Today’s behind the scenes post is all about the very sexy phrase I keep hearing people say – and heck I’ve said it too about taking your business to that next level – or GOING PRO. If you missed the last post in this series – check it out now.

And I do believe going pro is important.

But I’m about to share some no-cost ways of going pro – ones that I ignored when I taught pilates for 4 ½ years.

Because I think in going pro isn’t just about your business – but about your life and the commitment you make to it’s overall quality.

Going pro means being smart – making sure you can eat, that your family is happy + safe, AND that you aren’t setting yourself up for financial ruin.

It doesn’t mean – switching to infusionsoft or aweber or signing up for, spending thousands on a new web design or even getting business cards printed.

Pro is a state of mind – it doesn’t have to cost a cent. – click to tweet

How Pilates Broke My Heart + How I Realized It Was All My Fault

Today I’m going to raise the curtain about my 4+ years teaching pilates. About 7 years ago I was burned out from working grueling jobs in animation/film/tv production.

So I quit – and decided to pursue only things that I loved – even they were kind of crazy.

That’s what led me to teaching pilates.  I loved pilates. Loved it for myself – how it changed my body, tricked me into exercising and I saw how happy it made other people to.

Yes – I want to do that, I thought.

Cut to a year later – and I was finishing a certification program, had a few studios where I could teach right out of the gate and excited to do so.

But the truth – the behind the scenes real deal is that this excitement waned quickly.  Pilates left me feeling so heartbroken. I never felt like I reached the level of success I wanted. I kept doing the work, being a supportive teacher, doing a great job at the actual practice of being a teacher, but had no clue how to make it a successful venture!

What took me a long time to see and admit was that all of those heartaches were my fault and could have been avoided.

I loved teaching, helping people – I had a mix of one on one clients and group classes.  I loved them both.  I was good at disarming people – making them feel comfortable, accepting their bodies.

People always walked away loving their experience, emailing me their thank you’s later and coming back for more.

You’d think I was primed to have a successful career in the industry.

I got certified.  Got the business cards. And I found that I wasn’t getting a ton of new clients.

So, I picked up group classes and some privates at a local studio (actually 3 studios at one point), had some friends who took group and private training from me too.

But the money was horrible.  And I was in my car running from studio to studio more often than I was teaching.  I was making barely enough to cover gas probably!

What was I doing wrong?

Ok – let’s back up and look at the landscape. Why did I think I was doing everything right?
Why did I think I was PRO when I wasn’t even close?

I did NOT want a day job.

I wanted to grow pilates as my business.  I thought that meant I couldn’t accept regular work at an existing established studio.

I had this idea that I was starting my own business and the more I tied myself to regular clients at a regular studio would mean me not being able to cut ties when my own practice took off.

Big mistake.

Pro Tip: Your client base grows much faster at an established studio or with an established company – that’s just how it works. People looking for services like Pilates aren’t looking for teachers who teach out of their homes – they are looking for studios, even if they end up following you from studio to studio, they want that stability of a studio. Sure you might get a few people to come to your home studio, but there’s a better chance they will come to you at a studio.

By turning down offers from really great studios – like my master trainer’s well respected studio, I resisted the growth of my business.  Had I taken the work at her studio – I could have built my practice simply by piggy backing on the success and respect her studio had.

I wanted to make my own schedule.

So, this translated into me setting no schedule at all!  I lost many opportunities for those same clients I wanted simply because I didn’t make a clear schedule for myself.

Another grave mistake.

Pro Tip: Service-based businesses grow much faster if you set your schedule and then work to fill it.  I had no system for allowing people to book time with me – so every single inquiry turned into a back and forth.  Some people made it through the emails, but some gave up (and for some reason I was okay with this!).

Now I know that if you have any type of service aspect to your business, you need to define those times. Set them in your schedule and allow people to book them.

For instance – now I have only 5 consultations available per month.  When they are gone, they are gone.  No more free 30 minute sessions.

Same thing for actual launch consulting.  I have 2 sessions available per week. That’s it. That’s all.  I can take only a few clients at a time. I know that – so the spots are usually filled quickly.

I wanted to train everyone.

