The Studio Fired Me and What We All Can Learn Part 1: Be Your Brand
For those of you who haven’t heard, I was very recently fired from the studio where I taught. The impact of this is deepened for me by the fact that six years ago I had agreed to transition my business that I’d been building since 1999 into their then new venture. I made that choice in order to shift out of the role of business owner so that I could focus solely on my teaching, and I made the choice with the assurances that all would be provided for me to do so. They needed a GYROTONIC® and GYROKINESIS® Master Trainer and Pilates Instructor Trainer for their vision, and I needed a way out of my business that wouldn’t leave my ten trainers without a place to work.
So six years later, in the middle of COVID crisis isolation, what had gone wrong? Well, a lot, but let me focus here on the reasons they gave when they fired me. They said that I’m not “all hands on deck” enough, that they don’t like my blog posts because they look bad for the studio, and that I seem to be more focused on my own brand than putting my efforts to supporting their brand.
“All Hands on Deck”
When the studio shut down due to COVID we were just told that we’d be closed for a couple of weeks. Having spoken with colleagues in Spain and Italy I had a sense it could be much longer, but even two weeks seemed too long for me to go without pay. I informed the studio I’d be teaching GYROKINESIS® classes online to my students across the country and internationally. I intentionally did not approach any studio clients in order to avoid a conflict (see my post Ethics for Fitness Pros During the COVID-19 Crisis). They raised no concerns about this with me, and I was very open with them about all I was doing. Even when I had a couple of Zoom chats and wine with one of the owners it was never raised as potential problem.
When the studio finally got set up to provide online classes and private training for the studio clients they only booked me with five hours a week of sessions. When it was clear this wasn’t going to change I began adding more of my own classes and increasing promotion online, still refraining from reaching out to anyone who might be seen as a studio client. I’m not in a position where I can coast indefinitely on a fraction of my regular income, so there really wasn’t another option. They took this as me not being, as they like to say, “all hands on deck”, while I saw it as just trying to keep myself and my ten year old son afloat.
Branding and Blogging
An issue that had been raised during one of the Zoom chats I had with one owner was how I’d been more active on social media since COVID and that one of my two websites didn’t mention them. I explained that my online presence had three “buckets” of information, based on audience and the nature of the information.
Teacher Training: My primary website, GyrotonicAnnArbor.com had lots of their branding and links to their site. The purpose of that website being to promote my teacher training courses, many of which were hosted by them.
Local Engagement: Their studio website had all the information on my private sessions, availability, bio, etc, and my primary website link to it extensively. The information contained on this site is targeted for local people seeking out private training.
Blog and other Movement Modalities: I set up aimeemcdonaldmoves.com solely as a place for my blog and to post any non-GYROTONIC® work related information. I don’t post anything related to pilates or dance on my GyrotonicAnnArbor.com site, keeping that purely for GYROTONIC® material. I also didn’t mention them on this website because it’s where I keep my blog. I have intentionally kept my references to their studio vague in my posts so that I don’t inadvertently pull them into a topic, or link them with one of my opinions, that might be “off brand” for them. They have in the past pulled posts they like and used them for their own site or newsletters, which seemed a perfect solution to that potential issue.
When I explained this she seemed to understand and said she liked the “three buckets” concept, that it made sense. So I thought that was all cleared up.
And as for promoting my own brand? Do I have a “brand”? Well, I guess I do, although that’s generally not how I’ve thought of it until now. My blog posts are just me writing about the issues that are on my mind regarding our industry, and in my teaching I’m just sharing what’s interesting to me. But if you pile enough of that together I guess it amasses into a “brand”. But a smart studio owner should know that having a trainer with a strong brand and international following would be an asset, not a threat.
In my opinion it’s now crucial for each individual trainer to develop a “brand”. It may sound off-putting as commercialism, but it’s really just a clear, consistent presentation to the public of who you are and what you represent as a trainer; it’s your reputation magnified enough to break through all the noise on social media and reach the people with whom your approach will resonate. Of course your brand should be compatible with, and certainly not undermine, that of the studio where you work. A good studio owner will recognize that trainers with strong, positive, personal brands are a great asset to the studio’s own brand as a whole. And of course a not-so-good studio owner is all the more reason to be building your own brand so you’re positioned to move on when it’s time to go.
Do I believe these are the only reasons they fired me? No. And there’s a lot more that I’ve learned from this experience that I feel isn’t just personal to me, but is indicative of some larger issues that should be addressed in our industry. I’ll be looking at these one by one over my next several posts, and hopefully getting some thoughts going on possible solutions.
But most importantly, I want to thank all the many, many people who have reached out to me since this happened. It’s a reminder that even though some really unpleasant things may go on in our industry, it’s a community that is made up of kind, warm people. I’ve felt so supported and cared for through this past week. That has meant the world to me.