Are you confronting the challenge of opening a new yoga studio, getting established as a newly certified teacher, or attracting more students in a competitive urban area? If so, you’re not alone.
More Yoga Teachers
There’s been an explosion in the number of certified yoga teachers — 70,000 at last count (NAMASTA, 2005), plus the many newly minted teachers since then. The pressures of a sustained economic downturn are causing many to seek alternative careers.
Some of the newcomers want a more rewarding second career, a means to give back to their community. Some are recent college grads who’ve struggled to land a job that they find meaningful, people who see value in the yoga lifestyle. Others are people who have faced a major life passage or health crisis, been transformed thanks to yoga, and now want to share the joy of their practice.
Whatever their motivation, yoga’s increasing popularity has led to an explosion in teacher certifications, but this is not without risk for both newcomers and existing studios.
More Challenges for Yoga Teachers
If there are too many teachers within easy driving distance, it’s hard for new teachers to make an adequate living until you succeed in attracting a loyal set of students who attend your classes on a regular basis… Studio owners manage a limited inventory of available class times and space, so they prefer popular teachers who can fill the classes.
This is the classic “Catch 22” situation for the the teacher. It takes time to earn a good reputation as a valued teacher, time to build recognition for your contributions, time for word-of-mouth to generate referrals from your students to their friends.
The question is, how can new teachers speed that up? The answer is, by standing out, being different in ways that matter to students and the studio owner. (In the business world, this is referred to as “personal branding.”)
The challenge boils down to figuring out the authentic path that will enable you to attract the right students — people who will benefit from your particular teaching and interaction skills; people who will enthusiastically recommend you and your studio to their friends and family.
In a crowded urban market you need to stand out, be recognized for what is distinctive and meaningful about your services, your studio and its location, the caliber of your teachers and the vibrancy of your studio’s community.
Be Different — But in Ways That Are Meaningful
Start by spending some time looking around to understand what the other studios are offering in your area. Talk to other studio owners to see what’s working for them. Talk to yoga students about what’s missing from their current class experiences. Ask them how they would describe their “dream classes.” When and where would those classes take place. What would be different about the student-teacher interaction from what they’ve experienced today.
Then invest some quality time thinking about how you can make your offering more distinctive — more directly relevant to prospective students within driving distance of your studio. What’s special about the people who live in your area?
If you’re in a highly competitive area (like Los Angeles, New York or the Bay Area), think about ways to position your studio or some of your classes to appeal more narrowly to a specific set of students who share common needs or interests. For example,
- Classes for boomer women, or mother-daughter classes
- Classes for people struggling with specific health or mobility challenges: such as chronic arthritis, back/spine issues, or cancer
- Classes for people who need help restoring their self-esteem (or even their youthful appearance), as a result of being laid off or other painful life passages
- Classes for bikers, skiers and runners who need help relaxing those overly tight leg muscles, or to build upper body strength
- Classes for tennis players, or skiers, or golfers — you get the idea
What about classes that target specific pain zones — the kinds of anatomical or bio-mechanical problems that many people in your area are likely to experience? How about team-teaching with a like-minded physical therapist?
- Classes for people with tight shoulders, disk issues or neck problems — the kinds of issues faced by people who spend too many hours at the computer
- Classes for people with lower back weakness, or balance challenges
- Combined nutrition and yoga classes for people who want to manage (and maintain) weight loss in a non-faddish way
Increase Your Reach
Have you explored whether people who work for the larger employers in your area might be interested in classes offered at their workplace (after hours, before the workday begins, or during lunch hours)?
Classes at over-55 communities, senior centers, churches, etc.?
In addition to your private tutorials, have you developed classes or other services to help your students get more benefit out of their home-based asanas?
Do you offer asana guidance via podcasts that your students can download and listen to at home or when they’re traveling? If you get good at this, you might be able to offer a subscription service for a series of weekly or monthly podcasts that you market over the Internet.
If you have a friend with a digital camcorder, why not post some videos of your teaching style and philosophy on YouTube?
Have you thought about ways you might provide some online instruction (yoga sequences, guided meditation, etc.) that students could use to guide their practice, at the student’s convenience, on days when she can’t get to a studio for a scheduled class?
Some Examples from a Seattle Studio
The studio where I practice is quite sophisticated; their classes are overflowing. Here are some of the things my teachers do to keep themselves in front of their students when we’re not in their class:
- Create and sell an annual yoga calendar that features real students in a series of poses (including women over 80!)
- Send monthly newsletters by email to students who choose to receive them. The emails contain poems or stories written by the teachers, often with photos that inspire meditation — and reminders about upcoming classes, retreats, and special events.
- Host several special events each quarter (like weekend retreats in lovely settings within a few hours’ drive of their studio) or classes on special topics.
- And of course, they have a web site with information about the teachers, the classes, the events calendar, etc.
If you’re struggling to keep your yoga studio vibrant and full of students, I hope one or more of these ideas will lead to increased business success for you.
Society as a whole benefits when yoga values infuse people’s daily lives and activities. But for the struggling yoga studio or newly certified teacher, explosive growth in teacher certifications leads to increased competition in the local market. To thrive and grow in a crowded market requires a thoughtful strategy, one that’s put into practice via a focused and disciplined set of tactics.