Lisa Cowan, Owner and Instructor at Sol Studio Pilates, turned her passion for Pilates and teaching into a successful small business that has thrived despite the challenges of COVID-19.
Lisa credits her success to her openness to change and having realistic goals.
Having a child while juggling life as a full-time lawyer wasn't working for Lisa after 10 years. Changing careers to focus on Pilates, her longtime hobby and outlet for stress, was a decision Lisa recalls as a natural one.
“The corporate lifestyle wasn’t conducive to raising a young daughter,” she recounted.
So Lisa got certified as a Pilates Instructor and soon met with a studio owner who wanted her to teach.
“During our discussions, the studio owner realized that she was ready to retire and move on from her location,” Lisa said.
So she grabbed the chance to build her own studio in the space and it was a good fit.
“I put my all into it, creating something for myself, where I could determine my own success and be in control of my destiny, where I could do what needed to be done, where I could do my best.”
That work ethic has helped turn Sol Studio Pilates into a successful Markham, Ontario business.
Lisa shares her day-to-day methods for staying on track, “I keep my outlook general, and keep my goals small and achievable. I think to myself that I need to get through today, and I look at my schedule and do each day the best that I can.”
One of the benefits Lisa loves most about having a small studio is building lasting relationships with her clients.
Lisa describes the practice of Pilates as a physical, mental and emotional journey to strength and an overall improvement in wellness.
Pilates relies on a special wooden machine called a Reformer that uses spring-loaded pulleys for coordinated movements paired with mindfulness.
She says her greatest achievements come when a student can practice the methods to help them master Pilates and build confidence in their bodies.
My students are looking for support, trust and confidence in their instructor.
Keeping her studio size manageable is important to Lisa so she can give each client what they need in terms of instruction and expertise. This, she says, is the highest level of instruction possible to deliver.
Catering to a diverse clientele
Lisa laughs when she shares that, “Pilates is no longer only for the ladies-who-lunch-set,” a common stereotype of her clients. In fact, she has several university students, seniors and children among her clientele.
Pilates attracts a wide cross-section of people who look to its challenging exercises to improve their health, including:
- Teenage athletes
- Post-operative patients
- People with injuries
- Both casual and serious folk looking to expand their exercise repertoire
- Pre- and post-natal clients wishing to regain strength and flexibility
Though many Pilates clients tend to be women, men have been wholeheartedly embracing the practice as well - usually starting for back or shoulder issues - then continuing with sessions for the long term.
How to advertise?
Lisa knew that marketing her business to such diverse clients was going to take some skill in e-marketing and communication. So she contacted GoDaddy and decided to use its Web Design Services to build a website for her.
GoDaddy provided all of the advice you’d expect an expert to give.
“They built the mechanisms of the website according to my needs for scheduling clients.
"I provided the written content, while the visuals were all gathered and selected in close consultation with my dedicated agent. GoDaddy helped ensure each landing page looked just as I wanted it to represent my business accurately.”
Soon she noticed increasing web traffic.
Easy-to-use website = more clients
“Because it’s an easy-to-use website and it's visually appealing and inviting, it really has improved the visibility of my business,” Lisa observed, noting that both seniors and young people can easily use her website to book sessions.
Once she had been in business for a full year, Lisa realized she had hit a real milestone in her journey.
When I hit the one-year mark, I knew then that I was going to be in it for the long term.
Lisa was keeping clients and growing her respected small-group exercise and rehab-based studio.
She was living her dream — able to balance family time with her passion for Pilates and helping her clients reach their goals.
“Without clients I can’t be this business owner, this Pilates Instructor they have confidence in. My clients' success is my success.”
Answers you didn’t know you needed
When asked what advice she would give other small business owners who are struggling right now, Lisa pauses thoughtfully. “My advice would be don't give up, and trust your intuition.
Accept there will be hills and valleys to your journey.
Starting and running any small business comes with risks and rewards, something she herself has experienced. Testing out different hours of operation, different class sizes, home visits vs. studio only instruction — running a small business requires the owner to be open to new solutions.
“Resilience, determination and patience are key because you can have an extensive plan and then something pops in like COVID. You need to remain realistic, confident and trust your gut. Bob and weave and change with the times.”
Be ready to change
Lisa advises budding entrepreneurs that “you’re not always going to get it right the first time around and you’ll make mistakes and take different paths. But in the end, it's always worth it.”
Before COVID, “we always catered to small classes. But during lockdown, we pivoted to online classes, and then small-scale reopening forced us to focus on one-to-one instruction.”
The many lasting COVID-related changes in the fitness and wellness industry have helped Lisa to find and focus on her most valued goal: delivering high-quality instruction and coaching for individual clients, while maintaining small group classes for more advanced students.
“Small classes are still a great joy to do, but COVID changed my business model for the better, in terms of really focusing on one-on-one attention.”
Never stop setting goals
In the future, Lisa would like to open another studio location and begin to train other instructors who are just as passionate as she is about Pilates. She also delights in being a role model her daughter can learn from.
[blockquote]My proudest moments are when my daughter comes to the studio and sees me doing something I love and working hard helping others.
“It makes me proud to set a positive example as a woman and small business owner. When you do what you love, people see it and feel it.”
Sessions with Lisa can be booked through her website at Sol Studio Pilates.