Looking to launch your own at-home Pilates or mindful movement studio? In this blog series, we spoke to three Merrithew™ Instructor Trainers around the world to find out how they built successful boutique studio businesses from the ground up— in the comfort of their own homes.
For Part 2, Merrithew Lead Instructor Trainer Adriana Rotella tells us about rebuilding her at-home studio, diversifying her Pilates business, and finding work-life balance.
Read more in this series
How to Build an At-Home Studio: “Moving the business back home was the best decision” >
Creating a welcoming at-home studio space
Tearing down her old house to rebuild a new one gave Adriana a chance to rebuild her at-home studio from scratch, exactly the way she wanted it.
“Something that was really important to me when designing the space was to make it feel super comfortable and beautiful, not like a basement. There weren’t a lot of windows, so I had to make it feel really bright, comfortable and clean with the lighting, paint colors, and décor I chose.”
Adriana had heated floors installed, mirrors along one side and a stone feature wall to give it an “earthy atmosphere.” They also built a separate entrance, bathroom and foyer area with a hand-crafted wooden bench as a greeting and waiting area for clients.
While Adriana’s house was being rebuilt, she decided to return to school for an education upgrade, studying holistic nutrition at the Institute of Holistic Nutrition.
“Pilates and nutrition go hand-in-hand. Clients come to Pilates because they want to work their bodies, but the conversation would often come around to nutrition. They’d ask me, ‘What should I eat for breakfast? What should I be eating to lose weight?’”
“Clients wanted to make changes to their diet, but they didn’t have good information. I’d always been interested in learning more about how we fuel our bodies and keep them healthy on the inside and out, so I decided to enroll. I knew the two practices would complement each other well,” she says.
The nutrition side of her business is bringing in new clients who want personalized advice, while providing her existing Pilates clients with access to an additional service.
“From an income-generating perspective, the Pilates clients are more consistent and regular since they’re probably coming in on a weekly basis, whereas the nutrition clients come in for an initial consultation and then decide if they want to do follow-up sessions,” she says.
While the nutrition side of the business is not a guaranteed continuous income stream, it’s more about providing a holistic approach to clients’ wellness.
Adriana’s now considering creating a digital arm of her business with online programs about physical fitness and nutrition for clients who can’t make it to the studio or who don’t have the financial means to pay for regular private sessions.
Finding work-life balance as an at-home studio owner
For all the success she’s had, Adriana never aspired to run her own Pilates studio.
“My parents had their own business for 40 years. I saw how hard they worked and how demanding it was, and although I'm also a very hard worker, it didn’t appeal to me.”
Everything changed when she got pregnant with her son. “You start thinking about how far you have to drive to work, the traffic, the early mornings, late nights and weekend shifts. Trying to navigate all that while raising a kid is hard.”
The flexibility of a home studio and making her own hours started to seem more appealing. The business grew naturally from one interested client to a few, all through word-of-mouth referrals, including some from her osteopath. Next she knew it, she had enough clients to make an income.
“The fact that it’s an at-home business makes it feel a bit more comfortable and manageable. It feels more personal and at a scale I can handle.”
Adriana also juggles work as a contractor. She has early morning clients whom she sees in their own homes three days a week, then she has clients at her studio four days a week, and on one day a week or on some weekends, she teaches at the Merrithew™ Corporate Training Center.
“It's hard to say no to clients, especially when you're building your own business. Even though you’re the boss and you make the decisions, you still have to be able to accommodate clients and you can’t take too much time off or regularly cancel sessions. That means figuring out a schedule that works for you and your clients.”
While she does see some clients in the evenings, she now reserves most weekends for family.
“You can’t preach a healthy lifestyle and be burning yourself out at the same time. I went through that and realized I had to find my own balance too, so the weekends are for me, so that I can recharge and be ready to give my clients everything they want and deserve when I see them next,” she says.
6 lessons learned from running an at-home studio
1. Expect to work even harder as your own boss. “There’s more personal risk when you’re running your own business because it’s your name, brand and reputation on the line, so it’s natural that you’ll probably put even more pressure on yourself to go above and beyond to ensure your clients are satisfied,” Adriana says.
2. Factor in your admin hours. Creating a schedule that accommodates everyone can be challenging. That’s just one of the admin tasks that goes on behind the scenes that you’re not paid for, so consider that as part of the workload when you’re figuring out pricing.
3. Determine how strict you’re going to be. Many studios have 24-hour cancellation policies, but unexpected things happen. “I deal with this on a case-by-case basis. I’m reasonable. I know what it’s like to have a kid sick at home with no options for childcare,” Adriana says. Her tip, in general, is to put some responsibility back on the client. “Talk to them about how they’re investing in their own success. Remind people that they’re in charge of what they put into it. I’ll do everything I can to help them, but it’s up to them to put in the effort.”
4. Keeping track of payments. “I’m really flexible with my clients, so I let them do whatever suits them. Some of them pay me after every session, others buy packages of 10 classes at a slightly reduced rate, others ask me to invoice them at the end of the month. I trust my clients a lot and I haven’t had any problems, but this does challenge me to keep up with what’s owed.”
5. Finding a good client-instructor fit. Clients are coming to you for a good workout, but they’re also looking for a connection and a fun experience. “You can be the best instructor, give the best cues and corrections, but if you don't have a good rapport or a good connection with the person, they're not going to come back.” That doesn’t mean you should push to make a connection that’s not there. On the contrary, sometimes that means telling a client that it’s not going to work or referring them to someone who might be a better fit.
6. Mutual care, mutual respect. “Our clients come in, we’re giving them tactile feedback, we’re close to them, we really care about their wellbeing and they feel that. It’s not just about getting paid at the end of the day, it’s more about investing my time and energy into this person and if they aren’t taking it seriously, they’re not going to see results. I want to make sure I’m working with people who are going to reap the benefits of what I can offer,” Adriana says.
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