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Jenna Zaffino is an expert Pilates teacher with over 15 years of experience in movement education. Drawing from her background of professional dance, comprehensive Pilates trainings, movement studies and professional speaking, Jenna offers an experience that celebrates each individual while challenging them to expand the perceptions of what’s possible in the studio and beyond.
Her latest project is Pilates Unfiltered!, the industry’s newest, community-building podcast.
Find out more about Jenna’s adventures in Pilates at www.jennazaffino.com
To listen to my conversation with Jenna Zaffino:
You can listen right here on the Healthy Numbers website – click here
You can listen to the full interview on iTunes click here.
You can listen to the full interview on Stitcher click here.
Read the full transcript of my interview with Jenna here:
Ingrid: Hello, and here we are today with Jenna Zaffino. Jenna, hello. Good morning, here, and good afternoon in Chicago.
Jenna: Hi. How are you Ingrid?
Ingrid: Very well. Thanks so much for joining us. I just want to let the listeners know that Jenna is in Chicago, and the L Train, may or may not make an appearance. We’ve put up some barriers to sort of keep it out, but the sound of it might come through, which is kind of fun for everybody who’s not in Chicago.
Jenna: You’ll get the full experience of being right on the tracks.
Ingrid: We get the full experience.
Ingrid: Jenna, tell us what business are you in? What is your business?
Jenna: By trade, I am a Pilates teacher, which means I teach clients in classes how to move better, and access movement in their body, and a better, easier way.
I also am I Pilates educator, so I teach other teachers how to teach clients, and I am a former studio owner. I owned a Pilates studio for 12 years, and currently I’m in a more creative phase in my career, which includes podcasting, like yourself. Coaching, other professionals in the realms of business development and branding, and really bringing their business to the next level that they see possible. Gosh, what else do I do? And, I’m a mommy.
Ingrid: Yes. There’s a few things going on there, Jenna.
Jenna: Yeah. Someone actually told me yesterday, they’re like, “You need to brand yourself as a Pilates copywriter,” and I was like, “Oh, gosh, that’s a good idea, because I do love writing about it, but do I really need another thing that I do at this moment?” Who knows?
Ingrid: All things Pilates and then a mommy, and a wife, as well.
Jenna: Yes. There’s that too.
Ingrid: There’s a gorgeous partner in there.
Ingrid: If we think about the Pilates studio business that you had, when did you start that?
Jenna: I was initially kind of indoctrinated into the world of Pilates through the health club environment, and I worked in a health club in a very small space and quickly rose through the ranks to become a coordinator of that programme, which meant that I was hiring, and firing, and running budgets and things like that. After about five years of doing that, I started to get the idea that I could do it myself. That was in 2006 I incorporated my business, and then initially it was in a very, very small corner of a larger gym environment, then it translated into a small studio space, then a larger studio space, then a gigantic studio space, then a small studio space, and now I’m here.
Ingrid: Wow. That’s quite a journey. Isn’t it?
Ingrid: Do you remember, if you take yourself back to 2006, why did you start your business? I mean, you’ve said that you got the sense you could do this for yourself, because you were doing it for someone else.
Ingrid: Was it that, or was there something else?
Jenna: You know, I was handling a very large budget of revenue that was being brought into the health club by the teachers, and also by me, and I looked at what I was able to produce in year, and saw that it was much, much more than I actually required to live, and thought, you know, I wonder if I could do that for myself? Now, in hindsight, what I didn’t take enough consideration in was the fact that the health club had an accounting department, a membership department, a marketing department, a housekeeping department, and a HR department, and all of those things to help them to run the business. When you’re a sole proprietor, or I’m a single member LLC, you are everything.
That was one lesson that I did not learn until I was actually in my first studio location, but initially I thought it would be a great way for me to explore creativity, find my own voice. Some of the constraints of the health club were a little bit, they just kind of snuffed out my personal fire, a bit, because I wanted to really explore abstract concepts, and my work being a former professional dancer, and I wanted to really serve different populations, pregnancy, special considerations, spinal considerations, and unless each location of the health club was able to do the same thing, it wasn’t invited in that way.
Ingrid: Oh, wow.
Jenna: That’s initially what my motivation was, is get out there, do it for myself, reap the monetary benefits, and also explore my work.
Ingrid: Yes. That motivation to be a better professional in the field is one of the inspirations for people starting a business that they want to be a better representation of that profession. Interesting that you say that the health club snuffed that out for you.
Ingrid: That’s a lovely motivation to start your own business, isn’t it? Okay. My next question is what did you want from the business, from day one? You’ve kind of covered that. Is there anything else you thought you wanted from day one? I know it’s a while ago, now.
Jenna: Yeah. I remember. I remember like it was yesterday, because it was really, why would you leave a very comfortable situation to be uncomfortable, and one of the things that I was struggling with was in the health club, which was right in the heart of downtown just steps away from the Sears Tower at the time, now, it’s called the Willis Tower, in that environment we attracted the commuter and the person who is working in the downtown area, so lots of very high end professionals, accountants, lawyers, and the like, and they had to fit their movement into their day. What you would get is people who were either always late, or always had to leave early. People who were distracted. They were coming in before they started work, so they had work on the brain, or they were trying to get home in a reasonable amount of time to see their family, so they were trying to get out of there, and it was like the movement element was a box that they were checking in their day.
