They say human mind constantly evolves. I am not sure if it was evolution or just jumping into deep waters like in that ‘legitimate’ learning swimming technique. But after a few years of teaching experience in fitness, Pilates, and dance, I decided to launch my studio, primarily, because I had a bunch of ideas in my head about how things should be done.
A few months after, I was sitting near the window in my own studio, after a one-on-one class that was supposed to be a group class; only one student came. Confused and embarrassed, I was asking myself whether it was all worth it, and what if I am students-deprived forever, until the end of my life. Just like in the classy book: “… and I’d finally die, fat and alone, and be found three weeks later half-eaten by alsatians.” (Bridget Jones’s Diary, but you’ve got that).
The ultimate truth is: if you hesitate, go for it. Open your own Pilates studio/fitness hub/etc. One way or another, it will make you a better person.
Of course, it turned out great. Since then I learned how to deal with last-minute cancellations and no-shows . In fact, my studio reached a break-even in five months and had many happy students. And I have succeeded financially and am living a life that satisfies my passion (you can find out more in A Christmas Devotional: What’s It Like Being a Pilates Instructor?)
And yet, I am curious- what if I had known about some challenges before I became a Pilates trainer cum studio owner? Would it be easier to overcome some difficulties and help me gain a new perspective? I’ll never know for sure. But so far, I can outline some principles that could help launching and running a Pilates studio be fiendishly excited, yet not so fiendishly complicated.
Let’s start with Why. Why did I want to open my own studio instead of keeping teaching classes in the gym? Was it because of extreme ambitions? I don’t think so. Because I had extra money and was looking for a promising investment project? Hardly. It was more like a synergy of these three impulses:
1. Striving to perfect customer service. Every Pilates trainer knows how Pilates brings tangible value to people: improve their posture, health, and even confidence and communication skills, and they became at least a bit happier right after the classes. Those were the sparks of fire I wanted to add some fuel to!
I wanted to apply a tailored approach to each person, to maximize the positive impact of our classes. After some discussions with fitness centers, which were more geared to a high turnover of clients, I envisaged a better (and only possible) solution would be to launch my studio and develop a model focused on individual’s needs.
2. Looking for long lasting relationships with students. In gyms, clients come and go. It is hard to have a history with every student, since one day she goes to the treadmill, another day – for Zumba, and today – oh, Pilates! Moreover, Pilates is not the bunch of exercises you can just show and repeat; you need many pre-exercises, tons of explanation, etc.
Moreover, since safety goes first, you can’t jump into a sophisticated routine if you step into the class and see that you have ten newcomers and ten advanced students: so, you risk to stick with the classical Roll Down forever, get bored and lose motivation to develop further as a Pilates trainer.
And, there is a rule for trainers in a gym: you should keep all clients satisfied, so every class should be like a separate practice like in mega successful TV series. Anyone is supposed to be hooked up whenever they come for the first time.
To sum up, in gym the challenge was to build continuing education process.
3. We all know that to stay well-informed, a personal trainer and Pilates instructor should continue education. Have you seen those prices?! Simple math and you realize that you cannot afford all tasty workshops and PMA conferences for the salary you get in the gym. Often you don’t have a decent insurance package even. So, I owed it to my inner perfectionist to look for another career path.
Ok, so, I did it: rented a studio with big sunny hall right upstairs the garage: not to gain the nerd spirit, just the only one I found.
(A few words about renting a place: except for really rare cases and super luck, you will not find a dream studio to rent. You should build it from scratch. Rent is possible only in the day time (who cares about those time slots? It is not the first to book), and often not available even then.
I even considered opening a home studio, but there are a lot to think about there too. For starters, I love people in general, but I need some privacy time. And, what will you do, if just sipping your morning coffee, and your client is already here for an hour earlier, knocking at the door? Also, there are many restrictions too: some potential clients could be intimidated to have a class at one’s home…)
Anyway, let’s go back. Here are 7 things I wish I had known before opening my Pilates studio. Please mention that’s MY take on it. Your mileage may vary 🙂
1. The moment you open your studio, you do not have students anymore; they become your clients, and that drastically changes the perspective. It is an eye-opening experience. It is like you get a promotion but only with responsibilities, not the salary increase. 🙂 You become responsible not only for the quality of teaching and safety but also for every single moment they have in your studio. Run out of toilet paper? Too crowded class? Problems with rescheduling or booking class online? It is all yours, baby. It’s all yours.
