Lateral thinking, is the ability to think creatively, or “outside the box” as it is sometimes referred to in business, to use your inspiration and imagination to solve problems by looking at them from unexpected perspectives. Lateral thinking involves discarding the obvious, leaving behind traditional modes of thought, and throwing away preconceptions. -Steve Jobs
“Strive not to be a success, but rather to be of value.” – Scott Dinsmore
In response to the Denver Post article about how hard it is to be a yoga teacher and survive financially I thought I would add lateral thinking to this very controversial subject.
As in all the articles that speak of the trials of being a yoga instructor, I am constantly reminded of how entitled our society feels when it applies to yoga and the business of yoga. For twenty-three years, I have been a teacher of movement, and not once in my life have I spoke the words out loud or to myself, ”I am worth more.” I teach from a place of inspiration and passion. I am a full time teacher who loves to teach no matter if I get paid to do so or not. I have volunteered my teaching many times over my career as a teacher, and never once have I thought that I was being taken advantage of. I helped to develop a yoga program at one of the biggest yoga corporations around, CorePower, and built the first class I was ever given from three students to 120 students. Every Saturday morning I would teach to 100+ students and got paid $40 per class, and never once was I upset. I was proud of myself. My class pay did not represent my worth. I never allowed my huge turnout make me feel that I was entitled to anything more. What I did is looked at it as an opportunity to build my future. And that is just what I did; I built my future. I became more than a yoga teacher after that experience. And when I did, I made money.
I look at every teaching opportunity as a way to expand my knowledge, my brand and my reputation. Every free or paid class, workshop, training, festival and event that I said yes to has given me the experience necessary to be the teacher I am today. Without experience there is no knowledge. And without knowledge there is no experience. We live in a world where the yoga business has become a service industry filled with disgruntled teachers and students. I believe everyone is disgruntled because no one is talking about the other side of this issue. No one is breaking down what success really means. Success does not come in the form of salary or pay structure. Of course, just like you, I have to pay my bills; but success to me is doing work that actually matters.
Many times over the past 23 years, I have wished that teaching public movement classes such as yoga was not the work that mattered to me. On many occasions I have wondered what it would be like if I worked for someone else, or a company/corporation. I have wondered what life would be like for me if I never opened myself up for the entire world to judge/review my work. I have wondered how I would have turned out if I chose not to live as a creative who gets her heart broken every time I disappoint a student, receive a bad review, have a student cancel their membership or have a friend-turn-yoga teacher-turn-enemy. Life would be so much easier if I would have remained a student. But I didn’t choose the easy path. I have to teach. I have to suffer and I have to be responsible for my own actions. I was never meant to be anything else but a teacher and business woman. I am doing exactly what I am meant to do and I am answering to my responsibility.
We are each given a unique calling, and it’s our job to accept our calling. To avoid your calling goes against the laws of the universe, yet it’s the number one mistake we as humans do with our lives. We go against what naturally resides in us, our given power, and we get a good job. A job with a high salary, long hours, meaningless work, good benefits and retirement plan. This is not success unless it’s work that means something to you. This is why people start out as yoga teachers; they want to do the work that matters to them. But then they begin to feel as they are entitled to make a living off of only teaching. You can’t, and you won’t. You have to teach and be an entrepreneur if you want to make this a full time career. Full time in the yoga business is not, and it shouldn’t be, teaching 15 classes per week at four different studios. A good yogi entrepreneur holds teaching as their core product, and then designs themselves as a brand/business. And that is when you make money.
I am not only a teacher, and I never set out to be just a teacher. I am a mom, a business woman, I teach more than yoga and I am a leader. I am all of these things and more because of my teaching experience, both through paid and volunteer work. I am a teacher who would never choose to complain about not making enough money to survive. I am teacher who used my opportunity to teach at a studio for $40 a class to become the successful business woman I am today. I knew from the very beginning of my teaching journey that teaching is not a full time, financially secure career choice, and if it was meant to be then everyone would do it…wait, everyone is doing it!
So, why do articles like the one recently published by the Denver Post assume that yoga teachers are entitled to a full time career just because they complete a 200-hour or even a 500-hour teacher training? There are very few people who can turn teaching into a full time career. And to give the impression that a teacher can make up to a $100 from teaching one class is a broad statement that cannot be backed up and should not be promoted as an option in the yoga business world. Yoga is as corporate as big oil and healthcare; it’s a racket and one that I no longer accept.
