The Working Year as a Sole Trader

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I love talking to other Pilates Coaches about what they do and how they organise their work.

In particular having chatted to a couple of fairly newly qualified teachers last week, it was interesting to hear how they think and approach the organisation of their classes.

Having worked in the fitness industry and for myself for a long time, I know how easy it can be to feel the need to be busy all the time, and to work at every opportunity.

However, I have learnt the hard way, that actually working for yourself brings with it a high level necessity to take care of yourself. There is no sick pay, there is no-one automatically to cover if you have to miss a class, and the importance of being 100% for your clients means you can’t simply go through the motions of teaching if you aren’t particularly feeling the motivation or energy.

So what this should tell you is how important it is to pace yourself.

When I first started to teach in the community I worked as a freelance teacher for Adult Education Providers and they only put classes on for 30 weeks a year, which ran along side the school terms, 3 terms each of 10 weeks. I used to think that this was crazy, because if I ran the classes myself I could teach lots more weeks and therefore get paid for more weeks.

However, how many more weeks could I teach and still maintain a high level of quality and enthusiasm and my health to teach. Pilates classes tend to be both physical and emotional, which take a certain level of energy and personal investment to maintain a high quality product.

There are also other considerations, I was a single Mum with a son, and I needed to be available and take his needs into consideration as well as my own desire to earn more money, but also I needed the money for my living as I didn’t have a second salary coming into my household.

So when I started to organise more of my own classes, and stop being a freelance teacher, teaching for others, I decided to teach for 40 weeks a year. I could do that easily, I had that covered … so I thought!

I was a sole trader, self employed, so what happened when I was ill? What would I do if a member of my family was ill and needed me? What happened when a venue suddenly wasn’t available because they had taken a bigger, better booking. What happened during the bad weather when I had taken payment for a block booking of classes, and then the snow fell and I couldn’t get to class. What would I do - try to put replacement classes on, try to find cover and pay another teacher, refund clients, but still have to pay for the room because there wasn’t enough cancellation notice given. Plus, with 40 weeks in a year … where would I put the replacement classes and still be able to have a holiday? Then the reality of 40 weeks hits, yes it sounds great when you are just talking about how much more you can earn, but actually, what about your energy levels, your health, making sure you put on the number of classes promised and taken money for.

It wasn’t until I was ill and had to take a month off that I truly realised the need to reduce the number of weeks offered over a 12 month period. So now we offer 36 weeks of classes, yes it is only 4 weeks less than 40, but those 4 weeks mean that if teachers are ill and we cannot get cover we have a few weeks to play with over the year to add replacement sessions. This ensures that what we have promised to our clients we can easily fulfil. It is also an investment in my own and my teams health and wellbeing to ensure they take time out to recharge fully and are able to always be at their best when they are teaching. I have had some criticism about only offering 36 weeks of classes, but I am coming from a position of knowing the effects of over-working and over-promising not just on my own wellbeing, but also on my family.

It’s also about managing the expectations of clients, whatever we offer, we have to be able to fulfil, and we don't want to feel like we are letting people down.

It isn’t just about the money, and we can look at our insurance policies to ensure that we have some kind of support for long term illness, which can offer some reassurances for extreme situations, but not all insurance companies offer this to sole traders/self employed. But I will say again, it isn’t just about the money, not when your job is about providing a service, it is much more than this. It is about being the best you can be, having the energy, enthusiasm and motivation to provide the best possible version of yourself you can for your paying clients.

So think on my friends, when the pound signs are flashing before your eyes, consider the whole picture, and the fact that you probably came into this industry because you wanted to play a part in improving others lives, but also in providing a better life for yourself and your nearest and dearest. This should be at the heart of your planning and programming of your business, it’s never just about the money.

Written by: Jane M Thomas of Jane Thomas Pilates, as featured on the BBC.

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When teaching group Pilates classes we are often faced with physical issues that seem to be fairly generic. Here are some that regularly show up in my classes:

  • Arthritic wrists — making weight bearing difficult
  • Arthritic knees — making any kneeling work difficult plus some movement at the knee joint a problem
  • Bunions — making some standing work difficult and positioning of toes and weight bearing into feet a problem
  • Plantar fasciitis — making foot work and mobility in the ankles difficult
  • Frozen shoulders — mobility and some weight bearing difficulties
  • Non-specific lower back pain — making some positions and mobility difficult and painful
  • Bursitis — making any hip movement a challenge
  • Bulging discs/herniated discs — making positions and movement of the spine difficult
  • Hypermobility — making mind/body connections a challenge, and range of movement issues

Plus hip and knee replacements — which seem to be becoming more common — but this may be related to my client age group.

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The success of a blog for clients …

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For those of you who maybe follow Jane Thomas Pilates you will know that I send out a free weekly Newsletter. This Newsletter is aimed at my clients who attend our matwork classes, our Reformer classes and our one-to-one studio sessions. However, I also have a lot of people who subscribe to the Newsletter but who haven’t as yet signed up to a class, so they haven’t actually bought anything from us.

For those of you who love a statistic, we have 1018 who subscribe to the Newsletter, and around 50% of those subscribers actually buy from us in one way or another, either matwork, Reformer classes, or one-to-one studio sessions.

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For the Love of the Psoas…

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I love this muscle, because when we get it working properly and freely as Pilates Coaches it can make such a difference to our clients’ movement, performance, balance, and emotional wellbeing. The function of the psoas is also an important factor when dealing with lower back pain. So here I share a little about what I have learnt from Kinesiologist Douglas Heel.

For those of you who have heard of Douglas Heel, you will know that he combines science and coaching with a relaxed, happy and an almost meditative perspective. For those of you who haven’t heard of him he has devised a programme of coaching known as Be Activated.

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Here I am, welcoming the start of another week. And I have to say that I am waking up on this Monday free of pain.

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October so far has been a testing month for me as I am a sufferer of migraines, and I seem to be having a constant battle against them at the moment.

So much so, that it ended up with a trip to hospital as my GP was also concerned that there could be an underlying problem, when my migraine had become so bad that none of my normal medication was helping. On the fifth day of continuous pain enough was enough!

I am thankful to say that after lots of tests there was no sinister underlying cause, but after talking and answering the Neurological Consultant’s questions, the diagnosis is stress-related migraines.

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I am very much about giving something for free, and I often see criticism in the fitness industry about giving free sessions as "undervaluing" what we do, but this isn't how I see it…

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We can spend lots of time on social media sites setting up posts, scheduling posts etc, trying to show what we are about. And don't get me wrong, I obviously recognise the benefit of having a social media presence, and how important this is in our industry. I just really believe that giving half an hour of your time to spend with a client for free, could be worth an extra £300 on your turnover, whereas hours and hours on social media can often result in £0, nil points, nothing.

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Here are my top 10 tips for teaching great Pilates classes…

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Meet & Greet
Know your class participants’ names and make it your aim at every class to find something out about their lives
Always ask how their bodies are today — this gives new participants an opportunity to speak up, regular participants to say if they have overdone it, this gives the teacher a heads up about modifying or adapting certain exercises
Build the bond between the teacher and the participants
Create a feeling of attentiveness and professionalism that you know what you are talking about and demonstrates an outstanding level of care.

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Whether you have just qualified or you have been teaching for a long time, you will reach a point in your Pilates career when you start to ask yourself

“What do I do next?”

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First Class Pilates — Pilates Done Right!
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First Class Pilates — 9 Great Central Road — Loughborough — LE11 1RW