By Devra Swiger
There isn’t much good news these days. Between the high unemployment rate, the dismal housing market and crooked Wall Street investors, some Pilates businesses are facing new challenges. Yet despite the weakened economy, there are still people willing to spend money on Pilates training, but keep in mind the rules have changed. Now more than ever, a client has to really feel that he or she is benefiting from each and every session. This means that client–instructor relationships have to be strong, positive and mutually beneficial.
What makes for a successful instructor–client relationship? How can you make a difference in the life of a client? What can you do to keep the client loyal to both you and the Pilates method? How do we as instructor keep our clients during these bad economic times? Read on…
1. Establish Realistic Goals
If you promise every client that he or she will lose 10 pounds and have abs of steel after a few sessions, you might get a lot of clients at first, but they probably won’t stick around for long. That doesn’t mean you tell your clients that they can’t expect much in the way of changes. After all, who one wants to spend time and money doing something that won’t result in a better body? Just don’t over-promise. Too many promises and unrealistic timeframes make an instructor sound more like an infomercial and less like a highly trained professional.
2. Be Positive
People like positive feedback. They want to feel good after their sessions not just physically, but emotionally too. I had a client once who had always been told she was clumsy and uncoordinated. I made a point of telling her that she was doing a great job learning some new and complicated moves and that her body awareness was increasing after each session. She was thrilled. I doubt anyone had ever told her this before. By focusing on things she did well I helped her to develop some much needed self esteem.
I once took a class in New York and the instructor was so negative I almost cried (actually, I think I did). I learned from that experience that being overly negative doesn’t accomplish much of anything and often results in an unhappy client.
3. Make the Sessions Enjoyable
Pilates has to be fun. It can be hard work, it can be sweaty and it can be a struggle at times, but it has to be enjoyable or the clients won’t keep coming. Lisa Healy of Epiphany Health Studio in Marietta, GA, says, “I want every class to be a wonderful experience, so that when clients finish class they say, ‘Wow, that was a great class and I really felt it.’” By not being a slave to the clock and by really connecting with each client Healy feels she can develop a positive atmosphere in her studio.
4. Take a Personal Interest in the Client
Some instructors have a very outgoing and friendly personality, and it’s easy for them to take an interest in each and every one of their clients. Others tend to be shy or somewhat disinterested and they have to work harder at building a rapport. Every once in awhile I have a client who just wants to do his or her session and not spend much time chit chatting, but in my personal experience, this is rare. I try to learn as much about the client as possible so that they can feel open and honest with me about many things, not just Pilates.
Melissa Pope of Alternative Fitness in Charlotte, NC, believes by taking a personal interest in clients she has contributed to their overall well being. Says Pope, “ I have had several elderly clients who have had many health issues and came to me as a way to help restore function and improve their quality of life. By taking a personal interest in their overall lifestyle including family interactions as they influenced their state of mind, additional physical activities, sleep patterns, etc., I improved my ‘Pilates’ relationship with them greatly.”
5. Hone in on Your Teaching Skills
With all the training we get as instructors, we often forget how to be good teachers. We have a huge toolbox with choreography, technique and anatomy, but we often forget how to teach. Teaching is about communicating with the client in such a way that your knowledge is transferred from you to him. That doesn’t mean you can force someone to learn The Snake when you think they are ready, but it does mean you can help them progress from basic movements to more advanced ones at a mutually agreed upon pace.
It’s always crucial to have a good working relationship with your clients if you hope to succeed. It is especially important today when people are forced to make rationale economic choices. If a client is not getting what he or she wants from Pilates or if a client is not happy with you as an instructor, he won’t stick around. In order to continue running a successful business, client retention is crucial. A successful and strong instructor/client relationship is necessary to keep your business healthy and profitable even during tough times.
Devra Swiger has been teaching Pilates since 1999. She is certified with Polestar, Alternative Fitness, Colleen Glenn and PhysicalMind. She is also an ACE certified Group Fitness Instructor and Personal Trainer since 1996. Devra is the owner of Ab-Solutely Pilates in Huntington Beach, CA, and teaches group reformer classes at Physical RX Physical Therapy.