Interview with Pilates instructor Denny Holden

After becoming a mum of two, Denny Holden left behind her teaching career to pursue her first love – teaching Pilates. She shares how she launched her own Pilates teaching business.

What’s your career background?

After graduating from university with a first class degree in Sports Injury Rehabilitation and Injury Prevention, I started working at a health club as a fitness instructor. I quickly became a personal trainer and injury rehab trainer, working alongside a physiotherapist.

All staff members were trained in body pump and spinning but due to a neck injury I couldn’t do either of these. So I went on a course to teach mat work Pilates with Michael King. Pilates just made sense to me and I loved teaching classes and one-to-one sessions.

I continued working at the health club for two years then I tried to become self-employed but found this quite a challenge at such a young age, mostly due to not being financially stable and trying to get on the property ladder.

Although I enjoyed the career I had always wanted to be a primary school teacher. So I took some time out and went travelling for a while, and when I returned I trained to become a primary school teacher. I loved being a teacher and continued with the profession for nine years.

How did your career change after becoming a mum?

It was after becoming a mum that I found being a teacher even more challenging than usual. The profession had changed so much over the nine years that I had been a teacher. The workload had almost trebled and I became very anxious about everything to do with the job.

After my first son was born I returned to work as a part-time teacher doing three days a week. My second son was born when my first son was one and half years old, and again I returned to teaching three days a week.

The work load for a teacher is huge and I found it hard to find the time to do any work at home with two young boys at home. In my last year at school I had some tough decisions to make. My son was due to start school the following year and I decided that I couldn’t be a teacher and be the mum I wanted to be.

I’m sure that people think that being a teacher is the ideal job for a parent as you have all the holidays off. But the working day is so long for teachers (I would work from 7am to 6pm at school and then bring home marking and planning almost every evening and spend all day Sunday planning when I was full time). That doesn’t leave much time for family.

I knew I would never go back to teaching full time so I had to think about something else I could do that would work around my family life, and something that wasn’t as stressful. Pilates!

Part of me is still sad about leaving the profession as I thought I would be a teacher until retirement age. But I’m a mum forever – which is so exciting!

How long have you done Pilates?

I have done Pilates for 16 years. I have taught for two of those years and then I practised myself at home or went to classes while I was a primary school teacher.

I love Pilates, and for me this quote by Joseph Pilates sums it up: “In ten sessions you will feel the difference, in twenty you will see the difference, and in thirty you will be on your way to a whole new body.”

What gave you the idea to start your own Pilates business?

Pilates is very relaxing and after being a teacher for nine years I’d had enough stress in my life. Teaching Pilates and meeting new people is very therapeutic – no stress involved.

I decided to go back in teaching Pilates as I now felt ready to be self-employed and thought I could make it work. I needed to be in a career where I help people and feel like I can make a difference.

This is perfect as I can fit in classes and one to one sessions around my boys’ nursery and school hours. I am still be able to drop them at school and pick them up, something which is very important to me.

What were the first steps you took in starting your business?

Because I had trained such a long time ago I decided that I should re-train to make sure that my knowledge was completely up to date. So during my last year as a teacher I trained with Future Fit school of Pilates.

I also did my pre and post natal Pilates, Pilates and common orthopaedic conditions, and small equipment, and bought lots of books on Pilates! I wanted to make sure I had enough knowledge and skills to be able to give my clients the best possible care.

I did some research into Pilates in my area too, and found that there were a few Pilates classes going already but it wasn’t saturated so I thought I could make it successful.

Who is your target customer and how do you find and market to them?

My target customer is anyone who is looking to improve their core strength and posture, anyone recovering from injury, and pre and post-natal ladies.

I set up my own website, made a Facebook page, and I’m on Twitter and LinkedIn. The best way I have found to reach clients was through joining community pages on Facebook. This is where I’ve had most responses to my classes. I’ve boosted some of my posts so that people go to my website.

I have also had a fairly good response from an advert on Netmums, and to posters I’ve put up in my local supermarket, other local shops and community boards. I have also been to some bumps and babies groups and given some demo classes.

What have been your biggest business challenges?

Trying to find suitable venues to hold classes has been a challenge as village halls and church halls get booked up so quickly.

And your biggest successes to date?

My evening classes are full, and a one-to-one client I’ve been seeing has made really good progress and is pleased with the results Pilates has given her.

Is your family supportive of your business, and how important is that?

My husband has been extremely supportive – I couldn’t have done this without his love and support. It was a huge risk to leave such a secure job and he has never once doubted that I could do it.

 My family and friends have supported my decision to change career too. They have been my guinea pigs, attended my assessment days, given me advice and loaned me money!

How do you fit your business around your family?

I do classes and one to one clients three days a week when my youngest son is at nursery. I also do classes on one evening a week and either my husband or my mother-in-law looks after the boys during this time.

What has most surprised you about yourself in starting your business?

I’m not really technologically minded so using Twitter and LinkedIn, and designing my website has been a huge learning curve for me. Also, just having the confidence to go it alone.

What’s your vision for your business?

When my youngest son starts school then I will have the opportunity to start more classes and take on more clients. I would also like to look into Pilates and osteoporosis.

There are so many specialist Pilates courses that I could specialise in many things. Eventually I would like to run my own Pilates studio with equipment such as the reformer.

What advice do you have for other mums who want to start a business?

Just go for it! Find something that you love and that you can do well. Ask for advice but also go with your gut instinct. If you’re doing something local then get yourself out there and get yourself known.

Denny teaches a variety of Pilates classes in Godalming, Surrey), and one-to-ones and one-to-twos in Godalming and surrounding areas. You can find out more on her website.