11 Lessons I've Learned From Running My Own Yoga Business
I just passed the three-year anniversary of running my yoga business. Although I’ve been teaching since 2002, I created a brand name, Bare Bones Yoga, and an independent business structure three years ago. My business motto is “Keeping Yoga Simple,” and it’s meant to reflect my passion for making yoga, meditation, and other mindfulness techniques simple, accessible, and easy to apply.
I usually write a year-end report and instead, this year, I found my mind wandering to the lessons I’ve learned. My hope is that this may help other teachers avoid some of the pitfalls I’ve encountered over the years.
1. Keep good records.
From Day One, I’ve done a few things regularly, without fail: written a weekly report, documented revenue, maintained a business dashboard (you can read more about this here), tracked all classes, expenses and kept all receipts. The weekly reports keep me on track with my goals, the revenue tracking helps me identify trends and gaps, and helps with realistic planning. The business dashboard keeps all my leads, overall revenue, and vision action steps in one place.
2. Your reputation is the result of everything you do.
Reputation used to be primarily a function of how you carried yourself in person, but now it’s also a function of how you carry yourself in every online interaction as well. This includes posts on any social media outlet, comments on posts, your reaction to comments on your articles, pictures you post (or others post of you). Your students, clients, readers and customers will be looking for consistency across all these channels to ensure that you’re authentic and your messaging is the same.
3. You can’t be the yoga teacher for everyone.
Once you realize you can’t be the teacher for everyone, you can be freed up to teach in a way that’s true to you. You’ll be free from the cumbersome thoughts and pressure to try to be like someone else and to please students. You’ll no longer be bothered by the differences between the attendance in your class as compared to other teachers. You’ll recognize that everyone has a different way of teaching and appreciate that students gravitate to different teachers for lots of different reasons. This has been one of the hardest personal lessons for me to learn.
4. Don’t take things personally.
As you may know from reading Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements, this is one of the keys to finding a sense of peace in life. There are many opportunities to fall off this wagon when you’re in business for yourself as a yoga teacher: the emails and calls that don’t get returned, the jobs you don’t get, the numbers you don’t get in your classes or workshops. These are all temptations to go down the path of taking things personally when in fact they could have nothing to do with you. Your job is to be yourself, act with integrity, and do your best in everything you do.
5. Be authentic.
Even before social media, there was pressure on teachers to try to be popular and relevant. You might develop a perception about a teacher based on how many students are in his classes or how many fans she has on Facebook. Despite these outside influences, it's important for teachers to teach in a way that is authentic and real for them. As soon as we step outside of our own personality and try to be like someone else, our class will feel it, we will feel it, and we’ll inevitably get caught up in inconsistent words and actions.
6. Know what makes you unique.
In order to be authentic, you have to know what makes you unique and leverage that to differentiate yourself in the crowded yoga marketplace. But it’s more than just a marketing strategy; it’s a way to help people understand what value you bring and what they might gain from practicing with you. It’s also key in helping you make solid business decisions about partnering, teaching, and other opportunities.
7. Have a great network.
Working as a yoga teacher means doing everything yourself: Marketing, promotion, writing, public relations, public speaking, lead generation, and of course, teaching. It can be isolating unless you look for opportunities to connect. One of the best ways to do this is to take classes from your colleagues. Others ideas: inviting teachers out for tea after class, looking for chances to (authentically) promote what they’re doing, offer to guest blog for other teachers’ blogs and attending workshops. The stronger your network, the more opportunities will come your way.
8. Promote others.
Look for your friends’ postings on social media about their events, look for events that you’d attend (even if you can’t actually make it) and look for things that you think would benefit your customers. Promoting others in an authentic way will be appreciated. Promoting others in an attempt to seem gracious will be seen as inauthentic and random.
9. Have depth and breadth.
One of the things that has helped me both financially and from a growth perspective is to have a portfolio of different teaching opportunities. These include teaching in studios, teaching adults and children, writing, public speaking, teaching in special “non-studio settings” (such as corporate yoga, privates, schools, and training centers) and running my mentorship program. This has not only kept things interesting, but also has challenged me.
10. Have a vision.
There are many different expressions of a teaching career; the most obvious expressions are working independently or owning a studio. But within those two are many different business models. Having a vision allows you to get through the day-to-day work with a sense of purpose. It also helps you make educated decisions about the kinds of opportunities to pursue and the things to avoid.
11. Recognize that growth may be slow and reaching your version of success may take a long time.
We all know yoga teachers whom we admire, those who've attained a certain level of success to which we may aspire. But often what we see is only one aspect of the teacher’s life; there may be years behind the scenes that involved hard work, elbow grease, failures and new definitions of one’s vision. Rather than measure your success by “how long,” look to measure it in part with data (financial and otherwise), overall happiness quotient, overall stress level, lifestyle behaviors and a sense of consistency between what you’re doing and the values you hold dear in your life.