How to keep clients informed and engaged virtually
Find out how Master Instructor Trainer PJ O’Clair transformed her studio for a virtual world and attracted 70 new clients.
Studio owners have had to be incredibly agile over the last month as they’ve pivoted from live to virtual classes, created new payment models for customers, figured out how to keep staff employed and clients engaged online.
“I’ve been working harder than ever due to the learning curve of going virtual,” says Merrithew™ Master Instructor PJ O’Clair and owner of Praxis Performance and Wellness in Beverly, Massachusetts.
“And for business owners, there’s the other administrative tasks too, like filling out all the necessary business forms and documents to hopefully receive some of the government assistance that’s available. I am stressed, but the outreach from the community has helped so much,” she says.
In less than a week, PJ got her virtual studio up-and-running, offering five to six classes per day from Monday to Friday and two to four classes on the weekends.
“When we were ordered to close our doors, we pulled together a virtual plan really quickly— we had to because we had members who’d already paid for the month and I couldn’t refund all that money, so I just thought, ‘Okay, I’m going to make this happen,’” she says.
The first thing she did was offer curbside pickup of her studio’s props and accessories. “We put together kits with our small props, like the Mini Stability Balls™, weights and bands, and then offered to let our clients borrow them until our studio reopens. People were so grateful,” she says.
With that done, she and five of her instructors got their Zoom accounts set up. PJ instructs her sessions from the studio and her instructors from home. They teach everything from spinning to Merrithew Fascial Movement, STOTT PILATES® Matwork, Total Barre® and cardio strength intervals, among other types of exercise.
“For non-members or those with class packages, we offered to put their package on hold and gave them the opportunity to buy an unlimited package of virtual classes for the two weeks remaining in March for $15. I felt it was the right thing to do— to provide our services for a low price and get a lot of people doing it,” she says.
The hardest part was teaching her older clients how to use Zoom. “I had to go through at least 15 long phone conversations with individual clients to explain to them how to use the platform.”
Since launching her first virtual class on March 18, she’s attracted 70 new clients. “People started talking and sharing it on social media, so we got people signing up from as far away as Peru, Chile, Bulgaria, England, Florida and Washington state, it’s incredible,” she says.
“It’s enough for me to continue paying my instructors, though it’s not as much as they were making before because we are not doing privates and they are limited in the number of virtual sessions they can teach,” she says.
Since her studio will be closed for the foreseeable future, PJ has offered clients a tiered payment option for the month of April. In the end, many members chose to keep paying their regular monthly fee to support PJ’s studio and instructors.
“I taught a class the other night and as soon as I finished, people were telling me how happy they were. When I shut the camera off, I broke down emotionally. I was just so taken aback by the outpouring of love and support,” she says.
“I’m really happy that we have this community to share with. It’s a worthwhile endeavor, and my advice to other instructors and studio owners is to not be afraid to show your humanity and be honest with clients.”
PJ’s best practices for keeping clients engaged virtually
- Know your platform
Whatever online platform you’re using, make sure you’re familiar with it. While people are generally patient with glitches right now, do your homework so you’re prepared to address any problems if they come up. “I help facilitate the client experience. I send out all the Zoom invites for classes and I co-host the session as a back-end administrator, so the instructor has back-up in case a client has technical difficulties while they’re teaching.”
- Hardwire your connection
Wi-Fi can be unreliable. If you can hardwire your computer or device, do it.
- Music vs. cues
Is your music royalty-free? Can clients hear your cues? While music might be an important part of the class experience, clients would probably prefer to hear your cues, so be aware of the experience they’re having online.
- High-contrast outfits
What color is your mat, your equipment and your background? People want to be able to see your limbs and your form, so make sure your clothes don’t blend into the background.
- Slow down your cueing
To prevent clients from having to crane their necks and constantly stare at the screen, make sure your cueing is precise, concise and articulate. Try demonstrating the exercise first and then cueing your clients to try it after. “I make it really clear what the focus of the exercise is and how they can progress the movement if they want to. I write my program down so it’s specific to virtual training and I sometimes send them my workout notes so they know what to expect beforehand,” she says.
- Create an opportunity to connect
Leave a bit of time at the beginning of the session and at the end to facilitate that community atmosphere that clients experience at the studio. “How many Hundreds can you do? How many Roll-ups can you do? What people really want is that community and that socialization that they’re missing. That’s the bottom line. They want to see your face, they want to talk to you and they want to see everybody else, all 69 other people doing exactly what they’re doing. That’s huge,” PJ says.