That worked really well for me for a while. I really loved meeting people who maybe I wouldn’t have come into contact with otherwise, but it became very clear to me that because my vision was to instil a sense of value in movement as part of one’s life style, daily, I wanted to be closer to their home. I made the choice to move my business, my practise into more of a neighbourhood area of Chicago where I might get people who maybe were retirees, or stay at home moms, or business people, but they would be relaxed because they would be away from the grind of the day, and they could really enjoy the benefits, and let them sink in a bit more, they didn’t have to rush in and out. That was really my driving intention.
Ingrid: That’s a lovely intention, Jenna. You know, it’s interesting my partner and I sometimes go to semi private sessions on the day that he works from home, because he has more time for that rather than the days when he’s in the business, where it’s kind of a rush between getting out of bed and getting to the office. Such a nice environment to do Pilates in, isn’t it?
Ingrid: In a much more relaxed, enjoyable-
Ingrid: When did you realise that you were in business? When did it become real for you? Everyone has a different answer to this, this is one of my absolute favourite questions in the series.
Jenna: Yeah. It took years for me. It really did. It didn’t matter how many tax returns, or papers filed, or licences that I got, or what have you, or staff members I had. I really had a hard time accepting the role of business owner. I think it was because at the time I was insecure about a lot of things. I wasn’t insecure at all about teaching, that I had down, but when it came to growing a business, sustaining a business, having that kind of organic growth, and keeping up with trends, and also in a major metropolitan city, getting some recognition for being there, because that was very important at the time, still is, but because I’m less of a, I’m not a trend, now, I’m a fixture, I’d like to say.
But, it was really hard for me when people were just like, “You’re a great business owner,” and I just felt like a lot of times I was really just surviving, until, I moved into our larger location, and I really worked methodically, and it was so well thought out, and so full of vision and purpose that I knew that my intentions were not only for teaching, and serving, and connecting, but they were also for the health of a business. In fact, at that point in time I started adopting that phrase. Whenever we would communicate about policies, or changes, or even money I would say, “It’s important for me to address the health of the business in addition to, and as well as the health of its customers.”
Ingrid: That’s funny you say so many years to actually feel in business, and then when you felt like you were taking care of the health of the business, that’s a terrific answer. Thank you.
Ingrid: Now, let’s talk a little bit about your customers. You know, I know that you’ve left that business behind and you’re doing other work, and we can either talk about the other work at the end, or you can start to weave that in as we talk about what do customers want? But, in general, how did you know your customers wanted a local Pilates studio that wasn’t going to be like the city one? Then, over time how do you know that your business idea was viable, and it had a viable business that they still want your product and service after all the years?
Jenna: Yeah. Well, initially I was the only Fletcher Pilates qualified teacher in the Midwest, and especially in Chicago, and I knew that, that held some level of specialty to it, Fletcher Pilates is a lineage like many others that comes from Joseph Pilates, who originated the method, and was passed down to his first generation of teachers, of which there are five or seven, depending on who you talk to. One of those teachers was my teacher, Ron Fletcher. I studied with Ron and with his teachers, as well, to gain my second go round of comprehensive teacher training, and I knew that I taught differently, not only because of that, but also because of the pedagogy background, so I wasn’t going kind of the original Chicago route. I had done training in Chicago, which was wonderful and then I had gone to Arizona to do training, so I knew I had something that was a little bit different and I trusted so much in the work that I taught, that I knew if they just came in and experienced what I had to offer that they would get it.
For the most part, that was true. I also realised early on that the particular neighbourhood that we were located in, which is called, Roscoe Village in Chicago. The mindset of the community was that there were so many businesses that rose and fell over those period, especially around the 2008 to 2010, and ’12 years, that they really wanted to see that a business had some sticky power. It took me about a year to convince, more or less, or to prove myself for whatever it was to the community, but once I got some key players in there then it was just like a consistent flow of traffic in the doors, and that really qualified what my initial thought was. That if we put something different, that was high level and accessible into a neighbourhood environment we got some neighbours to buy in that they would in turn use the word of mouth as our referral basis. That was really, the word of mouth continues today to be the number one way that I get clients.
Ingrid: Yeah. Word of mouth is so powerful for so many businesses, isn’t it?
Jenna: It really is.
Ingrid: Especially now. Yeah. I was going to ask you how you find new customers, and how do you know who they are? Have you chosen a particular niche, when you were working in your studio, so you are Fletcher Pilates trained, so it was a certain person who wanted to come to that. Within that, did you have a particular niche, or were you looking to serve the community?
Jenna: Initially I didn’t have a preference or niche, but from the beginning of my teaching, I always was the person that people would shepard the most in need to. Like one of my first clients was a post polio patient who didn’t have the use of one leg, and if you can imagine this athletic system of movement that it can also be therapeutic, but it poses a real problem when you’re missing a limb, and yet that’s also somewhat how Joseph Pilates experimented with the different ways of working with springs, and things of that nature. I just always felt like if we had a joke in the studio for a while that it was like Jenna’s clients, all right, give me your tired, you’re poor, you’re huddled spines yearning to move free is what we would say, and today I just say, “I just have a special place in my heart for an older generation.” I love storytelling. I love history.
For example, I was working with a 78 year old client the other day and we just had some music on from the ’50s and she was doing a very generalised exercise, leg and footwork on the reformer and the song, I Only Have Eyes For You, came on and she just dropped into this memory, and she said, “You guys just don’t know that it was like to slow dance, and to have a boys arm just wrapped around you, and just be held for the entire song,” and her movements smoothed out and I was like, this is so much better than watching somebody kill themselves on the mat, for me. For me, that so much better, so much richer. Yeah. Now, I would say I have a core group of clientele, which exists of primarily women, some mid 40s, but the majority of them are in their 60s and 70s. The other end of my clientele is teachers who really want to get deep into their work, they want to fine tune it, they want to be challenged and those are my people.
