29 May 2012

+JMJ+

Tutor Tales, Volume 36

Two weeks ago, I got a call from a Korean woman who lives in Star Shaker and Skid Breaker's old building. I guess their mother had recommended me. Excited about my first referral in a long time--especially after she told me she had three children--I agreed to meet her that very day.

When I arrived at her flat, she got down to business immediately, asking, "How much for one hour?"

I told her. Her eyes went wide. Then she said she had been hoping to pay only a fifth of that.

Later, a friend told me: "You should have walked out
the second she dumped that figure on the table."
And he was right . . . but let's not
get ahead of the story.

Despite being blown away by her stinginess, I felt I had to explain--and to stand up for my dignity. "That's just what I charge for one child. When there are two, I ask for more because it means more work for me. And you're asking me to tutor three."

She shook her head. "Three means a group class and a group class always costs less!"

"But I won't be teaching a group class. I'll be doing one-on-one tutoring for three different children."

"If there are extra hours, they also cost less, and I will pay you for four hours!"

You're kidding, right, lady? "Four hours at one-fifth of what I get for one hour is . . . really not something I want to do."

Note that even if I had been offering a group class, the discounts would have been for every additional child enrolled, with the first child still being charged the regular rate. And although I'm willing to negotiate what I will accept for additional hours, that doesn't affect what I charge for the first hour. This mother seemed to think that her three children should all have the rate given to the third child--and the four hours all have the discount given to the fourth hour. Which makes no economic sense. She was either really clueless about money or really good about setting terms so outrageous that anything even slightly better looks really good. And it was probably the latter because after twenty minutes, I had agreed to a one-week trial period at the lowest fricking rate I'ver ever been paid.

I agreed to it only because nobody had asked for summer tutoring this year, which meant that the last two months have been really tight for me, and something looked better than nothing . . . and because she agreed to let me tutor for two hours a day instead of just one . . . and because I was secretly hoping I would charm the children enough for them to beg her to keep me after the week was up. (I'm pathetic like that.)

So for the next two days, I showed up, gave individualised EFL lessons to her three sweet kids, and prayed that everything would work out. And in a way, it did, for when I arrived at her flat on the third day, the children were nowhere in sight and she told told me that I was fired.

Well, first she wanted to know if she could hire me exclusively, for five days a week and six hours a day, but at less of an hourly rate than she was already paying. And it was when I said no that she told me I was too expensive for her and that she couldn't have me around any longer.

Then she stiffed me.

Do you know how hard it is to be tactful when a parent pulls a stunt like that?

"Mrs. ___," I said, "I think there's been a mistake. You owe me a little more than this. I spent a total of four hours with your children, over two days, and at P___ an hour--"

"No, no, no!" she cut me off. "It was P___ a day!"

Wow, really? "I saw you write the word 'hour' in your notebook when we were negotiating!"

She pleaded ignorance of the notebook and wouldn't pay a single centavo more.

"Are you telling me that if I had showed up for the past two days and logged for four hours each day, as you originally wanted, you still would have charged me by the day?"

She pretended she didn't understand my English. Of course.

It took a heroic effort on my part, but I managed to stalk out of there without slamming the door behind me.

Then I rang up some friends, asked them to meet me at one of the poncier pubs in the neighbourhood, and blew the money she gave me on dinner and some mango margaritas. Because that's about all it was good for.

12 comments:

Michael said...

Bad clients upfront will remain bad clients down the road, no matter how fervently you might wish otherwise.

If they don't value your work to begin with, they never will. Learned this lesson the hard way, and now never blink about my prices. Never. In fact I am priced (and my terms are set) in such a way as to keep knuckleheads from even considering hiring me in the first place.

And if by chance one gets through by willingly paying the fee, I will fire them without hesitation. It simply isn't worth it. Money is important, but unless I was on the verge of starvation or eviction, I would refuse to bend it over for anyone.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Michael, thank you for adding the explicit moral where I left the story hanging. For everyone's benefit, let me quote you here as well:

If they don't value your work to begin with, they never will.

That is so true--as is the fact that "it never gets better than the courtship" (to paraphrase our grandmothers--LOL!).

Now I'll have to learn that art of not blinking that you've mastered . . .

Belfry Bat said...

At the end of his first official visit to Cuba, then-Canadian-PM P.E.Trudeau (misereatur ei...) gave a most eloquent speech in fluent Spanish, which was the first time the officials had heard him use their tongue, and (I'm told) this induced them to greater caution in subsequent meetings.

