To FREE or not to FREE … that is the question. How to charge for your classes in this crazy time?

In a matter of two weeks the Corona Virus has changed the face of how consumers experience fitness. As the announcement of social distancing hit news outlets across the country, fitness instructors and trainers woke up to the new reality of how they make a living, and live their daily lives.
Fitness instructors are built to teach and inspire people to move their bodies. After nearly 30 years of teaching fitness, it feels weird to not boss people around every day. Like most instructors and trainers my natural instinct was to quickly adapt and start streaming workouts to my wonderful fit tribe members around the Pacific Northwest. They have been loyal to me over the years, and I wanted to make sure they were still moving.

I quickly realized that might be a hasty decision affecting my long-term employment and well-being. Afterall, we have spent our entire careers trying to prove to the world why we are valuable and should be paid accordingly.

If you are making these decisions right now for yourself or your facility – think through your WHY? Why do you want to post content? Is it to serve loyal clients, is it to grow your social media status, or is it to keep yourself busy? BTW, there’s no wrong answer. Once you define your WHY, you can make the best decision for yourself.
I decided to look at the long-term outcomes of putting my content online. I work for three independent facilities and one large brand (CorePower Yoga) and the ability of these businesses to re-open when this is over will affect my personal finances for years to come. I teach and educate for a living, so this was one of the bigger decisions of my life.

I also had a hard conversation with myself since there is already incredible content out there for free! In the age of Peleton and Beach Body it is nearly impossible to compete with video quality, music and overall experience. If someone isn’t in my Fit Tribe here locally why would they choose my streaming over some of these awesome content providers? I do a mean posterior lunge – but I’m not sure it’s much different than most other lunges.

After some consideration I decided to work with each of my facilities independently to understand what their needs are, and if they could compensate me or if my contributions would help retain memberships and jobs after this is over. In all four cases, I worked with the clubs to establish best practices. So far, there are four distinctly different scenarios happening and hopefully this list helps you make some decisions.

  1. Denali Fitness: a small independently owned health club here in Seattle.
    Inviting members to participate in online classes included with their membership if they retain it during the closure. The owners are compensating all the instructors who teach these classes.
  2. Earth Wind Fire, an independent yoga studio
    Charging for classes but considerably less than the in-studio practice classes. It’s working very well. They are compensating at our regular rate which is very generous and the attendees seem to be very happy to practice with their favorite yogis.
  3. Community Fitness, large group fitness only facility.
    Streaming 4-6 classes per day and asking membership to donate for each class. They are compensating the instructors, and it’s making a difference and keeping the community happy.

From what I can see so far the donation based offering is working the best for generating revenue for the clubs. The views and users for my classes at that facility are above 70 so the “pay what you can plan” is working the best. Right now, everyone’s financial outlook is very different. Some families and individuals are relatively unaffected and some are devastated. Pay what you can allows everyone to participate however the Virus hits their pocket book.

Keep in mind; these clubs will not generate the revenue they would for in person classes, but this small amount might just help cover their run rate and keep their doors open. For the instructors teaching 3-4 classes a week via live streaming it is not the same compensation as my regular 9 classes per week pay but it keeps my clients engaged. At least it pays for the needed toilet paper and hand sanitizer. Knowing my regulars are working out with me is also very motivating.

I also teach for a corporate yoga chain offering all of the instructors two weeks’ pay because they have on-demand classes already available to their members.
While there are endless options and business models, what if none of these scenarios match you? Maybe none of your clubs want to take on streaming, or they simply can’t afford it. What if they need to furlough you? If you want to do what you love you may want to look at more unique ways to offer your gifts. Instead of competing with high-end on-demand programming that is now in many cases free, consider giving your services to those in need.

Everyone knows family members who are truly self-quarantined and craving connection and exercise. Maybe your parents need to move and don’t know what to do? Maybe their friends do as well? Why not provide them movement three or four times a week.

Know any parents who would love a 10-15 minute recess exercise video they can do with their kids? How about teaching twice a day to your children’s school friends? This free service would be an incredible treat for your kids to connect with their classmates. Incredible apps like zoom can help them see their friends move, and communicate together.

Knowing your WHY is more important than ever as you respond to this crisis. By providing your services for free, you may make it difficult to charge for your talents later. You are NOT FREE, your talent is very valuable. As the old saying goes WHY buy the Cow when you can get the milk for FREE? This could never be more true.

Good luck, stay healthy, stay focused and make good decisions for today, tomorrow and next year.

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