Would you walk into a restaurant you had never been to before and tell the waiter “I just want some hot food, and by the way, it doesn’t matter what it costs!” Most people think this is ridiculous. But honestly, it is not that different when someone with years of experience as a yoga instructor decides to open a studio, but does not really want to know about the business side of things.
I know you want to share your practice with others so that they also may benefit, but please believe when I tell you that you will be able to impact many more people’s lives if you choose to learn a little about business before starting your own studio.
One of the first things a client planning to open a yoga studio will often tell me is how many years they have been practicing yoga. They go on to elaborate on the school they went to and what other yoga experience they have. I honor and admire this kind of experience and the discipline it takes to acquire it.
At the same time, it’s my job to point out that if they primarily want to focus on the teaching and practice of yoga, then opening a studio is probably not for them. If you’re shocked, thinking “What background could be better than years of experience with yoga?!”, then this article is for you.
Running a business successfully involves far more than just being good at yoga. In fact, in a recent conversation with the founder/director of one of the largest and most successful yoga studios in Baltimore, she revealed that she’s not even an instructor. She emphasized that she is a businesswomen who loves yoga.
Business is a lot more than just giving a service or product to a customer. It has a whole “behind-the-scenes” part that we don’t usually see when we walk in the front door. Business is about financial projections, strategic planning, marketing, sales, budgeting, facility maintenance, hiring, sub-contractors, bookkeeping, and so much more.
If you are someone who is willing to learn about these things (and you don’t need to be an expert, but you do need to have a working understanding of them), then maybe opening a studio is for you. It can be a wonderfully rewarding and fulfilling experience. It can truly be the fulfillment of a dream for many.
However, understanding what is really involved before starting out is essential to success. Here are some things to ask yourself before diving into opening a studio.
Are you willing to work long hours in the beginning? Every small business owner will tell you about the late nights and weekends spent on building a business from scratch. It’s just plain hard work. But, it has great freedom as well. If you’re not sure about this, consider buying an established studio, or even a yoga franchise.
Are you comfortable learning about finances, budgeting and bookkeeping? For better or worse, money is the lifeblood of every business. Without it, the business fails instantly. To succeed, you need to have a moderate handle on finances. This means knowing how much you earn each month, how much you spend, how much you owe and how much is owed to you.
It also means knowing how much you’ll need to earn each month to pay operating expenses (rent, electricity, etc.), payroll (paying employees) and to pay yourself (you need to eat too!). It also means projecting this for the next year, and figuring out how the studio is going to earn this much money (how many students you’ll need, private sessions, etc.) This kind of planning is essential for success.
Are you able to accept that business will never be entirely smooth, but rather that it is wrought with some degree bumps and potholes, and that is just part of owning a business? It is estimated that an average U.S. business faces a “crisis” three to four times per year. This might be a key employee quitting, an IRS audit, a major unexpected expense, etc.
In addition, there are “daily hassles.” An instructor is late, someone’s check bounced, the stereo doesn’t work and so on. This is just part of business. And, as the owner, much of it will be your problem to deal with (until you grow enough to hire a manager, then someone else will worry for you). See it as a wild and exciting adventure that let’s you share an amazing gift with the world, and you’ll be fine!
Do you have at least 50% more money available than it seems like you’ll need to get started? Most small businesses underestimate their expenses (and overestimate profits) for the first few years. It is rare that running any small business (at least to start with) costs what you expect. It always seems to be more.
This is because there are numerous unexpected and miscellaneous expenses. Everything from having the floor polished to paying business taxes to buying a new phone system. It all adds up. Plan ahead for this one, and you won’t be surprised.
Are you willing to learn about marketing, or do you have the money to hire a professional marketer who will do this for you? I know, marketing makes you think of tele-marketers and used car salesmen. These are just poor examples of marketing, just as a Big Mac is a poor example of gourmet food, yet it is still food (technically).
Marketing simply means letting people whose lives could benefit from yoga know that you have something that would really help them. If you don’t, you not only miss out on business, but you sell them short of having this benefit in their life. Imagine if you had a flat tire and were having a hard time changing it, and a tow truck was driving by, but he didn’t stop because he felt it would be too pushy to ask you to pay him to help you change your tire!
People miss out on something they want and need when they don’t know about the awesome experience your studio could offer them. Letting them know about this is what true marketing is.
