For many Pilates studios, transitioning to online classes was merely a way to stay open during lockdown. With the hands-on approach, necessary adjustments, and in-person instruction so many teachers and clients rely on, Pilates instructors were some of the first to question if they would be able to deliver the same quality of services through a screen. Now over a year later since the start of the first lockdown, not only have Pilates teachers discovered that they could in fact deliver high-quality and effective classes to their clients online and via on-demand videos, but that offering online services could elevate their businesses.
Here to share with us her own experience teaching Pilates classes online is Claire Seager, owner of Claire Seager Pilates. Like many in the Pilates community, Claire was originally unsure about online classes and on-demand content and how this would affect her business. But she too has seen the benefits that offering online fitness content has on her business and for her clients. As well as has taken advantage of the new opportunities she has found by being able to access and be accessible to former and new clients through her online classes and on-demand videos.
To learn more about her journey through online Pilates and her advice and recommendations for other fitness businesses looking to explore hybrid models as in-person returns, read our interview with her below.
My name is Claire Seager and I am a Pilates teacher and owner of Claire Seager Pilates. For the last year, I have been working out of my small home studio and running my Pilates classes for my clients on Zoom. Our prime minister quite rapidly announced the closure of face to face fitness classes at the start of lockdown.
I had to quickly change to meeting people online so that involved getting to grips with Zoom quite quickly. I had a brief period of going back to face to face classes and once we return to in-person classes I will continue to run a hybrid of in-person and Zoom classes for my clients.
Transitioning from in-person to online Pilates classes
We were all forced kicking and screaming into the online world. For Pilates sometimes the most minor adjustment to a person's position can make all the difference on how effective or not they are doing the exercise. For us Pilates teachers to suddenly be delivering that level of precision through a screen was a really big jump to feel that we were delivering our services well online.
Many of us started with just a little screen. We quite often did hands-on correction and adjusted people by placing our hands on them, but we couldn't do that online. We couldn't view people from all 360-degree angles. That was a change. We've really had to get over the feeling that this must be done in person. Like most industries, we've all found creative ways to deliver our services online but it was definitely a steep learning curve.
With a lack of a hands-on correction in online classes, how did you change and adapt your teaching style?
I think initially Pilates teachers were very reluctant to go online because we've always said it's all about control and precision of the movement. But, I think we all have gotten a lot better at using verbal cues to help people move into the correct positions. We've even gotten our own clients to get better at laying their hands on their own bodies and asking them how they feel to be able to make the corrections themselves.
I also ask them if their shoulder feels like it's moving away or do their hips feel like they are off the floor and they can fix themselves by the feel. We have done that out of necessity while we are teaching through a screen.
How did your positive experience with online classes lead you to add on-demand to your business?
On-demand was another real jump for the Pilates teacher community because at least when you're on Zoom or a live-streamed class you can watch and give correct feedback. Originally we were really uncomfortable as a community with the on-demand model because then somebody is by themselves. It becomes up to them, so that's been a real change in mindset. You have to trust people to look after themselves and their own bodies. We've developed cues that hopefully will cover most eventualities and had to change how we give cues.
Through the experience of delivering livestream classes via Zoom, I began to understand that it is possible to deliver good quality Pilates instruction online. I started feeling more comfortable with on-demand and have adjusted my teaching and my cueing to almost predict what might go wrong in particular exercises so that all bases are covered.
When it is an on-demand class I can make sure I am speaking and anticipating even though I am not speaking to a live customer. They can have the lesson somewhere else at another time because I have become experienced at what people may or may not do at that particular exercise. I can have my bases covered, therefore I feel more comfortable in on-demand teaching.
We've really had to get over the feeling that this must be done in person. Like most industries, we've all found creative ways to deliver our services online but it was definitely a steep learning curve.
How did your clients adjust to online Pilates classes?
It was a huge change for my customers. To be honest, maybe 1/3 of my clients dropped off the face of the earth and I haven't seen them for a year, and about 2/3 followed me online. I have picked up other people along the way, either people who I used to teach and moved out of the area and have now come back to me online or new customers who I've picked up who I've never met in person before, only online.
