15 STEPS TO LAUNCH A LUCRATIVE YOGA BIZ
You’ve just finished teaching an exquisite sequence to a class of sterling yoga students, and today’s post-Hatha vibe feels particularly positive… Mikey, once hesitant to try inversions, feels electrified after nailing his first handstand. Julia, who joined your class seeking peace of mind, is waxing poetic about the joys of meditation discovered under your guidance. The satisfaction of seeing your students make triumphant strides never seems to lose its lustre.
You started teaching because you wanted to make a difference, and after some initial snags your yoga business is finally flourishing. It’s been hard, you think, but this feeling of fulfilment makes it all worth it…
KNOCK KNOCK, EARTH TO YOGI … WE KINDLY BECKON YOU BACK TO REALITY!
There you go again, wading knee-deep through daydreams about working as a yoga teacher. You’ve created this vision while watching your best and brightest teachers work their magic. Students sing the praises of those godlike instructors, filling slots on the sign-in sheet faster than you can slap a mosquito. They’re admired far and wide for their knowledge, technical skills, and positive contributions to their communities.
“THAT”… you thought, “is the legacy I want to leave behind.” Because, truth be told, your current nine-to-five just doesn’t feel like the right fit, and you have a sneaking suspicion that your true calling lies in helping others discover healthy living. You altruist, you! “I want to get out there and HEAL THE WORLD! Get me out of this office!!” Clearly, some yogis just aren’t meant for cubicles.
You fantasize about making a career change, but wonder whether such a move would be worth the risk. Is teaching yoga a viable profession? Would I really be able to support myself? You’re right to be skeptical. Turning teaching into a sustainable career can be damn difficult. Considering that most 200-hour yoga teacher training (YTT) courses only spend about 2 hours covering the business side of yoga, many fresh grads feel insufficiently prepared.
Yoga is hardly considered a budding enterprise anymore. Certified instructors are now a dime a dozen, and the competition is nothing short of intimidating. Many go broke while chasing their dream. Maybe cubicles aren’t so bad after all? Don’t lose hope just yet, sweet dreamer! Despite the daunting statistics, it can be done….
The good news is that your yoga practice has already equipped you with the discipline to work hard and persevere… the two most important abilities of any successful entrepreneur… What you need now is a plan that allows you to leap over pitfalls where others have fallen.
So here it is, folks: a real-world, actionable guide for launching a lucrative yoga business:
PREPARING TO TAKE THE PLUNGE
Ideas are everything. All businesses start out as concept sprouts that blossom and grow with time and action. Making the following preparations during this stage will start you off on the right foot.
1. GET CERTIFIED IN THE STYLE OF YOUR CHOICE.
Sign up for a reputable YTT program centred on the type of yoga you want to teach… whether it’s Ashtanga, Hatha, Vinyasa, or another choice. Many recommend, though it’s not necessary, to train with a Registered Yoga School (RYS) approved by Yoga Alliance, a nonprofit organization that provides credentialing and developmental activities in the yoga community. Be sure to choose a program that provides adequate training in the areas of sequencing, anatomy, yoga history, and real-world teaching practice.
2. FIGURE OUT A PLAN TO KEEP YOUR BILLS PAID.
That post-YTT glee is empowering, but don’t quit your day job just yet! Most new teachers don’t make enough income from yoga to support themselves until a year or two after they’ve gotten their feet wet. Many continue to work full time while finding their bearings teaching nights and weekends. Do what works for you, but don’t let yoga get in the way of eating and paying the rent!
3. DECIDE WHICH AVENUE TO TAKE.
What kind of business do you have in mind? Are you looking to work freelance for an established gym or studio? Teach clients at their homes and businesses? Turn your apartment into a private sala? Or dare to open your very own commercial establishment? Each of these paths will require different amounts of start-up capital (known in layman’s terms as MOOLAH) and afford you different amounts of independence, responsibility, and decision-making power.
Teachers employed by established studios, for example, are bound to their rules, schedules, and pay rate, but don’t usually have to worry about things like marketing and on-site maintenance. Studio owners, however, have to manage every nitty-gritty detail. Deciding which direction you want to head in the long term will simplify your path.
