After years of running fitness classes at a local gym, friends and colleagues Caroline and Ryan thought to themselves, "we should open our own fitness business." After handing in their notices on the same day, they got started on a brand new adventure. Within a couple of months, they launched Create You UK, dance classes and personal and group training with a mission of helping like-minded people create the best version of themselves.
Although they had only launched their classes six months before lockdown in the UK began, Caroline and Ryan were at a bit of an advantage in getting things online quickly...they knew the value of gym management software and signed up for TeamUp before even launching their business. With the knowledge of how to use software and already having discussed online classes prior, they were ready to not only provide classes and content to their clients during lockdown but integrate online classes into their full-time offering.
Photo Credit: Create You UK
We sat down with Caroline and Ryan to chat about their experience launching their own business, what it was like to run group fitness and dance classes online during the pandemic, and their big plans for Create You UK's future.
Tell us about Create You UK and your journey to launching your business
Caroline: Ryan and I were both working at a gym as employees and instructors of various group training and dance classes. We had both been working there for a couple of years and really felt like we were running the place and we weren't even management. We both love fitness, have the same vision, values, and philosophies, and after discussing what it would be like to run our own business, we handed in our notices and quit our jobs on the same day.
We had used a booking system at our prior job so we knew the benefit of having it and how it could help us get everything together and started. We decided to keep a similar timetable and adjusted it here and there. As soon as we left there were a lot of complaints from clients asking where we had gone, so once we launched our invested regulars followed.
How did you find out about TeamUp?
Ryan: When we decided to leave it and start our own business, we wanted to make everything as easy as possible. The system we used at our old gym was so complicated. So I knew going into our own business that we needed a system that was simple and would do what we needed it to do. I had looked at other software that had all the bells and whistles, but it also had things I didn't need or want it to do. I wanted software that did three things:
- Give clients a place to book
- Be able to track what's going on in the business
- Collect payments from clients
Caroline: We also do network marketing and our upline who runs an established Personal Training business in Kent recommended we check out TeamUp telling us it was so easy to use and that they'd do everything for us. So it was an easy sell for us right from the beginning. We saw how well it worked for them, so we went for it.
Ryan: Once we looked at it and saw how simple TeamUp's gym membership management software was to use, we turned around the concept for Create You in three weeks and officially launched on October 1, 2019.
What made you decide to sign up for gym management software before launching your business?
Ryan: Having used gym booking software at the gym we worked at before, I knew what we wanted our software to do. But the price point was always a big one for us, especially because with other platforms you have to pay a fee just to start off. We've been self-employed with contracted hours for years, but now we would be the business owners. Paying a high fee up front could be the difference between a business failing or succeeding.
But what made TeamUp's gym management software stand out, apart from what the system does, is we didn't start paying until our clients started booking. That took that fee off our plates and I really love it that the price increases or decreases depending on what's going on in our business. Business isn't always linear so having a system that works with you and understands our business and how pricing should work is great. Businesses that charge a flat fee are at risk of losing customers, especially when something like lockdown happens. Because our pricing was scaleable with TeamUp and based on our customers, we didn't have to worry about that.
What can you tell us about your experience as new business owners in the pandemic?
Ryan: It's rough enough in the first few months of starting a business, but then to have COVID begin, having that going on was difficult. But when we first launched it only took me two nights to get everything set up on TeamUp and then we added things and rolled with it along the way. TeamUp had also added new features so we were building steadily at the same time. We hit our stride as business owners right when the pandemic started. I think the biggest testament to using TeamUp has been when we have had to go back and forth between lockdowns and being able to run our business in a hybrid model with a mix of in-person and online classes. It's been so easy to do that because the system is so easy and with the click of a button, we can get everything switched to online.
Caroline: It's been a lifesaver because when we first went into the lockdown in March, TeamUp was so quick in getting the Zoom integration up and running. There were so many emails and communication coming from the TeamUp team and the whole ethos of TeamUp is so personal, we absolutely loved it. We have seen so many other businesses struggle with making the switch from in-person to online classes and they took a while to get back online. We felt quite grateful that we've been able to do that at the click of a button.
Ryan: When the managers at the community centre we were teaching out of told us they had to close, we thought that lockdown might only last a couple of weeks, but we decided to go online anyways. And now because of that, we stand out as a popular business in our local area because we found a way to stay open when so many other businesses have had to close or go out of business.
We adapted and had to figure out things like where do we do the classes, internet connection, how to set up the camera and the music, but once we got to that two-week mark, we hit our stride. In the first eight weeks we held on as much as possible, and then when things opened up again and our clients suffered from Zoom fatigue we were able to start our in-person classes again.
But we also stayed firm on keeping some things online, especially during the most recent period between lockdowns. We remained professional and slick and have found ways to keep everyone engaged online.