Can you accept that while yoga may incorporate energy, spirit and flow, running a business adds a new kind of energy to the mix: money. If you believe your practice is above needing to worry about money, you may be reassured to know that you are not alone. What may be less reassuring is that very few studio owners who hold this perspective stay in business for more than a couple of years.
Perhaps in an ideal world, this would be different, but her, now, today, money is a part of our life. Like other forms of energy, money is simply a way to create change. This may take the form of having a new studio floor put in, donating to charity , or paying your phone bill.
Money is really just another form of energy. And it is the form that every business today requires to exist. We don’t need to worship it, just view it as an important resource. Just as a car needs gas to run, a business needs money. I wish my car ran on something other than gas, but for the time being, I accept that this is how it works. Such is the case that a studio is a business and needs money to operate.
Are you really passionate, not just about practicing yoga, but about sharing the art of yoga with others? Running a yoga studio is about sharing your practice with others. Many of your students will probably be novices. Some will do things that make you cringe, others will make you proud to have made their mastering the art possible.
In running a studio, you will be quickly frustrated if you are not comfortable serving beginners, people who like yoga but do it poorly and people who don’t take it seriously, as well as those that are a pleasure to watch practice.
Are you willing to make mistakes and learn from them? Success is about mistakes. Just as Thomas Edison tried over a thousand different materials for the filament of the light bulb before discovering one that worked, such is business.
Success is not about doing it perfectly the first time – striving for this leads to mediocrity. Success is made of trying, failing and learning; then taking what you learned and doing it better the next time.
Sometimes this approach is referred to as “Fire…Aim…Fire…Aim…” If you’re a perfectionist, running a business may be very frustrating to you. Business is very imperfect, and those who are most successful at it, and who find it most fulfilling, are those who truly understand that things just need to be “good enough” and not perfect.
Are you able to do this without destroying your personal life, should it fail? While no one plans for a new business to fail, and it’s certainly the last thing you want to think about, it does sometimes happen. Plan your divorce while you are still in love.
In other words, you need to design an exit strategy for the business in the beginning. You don’t want to lose your house and have to declare bankruptcy if things don’t pan out. Do your best to make sure you can personally survive even if the business does not. If you can’t, then this may not be the best time to start a studio, or maybe finding a partner or investor to share the burden would help. There are many creative solutions that could work for you.
Are you willing to make a thorough business plan? I believe this is the single most important item on the list. The business plan doesn’t need to be in the form a bank needs to lend you money, but it should be complete.
It is unfortunately all too true that “failing to plan is planning to fail.” A real business plan outlines the way your studio will operate. It defines the kind of people who will come to your classes and private sessions, it estimates how many clients and students you need each month in order to pay the bills. It is like having a map with you when you are on a long road trip.
By the way, the reason that banks want to see a business plan before lending money is because they know that most businesses that don’t have one will end up failing, and they don’t want to lend money if they might not get paid back. Doing a business plan isn’t hard (I frequently guide my clients through this process. There are also numerous books available on the subject at your local bookstore). However you do it, make sure you have a plan.
These are among the most important things I believe someone should consider when opening a studio. Take your time, plan it out, then, if it still looks and feels right for you, take the leap.
Owning a studio can be one of the most rewarding things there is. My very best wishes for you on this exciting adventure. I encourage you to take a look at other items I’ve written on running a studio for more guidance (visit my website at http://www.CenteredBusiness.com for weekly articles and free yoga business downloads).
If you are looking for personal, one-on-one support in starting a new yoga studio, you may find our yoga business coaching program extremely valuable. Contact me at coach@CenteredBusiness.com for further information.
Wherever your journey takes you, may you find peace, fulfillment and success.
Coach Al Lipper
Coach Al Lipper of ‘Destiny: Success’ helps Yoga studio business owners smoothly run and expand their yoga studio business. He helps stressed and overwhelmed yoga studio business owners who spend most their time wrapped up in daily business tasks, who can’t handle any more clients, or who can’t make any more money out of the yoga studio. Coach Al helps clients find new yoga business strategies which result in generating more clients, increased profits, and more free time for the business owner. The amount invested was small compared to the results. Contact him today to discuss your yoga studio challenges at (805) 544-3938 or visit http://www.CenteredBusiness.com.