The current tough economic climate only adds to the attraction of starting a home-based business. Working from home means you have no lease to sign, no rent to pay and no commuting costs. But even without these out-of-pocket expenses, starting any business requires an investment of time and effort. Launching a home-based Pilates practice almost 3 years ago during the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression was my first attempt at running a business. Now my schedule is full, and in this two-part series I want to share what I’ve learned about starting a successful Pilates practice at home.
I skipped business school but spent nearly three decades as a public-health advocate criticizing the alcohol industry for targeting underage youth. As a result, I know by heart the four P’s of marketing—product, place, price and promotion. In wide use since the 1960s, the four P’s can be used to analyze the positioning of any product or service in the marketplace. I’ve learned from my own business that building a Pilates practice in your home calls for one additional P—privacy. I’ll discuss product and place here and the remaining P’s in the next issue.
Pilates is a strong and growing brand. Dancers, actors and athletes were among the first to appreciate the Pilates method for its unmatched ability to enhance physical performance. Over the years, Pilates has also earned respect as a valuable rehabilitation tool, as well as an accessible and adaptable form of mind-body exercise for all fitness levels.
I learned the method from a top-notch training organization and found a skilled, respected mentor to supervise my student teaching. In addition to sharpening my teaching skills, I learned good business practices—scheduling and cancellation policies, record keeping and money handling. By the time I had completed all the requirements for certification, I was confident I had a firm grounding in a method with proven value and a solid reputation. In short, I knew I had a good product.
But, as I learned from my accountant father, a good product isn’t always enough to succeed. Being competitive also means knowing and communicating what sets one’s practice apart. Thanks to his sage advice, I make sure prospective clients know they will receive, not just skilled instruction, but customized, private lessons in a peaceful, beautiful and secluded setting. With my help, clients identify functional goals and I design each session to help them meet those goals. Finally, I present myself as a real-life example of a mature woman who is reaping the benefits of Pilates to maintain a fit and functional body.
Like all the best instructors I’ve worked with, I find that continuing education keeps my teaching fresh and informed. My repertoire continues to grow as I find practical solutions to my clients’ alignment issues. As a result, the quality of my product is always improving.
The success of your home-based Pilates practice depends in part on where you live. The majority of your potential clients reside or work within a few miles of your home. If you happen to live in a rural area 5 miles from town along a gravel road, you should consider finding studio space in town.
As locations go, I was in good shape. I live in a residential neighborhood just a block from a busy, urban shopping district. Street parking is available, and there are bus stops and a rapid transit station within two blocks.
My studio is a small building—a remodeled garage—behind my home. I gradually took over first half and then the whole space, displacing a TV room and study. (Unlike renting commercial space for my business, repurposing a room in my home required the participation of my family. I had to rearrange several rooms in the house to accommodate activities that my business had dislodged.) When the dust finally settled, I had a small, dedicated space in which to grow my practice.
With a modest investment for mats and small props, I started teaching mat classes right away. Then, using a combination of savings and new earnings, I began to furnish my studio. I knew I could offer a high-quality Pilates experience with used equipment; most of the apparatus at the studio where I did my student teaching was more than 10 years old. The trick was finding used equipment to buy.
It took a few months to locate a used Balanced Body® studio reformer for sale on craigslist. With a new set of springs and straps, I was ready to offer private lessons on the reformer. Then a colleague asked me to “store” her extra trapeze table. I no longer had room for mat classes, but I started teaching some duets. About 2 years after starting my practice, I saved on the purchase of a brand-new combo chair by using a discount offered by the studio where I had earned my certification. I also cut costs by picking up my chair at the factory instead of paying for shipping. Along with the usual bands, tubes, rollers and balls, plus a Pilates arc, I had outfitted my “fully equipped” studio for under $4,000.
Although my commute is just a few steps across the backyard, I take pains to make sure my studio feels like a professional workspace. A poster of the muscular system hangs on the wall, I display my business permit and fees on a message board, and every tool and prop has its place. Without saying a word, anyone walking into my studio can see it is a place to work. And when I close and lock the studio door, I can establish a clear separation between my home life and my teaching.
Look for the remaining tips on running a successful home-based Pilates business in the June issue of IDEA Pilates Today.
The author would like to dedicate this article to the memory of Irving “Bud” Leiber, her father and mentor.
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