4. START BUILDING YOUR STUDENT BASE.
Start amassing a following BEFORE launching your independent business so that you’ll have students waiting to take your classes when you’re ready to make it official. Teach private lessons out of your home, sub for friends already in the profession, and do anything else you can think of to get people recommending you to others. This will help you hit the ground running.
5. PEEP THE LOCAL COMPETITION.
Chances are you’re not the only yogi in town with business on the brain. Places like New York City have hundreds, if not thousands, of studios and freelance teachers competing for students.
A bit of James Bond-esque spy action may be in order to get an idea of how the most successful businesses in your area are run and what kind of rates they charge. Pop into these places for a trial lesson and note what they’re doing well, as well as what they need to work on, and incorporate this knowledge into your vision. Sound subversive? Don’t worry! There’s nothing dirty about this trick. Observing how other companies stay on top is just good business, and you’re unlikely to stay afloat without this step. If you’re lucky, they’ll be dropping into your class someday to spy on you!
6. CREATE A SOLID BUSINESS PLAN.
It’s time to lay out the details of how you’re going to bring the pieces of this project together. How much money do you need to get started? What’s your revenue target and how, specifically, will you hit it? What will your monthly and yearly expenses amount to? Do you plan to buy insurance? (Spoiler: YES, YOU DO! More about that later …) What outlets will you use to market yourself?
Start brainstorming different ways to get the word out about what you’ll be offering and how you want to present yourself. “Ugh, budgets and advertising… gross.” I agree, they are gross, but staying on top of these details is an important step in legitimizing yourself.
Many of us become yoga teachers to escape the mundane, but the ability to manage these menial tasks will keep you on top while others struggle to stay in the black. Plenty of people in the yoga business don’t manage their money efficiently nor seem willing to take the necessary steps to do so… These people are easy to spot because they end up nickle-and-diming their clients every chance they get, an unflattering type of behavior that fools no one.
Getting the Ball Rolling…
OK! You’ve made it through the conceptual stage and you’re ready to take concrete steps toward launching a functional business prototype. What’s next?
7. BUY INSURANCE AND CREATE LIABILITY PROTECTION FORMS.
A lot of teachers skip liability insurance, and ultimately it’s up to you, but it’s one of the best ways to have your own back. Despite your best efforts, injuries will happen and there’s always the possibility (particularly in the lawsuit-loving U-S-of-A,) that you’ll be held responsible. You don’t want your budding business thrown off the rails forever due to legal issues.
There are tons of insurance options to choose from depending on where you’ll be teaching and other factors, so find a plan that fits your situation. Additionally, you’ll need to write up a General Liability Waiver and Release Form for new students to sign. If you’re opening a studio and planning to employ additional teachers, include them in the form to protect them against legal action. To hold up in court, your waiver must be worded using proper legal terminology. The devil’s in the details here, so be as thorough as possible.
8. SET UP CLIENT-FRIENDLY PAYMENT SYSTEMS.
How do you feel when businesses require payment in cash? If you’re buying fried scorpions at a street market you might get a sweet old-school sense of nostalgia. Generally though, cash-based businesses come off as antiquated, so set up a system that allows students to use credit or debit.
You may also want to offer your clients the option of using online systems like PayPal… Make sure you understand how they work first, or you could end up in hot water. For example, I was once informed by a panicked studio owner, after paying full price for the class package she’d advertised, that I needed to make another payment to cover the 3% PayPal transaction fee that she hadn’t been aware of previously nor factored into her budget. This kind of move reeks of unprofessionalism and is a fantastic way to lose clients. If you do happen to make such a mistake, bite the bullet and cover the cost instead of placing the onus on the backs of your customers.
9. GET YOUR OPERATIONS IN ORDER.
In addition to payment systems, all back-end activities related to bookkeeping, accounting, taxes, registration, scheduling, member information, and a thousand other odds and ends will need to be streamlined.
The degree of complication involved will depend on your situation. Teachers working at gyms or studios won’t have to worry about the majority of these issues, while studio owners, again, will have to go the whole nine yards. There’s a host of software programs available these days to help studio owners get their business-management and online-scheduling ducks in a row. See if any of them could be of benefit to your business.