Ingrid: Yeah. It’s lovely. That music therapy is amazing, and we don’t need to go off tangent talking about that, but some of the work that, that’s doing for either brain injured, or Alzheimer, dementia.
Ingrid: How the music therapy is amazing the difference it can make to people. That’s a lovely example of it, how it just transports people back to a time.
Ingrid: Yeah. Amazing. Jenna, money. Let’s talk about money.
Ingrid: You can be as specific or as not specific as you want, and I know that you are now working with people in this area as well.
Ingrid: To help them with their businesses. But, one of the things about Pilates, and many of the health professions is that it actually is about space, so there needs to be a space to work in, and as you said you worked in the corner of somebody else’s space, and I know that there’s many people start like that, and then eventually you go into a commercial space, which involves a huge financial commitment.
Ingrid: It would be huge for some people. I’ve got a couple of questions around how did you fund the business in the early days, and how did you fund to expand into that bigger studio?
Ingrid: What sort of money are we talking about? Where does that come from?
Jenna: Well, my original business, my first studio was funded with a stellar business plan, and a low-cut blouse. I marched right into the bank and I had a meeting, and I said, “I am the best Pilates teacher that you will come across in the city of Chicago,” and to be honest, whether or not that’s the truth, it was so important that I believed that, because that is what I held strong to, like I’m the person who’s going to be a significant fixture in this community based on the way I teach, and the way I feel about the way I teach. It’s not to say that people aren’t good teachers, or that there can’t be another best, but I had to believe that in myself to be able to go in there and ask, and my first business loan was $50,000.00, and it covered equipment, it covered a small build out, and all of the little particulars that go into opening a nice space.
The problem was is that six months in the apartment above my initial studio space flooded, and the ceiling collapsed while I was out of town. I got this call from a new teacher that I had hired that the ceiling had fallen in, and that with it came a lot of mould, and my landlord chose to do nothing about it, and I went into that space upon returning to the city, and saw it like it was just not a fit place to be teaching movement based on what was in the walls, but how was I supposed to know? I made the decision to close down for a few days, and found a new space down the street, which is why we initially moved, then spent about three years kind of picking up whatever pieces, you know, because our rent increased exponentially moving into another space. It was fine. It was manageable.
But, I built the studio up until we were busting at the seams, and it was kind of that moment of thinking, okay, are we going to stay very uncomfortable in our space, but very comfortably financially, or am I going to take the risk and see how far this thing, this studio can go? At the time, I had a full teacher training programme with eight teachers that was making me a good deal of money, and I decided to use that programme as the second investment into a full build out of almost 3,000 square feet. It truly was the pinnacle of my studio.
Everything was made, everything besides the lighting, they never got the lighting quite right, but everything else was made to order, I designed from the ground up. There was a flow and an energy. It was just exactly as I had always dreamed it to be, but it cost me a lot of money. It cost a lot of money. It took me a while to pay that off, but I remember the day in the larger space when we had paid off all of the equipment and I just walked around to each piece and I was like, “You are mine. You are mine,” there was a feeling of accomplishment in having worked that hard to have to business loan, anymore, and no equipment loan, and to just start really seeing what could happen.
Ingrid: It’s a magic feeling, isn’t it? It really is.
Ingrid: That this is you are mine, and you are mine. Lovely. Loans, and a low cut blouse, and a stellar business plan. I love that. That’s so good. Let’s talk about pricing in the studio. I know pricing is one of the things that when people get into business, they really don’t know how to price themselves.
Ingrid: A lot of people who take care of other people, say “I don’t want to charge too much.”
Ingrid: There’s a whole discomfort around how people talk about their price. You can’t help, one of the things I say is, you can’t help anyone if you’re sleeping under the bridge.
Ingrid: Can you talk a little bit about how you approached pricing, please? How you chose a pricing strategy?
Jenna: For many years I would do it based on research of surrounding studios, because in Chicago I remember at one time there were about 19 studios within a stones throw, within a two mile radius of my studio, so there was competition, and that was just Pilates studios, not counting gyms, or bar studios, or anything like that. In order to be able to attract any sort of new clientele that might be shopping. I really did see a need to price myself kind of middle of the road. In doing that I have two thoughts on it, on the one hand it stayed within expectations, and on the other hand I believe that the service that we were providing in many cases was just at such a high level even down to amenities, and follow through, and scheduling, I really truly am proud of the way that I was able to blossom the way that we ran the business.
The way that I set up structures, and systems, and policies that I feel like our clients were getting a lot, that they may not get at another studio location. I have a few regrets on not raising prices, sooner, but the thing about a service industry is that you develop relationships with your clients, and they become personal relationships, whether or not that’s the intention, they just simply do. It becomes like asking your sister for more money, or asking your friend for more money, and as the business owner you don’t always have the quality control and setting boundaries between your teachers, and your students.
You have some teachers who become very, very close with their students, and they just, they bock at the idea of even raising a price. You have other people who don’t care, and they want a raise. I went back and forth, and back and forth, but we raised them very organically from the get go. With the coaching that I’m doing, now, and the way that I’ve raised my own prices to reflect the years of expertise, the countless hours of study, I mean, I’m a professional who does not do this as a hobby.
