Here is a fact: making a living on a yoga teacher salary is not easy. Very few yoga teachers pursue this career path for the money. However, being able to make a decent wage is key, as it is still not possible to pay bills at the end of the month with good karma. Most yoga teachers end up doing it part time or as a “hobby” while working another job, unless someone else in the household is the bread winner.
I have spent a lot of time lately talking with many yoga studio owners and yoga teachers. I have also spent a lot of time researching the topic and reading everything I could find about it. I have enjoyed reading Denise Benitez’s article about things you do not know about your yoga teacher and Michelle Marchildon’s article about why yoga is a broke business. But what I have enjoyed the most is the discussion from yoga teachers and yoga studio owners sharing their perspective and experience in those articles as well as across the web and on social media. The bottom line is that yoga teachers are really struggling to make a living. But, does it have to be that way?
While the conversation has been mostly focused on the problem, I want to start talking about the solution. What is it that the yoga industry can do to change this reality? More importantly, what can a committed yoga teacher — who wants to make a living teaching yoga — do?
Making it as a yoga teacher will ultimately depend on getting a simple equation right: the difference between income and expenses. The focus of this article will be tips to maximize income but it is absolutely critical to keep expenses low. This means that one has to think hard about whether he or she needs that latest version of the iPhone, or those really cute trendy yoga pants or that expensive yoga mat. The focus should be on basic necessities and on activities and expenses that help grow income.
The journey to being successful financially as a yoga teacher is not easy. The reality is that not everyone is going to make it. However, if you are committed and if you are ready to work hard, here are 10 tips on how to proceed:
Yoga teacher tip #1 – Get in the mindset of an entrepreneur
Congratulations! If you are a yoga teacher, you are now running your own service company. This means that when you are in class, it is all about yoga but once you step out of class, it should be all about business. You are selling a service (yoga teaching) to consumers (yoga students) through a distribution channel (yoga studios) and you have a limited number of resources (the finite number of hours you can teach each week). You need to start thinking about how you can maximize the throughput (income) from those resources (the time). You need to assess what your market rate for teaching classes is and understand your actual effective hourly rate inclusive of travel time and any other requirements for teaching at different studios (such as front desk duties before and after class). As an example, if you are getting paid $30 per class, but you need to be there 30 minutes before and after class for front desk duties and it takes you 30 minutes each way to get there, your hourly rate is $10/hour. You can grow your income by either filling your schedule with more teaching time, eliminating or reducing “wasted” time (travel time, etc.), finding new studios where you can earn a higher hourly rate (because they pay a higher rate or because you reduce your travel time), replacing teaching time at a studio with private yoga classes that would pay a higher hourly rate or any other mechanism that allows you to earn more per hour.
You are in business for yourself and if you are not continuously thinking about how to make these kind of optimizations, nobody else will. Put your thinking hat on and start thinking about ways to make “Your Name Inc” more successful.
Yoga teacher tip #2 – Get the basics right
In order to be successful as a yoga teacher, there are some fundamental pieces that need to be in place, most importantly, you need to be in it for the right reasons. You need to be passionate about yoga, about wanting to help and work with students. When times are tough, the passion is what gets you out of bed in the morning.
You also need to have the right personality and the right communication skills. You need to be someone people want to be around, someone people connect with, someone they look up to and someone who has the leadership skills to guide and inspire others. Do you have what it takes to be a great teacher? You should answer that question for yourself but know that we all have strengths and weaknesses. Understanding what they are and committing to making improvement is what it takes to make it. You can be a great yogi in your own practice but make sure that these other skills are not getting in the way of you becoming a great teacher. Note that what we think about ourselves is not always aligned with what others think about us and so the most insightful exercise you can do is to conduct a 360-degree review by asking your students, your peers, your friends and anyone else you interact with on a regular basis to fill out an anonymous survey about you. You will surely learn a lot about yourself.
Yoga teacher tip #3 – Become the best at what you do
In order to make it as a yoga teacher, you need to strive to be the best at what you do. The author Malcolm Gladwell said in his book “Outliers” that based on his study of the lives of extremely successful people, it takes roughly 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery in a field. Having completed a 200-hour yoga teacher training program, you have taken a first step in the journey towards becoming a great yoga teacher, but it is only the beginning. It is the equivalent of completing 1 quarter of study for a 4 year bachelor program at a university. Achieving mastery is not about whether you can strike the most physically challenging asana and then trying to get the most number of likes on Instagram but rather about getting as much knowledge as possible about some specific aspect of yoga that you will be focusing on. It is about continuing to improve your teaching pedagogy and your ability to lead a class. It is also about understanding how you can fulfill the need of each student through their yoga practice. You will get better at each of these aspects if you are mindful and if you are continuously seeking ways to improve what you do. You can do that in many ways: read books, review blogs and online content, watch Youtube videos, take workshops or seek advice and mentorship from others. Find the method that works best for you and ensure that you don’t settle for “good enough.”
Yoga teacher tip #4 – Differentiate and find your niche
Being just another yoga teacher won’t cut it. With the increase in the number of yoga teacher training programs being offered over the last few years, the number of yoga teachers in the marketplace has increased drastically. You need to think hard about what makes you unique and different from everyone else. You need to figure out what your differentiated value proposition is; what is it about your teaching style or the type of class that you offer that makes your students like you better? You can differentiate by focusing on a specific segment of the market or a specific type of yoga: you can offer corporate yoga or yoga for kids or yoga for the elderly or for athletes. Or maybe your differentiation is that you offer classes in Spanish or that you teach yoga in a specific neighborhood that is underserved. Define that specific segment of the population that you will be focused on based on any or a combination of those criteria, then learn as much as you can about them and their needs. Once you do, make sure that what you are offering them is different and serving their needs better than anything else others might be offering.