Essentially those people who did follow me from the start are just really really grateful, particularly in the darkest days of the first lockdown when it was scary and unfamiliar and this most recent winter lockdown which was very difficult for a lot of people.
What are your main takeaways that other Pilates instructors can use to enhance their clients' experience in online classes?
Having the live class in the diary every week, meeting a group of people, having a bit of a chat at the beginning and end of every class, I think that was a real lifeline for people and people were really grateful to have that. I've had lots of lovely messages from clients who were really grateful for still going. And I've had a lot of dark days too over the past year, but for me getting up and knowing I have to do it and get online at a certain time has really kept me going as well.
There is a lot of accountability, especially in the live classes where you know there is a specific time, specific teacher, and they're waiting for you so it's really motivating for people, and in terms of how the customers experience the online learning, I think it's different for everyone.
And in terms of how the customers experience online learning, I think it's different for everyone. For some people, they like it because they think "I don't have to work as hard because Claire's not watching me very closely" and for other people, it's a benefit because when they're in a room with people they may feel as if they're comparing themselves with other people in the room and that might make them work harder or that might make them feel intimidated.
In the online environment where people are working out in their living rooms, ego goes out the window, you are just working out for yourselves. Some people really like being able to just roll out of bed and roll out their mats and being able to workout in pyjamas and some really miss the face to face classes. Some will go back but some will also continue mostly with Zoom because there is no commute, there is no traffic, they don't lose the amount of time getting to and leaving class takes out of their day.
People still value it so they're willing to put their time towards it. Whether it's my time or my clients' time I think it has played an important role so people will continue to feel loyalty towards that.
What have been some of the ways you have marketed your new on-demand content and service to current and new clients?
When the golf courses and tennis courts opened in the UK, I recorded a video specifically aimed at Pilates for golfers and tennis players. There are quite specific movements that can help prepare them for their sport.
I put the video in the TeamUp on-demand section and now I have people downloading and paying for it without any interaction with me. It's just an automated process, so they pay and they can use that video as often as they like.
I recognised there is a whole bunch of golfers and tennis players who have income that they're willing to spend on fitness and wellbeing. I thought perhaps they could benefit from pilates and just in their general life and perhaps for the age group as well. It was purely just another avenue of trying to find new customers. I began targeting golfers and tennis players either to buy this one-off on-demand video or to encourage them to come to classes. If they liked the golf and tennis video herps they'd like to come to my live lessons and online classes. It was just one way of widening my reach and expanding my market.
How did TeamUp's Pilates software help you introduce Zoom and on-demand to your clients?
One of my Pilates friends had already been using TeamUp for her face-to-face in-person classes and as a client of hers, I had used TeamUp to book her classes. I spoke to her about how well it worked as a management tool for payments and bookings, etc, and she rated it really highly. So I took advantage of the TeamUp free trial period and immediately started using TeamUp to take payments and integrate with Zoom. The integration made it so Zoom links were sent to everybody automatically. The free trial went really well and I was really happy with the functionality and support I got technical wise.
I was lucky because I was fairly technologically minded before. I had worked on websites and website communication before so for me it wasn't such a huge leap but there are many Pilates teachers who chose to be movement instructors because they didn't want to be sat in front of a computer so it was more of a leap and more of a difficult phase for them, but I am lucky I had that background so it wasn't a difficult phase for me.
There was quite a heavy investment of my time to initially learn how to use the system and to set up my classes and how they would be paid for. But the available support from TeamUp made that easier. It then took off from there and I've never looked back. It's been really helpful in terms of automating processes and the admin is quite light on my side now. It peaks at the beginning of a new block of classes but in the long run, it saves me a lot of time and effort to use TeamUp.
Thank you for sharing, Claire!
Video: Why Claire uses TeamUp for her online and in-person Pilates business
And I've never looked back, really, because it's been really helpful in terms of automating processes. And admin on my side is quite light now. It peaks, you know, before the beginning of a new block of classes as a bit of admin to be done there. But in the long run, it really saves me time and effort to use TeamUp.