Taking my Business online in a Pandemic
If you'd told me a year ago that I'd earn all my income from teaching online classes, I'd have laughed. Yet, necessity is the mother of reinvention, or something. Six days a week I get ready for work then turn on my tablet and sit down on my bedroom floor to get ready to give individual classes to a growing number of people who are missing me visiting their homes to teach them or who miss visiting one of the two studios in which I work. Even clients I used to teach and who have moved away are again doing class with me via Zoom now we know how easy and (more importantly) how safe it is.
When it became apparent that the pandemic was serious and we headed into lockdown, my overriding concern (like everyone in my industry) was earning enough to pay my mortgage and my bills. I needn't have worried. I saw the Pilates community discussing virtual teaching on Facebook and many teachers were very generous with their knowledge and experience. I contacted my private clients and all but one couple moved swiftly on-line.
I persuaded the manager at one studio that we should offer virtual teaching and the owner of the other venue simply asked me who I'd like to teach and gave me their contact details. Initially I felt lucky to be making a third of my usual weekly income. I can't quite believe that I'm now making pretty much the same as I was before the world turned upside down.
My boyfriend has to use the home P.C. all day (poor guy; despite a 10% pay cut he's working longer hours than before in his I.T. job) so I had to get a secondary device. I bought a reasonably cheap tablet and a bracket to fit it to my camera tripod. I ask clients what equipment, if any, they have at home. It's a big change for people who are used to a fully-equipped studio but a band, roller and ring are incredibly versatile and pure matwork is still very much worth exploring.
The first session can be tricky as we work out the best spot in the room. I discovered early on that if someone stands by a window, the room is plunged into darkness from my point of view as the machine's camera will try to balance the light. It works best when people are about 6 feet/ two metres away from their device. Obviously I have to keep checking the postage stamp-sized image of me to make sure I'm visible too. I like to vary standing, lying and four point kneeling movement so that's why the tripod's really handy. Most London homes are very limited in terms of space so I'm grateful how flexible and adaptable people are being.
The first session also involves some adaptation for people who are used to self-led training in the studio. Some exercises and instructions will be different but again, people have been really receptive to the change.
I have found myself working a lot harder. The bulk of my hours used to be in the studio, my role there being mainly to assist and advise people with a fixed programme. Now it's 100% 1-1's.
I create a bespoke class for each person in advance every day. We build on the previous class because progression and improvement are very important and I want to ensure that people are stimulated intellectually so I provide a lot of variety. I have to demonstrate a lot; I can't just teach with my voice and I no longer have to ability to guide "hands on" so the visual is everything.
Initially I found the days very tiring. I'd expected that as I no longer had such early starts and the commute by bike and that I no longer had to stand for six hours at a time, work would be easier but sitting on the floor in front of a screen for most of the session is surprisingly difficult, even if you do some of the exercises along with the clients. A few weeks in, a lower back stiffness I'd never had before crept up on me so I make sure I stretch and roll my muscles out before I start and I try to be as mindful as possible of my own posture, shifting positions where I can. I have also read that virtual interaction can be more draining than face to face communication. Our eyes and head position are fixed as we scan the other individual/s face and body for the non-verbal communication upon which our subconscious relies in order to understand each other. This is physically and mentally harder via a screen. It's not always clear that someone has heard you and the inevitable time lag means there's lots of accidentally talking over one another. On the whole there have been very few technical problems so far but the occasional poor connection can cause freezing, meaning there's a loss of fluidity to the class.
I've enjoyed the relaxed nature of the experience. I particularly love the pets who Zoom bomb. The first time a cat saunters past the screen can be hilariously terrifying; it reminds me of the opening credits of The Goodies. Clients occasionally have to answer the door and I hope they can't hear the soundtrack of building works, ice cream vans and sirens (too loudly) at my end. Small domestic interruptions aside, both parties can relax at home at a time when the outside world has felt so unsafe. The importance of this cannot be underestimated.
I'm over the moon that this has worked so well. Had the pandemic occurred even 10 years ago I would have been struggling financially. What's emerged as the most positive aspect of it is that I am confident that it's going to be a way I can teach in future. Even as we slowly get back to work "in real life", I'd love to keep a few classes going online. It's also proved that it's a very easy way to avoid cancelling a class on the odd occasion that either I or a client can't make a face to face appointment in the case of extremely bad weather conditions or the need to stay at home for a delivery or keeping a poorly child at home.
Mainly I feel reinvigorated as a teacher; it's been wonderful to have the opportunity to work closely (I appreciate the irony of using that word) with people in a 1-1 context and to be forced to think and act more creatively.