Yoga teacher tip #5 – Foster strong relationships in your niche
As a yoga teacher, many of the people in your friend and acquaintance circle are likely to be other yoga teachers or people tied to the studios where you teach. It is important however to ensure that your personal network is diversified and that a good portion of your friends and acquaintances fall within the target population segment you have identified above. If your goal is to focus on yoga for kids for example, you better find ways to start being around kids by hanging out with moms and building strong relationships with them. This should not be something that you force but rather something that should be very natural to you if you have selected the right niche. The best “networking” strategy is one where you engage with your target audience with a genuine desire to help. It does not have to be yoga related, just be there when they need you. This can be done in person individually or through organized groups, clubs and organizations but also digitally on social media, in forums or a blog. When you focus on helping others, they will often find ways to help you too. Next time you meet someone, learn about their passion and their challenges and ask them a simple question: “How can I help you?”
Yoga teacher tip #6 – Think beyond just teaching at a studio
There is a finite number of classes you can teach at a studio and a ceiling you can reach on how much yoga studios can afford to pay you as a yoga teacher. This means that if you want to go beyond that, you need to think “outside the box”, I mean “outside the studio.” You could be offering group classes or individual classes in venues that you rent or in people’s homes. You might be able to teach yoga at a cultural center, at a company, in an apartment complex or in a hotel. You could be offering special workshops, organizing day trips, weekend retreats or whatever your niche audience might see as valuable and for which they are willing to pay a decent amount. You could be teaching yoga on the internet through online videos or offering individualized advice and private lessons through Skype. The point here is to recognize the possibility of making a living outside of the traditional route of yoga studios; be creative, define an offering and a new product that leverages your skills and expertise to meet the needs of the target audience and creates a new source of revenue for yourself.
Yoga teacher tip #7 – Build partnerships
One of the common mistakes entrepreneurs make is trying to do everything themselves. As you look to expand beyond just teaching classes at yoga studios, you will likely face the same challenge. Early on, these entrepreneurs often lack the resources to hire others to delegate work to and so they tackle all endeavors themselves but often with below-average results. As a yoga teacher, you need to recognize your strengths and weaknesses, identify areas where you bring the most value and others where you are better off working and partnering with others who can complement your skills and help you ultimately provide a better offering. You could partner with another yoga teacher to co-host a workshop or with a travel agency to co-organize a yoga retreat, for example.
Yoga teacher tip #8 – Build a strong brand and reputation
Beyond just offering great yoga teaching, you need to think about how others perceive you. What would your students say about you if asked by their friends? Would they recommend you? Beyond just your yoga teaching, what do others think about you as a person? What do you want people to say about you when you are not around? Your behaviors, your actions, the way you speak, the way you interact with others, your engagement on social media, what people see when they google your name, how people feel when they visit your website… all of these factor and many others contribute to how you are going to be perceived. You need to make sure that all of these factors are consistent and reflective of how you want to people to see you.
Additionally, technology has significantly changed how we live our lives. According to the latest report from emarketer, in 2014, Americans spend almost six hours per day consuming digital media, over an hour of which is spent on social media. Having a strong presence online that helps build your brand and reputation is key to growing your income as a yoga teacher.
Have a well-designed website that explains why people should take your yoga classes. Be mindful of what you share on social media and how you engage with people through these channels. Don’t just broadcast promotional announcements about yourself, share content that is of vale to your audience. Establish yourself as an expert in your target niche by writing about the topic online through your personal website or blog and through a digital publication (you could become a contributor for Seattle Yoga News for example.)
Yoga teacher tip #9 – Market yourself
You might be offering the best yoga class, yoga workshop or yoga retreat for your target audience in the market but unless your target audience knows about it and they are convinced why they should attend, nobody will show up. You often hear the saying:
But the reality is often the opposite, “Build it and they won’t come,” unless you are marketing it the right way. If there is one thing that is getting in the way of yoga teachers (and yoga studios for that matter) to be successful it is their ability to market themselves effectively. It is often not sufficient to publish a blog post on your personal website and make an announcement to your personal circle of friends on Facebook. You need to find ways to reach your audience with the right message that will get them to show up. This needs to happen both online and offline. You need to tailor your message to what will resonate with your audience based on the insight you have gained about them. As an example, if you are teaching yoga for the elderly and you have learned that most of them are interested in addressing their back pain then ensure that your workshop focuses on back pain and that your messaging focuses on that aspect rather than other factors such as spirituality, for example. It might still be a great spiritual experience but if your audience is interested in “back pain,” focus on selling them on “back pain relief.”
If you do not know how to market effectively, read about it online, check out a book from the library or take a class about the topic. This is a critical skill to learn.
Yoga teacher tip #10 – Be in it for the long run
As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, making it as a yoga teacher is not easy. Similar to many other professions, success does not come easily or quickly. Ask any struggling artist, actor or musician and you will hear a very similar story. You need to demonstrate perseverance and show resilience. It is going to be a roller coaster ride. There are peaks and valleys in this journey, there are moments you will be feeling great about your progress and others when you will feel like throwing in the towel and giving up. It will take patience, a bit of luck and a lot of hard work but if your heart is in it for the right reasons and you follow the tips above, I am confident that you stand a strong chance of success.
Here is one of my favorite quotes about what it takes to succeed:
I wish you the best of luck in the journey ahead and I welcome your comments and feedback. If there are other tips that have worked for you, please use the comments section below to share them with others.
[Photos by Foto_Michel, Kevin Dooley, Kenny Louie, kullez, Chris Ford, Jeff Kubina, Bjørn Giesenbauer, Trey Ratcliff – CC BY]
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