Why I’ve Decided Against Increasing my Private Lesson Prices (for Current Students)
I currently teach around 15 students online. I’ve been teaching a small number of them for over five years. Even though every freelancer around the world seems to have raised their rates, I’ve decided against increasing my private lesson prices for already enrolled students.
The state of play with my prices
When I started teaching English in Poland in 2006, my rate for private conversation classes was 60 PLN per clock hour. Very good money in those days. This became 65 PLN in around 2012 when I taught students face-to-face in Lódź, Poland. When I reverted back to teaching mostly Polish students of English online in 2013, I dropped my rate back to 60 PLN.
Last year, my rate went up to 70 PLN and it now stands at 80 PLN. I charge 90 PLN for more specialised courses, such as my CPE (C2) Speaking Exam preparation course. As you can see on my prices page, students also have the option to pay in British pounds either by bank transfer or via PayPal.
This is the key thing, however. There’s a difference between increasing my private lesson prices for current students and raising rates on my website for those who wish to enrol in one of my courses.
Frankly, I don’t think I could teach more than 20 students per week. So if another five students come along and are happy to pay 80 PLN for 60 minutes of study time, then that’s up to them. I shouldn’t feel bad about having raised my prices.
By the way, I teach short 15-25 minute classes with many of my students several times per week. I’ve long believed that the ideal length of a private language lesson is between 15-25 minutes. The regularity of contact with a language means so much more than the length of a lesson. Which teacher or student could endure two 90 minute online classes per week? I certainly couldn’t.
There’s no need to jump on the bandwagon just yet
As of July 2023, the minimum hourly wage in Poland will increase to 23.5 zloty gross - an increase of 3.8 zloty compared to the previous year. To put things into context, my (net) fee for an hour of class time is around FOUR times higher than the minimum hourly wage in Poland. Therefore, as it’s not my goal to buy a new Audi or live a life of luxury, I think that I earn very decent money - by Polish standards.
For now, I’ve refrained from jumping on the bandwagon of raising prices for the students I currently teach. I’ve already mentioned that I earn quite well by Polish standards. It’s true that the cost of living has gone up in Poland, particularly when it comes to grocery shopping. Petrol prices have stabilised though. My electricity, water and heating bills aren’t much higher than what they were a few years ago.
In summary, I don’t think that inflation has eaten away at my salary all that much. So why should I punish my students for “the situation”?
Teaching English as a private tutor in Poland
I’ve just checked out e-korepetycje - one of Poland’s largest private tutoring databases - to see what some of my colleagues (or “competitors”) charge for English language classes.
So, despite all my experience and qualifications, I’m among the cheapest teachers on the market. I’m also a native speaker. No offence to the many excellent non-native English teachers out there.
Teachers on e-korepetycje are asking for silly money. I am not sure whether they get any students at all. I would never pay over 150 PLN (33 EUR) for a language class. If push really came to shove, I’d put all my efforts and resources into turning myself into a formidable independent language learner.
There’s no jealousy at play here when it comes to these English tutors. If I were jealous, I’d put my prices up to 150 PLN an hour on my website just to test the water. Of course, I wouldn’t do such a ridiculous thing.
Overall, I believe that tutors can live very well in cities such as Gdańsk and Warsaw if they earn between 80-100 PLN per 60-minute class.
Can you raise your tutoring rates without losing any of your students?
If I set my heart on increasing my private lesson prices, I’d go about it in as ethical a way as possible:
1. Limit the increase percentage
Although raising your rates by 25-50% would have a significant impact on your overall income, I’m not convinced that all of your students would feel that you’re worth such a rise - even if you think you do.
I’d advise you to limit your increases to between 5% and 12.5%.
To put things into context. A fair number of my students learn with me for around 150 minutes per month. So a 10% increase in my rates would give me an extra 15-18 PLN per month per student depending on how much they pay per hour.
Overall, my salary would go up by around 225-270 PLN per month which I’d be satisfied with.
2. Give students plenty of advance notice
One of the most important policies you should follow to help successfully raise your tutoring rates is to give your students sufficient advance notice. No one relishes surprise rate increases.
