Perhaps, the question “Why are your classes so pricey?” is the most sensible one among other things you may need to get used to hearing as a Pilates instructor. So, today I want to share my personal story as a Pilates trainer and Pilates studio owner on determining what to charge for a class. It took me 6+ years to get used to answering the question about price without questioning my credentials and sanity afterwards, and I really hope this article will shorten this inevitable, but not such a pleasant journey for other trainers. So, let’s give it an honest (slightly biased, maybe) look at how much a Pilates class may/should cost.
Like most personal trainers, I started my career at a local gym&dance club with a few classes per week. In fact, I had been teaching Pilates and dancing in various fitness clubs, and I had seen how dancing was bringing tangible value to people: improved their posture, health, and even confidence and communication skills, and they became at least a bit happier right after my classes. Those were the sparks of fire I wanted to add some fuel to. I wanted to apply a tailored approach to every individual, to maximize the positive impact of our classes.
After some discussions with fitness centers, which were adapted to the high turnover of clients, I figured out that the best solution to implement my idea about the personal approach in fitness area would be to launch my studio and develop a model focused on every individual’s needs.
Turns out, it takes time AND money to launch and run Pilates studio.
So, I took all my savings (not so much) and rented a big sunny room on the outskirts of my town. In fact, it was a big garage and its size and sunshine were the only values there. 🙂 To make it profitable from the very beginning (since I’ve spent already all my savings on rent), I used to work 10-12 hours per day and dump prices to attract new clients. That time I looked at doing so as gaining experience and was not worried much about the fact I was actually living from one paycheck to another.
After two or three years, with many additional workshops taken and great testimonials from clients received, I decided to raise the fee for my classes by 10 percent to cope with the level of inflation that year. Surprisingly (perhaps to me only) many potential clients after hearing the price did not make it even to the first class. I was not worried because it was summer – low season for fitness industry – until one day I got a wake-up call from one lady.
She started with me being recommended to her as one in class, super Pilates professional; we discussed her goals and future schedule, there definitely was a sparkle, and then she asked what the price was. Her reaction is outlined in the title to this post. It turned out, and she called me because she thought my prices still were that low as years ago, and no way she was going to pay me the market price since she had a gym closer to her house…
I vividly remember asking myself whether I wanted to be recommended as the cheapest trainer and struggle in a freezing uncomfortable garage for the rest of my life. Guess what: the answer was “No, I want to be among the best, not the cheapest.”
So, once again, I took all my savings (a little bit more this time) and rented a studio in downtown, with parking, excellent infrastructure and all, to make easier to get there for my clients. While developing my dance and Pilates studio, I intended I pioneered in adopting customer service practices from non-fitness industries and created a code of professional conduct for the studio’s personnel that combined applicable principles of ethics in medicine and education, and best hospitality practices of elite hotels.
Together with my team, we designed and implemented a student-teacher and peer-to-peer mentoring programs to stimulate positive, productive, and long-lasting relationships. In order to inspire the studio’s clients to better themselves in establishing a healthy lifestyle, I cooperated with leading customer service consultants, experts in the development of corporate brand identity (reflective of the values the studio was projecting) and interior designers to create a supportive atmosphere and feeling of fitness and beauty.
You know what? It takes A LOT of investment to create that “a remarkable customer experience” atmosphere. Organic lotions and bamboo towels in studio showers do not come free.
Also, I continued my Pilates education, even took a course from a Pilates elder, Mary Bowen, to New York (that time ago I lived in the Eastern Europe, so that was quite a trip). Of course, you need to continue education if you are keen to be a better teacher than you were yesterday and if you don’t want to stick with the same exercises repertoire forever. And, of course, you need to take workshops if you have more than one client: no two bad postures are equally bad 😉
Now, a continuation of education is possible with seminars, workshops, and conferences. Approximately, it costs 500-1000 USD per day. If you want any certificate or CE (Continuing Education) credits; if you don’t, you may subscribe to the video channel or something… you will still pay, but less.
Oh, recently I was stunned by, well, a creepy solution from one of that online courses: when you passed the exam, you got a certificate with a validity date (explanation: you need to prolong your paid subscription in order to reevaluate your knowledge in future), as it is possible to forget some basic Pilates theory and feet anatomy information.
And here comes the challenge: you need to make a lot of money to be able to continue education and stay on the cutting edge.
If you work in a gym or studio, you try to negotiate your salary (good luck with that!). If you are an independent trainer, you must raise prices, because there is the same amount of classes (read – hours) in a day you can take.
Anyway, it is not easy to handle. Because most of Pilates trainers are open-hearted people who are glad to serve, not businesspeople.
But of course, you deal with it. You launch your Pilates blog or Facebook page, you write and publish a book and numerous articles in magazines – you do your best to make money with your passion. You take marketing, design, branding and customer service courses… And no one pays for you; it is all on you. No one buys you a business class airplane ticket to your seminar “Pilates for scoliosis.”
And when you think you have it all covered – rent, customer service expenses (MINDBODY prices are going up again, by the way) and continuing education, – here comes the bummer: you need to pay for insurance, both medical and liability packages.
Insurance is a very spooky topic among all personal trainers, even those who work at the high-end gym chains such as Equinox. To get access to the full insurance package benefits, a trainer should meet the definition of ‘full-time employee,’ so part-time trainers need to work an additional 8-10 hours each week.
But the peculiarities of a personal training job make this harder to do than it might seem. If you are a trainer, you know that already: most clients like to come in early in the morning before work or late in the evening afterward. Also, there are last-minute cancellations.
If you are an independent trainer, you can buy insurance package by yourself and it is not even near small expenses. The cost for insurance makes comprehensive medical coverage out of reach for many of trainers. For most of us, a limited medical plan is the only one affordable.
The only options left are to stick to your spouse insurance package or not to buy any insurance and to hope for the best.
The same goes with liability. Personal trainers are at risk for liability claims every day, so sufficient liability insurance is of vital importance. Clients can claim that they were not properly instructed in how to use a piece of equipment or how to perform a specific exercise or stretching activity… A claim or lawsuit for a personal trainer can easily put most personal trainers out of business and potentially in danger of losing everything they own. So, combining with continuing education, liability insurance is a natural response to handle those risks.
Considering all that above, how much would you charge for a class? Just do you math. I have a quote in my refrigerator, a note that helps me to make through many life situations. It says “Math doesn’t suck, you do.”
A few more words… I sincerely believe that it is OK to want to get paid well for the job you are doing well.
One funny argument pro low prices I heard was that Pilates is not about money, it is about sharing the love and helping people, so it should be affordable for many, so prices are supposed to be low. Believe me; I do my part in contributing to society. I regularly donate to the charity fund, help in shelters, support elderly, and make contributions to butterflies in a local zoo (no jokes). But I need to be able to make that donation. And appropriate pricing for my classes is the way I have chosen.
And if some people consider that a personal trainer should not earn more than a pre-school teacher (I was told that once), I don’t find this argument compelling either, because these jobs are not only not identical, but also they are not even substantially equal due to social packages of the latter. Though, of course, every job is worth doing and honorable.
To cut a long story short, when I spell out the price for my classes, I am not asking my client to sponsor my future Caribbean cruise or next Bali trip. I am suggesting to make future funding for Pilates service provision at the current level. By now, I have done my math, and I know what it takes.