Health and Fitness
Small Business
Success Stories

Thriving Through COVID: How Balanced Hart Used Safe Practices to Reinvigorate Her Small Business

Key Takeaways:

  • By leaning into social distancing protocols and embracing an open-air environment, Balanced Hart owner, Charlene Hart, discovered new opportunities for advertising and unique customer experiences.

  • Listening to customers and understanding their comfort zones were key to Charlene’s success, whether that was providing services to people within a quarantine bubble or being extra transparent about hygiene practices.

  • Nextdoor made it possible for Charlene to reach her ideal clients exactly where they were. She found her “Golden Mile” and used Nextdoor’s Local Deals to target individuals within that area, allowing her to save time on driving and spend more time helping the clients she loves.

Charlene Hart, Founder of Balanced Hart

Balanced Hart: The Pulse of Creative Small Business Strategy with Nextdoor 

As a personal trainer and masseuse for over ten years across California’s Bay Area, Charlene Hart was used to close-contact with her clients. But what happened when her entire industry went contactless?

When COVID-19 hit the U.S., Charlene's business was drastically impacted. But she tapped into her creativity, the great outdoors, and Nextdoor's business resources to safely expand her client base and make lasting connections in her community. This is her story.

A Quick Backstory: Where the Hart-Beat Started 

Charlene Hart started out as a masseuse and personal trainer at a variety of gyms. After a decade of success, she decided to start her own business — Balanced Hart. From friends and neighbors to tech executives, Charlene works closely with a variety of clients to help them achieve their health goals through personal training and massage services.

The heart of Charlene’s business is guiding her clients to their wellness goals through close contact care. So when COVID-19 hit, Charlene—and the rest of her industry—were faced with nearly impossible business barricades.

A Big Pivot for the Massage and Personal Training Industry

In March 2020, California — along with states across the U.S. — began executing extreme measures to help slow the spread of COVID-19. These precautions were designed to limit infection rates by restricting close-contact situations.

Shelter-in-place orders caused a huge upheaval in massage and personal training providers due to the close-contact nature of their services. In fact, in the early days of the pandemic, 70% of massage businesses surveyed by Massage Magazine had chosen to suspend services altogether. 

In the Bay Area, one of the first regions of California to mandate shelter-in-place and where Charlene’s business is centered, non-essential services like massage and personal training had been shut down for longer than almost anywhere else in the country (about 3 months). 

Despite the challenges faced by her industry, Charlene chose to embrace her obstacles, strive towards her business goals, and do her best for her clients.

Embracing Open Air Services 

One significant impact the pandemic has brought to every business isn’t a what but a where

More and more businesses have moved their operations outdoors to comply with local regulations and help create a safer, healthier environment for their customers and clients. As restrictions began to slowly lift in Charlene’s area, she embraced this trend and began offering outdoor chair massages in parks and socially distanced training classes in green spaces.   


Charlene doing an outdoor chair massage

Thanks to Charlene’s flexibility, her business saw astounding results.

  • Dynamic service offerings – From boot camps that incorporate trees into workouts to poolside massage sessions, the outdoors allowed Charlene to get creative with her service offerings. And after being cooped up at home, potential clients were hard-pressed to resist a fantastic workout or a soothing massage paired with fresh air and sunshine.

    Small business tip
    – Try to be flexible about your service offerings or products. Pandemic or not, if your business resonates with an unexpected audience, lean into them and don’t be afraid to adjust.

  • Free advertising and word of mouth – “Being outside has been such great free advertising!” Charlene mentioned. When providing services in parks or in shared outdoor spaces, Charlene was essentially demonstrating her expertise to passersby. She was delighted and surprised to see how effective her tactics were. “People are walking by. They’re seeing we’re doing massages, and they ask ‘can I have your card?’ I say, ‘Abso-freaking-lutely!’

    Small business tip –
    Word-of-mouth is one of the most powerful forms of marketing. But you don’t have to be at the park to get the word out. Try offering coupons or special deals for honest reviews of your business.

  • More enjoyable workspace – Charlene’s clients weren’t the only ones who enjoyed a change of scenery. Charlene discovered that being outside brought considerable improvement to her usual work. When asked about her new workspace, she smiled: “It’s lovely being outside! Oh my goodness, it’s so great!”

    Small business tip –
    Never underestimate comfortability and its positive effect on productivity. Whether on the job or stuck at home, what small items or gestures can you provide to yourself and your employees to make everyone more comfortable and enjoyable?

Listening to Customer Feedback 

Charlene realized that the current health circumstances and local regulations kept people close to home. They were more likely to seek out services if they were offered within their comfort zone—literally and figuratively. To meet her clients’ needs, she created new business guidelines for herself.

  • Keep it clean – As a masseuse, Charlene had always put a premium on hygiene and cleanliness. Especially now, it’s essential to helping her clients achieve deep relaxation. And as soon as her county allowed non-essential services to open back up, Charlene made a huge effort to kick her sanitation practices up (several) notches, from cleaning the floors between customers to investing in an air-purifier.

    Charlene also remains open to conversations about her hygiene practices with new, old, and potential clients to help them feel more comfortable with her services.

  • Keep the doors open (literally) - Charlene’s studio is located inside a wellness center. She found keeping her door open between client sessions gave other clients at the center a chance stop and say hello.  This also allowed them to meet Charlene, see inside her studio, and get a feel for her offerings.
    Charlene remarked on the success of this one simple change: “[People] would say, ‘Oh! I’m comfortable now. I can see the center, I can go into the center, it’s convenient for me, I feel safe in this environment.’” 

  • Provide service to quarantine “bubbles” – To combat feelings of isolation, many households have created quarantine “bubbles” with other families or individuals. People who are part of bubbles limit their contact to only their fellow “bubble” members.

