Excerpt from application for Soaring Micro Award Category with Women With Altitude 2019 Awards.... although I didn't receive the Soaring Micro Award, much to my surprise I did win a Brave Rising Star Award.
Thank you to the person who nominated me as it was the catalyst for me to write my application.
Give a brief overview of your business/organisation including start date
Mountains Pilates provides gentle and effective exercise classes and private sessions to residents in the mid-to lower Blue mountains. Mountains Pilates commenced on 4 July 2015 and is coming up to its fourth year in operation.
The business structure falls under an individual sole trader ABN operated by Ellissa Nolan. Along with Mountains Pilates there are 2 other businesses attached to this ABN: ‘Coast Pilates Retreats’ and ‘Love Pilates’.
There is a sub-contracted 2nd instructor, a virtual book-keeper, digital platforms, studio hire contracts, Xero Accounting and Mind Body Software systems in place to manage the administrative, financial and client booking/payments and class delivery.
Large group matwork Pilates classes are held in studios in Glenbrook, Springwood and Faulconbridge. A home studio has been built to offer private client sessions on the reformer and small group matwork classes for pre-post natal pregnancy, back pain and personal fitness training. Mountains Pilates also offers clinic/rehabilitation Pilates in partnership with PhysioPoint Clinic in Springwood. Rehabilitation clients are also referred from a network of Physiotherapists, Osteopaths and Chiropractors across the mountains.
Mountains Pilates clients range from people wishing to increase general fitness to athletic performance and works with clients under the National Disability Insurance Scheme to improve quality of life for people with with brain injury, vision impairment, hypermobility and rehabilitating from car accidents, surgeries or living with down syndrome.
The business owner Ellissa Nolan holds a Master of Contemporary Arts, Cert IV Pilates, Cert IV Arts Administration, Cert III Gym Instruction and is a Justice of the Peace with the NSW Attorney General’s Department. She has also recently been appointed as the President of the Springwood District and Chamber of Commerce.
What is your experience of being a micro business. Is it by design or a starting plan only?
It is by design that Mountains Pilates is a micro-business. The vision in 2015 was to offer one small group matwork class in Springwood on a weekly basis and I hoped to attract 6-8 people a week. So I commenced Pilates certification training and launched my first class. Within a few months of commencing, the demand was high and a growing waitlist of people wanting to join had started. Therefore I launched a second class. Within 12 months I had 5 large group matwork classes of 100 people attending each week.
At this time I mentored an existing Mountains Pilates client to become an instructor, and for the past 2 years she has been sub-contracted to assist with the delivery of the large group matwork classes as required. This has assisted me to have the time and energy to complete additional national accreditation training in classical Pilates, Pilates for back pain, reformer Pilates and Pilates for pregnancy. I have also completed all requirements to be recognised as an accredited Fitness Australia REP through Fitness Australia.
In 2017, after my second spine fusion operation, I resigned from my position as Executive Digital Manager for a financial services institution to focus 100% on building my business. The vision for the past 2 years has been to diversify and grow income streams for the business. This has involved launching 2 new brands, ‘Coast Pilates Retreats’ and ‘Love Pilates’.
Launching in 2018 Coast Pilates Retreats has organised 2 successful Pilates retreats at Pearl Beach and Le Chateau Terrigal in 2018. This enabled a $10,000 increase in annual revenue and was available to the general public to attend, not just existing clients from Mountains Pilates.
Launching in 2019 Love Pilates is focused on building a global Pilates community through Instagram, creating merchandise and long-term plans include licensing the ‘Love Pilates Brand’ to key Pilates events. Love Pilates business values are inclusive of Pilates practitioners from all cultures, religions and levels of ability.
What are 3 key factors that have led to your business succeeding?
Identifying a gap in the market has definitely been a significant catalyst to the success of Mountains Pilates. Understanding our community’s need to continue to exercise but delivered in gentler formats is very important in an area such as the Blue Mountains that has a median age of around 44 years old.
Perseverance and taking a long-term approach to the business development. I understood from the outset that it would be a two year journey of financial and personal investment before I would start to see a return. Having a realistic mindset from the beginning has helped me manage the times where cashflow is slow and also through personal health setbacks. Continuing to invest in personal development through skills and knowledge acquisition has been part of this long-term strategy.
Enthusiasm for life! Energising myself to stay fit, healthy, motivated and inspired in life has a positive flow on effect with my clients. Delivering positive energy to people along with professional and carefully designed programs is integral to my success. Offering simple and kind words of encouragement to people that make an effort to stay healthy is really valued by my clients. In a world of criticism and critics, it’s nice to hear the simple words like,’well done’, ‘I can see how far you have come’, ‘great effort’ and ‘that’s looking much better’! My client’s understand I continue to manage my own spine disability through engaging in regular and constant Pilates practice. Leading by example is another contributing factor in my business success.
What is your approach to sustaining or acquiring customers?
My approach to sustaining and acquiring customers is to provide value for money while creating a customer experience that has people feeling better after their session than when they arrived.
Contemporary exercise science is moving away from focusing solely on bio-mechanics to now engaging with biopsychosocial models whereby the whole person is engaged through exercise programs. This entails encompassing customers on a human level and engaging with them around topics including cultural, social, intellectual, familial, hobbies, work and personal beliefs. To understand, validate and acknowledge the entire customer existence and experiences while they focus on their own bodies provides a means where customers feel understood and respected for who they are, not just what they can do with their currently level of fitness.
As a sole-trader, my face and name is my brand. In every engagement in our small community I represent my business in my morals, ethics and personal integrity as a human. I behave in ways that demonstrate leadership by example and encourage other to pursue their own personal, professional and academic pursuits and dreams.
My marketing strategy involves maintaining a strong digital presence through my websites, Facebook and Instagram accounts. Word of mouth and referrals also see a large uptake by new clients. I purchase Facebook advertising when seeking to increase participation in my various classes by creating niche advertisements as required.
Mountains Pilates CRM system is set up so I send birthday messages to each client, I provide a monthly e-newsletter, create regular posts on Facebook and Instagram. I provide each client a gift at Christmas, usually a pair of non-slip socks to ensure their safety moving around in class and in their personal practice at home.
Most importantly I provide a space where people tell me they feel part of a community, within our community. My clients like having somewhere to come each week to focus on themselves, to have someone care about them and to help them discover their own strengths and weakness, along with delivering carefully designed Pilates programs to help clients move forward from their current abilities.