By Lynn Burgess
The yoga industry is booming, and in 2012, owning a yoga or Pilates studio entered the ranks of top 10 fastest growing industries, according to marketing research firm IBISWorld. It’s easy to see why. Research conducted by Sports Marketing Surveys in 2012 shows that more than 20 million Americans practice yoga, an increase of nearly 5 million since 2008, says the report, which was commissioned by Yoga Journal.
That’s wonderful in theory, says Lynn Burgess, founder and director of Yoga from the Heart in Sarasota, Fla., but can be a real challenge in practice. Burgess, who opened her studio in 1998, after earning her MBA, says she’s seen many new studio owners, who entered the industry out of a love for yoga, make a number of common business mistakes.
“Owning your own business is the American dream. For those who love yoga, opening a yoga studio feels like a natural expression of that dream,” says Burgess. “Unfortunately, many well-intended people fall victim to a disastrous assumption. They believe that since they know how to teach yoga, they will be able to run a yoga business. It’s simply not true. To build an enterprise that actually works, you have to know or quickly learn how to run a business.”
Burgess says that men and women considering opening a yoga studio should consider the following questions.
1. What do I know about running a business (i.e. what practical experience do I have)? If the answer is “not much,” you’ll learn about critical concepts, such as cash flow, the hard way. Financial statements, profit and loss reports, and other financial documents take on new importance when you are the owner.
2. Am I willing to sell more than teach? Yoga is a growing practice in America, however, in a crowded marketplace, you’ll need to be comfortable selling yourself and your business. What will set you and your studio apart from all the others? Your mastery of yoga techniques and your inspiring teaching abilities will often have to take the back burner as you handle the more tedious matters of running a business.
3. Do I have money to invest up front? Successful business owners know that it takes money to make money. In addition to the usual start-up expenses, upfront money is required for everything from marketing to mirrors and utility deposits. It all adds up in a hurry. And don’t forget about insurance. You’ll need to look into malpractice insurance, property insurance and liability insurance. If someone is so blissed out after class they trip and fall in the parking lot, you want to be covered.
4. Do I have what it takes to weather the ebbs and flows? Many businesses experience peaks and valleys, so don’t count on constant revenue. You’ll need cash reserves until your studio builds critical mass and takes off. During the lean times, it’s easy to view the natural ebb of your business as a failure. Your ability to persist in the face of any setback is the key to your success.
5. Do I understand how my life is going to be affected during the infancy phase of my business? During infancy, or in a down economy or a crowded market, when you cut back on office help, it’s not unusual to find yourself poring over the books late on a Sunday night at the end of an unbelievably hectic week, thinking about all of the other work you didn’t get done during the week, and all of the work waiting for you next week. In the beginning, the business is your life. Be prepared for how this will affect you, personally, and your family.
6. How much am I willing to do pro bono? Many business owners do lots of things to promote their products and services, including giving free talks, offering free demonstrations and submitting free articles. Part of your marketing mix should involve doing pro bono work to get your classes and programs visible to the public. Unless you are well known, be prepared to give before you get.
7. Am I willing to invest in professional development? Remember the old saying, “Lawyers who represent themselves have fools for clients?” The same concept applies to teachers who consult and teach themselves. The best teachers know they must continually work on their teaching style and presentation while staying up-to-date on relevant industry developments. The best business owners know they must continually work on their business strategy. Be prepared to pay for expert help (from lawyers, accountants, business advisors and others) on an ongoing basis.
To make your business successful, Burgess says you’ll need to be smart about your time and resources. You have to be committed to the process and not hinge your well being on results. If you decide to open your own studio, make sure you have what it takes to see it through. “Attitude and perseverance are half the battle,” she says. “You can get past being a hobby business owner if you treat your business like a business from day one.”
Where to get help
Burgess says you can get additional guidance from the following:
- SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to providing free, confidential, face-to-face and email business counseling, mentoring and training to small businesses.
- Many state colleges offer small business development centers, which can assist you with entrepreneurial issues and suggest ways to grow your business
- Yoga studio coaches and consultants know where you’re coming from and can answer—and anticipate—challenges and questions that will arise.
About the Author
Lynn Burgess MBA, RYT 500, E-RYT 500, travels the US teaching yoga workshops, and also leads classes and trains teachers at her studio, Yoga from the Heart, in Sarasota, Fla. When she’s not teaching, Lynn is providing coaching and consulting to current and potential studio owners. Follow Yoga from the Heart on Facebook and Twitter.