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5 Ways to Build Successful Client–Instructor Relationships

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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.

5 Tips for Improving Client Retention
Pilates 101 for New Clients
How to Deal with Problem Clients


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Posted on Thursday, August 6, 2009 at 08:00AM by Registered CommenterPilates-Pro in , | Comments4 Comments

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Reader Comments (4)

I couldn't agree more with this article Devra!

Well written. With the economy "souring" so to speak, I have not experienced any of this at my studio.

In fact, business continues to porsper and grow for me and I can directly attribute it to many of the pointers you succinctly pointed out in the article.

Pilates and all mind/body practice is built on a foundation of creating successful client/instructor relationships. When you invest time into your clients personal needs, their pilates practice increases in value in all areas of their lives (mind, body and spirit).

Taking time to know your clients, their needs, encouraging growth make it easy for clients to justify the cost of classes and private instruction because it is aiding in keeping the student healty and whole.

I think back to my first days as a pilates student prior to becoming an instructor. My first mat class was an absolute horror. I could not do anything right, and was verbally reminded of this repetition after repetition in front of a group of experienced students. I felt ridiculed, and almost ashamed to be honest, yet something kept me on my mat and moving as best as possible. The instructor was unable to help me stay positive, made me feel stupid for being unable to produce the finished product, and could not/did not show me how to modify or change the movement to help me be successful. Why did I stay?

Although I can never answer this question, I'm grateful. Something within me realized that pilates was life changing. I was able to tune out this negative instructor, his lack of care, and focus on myself and my progress. I never went back to this instructor, but my pilates journey began.

Although it was a bad experience emotionally, I still came away with a sense of physical change and was able to acknowledge that there was something extrordinary about pilates. It made me investigage further, take more classes, work on my mind/body technique and eventually become an instructor.

What I learned from that terrible session was what not to do with a client. My bad experience has made be a better instructor, and very aware that the client/instructor relationship is first and foremost about the process of change and what I can do to facilitate growth and success for my client.

Thank you for posting such an encouraging article and for the opportunity to post a reply.

Peace and health,
Deb Preachuk

August 12, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDeb Preachuk

Hi Deb:

I always tell the story about my 'adventure' in New York with an instructor who remain nameless and at a studio which will also remain nameless.

I kept the fact I was getting certified a secret as I wanted to see how an instructor would work with me as an int/adv student of Pilates. The instructor had nothing good to say to me. Everything I did was wrong. If I corrected myself and did what she told me to do, she corrected me again. It was like I was doomed.

After the session, another instructor had observed us and came over to me and asked where I had studied before coming here. I told her and she happened to know my instructor and mentor. She then made the comment that she had been watching me and thought I moved very well and she was really impressed. At that, the other instructor who had worked with me for the past hour snorted and walked away.

When I returned to my class we were asked to comment on what we had learned during our classes and observations. I proudly commented that I learned how to be a 'rotten' teacher or, in other words, how NOT to teach. When I went back to that studio a few months later, I requested that I not be put with that instructor.

There are times when you can learn from a negative experience. When it's happening it's not easy and it can be a challenge maintaining your self-esteem, but in the long run you do learn.

Thanks for enjoying my article. Good luck!

August 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDevra Swiger

Hi Devra,
Really enjoyed this article. I'm always looking for new ways to connect with my clients - before, during and after class. I also find that my students tend to be people I would get along with outside the studio very well.

Even though we might not hang out, we have a great time during our sessions and our relationship grows strong because of this.

Some people it takes a little longer to connect with and build that crucial relationship.

The one thing I love to do in my larger reformer classes is make sure I recognize people -- remembering their bodies and the problems they are working to solve or their goals is something I strive to weave into class. Also, I always make sure to tell someone who has made a noticeable improvement.

Sometimes all people want is to be noticed and "listened" to.

April 24, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAnne Samoilov

Hi Devra,
Thanks for your insights. I've also experienced "negative learning experiences" and like you felt terrible at the time!

It wasn't until later that I realized it wasn't me. Others around me were all experiencing this and thought that this was what Pilates had to be like!

As I was also "in training" at the time I resolved that when I started teaching that I would connect with, inspire & make a difference to my clients.

I also love what Anne says! Remembering clients' bodies, their children's names, where they went on holidays etc is also a huge part of connecting with and maintaining clients.


April 25, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKylie Saunder

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