Jenna: I am a career driven Pilates professional. I am known for that. I hold it at the utmost respect. I leave my son to come and do this, and that means something to me. I also have a quality of life that really requires that I charge what I’m worth, so that when I come in to the studio I can be 100% present, and I don’t feel like I’m sacrificing any level of my livelihood to be present for another person. When I work with my clients, now, I was in fact on the phone with a coaching client the other day, and she is charging about the middle of the road, and her skillset goes above and beyond what the middle of the road offers, so we’re going to work on really carving out that niche, because she really wants to work with people with neurological conditions, and she has the skills to do it that another teacher in town doesn’t, and that’s okay, because the other teacher in town can see the people without neurological conditions.
But, when you are obsessed with what you do, and you think about your clients all the time, and you’re going to continue in education, and you’re leaving your family, and you’re building your brand, I believe that, that hour needs to be reflective of the service that you’re giving. The biggest thing we’re all afraid of is that somebody won’t come back. What I’ve found is that two things, when I raise my prices, nobody cares, which is like slightly annoying, because sometimes I wonder if I should raise them more. You know? Nobody bats an eye, they’re just like whatever you need, we just want to work with you.
Jenna: They understand the value, and I always explain the value, but the other thing is that if the only thing that’s typically holding us back is the fear of what the outcome is going to be, and nine times out of 10 it’s not the truth. Now, if your intention is to be able to see people three times a week, and you’re charging $200.00 a session, then you’re looking at a very small demographic that can pay that amount.
Jenna: But, if you want to be making $200.00 an hour there’s definitely a way to get creative with how you see clients, and that’s one of my roles is to try to get down to the brass tacks of the skillset that the professional brings to the table, what they have accessible to them in terms of equipment or space, and how we can leverage that so that they can really feel accomplished, like their work has meaning, like they’re getting compensated accordingly for it, and their bottom line is being taken care of at the same time.
Ingrid: That’s a terrific answer, Jenna. Thank you. I hope everyone who’s listening has paid attention – maybe go back and listen to that again, because what Jenna is talking about there is really being clear about what the value is that you provide, and then how you ask for that from your clients. No matter what you’re doing, whether it’s Pilates, or coaching, or chiropractic, or whatever the business is.
Ingrid: Thank you, Jenna, so much for that.
Jenna: You’re welcome.
Ingrid: Let’s talk about, because one of my questions I normally ask is an exit strategy, now, you sold the business, recently.
Ingrid: I know you have talked about that, so anyone who really wants to listen to some of that, there’s some terrific episodes over on your podcast. Can we talk a little bit about that, now? Did you plan to sell the business? I know the answer to this, because I have listened to those episodes about how you sold the business, did you actually plan to sell it? Was that your original plan?
Jenna: I really didn’t, and actually this the part that I haven’t talked about, I have a beautiful client who happens to be an accountant, and a professor of accounting, and she was always very taken with the decisions that I made in my business, and because she worked with so many small businesses, she was always somewhat surprised that I was thriving, still, during tough economical times. She would question me when I would say, “I think we’re going to do it this way,” and she’d say, “Okay, but I trust you, you always seem to make the right decisions,” because I thought them out. She said, “I think the perfect ending to your story when you’re ready would be to get your business to a place where you could sell it,” and I always said, “You know, I don’t know that I could sell my business, because so much of it is dependent on me. If I left what would there be to sell? A client list? Equipment? I don’t know. I don’t really know. It would have to be the right person with the right intentions, and the right skillset to come in and take over, and I would have to feel good about that.”
Initially, I thought at the very least my intention was to get our business into the best financial state that it possibly could be. I wanted to put it into a place where it could be sold, where we had the documents ready, so in the event that someone presented an idea of buying my studio that I would be like, cool, here’s the package, you can look at it like this. My assistant Melanie and I worked very hard to just look at all of our financials, and just even for the health of the business make sure that if we needed to go tomorrow, if we needed to fly to New Zealand tomorrow, and sell the business in a week that everything would be prepared at least to try to do that.
That was the first step that we did, and that just put us in a really nice place, because everything was very clean, we knew what our bottom lines were, we knew what our profit and losses were, we could project quite a bit, and with a Pilates studio, just being a bit fickle based on client illness, and travel, and weather, and all of the things sometimes predictions can be a bit challenging. We got into that place. Then, what happened with the big space is that my landlord went into foreclosure, and the bank took over the space, and when the bank took it over the upkeep started to go down, we had a window fall out of the upper apartment above the commercial space.
Ingrid: Oh, my gosh.
Jenna: Yeah. It was horrible. It almost just fell on somebody at a bus stop, but thankfully it didn’t. We had a few water issues, again, in the wall. We also had a little, we had some friends, some furry friends come in and join us every once in a while in the studio usually at 6:00 a.m. scurrying across the floor.
Jenna: Yeah. Believe me, I mean it wasn’t like consistent, but there were enough things that weren’t getting taken care of that I was starting to get very anxious being in that space. Then, the bank started bringing in prospective buyers of the space. It was very clear that they were not going to buy the space to host it for a Pilates studio.
Jenna: I was pregnant, and I was freaking out that the rug was going to get pulled out from under me at any moment. Then I had my son, and we had kept going and the bank approached me about buying the space for an astronomical amount, which I was the first commercial business in that space, I knew what it was worth, and I knew what I spent on building it out, and I was like, “No. No, thank you.” I had a decision to make, either sell, or downsize. I remember sitting in my living room nursing my son with my assistant, who’s still my assistant today, my right hand, and we white boarded every possible scenario of what we could do and what the outcome would be. It just became so clear that I just wasn’t done being a studio owner, so we decided to downsize, and that was, it was just the smartest and yet most uncomfortable move, but it was just so smart for me to do.
