5 Things I Wish I Knew as a Newbie Studio Owner
I can feel that winter is thawing in the yoga world too. The pandemic was devastating for the boutique fitness industry. Thousands of businesses closed and the ones that were left struggled to get by with waning memberships, disengaged staff and the looming threat of another shutdown. We’re not out of the woods yet, but I’m hopeful as I watch new businesses crop up left and right. It’s a new day.
I’ve always loved the spring — those first days (here in New Jersey) when the snow starts to melt and new life sprouts from the ground feel nothing short of magical.
I can feel that winter is thawing in the yoga world too. The pandemic was devastating for the boutique fitness industry. Thousands of businesses closed and the ones that were left struggled to get by with waning memberships, disengaged staff and the looming threat of another shutdown. We’re not out of the woods yet, but I’m hopeful as I watch new businesses crop up left and right.
It’s a new day.
So, as my first post of 2022, I’d like to share what I wish I knew as a brand new yoga studio owner. Entrepreneurship comes with its hardships, but so many business owners struggle unnecessarily. Let’s fix that for good.
Do it right the first time.
I understand that many yoga studios are started on a tight budget, I really do. It’s smart business to evaluate your costs regularly and cut what you don’t need. A good rule of thumb is that if it’s not helping you gain new members or keep the ones you have, you don’t need it. But I’ve seen SO many studios LOSE business by way of turning their prospects off with shoddy, homegrown marketing.
If you’re considering doing something yourself that you really shouldn’t (like building your website, taking photos, running your social media pages, decorating your physical space) consider whether or not saving money now will benefit you in the long run. Sure, it can feel like a stretch to invest thousands in a website when you’re just starting out, but first impressions matter, and you may very well be turning business away at the time you need it most.
Any time you hear yourself say, “I’ll get this done professionally when..” just bite the bullet and do it now. The time and money and relationships saved are worth it, I promise.
Not everyone is your customer.
The yoga world is fraught with (what I lovingly refer to as) ‘mindtrash’ on who our customers are. Yes, it’s true that yoga is for everyone, but your studio does not have to be for everyone, and bending over backwards trying to accommodate every request is a surefire recipe for burnout and frustration — not to mention a flimsy brand.
Story time: When I first opened my business, I wanted to make everyone happy. My studio exists in an area with a lot of young-ish families, so even though I had no plans to offer kids’ classes, when a local mom called to arrange a class for her Girl Scout troop, I jumped at the opportunity. I thought, “kids have moms, and moms are who I want.” Spoiler alert: I gained zero new clients that day.
I scrambled to find a kids’ teacher, purchased mindfulness workbooks for the class and essentially built something that didn’t exist just because someone asked for it… and it was a disaster. I love kids (I just had one, so don’t @ me) but my boutique studio is not exactly what you’d call ‘child friendly.’ Little girls were dumping expensive bath salts on the floor, smushing blue cupcake icing into my pale yellow area rug and standing on my beloved harmonium (may she RIP). I had to hold back the tears and when the studio was empty, I completely lost it. That was the day I swore we’d never have a kids’ class again. And we haven’t.
The moral of the story is this: when you’re new, it’s very, very easy to slip into ‘people pleasing’ mode. A client asks for privates when you hate them? A 4 am class? Yoga with beers when you don’t drink? I see studio owners trying to cater to weird, off-brand whims all the time. Instead, know what you do and stand firm in that conviction. ‘No’ is a full sentence and not everyone is or will be your customer. It’s okay to refer to other businesses. When you know who you are, your people will find you and never let you go.
Show up no matter what.
I have yet to see a studio that opened its doors to throngs of raving fans. Low attendance is par for the course in the early days, and while it’s unwise to keep a failing class on the schedule forever (or longer than a few months) you’ll need to stick it out in the beginning. Sometimes new studio owners ask if they should require pre-registration for class and cancel it if registration is low or non-existent. The answer is NO. Not only do you and your staff need to show up for all of your classes — even when you end up teaching an ‘accidental private’ — you need to treat that handful of students like they’re the most important people on the planet.
The most effective marketing strategy in our world is word of mouth, and the fastest way to tank your business is word of mouth. If it becomes known that your classes sometimes-don’t-always-happen, it’s going to be very difficult to salvage your local reputation.
I know what you’re thinking: “Nicole, I can’t afford to pay for classes with no one in them.” Which leads me to lesson four…
Think big picture.
I wrote an entire blog post about missing the forest for the trees, but focusing on teeny tiny ‘symptoms’ of studio sickness like low attendance instead of the big illness — a cash flow issue — is one of the most common hiccups for new studio owners. I can’t blame you, it’s less intimidating to focus on the small stuff, but doing so nearly always prolongs the suffering.
I’m going to say something that may make me unpopular, but there is a financial cost to doing business. You’re going to have to invest money, and fear of doing so results in ALL kinds of trouble for business owners. A common scenario is considering reduced or no pay for empty classes. I’m here to tell you that your team is the beating heart of your business. Paying your staff and paying them well, especially in the early days when they’re committing to helping you grow your studio is critically important. If they show up for a class that doesn’t happen, give them something to do: create a reel for Instagram, record an on-demand class, clean up the studio, hell — have them file papers — but they need to be there, ready and waiting to treat your students like gold and you, as the Leader, need to look into what’s really keeping you afraid to spend. It’s not one crappy class.
Ask for help.
If you look for similarities between the Studio Owners who are killing it, they all have teams. They’re smart enough to admit that they don’t know what they don’t know, but they’re happy to hire someone who does. NO ONE is good at everything, so if you’re playing the roles of lead teacher, head marketer, sales coordinator, merchandiser, accountant, cleaning lady and so on, it’s time to outsource. The truth is, your sanity probably can’t afford not to. If you still have doubts, see above re: doing it right the first time.
And of course, Business Coaches are on your team too, and it would be my honor to guide you through the process of starting up or starting over in your studio business. I always offer a free 60 Minute Studio Strategy Session to talk shop and see if we’re a fit, and I’d love to meet you!