If you love Pilates and you’re struggling with corporate life or looking for a career change, changing it all to become a Pilates instructor can seem like the answer to all your worries. A job you are passionate about, at times which are convenient to you and your family and no more manager, deadlines or commutes.
It’s the dream!
I don’t want to rain on your parade. I love my job but there are some things I wish I’d known when I took the plunge. So given the number of people who ask me, I thought I’d do the honorable thing and share.
1. Financial Planning
Back then I had few responsibilities and no idea what would happen to house prices. I took voluntary redundancy from a very well paid (and competitive) role as a management consultant at PwC Consulting just before it became IBM. Back then, I couldn’t see myself in that job in 10 years. I also felt I needed to give back to the world in some way. I didn’t want to stay on the corporate treadmill.
If I’d stayed on for 6-12 months I could have saved some money and road mapped the financial route ahead. Back up money in addition to the payout I got would have been helpful, or training whilst I was still in a full time job. There are ways to do it and I had no idea how much energy or freedom I had back then compared to 10 years on, as a mum.
2. Business Planning
I think the biggest learning when you go it alone is what type of business do you want to have? Yes, you’ll be a Pilates instructor but a successful Pilates instructing career only has longevity (and will make you enough money to stick at it) if it’s part of a successful business.
Teaching Pilates in gyms or at health clubs is a hard slog. Rates of pay haven’t changed since I did that back when I’d first trained. As a studio manager, for a leading London health club, I paid my Pilates and yoga instructors £35 per hour. Fitness class instructors got £25. In house (gym instructors teaching classes) got between their hourly rate (£6 and £11). Rates have changed little and in some cases have gone down. Factor in travel between classes, training (more on that later), insurances and memberships and the fact that classes are at set times and it’s not much money.
Put your ego aside. Yes you love Pilates but so do lots of other people. How will you be different? Who do you want to serve? Who’s problems do you want to solve? If you can get this sorted at the start of your career – yes – even before you train – you’ll be off to a flying start. No, you don’t have to have it all sorted but instead of saying ‘I want to be a Pilates instructor’ try these questions:
How do I want to work? For myself or for someone else?
When do I want to work? Do I need to fit work around other commitments?
What problems do I want to solve? Back pain? Sports injuries? General population? The elderly? Have a niche. You don’t have to be exclusive to that niche but it will give you so much direction.
What business skills do I have already and what do I need to brush up on? How’s your marketing or writing? What about your accounting or organisation?
3. Do you love admin?
There’s arguably more admin than teaching when you work for yourself. Are you ready for it?
If you’re not an admin fan then sub-contracting or even becoming an employee again is a great place to start. But if you left your job to work for yourself you’re back in employed territory again.
Sub-contracting is a less ‘employed’ option. There’s a safe feeling to working for someone else, even if it’s only part of your business. You get sub-contracted out as a freelance instructor and they pay you monthly. There’s less attracting business and more, ‘turn up and teach’ – although obviously this way you have no employment rights and are still limited to the hours your hirer wants you to be there. If you have a good relationship however, this can be a fantastic route to go down.
If you love admin then working for yourself is a great option. I’ve actually taken the step of hiring in extra admin support for stuff like class bookings and registers to ensure I stay on top of things and also to act as back up in the case of an emergency.
I’m not going to go into individual training providers because if you’re thinking of becoming a Pilates instructor, I’m sure you’ve already looked into costs. It’s the costs after this we often don’t plan for. If you’re going to be self employed you’ll need to consider health care, holiday pay and sick pay (you won’t get it so you’ll need to allow for this in your rates or work hours). And then there are extras like maternity pay and a pension. Allow for professional services like accountants and memberships to fitness governing bodies. Then there’s insurance for you, your participants (public liability insurance) and your equipment. There are your equipment costs and its up keep, on going training and education from Pilates to marketing and social media.
Of course in addition to all of the above, and all of the challenges that working for yourself in what some see as an alternative career brings, there are massive highs. I get to meet so many amazing people, mainly women. And as you get more confident in knowing the people you serve, your tribe, you continue to attract even more incredible people to your business. I love seeing transformations, where the nervous newcomer is transformed to an avid fan and Pilates expert but I also love seeing little breakthroughs. Lives with less pain and participants with more confidence to do the things that are really important them. I also love the thrill of running a business where I have complete freedom to make choices and changes. I love learning every day and the rush you get when a little note or email with incredible feedback comes your way. I love the flexibility (it comes with time) and the fact that I inspire others. Something it’s taken me a while to believe.
It’s a great life choice if you get the basics right. Go forth and inspire.
Karen co-directs Fit School and teaches Pilates in Epping, Essex.
Karen has her own online Pilates programme.