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How to Brand Your Pilates Studio on a Shoestring

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If you’re in the process of building your Pilates business, consider the importance of developing your brand. A brand is a way for potential clients to understand what you’re selling in the blink of an eye. It’s also helpful to clarify your vision for your business, which makes promoting it that much easier. Here, studio owner Erika Quest, a former corporate marketer and branding strategist, shares her studio-starting journey along with strategies and how-to’s for marketing a Pilates business from the very beginning.

By Erika Quest

In late 2005, at the peak of my corporate career in advertising, I was faced with a life-changing decision. I could continue on my corporate path, which guaranteed the comfort of a regular paycheck but was packed with long stressful hours and little time for my family, let alone myself. Or, I could take the plunge into my passion and open a Pilates studio.

I was introduced to Pilates in 2001, after suffering a back injury. A friend of mine suggested that we attend a Pilates mat class together and I was immediately hooked. I began taking mat every week and soon added in equipment classes. After about six months, I became so passionate that I decided to learn more about Pilates and study to teach through Body Arts & Science International and Rael Isacowitz. I figured I could take on clients in the evenings and on weekends and subsidize my Pilates habit.

After a challenging eight-month program, I was happily leading mat and equipment classes three to five hours a week in two local studios, when one of the studio owners decided to move abroad. This opened the door to purchasing a small space with one trapeze table and a couple of reformers. Feeling positive about the location, surrounding businesses, overhead and potential growth, I crunched some numbers and utilized money in savings to purchase the used equipment, pay the deposit for the lease and acquire intangible assets such as customers who plan to stay in the space and continue their Pilates training.

Studio QI’m now operating my own studio, with success, and it’s fast approaching its fifth year. The marketing decisions that I’ve made along the way have been instrumental in this growth. For the first two years, I kept the initial small space and focused on ascertaining and retaining clients by way of Marketing on a Dime…or Less, as I’ll explain later on. At year two, I upgraded to a larger location, with a beautiful ocean view, allowing for steady growth with instructors and clients. Currently Studio Q has two instructors, in addition to me, and a third on the way. In year three I was introduced to my mentor (and client) Jay Blahnik, who encouraged and supported my desire to marry my marketing background and with Pilates entrepreneurship, and advised me as I worked to build the Studio Q brand. He guided me to submit materials to IDEA Health & Fitness Association for the IDEA World 2009 convention. Continued hard work and keeping the networking door open have recently led to contract work with the BOSU® Balance Trainer. All of this work has helped to strengthen the credibility of the Studio Q brand.

The Power of Branding
As you contemplate your 2010 business goals, consider the value of your own brand identity and how building that up can help to attain them. Building a brand is an important skill in growing a business. Your brand, writes marketing expert Laura Lake, “resides within the hearts and minds of customers, clients, and prospects. It is the sum total of their experiences and perceptions, some of which you can influence, and some that you cannot…Your brand is the source of a promise to your consumer. It’s a foundational piece in your marketing communication and one you do not want to be without.”

She identifies the objectives of a good brand as follows:

  • Delivers a clear message
  • Confirms credibility
  • Connects your target prospects emotionally
  • Motivates the buyer
  • Solidifies loyalty

Here are some user-friendly strategies to apply on your brand-building journey.

Identify Your Sharp Point
What’s unique about you and/or your studio? Find something that sets you apart and differentiates you from other local competition. You might consider, for example, what your client landscape is made of and/or what type of area you live in. Do you cater to a large running, golf or surfing community? Perhaps you’ve had success in rehabilitation of certain injuries. Think about those attributes, and how you incorporate them into your marketing materials and use them to become more recognizable. Utilize your positive results by developing specified workouts, case studies and employing the power of client testimonials.

Finding a “sharp point” can be achieved simply, actually. With the use of my last name Quest, and particularly the strong recognition of the letter “Q,” I branded Studio Q Pilates Conditioning. This also allows me to play with the double entendre of the “cues” we constantly have to provide while teaching.

