August 18, 2012

The Business of Yoga: The Successful Studio.

There are several ways to approach yoga as a business and all have their inherent benefits and challenges.

The two main ways are becoming a professional teacher as an independent contractor of workshops, classes and festivals or to open your own studio. Let us discuss the latter.

It is helpful when undertaking the opening of a studio that you get very comfortable with working long hours and potentially taking on a second job. If you research studios across the country, you will quickly find that most studios have a second business either directly attached to it (i.e., a teacher training school or café) or one that is pursued in the “spare time” of the owner.

Many owners create another income stream by starting corporate wellness programs, engaging in massage therapy /bodywork modalities, or by supplementing with a “real” job someplace in a bright and shiny cubicle. Students’ drop-in and class card purchases are likely to cover the cost of rent, utilities, and a portion of payroll.

Beyond that you better put on that creative thinking cap or plant some money trees in your Zen garden in order to make up the difference. If instant financial freedom is your goal, then better stick to lottery tickets.

Let me be bold in declaring that the business model of opening a studio is no longer advisable unless:

A) you happen to open up in a small market where one does not already exist or

B) on the rare occasion that your teaching credentials are capable of creating and leveraging either a corporate sponsorship or a paying herd of students who are happy to hold space the second you turn the dimmer switch up.

Even under these circumstances I would be apt to counsel teachers against diving off the cliff into ownership.

Yoga has permeated the culture and market to such an extent that gyms, online programs and already established studios have flooded the market with a variety of time-tested options for our discerning common client base. This has made undertaking yoga as a profession increasingly difficult and dangerous regardless of the trajectory one chooses as far as career path. We are all on a party boat that has probably already hit its peak.

If that is not enough to dissuade you, opening the doors of your very own studio will take the following:

1. Start Up Capital

It takes money to make money. You will need a space, a sign, props, payroll, money for you to live on while you are getting your studio off the ground, a credit line if you can swing it and a high tolerance for risk. Are you planning on partnering with somebody else or offer your name up for another company to use? Make damn sure you have a contract regardless of your decision so that you are compensated appropriately in times of bounty and protected from complete liability in times of famine. How will you raise the money for your project? Have you been secretly saving for years? Can you send out an email to your existing database (the one you have been building as a private instructor or those people who follow you on social media)? Perhaps you might consider pre-selling yoga memberships in order to get your feet off the ground. There is also the loan route, which I highly discourage on the outset because you’re going to want to call in that loan favor when you are ready to expand once you have proven yourself an adept at business, not just binds.

2. Marketing Skills

Social media, flyers, mailing, blog posts, face-to-face meet and greets. Start scouring the land for your target audience, dear future owners, and get very clear about exactly who you want to walk through your doors. There are many ways to market yourself and your studio so be clear, be bold, be consistent, stay cool, and then go for gold. Remember that every client is not the same so be flexible and clever in how you speak to each one and that will, if you are lucky, lead to a hearty and loyal paying following.

3. Hearty & Loyal Following

It is important to pick a location that is easy to find with plenty of parking and a floor that can accommodate a minimum number of students to cover not just your costs but leaves room to expand. Do you know what your targets are for each class, how you are going to pay your teachers (flat rate vs. splits), what time of day you will hold classes and what styles you will offer? All of the answers to these questions will affect your clients.

You must set the tone and tenor for the studio, guide it as a captain, and find a way to create value for each student every time they walk through the door. If you are not naturally inclined or interested in cultivating these skills, then make sure you hire somebody who will be the heart and soul of your studio (besides your teachers) and who is accessible to your students whatever their needs be (physical, emotional, spiritual). In the best of cases, your students will feel so jazzed and excited about their experience they will do most of your marketing for you. This popular support is a sleeping giant though and can turn on you at any moment so it is a good idea to save your pennies, anticipate their needs, address disgruntled individuals appropriately and to smile, smile, smile.

4. Grit

It is prudent to understand both your strengths and weaknesses. Play to your strengths and surround yourself with others with whom you can buffer your liabilities against. It takes a certain temperament to be an entrepreneur, another to run a successful business, and yet another to be confident enough to let your particular personality shine through.

When we mix all of this in with a dash of yoga, it is helpful to take the lessons learned on the mat into your new office. Lean into your edge and breathe into the discomfort. Get honest about your motives and what is driving you to get up every day and hold space for hopefully thousands of students.  Take time to rest in child’s pose. You must have a personal practice, create safe and sacred space, teach from a place of service, and listen to your intuition.  Only then will you have a fighting chance to pay your bills and remain grounded. In this very personal business try to take it all with a grain of salt.  Add a dose of humility and equal parts gratitude and know that you are going to get very intimate with the sensation of surrender.

As a studio owner you will have to tackle all the issues of business at the same time you are working toward an authentic, motivating, articulate, patient, kind, relevant, ethical, and living yoga practice. Use the revelations you receive on the mat each day, listen and learn from every student who shows up, walk the Middle Path, stand tall, live out loud, and if you truly feel called to this endeavor then I wish you well, I dedicate my next practice to you and I pray Allah will guide you. Hara Om.



Editor: April Hayes

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