Had you considered offering online classes before the pandemic?
Caroline: Before COVID even hit we did have a conversation about whether we should do online classes in the future. We knew it would be a good idea, but we would never have done it had COVID not happened. But as soon as it did we sprang into action and launched online classes.
There were so many businesses who decided to wait out the first lockdown and not give online classes but we thought,
- It would be silly not to with our clients.
- If you say you'll be back and take a break, you'll lose customers.
It took a couple of weeks to work out the kinks and get used to online classes, but some other instructors out there said 'online isn't for me’ and chose not to pursue it. But it's a learning curve, and yes you will lose some customers who are afraid of tech, but for us, we actually gained more clients because we can now reach more people. We've had people who moved and now they can log in from where they now live. It has created so much more accessibility.
What is something you have learnt from coaching fitness online?
Ryan: It's been a journey and teaching online has made me rethink my whole teaching style. I became a personal trainer and fitness instructor because I love group fitness. I used to attend classes prior to teaching and see the instructors, and think, I want to do that. The pandemic made us all realize we had gotten too comfortable with how we do things and deliver classes. I had to go back to basics and explain things and demonstrate even more than I already did and find ways to engage people when we're not in the same room. It has been good for me and been a major reset for me as a coach. What we have learnt over the past year is that we really just needed to get started online, because especially in this new year it's worked out really well.
What advice do you have for other instructors and clients who need the motivation to teach and come to class online?
Caroline: You have to turn the internet off and have time for yourself. Dedicating a no screens allowed time at a certain point of the day in order to recharge is so important.
Ryan: We also promote getting outdoors to our clients, especially because under the current lockdown we can. We run our classes Monday through Friday with a 15-minute stretch class on Saturday mornings, but we try to encourage our customers to get outside and exercise outdoors on the weekends.
Usually, around the third week of the month, people are either tight on money or are a bit tired heading into the end of the month. So to keep people engaged and attract new clients, we host a 7-day trial every month during that third week and give our existing clients an opportunity to invited friends and family to get involved. We used to offer one free class, but tested our 7-days and saw a much bigger conversion and that's been great. We even add themes to that week. We've done an 80s and 90s week, and this week we are doing a World Rhythms week.
Caroline: We're going to get some exotic dishes and get people to really think outside the box. We incorporate these themes into our outfits and music and give people something positive to look forward to and brighten up their lockdowns.
How have your TeamUp tools helped you track how your business is doing?
Ryan: People are tired and we can see the numbers clearly in our reports. I see the patterns and things like drops in bookings on certain weeks and we are able to make decisions based on that. We have a structure for the month, so we have a quiz night on the second Friday of the month, have our third-week trial, and also include various other events when we can. It's fun and something to build up to.
We also are able to use this information to keep things fresh and revamp when we need to. At the beginning of the new year, we literally changed the name of one of our classes and it doubled the attendance. We kept the class exactly the same, same content, same workout, but a name change did the trick. Now we have double the amount of clients coming to our weekly Butts'n'Guts class.
Caroline: It's been really helpful to see the patterns and learn. We were originally running 45 minute and one-hour classes, and people struggle to commit to those at home. So we decided to shorten our classes and that made it easier for people to want to come and join.
What does the future look like for Create You UK and will you continue to give online classes when lockdown ends?
Caroline: I teach Zumba and dance classes and all the music runs on a beat, so that's the small downside of online classes. If there is a glitch and they miss the beat. In-person is a bit easier in that regard and you have the vibes and atmosphere that online doesn't quite have. However, I try to give out the same energy in my teaching so I would like to think they still get the feel-good vibes from their front rooms.
Ryan: We would love in-person classes to come back. Especially when Zumba is a concept where the music is crucial, it makes a difference. After lockdown one, I kept a lot of the group training and PT classes online but we brought Caroline's dance classes back in-person. Offering the mixture of both created accessibility and I was able to play around with the schedule and open different classes. When we re-open we hope to teach a hybrid of 40% in-person classes and 60% online classes. Our best month was when we had a hybrid selection of in-person and online classes. We have clients who don't live in our local area and if we don't cater to them too, we will lose them. On the other hand, we also have clients who will come back to in-person classes again.
Caroline: We're also looking at on-demand classes so that people who are busy and can't make it to in-person or online classes have an option.
Ryan: The next phase will reflect a lot on peoples' schedules and what it will be like to resume in-person work and school again. This is why on-demand is going to be important for us. There are going to be people who struggle to get to classes at specific times, and when we have on-demand classes they won't miss out. They will have the freedom to sign up and take them when they want, which will help our clients reach their goals easier.
Thank you Caroline and Ryan for sharing your story with us!
We'd love to hear from you too! If you have a story about your business or advice you would like to give other coaches, let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.