I became a Pilates instructor after working nearly 30 years in public-health advocacy. Countering the marketing clout of the alcohol industry in an effort to reduce underage drinking was a fascinating, demanding and frustrating job. I learned a few things I now apply to the challenge of making a success of my Pilates practice; specifically, the four P’s of marketing.
The first article in this two-part series explored the role of product and place, two of the classic four P’s (see the April 2011 issue of IDEA Pilates Today). This time I’ll discuss price and promotion, as well as the fifth P—privacy—an important consideration for a home-based enterprise.
Setting a price for your services is a critical decision. After all, if you don’t plan to make a profit, your Pilates practice isn’t a business—it’s a hobby.
Because you don’t have to sign a lease (if you own your home), establishing a home-based business entails less financial risk than opening a studio in a commercial space. But, with the exception of paying commercial rent, a home-based business will incur many of the same expenses. My costs include liability insurance, business taxes, gas and electricity, phone, Internet, office supplies and photocopying, postage, cleaning, equipment and repairs, accounting and legal services, and advertising. It is important to separate these costs from your household expenses at tax time, but acknowledging the full cost of your practice will also help you set appropriate rates for your services.
If, like me, you did your student teaching in a nearby studio, you already have a good idea what instructors with similar training and experience charge in your area. If you are new to an area, survey local rates. Once you’ve established the range, you will likely conclude that you can afford to charge less than the typical store-front studio. Doing so initially is a good way to build a new practice from scratch. But you should make a plan for gradually increasing your fees over time to a level within the range of local rates. This is important both to ensure adequate compensation for your work and because of the way consumers perceive value.
A recent study (Plassmann et al. 2008) showed that more expensive wine tastes better partly because we expect it to. Scans revealed that when research subjects tasted a wine they were told cost $90, areas of the brain associated with pleasure fired more intensely than when the subjects tasted the same wine marked at $10. Although there is no similar research available on Pilates clients, we know how price affects our own perception of value. There is no reason to underprice your services. If you end up with surplus earnings, you can always give the money to a charitable cause!
I spend next to nothing on advertising, but I am always promoting my business. Hanging a sign at my place of business is expressly forbidden by my city’s home-based business license. As a result, no one will ever drive or walk by my studio and say, “Hey, there’s a Pilates studio. I should check it out.” Instead, I am the sign. Everywhere I go, I am a living ad for my business. If you practice Pilates, you are going to look and feel great. That is an asset you can use.
The Internet is an essential component of my promotion efforts. My website—created using a free online service—allows people to check out my rates and services, see pictures of me and my studio, and contact me. All you need is a good photograph of yourself and some written copy (just a little will do the trick) emphasizing the benefits of Pilates and describing your services and rates. While making your own website isn’t terribly difficult, the Nearly Free Small Biz website will save you some trial and error. Be sure to include the name of your neighborhood and the cross streets or local landmarks (but not your actual address)—location is the most important variable when people search for Pilates online.
Once you have a site, you can put your Web address on everything you use for promotion. I post fliers on telephone poles within a few blocks of my home and on the employee bulletin board at local businesses. When there are fundraisers at my synagogue and local schools, I contribute a gift certificate for an introductory session as a raffle prize or silent auction item. If someone asks for my card, I always present two—one to keep and one to give away.
A handful of positive reviews on Yelp brought me several of my early clients. Today, I get virtually all of my new referrals from existing clients. If I need to stimulate business, I will invest in cards and fliers or offer referral incentives to my existing clientele.
Promotion also includes retaining my current clients. In addition to maintaining high-quality instruction through continuing education, I acknowledge my clients’ birthdays with a card, send handmade Valentines and give each client a small honey cake for Jewish New Year. and I occasionally post essays on topics related to Pilates and wellness on my blog.
Using the Web for promotion has huge privacy advantages for a home-based business. Prospective clients can “find” you without needing to know your physical address. I always have a chance to get to know people on the phone before making an appointment. As a result, I don’t have to worry about complete strangers showing up at my door.
Seeing clients in your home may require relinquishing more or less privacy depending upon your physical setup. My studio is in a separate building. People enter through a gate that leads into my backyard, and they come into my house only if they need to use the bathroom. An interior door separates the guest bathroom from the rest of the house.
If you are using a room within your home, try to create a physical separation between your business space and the rest of the house. An inexpensive paper screen, strategically placed, will help define the public and private portions of your home. If you have only one bathroom, invest in opaque storage for your personal items or keep drugs and toiletries in another room.
Finally, be sure to maintain privacy for your clients if other members of your household might be present when you are teaching. Limiting your business hours to times your roommates, children or spouse are at school or work will reduce potential distractions for both you and your clients.
If I had to add one more “P,” it would stand for professional. What makes you a Pilates professional is not where you teach, but how. Maintain the same high standards wherever you are, and you too will succeed.
Dedicated to my mentors, Dallas Everleth and Robyn Scherr.
Clark, P. 2010. Nearly Free Small Biz Website: Free and Cheap DIY Marketing for Small Biz. http://nearlyfreewebsite.com/.
Plassmann, H., et al. 2008. Marketing actions can modulate neural representations of experienced pleasantness. PNAS, 105 (3), 1050-1054; published ahead of print Jan. 14, 2008, doi:10.1073/pnas.0706929105.