    Charlene saw these bubbles as an opportunity to expand her client base. “I started doing chair massages for bubbles. I go on a Saturday afternoon and give 6 or 7 chair massages to a group of people in a section of the backyard. It’s actually created more socializing in these bubbles.”

    Charlene also found another perk of these quarantine bubbles — exposure to new potential clients and consistent work. “I went to give a massage at one lady’s house and the next girl said ‘Okay! I’ll book one in two weeks!’ Then all the ladies went to the other person’s house and we did chair massages at the other person’s house. So I think [my massage services] helped create another reason for people to be sociable within their bubble which has been fun.”

  • Be open to new clientele – Sometimes, new customers come from a consumer base you least expect. During shelter-in-place mandates, certain groups have been in more need for Charlene’s massage services than others. Her most surprising new demographic? Pregnant couples.

    Charlene offers these massages before and after the baby is born. When asked about this, she commented: “I’ve had more pregnancy massages over COVID, which has been ridiculously amazing! [They] invite me to their home after the [baby] has been born so I can give them and their husband a massage. One watches the baby while I give a massage, then the other watches the baby while I give the other one a massage. It’s been freaking amazing! Absolutely amazing!”

Accessing the Local Network with Nextdoor

While open-air services and working within client comfort zones certainly did wonders for Balanced Hart, Nextdoor was the key that unlocked a whole community of local clients.

Charlene first joined Nextdoor in 2018 when she took her personal training and massage services to a brick-and-mortar location. Charlene’s clients were from all over the Bay Area, and she would spend an entire day driving to and from appointments all across San Francisco, Alameda, and Contra Costa Counties. Her goal with Nextdoor was to attract more local clients so that she could spend more time working and less time driving.

Charlene’s Nextdoor Business Post

When COVID-19 entered the world stage, Nextdoor was there to help Charlene find new clients for her outdoor services. She used Business Posts to get the word out about her outdoor massage services and from there, everything took off. Here’s how Charlene utilized the business tools on Nextdoor:

  • Finding clients in the Golden Mile – “Having Nextdoor allows me to advertise locally so that more people come to me. It has been fantastic,” Charlene said. “It has let me find customers in my Golden Mile.” That Golden Mile Charlene refers to is her ideal geographic zone to offer services. Instead of driving from San Francisco to Alameda to Atherton, Charlene wanted to bring her expertise to customers a little closer to home.

    Nextdoor’s Local Deals allowed Charlene to target her ads to neighbors her own backyard Local Deals allows local businesses to target verified members in nearby neighborhoods. And for Charlene’s business goals, location was key.

    “As a non-essential employee, I wasn’t supposed to be open, but as soon as we were able to be open, if I put something on Facebook it would reach too large of an area. And people wanted to still stay so close to home. Nextdoor gave me that opportunity [to reach local clients].” 

  • Handling the negative with poise – One thing Charlene learned from her exploration of Nextdoor? The value in staying positive. When Charlene’s first Business Post about her outdoor services received negative feedback, Charlene chose to cure crassness with kindness. She thanked the nay-sayers for their contributions, keeping her tone light, positive, and classy.

    Turns out, her upbeat approach in the face of negativity actually helped her business! Many Nextdoor users were impressed with her poised responses and sought out her services.

  • Keeping Local Deals simple – When it comes to crafting the perfect Nextdoor Local Deal, Charlene cracked the code. It’s all about simplicity, Charlene remarked, “People are looking for that quick thing that they want. Is this what I’m looking for? Awesome. Is that the information that I need? Great. Let’s do it. But that gets lost when you have too much to read.”

    Charlene once encouraged a friend and fellow small business owner to post a Nextdoor Local Deal for his business. But when she saw his verbose deal, she called him up to share a laugh and offer some friendly advice, “You just need to make it simple. Here’s what it is, here’s my discount, here you go!”

  • Sharing the good news – Despite the many difficulties that COVID-19 has brought, Charlene never ran short on generosity when it came to sharing business strategy. Charlene has made a point to help small businesses thrive using Nextdoor.

    She encourages other people, saying, “I’ve had such great, amazing results from Nextdoor that I do tell other people ‘Hey, if you want to get good advertising, some quick business in your local area, then that’s what you need to do [on Nextdoor], especially in our industry.’”

Staying Grateful in the Face of Change

With every challenge presented to her, Charlene demonstrated flexibility, strength, discipline, and expertise -- qualities that are not only key to being a masseuse and personal trainer, but also a small business owner navigating the current health crisis. 

In addition to her Nextdoor skills and her open-air personal training sessions, the secret to Charlene’s business savvy may just be the very heart of Balanced Hart—Charlene herself.

Her gratitude for her customers, her positive attitude, and her love for her community are palpable in everything she does—from her sweet replies to grouchy internet comments to her outdoor massage services. It’s hard not to feel at ease and ready to achieve your wellness goals around Charlene. 

“I have been so blessed with friends and clients… I’m busy all the time, I’m really, really blessed!”

Unlock Your Business’s Potential with Nextdoor: Where Neighborhoods Happen

The genius of Charlene’s COVID-19 tactics is in their versatility, but also her ability to successfully connect directly with her customer base.

Local businesses can speak directly to their community to offer products and services their neighbors would love. Furthermore, Nextdoor neighbors support the local businesses that make up their neighborhoods; 88% shop locally at least once a week. By using tools like Business Posts and Local Deals, and gathering recommendations, small business owners can make valuable connections with nearby customers and other local businesses and organizations. 

When the world becomes uncertain, people lean on their neighbors. And during this health crisis, your local community needs your offerings more than ever. Claim your free Nextdoor Business Page and reach out to the people your business was built for.