The downsizing allowed me to just hone in, it allowed me to spend a little more time with my son at home, it allowed my teachers, some of them to become renters, and up their income level out of my space. Some of them decided to stay on as contractors, and that worked really well for them. We had enough equipment where we could still offer the majority of our services, and we just saw consistently that our bottom line began to improve and improve without me having to kill myself working hour to hour. It reminded me of the space that I was in prior to the expansion where we might be uncomfortable because we’re in a smaller space, but our bottom line was super comfortable.
Jenna: I released the anxiety that I felt, and I used to just gauge everyday walking into that big space during the time of uncertainty as to, like if I had a really big anxiety attack on the way into work, I would feel like that day was going to be a really successful day. That’s what I was basing my success on. It was so insane. I didn’t realise that until I was calm in the other space, and I was more, I was happier. I actually went through the motions with one of my teachers to see if she was interested buying after about a year in that space, I decided to just test the waters like, “I think I might be ready to do something else. I don’t know. I think I might be ready to stretch my wings in a different direction, more towards professional support for other movement teachers.” We went through the motions, and it just became clear that it wasn’t the right fit. That didn’t work out for us.
Then somewhere along the line I decided that I really wanted to have a smaller private space where I could really work on creating, because in downsizing I had given up an office, and my own personal space, and so the movement space we were in was really just for movement, so I just decided I wanted to have a little headquarters, away from home, away from the studio. On a wing and a prayer I just rented this space I’m in now for less money than I was paying for the other studio, and then literally six weeks after I rented this space I was approached by Erin to see if I was willing to talk about selling. It was just divine timing. I think I had mentioned, I had put the feelers out, like, “Yeah. I might want to sell. If you know anybody who’s asking, or who’s looking, I might want to sell. I’m not sure if I’m ready yet.” It’s like I created the space, and then it all happened. It wasn’t that easy. Yeah. That’s the story.
Ingrid: It’s a terrific story, Jenna, and it’s amazing how so many pieces of the puzzle start, when you look back what is that about joining the dots looking back, as you were in those various stages of that, you know, kind of moving towards selling, do we sell, do we downsize, what do we do, getting the white board out.
Ingrid: There’s so much now you can create the whole pattern and the whole pathway, but at the time all there is – what is going on today? You can feel that, can’t you?
Ingrid: Even as you tell the story, and I know that when you finally, you and Erin decided that, that’s where your studio was going to go, I know, from listening to your episode that, that’s a particularly, you know, it was a very, it was the right decision for you.
Jenna: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, I knew that she would be able, I knew she was going to come into the studio with a different voice, and even a different business name, but I absolutely knew that she was going to continue the same sort of intention.
Jenna: Something that always kind of rubbed me the wrong way, or bothered me was that if I had sold the studio, I wasn’t operating under the belief that people wouldn’t be able to get to Pilates, because there’s Pilates studios all over the place, but I knew what a special thing that it was, we had going in that space.
Jenna: I felt like there would be a void, but with Erin taking over, I knew that it would look different with her, but the space would be filled with the same sort of intention of high quality movement, thoughtful engagement with clients, a high level of education, not just the place where you go to talk to your friends, but a place where you really go to develop a relationship with your body. I just knew it was right.
Ingrid: It’s interesting how selling a business like yours where you work so one on one, or one to just a couple of people, and you know those people probably better than many of their friends, or even their family know them. It’s a very personal relationship. Selling that business, it’s not just like selling a pair of shoes, or selling-
Ingrid: It’s not a physical piece of equipment you’re selling, you’re selling the relationship with each of your clients, so it’s a huge decision, and having the right person is so important. Isn’t it?
Jenna: Yeah. It really is. Then, truth be told, it was a little easier based on the fact that it was required of me to step away from so many hours.
Jenna: Because I had an infant at home. I did realise at one point that I didn’t know everyone who was coming in to the studio space, and I was kind of like, oh, wow, I don’t know that person’s name. That began to, I was always friendly, and always asking everybody, oh, who is that? You know? But, I think that was a real guidepost to me, because I always had a presence, I was there from 6:00 in the morning until 9:00 at night. That just wasn’t possible. I wanted be with my baby.
Jenna: I worked hard to get that baby, I wanted to be with him as much as I could. You know?
Ingrid: Exactly. The time was right.
Ingrid: Okay. Let’s go back to when you were starting out, and you have as you say, you know you’re moving into another area, so your sort of starting out in this other area. When you were starting your business, what’s something you wish you’d done differently? You’ve alluded to a few things, but what, when you think back, what do wish you had done differently?
Jenna: I wish that I had trusted myself a bit more with, how do I say this? I spent money on things that I thought were important, but turned out were a little more superfluous, and didn’t necessarily lend anything to the service that I was giving. I spent a good deal of money on furnishings, and carpeting, where it just is very clear that I didn’t need to do that. I also wish that I had, had a very strong female business mentor, and not necessarily someone who was in the Pilates realm, because I didn’t need to be told how to run my business, but I needed to have more information about the organic growth, and the evolution of a small business, period.
