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How to Run Your Pilates Studio Remotely

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By Michelle Fama

“You live in Los Angeles…but your Pilates studio is in New York?”

People always ask this question when they find out what I do. More often than not, it’s followed immediately by another: “How does that work?” The trick is to organize the studio so well that it practically runs itself.

I moved to Los Angeles for the first time in 2006. My business partner, Kim Villanueva, and I had operated Core Pilates NYC in New York City for three years with much success and decided to launch a second location on the West Coast. I was itching to trade in subways for surfboards, so I packed my life into 15 boxes and bought a one-way ticket. The studio launch required both of us to be in Los Angeles for months at a time, which left the nurture of our three-year-old “baby” on the opposite coast to our admin staff and instructors.

Two very hard years later, we decided to sell the Los Angeles studio. Though the L.A. business venture did not work out, life there did. I finally had a lease, my puppy had neighborhood friends and the surfboard earned permanent wall space in my beach bungalow. But the business I owned was back in New York—even if my heart wasn’t—so I packed up everything (but the surfboard) and headed back East.

Kim and I were surprised at how little the New York studio needed us when we returned. We were like parents trying to bottle-feed something that was used to eating a grilled steak. The studio proved to be a well-oiled machine and sustained not only function but growth in our absence. This realization fueled us to plan to take the studio toward ultimate self-sufficiency. It became clear that with a little operational rehab we could earn a lot of freedom. Kim could take the sabbatical in Spain she had always wanted, and I, thanks to a very supportive and understanding business partner, could officially blow the dust bunnies off the surfboard and make a life along the Pacific once again. The best part is that we could do these things while still knowing and growing our business.

So, whether your goal is deeper business development, to spend more time with your family, to get that master’s degree or to simply step away from the day-to-day, it’s all possible. Your studio can work for you without you. Here are our top strategies for running your studio from afar:

Let Technology Work for You

Technology completely revolutionized our business. It was hard work at first, but installing a studio management software program allows clients to schedule and pay online 24/7, which takes a burden off the front desk. (We use MINDBODY.) It also makes checking sales figures from a remote location a possibility. Revenue is no longer dependent on “catching” a client or making phone calls to collect unpaids. The auto-e-mail feature, which automatically generates welcome emails, last session(s) remaining, package expirations and much more keeps the client outreach and marketing churning without any manual effort or face time. And reports can be easily produced from anywhere. From daily sales to “big spenders,” management, analysis and retention are as easy as a push of a button.

A subscription to a remote computer access service like gotomypc.com or sugarsynch.com allows you access to the studio’s computer from anywhere and share files—it even work with QuickBooks.

A “smart” phone, such as an iPhone or BlackBerry, allows you to access studio e-mail and sync calendars.

We also spent time setting up an online bill-paying service. The service receives all our bills rather than the studio and pays them on time. (We use Paytrust.com.) Now there’s no need for anybody to be present to open up bills, and we can access everything online.

Finally, Skype is wonderful for video conferences—you can sit in on staff meetings without having to be there in person.

Create a Structured, Happy Staff
If you don’t have a front desk or office manager, get one! They’re worth their weight in gold and can even increase sales if you include a sales-incentive bonus. It ensures that someone is on the front lines of the business and will tend to client relations.

Schedule monthly conferences through Skype to keep the lines of communication open and can hear first-hand status updates from teachers about clients and other goings-on.

Designate a senior-level instructor as a “Staff Relations Director” who oversees the team of teachers. That way, you create a management structure rather than having to keep up with every person. Keeping employees happy in your absence is a surefire way of ensuring commitment and that “extra mile.” Allocate a small budget for the Staff Relations Director to organize team-building, such as seasonal or monthly socials, and to buy birthday and shower gifts to keep the mood warm in your absence.

Organize and Establish Routines
Set up routine communication with your studio manager. Propose an end-of-day e-mail—with a template so the information structure is consistent—to discuss sales, complaints, teacher status, etc.

Make checklists so that inventory becomes an automatic no-brainer every month. Create manuals for the front desk or work-study staff so all employees know exactly what is expected. This creates consistency and accountability, making management from afar much easier. Organization is very important; be sure files are in order and labeled neatly and important documents are easily accessible for the staff.

Keep Up With Your Numbers
If you have access to your data from afar, be sure to set up a regular time to get to know your numbers. Checking sales figures, class attendance and bank balances is the best way to gauge the temperature of your business. You don’t want to be caught by surprise if sales are slumping, attendance is down in certain classes or the bank made an error.

Wean Your Clients
One of the biggest hurdles you’ll face is phasing out teaching from your schedule. What to do with those dedicated clients that only want to work with you? What worked well for us was selecting instructors to “shadow” us for a few months. They observed those clients during sessions or classes and, in turn, the clients got to know them as well. When the hand-off took place, everyone was prepared.

Encourage clients to be self-sufficient through online scheduling (see technology above). Offer promotions and discounts exclusively for online purchases.

Define the business by the brand and by your staff of instructors, rather than by your own reputation.