And you're young, and you like to read; I'm sure there's lots of Korean poetry you could get into!

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Um . . . what?

Belfry Bat said...

If she likes to pretend she doesn't understand English well enough, she can't pretend not to understand Korean (although she might pretend not to understand you speaking Korean, though that would definitely be more mendacious...) so you should learn Korean. And show it off. Or else stop dealing with the shady/shifty ones, as Michael says.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I think Michael's way is a tad easier than yours, Bat . . . =P

Darwin said...

I also learned this the hard way -- if you undercharge, your client will only value you at your own valuation. I taught violin for a few years to one student at an under-market price, because I doubted my teaching abilities. And the student was consistently late and some weeks never showed up. It got to the point where I was glad for any excuse to cancel. I should have either jacked my rate or just ended the whole deal, but I liked the girl well enough. Don't let it get personal: also a good motto.

And this is MrsDarwin, in case Blogger logs me in the wrong way again.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Just as I was picturing Darwin sawing away at a violin . . .

You're right, of course. One thing I didn't finish explaining in the post was why I think this experience has turned out for the best. I'm glad it happened because it has convinced me to jack up my rate for everyone! Scrap Metal's mother is pretty reasonable and has given me a raise each year, but Star Shaker's guardian will be another story. She rang yesterday to set up a meeting, but when I tried to tell her over the phone that I expected to be paid more this year, she pleaded English as a Second Language as well. =P So it looks as if I'll have to go to that meeting anyway, and either waste everyone's time or get the best deal of my tutoring career.

But I have to say that Star Shaker's guardian has always been fair. Stingy, but fair. She may try her darndest to get the lowest rate she can, but she always pays what she has promised.

Michael said...

Hi E,

I see that blogger now is not even sending notices when I get a response in a comment thread.

Hmmmpf! Hopefully one day you will come over from the dark side :P
______

If they don't value your work to begin with, they never will.

That is so true--as is the fact that "it never gets better than the courtship" (to paraphrase our grandmothers--LOL!).

LOL! Yes, I think this is a relatively universal maxim, but fortunately I have seen many cases of the exact opposite. Or as one writer put it, with a lot of hard work, marriage can be like fine wine, it gets better with time.

And I can attest, though never married, the "courtship phase" is highly overrated. I have been in several LT relationships that I thought could never get better (and they were great). Boy, was I wrong.

Now I'll have to learn that art of not blinking that you've mastered

Whenever you are tempted to blink just envision the scenario you wrote about in your post. In fact I look at people like they are crazy if they don't think I am worth my rates. Move on please. Next!

A different but related scenario is when someone pays your full price, but thinks this entitles them to be a world class PITA. The Pareto Principle applies here as well. Fire 'em. It will make your life easier and more productive.

I'm glad it happened because it has convinced me to jack up my rate for everyone!

Haha! You go girl!

But I have to say that Star Shaker's guardian has always been fair. Stingy, but fair. She may try her darndest to get the lowest rate she can, but she always pays what she has promised.

And there is nothing wrong with that. That is the essence of voluntary market interactions (on the consumer side), folks trying to maximize value for the least amount of money

By the same token, I am free to walk away if I think a particular valuation of my services/product is deficient. That is why every transaction that lacks coercion (or fraud), is economically speaking, a win/win scenario. Both parties walk away with what they were willing to settle/negotiate/fight for. If each party did not perceive the interaction as holding value for them (even if we as outsiders disagree), they would not consummate it.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

Now that you mention it, I can think of some "long term relationships" with clients that also aged surprisingly well. =) But it's still safest not to assume I'll get lucky like this each time.

And now I'll have to learn your "crazy" look for when people think you're not worth your rates! LOL!

Michael said...

Now that you mention it, I can think of some "long term relationships" with clients that also aged surprisingly well. =) But it's still safest not to assume I'll get lucky like this each time.

Well like marriage, there are ways to build this type of relationship, assuming you have a good client to begin with, thereby removing the "luck" factor.

And now I'll have to learn your "crazy" look for when people think you're not worth your rates! LOL!

Amazing what a piercing or disarming look of incredulity can accomplish. :P

And when I am done I want my clients to feel like they got a bargain - a great bargain - cuz nothing is easier than bringing on board someone who is already sold by a great referral from someone else.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

I will work on that piercing look of incredulity!