One idea to warn students of what’s to come is to send an email notification to ensure they receive the notice. Make full use of the subject line by writing something obvious like “Change in rates” in order to get your students’ attention.
I personally believe that an advance notice of between one and three months is ample time to notify your current students and allow them time to work out whether they will accept the rate increase. This advance notice period also gives you plenty of time to advertise for new students if a few of your existing ones decide to stop taking classes.
3. Treat both long-term and new students with the utmost respect
I would consider four or five of my students to be long-term clients. Just because I’ve been teaching them for over five years doesn’t mean that I wouldn’t notify them about any possible forthcoming rate changes. Even though I think they’d all be willing to pay whatever rate I demand, I wouldn’t run the risk of showing what they might perceive as disrespect by giving them short notice about a rise in my private lesson rates.
When you begin to teach a new student, I would let them know that you occasionally reassess your rates, usually in December or at the end of the ‘financial year’ (i.e. ‘tax year’).
Related to this point, you don’t want to increase your rates for new students too soon. For instance, if a student begins taking classes in November, and your policy is to reassess rates every December, it would be wise to avoid raising the rate that particular student pays. After all, how do they know you’re worth this rise if you’ve only had five or six sessions with them?
Patience is a virtue. Wait until the following year to raise rates for new students who, by that time, will have realised you’re worth every penny. Just focus on honing your new students’ language skills and proving your value.
4. Upgrade the quality of service your provide to students
If you raise your tuition rates, upgrading the quality of service you provide to students will give them the feeling that they're getting extra value for money.
I believe that my students get very decent value for money. For example, I record lesson notes for them on a Google Doc while a class is taking place. These notes detail new words and collocations, pronunciation errors and grammatical mistakes which they're expected to reflect on and correct before the following class. Moreover, for many of the articles I cover with students, I share audio files which I've personally sound recorded.
I hope these two ideas have given you some food for thought.
You are entitled to protect yourself without raising your rates
I’m sure that most freelance language teachers don’t look forward to the summer months when many students disappear for two or three weeks. Or even a few months.
Right now, I’m more interested in protecting myself during the summer months (or any month for that matter) rather than increasing my private lesson prices. I’ve outlined the following condition and supporting arguments in a letter to students I’m currently putting the finishing touches to:
… I do need to protect myself, particularly during the summer months. Hence, the following condition shall apply from July 1:
- Minimum 65 PLN (14 EUR) payment per month, regardless of which month it is:
Logic 1: Most of you meet me twice a week (7-9 times per calendar month). Reaching 65 zl should never be a problem, even if you go away for 2 weeks during a particular month.
Logic 2: Of course, it would be unfair of me to take a 3-week holiday (not likely to happen!) and expect this minimum monthly rate to apply. Therefore, if, during any month, we don’t meet for a minimum of four times due to a series of cancellations on my side, the fee will NOT apply. If we have to meet less than four times a month through my own doing, you will be credited with a FREE LESSON in the following calendar month.
I think it’s a very fair deal all round. After all, the minimum monthly fee will still probably not affect students who take a two-week holiday. For those who plan to disappear for a few months, I don’t think they’ll lose sleep over paying 65 PLN (14 EUR) per month. Finally, I will sleep easy knowing that I’ll be able to pay my bills and my students have committed themselves to learning with me for the long run.
Raising my private lesson prices is still not at the forefront of my mind
As I alluded to at the end of the previous section, I’ve always been more interested in stability. By that, I mean developing and maintaining long-term cooperation with my students rather than increasing my private lesson prices.
I feel privileged to be doing what I’m doing. For one, it’s not stressful work. Secondly, I set my own work schedule. I don’t teach between 11am and 6pm every day. Finally, I can take a day or week off when I want, always safe in the knowledge that my students won’t bat an eyelid.
I haven’t ruled out the concept of increasing my tutoring fees next year or in years to come. For now, I’m happy the way things are. Judging by my students’ commitment to having classes two, three or even four times a week, they seem to be satisfied too.
Why rock the boat in any way?