I knew how to run it, I knew how to teach, I could always bring in people, that was never a problem, but to be able to project, and actually be the business owner, I feel like that’s what I was missing, and what I got was a lot of patronising behaviour, just, “Oh, it’s so great when a woman opens a business,” and “Oh, I just love women business owners,” and that felt good for a minute, but I kind of was sitting there going like, “I don’t know what the heck I’m doing. “I’m just trying to follow the next right thing. I’m trying to read books. I read the E-Myth, and I had a book called, How to Run Your Business Like a Girl, and just was devouring anything I could and I just really wished that I had, had someone to ground me and to kind of step me through, and offer a level of support that would have allowed me to be a little more patient with things. That’s really it.
Jenna: I don’t discount the learning, and every mistake, or failure that happened was a learning opportunity and a growth opportunity, I would not be where I am today without them, but I do look back and I now am very hesitant to tell people to open a studio unless I feel that they really thought it out, because it can seem like a really fun thing, but when people are coming in through your door, and paying money for a service it is a business, and if you don’t recognise that then that’s going to swallow you alive. You can only love what you do for so long before the unfiled papers, and unpaid bills begin to overwhelm you.
Ingrid: It’s so true. I met a woman who ran a yoga business, and she had been doing that for about five years, and she said, “I could care less if I never saw another downward dog.”
Ingrid: At the beginning she just loved yoga.
Ingrid: And, that’s not enough, you have to love business as well.
Ingrid: This is a slightly different question, and you may have already covered this, because you’ve talked about things that you wish you learned, and I love back in the beginning where you said, when you worked in the studio they had a marketing department, and a finance department.
Ingrid: Was that one of the things you’d wish you’d known from the start?
Jenna: I think I wish I had realised that.
Jenna: I think I didn’t allocate the funds that would be necessary to go, and I should say the funds/the time that I would have to either pay or give in order to satisfy all of the needs of the business. One of the things that we did later was we sent Melanie basically to accounting classes, so that she would be able to serve as my bookkeeper, because having a bookkeeper who wasn’t familiar with the business was not only costing us a good deal of money, but we were having to go back and redo quite a bit of the work. When we were able to have someone in house do it, it made, first of all, it was much easier to qualify paying her, because she knew exactly what was going on, and secondly there were less mistakes. She got a bonus of getting education in the process of it.
I just think that far too often we think that we’re going to go into our business and do the thing that we love to do, but if you don’t love being a business owner, like one of the things that I said on the last day of the studio, the last day of owning the studio, walking out of there, as I turned to Melanie, I said, “I’ll never have to clean another pubic hair off the toilet again.” She just looked at me, and like, I’m telling you, that is freedom, because we have, the bathrooms are not in the space in my new space, they are taken care of by the building, and it’s just like that is freedom right there.
Ingrid: Yep. There’s lots of things to do.
Jenna: Yeah. I’m telling you
Ingrid: You’ve talked about Melanie, who has been with you for quite some time, and she is part of your team, but in terms of whose been of greatest assistance to you? You can either name, names or kind of as an idea of a person, but who has been the greatest assistance to you and to your business?
Jenna: Well, Melanie would be number. I would absolutely not be where I am without here, in this business. Of course, not that my husband is number two, but when it pertains to the business, Melanie does more of the business than he does. But, my husband has always been a great support, even if he doesn’t quite understand the direction that I’m going, too. He always, I know he admires me, and I know he has questions about some of the decisions that I make, but at the core of everything he trusts me, and that means so much when you’re going a different route, or when you just come home and you’re like, “I’m going to sell the studio, I hope soon, but I don’t know when,” or “I rented another space,” and he’s just like, “Okay. All right. Let’s see.” You know? This is my business.
This is how I contribute to our family, but he has been an absolute wonderful support, from the moment I called him, telling him I found a space, initially, or that I was going to leave the health club to the most recent move, and even through some of the projects that I’m doing now. His name is Josh, and he’s my guy. Rhonda is my accountant, and if you can find an account who knows more than just crunching numbers in QuickBooks, this woman, because she’s on the cutting edge of any accounting development, she’s on boards, and she teaches at a university, she has found out ways for me to reap benefits that are legal. You know? More than I even thought were possible, so she’s been wonderful.
I’ve had so many coaches in my life, some spiritual, and some actual. Michelle, Jose, Raven, they are all people, Holly, Gabby Bernstein, most recently, they’re all people who I turn to when I feel like I’m at a roadblock, and whether it’s personal, financial, emotional, all of those things are intertwined, professional, I just believe in having a really good support system in your business that has nothing to do with your business, so that you’re able to really divulge and be vulnerable about the fears you might be having or experiencing, or the hardships, because often times at the front of the helm you have to, it’s not good, nobody wants to hear about a business that’s not doing well.
They want to know, they love the thriving small business owners, so that’s a mask that I put on during many months where things were hard, but you need an outlet for that, and you need an outlet, if I told my husband every single thing that I was feeling and all of the fears, which may have been just happening in the moment, then that’s a threat to our livelihood, so I would tell him some, but then to be able to go to a coach, and say, “Okay. How do I manage my way about my thoughts surrounding this instance,” or what have you. There’s one other person, and her name is Kathy, and Kathy has been with me twice, or three times a week since 2000 and I think four. That’s a lot of Pilates.
Ingrid: That’s a lot of Pilates.
Jenna: She drives almost an hour to see me twice a week, and she has been my sounding board for everything. She is a patent attorney. I’ve recently, you’ll find out about it in a few weeks, I’ve recently developed a product, which will be debuting with a big company. She helped me with that. It’s just like she is my, she’s a family member, beyond, but she has been a number one cheerleader, and I don’t do anything without Kathy’s approval. I just don’t.
