So you think you want to be a yoga teacher? Dude you’re my friend. Lemme tell you the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Nevertheless there is no denying the power of love. I love teaching yoga. I love seeing people surprise themselves. I love witnessing healing. I love working for the forces of good. Teaching is physically invigorating, intellectually stimulating and tremendous fun. If it weren’t so damn interesting I’d never be able to maintain my extraordinary schedule. My students report I’m a badass teacher, but I’m no yoga superstar. Few people in yoga world earn more than minimum wage. No studio hires for 40 hours a week. Health insurance? Forget about it. Teach only if you are love; don’t quit yer day job until Kingdom come.
The difference between teaching and doing yoga is like the difference between painting and visiting an art gallery. Painting is having my own practice. Visiting the art gallery is the privilege of viewing yours.
In my first year of teaching I told the lady “get two friends to come to your house and your lesson is free!” I figured $20 an hour! Rounding up people? No problem. The homeowner did all my marketing ;). The trouble lay in collecting. The very nature of home-grown, grass-roots businesses attracts dirtbags. I experienced the “Dude you’re my friend” syndrome. “Syndrome” ? A group of symptoms that consistently occur together: familiarity breeds contempt. The appearance of friendship between the students and myself encouraged bad behavior when conflicting agendas emerged. I’m thinking “Dude you’re my friend! How ’bout you pay me? Didn’t we agree, $10 a lesson?”
May the good Lord protect you from spiritual people?
Dude, the “friend,” sees through the mirror darkly. She complains, “you’re MY friend! You really going to make a fuss over ten dollars?” She figures we’re meeting up for simple diversion, tea and cookies. Why does Kumari have to be such a bitch about ten bucks? I was forced to wait over two weeks for payment, which then arrived in the form of a credit card check(!) I quickly learned that spending more than 15 minutes chasing down payment was inefficient economics. Losing money collecting money? That’s workin’ stupid, not working smart. . . dude you’re my friend – spot me on this one. . . For all their talk about being “spiritual” these were very disagreeable clients. I didn’t want to be that kind of a yoga teacher. I didn’t want to spend 45% of my energy being debt collector.
I reinterred at a studio space to buffer against “dude you’re my friend” syndrome.
Unfortunately past history initially stunted the budding legitimacy. The original set of students, bless their hearts, resented the newly imposed structure. Since I had to front the rent, no more indefinite credit. No more free classes for the host. The room was big! Rectangular, and walled with mirrors. I figured at $10 a person ten of them in there would be profit in every class! That was not to be. The original, long gone “dude you’re my friend” students wheedled continually for greater discounts. dude you’re my friend. When I pointed out no gym in Santa Clarita refunds yer money because you didn’t show up, Robin retorted we weren’t in Santa Clarita.
Praise the Lord she quit coming to class taking her cadre of mean girls with her.
But not before they attempted to re-set my rates. “Natelyn” determined if she paid for ten classes at once she should have half off. Five dollars (now) in lieu of me chasing her down for ten? I patiently explained volume discount only works in businesses with objects. The first pound to ship is the most expensive. Dropping another widget into the box costs less to ship. A discount applies when costs, effort and energy have gone down. Service oriented businesses? Yoga classes? Not so much. The tenth class costs me exactly as much the first. But you would have so many more students, Natelyn argued. Yup. Twice as many to make just as much by Natelyn’s math. Just as much. I’d need 20 and one students to make more.
Twenty-one students at five dollars each minus costs equals a shit load of work for very,very small payoff.
Seriously, if I want to learn yoga – a class of five is optimal. I imagine when five people pay $20 that’s the win-win for both students and teacher. I changed venue once again when Kate offered to let me rent @ 25% of my total. Every fledging business should have such a guardian angel. I trotted out my $40 a month yoga club. Savings for anyone who comes more than four times monthly. Everyone cut off at the end of the month. I saved me untold unpaid hours of bookkeeping to charge this way. No down time spent with sign in sheets. No arguing with people who “forgot” to sign in. No time spent factoring who owes. The reward was downright Pavlovian! More yoga equals an increasingly better rate. Freshly minted regulars made spectacular progress. Bravo!
The new pricing enabled me to spend less time marketing, bookkeeping, debt collecting and more time instructing.
After four years of teaching I surrender. The nice lady who lets me pay rent on percentage got a better offer. As the one person did me a favor for three years I refuse to be angry. Dude, she’s my friend. She’s entitled to make more than the 25% of my take if she can get it. It’s no hard feelings. She understands that if I had been making pile o’money a month she would have too. That didn’t happen. Ten dollars? I’ve even gotten “bad” checks. The return fee is more than the check. I refrained from using the square. I’ve agreed to take Paypal. Paypal takes their $2 fee upfront, less for me, less for Kate. In the biological food chain Paypal does the least, receives the most and gets no flack for it. It’s so convenient!
The biggest class I ever taught was a donation class at a park.
When I looked out and saw 30 people lined up I felt giddy with excitement. I estimated at least five dollars a person. The take ? I netted $20. I netted twenty dollars, ten from the person who brought me there – a student who regularly paid me $10 a lesson. Recently I hosted a donation class for the charity “Yoga Gives Back.” The average person paid $25. That was very kind. I had volunteered my services. The studio owner, who usually charges $35 an hour to rent space, donated the venue. The posters I printed on my own dime although the organization did the graphics. Apparently people will give to readily to total strangers yet hesitate to pay for an actual service performed. They were two different sets of students to be sure. But still:
If I want to give away my services I should be the decision maker, not the deadbeat consumer. Right, am I right?
At the end of year three my business stabilized. I settled in with a body of students who paid, showed up with regularity and were gaining skill, strength, body awareness and flexibility. I am proud to say I never lost money, not even in my first year. How many new businesses can say that? I paid back the cost of yoga school in the first year. But, (there’s always a “but” right?) I’m not in a position to teach for $5, nor to injury myself teaching 21 people at once, nor to stretch my 24 hour day deeper into the night for classes. I will continue to teach at YogaYoga, including workshops. Join me New Year’s Day 2016! Maybe I’ll find another venue, or maybe I’ll devote more time to blogging.
Now y’all play nice!
It is a sacred business we’re about. It has been a gift growing old while teaching, and learning, and I’m glad I decided to teach instead of getting a job.” Darlene Z. McCampbell