Yoga teachers are not physical therapists or doctors. They should not be paid as such. Most of the yoga teachers who are making $100 per class are teachers who have taught for many years, and have the opportunity to work in a studio with a large yoga room, large enough to hold 50+ people. Not all yoga studios are like this, and for that I am thankful. If a teacher is paid $2/head, then some teachers are making $4/class, and some (very few, if any) are making $100/class. To present that teachers are, or should be paid this amount of money because they know how to link Crescent lunge pose to Warrior 2 pose is an insane business model. It’s the same business model that has created the space for disgruntled teachers and students, one that leaves the business owner looking like the asshole for not paying their teachers a wage they can live on. Who ever said that teaching yoga was supposed to be a career? It’s not. So allow me to break down the membership-based yoga studio business model. A yoga studio membership cost is $79-$109 per month (more at other studios, especially the corporate run studios). Let’s say a student is paying $109/month, which is $3.63 per day. If that student takes five classes per week they are paying the studio $5.08 a class. If the business model is to pay teachers $2 per head then the studio is only making $3.08 per student in each class. If you have 50 people in one class then the teacher makes $100 and the studio makes $154. How can this work? The studio is responsible for paying rent, electric, music licensing, heat/gas, marketing, promotion, credit card transaction fees, etc. To read another article about how hard it is for a yoga teachers to survive financially is seriously illogical!
I get it, maybe these articles are written from the standpoint of larger studios who have thousands of members, but to speak of how hard it is to make it as a yoga instructor truly leaves out the whole story. This is the power of lateral thinking: one that involves taking in every perspective and each person’s story before saying things like “you’re worth more”. We all are, and yet we’re not. Teachers (people for that matter) that constantly talk about how they are worth more drive me crazy. Who is to say that this person is worth more than another? When did the yoga business cater to martyrs? Success is doing work that matters to you. If teaching yoga matters to you then teach with an entrepreneurial spirit. In the book Entrepreneur Revolution by Daniel Priestly, he encourages entrepreneurs to create an Ascending Transaction Model (ATM) to make money in your business. And for the sake of this blog post, the business I am talking about is Yoga. If you’re truly going to make it as a full-time yoga teacher then you need to be willing to work for it. And what i mean by work for it, is to treat it like a business. Getting paid $100/class is not a business. Creating an ATM system is a business and it’s how the money is made in the yoga business. Let’s break down the ATM business model strategy a little further…
From Chapter 10: The Ascending Transaction Model (ATM)
Knowing what you are passionate about is not enough to make money business. Having a valuable IP is not enough either. If you want to make money from your business you need to have an elegant product strategy. In this chapter we’re going to look at a very powerful product strategy that makes a lot of money. It involves four types of products that strategically work together to generate a lot of revenue. I have called this system an Ascending Transaction Model (ATM) because I want you to remember that it’s designed to give you money. Great businesses have four types of products that all serve a unique purpose:
Let’s breakdown the four types of products (aka opportunities) in the yoga business:
As a yoga teacher, your gift comes in the form of free classes, community events, fundraisers, festivals, workshops and events. It’s these types of opportunities that you say yes to so you can show the world how brilliant your teaching is. It’s these gift giving opportunities that exposes you as a teacher, and they are your first opportunity for you as a teacher to make a name for yourself. Say yes to new opportunities. And also know when to say no…another blog post on this in the future. For now, let’s start by learning to say yes and then we can learn when and why to say no. It’s a process. It’s simple but not easy. First step. Entice people to want to know more about what you do. Say yes!
2. Products for Prospects: this is a product for people who want to try you out without committing too much money or time.
A couple of years ago, at the starting point of my research into becoming a more educated business woman, I read an interesting study on how no customer values free. At the time I had a one week free offer for all new students to my studio, an age-old yoga studio business method to get new students to the studio and fill classes, and realized that the study was true. There weren’t too may people converting to a membership after one week and most of them only did one or two classes. This is not a business method that was working for me, so I changed directions. I tried something different: we abolished the one week free and replaced it with 30 days for $40 (now 30 days for $60) and business boomed. It was exactly what we needed to do to increase membership sales. It takes time to experience results and to find your groove in a new studio. One week is not enough time to explore a studio or a movement method. The thirty day trial period increased our membership conversions and created results for our students who came in at least three times per week.
