March 7, 2012

10 Things to Consider Before Opening a Yoga Studio, Part I.

Can you run a yoga business and still be a true yogi?

Yoga has become a multi-million dollar business in the West. For better or worse, capitalism has commodified the ancient practice. As a result, spaces of sanctuary have been created that draw practitioners by the millions in the name of health, wellness, and enlightenment.

If you’ve been contemplating opening one of these spaces, your own yoga studio, where do you start and what should you expect?

First and foremost, know that you’ll be running a business.

The idea of running a yoga studio seems pure and drama-free, right? Not always. Despite the desire for self-improvement, yoga practitioners are human, with similar emotions and challenges that any client or customer might present. Also know that despite the emphasis on higher consciousness, a yoga business has all of the mundane responsibilities of any other business, infrastructure, payroll, taxes, human resources, and the like.

So, if you’re determined that owning a yoga studio is for you, here are the first five tips that may help you prepare.

1. Yoga Classes & Services Are Not Free

Some say that teachings of yoga are priceless, and they are revolted by the mere thought of exchanging money for a yoga class. That yoga is priceless may be true, but in reality, teachers who have devoted the time and resources to become trained instructors deserve to be compensated for their service. If we lived in a world built on barter, no taxes, and free healthcare, the structure might be different. But, we don’t, and at the end of the day, we all have to eat and live.

Bottom line: Do not be afraid to put a pricetag on your service. If you don’t put a price on something it has no value in your clients’ eyes. In my experience, (after three yoga studios around the country), when you offer free events/classes, nobody comes, because they do not feel they’ve contributed to the activity. Put a price on it, and you will have better turnout, guaranteed.

Your clients/students may argue this point and ask for free classes, free services, or exchange services. The answer should politely and unequivocally be no! Since when does being a yogi mean you give everything away for free and/or exchange and cannot be a savvy business person that lives according to discipline and structure? Like those coming to your doors, you have bills to pay and responsibilities to attend to; don’t forget that.

2. High Quality Customer Service Does Not Mean High Quality Pushover

Always offer customer service that is fair, equitable and clearly communicated to everyone-you will be respected for it by your regular clients and students. This may be the most challenging boundary you have to maintain. Everyone has a story about why he/she should get your class for free, or why they deserve a discount or extension on a membership.

The fact is: you need to establish your policies and stick to them, even during the hardest of times. Once you make an exception for one student, you will be making exceptions for all. Before you know it, your policies will have gone out the window, along with your business.

3. Choose Your Space Wisely

At the risk of sounding like a real estate agent, make sure you choose your location and physical space very wisely. You want to make sure your landlord/landlady understands your business principles and is not looking to take advantage of you. Many landlords will assume because you practice yoga, all you do is sit in full lotus, sniffing patchouli and om’ing. Make it very clear that you are a businessperson, negotiate fair space at a fair price for a fair term, draw a boundary to keep your landlord out of your business. There is nothing more detrimental to a sacred yoga space and the energy you wish to cultivate than a meddling landlord.

4. Understand Your Real Costs for Start-Up and Prepare to Invest

My husband and I have opened three hot yoga studios in five years with the ZenSpot brand, and they all have had similar features. Know that going into it, you will spend in the ballpark of $50K-$80K, and that is without any unforeseen challenges. Seriously. Good yoga studios are more than a few mirrors on the wall and some bamboo flooring. Depending on the style you teach, you need to think about everything from heating and HVAC systems to lighting, bathrooms, paint, signage, computer and data systems, furniture, sound systems, websites, advertising and marketing, equipment, and legal fees and contracts; all before you even open your doors!

5. Know Your Practice, Stay Confident In Teaching It

Every student comes through the door with expectations or preconceived notions about what your class is going to be. Despite the hope that students will be respectful of teachers and trust their expertise, it’s not always the case. In many cases, students want what they want, when they want it, and how they want it. Do not bend over backwards (pun intended) to accommodate their desires.

The students that expect you to cater specifically to them are not for you. You have trained in a chosen style of yoga and your intention is to deliver that style. If you have a student or two of five in a class that are “doing their own thing,” do not be afraid to correct it and reinforce to them that your class may be different from what they have done at other studios. Do not, no matter what, compromise your teaching out of fear of losing a perspective student.

This doesn’t mean you cannot offer modifications or other suggestions-you should. This does mean if you’re teaching Vinyasa, a student shouldn’t be practicing Ashtanga during your class; it’s that simple. I have seen many studios try to be all things to all people, rather than be who they are.  Within a year’s time they are bankrupt — not to mention frustrated. Maintain your studio identity. Your student population will come. Be confident and patient in that because you deserve it!

Stay tuned for Part II — the next five tips to consider before opening a studio.


Editor: Tanya L. Markul

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