The Business of Yoga

This evening I had my last yoga teacher training core session.  (Technically, I still have one make-up session to complete because of a class that was canceled due to a snow storm back in February… but effectively, tonight’s class was the last piece of content to be addressed in the training series curriculum.)  This evening’s topic was “The Business Of Yoga”.

Though I work in business (and have worked in a corporate setting for the duration of my career [14 years so far]), I don’t know much about being a business – which is in effect what a yoga teacher is: a business.

However, being a business is quite different from running a business.  Tonight’s teacher made that distinction very clear: A yoga instructor is basically an independent contractor.  A yoga studio owner is a manager of people.  These are two very different things.  A person can be a great yoga instructor and a crummy business/studio owner; and a person can be a wonderful studio owner and not know the first thing about yoga.  The two are very different skill sets, and really are mutually exclusive.  Just because a person can do one skill really well, don’t assume the other skill will also be a strength (or even a source of enjoyment!).

I was curious about what information might be shared with us this evening.  What does the merging of aspirational yoga and tactical/practical business look like?  As I have decent experience in the business world, I also wondered how much of tonight’s information I would already know, and how much of it would be new to me.  I’m amazed (and delighted!) to report that probably 80% of the information presented was new to me; I’m honestly a bit surprised by exactly how much rich, valuable knowledge I learned in just two hours.

And I think this material extends well beyond the scope of yoga.  I think any individual who is working as an independent contractor in a ‘softer-skills’-type setting (be it consulting, or life coaching, or photography, or personal organization, or as an artist, or dancer, or massage therapist, or dietician…. [you get the idea]) would be well-served to apply these same learnings to their own practice/professional life.  It’s good stuff.

Okay – so what did I learn?  :)  Here’s the scoop.

[Oh, but wait a second; before I get started, here’s a standard disclaimer: I’m not a lawyer, or a financial advisor, or a security professional.  I’m not dispensing any legal, tax, or personal/public safety advice.  I’m simply sharing information that was shared with me because I thought the content was good, and it had an impact on me.  If this same information benefits others, wonderful.  But don’t do anything I say simply because I say it; use your own mind, consult your own experts, make your own decisions, and live your life, not mine.  Okay? :)  Okay.  Here we go…]

Topic #1:   What does it mean to be a yoga teacher/independent contractor?  What does one need to do?

  • Get liability insurance!  A yoga teacher works with other people’s bodies – and therefore needs to legally protect him/herself.  Relatively ‘cheap’ insurance can be secured through IDEA (http://www.ideafit.com/) or Yoga Journal (http://www.yogajournal.com/) [and probably other places, too].
  • Require all students to complete a liability form (BEFORE you work with them).  And if teaching children, require their parents/legal guardians to sign a liability form.
  • Become CPR/AED certified.  (This is something I’ve been ‘meaning’ to do for a while, and honestly just haven’t made it a priority…)
  • Make yourself an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation).  A yoga teacher makes money, but lacks the protection of an employer – and therefore needs to financially protect him/herself.  Creating an LLC keeps any contracting assets separate from all other assets (namely, one’s home, one’s savings accounts, one’s independent investments, one’s potential future income/revenue streams, etc.).  Creating an LLC is done at the state level (so a person needs to go their state’s government website to find the application information.  And if a person lives on a state border, and wants to teach/work in multiple states, they need to create {become?} an LLC in all those different states).
  • Manage finances well; keep detailed (meticulous) financial records.  1) Open a separate checking and savings account for the LLC.  2) Document the names and dates of students/classes taught, the amount of money earned per class/lesson taught, all receipts for expenditures [parking, photocopies, supplies], etc.  3) Pay tax estimates on a quarterly basis.

One thing that was extra-surprising for me was the strong suggestion that a yoga teacher take all of the actions listed above even if he/she is teaching strictly on a volunteer basis.  In reflecting about it for a few minutes, this makes a lot of sense; but it also made me kind of sad.  While I’m not super-confident that I’m going to be teaching a lot in exchange for financial compensation, I have considered volunteering yoga instruction services to a variety of different underserved populations.  Innocent little me, I thought that if I were simply volunteering my time and talents out of the goodness of my heart, that I would be ‘exempt’ from being sued, from being held liable for any accidents that might occur, from people trying to get money from me…. When the instructor brought awareness to taking the above steps even if one wants to do volunteer work only, it did make sense; but it also kind of disappointed me.  (“No good deed goes unpunished,” as the saying goes.)

But anyway, all of that was just part of the total package of really good advice we were given.  The teacher continued:

Topic #2:  In addition to what a yoga teacher needs to do, what should one do as well?

  • Become a member of Yoga Alliance.  Becoming an ‘official’ RYT 200 instructor is a powerful marketing tool.  However, if a person does become ‘officially’ RYT 200, he/she needs to be sure to complete the necessary number of continuing education hours each year in order to maintain that status.
  • Develop marketing tools.  Business cards, a website, a yoga resume, a Facebook page….
  • Manage your brand.  We talked for a bit about the need to maintain a ‘brand’ image, in all facets of one’s life.  As an independent contractor, the line between ‘professional’ and ‘personal’ suddenly (immediately) becomes razor-thin; so this means actively managing all of the ‘stuff’ about you that might be ‘out there’ for people to see or find.  Specific actions we discussed included cleaning up one’s personal Facebook page (i.e., remove anything unsavory, embarrassing…); Google-ing your name and your LLC name (if they are different) and cleaning up anything that needs to be addressed from the search results; then maintaining the type of image you want to have from that point forward.

