Elaine Ewing, now a Pilates studio owner, recalls the steps she took to establish herself as a freelance Pilates instructor in a new town.
When my husband and I moved from New York City to a small town about two hours north, I didn’t have a plan for the next phase of my career as a Pilates instructor. I had been working around the city in a few busy Pilates studios, and all I had ever experienced was a very full teaching schedule. Since I decided to became a Pilates instructor in part because it was a career I could take with me anywhere in the world, I figured everything would somehow just work out fine.
Everything did end up working out fine, eventually. It took two years of hard work, careful scheduling and networking to get to the point where I am now—happy and financially secure. I’m proud to say that my time as a freelance Pilates instructor really paid off. In August 2007 I was asked to buy a busy and popular Pilates studio, Rhinebeck Pilates, near my home. I credit the years I spent freelancing—juggling clients and locations, problem solving, implementing grassroots marketing campaigns—with bringing me to a place in life where I am able to run a full-blown Pilates studio on my own with confidence and success. But first things first: Here are 10 ways I created business for myself as a freelance Pilates instructor.
1. I had quality business cards printed.
I knew I had to get nice business cards or no one would be intrigued to take my Pilates classes or hire me. I had cards printed, front and back, with raised type and beautiful colors. The cards listed my name, website, phone number and a brief description of what I specialized in (at the time it was “Private and group Pilates classes in your home or office”). I handed them out, posted them around and left them everywhere I could.
2. I hired a photographer.
I hired a professional photographer to take photos of me doing and teaching Pilates. The photos were for my website, and as I began to teach in various locations, I knew they would ask for photos as well. We chose a beautiful location and I brought along a few changes of clothes, all brightly colored. I also brought as many Pilates props as I could—a Magic Circle, a resistance band , weights, balls and a foam roller—to keep the photos interesting and dynamic. My husband and sister were nice enough to pose as clients in the photos.
3. I created my own website.
Looking back, this was the most important thing I did. I was in a new territory where nobody knew me and few people had ever done or heard of Pilates. In order to sell myself and the method, I needed an easy way to communicate with as many people as possible. I found a web designer who wanted to trade Pilates for her design work, which helped offset the cost.
In a few months, my site was up. This was a place where I could post my bio, Pilates history, new classes I was teaching and photos of the exercises. Not only did the website give me exposure, it also saved me time from always having to explain what Pilates is and where I’m from—it was all on the site.
4. I taught at a community college.
All it took was a phone call and a brief interview and I had a class slated for the next semester. Community colleges send out their schedules to nearly 150,000 people per quarter or semester, which means many people reading your name, bio, web address and class description. The college also posted all of this info on their website, so it was fantastic exposure. They also let me set my initial rate for the class, so I was paid fairly. I had an average of 20 people in each mat class, and many people returned each semester—with their friends.
5. I searched for empty spaces to teach Pilates.
I scoured local magazines looking for yoga studios, dance schools and health centers, assuming that each place would have an empty room and space in the schedule for Pilates classes. When a location said yes to Pilates, I publicized my classes by handing out fliers to my community college class, posted all new classes on my website and posted fliers on local bulletin boards.
Most places asked for a 50/50 split per class, which meant I might not get paid well unless I got creative. I ran my classes in 8-week sessions which students paid for upfront. I ran a discount if the students came with friends. It worked—my classes were full, students were happy and I received sufficient payment. The 8-week structure worked for me—if a class was not doing well or I was not happy with the location, I could end it easily after 8 weeks.
6. I made house calls to teach Pilates.
As I mentioned above, I taught mat classes in 8-week segments. Sometimes, I would decide to stop teaching a particular class. Very often, students in the class would ask if I would continue teaching the class in their home. It was perfect because they would invite their friends to join the class and there was no overhead.
7. I kept my costs down.
I wanted to put my money in places that would boost my career, such as the photo shoot and business cards. In every class I taught, I asked that students bring their own mat and weights. The only things I supplied were resistance bands, which I purchased from a website in a large roll at a low price.
8. I worked at a local Pilates studio.
Teaching a shift or two at the local Pilates studio was great because I could teach on the equipment and meet other Pilates teachers. It can be great for a freelance instructor to teach at a studio because a lot of the scheduling work is typically done already, advertising is taken care of and the pay is fairly consistent.
9. I commuted to the city.
I commuted to the city once a week to see some private clients in their apartments. I made sure that the money I made that day exceeded the cost of traveling to and from the city. To find private clients in the city, all I had to do was look at my client list in the country. Many of them had apartments in the city and were there during the week. I would teach them in the country on the weekends and in the city one day per week.
10. I was a guest teacher.
During the summer months, certain areas outside of New York City are booming with tourists, weekenders and summer residents. I blocked out a couple of weeks per summer to work at my friend’s busy studio in the Hamptons. It worked great for both of us—she got a break from teaching and I got to make extra money. These trips also served as mini-vacations for me, and I was even able to pick up some new clients who wanted to continue working out when they returned to the city at the end of the summer.
Elaine recently posted a follow-up to this article on her blog, with 5 more great tips. Check it out here. Thanks, Elaine!
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