I learned how NOT to run a business in the yoga studio

Nicole D'Andrea

Nicole D'Andrea

Posted On: 2/16/2021

5 minutes, 50 seconds read

When I talk to my Studio Owner clients about marketing, I’m always digging for key components of their story. I want to know how they came to be, what experiences have shaped who they are.

One of the key components of my story is my experience working in other yoga studios. Without a doubt, this is what shaped who I am - both as a Studio Owner and definitely as a Coach. I started teaching yoga in 2012. I actually auditioned for my first job (and got it) the Monday after I’d graduated from teacher training over the previous weekend. I was young and starry-eyed, eager to share my newfound knowledge and passion with the world. I hadn’t the slightest clue what working at a yoga studio was like.

My second job was at a studio that had been around for a long time. It had a good reputation in the yoga world, and I’d practiced there a lot. Most of the excellent teachers that I knew and respected worked there, and I really, REALLY wanted to be one of them. I don’t remember exactly how it all unfolded, but somehow I ended up on their schedule - in the shittiest of all timeslots: noon. I didn’t care. I was thrilled to be there and gleefully taught my 4 or 5 students twice per week without fail.

I wasn’t even thinking about the money at the time, but the pay was a 50/50 split of whatever the studio took in. I had no frame of reference, so I accepted that offer. One day, after collecting my measly paycheck, I finally realized that most of my lunchtime students were on Groupon, and that those Groupon students were paying a bottom-basement price for unlimited classes — my cut was laughable.

You know when you tell a story so many times it takes on a life of its own? And after a while you can’t remember what’s true and what’s exaggeration? That’s where I’m at with this one, but suffice it to say, I believe I was paid less than $5 to teach a yoga class once. When I wrapped my head around this, I put my big girl pants on. I was a yoga teacher but not a doormat. I approached the owner and basically told her that I spent more money parking my car than I made by teaching the class. I was hoping she’d work with me. She didn’t. The next time pay day rolled around, my check was mysteriously missing from the pile of teacher envelopes. It’s still missing.

My next job was at a studio led by an…eccentric character. Let’s call her P. P was kind of done with the whole ‘running a yoga studio’ thing, and we all knew it. She lamented the loss of her business partner and the “glory days.” She had a bad back and didn’t want to teach anymore, but was also completely terrified of relinquishing any control whatsoever. She’d incessantly monitor the MINDBODY attendance roster from home - to the point where I knew that if I had less than 10 people in class, I could expect a text about it before the closing ‘om’ was over. She didn’t believe in credit cards, and made a note on a literal paper calendar to remind herself when the “autopay” memberships were due. I believe she had 2. She cried a lot, fired me four or five times and took it back, and somehow managed to micromanage me without ever actually setting foot inside her own studio. This is also the place where I taught a donation-based class and a student paid with a dime bag, which she accepted.

The last studio in this tale was run by a woman named E. I really wanted to work for her too. After a few good words between a mutual friend of ours who also worked at E’s studio, I scored a breakfast date with she and her husband. We had a wonderful chat, after which she called me on the phone and made me a job offer. I accepted, and then something incredible happened: she asked me to meet her at the studio for a PAID hour of training. I couldn’t believe it. During that hour, she sat down with me and we went over her teacher manual. Not only was it a detailed outline of all of her expectations, but it also included a syllabus, complete with ideas for sequencing, theming, etc.

This was the most structured and pleasurable teaching job I’ve ever had. They had actual front desk staff, tasked with selling things so I could talk to my students. I was paid really well, and there was a real system in place for reaching out to my fellow instructors. E took my class on a regular basis, then she’d take me out to dinner and we’d sit and talk about it. She told me what I did well, then gave me a few steps for doing better. She paid. She gave me raises regularly and told me that she appreciated me. When I wanted more work, she made it happen. When it didn’t make sense for her, she was open and direct, but told me why. I worked there even after I opened my own studio, and she generously supported me with tons and tons of free mentorship.

What the first two Studio Owners have in common is fear. The first studio’s owner was afraid of spending - afraid of investing in people and DEFINITELY afraid of telling her superstar diva teachers their $400+/class pay wasn’t reasonable when others weren’t even making enough to cover the gas bill. Studio Owner 2 was afraid of letting go - to the way things were before, to any bit of control. She was a prisoner to her fear and it closed her business.

When I decided to open my own yoga studio, I didn’t know anything about running a business, like most in this field. But fortunately, I had such great models of what not to do, and an exceptional example of how to do it right. By clarifying all of the terrible experiences I’d had working for other people, I carved out all of my non-negotiables. I vowed to pay my staff well (and on time), to value their expertise and above all else, to trust them. I promised to pay attention, to base my decisions in fact and not in feeling. I decided I’d commit to learning as much as I possibly could about how to do this, and I promised myself I’d never, ever stop learning.

Fast forward four years (yes, only four years) and I’ve built a business that’s survived a pandemic without my having to be there. Things look a little different, but I’m proud to say that I’ve put my team first with every single decision I’ve made, and I think they’d all agree.

I didn’t learn any of this in consulting school. I learned it in the yoga studio.