If you’re a struggling yoga teacher trying to make it financially, stop teaching basic classes only, come up with a program or workshop idea that embodies and supports the theme or message of the studio you teach at, and add your own unique spin to it to make it yours. Then offer your product (workshop/event) to the public for a price, a good price. Not too low and not too high. You offer your product as a way to promote your new direction, or passion in your industry. The product you create should be used as a way to share your ideas and philosophies in movement/yoga. Stay away from generic ideas/classes. The classes you teach to the public, the one’s you get paid $25-$50 to teach are your generic classes. Your product for prospects, be it Yoga for Dudes, Yoga for Runners, Yoga for Better Sex…whatever your product design it should be unique to you. Your core business is teaching yoga. You teach generic classes at the studio and then you create a product for prospect. Please note, when I say generic, I don’t mean bad or boring, what I mean is that it’s a class taught to the public with all types of bodies and expectations in front of you. Your unique product design has a specific target audience. That is when you teach uniquely and specific to the audience in front of you. What is your movement passion? Do you love to teach biomechanics or meditation? Who is your audience? Do you want to work with athletes, or office workers? Why? Share your story with your students. Are you a reformed runner turn yoga teacher because you healed your mind and body from the regiments of running through yoga. Design your product unique to you and then offer it to the world for a small fee. Pitch your idea to a studio. Offer them 30% of your revenue to use their facilities. Learn social media marketing. Put yourself out there and offer something different. This is where you begin to make money on top of your paid classes.
Don’t forget how important your studio (generic) classes are to you and your brand. Without your studio classes, you would have no path to exposure. You would have no chance to build your unique audience. You can’t have one without the other. They are both important and your unique product should support the studio and the studio should support you and your product. Find the right studio and people to work with. This is the single most important first step. Find your community. One filled with owners, teachers and students who inspire you to push harder and go bigger in life. Don’t ask for more money to teach generic classes; make money through remarkable product design. You are remarkable. Show the world. Create a workshop or program around your passion and start to make more money.
3. A core product: the products or services you are famous for. With these products you can deliver a full and remarkable solution to what people want. They are your main focus and your customer and client’s cannot stop talking about them. You’ve given people a taste of what you can do with your gifts and products for prospects but now it’s time to be paid for your fair value when someone wants to access your core business. You must create a special methodology that makes your core offering remarkable. You need to push your team (yourself) to be the best in your market for this type of product.
After five years (and even more if you’re serious about being a career yoga teacher) of teaching generic classes, giving gifts and the creation of your product for prospects it’s time to start getting paid for your devotion to your yoga career. Now it’s time to design a website, brochures and social media marketing campaigns to raise your profile as a leader in your industry for your core product. Your core product is a design unique to you. Don’t just teach yoga. The key is to create a full and remarkable solution to your ideal customer’s problem. You want your core product to turn people into cheerleaders for your brand. You want a core product that is remarkable and something worth talking about. I’m sorry but your awesome yoga sculpt class that you taught on Saturday at Corepower is not remarkable. Yes, people love you. And yes you’re a great teacher, but as a yoga sculpt teacher, as a yoga teacher, you’re generic. Anyone can do what you do. Be remarkable. This means implement some sort of change for your client. Create something that is not currently being taught at every yoga studio in the world. Create something that your cliental can’t create on their own. The job of the core product is to make profit. Here are examples of going from product for prospects to core product, from making a small stipend teaching studio classes to being paid additional money for a unique product to making profit on your core product. I will use myself as an example:
I was hired by Corepower in 2003 to help develop a fusion idea they had of combining yoga with weights. At the time there wasn’t even a name for the program. Myself including a handful of other teachers started to teach yoga sculpt to our yoga students. It was not well received in the yoga world at it’s inception but we pushed on even though the murk of resistance and negative feedback. Eventually, Yoga Sculpt became the most popular class on the CPY schedule, growing from three students to 100+ in less than two years. I loved yoga sculpt very much and was passionate about the idea of fusion movement.
Working at CPY and saying yes to an opportunity to build a program from the ground up led me to my own product for prospect which launched the first fusion movement studio in Denver, Colorado now known as QiFlow. I had the opportunity to test market my theory of fusion movement at one of the most prestigious and largest yoga corporations around and I helped make it a success. If I would have cared about how much I was making per class while creating this program I would have lost my passion for creation. In the end I made way more than $40 per class. I was paid to grow myself as an entrepreneur. I was paid to create my teaching resume. I never asked CPY what they could do for me, I asked them how I could be of service to them. I asked for opportunities, I did not ask for money. Corepower became successful and so did I.
