Photo Credit: Raquel Zaldivar
Nicole LaBonde is the founder of Cabarret, a dance fitness company offering classes in Florida and Pennsylvania. Cabarret offers classes like Cabarret Strong & Sexy, Ballerina Bodywork and Showgirl Shape using the ballet barre for warming up and toning and aerobic burlesque dancing for cardio. Cabarret is certified with both the American Council on Exercise and the Aerobics and Fitness Association of America. As such, LaBonde has begun to offer teacher trainings so other fitness instructors can teach Cabarret in studios across the country.
How did you get started with your business?
I moved to South Florida about three years ago. I came from Philly, which is a really big dance town. There are lots of dance classes, dance fitness and dance shows. In South Florida, there’s not a big dance scene. I was looking for a dance class to take, and I started taking a company class with one of the modern companies here. I was 30 and they were all 20 – As much as we don’t want to admit it, there’s a difference in those 10 years. It made me feel not great.
I decided to take a barre fitness class instead. I went to the class and I was like, “I don’t understand what this is.” It had nothing to do with the barre that I, as a ballerina, knew it to be. I’ve been taking ballet for decades. None of it was familiar or made any sense to me. But I really liked the idea of it, because there’s a reason why ballerinas have done the same barre exercises for 500 years – they work! We’ve been doing plies since the reign of Louis XV!
I took the traditional ballet barre and put a fitness twist on it, so we do holds and pulses and things like that, but I stick with the traditional ballet formula. The point of the barre work is that you get your body ready to move in a way where you’re centered and aligned and graceful. So, I put the cardio burlesque in instead of teaching a straight ballet class because it’s fun and sexy sells!
Who was your first customer?
I started teaching Cabarret in a Pilates studio where I was already teaching Pilates. I already had an in with some fitness people, so I brought it to them and told them I think this is a great program and a fun program, and they let me try it out.
How did you fund your business in the beginning? Have you taken on any additional funding since?
I had a savings account when I moved to Florida. In the first year of setup, I did have to use that savings account for things like business cards, a website and health expos. The class has been bringing in income, and now that I’ve launched the teacher training program, that’s another great revenue stream.
Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
When I lived in Philadelphia, I was the director of a nonprofit. That was my first foray into the business side of things. I still don’t think I’ve learned how to run a business, I think I’m learning every day how to run a business.
What was the biggest mistake you made in your first year?
I tried to go too big too fast. I wanted this to be everywhere – like the next Zumba. I tried to launch the teacher program a year before it actually launched. It’s really a very good thing that it didn’t work out, because I wasn’t able to support teachers in the way I am now.
I tried to do things that big businesses do, like health fairs and expos. I spent money on them that did not need to be spent because I wasn’t ready to attract or maintain that client base.
What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
I think what I did that was really smart was using what I had. I didn’t reinvent the wheel. I took the things that I knew were good, like barre and burlesque, and I put them together. I used the contacts I already had to start. I didn’t just decide I was going to open a studio. I would have had overhead and payroll and insurance if I did that. I just worked with the people I already knew.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
For me, it’s the fact that I get to dance all day, and I get to do it with other people who think it’s really fun and empowering. And when other people see results from the workout, that’s awesome too.
What’s the most difficult/challenging thing about running your own business?
The finances. The yucky paperwork!
What’s the most surprising thing about running your own business?
How long it really takes to do things. You see things like Zumba or Simple Green Smoothies, and you think they just came up with this idea and now they’re making millions of dollars. There’s so much more work that’s behind all this. The more I hear other business owners’ stories, the more I understand this takes a long time and a lot of work. People only see the breakthrough moment – They don’t see all the work that goes into it.
What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most? Who is your role model?
I’ve had two coaches, both of whom I adore. My first coach was Erin Stupland. I started to work with Erin because she had launched a fitness class along with her life coaching business. She had created her own fitness class and gotten it certified, and was doing teacher trainings. She was ahead of me and where I wanted to be.
I’ve been with Erika Lyremark for the past year. She’s more from the sexy side of things. She was a stripper, and she makes no apologies for that. Now, she runs a multimillion-dollar coaching business for entrepreneurs. She teaches about being your brand and making no apologies for who you are.
What I’ve Learned
What advice do you have for others starting their own business?
Stick with what you know, just like if you were writing a book. Be willing to put in the work. There’s no magic button. There’s no magic Internet website genius that will do this. There’s no Facebook ad, there’s no perfect tweet. You have to put in the work.
What do you wish you had known before starting your business?
I wish I had known a lot more about marketing and branding and doing that smartly and cheaply. Specifically, what’s worth your money and what isn’t.
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About the Author — Ashley Sweren is a freelance marketing writer and editor. She owns her own small business, Firework Writing, located in San Jose, California.