10. MARKET YOURSELF IN A UNIQUE WAY.
It’s time to spread the word and let the world know you exist! This is a chance to have some fun and get creative. Start by thinking about your business from the customer’s perspective. What’s unique about your classes? How do you compare to other yoga teachers out there? Pinpoint what makes you special and communicate that message by every means available to you.
Create an appealing website that gives interesting information about your business. (To the non-tech savvy: HAVE NO FEAR! Companies like Wix have made the website-creation process user friendly for all.) Add a blog to your site and update it regularly with juicy information related to yoga and wellness. Create social media accounts and/or a mailing list to keep in touch with the public about your class schedule and events. Keep these channels of communication between you and your clientele open and active.
You’re finally open for business and attracting new students like hippies to a drum circle. Congratulations! All you have to do now is maintain your success, expanding your business as much or as little as you like in the meantime. The following strategies will help you stay on point.
11. TREAT YOUR CUSTOMERS AS YOU’D LIKE TO BE TREATED.
It’s called The Golden Rule for a reason, and following it will earn you the richest of reputations… Always stay humble and respectful. Don’t make false promises or take advantage of customers in the name of boosting sales. In return you’ll gain their trust, which will make them want to recommend you to others.
12. BE GOOD TO YOUR TEACHERS AND HOLD THEM TO HIGH STANDARDS.
If you’ve opened a studio and decided to employ teachers, create positive relationships with them. Simple management techniques like maintaining clear communication go a long way. Also, pay them a fair wage, even if they’re brand spankin’ new to the profession.
Some studio owners offer super-green YTT grads “opportunities” to “get experience” teaching for free while customers are charged top dollar to attend their classes… Some new teachers appreciate this initially, but often end up feeling taken advantage of. If you want to keep quality staff on board, have compassion for their situation.
On the flipside, hold your teachers accountable for undesirable behavior… I once took a class from an instructor who grabbed my leg and yanked it behind my head during compass pose. I was injured and unable to practice for two weeks. When I brought this up with the owner of the studio, she advised me to speak directly with the instructor. (I already had.) When I returned and saw that nothing had changed, it was clear that the owner had not, for whatever reason, confronted her employee about his forceful adjustment methods. I simply stopped attending that instructor’s classes, but others in my situation might have opted to sue.
Observe classes taught by your employees and nip any liability risks in the bud so your customers don’t go limping off to a lawyer.
13. CREATE YOUR OWN PRODUCTS.
It never hurts to expand your brand! Once you’ve got a good amount of experience, use your expertise to create products that cater to your community.
Write a book that contains wellness-geared tips, or film yoga lessons and sell them online. Start a YouTube channel and share innovative sequences that will have people around the world clicking ‘subscribe.’ Sure, there’s a slew of people in the market who are already doing this. That doesn’t mean you can’t do it better.
Starting a business is like having a baby: you’d better be in it for the long haul! There’s no invisible finish line to cross. You’ll never be ‘done.’ This doesn’t mean you can’t take vacations or spend time with family. However, the superstars of the yoga community all have one thing in common, and that is full-time commitment to their labor of love. Be willing to work hard.
15. NEVER STOP LEARNING.
“The more we learn the more we realize how little we know.” — R. Buckminster Fuller
You can never know it all, so keep studying to stay relevant. Attend classes taught by other teachers. Get certified to teach other styles. Read the latest books and blogs about anatomy. Any new information can be incorporated into your business to help it, and you, continue to grow.
So what are you waiting for? Get out there and put this guide to good use! And when you stumble along the way, remember that success is like an iceberg in that people only see what is visible. No matter how easy the pros make it look, you can be sure they stumbled through occasional failures along the way. Don’t be discouraged. Anyone can succeed, including you.
About our Author
Peggy Holsclaw is a freelance writer, editor, proofreader, voice actor, and certificate-wielding instructor of yoga and English as a Foreign Language (EFL). She strives to live a shamelessly awesome life and help others do the same. If you come to Osaka you’re likely to find Peggy at a café clickety-clacking away on her laptop, or on a dance floor somewhere cutting shapes in front of the stage. She thinks the world would be a better place if everyone meditated. Including you. So go forth, dive deep, and find your Zen.