According to the Small Business Administration, there were 28.2 million small businesses—defined as those having fewer than 500 employees—in the U.S. in 2011.

In 2013, just over 33,000 businesses filed for bankruptcy, 7,000 fewer than the previous year. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that approximately half of all new businesses remain in existence for five years or more and one-third survive for 10 years or more. So what is the secret to launching and maintaining a viable new Pilates business?

Build word-of-mouth advertising

Having surpassed the 10-year mark, Amanda Tennant, N.D., M.S.P.T., owner of Therapeutic Pilates LLC, might have some answers. “When I ventured out on my own, opening my private Pilates studio 12 years ago, my entire business was successfully built solely on word-of-mouth advertising. In fact, until a handful of years ago, I didn’t even have a company website,” she said. “Personally speaking, I want to be hands-on, grounded and present while training my clients.”

Tennant noted that her word-of-mouth approach proves to be most effective with female clients. “Although at times I have had male clients comprising between one-third and one-half of my overall clientele, the majority of my clientele population is typically female. I find that women are particularly inclined to share with other people what makes them feel good or is helping them heal,” she said. “So word-of-mouth business is quite effective amongst a predominantly female client population. Satisfied customers will undoubtedly create more business within service industries.”

Take your marketing online

In recent years, more and more businesses have turned to the Internet and presence on social media sites to build their clientele. “I’d say in the last three to five years, the fitness industry has exploded online,” said Tennant. “Presently, it is quite commonplace to stream workout videos via one’s phone, tablet or laptop.” She admits that social media can be extremely effective at promoting your business and has even tested this approach herself. “I have done this primarily through my Pilates Lifestyle Blog, Amanda’s COREner,” she said.

However, Tennant expresses mixed feelings about moving toward this high-tech approach and admits that her clients also are somewhat ambivalent about the effectiveness of promoting the business via online videos.

“As technological advances encourage greater opportunities for education and marketing via the Internet and social media, we have the ability to reach more clients and create more business—even on a global scale,” she said. “However, it also means that we spend more time ‘plugged in’ and sitting behind our computers or glued to our phones, which is [likely not] why fitness business owners went into this type of industry in the first place! Because maintaining a social media presence can be quite a time-consuming commitment, it can easily eat into the time that could be spent actually working with people, building meaningful relationships with them and helping them feel better.”

Hands-down, Tennant asserted that word-of-mouth advertising has been the best way for her to build and maintain a viable Pilates business.

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