Story of Jessica Valant
This week I have a fantastic blog for you! Seriously, when I asked for guest bloggers at the beginning of 2017 I was honored to get a yes from this week’s author. She has a journey that is far different from my own and her advice is incredibly important for any instructor or studio owner out there. Jessica Valant shares her story from owning a studio to selling her studios. While you might be sitting there thinking you don’t own or you’ll never sell her story is necessary for you to read. You never know what next month or year will bring! Below find out tips to sell or not to sell.
I never had a vision or goal of selling my Pilates studios.
But I actually never had a goal of opening my own Pilates studios, either.
I am a licensed physical therapist and received my degree in the year 2000. I was then trained as a Pilates instructor through Polestar in 2002 and proceeded to use both skill sets in various orthopedic outpatient clinics and Pilates studios throughout Denver.
My husband and I moved to Hawaii in 2006, and the very first thing I noticed professionally was that there were no full-service Pilates studios that also offered physical therapy. I got a few different contract jobs across the island, working as a physical therapist in a few, as a Pilates instructor in a few, and doing a hybrid of both in the ones that were really ahead of the curve.
My husband had been trying to convince me for years to open my own clinic/studio, and I had always laughed the idea away. It finally hit me that, to work in an environment I truly wanted to be in, I needed to create it.
Life As I Knew It Changed
So Harmony Pilates and Physical Therapy was born on the island of Oahu in 2007.
We grew quickly thanks to a supportive community and a need for our services. We opened a second location in 2012, and I had dreams of opening more locations on outer islands, and then eventually on the mainland.
I then had our daughter in 2013 and life as I knew it changed.
I realized quickly that, after 13 years of working over 40 hour weeks and seeing thousands of clients and patients, I wanted to have the flexibility to be home and be a mom. I wasn’t willing to give up a career and studios I loved, so I stepped back considerably from client time and focused solely on management and being “the boss.”
We eventually moved to California for various family reasons, but I continued to manage and own my studios from afar. I could not envision a world where I was not the owner of Harmony. It was as much a part of me as my right arm.
My husband mentioned the possibility of selling, and I, again, laughed at the idea.
Then one day I received a call from an instructor who was locked out of the studio. She had a group of clients waiting to get in, and someone else had locked the key in the studio. Despite having contingencies in place for this, they had all broken down, and there were anxious and upset people waiting for their class. I was thousands of miles away, doing my best to text my office manager and other instructors with keys.
In the meantime, I had a young toddler at my feet, crying for me to continue playing with her.
That moment changed my life.
I realized I could not be everything to everyone anymore, and it wasn’t fair to anyone for me to try. My instructors and clients needed me, and my family and daughter obviously needed me.
It was time to consider selling.
It took a year and a half, lots of late nights, many tears and doubts, more than a few lawyer emails and phone calls and some difficult goodbyes, but, in April of 2016, I sold Harmony and stepped away from the clinics and studios I had started from scratch.
Tips to Sell Your Studio
It was an indescribable moment and one I have never regretted.
I don’t think many of us start Pilates studios with the idea of eventually selling them. We can all be honest in that we don’t get into this profession for the money :). We do it out of love. We do it from a deep passion for helping people and teaching the method.
But we are doing ourselves, our staff and our clients a disservice if we never consider what our end game is.
I know selling a studio is a daunting and difficult process, but it’s also something that does come up for most owners from time to time.
If you have thought about selling your studio or think you might want to in the future, I have put together four main things to consider and prepare for on the journey.
1. Find your why
This is what will carry you through the bumps and obstacles and doubts along the way. There will be things that make you wonder why you are selling. I had been a studio owner for almost ten years, and it was a deep part of my identity. It was so hard to think of myself personally and professionally without that title. I would start to think “Maybe I don’t really need to sell. Maybe I can adjust this one thing. Maybe it will all get easier.” I think it’s GOOD to go through those questions and every pro and con there is. But it’s also important to listen to your gut. And if it’s told you it’s time to sell, find your why and stick to that. I knew in my heart that my studio needed more than I could personally give with a toddler and being an ocean away. I had to let go of my ego and remember that I could do more for the world if I wasn’t always stressed about paying staff, invoices being on time, people not showing up, etc… If you have a “why” and a reason for selling, hang on to it.
2. Get your financials in order
Is there anything Pilates instructors hate more than numbers? Selling a studio will make you dive headfirst into everything financial about your business. While you don’t have to love it, you’ve got to get your hands dirty and learn it. I had always done my own bookkeeping and worked closely with my accountant, so I thought I was doing pretty well. Nope. I had never looked at growth charts or cost of client acquisition or year to year comparisons. I had never calculated the value of my assets. Buyers care about numbers. Period. Have all of your tax returns from the past five years in an easily accessible file and make sure all of your bookkeeping is up to date. It will make the entire process so much easier.
3. Finish your mourning before you start the selling process
No matter how strong of a person you are, there will be some mourning involved in the selling process. You are giving up something you have worked hard to build. You are saying good-bye to staff, clients, and friends. It’s not easy. But in order to look at every offer you get from an unbiased perspective, you have to eliminate the emotional component. Which means processing the sale and mourning the loss before you get there. There will be potential buyers who don’t understand how Pilates works. There will be people who will grill you over every little number. There were times I wanted to slam the computer shut or break into tears, neither of which is good on a business Skype call. Of course, you should protect what you love, but you also need to be able to not take things personally. Journaling and doing some letting go before you start selling is critical to this process.
4. Be proud of yourself
I went through a period of feeling pretty bad about myself as I was deciding to sell. I thought I had failed. I thought people would think I was giving up. I felt like I was letting people down. This is BS, my friends. Selling a business is something to be so proud of! Instead of simply closing shop, you are allowing your creation to keep growing, to keep helping others. You are moving forward in order to follow your own path and letting someone else follow theirs by purchasing your studio. You are doing something that very few people in the world can claim they’ve done! It’s a huge accomplishment, and you should own that and be proud of yourself.
There are many other aspects to selling a studio, including how to price your business, where to list it, whether to tell your staff and what red flags to look for in potential buyers. These four points will get you started and help you decide if selling is right for you. If it is, I’m happy to help answer other questions you have! I do consult for studio and clinic owners interested in moving forward with the selling process.
I wish you all the best!
Huge thanks to Jessica for sharing her journey with us! Like Jessica said above, these tips will just get you started. For more information, a sounding board, or advice please contact Jessica here for consultation. As always we love to hear your comments, questions, and thoughts in the comments below. Please share this blog with a teacher who could use Jessica’s words. See you all back here next Monday for a post about choosing a good location.