This last point about “personal brand” is an excellent one, and one I learned several years ago ‘the hard way’.  While at the time the experience I went through/created out of my own poor decisions was pretty awful, I am grateful I had that tough lesson in my life path, because it really opened my eyes – and it kicked me in the butt to take a long, deep, hard look at myself.  The painful introspection that resulted was one of several factors that converged to prompt me to make pretty dramatic and sweeping changes in my life.  It took some wicked hard work (and some angst, and some tears), but now (a few years later) I have a life that I not only love, but am truly proud of.  And I think it’s both an honor and a delight to be able to live that way.  Here’s to positive maintenance.  :)

Okay, on to Topic #3: Things to be aware of when working with businesses.

In this segment of the class, we discussed standard methods of payment for yoga services rendered (i.e., getting paid per class versus per student); we discussed standard rates of payment (which vary from state to state, and area to area; in this metro, $20-35 per class and $4-6 per student seem to be pretty average); we discussed what it means to teach ‘a lot’ of classes in a week (personally, I think this is a matter of individual preference – but the guidance we were given is that 4-5 classes per week is manageable, while 6+ gets to be ‘a lot’).  We also discussed good strategies to use to build a client base (i.e., maintain a regular teaching schedule so that students know when and where to expect you; only teach at studios you like/respect), and we talked about a few different ways to get exposure in general (i.e., get on substitute teaching lists, teach a Community Education class, do some volunteer yoga work…).  

One really interesting item that came up was the notion of teaching yoga while on vacation.  Specifically, when going on a cruise, or to a resort, or to some other ‘yoga-friendly’-type destination, some teachers have contacted the management of these entities in advance of their trip, and asked if the vacation resource might be interested in using their yoga teaching services in exchange for a reduced rate, or a nice upgrade, or some comps…. What a concept!  I never would have thought of this; but it does seem like it could be cool to do.  Wild!  I really might have to try that one out…

Finally, we segued to Topic #4: Safety. 

  • The instructor began this talk by stating, “Public yoga classes are just that – public.”  Again, this awareness made me a little sad.  I like to think that people who are interested in yoga are interested in bettering themselves, and so can be trusted…. And this discussion point was a really, really good reminder for me that my assumption simply isn’t true.  Not everyone has good intentions.  And that’s sad.  But it’s real.  And I need to deal with what is real – for my own health, well-being, and literal safety.  Point taken.  So, to that end, some good safety reminders:
  • Never teach in a studio alone.
  • Never leave a studio alone (especially at night).
  • Don’t let students know where you live.
  • Be very careful if you choose to teach private lessons – especially if the lessons are occurring in a client’s home.  Never teach private lessons in your own home.
  • Trust Your Instincts.  Don’t worry about being unkind, or “overly worried”, or “over-reacting”.  If something feels ‘wrong’, ‘off’, etc., it probably is.  Better safe than raped or dead.  (Sorry to be blunt; but it’s true.  And if I offend someone but help them to stay safe, I am absolutely okay with that…)
  • Keep your body balanced when teaching/demonstrating asanas.  (I.e., don’t demonstrate a pose on only one side of the body.  If you demonstrate a pose on the right side, demonstrate it on the left side, too.)

In the past, some students have complained that this last class is a “downer”.  After all of the time we have spent chanting and meditating, and discussing intentions and volunteerism/public service, we end our training focused on the topics of money, and legality, and marketing, and safety… “What a depressing way to end!” some people say.  Interestingly, my take on all of this is quite different.  I’m grateful that we spent two hours discussing the realistic implications and practicalities of our idealistic goals and aspirations – I know I’m naïve, and I know I can be entirely too trusting; and I appreciate the reminder to keep my heart open, yes; but to use my head, too.  I needed this instruction.  I needed tonight’s session.  I’m grateful that all of this information was shared with genuine concern and compassion; and I’m grateful that I was ‘teachable’ enough to receive it.

Stef

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About Stef

A "serious" gal who is trying to remember to lighten up and smile.
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6 Responses to The Business of Yoga

  1. Angela says:

    This was very informative. Thank you so much for sharing all that you learned:) It was extremely helpful to me. Namaste

  2. Danielle Spillman says:

    This has been INCREDIBLY helpful. Thank you!

    • Stef says:

      You are so welcome! I’m glad you found it helpful. Are you a yoga teacher? If so, what style(s) do you teach, and practice?

      • Danielle Spillman says:

        Hey Stef!!! I am a teacher and I teach Vinyasa. I’d really like to get into teaching prenatal yoga eventually, too. :) Are you teaching right now???

      • Stef says:

        Danielle, I *JUST* realized I hadn’t replied to your comment!! My sincere apologies – I feel like a total hoser right now.

        To answer your question, no, I haven’t taught yoga on any regular basis. I have taught a few classes per requests of friends, but that’s it. Currently I am taking prenatal classes (my due date is 10/16 [hence some of the absentmindedness]), and am deeply appreciative of instructors who can offer that very specialized type of instruction.

        By now you may be teaching a variety of styles of yoga; I hope you are having lots of fun, and enjoying much success!

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