You will have taught friends and family, practised on neighbours and anyone who would listen to you. Now that you’ve qualified, the scary reality of actually starting your own class dawns. So what do you do?
The venue needs to be in an appropriate area, not too expensive to hire, not too cold, clean, quiet, preferably with parking and depending on the group, tea and coffee making facilities are a bonus. There’s nothing worse than trying to do a Swan Dive without wanting to put your arms on the cold floor with a half-eaten custard cream next to you from yesterday’s playgroup. Some halls will give you a set of keys and others will arrange for someone to let you in each week. Some halls will require cash payments and others will want a cheque or bank transfer. Regardless of the method of payment, ensure you get a receipt for your books as your accountant will need this.
Chances are that if you find an appropriate venue, there will already be a Pilates class using it. In this situation, it’s best to speak to the instructor and explain that you’re looking to start a new class and that you aren’t trying to steal their clients.
As you know, the benefits of Pilates are phenomenal so it would be fantastic for people to have even more opportunity to take part. Ask the instructor what they charge and charge the same – don’t undercut them. Offer to cover their class if they are ever off and over time this relationship will develop. Ultimately, if you are in the same venue, you could share marketing costs and create a real buzz around Pilates. There is no reason why you both can’t have successful classes in the same hall. Fitness centres have more than one class per week offering a range of instructors and styles.
Unless this was your job in a previous life, you will need some advice around tax, national insurance and receipts. Ask around for a recommendation in your area. You will need to meet them early on and have a quick chat to discover which receipts you will need to keep. Collect all your receipts and details of incoming funds (you may also have employment that already takes tax and national insurance from you) and give this information to your accountant as soon as you can after 6th April. They will collate it and calculate if you owe any tax or if you are indeed owed a tax rebate. This service should cost in the region of £200, for which you can keep the receipt as it is a business expense. Some instructors opt to complete their own tax return although most of us could earn more than £200 in the time it would take us to do it ourselves, so it seems more cost effective to ask an expert.
Your class can only be a success if people know you are there. Facebook and Twitter are not enough. Think about your Pilates demographic. Are they even on Facebook and Twitter? The ideal clients have disposable income and time. To find those people try advertising in places where they might be like hairdressers, beauty salons, golf and tennis clubs, the WI and so on. A good percentage of your clients will also have pre-existing conditions, so send a free pass and leaflets to all the osteopaths, chiropractors, physiotherapists, sports massage therapists and occupational therapists in your area. If they come and try it, they will know they can recommend you to their clients. If there is any available space outside the venue you use, place a durable banner on the fence/wall where people can drive past and see it. This will take time to design and print and is not as cheap as producing leaflets, but you are guaranteed a local audience of people that may be interested or may pass on the information to someone that is.
The venue should be willing to let you put up a banner as they want you to be successful and keep hiring their hall. You can explain that if your classes become busy you may need the hall for another class and this extra revenue may help persuade them.
This is the tough one. We could write a whole list of roles and responsibilities of a Pilates class instructor. You did that as part of your training and are more than aware of what you need to do. The single most important focus is to teach the group you have in front of you – a real mixed ability group. Teach the level they are today. If you have 10 people, have at least 6 variations of the One Hundred going on at the same time so that everyone is safe and not beyond their limits. Everyone should be working effectively and not below their limits. The skill of teaching different levels all at the same time takes practise, patience and professionalism. It is your class. You need to observe that everyone is at the correct level for them and if they are not, professionally let them know (either by giving them something to feel or an alternative, explaining why that is best for them today).
Be patient as they will probably make the same mistake again and again. They aren’t trying to test you – they have probably genuinely forgotten what you said. Body awareness comes easy to some people and not at all to others. This is the difference between you and the instructor up the road. Your class members will know you genuinely care and want them to achieve results. They will understand how important control, centering and precision are and will know when they haven’t quite got it, you will help them to understand and get the best out of it. They will know that with your style of teaching and layering they will achieve goals and improve. They will become your biggest marketing tool. Word of mouth is the best marketing. If you start your class with this in mind and never slide into bad habits, your class will sell itself.
Retention is key to successful classes. Start a retention plan from the beginning. Make it easy for people to stay with you. On their first day, they need to fill in a PAR-Q form which should include their email address and phone number. When you collect them, make sure you can read their writing.
You will also need to decide how people are going to pay you. They can pay you monthly, for a 6-week block, pay as you go, cash, cheque or bank transfer. After their first session send them an email with all the payment details, dates of blocks if you are having blocks and your bank details if they are paying by bank transfer. Generally people are more committed if they have paid in advance. If they attend more this will help them achieve results, which will then encourage further commitment. Once you have payment sorted, add them to your email group.
It is important when you send emails to the group, they cannot see each other’s email addresses. This is for data protection purposes. If you are really serious about retention (which will save you time and money on marketing in the long-term) then undoubtedly email newsletters are unbeatable. The idea is to keep in contact with your group so they never have time to forget you or your class. Pick a day and time (perhaps a Sunday evening if your weekends allow) and email your group. Send emails on the same day and time each week so your clients get used to receiving your emails and look forward to them. They will know you genuinely care and are interested in how they are doing. You can pop in a picture of a transverse, a You Tube clip of an exercise you are going to try this week, a link to a local sponsored walk or a newspaper clip on posture for example. The content doesn’t matter as much as the contact. You could write these in advance and just send them one at a time. You could also include your goals for this week and a ‘well done’ message to someone for their achievements. Let them get to know you, add a picture of your family or dog. Each time a payment is due, just add it to your newsletter. This seems like an awfully daunting task at the beginning but it’s only one email a week and the results are amazing. If you are good at what you do, you can keep the people you’ve got.