Posted in Small Business Hacks | by: Krystal Barghelame

Why This Successful Studio Converted 50 Contractors to Employees

With three locations and a cult social media following (close to 80,000 Instagram followers), New York Pilates is more than a boutique studio; they’re blossoming into a globally-recognized brand. What’s fueling their growth? According to founder Heather Anderson, it’s largely due to how she empowers her team.

“I have been an instructor for so many years and felt frustrated with environments that undervalued and underpaid the staff,” shares Heather. “The result was a brewing negativity.” So, Heather is on a mission to create a positive work environment, unlike any other in her industry. That’s how she grew to over 50 employees, opened multiple studios, and delights thousands of clients and fans.

How can you differentiate your business in a crowded industry? Take a hint from Heather’s playbook and start by lifting up your employees. Here are six tips from New York Pilates on how to grow a business by supporting a great team.

1. Training, training, and even more training

A well-trained team is one way NY Pilates stands out from the crowd. All the instructors have over 600 hours of training, with expertise in functional movement. “When someone walks into our classes, we make sure they’ll get a great workout and won’t injure themselves,” explains Heather. A healthy training regimen also solidifies your approach as a company: When instructors embody your methodology, they instill confidence in your customers.

A training program also helps your team continue to learn and grow. As Heather shares, “We have an education budget for our instructors, so we’re constantly working on being better. We want to build a culture of continuing education.” If you want to retain a healthy and happy team, how can you help them get better at their role? The more experience and value they gain from your company, the longer they’ll want to stay.

2. Build a strong brand, and get your employees on board

Along with a stellar team, Heather attributes her success to laser-focus on maintaining a consistent, compelling brand. A great brand, she explains, inspires aspirational emotions in her customers: “We’re not just selling packages of classes. We’re selling what your body feels like when you’re taking care of it. That changes how people interact with you at the point of purchase, because you’re selling all that they will accomplish.” The NY Pilates brand inspires those feelings through every part of their business: the website, classrooms environments, and social accounts all have the same look and feel.

In many ways, their brand story stems from the expertise of their instructors. Heather recommends “having your product and marketing talk.” When your marketing reflects exactly what your product is, you’re selling the value of your offering. Heather’s next tip is a perfect example of that:

3. Showcase your product on social

On NY Pilates’ Instagram account, you won’t see just deals and coupons for signing up. Instead, you’ll see “videos of teachers actually doing Pilates, with beautiful music and a pro-tip for doing it yourself.” Heather continues, “Then we make sure we teach those in our classes that week. That way, people see it and then get to physically experience it in class. Marketing and product come full-circle.”

This approach to social media is great because of it:

  • Provides value. Even if you’re not a paying customer, you can learn a new pilates technique and apply it yourself. That encourages more and more people to follow you because they have something to gain.
  • Showcases your expertise. People see your depth of knowledge in action, inspiring trust and showing them what they have to learn from you.
  • Showcases your team. Featuring your team subtly markets how great your entire company is. And in the fitness industry, they’re living proof of the results you can get.
  • Builds a following. Your numbers speak for you! Having over 70,000 engaged followers signals that this brand is credible, consistent, and a leader in its field.

No matter what your business is, how can you make your social content useful and visually engaging? If you’re a landscape business, maybe you can offer planting tips using photos from your own clients. If it’s catering services you sell, perhaps having one of your chefs demonstrate a favorite recipe can jumpstart a social following. Make it a team effort and get creative!

4. Consider converting your contractors to employees

The industry standard in the Pilates world is to hire instructors as contractors. Shifting to employees is a bold move for any business, so why did NY Pilates do it? Because, according to Heather, having a pure team of contractors had quite a few pitfalls: Instructors easily felt disconnected and unmotivated, and didn’t feel part of a team. And, more importantly, many needed side hustles to make a living wage, especially to pay for their own health insurance.

So, Heather bit the bullet and did what she thought was the right thing: She offered the option for her contractors to become employees, should they want it. “It’s expensive, but it’s been really positive,” she explains. “Only one person chose to stay as a contractor because she needed to leave for the full summer.” And now her team has grown to 50 employees — and counting!

Not sure if converting contractors to employees is the right move for your business? Here are some pros for going the W-2 route:

“People feel more connected,” Heather enthuses. “We’ve even moved everyone to Slack. People have started to share tips and tricks, which has been great.”

5. Offer best-in-class compensation and benefits

“We pay more than the standard and that’s really important to me,” shares Heather. “I want to help pilates be a viable profession for my instructors versus just a hobby job.” In addition to a best-in-class salary, NY Pilates offers health insurance and paid time off. Since more pilates studios hire their instructors as contractors, they’re not able to offer these type of benefits. At NY Pilates, the team feels fully taken care of.

When employees know you’re the best gig in town, they’re more likely to stay and recommend you. So try to figure out how you can stand out among your local competitors when it comes to recruiting top talent. It might require some creative thinking that goes against industry norms. For NY Pilates, that meant converting the team to employees. Whether it’s offering health insurance or even offering your employees equity in the business, what can you do to shine in your industry?

6. Make time for “pink sofa talk”

You heard that right: Pink sofa talk. When Heather opened her first studio, she purchased a little pink couch to brighten up the back office. It wasn’t just for looks, though; She made that room her de facto HR department. They wanted to create a space that was “warm and friendly and that says: ‘we’re supporting you.’” In the past, instructors were reluctant to communicate with her and leadership when there were problems, and that negativity could build and stew.  

But Heather nipped that in the bud. “We even did a big internal email campaign to get people to come and talk to us and tell us what was going on,” she explained. That way people could feel empowered to share their feelings and get solutions.

So, is your work environment supportive? If people feel upset, who can they go to? No, you don’t literally need a pink sofa, but it’s good practice to create a safe space for people to connect and feel heard.

Ready, set, grow!

Whatever type of business you own, there’s a lot to learn from Heather’s approach to building an environment that supports a stellar team. And in many ways, your people are your greatest marketers. When they’re happy and excited to represent your brand, that enthusiasm inspires just the right feelings in your customers.

About Krystal Barghelame

A writer on Gusto's content team, Krystal loves discovering and sharing the secrets of successful businesses with blossoming entrepreneurs. She also loves terrible pens. Er... puns.