Whether you are just starting out, or you are trying to grow your Pilates studio word of mouth marketing is key. Waiting for your clients to refer their friends or family is only one way for word of mouth referrals. Read on for more.
Ten years ago I was a Pilates Instructor who worked at a studio. I had spent my professional life being as nerdy as possible about the human body and functional movement. I was addicted to continuing education and had developed a strong practice and reputation as an expert Pilates Instructor. Then came the opportunity to buy the studio with my colleague and best friend. What could be better?
I knew plenty about how to teach Pilates, I didn’t know anything about business.
For example, my business partner and I wrote a business plan in which we used the word “doable” (looking back at that I questioned whether our banker actually read our business plan)...but with some perseverance and a whole lot of googling we eventually became the proud business owners of a pilates studio with a new name and a new website. AND the first thing we learned as new business owners was that google was listing our website about six pages down...So basically we had just purchased a studio that had a clientele who found the studio via the web, and then changed the website and branding of the studio, which caused the studio to lose all of its google cred...
This led us to a big, “now what??”...
We had to figure out how else to market the business while we were learning how to help the google algorithms find us. We had to assess what we had besides our soon to be but not quite yet very effective website that was found on page 6.
Solution 1: use my reputation in the community
Marketing isn’t about selling your services. It’s about showing potential customers how you can help them.
How can you help them transform?
I had a good reputation in the community as a Pilates Instructor because my clients liked me and my work and my work excelled because I was a good listener and observer of the folks I taught. I was especially good at this part because I was using every tactic I could to avoid talking about myself.
Surprisingly, it just so happens that when you learn the name and goings on of every family member of a client (even if it is only to avoid letting them learn about the goings on in your life), that client might start sending those family members to you when they are in need. The client feels heard and respected, and then says to her friend, “You just have to see this person who helped me.”
Imagine this conversation:
Pilates Instructor: How’s your husband doing these days?
Client: Oh goodness...He is struggling with some intense back pain. It’s all he talks about.
Pilates Instructor: hmmm does he sit a lot at work...I wonder if he should find a way to open the front of his hips.
Client: Wait... do you think you could help him?
Pilates Instructor: It depends on what’s going on, but often when folks sit at a computer a lot the posture leads to some back pain…
Client: Do you have gift certificates?
Pilates Instructor: Of course!
While waiting for folks to find us on google we created a great referral incentive for our current clients.
There is space in the pilates session to learn about the families of the clients. I can’t tell you how many times I have delighted clients by knowing the names of their grand kids and remembering the events of those lives.
Solution 2: Creating referral relationships with physicians in my network
When finding referral partners:
- Find people that see the world similarly to you.
- Make connections, find common ground and develop assets.
- Then offer them a free session.
It’s a slow game with a gigantic return on investment.
I had a friend who happened to be transitioning from ER Medicine to Sports Medicine. We were acquaintances. Then luckily enough there was a two year period where I would walk across the street carrying some anatomy book or another and have lunch at the cafe with what my business partner called my lunch buddies.
Picture a bustling cafe with a large round table where people are working/eating in parallel with reading material or screens.
On one of these days I looked up and saw this friend that I knew as an ER doc. As we were catching up, I found out that he was becoming a sports medicine doc. He saw my Anatomy Trains book and we had a geek out session. (Nerds unite to save the world) For the next two years we would end up at the round table once or even twice a week and we built a friendship grounded in collegiality.
When my business partner and I bought the studio I offered my friend a free session. Now 10 years later he is the studio’s largest referral source!
PS I found our web designer and health insurance agent at the round table too...Never eat lunch alone is real, but it can also happen with parallel lunch at a community table in a cafe.
A friendship that starts over a common interest over lunch is likely to develop into a referral partnership.
Solution 3: Networking at the chamber of commerce
Third, the chamber of commerce is your friend. That’s right, go to the events and every lunch that you can.
The first time My business partner and I went to a chamber arrive at five it was a lesson in awkward small talk...We’d play games. We’d say to each other, “Let’s split up and meet back together with five business cards. This was a little fruitless. At least, I am not sure we did anything with those business cards. But we were determined and we showed up every time.
Then we started making headway. We were building relationships again. We were adding touches to the folks out there. Every person at the chamber knew us as the Pilates gals. We weren’t selling pilates to the folks at the chamber, but we were making sure that we were at the top of mind when a chamber member’s loved one said, “You should try Pilates.”
It is a basic marketing principle that it takes seven touches before someone will internalize and/or act upon your call to action.
What can you do to build your Word of Mouth marketing
- Make lists - Who do you know and how do you know them. Who are you eating lunch with? What organizations can you be a part of?
- Learn and Remember the names of your clients friends family, and anything else they talk about. Keep asking questions!
- Keep going to the chamber networking events...Don’t sell Pilates but be prepared to answer any question that a person might have about their own body.