It’s a dream of many a yogi, but starting your own studio is beset with challenges.
By Cat Woods
So many yoga teachers, especially those who are just starting out as a teacher, the dream of starting a yoga studio. A space to teach classes all day and welcome in joyful, excited, dedicated students who are happy to pay whatever the membership costs. The dream – as most are – is an illusion. For all the joys associated with owning a studio, there is a long list of upfront costs as well as ongoing costs – foreseeable and not. Unless your budget is enormous and unbounded, there’s a need to take on multiple specialist roles yourself. This means negotiating a sale or lease, building and updating a website, marketing via traditional methods and social media, selling memberships, cleaning, hiring and managing staff and organising permits, insurance and registrations as required.
Tania Perry, a yoga teacher for over 15 years, recently opened Humble Warrior Yoga studio in Abbotsford, Melbourne. The prospect of owning a studio had always lingered in her mind, having run classes to a regular group of 10 in her home studio. “I had thought about it, but always said that I wouldn’t open a space in Melbourne. With a new studio popping up every week, I felt that the market was saturated. My partner and I were considering a move to the beach or overseas.”
Starting a yoga studio: and example
In 2017, Tania ran an event at the studio in Abbotsford, Melbourne, which turned out to be fortuitous. “I ran a Spring Equinox Workshop at the space that is now Humble Warrior in September 2017. As soon as I walked into the studio, I knew it was mine. Mum, a healer and counsellor felt it too, straight away. We have always been fairly intuitive. She said “Tan, you have to teach here, this is your studio”. I guess the seeds were sewn.”
“I started teaching in the space, just a Yin class,” she recalls. “I was feeling a little disheartened working for others. I had been freelance teaching for about 2 years and had so many ideas that I was not able to be put into action, and thoughts of how I would love to do things differently. The opportunity arose to buy the studio at the beginning of 2018. I had the means so I took the plunge. It wasn’t advertised, just an email out to staff. It all happened pretty quickly!”
Tania wasn’t entirely new to the yoga business, having worked for various studios in their initial set up phase and taking part in decisions around scheduling, workshops, training and how to best utilise the space and budget. She relied upon expert advice though, and yoga teachers with dreams of running a business would be wise to find a trusted expert to avoid legal and statutory ramifications of not following all due processes.
“I went in eyes wide open,” she admits. “Having worked in studios for 2 years I was well aware of the challenges. Although, so many hoops and hurdles, it did test my resolve and it wasn’t easy.
“I was fortunate to have a great lawyer/ close family friend who has helped me in the past with real estate and other matters. He skilfully guided me through the process; several drafts and redrafts of lease agreements, various negotiations. He helped to clarify the process and provided a lot of advice.”
Unlike opening a gym, if you’re starting a yoga studio you must consider the values and principles of the practice and the community. “Yoga is a niche market. First and foremost the space has to be right aesthetically. You have to decide your point of difference and for me it is important to be authentic. Yoga is not just about fitness and exercise, it is an all-encompassing form of exercise, mind, body and spirit. I wanted to create a community, not just a place where people go, sweat and leave. I want to know people’s names, I want to know their lives, Yoga is about community, it is more personal and personalised. It is not just a business, it is family.”
Mandy Scotney, manager of Sydney based studio BodyMindLife, says, “Running a yoga business is a very different experience to being a yoga teacher or just loving the practice. One of the reasons BodyMindLife has grown from one to four studios across Sydney is because we’ve created a team with a very different set of skills. We all love what we do but we also understand that we each have strengths in certain areas – from operations through to marketing. It’s classic advice but is really important – don’t try to do everything alone.”
Humble Warrior was ready for immediate use. “The studio was fully equipped, right down to the slat lamp and the Buddha statue. I paid for it all in the purchase price. I had to buy all new signage and will be investing in air conditioning unit. But it was already an established space, so bolsters, mats, blankets all here.”
For Scotney, the challenge was taking the existing model and being adaptable to what clients wanted and expected from BodyMindLife. “Know who you are and what sets you apart but be prepared to change,” she advises. “BodyMindLife started out as a Bikram Yoga studio more than 15 years ago. We’ve since evolved and become a studio that offers Vinyasa flow and Yin, as well as reformer Pilates and meditation. It’s so important to listen to your students and understand what they need, and how they want to practice.”
Marketing and communications are key to raising awareness of new and existing studios, while also posing a challenge to new owners with little experience in balancing books, handling advertising or creating a digital identity for business.
“I have used social media and run boosted campaigns on Facebook and Instagram to promote events. Word of mouth, new signage, a notice board out front attracts a lot of passers-by. I have done some flyer drops, especially for the Open Weekend. Marketing has incurred minimal costs at this stage. The website cost the most (about $750).”
“Be as good a business person as you are a yogi!” Scotney says. “Work on your business skills and financials as much as you work on your handstand.”
Timetabling has been the most time-consuming challenge and one that many new studio owners are confronted by. “It is trial and error. I have added some morning classes, changed the names of classes, Power Flow is now Prana Flow. I have added some, then taken them off when numbers have been low. We only offer 1 early class at the moment, 6.15 am and it is tiny (2-3 students). I retained the evening timeslots that were already in place as they seemed popular. Monday night is the busiest week night, both slow flow and Yin usually hit double figures (10 plus). I introduced a 90 minute Mindful yin class on Sunday night (5pm-6.30) that includes a guided meditation. This has been really popular, attracting our biggest number of 19 participants. The workshops have gone well too. Massage Yoga recently sold out (20 guests). Summer Solstice workshop attracted 23 students.”
Other studio owners have said it’s a hard slog to break even in the first few months and even years. Many have also said they don’t pay themselves for months while establishing the business. “I have not drawn a wage yet, so I’m currently living off my savings. We are just breaking even, but this business was already up and running and I am teaching most of the classes. If I was being paid we would be running at a loss. Rent is the biggest expense, then wages, so I had to rationalise and let go of a few staff. My hope is to reinstate them once business picks up, so I can step back and do more marketing, expansion & teacher training.”
The most important advice Scotney has for those who are starting a yoga studio is to ensure the business demands don’t impact negatively on their health and wellbeing. “Make time to self-care. The demands of running a business are much greater than simply teaching yoga. Keep up your own practice.”
The Five Most Important Things to Know about starting a Studio
- Marketing is important. Leverage social media, word of mouth, signage and mail-drops to attract a new, local audience. Consider advertising.
- Research. What are other studios doing effectively and where could you provide a niche offering? Perhaps nobody else does yin, a free community class, or chakra workshops.
- It’s a hard slog to break even for months at least. Ensure you have the financial stability to withstand some trial and error for a minimum of 6 months.
- A lawyer and an accountant are vital in aiding real estate deals, employment contracts and ensuring all council, tax and commercial negotiations are conducted entirely correctly.
- Remember this is a commercial business, but it is also a yoga community that you’re building. Ensure that you are guided by the same ethical principles you practice and live by: do no harm, apply yourself diligently to every aspect, accept that there must be an element of surrender and knowing that you can do everything but the results cannot be forced or predicted (isvara pranidhana).