Manage Yourself
Every small business owner struggles with letting go of control and with micro managing. True, nobody will treat the studio as well as its owner, but it’s about striking a compromise and accepting a level of “not so perfect.” Manage the urge to do everything. Assess which responsibilities you feel comfortable delegating to other people. And once you make your decisions, stick to them.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Michelle Fama is the co-founder of Core Pilates NYC and is the NYC chapter head for the United Pilates Collective. Prior to establishing her Pilates brand in 2002 and growing it internationally, Michelle lived and adventured extensively through Africa, Southeast Asia, Indonesia and South America as a journalist and travel writer. She has authored guidebooks for Frommer’s and other travel publications and contributed outdoor adventure, travel and Pilates articles to various magazines including Pilates Style, Women’s Health, iyogalife.com, Outside, Away, gorp.com and Island Life.

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Posted on Friday, August 7, 2009 at 01:31PM by Registered CommenterPilates-Pro in | Comments7 Comments

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Reader Comments (7)

Congratulations to you both for doing what you love and making room for finding a path to doing even more that you love. Good luck and thanks for the hints. Karena

August 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKarena Thek Lineback

This is such a valuable topic to share with other entrepreneurs! Too often do I see business owners burn out from the many activities they juggle - just to keep their American Dream alive! And in this economy - it's even harder!

One of the changes we've made at Balance Pilates and Yoga to help the owner, Connie Borho, juggle her tasks at the studio with her travels around the country teaching other instructors for Peak Pilates, was to upgrade her web site to a system that allowed HER (not a webmaster) to make changes to her content at any time, in any place! Now, she can make up-to-the-minute changes to class schedules, news, featured articles, monthly specials, and upcoming certification courses easily - and BY HERSELF!

We use a simple (and inexpensive!!!) web tool called PowerPROsites (www.powerprosites.com) that allows business owners to maintain their web sites themselves (so you don't have to rely on an expensive webmaster!) for only $1 a day! It's been amazing, and we've gotten more business from the web this year than EVER before! They even have designs you can choose from (and add your own pictures to!) for only $399!

Now, Connie can keep her web site current no matter where she is throughout the world - and ensure our web site conveys up-to-date information about our studio! With this simple change in web site direction, we've been able to attract many "potential" web customers who surf the net to find Pilates and/or yoga services....increasing our sales from last year even in a challenging economy!

August 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterCarolyn

Carolyn,

Thanks for the tip on the website CMS (content management system) that everybody should put into practice to maintain their site without having to wait for a webmaster. It truly is a valuable tool if you are trying to manage affairs remotely - considering that a studio's web presence is the biggest marketing tool they have. We at Core have also implemented a more self sufficient web updating system.

Thanks again for adding more information to my story.

August 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

Michelle, everyone here at MINDBODY is thrilled to hear that you're using our software to help you live the life you want!

MINDBODY's mission is to "leverage the power of the Internet to improve the health & wellness of the world," and you are certainly doing just that. You and Kim are proof that being a business owner doesn't mean having to be chained to your desk. And that's what we're all about. :)

I hope your surfboard has gotten some action today!

-Danielle Murphy
Online Marketing Coordinator, MINDBODY, Inc.

August 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDanielle Murphy

I am so excited about this as an option! I have been struggling with the desire to return to my home-state but I really didn't like the idea of selling off all my hard work. How long did it take you once you decided you wanted to maintain ownership of your business to transition in to moving permanently to the west coast? I would assume developing all of the proper manuals, staffing protocol, etc took a few months? And further, how would you deal with the possibility if your studio manager left your company? Would that require you to return to re-train a new manager for a couple of months?

August 16, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterKerry

Kerry,

Thanks for responding! To answer your questions:
It took us about 6 months to implement new systems that would allow us freedom away from the studio. We started by just listing some things that chain us and then in the next column brainstorming on the solution and things we needed to research to even see if it was possible! With today's technology it was surprising what was indeed available. Developing the manuals, staffing protocol did take months but was always a living, breathing process even after we had left. In fact most of what we implemented came about after leaving and seeing the need.
We did in fact have to deal with our studio manager leaving. We have since gotten another amazing manager but it was stressful! We put things in place to ensure a happy manager so they wouldn't readily leave, such as health insurance option, salary, flexibility pay, vacation days... And yes, to live away from your studio would require a preparedness and commitment to come back should the need arise and spend the time necessary to rebuild, up sales, hire the right person... at whatever cost and length of time it would take. I just spent 6-weeks in NYC just reconnecting with the studio again, getting reinspired by my amazing staff and biz partner and getting some business done that I could not do from my home in Los Angeles. There has to be a balance!

August 17, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

It is quite amazing what technology has allowed business owners to do. It enables business owners to free themselves from the rigor of the day in and day out stressors. Technology allows owners like you to reach out and share your journey so that others may live a better life of reflection and growth of the inner soul, and a bit a surfing too. I have witnessed this transition of stressed business owner to a person who enjoys life now...for I have witnessed your own journey, felt your worries and rejoiced in your accomplishments. As your sister I am so very impressed and proud of you, Michelle.

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjoanne

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