Ingrid: Our clients and our customers are really important part of where we get feedback from, and can be of greatest assistance to us.
Jenna: Yeah. All of my clients have always been there, and I should say a special thank you for every single one, because most of them I’ve been seeing for at least five years.
Ingrid: Yeah. Well it’s a special relationship, isn’t it?
Ingrid: You’ve talked a little bit about if somebody loves Pilates they have to really think about would they start a Pilates studio, and I know that you’re now working in that space of helping people who are thinking about moving from being a Pilates instructor to actually having their own studio, but if anyone came to you thinking about starting a business, what do you say to them, Jenna? What is your wisdom that you would give to someone thinking about starting a business?
Jenna: The first thing that I would ask them is what does your business want to be, because I think it’s really important that a business owner establish almost a characterization, is that how we say that? But, like an archetype of what they’re business is, because this is going to be a living and breathing thing, it’s more than just a shelter for where you’re going to teach. It’s a place for community. It will need nourishment. It will need rest. It will need rejuvenation. It will require your energy. It will give you some energy back, but unless you begin by setting up the parameters of like, what is this place? What is this place? With my current business, and my current space it was so clear that I did not want to be on a street level, I was no longer entrusted in providing a service based business for public consumption.
I wanted this to be a special almost hidden gem that people who really were seeking me out, and seeking out the good stuff could find in this place is and continues to be referred to as, The Sanctuary. Nobody has the address. It’s not listed anywhere. A friend of mine called me the other day, and said, “What’s your address,” and I said, “Why?” I’m more than happy to have people come in, but I like the fact that I’m not, there isn’t an expectation of being open from a certain hour to a certain hour, because my life is uncertain with a three year old, now, so I need to be able to serve that uncertainty and be flexible with it.
I think, what does your business want to be, so many people want to get into business so that they have their own space to do their own thing, so they follow the model of somebody else, and in truth if you follow someone else’s model you don’t, you’re not guaranteeing an environment where you can thrive doing your best work. If your business is about your work, but you’re in someone else’s model to do it you’re going to hit some roadblocks sooner rather than later.
Ingrid: That’s a terrific way of approaching business, actually, and very unique as you say for studios, and I love the idea of your sanctuary that sounds-
Ingrid: Quite lovely. What characteristics do you think you have that make you successful in business? What three characteristics, Jenna?
Jenna: Three. Number one, would be passion. If anything, I’m passionate. That passion, it shows up very, very positively, it’s a driving force behind every idea that I do, it also shows up in not so positive ways, when I feel like I haven’t done the best job, or something’s falling short, but that energy, I’ve learned to harness that energy over the years, and it really is why I am still here doing this work, because I feel like I’m going to die if I don’t do it. It’s my life’s work. It’s everything. It’s infused with who I am as a person, and that shows up in passion, and it translates so well to other people, too. Sometimes they ride on my passion, and sometimes they show up with passion of their own, and both things are just a really a joy to be a part of.
The other thing, I would say, I have grit. I have a lot of grit. I have been in many different jobs, people laugh, because they think I’m very young, I’m only 40, but they think that I’m younger than that, and I have had jobs where I have cleaned kennels, I was a vet tech for a while, I was a professional dancer, I was a receptionist for a hospital, I worked in tech for a short, short time. I was a waitress. I was a hostess for a fine dining restaurant. I danced with an opera. I mean, I have jobs that would make your head spin, and each one of those has given me this kind of like life experience that allows me to say, okay, this is a tough time, and I have navigated some of them. Some of my tough times not so well, and I’ve navigated others really, really well, but I have the grit to keep on going. I’m not going to let the thing get me down. I also have learned throughout the years, it wasn’t easy, initially, but I’ve learned to make the tough decision for the good of the whole.
Jenna: You know? And, in some cases, honestly, for the good of myself, because I really needed to release my studio in order to see the next stage of my work through to fruition, and it’s just at the beginning, I mean, I’m two months out, and I’m already reaping the benefits, and that’s because I dug my heels in, and I believe in what was possible, and that really goes into I think the third thing, which is kind of a dual element of both faith and flexibility. I bring faith to the table. I do believe the universe has my back.
Jenna: I do believe that. I am on a pathway that’s predestined, that my job is to be present and to look for signs, and look for opportunities that call me to make an impact. I’m flexible in how I do that. Sometimes my stubborn passionate nature gets in the way of that flexibility, but I always come around.
Ingrid: Jenna, just on that, do you feel sometimes that the universe sort of says, look at this, and you ignore it because you’re fixed on this over here, and then get this message over here, look, at this, how many times does the universe sometimes have to say, look at this, before we realise, okay, maybe I need to pay attention to this thing over here!
Ingrid: As you say, you moved the studio, you moved from a bigger space down to a smaller space, so there was an opportunity to sell there, there were opportunities to sell, and now that you’ve sold, as you say, in two months so much has happened, and sometimes we have to shut firmly that door in order for something else to appear.
Ingrid: Our own idea for what that is that we need may or may not be right. You’ve talked a few times today about being ready.
Ingrid: Having your business sell ready, even though you weren’t even thinking about selling it, and just being ready for what’s next is so important, isn’t it?
Jenna: Yeah. I think it’s like creating space. When you’re just putting your intention out there, if you’re sitting back and waiting for something to happen, like there really wasn’t going to be a moment where someone knocked on my door, and you think of the Monopoly man coming in like, “Oh, let me buy this business for you for the bargain price of whatever.” I had to set the intention that I was open to the possibility.