When I started teaching I didn’t know how important it was to focus on a specific group of people.  I wanted to help everyone, so I took on clients that weren’t a good fit for me and I had a hard time finding new people in general.

The final wam bam thank you ma’am.

Pro Tip: Decide what group of people or industry you serve early. Speak to those people in everything you do – become known for someone who serves these people. Don’t worry – you aren’t losing out on other types of clients.  They will still find you even when you “specialize”.

It took me until well into Mila’s 1st year before I realized I needed to focus my teaching on a specific set of people.  And about that time I got the opportunity to work with those exact people.  I joined a studio that catered to prenatal and postnatal women.


I focused all my attention on this studio – taught mat classes for pregnant women and then also took on several private clients – many of whom were not pregnant but liked the care they got at this studio.

This was a perfect spot for me – I had gone through their prenatal program as a client and I felt invested in what they did, their mission.  I was a new mom too – so I loved supporting the women who came into the studio.

Online Marketing – right strategy, wrong timing

Sometime after Mila was born and after I started working with prenatal and postnatal women – I started learning about online marketing.

I thought – ooooh here’s my ticket. This will help me “blow up” my pilates business.  I started a fitness blog and newsletter. I got myself listed on Google Local and Yelp for people to find me. I even started putting videos on youtube for other pilates instructors to find me.  I was doing all the online local marketing I could.

Slowly – I started seeing new clients… things were growing.

Unfortunately, at the same time it was perfect, it was also very challenging finding care for my 2 year old…while I was working. And only 6 months in – I decided to fire my clients and give up the mat classes…and eventually pilates.

Just as I figured out what worked, I realized that the work no longer fit my life.
(It’s been more than 2 years since I have taught pilates and I’ve moved several times, yet I still get inquiries for pilates clients…)

Wow, right?

That’s the way it goes. Just when you have something down, you or  your life changes. Be prepared to revise everything on the spot.

Shifting Into Pro

I wish I had realized that going pro, having that successful and responsive business were so close – had I just made those minor shifts in how I operated.

Going pro does not have to be external.  None of the above things I didn’t do were external really.

You don’t have to spend a dime to add a level of professionalism to your business today:

  • Keep a schedule
  • Define a clear, focused audience
  • Work with established companies to establish yourself
  • Establish a clear way for people to work with you + refer you

Further Proof + Push To Understand Pro Don’t Cost A Thing

It starts with a few simple elements like your schedule and being open to opportunities to grow your clients.

Pro is starting with the people you are serving – not you.

Pro is talking to people who need your services any way you can.

Pro is looking for opportunities to reach your peeps – even if they are hiding in someone else’s audience.

Pro is having a clear way for these people to work with you – that means knowing your packages/schedule/location.

Pro also means finding ways to get your current clients who love you to refer you.

Because I like to leave you with something really actionable to do and learn … instead of making the same mistakes I do… ask yourself these questions about your business and how you are operating right now.

*This is not just for service based businesses, but will really help you get some clarity on your level of pro right now.

  1. Do you have a clear, well-defined group of people you serve or want to serve? Describe those people below…and not just with their age, sex, religion. Go as deep as you can.
  1. Are you currently communicating with this group of people?  Are you going where your people are and being of service right now?  Communication can come in the form of forums, Facebook groups, Facebook pages, Tweets, blog comments, responding to emails, phone calls, skype calls, offering free calls once a month, reaching out to people you WANT to work with, guest posting on sites that cater to your group of people/industry.
  1. If someone wants to work with you – do you have a CLEAR, systematized way for them to buy, schedule or reach you and set up time, buy the product, or get more information?

Extra credit: Do you have a referral system in place? We all know how much easier it is to have other people singing your praises.  List your favorite clients or past clients and ask them for 1 referral.

Now – I’m not saying I’m perfect yet, but I’ve taken big action in all of these areas, and am proud to have a growing thriving business of my own making!]

Are you a pilates teacher or studio owner struggling to find a way to grow your business?  I have a soft spot for you already – leave a comment below and let me know what your biggest challenge is right now!

Thanks for listening – and stay tuned next week for a more uplifting story of how business tests can led to unexpected and big success!