The Path to Purchase
At first, you’ll be spending a lot of extra time in getting your space up and running. The first summer and fall in my studio, I gave each new potential client a session for free with no strings attached. When initially offering the free session I let the potential client know up front that this session was complimentary, but more importantly that it was about getting to know each other. I told them that I would never assume they would automatically love my training technique and personality, so this was the first step to seeing if we would build a relationship. If not, no problem at all, I would happily refer them to another qualified instructor and studio.

I applied this idea from a presentation I used to give long ago to corporate clients. It was called The Path to Purchase. As customers, we have approximately three seconds to make a decision between a myriad of brands on the store shelves. What gets a customer off the couch, to the location, selecting YOUR particular brand and remaining a regular purchasing customer? Here are the five steps:

1. Consideration: Help them consider why Pilates could benefit them along with their other wellness activities.
2. Trial: Give them an opportunity to try Pilates with no strings attached.
3. Trust: Provide a safe and knowledgeable environment to foster trust.
4. Belief: Once a trusting relationship and bond is established, reiterate milestones and goals accomplished often to cultivate belief.
5. Loyalty: Your reward for mastering all of the four aforementioned points.

Although I lost a lot of time during those three months, approximately 90 to 95% of those clients have remained loyal for the last four years.

Marketing on a Dime…or Less
Utilize free media to help your business start-up and continue to grow. Build a web site, or even just a web page to start, so people have easy access to your contact information, location and basic session structure. It’s easy for small business owners to lose out when they don’t properly communicate such basic information. Sites such as webs.com, wix.com, weebly.com offer free hosting and help with building a site. Additionally, list your business immediately on all of the free search engines such as Yahoo, Google and MSN under the business section. Google even allows for you to insert photos of your location and a simple description along with contact information.

Become a member of your Chamber of Commerce. For a small yearly fee you’ll have access to many other local small business owners, typically get posted on the COC website as a participating business and inserted into relevant printed materials that the COC distributes. You also can attend their networking mixers.

Support local city initiatives and social gatherings. You can donate a gift certificate to a charity event or sponsor a booth at a city “tasting” festival or another local event. This will allow you to meet local residents and pass out business cards and collateral information.

Always carry a stash of business cards and studio information and communicate with complimentary businesses, such as massage therapists, chiropractors and physical therapists. Offer them a free session in return for them considering you as a referral and mention that you’d be happy to do the same in return and keep some of their information in your resource center at the studio.

Post contact and class information flyers at coffee shops and local cafes within a five-mile radius of your studio and ask if they have a promotion that you can support, (I once participated in A “show a Studio Q business card and get a free cup of coffee when you purchase breakfast” promotion) Surely you’d happily share that with your clients!

The Power of the Touchpoint
What is a touchpoint? Just a fancy way of networking? Kind of, but I consider a touchpoint a potential launching pad or avenue which leads to opportunity. Think of it as “connect the dots” if you will. Because our business is largely built on word of mouth, it truly is all about who you know. The most successful way I have found in the last four years to leverage AND reward your current touchpoints is to throw an annual client appreciation night. Order some appetizers, open some wine and share in a wonderful evening of camaraderie and celebration of wellness.

It’s exciting to see clients come together and form friendships outside of the studio, which can result in a fantastic generator of buzz for your space. Encourage bringing a friend or significant other and local business participation to experience what Pilates is all about.

Be Your Own Best Brand Ambassador
You never know who you’re going to meet, whether that’s in or out of the studio. It is important to constantly be an ambassador for your brand. Be professional and give 100% in every way. Not only during Pilates sessions with your client, but getting back to any new prospects quickly, dressing appropriately, using proper etiquette with cell phone usage and being mindful of excessive unneeded talking during sessions. Your clients can feel when you’re getting lazy or burnt out, so remember to also take care of yourself by participating in Pilates sessions, getting adequate rest and continuing your education regularly to fuel your passion and business.

