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How to Succeed as a Freelance Pilates Instructor

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Elaine Ewing, now a Pilates studio owner, recalls the steps she took to establish herself as a freelance Pilates instructor in a new town.

Pilates instructor Elaine EwingWhen 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 Ewing is the owner of Rhinebeck Pilates and writes for her own blog, Heads Up On Your Body.

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Posted on Wednesday, March 12, 2008 at 11:32AM by Registered CommenterJessica Cassity in , | Comments10 Comments | References14 References

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Reader Comments (10)

Thank you for your inspiring and informative article. I too have just moved from a busy city area teaching 30 classes a week to a beautiful beach town with a small population. I have done many of the same things to establish a Pilates business here including opening a home studio, teaching at a community college, and starting mat classes locally. Your ideas have give me the a clearer vision for the future. Thanks

May 1, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterGeri Taylor

I am a new Pilates Instructor and recently bought my own reformer. I have been teaching at 2 to 3 studios and hope to get to 30 hours a week, every couple of days I do wonder. If seems I travel more than teach. I hope to read more inspiring stories. Also I am in a town of only 5,000 people outside of Chicago any ideas.

May 12, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterChristine Schell

Hi Christine and Geri,
I'm glad my article was helpful for you! I posted Christine's comment on my blog, with my response. I hope my "follow-up" article is also helpful for you, it addresses some factors that are less obvious towards building your own freelance pilates business!

June 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterElaine Ewing

I also do Pilates exercises and they are great! Rotated with cardio they work wonders. They prevent saggy skin after weight loss. Thanks for sharing this information.

December 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterPilates

Great article and gave me some good ideas. One thing I do to keep costs down is offer trades or bartering. I have weekly barters going with a hair stylist, massage therapist, Rolfer and even a chiropractor. Now I am looking for a photographer so I can update my website and someone to help me with advertising and graphics.

I love your community college idea. I am going to try it.

December 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterDevra Swiger

Hi Elaine,
I am starting out as a freelance pilates instructor and I was wondering what sort of documents I might need to teach in clients' homes? I have liability insurance, is there any thing else that I should be aware of? Thanks!

February 13, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterjp

Hi JP,

Other than having insurance, make sure that you bring waivers for your clients to sign. On the waiver, have your name, business name or DBA (if you have one), your address, and phone number. The waiver should state that the person signing understands that there are risks to all physical activity, including pilates, and they will not hold you liable for anything that does occur.

On the other side of the waiver, have the clients answer questions such as, "Do you have any injuries or limitations that I should be aware of?" and "List the physical activities you participate in" and "What do you hope to gain from pilates?". This way, their injuries are documented, and you can develop a pilates routine exclusively for them.

You can also put your 24 hr cancellation policy on the waiver, so once they sign, they can't say that they didn't know about the policy :)

The waiver is extremely important because your insurance most likely only covers you if your clients have signed a waiver!

Start a file at home for all your waivers, so you have them all in one place. You can also accumulate an email/mailing list of all your clients, so as your client base grows and you start group classes, you can email everyone and tell them all about what you're up to.

Another thing you may want to do, if you haven't already, is call the company that sold you the insurance and just make sure it covers you outside a studio setting.

You also may want to make sure your insurance covers you if you end up teaching anyone outdoors in their yard (on nice days, sometimes people want to do this!). I know that some insurance does not cover you if you're teaching outside.

I hope this was helpful! Other than the waiver, I can't think of any other documents you'll need to teach people in their homes.

February 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElaine

This post offers really good practical advice on starting a Pilates business. Actually, the advice would be useful to anyone starting any kind of home based business.

April 13, 2011 | Unregistered CommenterBarbra, Bio Writer

Thanks for this article, it is still relevant. And I am glad to see I am on the right track in establishing myself as a pilates instructor.

March 23, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCarlie Page

I want to thank everyone for all your great advice. I am currently unemployed & looking for a new career that I will enjoy. I have being doing pilates for over 10 years now. I even taken classes in Dubai for 3 years. Now, I am interested in being a pilates mat and reformer instructor from my home. Do I need to be certified licensed pilates instructor inorder to open my own pilates business from home? Do you know if there are small business loans for woman looking to open there own businesses?
Thank you,

April 18, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterMichelle

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