Jenna: You know what’s interesting, too, for a little while I was operating under the belief that movement, teaching movement wasn’t going to serve me long-term as a career, because of how much I was killing myself in my business for a time. I really was, I was trying to get over a hump. I was trying to pay off that debt. I was killing myself. I really believed that I was going to have to give it up in order to maybe go into real estate or something else to do something that would make me a little more money.
The thing is, once again, it wasn’t that I was doing anything wrong it was that the model wasn’t right for the gifts I had to bring to the table, and yet I had to, the time of me owning the studio was a time where I began to notice and cultivate, and get really strong, like flex the muscles that were mentoring, and educating, and writing, and coaching, those things, they were always there, but they needed to develop, so the timing was absolutely divinely perfect when I look at it to know that when I stepped into this new space and actually told people that I was offering coaching, my coaching schedule is full.
Jenna: People who were just waiting for me to show up, but I had to be ready to say it.
Ingrid: And, that takes us beautiful, now, to is there anything else you’d like to add that we haven’t covered? Because Jenna, do you want to talk a little bit about what you’re doing regarding coaching, and how you’re supporting the community, now, in a different way to how you were earlier?
Jenna: Yeah. I’d love to. In fact, I’ve really explored where my voice has the most potential for impact, and I realised that the Pilates world is very, very new, very young, the industry is. I believe still in its infancy, even though it’s been around for years, but I think that in that infancy what’s happened is that there have been some leaders that have been amazing, and then there have been developments in other realms that have just come based on trends, and it’s feels like a good idea to open a Pilates studio, and maybe they stay open, maybe they don’t. But, I feel that there are so many professionals out there that just aren’t really sure of where they fit in, and aren’t really sure if there’s a place for them. They go through their training and pay thousands of dollars to get the skillset that they need to influence other people in their studio, or in a studio where they work.
Then they have an idea that maybe things could be different, or that they’d like to adjust or shift the way they’re teaching, but because it isn’t done that way from the top down or in the studio they work in, they fear that if they do it they’ll be shamed, and my role has really become providing a safe space for people to understand that their life experience, who they are, they’re education, every moment that they spend with clients, and every thought that they have in their brain lends itself to their ultimate expertise, and gives them worth as a voice in the movement community, because I think that the more we hold voices back, the less we develop. It’s a real vulnerable place.
I’m just at this place in my life and with my voice that I’m really happy that I have nothing to lose, like I am so solid in my teaching, I am so solid in my education, and my faith, in my place in the industry. If anyone in the Pilates industry turned their back on my tomorrow, I would still be okay because I’m so solid in the impact that I’m supposed to make, and I believe that I’m supposed to help people find their way, just like I’ve been able to find mine. I want to see beautiful voices, beautiful ideas come out. I want to see the boundaries pushed, because I think that’s where we develop, and I want to see things questioned. I want to see growth happen. I think without these things, without a space for these things to occur they end up happening behind closed doors, but since opening up my doors I’ve been coaching for a very long time, and I joke about this all the time with Melanie, I say, you know what I had to do was actually tell the public that I was doing coaching and, then they wanted to work with me, so weird how that happens. I have a whole line up of new clients. They are doing incredible work. Incredible work. You’d never know about it, because they’re not in the top tier or on the cover of the magazine, and I want to help those voices come forward and be like, “Yeah. There is something,” because the clients that I think that many of us in this industry are seeing are not the fitness model elite athletes, they’re not the baseball players and the football players. They’re the people who they don’t know what to do with themselves, anymore. They can’t go to the gym because they’re getting hurt, and they want to know that there’s a way that they can still move their body, and feel good about themselves. I think those are the people who are coming in to our studio on a regular basis. We need to be permissive about bringing our stories to the table if we want to be able to serve those people with stories that might not look perfect. You know?
Ingrid: To that point, in your Pilates Unfiltered Podcast, which is a terrific podcast.
Jenna: Thank you.
Ingrid: This season you have started to do shout outs to people who are not in that top tier, and I think that’s a lovely new feature that you’ve introduced this season.
Jenna: Thank you.
Ingrid: Yeah. Because as you say people are doing great work all around the country, and around the world, in fact, because there’s Pilate pretty much everywhere, isn’t there now?
Ingrid: Jenna, as we draw to a close, how can people get in contact with you? I know you’ve got something exciting happening in the next month or two. Where can people go, we’ll put some things in the show notes, because I know you’ve given me some information for that. Just as we finish up, how can people contact you?
Jenna: Sure. The easiest place is my website it’s jennazaffino.com. We always say Z like zebra, A, F-F like french fry, I-N-O.
Jenna: Jennazaffino.com. My site encompasses any virtual, I do online virtual training, online coaching, and I also do in person of both elements, and any dates of where I’ll be at in the world will be listed there, but I do have a Facebook page it’s called Jenna Zaffino Move from the Heart, or @jennazaffinomoves, and my Instagram handle is Pilates_unicorn as my, that is really what I believe myself to be. Jenna: Is a wonderful place to be, to meet up, and then all of my contact info is on my website.
Ingrid: There’s your terrific podcast, as well, Pilates Unfiltered
Ingrid: Jenna, thanks so much for spending time with all of us, today. Thank you so much for so much wisdom, it’s terrific. I know I’m certainly going to go back and listen, and read the transcripts. I appreciate your time, and all of us say thank you.
Jenna: Yeah. Thank you so much, Ingrid. It was my pleasure to be on. It’s nice to go down memory lane with a good method behind it.
Ingrid: Lovely. Lovely message. Thank you.