Social Networking 101
At your fingertips are powerful free tools to build your brand and expand your business. In addition to a personal page on Facebook, create a business and fan page. Keep these updated frequently with studio news, buzzworthy press, (such as a mention in an article or local paper), and other passions you and your instructors may have. I also love to cook, so on my fan page I often post healthy recipes that I’ve shared with my family or maybe a fun idea for a seasonal cocktail.

You can also connect with other small-business owners and entrepreneurs online with business-related social networking sites such as LinkedIn and Biznik. All you need to do is set up your business model and profile. A more comprehensive list of options can be found here.

Here are a few more branding resources to help get you started:

Self Marketing Power: Branding Yourself As a Business of One by Jeff Beals

Designing Brand Identity: A Complete Guide to Creating, Building, and Maintaining Strong Brands by Alina Wheeler

The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding by Al Ries & Laura Ries

Taking the leap into the world of being an entrepreneur can be daunting yet amazingly rewarding. Surround yourself by a lot of support, communicate often with other small business owners, keep it simple, stay positive and motivated and remember to enjoy every minute of being your own boss!

Erika Quest is the owner of Studio Q Pilates Conditioning in Laguna Beach, California, and a Body Arts & Science Certified Instructor. She is an IDEA World 2009 and 2010 Premiere Presenter and BOSU® Studio Pilates 2010 representative. She is also a former advertising executive, and worked with Fortune 500 companies on branding strategies and consumer relationship marketing endeavors.
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Posted on Monday, January 4, 2010 at 05:36PM by Registered CommenterLauren Charlip in , , , | Comments7 Comments | References4 References

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Reader Comments (7)

Hi Erika:

Great article and you'd be amazed at how many business professionals don't have a lot of common sense.

Like you, I have a marketing background and I used some of that knowledge to build my own Pilates studio up the PCH from you (HB). I found it was even more challenging to build a business during this recession. One of the things I incorporated was a sliding fee scale for people who could benefit from The Method but couldn't afford my full fee.

One thing I have noticed about others in similar businesses is how unprofessional they can be when it comes to simple things like returning phone calls or emails. I remember when I first moved here I emailed several studios asking if I could schedule a session and very few bothered to reply. People like simple touches like thank you cards for signing up for packages, regular emails, concern about things going on in their lives. I don't only have clients; I have relationships.

Good luck! If you ever up this way...give me a shout. I'd love to meet you.

January 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterDevra Swiger

Hi Devra,

Many thanks for your kind words, and a very nice tip provided with regard to the sliding scale.

I do something similar with those clients who DESIRE the private environment. I teach a 45 minute session, (typically lunch hour so they have time to get to the studio and back to the office), for a portion of the full price. They still get a challenging workout full of exercise sequences; combined with stress relieving breath, flow and eventual harmony to break up their day.

Would enjoy meeting you as well. Stay in touch and I'll do the same!

January 8, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErika Quest

Hi, i'm from Portugal ( Lisbon) and i have just started my own business.
Thank you for the usefull information!
Many instructors have the possibility to do what you posted, but simply don't care.

January 16, 2010 | Unregistered Commenterpatricia abreu

Hi Patricia,

You are very welcome. Best of luck with your new business and I wish you great success! I hope this article and my history will certainly help you out.

Best regards,

Erika

January 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterErika Quest

This article was very helpful. I get pt. referrals from the docs at my office but would like to have a solid set of clients that are my own. I've been in the business nearly 10 years and still find it challenging to get the word out. Once come to they rarely leave but getting my target group into the door is my biggest challenge. I appreciate your tips Erika. It was well worth the read!

Best,

Meghan
http://mindmotion.wordpress.com

September 1, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMeghan Pickrell

Thank you so much for taking the time to share!! I am currently in the process of building my business (only 2 weeks old)! Any further suggestions or feedback you have is greatly appreciated!

October 14, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterBillie Drury

Hi Erika, thank you so much for your post! Thank you for sharing all this info. Do you have any advice for somebody who is thinking about a home based studio? Thank you again.

August 20, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterEdi Banales

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