When I launched my first cycle and yoga studio, a membership-based studio that offered the Denver yoga community something different, I created a product for prospect unique to me. I gave away a lot of free classes, free membership and free workshops during my first few years of business and never once thought that I shouldn’t, or that I was entitled to more. Now ten years later, my product for prospect has become one piece of my core offering. My first three years of business, I offered Cycle-Yoga classes and Yoga classes, now I have created a movement method called QiFlow and studio business called QiFlow Fusion Studios. In addition to Cycle-Yoga and the QiFlow Movement Method, I’ve launched over ten international yoga and fitness retreats, created teacher trainings for my unique movement method, created QiTopia Winter a yoga and fitness adventure held every year at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs Resort and QiTopia Summer an Entrepreneur camping retreat at Shambhala Mountain Center, both retreats local to Colorado. I own two studios and plan to continue to to inspire and innovate through program design, teacher development and community building. My core product is my ability to teach movement. And from there I expand. I have never and I will never expect to be paid a lot of money by teaching generic classes, but I know that without the generic classes I have no opportunity to make the real money in yoga.
4. Logical Next Steps (LNS): Your core product is so delightful that your clients want to know what comes next. The LNS products are the products you mostly sell to people who’ve already purchased your core business. The example used in the book is that of BMW. They are known for their cars but they make a lot of money in finance and insurance (the logical next step after you’ve just bought a car). Then they service your vehicle and eventually they handle the sale of your older car as they upgrade you to their new model. Your LNS product should be highly profitable. Selling to existing clients is highly profitable because the cost of winning the relationship has already been covered. There are a few rules to the LNS system. The first rule is that it is highly profitable and the second rule is that it’s different. It must not simply be more of the same. IF your core business is accounting, your LNS can’t be more accounting in some other form; instead it could be legal services, business coaching, software, temping staff, etc. And the final rule is that it is logical. You don’t want to confuse your clients with a second product offering that just doesn’t fit with your brand. If you sell graphic design you don’t offer personal training as a second sale because it does not make sense. The LNS product is a ‘logical next step’ that shows up after you solved the first problem. For example, after a fitness trainer helps their client lose weight the client logically wants to buy new clothes; the fitness trainer could add a personal image consulting service to their business.
The logical next step for a yoga teacher who has spent five+ years teaching generic classes, offering gifts in the form of free community classes, workshops, festivals or events and launching their product for prospects is possibly ready for the LNS product. My personal logical next step after teaching generic classes, giving away gifts and designing an abundant amount of product for prospects in yoga was to move away from only offering yoga and fitness classes. I have spent 23 years teaching movement, twelve years teaching yoga, and now I am taking my experience, wisdom and knowledge of my past 23 teaching years and have created my version of a movement practice called The QiFlow Movement Method. A movement method that teaches five elements of wu wei (effortless action): 1. BodyKnowledge 2. SportConditioning 3. PerformanceTraining 4. MobilityFlow® 5. BodyAbility.
This logical next step for me has awakened possibility for myself, my students, my clients, friends and teachers. My logical next step was to stop having only one term to define me – Yoga Teacher – and instead I have now become an expanded version of my past 23 years. As Ido Portal says in an interview on London Real: “Changing your dogma takes guts. It takes bravery. It takes courage. Because you live for long periods of time with ideas of who you are and then you realize that is not who I am, and that can be a very dark moment.”
The day I left my dogma, yoga being my dogma, I felt alone and confused. It wasn’t an easy choice, but it was my only choice. Today I am a Movement Teacher, Biomechanist, Business Owner, Entrepreneur, Mentor, Leader, Mother, Activist and a Game Changer. Less than three years ago my definition of myself was a yoga teacher trying to run a business while trying to survive motherhood. My whole life has changed. I make money, I provide for my son and my two dogs. I change people’s lives and I do the work that matters the most to me. And I did it by giving away my gifts and building my future through practice, patience and perseverance. I did it, and you can, too. You just have to be wiling to do the work. One of my favorite sayings is, “Everyone wants to be able to do a handstand but no one wants to put the work into being able to do one.” I feel the same about yoga instructors; every teacher thinks they deserve more but they don’t want to do the work to receive more. Do more than teach. Be a Yogi Entrepreneur.