, we need to marry together tutors and students.

Students aren’t going to come to a platform where there aren’t any tutors and tutors aren’t necessarily going to be happy if they are on a platform and there’s no students available. So, you know, we started off addressing the tutor side of that problem first. And I think, you know, that was quite challenging. We had to really think on our feet and essentially landed on a solution whereby we were targeting university students, primarily because we could reach lots of university students via university jobs boards, and we can do that in a relatively targeted way and in a fairly cost-effective way. But that wasn’t our intention to start with. And that sort of just happened.

Oh, and also collaboration. my business partner has been invaluable. Chris Nicholson, who runs The Tutor Index with me. He’s great. He brings a lot of technical expertise to the table as a web developer and, you know, a sense of business acumen and business experience. And it’s really good, because obviously, I’m not like the repository of really good ideas, I certainly can’t do the vast majority of the things that Chris can do. And so that’s been really useful to just have someone to essentially run the thing with. And, yeah, it’s great, he’s not afraid to disagree in a constructive way, and provide alternative perspectives. And that’s really great, because that allows you to really refine your ideas and make them more practical and make them come to fruition in a more effective way.

Ludo Millar 26:25
Absolutely. The advantage of having a business partner with you, Jason, cannot be understated. I think for people who are thinking of going into business, I think locating or seeking a business partner who can help with those areas that you’re not strong with is, yeah, as you’ve said a number of times, is invaluable. And will save you potentially years of struggling to grow, and also I imagine hundreds of thousands of pounds, if you have to keep learning how to do that yourself and delaying projects or seeking freelance people to come on and do those things for you every time.

And so yeah, we’ve seen a lot of times in the education industry that teams with co-founders, you know, two co-founders, even three co-founders, that there’s a lot that can be shared. That doesn’t mean that one-man bands can’t or organisations with a single founder can’t exceed, but the shared load definitely helps to progress the ideas and the projects. So I’m glad that you found Chris, I’m glad that Chris found you – he wouldn’t have been able to do it by himself either!

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Ludo Millar 27:39
And now a brief word from last week’s guest, Omar El Dokani, whose episode you can catch after this.

Omar El Dokani 27:46
First and foremost, I just want to say thank you to Ludo for the invitation on the QT Podcast. I had a great time and I hope he did as well. The conversation was really nice. What I enjoyed about the podcast? Look, I always enjoy exchanging opinions, and sitting down and having conversation. I think it’s always beneficial and nice for the end user to hear as well. What I would say to a future guest? Probably just try and share your knowledge to the best of your ability, articulate your thoughts, and you never know who might be listening on the other side, who may seek that sort of advice or knowledge that you want to share. So that’s probably my three things. And thanks to Ludo for the invite once again, I had a great time.

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Ludo Millar 28:43
Jason, it’s really lovely to chat. And we’re just coming to an end here really. We like to keep it close to around 25-30 minutes. But for really the final question and looking ahead, you know, The Tutor Index has got so much more, so many more ways in which it can grow and in which it can help students and tutors. What are some of the things that you’re looking forward to next? What’s next for Jason Preece?

Jason Preece 29:10
Yeah, I lead an incredibly busy, busy life at the moment, you know, between family and school teaching, tutoring, and, of course, running The Tutor Index. So I suppose it’s about developing each of these things in turn. I mean, certainly with The Tutor Index, we’re trying to carefully continue building it up, so that that continues to grow and achieve what we’re aiming to do, essentially, in a really effective way, in the wake of a new regulatory framework, and, you know, in a way that stays true to our aims. That’s next on the table for us. We’ve got 1500 tutors who have signed up, of which 300 or so have passed our quality control process. But we’re always looking for new tutors. And indeed, we’re trying to grow our student numbers as well. But yeah, I’m trying to nail the whole work-life balance thing, basically. That’d be good. So you know, any tips? Please let me know, send them my way. Because I’d love to know.

Ludo Millar 30:40
Of course, it’s a two-way learning process. I imagine by the time this episode comes to be published, those numbers will have increased greatly. So yeah, that’s an exciting thing to look forward to. If people do want to send you tips, but more likely, if people want to get in touch with you about The Tutor Index, Jason, what’s the best way they can do that?

Jason Preece 31:02
I’m contactable at jason@thetutorindex.com. And you can find out more about us at thetutorindex.com as well. So yeah, there we go.

Ludo Millar 31:18
Look at that. They will as ever, all the links will be in the show notes. So I know some podcast listening apps have slightly strange ways of formatting the show notes. But the links are in there, wherever, you can click them directly. You might have to copy and paste them into your search bar. But yeah, really lots of ways to get in touch with Jason and to support that journey. But Jason, thank you so much for coming on. This has been the 139th episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. What a pleasure it has been to have you on Jason, I hope you’ve enjoyed talking about your business and your background.

Jason Preece 31:57
No, it’s been a real pleasure to be here. So no, really, thank you for the opportunity. You know, it’s been really nice to prepare for it. And it’s been really nice to actively do it. So thanks. Thanks to you, Ludo. Oh, yeah, we really appreciate the opportunity.

Ludo Millar 32:16
Not to worry, Jason. Listeners, we will see you all next time for the 140th episode. But one final time and a big cheer wherever you are listeners. Hands together for Jason Preece, and we’ll see you all again soon.

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Ludo Millar
Thank you for listening to this episode of the Qualified Tutor Podcast. Your next step is to check out the Love Tutoring Community and in particular LTC Connect, a premium membership space which will serve all your subject-specific CPD needs alongside a friendly, professional community space that meets regularly. Visit qualifiedtutor.org/transformational-training to find out more about our CPD-Accredited, Level 2 Safeguarding and Ofqual-recognised courses: the first of their kind in the tutoring industry.

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