On the bright side, you can implement your own rules and service standards. You are to choose whether you can charge for water, for example, and what kind of members birthday gifts are the best. There is almost total decision freedom! And feels good.
2. The principle “If you build it, they will come” does not work here. Maybe, in some magic world, when people hear that Pilates studio opens nearby, they rush to the opening to buy unlimited access package, but it was definitely not my case. For sure, I knew that we would need advertising and marketing, but I sincerely thought that Pilates is so great, that I didn’t need to look for clients two months (the longest) after the opening.
I was wrong.
Prepare to that: all free time you not teaching, you spend it driving from one marketing strategy to another, converting one new client at a time.
The silverline is that you learn a LOT about marketing, advertising and all related to sales. And a little extra knowledge never hurt anybody.
You may even feel like you become a salesman, trying to push the deals all the time. If it makes you uncomfortable, read the book “To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others” by Daniel H. Pink. I can guarantee this book will ease the burden of constant selling your classes.
3. It is really challenging to find teachers – team players. The moment you go – business cards from your instructors start flying around. Also, you may have a really hard time negotiating with your instructors around money.
Maybe, that’s because in fitness industry everyone is connected to the teacher, first of all, and just after that – to studio or gym… It’s natural that we like one teacher’s style more than others, and it gives us, instructors, some sense of power and value and we try to negotiate the salary… Anyway, when you think about opening your studio, think about never-ending negotiation processes as an essential part of owning the business.
Whether you want it or not, you will become a teamleader and every day will give you a chance to sharpen your leadership skills
4. Price change never comes easy. Psychologically, it is always hard to start to pay more for something you used to pay less recently. Keep that in mind when you feel like dumping prices to get a new audience or like using Groupon service for your growing business. That seems like a nice way to allure new clients, and it could give you extra cash, but it is so not good for branding and your long-term goals! (Read this story “Groupon Was “The Single Worst Decision I Have Ever Made As A Business Owner” to find out why)
One of the possible solutions is to connect price rising to increasing the value you give. Still, not everyone will agree with you (“could I pay less if I don’t use your free water or towels and you will not show me new exercises?)
Even more, some clients will leave you after you’ve raised the price (even if you offer discounts for loyalty, etc.), with bitter thoughts and hard feeling comments on Facebook.
Check out my article How Much Do You Charge For Your Pilates Class? …Are You Nuts?!
5. Once you have your studio, it is fun, hard and almost impossible to go back to the gym; it is another world since then. One day I got a call from the senior HR of expensive fitness club: they said they loved my credentials, articles and all and asked me to hold Pilates class for their director (that was fun, especially since they have their own Pilates instructors). I’ve worked there for some time (the club was closed within 3 months because of political reasons), but you should see the look in the eyes of the HR every time she gave me a paycheck: they paid their trainers nuts, of course.
The Captain Obvious is here: there is the huge difference between working for someone and working for yourself: it turns your world upside down.
6. The earlier you learn how to delegate, the better. Running the studio is another level than teaching. First months, when something went wrong (last minute cancellation of the class – by the instructor, f. ex), I tried to fill all holes with myself. It never led to anything but frustration and destruction from strategy, mission, and vision implementation. Sometimes, it is really worth losing some money, get a lesson, and prevent similar happenings in the future.
7. I wish I had known from day one that focus is the key. Back then, I wanted to please every client, broaden the range of classes in the schedule and offer any fitness related service. My husband joked one day- “don’t forget to mention on your website that you provide a pick-up service from the airport.” 🙂 The ultimate truth is that it is okay to experiment and it is okay to be lean but is crucial to define your niche (who is your ideal client) and devote all your efforts there. That approach will save you money, time, and energy.
… Of course, there is so much more to say here. I feel that this post will be updated many times 😉 Please share your thoughts below and tell me your story!
P.S. If you liked this post, You may also be interested in reading So, You’re JUST a Pilates Instructor? Oh… I See.